Fireworks

We’ve been on the road for almost three weeks, traversing Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. And since the laundry pile looks like Everest, I’m digging up a little piece I wrote last September when I was just thinking of getting the blog off the ground. Hope you enjoy.

fireworks

Aglow in Wonder

“Boom!” I let my fingers fall toward his face again in a pretend sprinkle of light. Baby boy erupts in cackles and giggles. He pleads, “Fireworks again, Mama! Again!” It’s been over two month since my two year-old saw his first fireworks display, and yet he still begs for this nightly bedtime reenactment.

My hands go up in the air again above his crib, above that sweet face upturned in pure delight. “Boom!” I say with as much gusto as a tired mama can muster, letting the pretend light of my falling fingers cascade on his face again. More squeals and glee. I could do this all night–his face, his laughter: he is the dazzling display I could watch over and over again.

What father or mother does not delight in the joy of his or her child? Jesus put it this way: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11).

God loves to lavish His good gifts on us. He loves to see us light up as we see the redbud tree ablaze in autumn or a Lenten Rose blooming in defiance of winter. He loves to delight us in the crackle and smoke of a fire or the warmth and strength of a hand clasped round our own. Surely these and so many like them are God’s good gifts for us to enjoy. So much goodness He lavishes upon us. But it all dims in comparison to the very best gift He has to give—the most lavish of all His gifts–His Son. What a radiant light! To contemplate the glory of Christ, the glory of salvation; He dazzles the senses. He lifts our gaze in awe. He illuminates everything around Him.

One Fourth of July, a few years before I was married, I had a small moment of revelation. Sitting under that black canvas of sky, watching beauty splash and stream in vivid hues of cobalt, red, and violet, it suddenly dawned on me to think of the whole scene from a different perspective. On one night a year, millions of faces turn upward: the young, the old, the cynical, the hopeful, the jaded, the weary. For a brief moment, all eyes sparkle with anticipation, faces brim with childlike joy, and small gasps, oohs, and ahs punctuate the silence of held breath. The heavens must certainly have the more glorious display at that moment; the glorious display of both light and the light reflected in our changed countenances; what a sight it must be.

But what does this ephemeral, brief blip in time, whisper? What will change us—not our countenances, but our souls? Not for a moment, but for eternity?

Do you see it? The fireworks even angels bend low to see: the glory of God revealed in salvation (1 Peter 1:12).

Glory is a difficult word to understand. Though we can’t fully understand what God’s glory is, in Scripture it is often revealed to us in part through displays of light. Moses came down from the mountain after meeting with God, his face beaming with radiant light. It was so bright that the Israelites had to put a veil over Moses’ face. The glory of the Lord preceded the Israelites in the wilderness wanderings in a pillar of light. When the disciples saw Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, he radiated with a brightness like nothing they had ever seen before. And the apostle Paul tells us in Second Corinthians, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (3:18).

The purity, intensity and brightness of light somehow serve as an illustration of the glory of God. And what does this glory do? It transforms everything around it. And the most stunning of all transformations is salvation. Light splashes across the blackness of a human soul, not just for a moment illuminating it, but for eternity transforming it.

I’m taken back again to my son’s face. Each night he remembers the splendor of light. And as humble as our nightly re-enactment might be, it changes his countenance. He lights up in the light.

What a simple lesson I take from him! Remember. Be delighted. Shine.

Our faces aglow are the Father’s delight.

Expect Kudzu

Eden's Memory

We had come to do battle that day with the kudzu—that sprawling weed that covered everything out back at my grandmother’s house. Its spreading tendrils had taken over, suppressing cypress trees and mangroves down by the lake’s edge, cutting off all things living from the light, slowly suffocating them like a boa constrictor squeezing the breath out of its victim.

As my grandmother got older, she couldn’t battle with the kudzu anymore and it was slowly morphing her beautiful lake-view into that of a giant green sea monster. After a while of pulling on the tendrils, even with gloves, our hands began to look like they had rope burn. An afternoon’s labor later in the hot Florida sun, and we had still hardly made a dent in the green leviathan. Still to this day, I think of kudzu like a swear word—vile, hateful stuff.

And perhaps that’s why kudzu also seems a fitting analogy—in my mind at least—to sin, and to the far-reaching effects of the Fall of man. You see when Adam and Eve chose to trust their own judgment over God’s perfect, infinite, and loving care, the effects of their sin spread like kudzu. Everything in this world is covered in its grasping tentacles. Sickness, death, poverty, war, violence, alienation—this is kudzu, smothering the good and the beautiful.

And so when hardship comes my way (last week in the form of stomach flu– the sequel–striking at my house, knotting the insides of my poor 13 month old), while I’m always grieved by it, I’m not necessarily surprised. I expect hardship. I expect the repercussions of the Fall to have very long tendrils, a reach that still covers over the good and beautiful in my world today. Now when I say this, I don’t mean I expect God to bring evil my way—God is not the author of evil (James 1:13, 1 John 1:5, 1 Corinthians 14:33). No, the burden of evil in this world lies on the shoulders of fallen creatures: the fallen angels, Adam and Eve, our forebearerers, and yes, us.

But while I expect the hardship of this world—estrangement, cancer, slander, greed, natural disasters, hypocrisy, both the big and the small—I also live in hope. God did not leave this leviathan unchecked. He sent his Son on a mission to rescue this world from the tendrils of sin. He’s cutting back every last suffocating coil of sin and tossing it on the trash-heap to be burned, purged away. He has not abandoned us; He is actively slaying sin’s tentacles and asking us to join with Him in releasing this world from sin’s death-grip. And while now we still do battle with the long arms of sin, covering so much of all we hold dear, one day all those weeds will be burned away. All creation holds its breath, waiting, for that day of release.  (Romans 8:18-23). We groan together with creation longing for that day.

We’ve lost Eden’s memory of what this world looked like before the Fall. But one day vistas of beauty and wholeness of rest and restoration will stretch out before our eyes like a dazzling dream we had forgotten. We will wake to a world released, to a world made new.

 

 

Dear Reader, where have you seen Christ cut away the kudzu in your world? Where does it remain? Are you longing for that day of ultimate release? Are you co-laboring with Christ now to release the beauty in the world around you?

Going Deeper

Starry Night quote

Summer’s leaves rustled under silent stars as we stepped into the balmy August air. Bonnie and I were laughing. I can’t remember why, but I know my heart was light with that contagious buoyancy of spirit I so often felt in her presence. It was an ordinary Thursday night after Joy Group (a women’s discipleship group we’d been in together for several months) and we chatted for a few minutes under the glare of porch lights before driving home to our separate worlds (her: a professor of English at Patrick Henry College, me: a mother still adjusting to life with two in diapers).

We talked wistfully, wishing we could spend more time together. Bonnie shared with me how much she had enjoyed an accountability group that she’d been a part of in North Carolina and how she’d love to do something like that with me. And of another desire she had to study through a book on systematic theology—“would you want to teach something like that?” she asked. My esteem for my doctorate-bearing friend made the request feel intimidating. I said perhaps we could learn together and I shared another honest desire of my own. I told her how much I’d love to hear her story and get to know her better (after all, we shared a love of so many things: the love of the apt phrase, the lure of the hidden call behind true beauty, and a desire to know more deeply the Author of all that is good and true and beautiful). We didn’t make a plan that night, and how I wished we had. How was I to know that before the last of summer’s leaves had fallen, my sweet friend Bonnie, just forty-four years young, would have drawn her last breath, slipping peacefully home to her Savior in the stillness of a November night?

~*~

At her memorial service, ache knotted itself tightly in my throat as one of her former students read from one of Bonnie’s favorite books, C.S. Lewis’ Til We Have Faces:

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

I rejoiced that Bonnie had gone “home” to be with Jesus, home to the source of the beauty that had captivated her throughout her life on earth. But I couldn’t help feeling sorry that I’d missed out on going deeper with her and growing deeper together with Jesus.

~*~

Before my first son was born, Bonnie brought him a gift. On the outside, in lieu of a bow, she’d attached a sweet little rattle, a frog with a smile so wide it made his lips curl to his eyeballs in a generous half-moon. Rather than the normal shaker, this rattle sounds like the tinkling of distant bells. Lately, my youngest son has grown attached to that rattle. I’ll be washing dishes or folding some laundry and hear those faint bells. Or I’ll be stepping over toys only to find that frog’s silly smiling face underfoot, and somehow I can’t help smiling too. And I find myself thinking about Bonnie and about so many of the interesting people I’ve had the privilege of knowing but not knowing well enough. People like a college professor of mine who rubbed shoulders with some of the most dazzling minds of the Harlem Renaissance and whose own creative genius was readily apparent, or some of the survivors of the Rwandan genocide who shared their stories of unthinkable heroism and mercy with me, or my own dear friend Chuck Colson, who seemed to have some interesting insight on just about any subject. How I would have loved for just a few more hours of conversation with any one of them. (And perhaps that incessant longing for more time is just one more indication that we are made for something beyond time; that we were made for eternity.)

And yet, though I’ve had the privilege of knowing a great many dazzling minds, quite a few hearts that bled with compassion and courage, yet they all pale in comparison to the ONE who beckons me to come and know Him deeper.

There is a mind, so deep, so beautiful, and so full of wisdom that none can fathom it. There is a heart, so pure, so full of goodness and light and mercy, that none could behold it. All the men and women whom I’ve admired in my lifetime for their depth and spiritual beauty, for their compassion, creativity, and courage, they are all mere glimmers of this God, the source of all knowledge and goodness. And this One, this God of the Universe, author of all that can be known, He invites me to know Him better. He whispers to me an invitation to join Him, to look for Him and find Him when I search with all my heart (Jer. 29:13).

I know I will have all eternity to get to know Him (and my dear Bonnie) better, but I don’t want to miss out here. I want to go deeper with Christ. I want to know Him more. I don’t want to put it off until a more convenient time. I’m letting the tinkling of bells be my domestic call to worship, my invitation to say those simple words I said to Bonnie, but this time to my Savior, “I want to know more of your story; I want to get to know you better.” It makes me smile to think that on the other side of the veil, Bonnie is doing the same. She’s wading into beauty, drinking her fill of the depth and wisdom and love of Christ.

P.S. Do you want to dig deeper into the riches of the depth of God’s mind and the beauty of His heart? Here is just a little of what the Scriptures say:

Romans 11:33

Job 11:7

Psalm 36:5-6

Psalm 92:5

Isaiah 28:29

Isaiah 40:28

No one could be more fascinating or captivating. Wouldn’t you like to get to know someone like this more deeply? Have you lost the wonder? What’s holding you back from getting to know Him more?

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