Sunday February 7, 2010

I am thinking about mourning this morning.
After the death of one of my children, I wear a lot of black. This is very traditional, of course, but I do it out of my own manner of handling grief. I don’t do it truly purposefully every day. I do tend to do it purposefully when I go out in public — which, for a few weeks’ minimum following the death of one of my babies, tends to mostly be on Sunday. I wear black skirts, shirts, scarves — sometimes I even cover my head with a black hat or scarf.
Not because I find this necessary.
But because it is one traditional way of showing grief & mourning that is still acceptable and (although perhaps rarely) acknowledged.
I have been reading about grief and mourning in Scripture lately. Doing word studies mostly. Just for personal perusal and thought-provoking reading.
I will share a few thoughts briefly before I head to church, where I will not only worship my Father along with all the saints triumphant who have gone before me — but where my entire family will be present in one single pew. My husband, myself, our Gabriel… with all of our other children who we do not get to see or hold on a daily basis. Covenant Hope, Glory Hesed, Promise Anastasis, Peace Nikonos, and Mercy Kyrie. I get to sit with them today. Worship with them today. Be in their presence. And they get to be in mine. They may never have seen the love in my eyes or felt my milk on their tongues — but today, on the one day of the week where this is mystically possible, we get to be together. As one whole family. Complete.
And I love that more than I can tell you. Bitterly. And sweetly.

Psalm 38:6
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
   all the day I go about mourning.
Lamentations 5:15
The joy of our hearts has ceased;
    our dancing has been turned to mourning.

~True verses. Poignant.~
Isaiah 22:12
In that day the Lord GOD of hosts
   called for weeping and mourning,
   for baldness and wearing sackcloth…

~The Lord *called* for these things. I love that. He calls for weeping and mourning, and their signs.~
Ezekiel 27:29-32
The mariners and all the pilots of the sea
   stand on the land
and shout aloud over you
   and cry out bitterly.
They cast dust on their heads
    and wallow in ashes;
they make themselves bald for you
   and put sackcloth on their waist,
and they weep over you in bitterness of soul,
   with bitter mourning.
In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you
   and lament over you…

~Just  more evidences of physical, demonstrated mourning and lamentation.~
James 4:9-10
Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

~We are sometimes commanded to mourn, be wretched, and weep. To mourn and be gloomy. To be humbled, even humiliated. Very interesting.~
Jeremiah 9:17-18
Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider, and call for the mourning women to come;
   send for the skillful women to come;
let them make haste and raise a wailing over us,
    that our eyes may run down with tears
   and our eyelids flow with water.

~I find it so interesting that it is referenced as skillful to mourn well… wailing and crying. Very thought-provoking.~
Isaiah 60:19-22
The sun shall be no more
   your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
   give you light;
but the LORD will be your everlasting light,
   and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
   nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the LORD will be your everlasting light,
   and your days of mourning shall be ended.
Your people shall all be righteous;
    they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of My planting, the work of My hands,
   that I might be glorified.
The least one shall become a clan,
   and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the LORD;
   in its time I will hasten it.

~O Lord, hasten it. Be glorified and mighty. Even unto us, a small one, make us a clan and a mighty nation in Your time.~
Isaiah 61:1-3
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
   because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
   He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

~I praise God for such evidences of comfort, a beautiful headdress, oil of gladness, a garment of praise! May my family be considered an oak of righteousness planted by God! And may He be glorified!!~
Revelation 21:3-5
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

~I can not wait for all things to be finished being made new!! When there will be no more tears or death or mourning or crying or pain!! O Lord, hasten Your day, and bring glory to Yourself!!~

Friday January 29, 2010

      I am still plugging along with some reading. Not as much as I was before, as I get too easily distracted by my thoughts – and then I end up getting very little out of the reading material, and the pages get too dimpled with salty tears to make it worthwhile. Maybe in another couple of weeks I will get back to books. For now I am mostly sticking with sewing and crafts and movies for distraction. (Yes, I admit that distraction is a great coping mechanism for me right now.)
      But when I feel strong enough for it, I am still delving page by page into The One Year Book of Hope. It is divided up into themes – five devotionals on each theme, along with an intro, closing meditation, and even guidelines for prayer. While it is difficult, it is wonderful. Bittersweet. Stingingly helpful. Accurately poignant.
This week I have been (ironically enough) in the theme of Death.
      The author, Mrs. Guthrie, says of her own deceased baby “…she no longer needed air to breathe. And I wondered if I was going to be able to.” I can 100% identify with that. There are moments when it physically hurts to inhale & exhale because of my grief. My body is both physical and emotional/spiritual. These aspects are tied in a unique way that only God truly understands. When my heart hurts so deeply, sometimes even my body hurts. Normal bodily functions that I normally don’t think about -like breathing- can become painful and laborious.
      Mrs. Guthrie also says, “…I’m reminded how natural death is for everyone and yet how completely unnatural it feels.Yes. Unnatural. It feels foreign. And yet familiar. What an odd dichotomy.
Here are some quotes that I identify with and appreciate. I am thankful for this book, and thankful for the Word of God which Mrs. Guthrie weaves throughout. I am thankful that the Lord continues to speak to me and open Himself to me during my grief. He is faithful, and He is good, and He is my Father.

On Death:
~…[D]eath is not the end of the story.
~Death will be defeated.
~Birthdays. Deathdays. I feel like they are always coming at me.
When we are in the fold of God, death is impotent to destroy us. It is depleted of its evil power. The valley where we encounter death is transformed into a place of peaceful comfort; it is in this valley that we are more aware of God’s presence than every before.
~[Of her daughter]: I would like to see her grow. I would like to know her as an adult. But I also know that this life is filled with pain. And I don’t think it is a tragedy that she will have the opportunity to be spared from evil, from the pain of this life, and be in the presence of God. This is what I believe. It is not necessarily how I feel.

On Life:
~I craved the comfort of knowing that… life continues beyond the grave in the presence of God. This confidence was and is the only comfort when you stand at the grave.
~We can turn from God in the lowest moments of life, allowing our offense to alienate us from God until we are out in the cold, devoid of comfort and hope. Or we can turn toward Him, cry out to Him, and place our faith in Him as our sole source for life.
~It takes a step of faith to believe God will supply satisfying life now and when we die.
~I understand the pull and pleasure of drawing up the covers in an endeavor to sleep away the pain that comes with loss.
~…[T]his life is not all there is! This life is just a rehearsal for our real life, our forever life in the presence of God.
~Every life is valuable because God Himself gives life and breath to everything. [Acts 17:24-25, 27-28]

On the “Whys of Suffering:
~So where is God in our suffering? He is redeeming it.
~[E]xperiencing suffering can build up your faith and force you to go deeper with God, or it can crush your spirit and squash your soul’s longing for God.

On 2 Corinthians 12:7-9:
~There was a time in my life when I read God’s response to Paul in this passage as a dismissive pat on the head. Perhaps because I’d so cheapened the significance of God’s grace. Perhaps because I’d heard similar words spoken in a tone that seemed to dismiss the suffering this promise is applied to. Or perhaps I had not believed that God’s grace is up to the task of addressing some of the suffering I see around me.
~It [God’s grace] will be delivered to you in the form and quantity and timing your circumstances require.
~The grace God provides to you is enough for whatever suffering He allows into your life, not just enough to survive but enough to equip you.

On the Holy Spirit/Comforter:
~Significant suffering leaves us with significant questions.
~We want the truth, not just cliches or religious-sounding pat answers. This is when we need the Holy Spirit like no other time, when we’re facing an uncertain future and trying to make sense of it all.
~God reveals Himself to those who earnestly seek Him.
~I think we expressed trust more out of a desire to trust than a confession of the reality in our souls.
~[W]e felt so guilty that so many people were praying for us so diligently when we were so prayerless–partly because it was so difficult to know how to pray.
~When we are weak-willed and weak-minded, when distress has consumed our energy and emotions, the Holy Spirit helps us.
~And when your life if bumped by difficulty, what will come spilling out will be what fills you–an abundance of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday January 24, 2010

Psalm 139:13-17
“For You formed my inward parts;
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from You,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in Your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!”

It is January 24th, and the annual Sunday set aside to mark “Sanctity of Life.” It was January 22nd, 1973, when Roe versus Wade changed American history. Changed it for the worse. What a tragedy! So this Sunday nearest the anniversary of Roe versus Wade is set aside (since its first Presidential Proclamation in 1984 – text) as a time to focus on the beauty, the miracle, the sanctity of life – of every life – no matter how small; and to pray for the nation to realize its folly, to repent of its murderous sin, and to embrace the lives God gives.

Pastor John Piper has a great-looking set of sermons from Sanctity of Life Sundays – take a listen, if you will.

Please beseech the Lord today with Christians around the nation, for the destruction of Planned Parenthood (and similar organizations), for the softening of hardened hearts & the opening of blinded eyes, and for the obliteration of gestational murder (otherwise commonly referred to softly as ‘abortion’).

Matthew 19:14
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them,
for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
Psalm 34:11
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Matthew 11:25-26
Jesus declared, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.”

Sunday January 17, 2010

Psalm 31:7

I will rejoice and be glad in Your steadfast love,

because You have seen my affliction;

You have known the distress of my soul…”



This morning we heard another sermon about “joy during trial.” I can’t remember how many times in the last year we have heard sermons (or been sent links to sermons) on this very subject. Of course everyone thinks immediately of us, and how badly we must need to hear these sermons. I’ve been sent cards from loving people at our church following these sermons, where people express their gladness that we were able to hear a sermon about joy during adversity, and they hope it blessed & encouraged us.

That’s all very well and good.
Except that I am continually left baffled by these sermons and a few distinct lackings.

For one thing, no one ever defines their terms.
They throw around words like “joy,” “happy,” and “rejoice”—but they never define them. What do they really mean? Not just in our modern American understanding of the words—but what about in the biblical context? What do those words mean?
And for another thing, they never describe what joy or rejoicing looks like amidst trial. I am convinced that it looks different than joy in times of obvious reprieve. But nobody ever touches that nuance. Why not?


The sermon text today was
Hebrews 12:1-2 “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The point was something to the effect of that we too have a joy set before us, like Christ did, so we should endure whatever crosses our sovereign God brings to us in light of future joys.
He also cited
1 Peter 4:13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”
I believe that verse again emphasizes a future joy. We will rejoice and be glad when Christ’s glory is revealed, so therefore we may be thankful for that during our sharing of Christ’s suffering.

I have no grievance with the principle that we should endure trial and affliction in light of future joys, and acknowledging that we will rejoice when Christ’s glory is revealed.
But I do have a qualm or two with how it played out.

For instance, when Jesus “endured the cross” and “despised the shame” while He was nailed there, naked and covered in the sins of the world and left by His Father to descend into Hades—was He smiling? Was He singing psalms of praise and adoration? Was He merry and laughing? No, on all accounts. If you remember, Jesus was naked and ashamed, bleeding, gasping for breath, crying, exclaiming out loud a psalm of desperation “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” before He cried His last.
This psalm that Jesus cried out, Psalm 22, is a psalm of David when he felt utterly forsaken.
Psalm 22:1-2,
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
   Why are You so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer,
   and by night, but I find no rest
On and on the psalmist goes throughout the psalm, his pain and anguish and desperation for rescue all very evident.
Are David and Jesus obeying the command to “rejoice always”? The Lord instructs us, through the words of Paul, to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

So… back to my point. (What was my point?) 🙂

Joyfulness looks different in times of deep trial and utter anguish than in times of respite and peace.
But nobody ever points that out in sermons.
I sincerely wish they would.

And what about defining the terms? Well… in our modern culture, joy and happiness are quite often used synonymously. In fact, the dictionary definitions I looked up even showed “joy” and “happy” as synonyms:
Joy—the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation; a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated; true happiness…
Happy—delighted, pleased, or glad; characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy; favored by fortune; fortunate or lucky…

If looked at biblically and historically, however, I am fairly certain that we would find a better distinction between the terms. If I had access to my husband’s biblical study tools (or if he had time to look it up for me, maybe… hint, hint…), I could personally look up the original words in Hebrew and Greek to find their true meanings. I did find some links that did it for me! (see below)
While happiness is largely circumstantial, joy stems from our relationship with Christ. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Happiness is not.
If you’re interested in reading a site I found particularly helpful, you are welcome to click here. One portion from that page that I was particularly interested in said,

Biblical joy is inseparable from our relationship with God and springs from our knowledge and understanding of the purpose of life and the hope of living with God for eternity when there will be joy evermore. If God is actually present in our lives, the joy He experiences can begin in us (Psalm 16:11). Joy is the sign that life has found its purpose, its reason for being! This, too, is a revelation of God, for no one can come to Him and find the purpose of life unless He, by His Spirit, calls him and reveals it (John 6:44; I Corinthians 2:10).

And an online Bible encyclopedia said of joy,

[J]oy as a religious emotion is very frequently referred to in the Old Testament. Religion is conceived of as touching the deepest springs of emotion, including the feeling of exultant gladness which often finds outward expression in such actions as leaping, shouting, and singing. Joy is repeatedly shown to be the natural outcome of fellowship with God.

Paul speaks of joy as one of the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22) and of “joy in the Holy Spirit” as an essential mark of the kingdom of God (Rom 14:17). This joy is associated with faith (Phil 1:25), hope (Rom 5:2; 12:12), brotherly fellowship and sympathy (Rom 12:15; 2 Cor 7:13; Phil 2:1 f). To rejoice in the Lord is enjoined as a Christian duty (Phil 3:1; 4:4; compare 2:17 f; 1 Thess 5:16). In Christ, the Christian “rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8), in spite of his temporary afflictions (1 Pet 1:6). Christian joy is no mere gaiety that knows no gloom, but is the result of the triumph of faith over adverse and trying circumstances, which, instead of hindering, actually enhance it (Acts 5:41; Rom 5:3 f; Jas 1:2,12; 5:11; 1 Pet 4:13; compare Mt 5:11,12).

This is very clearly no mere happiness.
This is different.
It stems from something different, it feels different, it looks different.

How come this isn’t preached as a distinction?
Joy in trial often isn’t defined or described. It’s just preached.
It leaves the congregation wondering.
Preachers often make it sound like they’re talking about being happy. Smiling. Laughing. Acting like there is no pain.
It makes people in trial or anguish, those under affliction, feel like we should be skipping around with smiles and giggles, pretending that our hearts are not broken.
Is that biblical truth?
Absolutely not.

In my experience, I know the difference.
I am frequently not happy.
I doubt anyone could honestly (or biblically) hold that against me when I have had five of my six precious children die. I have sent five little redheads into the heavenly kingdom before my 26th birthday, and in only 2 ½ years of marriage. It is devastating. And it gets more tragic with each baby we bid farewell. Grief upon grief.
So yes, I am often unhappy in trial.

But I can say with candor and truth that I am simultaneously joyful in trial.
Because the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Because I have been baptized into Christ, I have put on Christ, and I am an heir according to the promise (Galatians 3:27-29).
And because I do not grieve as one who has no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but look forward to reuniting with my entire family someday when I too enter the Lord’s rest.

How is joy during trial evidenced in my own life??
We maintain fellowship with our Lord and Savior.
We maintain fellowship with our brothers and sisters (although, yes, the fellowship may look different than usual).
Our marriage grows stronger.
Our love for Gabriel and passion for discipling him according to Scripture grows deeper.
We learn new ways to minister to other suffering people.
We better understand Job, David, Paul, and other biblical writers who endured great suffering.


Romans 5:3-5
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

I think Romans 5 tells us what “joy in trial” should look like.
It doesn’t involve skipping. And it doesn’t necessarily involve lollipops, smiles, or giddy games.
It does involve endurance, character, hope, and growth in love.

So those are my thoughts.
A few of them anyway.
Enough for tonight.

Wednesday January 13, 2010

He is half part of a blessed man, left to be finished by such a she;
and she a fair divided excellence, whose fullness of perfection lies in him.

My true love’s name is Steven
. He has red hair, thick and straight. His eyes are a great color – they change from blue to gray to green, depending on the day, the weather, and what he is wearing. His hands are the perfect size, not too big and not too tiny. They are rough & calloused just enough. His ears are slightly elfy, just almost kind of pointy. I love that. And his lips offer soft & gentle kisses (and occasionally sassy ones…), a quirky upturned corner when he’s just about to smile, and they always house wisdom & kindness. He loves jeans and sweaters. He loves hot cocoa and beer (but not together, please). He is a natural teacher, a sacrificial leader, a playful father.

I love this man.

I’ve been meaning to post about him for days. And I’m just now getting to it. My friend Erin posted about real life romance today, reminding me just how badly I wanted to post this. So here I am. 🙂
I love to brag about my wonderful husband.
The way he loves me even when I am unlovely totally melts me.
How he loves me right through my tears and ashes.
He cooks me dinner for Valentine’s Day, and on occasional other days when he knows I need it. Or want it.
Sometimes he surprises me with flowers for no particular reason at all.
He emails me from work and always says what I need to hear.

This man knows me. He knows my weaknesses and my strengths. He knows the good, the bad, and the ugly. But he’d never let on about the latter two things. (He likes to praise me.)
He loves it when I dress up, spritz on a little perfume, and buckle on my classy black heels.
But he also loves it when I am in raggy jeans, a sweater, and have my makeup-less face framed by a casual ponytail.
And yes, when he says I am beautiful, he means it.

He doesn’t like mascara, so I gave it up.
Have I ever mentioned that?
He loves my red eyelashes.
Even though he almost has to squint to see them. 🙂
He reads with me or to me, he holds me close, he lets me be alone, he rubs my shoulders, he washes the dishes, he changes the grossest diapers (and remember, we do cloth diapers so it’s a little more intense than simply tossing it in the trash)…
I don’t have to tell him what I need. Most of the time he already knows (sometimes before I even know myself). Not always. He isn’t perfect. And no, he can’t read my mind.

But he loves me.
With his words.
His actions.
His body.
His heart.

This man truly lives out his wedding vows to me.
He attempts & desires to love me as Christ loves the Church.

He works hard.
On the days when his job is easy, and on the days when it is back-breaking and brain-bending.
He provides for us, by God’s grace.
Even when he was laid-off last year, he worked hard to find a new job (a better job), pounding down doors when he needed to, searching and knocking and seeking. And God rewarded him.
He continues to reward him.

My husband comes home for lunch now, almost every day. It is a rare treat. And sometimes, yes, I have to rearrange my schedule to be here with him during lunch hour. And sometimes he rearranges his lunch hour so I don’t have to rearrange mine. 🙂

He lets me sleep in, not only after his alarm goes off but after he leaves for work. He knows my frame.

He loves to take me out for occasional coffee dates, or sometimes out for dinner, or even on weekends away.
But most of the time, he loves me where we are.
In our home.
At the table.
On the couch.
Cuddled in bed.
It doesn’t matter where.
Or when.
He loves me when I am smiling, happy, playful, delighted.
He loves me when I am weeping, rending my garments, crying out to God, even despairing.

Most of our what-you-might-call-a-date “dates” involve Netflix dvds, our nice fluffy pillows, and a bedtime snack. Ice cream. Popcorn. Tea. Drinks. Whatever we’re craving.
And -oh yeah- a friend mentioned game dates. We do that a lot! Especially on weekends during nap time: we love Carcassone, Settlers of Catan, and Bananagrams. These make for times of super sweet fun.

Other dates are what I like to term “family dates” for we take along our sweet little son – we go on walks, we eat pastries at the local family owned bakery, we grab a fast food meal & enjoy the rare greasy goodness, we walk randomly through toy aisles at a local store… We love these dates. We love being a family.

We don’t need weekly movies, fancy break-your-wallet meals, or private serenades.
We love each other daily.
In the little things, in the big things.
Noisily or in silence.

To be honest, much of our newlywedded (yep, I’m calling that a word!) days have been filled with great sorrow and grief. I grew up thinking that my happily ever after would be much more Cinderella-esque. Naive and probably stupid, I didn’t expect my first 2 1/2 years of marriage to be filled with burying five children, and the unique challenges involved therein. Right from the get-go (since Covenant died a mere two months and three days after our wedding), we had to learn to live with and love each other through the good times and the bad. In sickness (of heart, in addition to body) and in health. If I’m honest with you, I would have to tell you that I didn’t think we would face “the bad” or “in sickness” until many years later. But God had other plans.
God has taught us, through taking us through many fires in our 2 1/2 years of newlywedded bliss, that true love isn’t just blatantly evident when you are wearing pearls, smiling, holding hands during a sunset, and you’ve just signed the bill for an $87 dinner.

Our newlywedded bliss is blatantly evident (in fact, we’ve been told so many times) when we sit in the back pew at church, weeping through the hymns and trembling during the prayers – holding hands while wiping each other’s tears.
It is evident when his strong arms wrap around my shoulders after a bittersweet ultrasound, and we are weeping in the middle of the hospital.
Our love is also evident when we behold our tiny children, hold them in our hands, and view a very physical evidence of a very physical love – and we bless our God together, through personal waterfalls, for giving us these beautiful little children who bear our image as well as His.
This bliss is never more evident than in our most vulnerable moments – private or public.

I never knew that grief would be one of the earliest and strongest threads in the tapestry of our marriage, that would stitch us together and bind us so tightly in love.

This is, most decidedly, from the hand and by the grace of God.

Our bliss involves getting our fingernails dirty.
It means loving each other every day, no matter what grime is there.
It means lovingly getting through that grime together.
It does include dates in our backyard in the rain.
And wandering through the toy aisle at Wal-Mart.
And homemade-by-husby Valentine’s dinners with little handcut paper hearts strewn around the table amongst about a dozen candles.
And having my hair dried for me at night when I’ve gotten out of the shower and it’s just too cold to sleep with a wet head.

True love, our own newlywedded bliss (a whole 2 1/2 years into it), is all of that.
And so much more.

I love this man, my Steven.
And he loves me.

I’ll leave you with the beautiful words (that I could recite myself) of Anne Bradstreet, “To My Dear And Loving Husband”:

If ever two were one, then surely we. 
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee. 
If ever wife was happy in a man, 
Compare with me, ye women, if you can. 
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold 
Or all the riches that the East doth hold. 
My love is such that Rivers canneot quench, 
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense. 
Thy love is such I can no way repay.
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray. 
Then while we live, in love let’s so persevere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Monday December 7, 2009

Week Two of Advent 2009
The Comfort of our God

Comfort, comfort ye My people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load;
speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the Kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet Him,
and the hills bow down to greet Him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits His holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o’er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that His word is never broken.

Words: Johann G. Olearius, 1671;
trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1863

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
   and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
   that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
   double for all her sins.

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
   and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Get you up to a high mountain,
   O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
   O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
   lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
   “Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
   and His arm rules for Him;
behold, His reward is with Him,
   and His recompense before Him.
He will tend His flock like a shepherd;
    He will gather the lambs in His arms;
He will carry them in His bosom,
   and gently lead those that are with young.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Words: Ve­ni, ve­ni Eman­u­el
Trans: Neale

Luke 1:26-33

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Two Kinds Of Black
an exhortation by my former pastor, Douglas Wilson

As we celebrate the coming of the Christ, we must never forget the kind of world He was born into. The blackness that the star of Bethlehem shone brightly from was a creational blackness, the kind of blackness that was visible on the first day of our world—when it was evening and it was morning, the first day, and it was all very good.

But the child Himself was the morning star, and the blackness that He shone brightly from was a Herodian blackness, a moral darkness, an ethical night of pitch black sin. The slaughter of the innocents is an integral part of the Christmas story, and not some unfortunate event that happened around the same time. It was the kind of thing that illustrated the reason why Christ had to come in the first place. But strikingly, I don’t think it is possible to buy a nativity set that has any of Herod’s soldiers in it. We don’t want to tell ourselves the whole story, whether past or present.

Then, as now, the choice was stark. Either we will receive Christ to rule over us, and we will welcome Him gladly, or we will turn our backs on Him, and welcome the ways of coercion and blood. Ultimately, there will be blood one way or the other, and so the choice will be between the blood of the willing sacrifice, or countless unwilling sacrifices. It is either Christ on the cross, and the salvation of the world, or it will be all the possible permutations of Molech worship, and the maw of death that is never satisfied. It will either be the death that arrived when Christ cried out, “It is finished,” or it will be the way of death that is never finished and never satisfied.

And so, celebrate this Advent with gospel satisfaction. Rest in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, that was a once for all completion. Tell the story of the turmoil and unrest in the world that Christ came into, and teach your children how that unrest cannot be given rest apart from receiving the yoke of Jesus Christ.

In that manger we see the warrior who was born to slay the dragon, and we see that the dragon instinctively knew the nature of the threat and tried to do what dragons always do. The dragon raged all through the streets of Bethlehem because his time was short. We sing in the streets of Bethlehem because the dragon has been slain, and we say of the one who did this great thing that of the increase of His government there will be no end.

Click here to see three short videos (that made me get all teary – but then, what doesn’t do that these days?!) of why I sometimes miss my old church like crazy. And why I am praying for reformation and revival so that I may raise my sweet Gabriel (and any other children who may someday fill our home) in surroundings of beauty, goodness, and truth.

Isaiah 42:1-12

Behold My Servant, whom I uphold,
   My chosen, in whom My soul delights;
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
    He will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up His voice,
   or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed He will not break,
   and a faintly burning wick He will not quench;
    He will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
   till He has established justice in the earth;
   and the coastlands wait for His law.

Thus says God, the LORD,
   who created the heavens and stretched them out,
   who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
   and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
   I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,

to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the LORD; that is My Name;
    My glory I give to no other,
   nor My praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
   I tell you of them.”

Sing to the LORD a new song,
   His praise from the end of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it,
    the coastlands and their inhabitants.
Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice,
   the villages that Kedar inhabits;
let the habitants of Sela sing for joy,
   let them shout from the top of the mountains.
Let them give glory to the LORD,
   and declare His praise in the coastlands.

Today I am choosing to hope.
I am choosing to long not only for God to fulfill the desires He has placed in our hearts, but also to long for Him to fully fill my heart with Himself. It is hard to make these choices. In a lot of ways, it is easier to sit in a corner, pull out my hair, and wail in despair.
But not today.
Today I am choosing to be thankful that God sent His Son to earth.
For me.
For my covenant children.
So that I am able to spend an eternity in Paradise with my children.
As a complete family.
Worshiping Him forever in holiness.
So I praise Him for this Advent season.

I feel like I am living in a strange dichotomy, walking a fine line between praise and grief.
I am praying that God will keep me on the straight and narrow, so that I do not fall to one side of that fine line or the other.

Oh Jesus, send Your Spirit.

Wednesday December 2, 2009

I should have posted this one a couple weeks ago when Pastor Sumpter (Moscow, ID) wrote this one… but if you adjust the beginning by a couple weeks, it is still entirely fitting. Hope those preparations are well in order! And if they aren’t, no worries — just enjoy catching up. 🙂
I’m adding some bold text to this exhortation, fyi. Because I simply love it! People drive me batty when they want to downplay Christmas with the excuse of “fighting commercialism” (or whatever). It ends up that they are the ones focusing more on money and material things than anyone else, and mucking up the joyfulness of giving in the process, not to mention forgetting God’s goodness. It’s stupid. So I love how Sumpter words this. It gave me goosebumps the first time I read it. I wish I could memorize it and recite it the next time I hear someone pull out the conversation starter of un-Christmasing this year! And like Mr. Klein (an officer from our church who is currently serving in Afghanistan) said, this is our time of year!! Let’s make it look like it. We Christians own this season. It’s ours. Go, show the world.

We are drawing near to the end of Trinity Season in the Church calendar. Two weeks from today is the First Sunday in Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent is the beginning and the end of the Church Year. It is the end in so far as it commemorates the final coming of the Lord Jesus in judgment at the end of the world, the culmination of all things. And it is the beginning in so far as we look back and remember all the advents of God in history, culminating in the Incarnation. And as we look forward to this season, I want to exhort you to two things: First, on the practical side, you should start preparing now for Advent and Christmas and the coming celebration of the life of Christ. But your preparation should not be based on the commercials and advertisements and catalogues that are beginning to fill your mailboxes. Of course, we want to be a people full of generosity and gift giving is certainly part of that, but begin planning for it. This means planning with regard to your budget, planning to be generous, planning to share with others. This means planning your calendar: how will you celebrate Advent with your family? What about Christmas? How about Epiphany? How will you remember together and with friends and neighbors? Remember that the calendar is really just an excuse to say thank you; the calendar is a way of organizing your thankfulness to God and we express that gratitude by sharing it with our children, with our neighbors, and coworkers. The last point is that we want to do all of this in light of the end. Advent remembers all the ways God has come, and looks forward in faith to all the ways He will continue to come, culminating in His second coming, the Final Advent when the Lord comes to judge the living and the dead. And this means that we want to celebrate, give thanks, and rejoice in light of eternity, in light of the Final Advent. We want to celebrate now as those who are ready for the return of the Master. Of course Jesus may not return for another fifty thousand years, but remembering the end of the story is one of the best ways to be faithful in the middle of it. And the point is just be thankful and rejoice in the Lord, don’t put on a show, don’t envy your neighbors, don’t pat yourself on the back for doing more than the guy down at that other church. Just be thankful, and use every chance you get to make a big deal about the goodness of God.

And here we go, catching up to the first week of Advent. Can I honestly admit that I have never really thought of Advent as a season of penitence? I feel like I’ve been missing something. But I love this reminder in the form of what seems to us to be a dichotomy (but obviously isn’t): penitence being shown by parties and carols and decorations and gifts and chocolate. I love that. And of course by confession and repentance. But those can be joyful and noisy too. Praise God.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent and this season has historically been understood and celebrated as a season of preparation and penitence. And it might seem odd to us as we begin celebrating this season of penitence to start having parties and singing carols and putting up decorations. Isn’t penitence all about sitting quietly, morosely meditating in the dark, all alone? Of course there may always be times for quiet and thoughtful reflection, but one of the most powerful ways the Spirit plows the fields of our lives is through people, through children, through spouses, through parents, through siblings, through other friends and family and even strangers. And so I can’t think of a much better way to celebrate a penitential season than by having numerous occasions with all kinds of people in the same room. Going home for the holidays? Perfect. Going to see Great Aunt so and so for Christmas? Excellent. Having the whats-their-names over for dinner? These are all great opportunities to see the Spirit do His thing. And what’s His thing? Well, how will you respond when the dinner guests are late? Or they don’t like your food? Or they’re kind of cranky about celebrating Christmas? You know it was a pagan holiday, right? What about when the kids run through your freshly picked up living room and leave it in shambles right before the Advent party? What about when Uncle So-and-so launches into a speech on the evils and dangers of Peter Leithart and Douglas Wilson? People are ready made chances to see sin and opportunities to fight your own dragons. When does sin rear its ugly head in your life? When you’re tired, when you’re stressed, when you’ve spent too much money? When you’re annoyed at the commercialism of our culture, when the canned Christmas musack won’t stop? When the lines and crowds are milling around you? Use Advent as an opportunity to see your sins and confess them, to see your pride when you are slighted and confess it, to see your greed and envy and confess it, to see your lack of self control and contentment and confess it. Sinful people can always come up with a tidy penitence. We like the idea of confessing sin in the abstract, but we frequently hate actually doing it. Because it means saying out loud that you were wrong, that you sinned, and asking God and whomever you’ve wronged to forgive you. So plan the parties, decorate and sing and remember to confess your sins so that your joy may be full.

Tuesday December 1, 2009

First week of Advent, 2009

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,

born to set Thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth Thou art:
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
born a Child, and yet a King,
born to reign in us for ever,
now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

By Thine own eternal Spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by Thine all-sufficient merit
raise us to Thy glorious throne.

~Charlies Wesley, 1744

Isaiah 9:1-7

Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed,
      As when at first He lightly esteemed
      The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
      And afterward more heavily oppressed her,
      By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
      In Galilee of the Gentiles.
       The people who walked in darkness
      Have seen a great light;
      Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
      Upon them a light has shined.
       You have multiplied the nation
      And increased its joy;
      They rejoice before You
      According to the joy of harvest,
      As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
       For You have broken the yoke of his burden
      And the staff of his shoulder,
      The rod of his oppressor,
      As in the day of Midian.
       For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
      And garments rolled in blood,
      Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.
       For unto us a Child is born,
      Unto us a Son is given;
      And the government will be upon His shoulder.
      And His name will be called
      Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
       Of the increase of His government and peace
      There will be no end,
      Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
      To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
      From that time forward, even forever.
      The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

This year, we are again using the Advent Calendar that I made last year out of crocheted mittens. Since Advent can be 22 to 28 days long depending on the year, most years there will be some empty mittens. This year Advent began on November 29th, and we have just two empty mittens. Last year, each mitten held a tiny piece of paper with a Scripture reference as well as two small candies. This year, each mitten simply holds three chocolates – Lindt Lindor truffles, to be precise. And instead of “just Scripture” we are going through an Advent devotional book together in addition to reading small portions of Scripture. So each evening, just before bedtime, we gather on the couch – that part is usual, since it is where we usually sit together for evening family worship. The subject matter is different, as we take a break from our usual readings (we have lately been in Samuel) and focus on this season in the Church year. And the extra special catch is that there is chocolate involved, between the readings and the singing. Gabriel will start catching on to this added twist in our liturgy very soon – and after Christmas he will most certainly wonder where the chocolate has gone. 🙂 On Sundays (and Christmas!) we will be lighting our Advent wreath as well: we have four white candles for the four Sundays of Advent, and one red candle for Christmas morning (instead of the traditional lavender, pink, red, white).

Advent marks the beginning of the Church year. The word Advent is from the Latin adventus (parousia in Greek) for “coming” or “arrival”, and we focus on Jesus’ past, present, and future presence.
* History: Jesus was a real person born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago ~ that was His first Advent.
* Mystery: Jesus is always with us through the gift of grace. Grace is a sharing in God’s own life and love that we cannot understand but believe in through faith.
* Majesty: Christ will come again—the Second Advent—in glory at the end of time.

Our worship, scripture readings, and prayers not only prepare us spiritually for Christmas (His first advent), but also for His eventual second advent. This is why the Scripture readings during Advent include both Old Testament passages related to the expected Messiah, and New Testament passages concerning Jesus’ second coming as judge of all people. Also, passages about John the Baptist, the precursor who prepared the way for the Messiah, are read.
(i.e. Isaiah 2:1-5,7:10-14, Jeremiah 33:14-16, Zephaniah 3:14-18, Micah 5:2-5a, Matthew 24:37-44, Romans 13:11-14)

Our celebration of Advent is a lovely time for us as a family to focus on feelings of exile, expectation, preparation, hope, anticipation, longing ~ things that certainly are near to us right now. We are waiting for the Lord. It makes Advent very real, very personal, extra meaningful to us right now.

Advent is a season of preparation, but we need to ask ourselves, “what are we preparing for?
Advent is a season of expectation, but we need to ask ourselves, “what are we expecting?
Advent is a season of hope, but we need to ask ourselves, “for what and whom do we hope?

Did you know that Advent is not part of the Christmas season itself? Advent is a season prior to Christmas. The Christmas season begins (according to the Church calendar) with Christmas, and concludes with Epiphany. That is where the 12 days of Christmas originated. Pretty nifty, eh? 🙂 Christmas is not meant to be a single isolated day, but a feasting festival of the Incarnation in the midst of the Church year. Christmas is perhaps best understood after having the preparation of Advent. Advent provides an opportunity to continually re-orient ourselves to God’s will as we expectantly wait with patriarchs, prophets, and kings for the true meaning of Christmas: the Incarnation of God the Son. As the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Two links for your perusal:
one with practical information, readings, references, ideas, and inspiration
another with Luther’s flair, as selections from his sermons focus on the seasons of Advent and Christmas

God bless you all during this first week of Advent.
Long, expect, prepare, hope ~ anticipate the coming of Christ.

Friday November 27, 2009

Job is not a short book.
At the beginning there is tragedy.
At the end there is restoration.
But what is the rest of the book??

Dealing with friends (well meaning –sure– but let’s admit it — stupid & untimely)
Wrestling with God.

So what does that tell us?
I’m not really going to answer that question.
But think about it.

Our pastor has been preaching about trial the last couple of weeks.
People seem to think that we’re in the position right now where we need encouragement to be happy in trials, to rejoice in all things, to smile through tribulation, to be thankful for the refining fire — yes, these are things that people say. Not infrequently.
These are like Job’s counselors.

There is a definite difference between joy and happiness.
We can be joyful without being happy.
People don’t seem to get that.
Joy comes from who we are in Christ — it ultimately is unshakable.
Happiness, though? That’s more circumstantial. (And, no, it is not listed as a fruit of the Spirit.)
Get off my back.

People think we are sad and frustrated — which we are.
But they think it ends there.
It doesn’t.
In fact, it doesn’t even begin there.

Maybe in a month or two we will be only “sad & frustrated.”
Maybe in time we will be only “in a trial.”
But right now?
It begins with grief.
G-r-i-e-v-i-n-g is not fun.
It is not lovely.
And it is not a quick process, unfortunately.

We are in the midst of it, as Job was.

Eventually, the grieving process ties itself up, by God’s sovereignty & grace.
Eventually, we will be able to focus less on grief and more on physical trials.
And eventually, I will even be able to fall asleep without crying for an hour.

But right now?

We’re past the beginning of Job — the tragedy has occurred.
But we’re yet far from the end — the restoration is somewhere beyond what I can see.
We’re in the middle.
The midst.
The ugly parts.
Wading through waist-deep mud.

And I am praying for the hope and faith to believe that restoration will be at the end.

Thursday November 12, 2009

I am fighting
feeling unfeminine
feeling so incomplete

I am rejoicing in
a husband who adores me amidst everything
our son who makes me smile even when I feel like dying
beautiful, fragrant, abundant flowers
an impromptu ice cream date
parents who do -quite literally- anything & everything for us
siblings who leave muffins on our front porch
mutually encouraging other mommies in pain
voicemail and email – so I don’t actually have to respond until I am stronger
the hope of the resurrection
my five children — FIVE