Fearfully, Wonderfully Snowed In: God in the Blizzard

snowfallAs a Florida girl living in Virginia, right in the bullseye of Jonas, I keep looking out my window utterly amazed. The snow is up to the roof of my children’s playhouse. I see the little chimney of it poking out with a pile of snow on top, a little frozen smoke puff. I know friends further north have seen more, but for this girl, this is the most snow I’ve seen in my entire life. And I keep having two simultaneous thoughts: how beautiful and how terrifying. As these thoughts keep colliding in my mind, I can’t help but think that all this snow has something to teach us.

The snow has made a new world out there. Everything is pristine, blanketed in purity. The trees are bedecked as brides. The limbs shimmer with powdered diamonds. Even the wind is in on the party, tossing sparkling confetti on the festal firs. As far as the eye can see there is the blinding brilliance of white. And just as when a bride enters the room, there is that reverent hush of a world watching in stillness and in awe.

snow in trees

And yet even as I stand back admiring this lovely world, there is another part of me that is afraid. The snow is so high; it’ll be days before we carve our way out. It is so soft and comes so lightly and yet it has the power to smother, to break, to bend, to bury. Even our toughest machines get caught in its drifts. Even our might is no match for this light beauty, should it continue to fall from heaven.

And as I feel the weight of wonder, I’m moved to remember a God who is simultaneously all-loving, all-good, all-beautiful and yet all-powerful, almighty, a force with which no man can reckon. Love the Lord. Fear the Lord. The burning brilliance of holiness is both something which compels our eyes and causes us to fall on our faces.

Like the awesome Aslan of Lewis’ Narnia, we might wonder with Lucy, is this lion safe? “’Safe?… Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” This world blanketed in white is a reminder of both aspects of our good and mighty God.

So what are we to do with this beautiful and yet fearful God? Like the snow, we better be prepared. For those well prepared, the snow holds no terror. But for those who have shirked its power, there is fear. God is good; but God is also coming and He is a mighty, beautiful force with which to be reckoned.

So how do we prepare for His coming? By confessing that we are utterly unprepared. By falling at the feet of this terrifying, beautiful God and pleading for His mercy. Repentance: I am undone by your holiness, Oh God. Belief: You alone can save me.

And here’s the wonder, He has and He does. God has turned that whole crushing weight of His wrath on His own Son, Jesus, on the cross. He was smothered, crushed, buried, that I might not be. The weight of this heavy load fell on Jesus that I might only feel the light cloak of righteousness on my shoulders. Oh weighty wonder. Oh heavy lightness! Let me remember both as I stare out my frosted window.

 

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Creativity: The Heart’s Cry of Hope

artist at work

It’s the end of a long day and the floor is strewn with toys. I’ve wrangled the boys to bed and have come downstairs troubled. I’m mulling over the display of attitude I saw in my two-year old, who has learned to sigh loudly when he’s frustrated with my commands, something which he learned from the four year-old, who learned it from me when I’m irritated and frustrated with them. It’s unsightly and unsettling to see my own ugly behavior walking around in front of me.

A phone call interrupts my self-reproaching monologue: a friend is calling to inquire about one of our family members who found out last week he is facing cancer. We talk of the unknowns in hushed tones and more aches and anxieties fill my mind, as well as a quiet confidence that the Lord is up to some goodness in the midst of all this hardness.

I’m sure my little life is not much different than yours: daily drudgeries, frustrations, sinful patterns—our own and those of others. On top of the mundane drip of these daily fatigues, there are the cold harsh realities of sickness, and brokenness, of bitterness and even mortality. And all these wear us thin and threaten to starve our souls.

As I hang up the phone, worn down from all of this life I’m living, tired from my day’s work, I find myself with this strange and almost overwhelming urge to go and make something. And I’m being quite literal when I say I’m overcome with a desire to get out my easel, canvas and acrylics and paint. Something or perhaps more aptly, Someone, is drawing me to splash some loveliness around, to soak in the brightness of color, to create something of beauty, and symmetry. I’m beckoned by the thought of standing back from my finished work and feeling that flash of satisfaction, that “It-is-good” moment.

And this overwhelming urge to create simply does not compute with how tired I am. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a non-sequitir of sorts. Why have I gone from the hardships of the day to a desire to make something new? And all I can figure out is that somewhere deep inside of us, all this brokenness and frustration and hardship calls out for a bit of beauty and grace. We long for a little plot of land, some small piece of territory where shalom—a sense of wholeness and rightness and goodness—can abound. I think God made us this way. And I think creation is not only good therapy, but somehow an act of defiant hope.

When we carve out a space in the midst of our overwhelming, broken-down world, to create something, we raise our fists to the chaos and declare that it does not have the final say. Beauty, wholeness, and order exist. They have existed eternally with God, and while they may or may not become a reality in our hearts and homes today, they will most definitely exist in the world to come. “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Creation may look different for you: maybe it is gardening, woodworking, building a website, sewing, coaching, decorating, cooking, strumming, inventing, or photographing. Maybe you share it with others; maybe you don’t yet. But whatever it is, it is not merely a passive act, but an active one of creating order from chaos, of bringing something of goodness out from the nothingness.

Maybe you say you are not a creative person. I say false. All of us are made in the image of God and we all like Him are born with some desire to participate in creation and cultivation. The manifestations of that creative impulse will look very different in our lives but the God-given urge is the same.

If you’ve been stifling that creative urge, calling it frivolous, or numbing it in more passive acts of pinning, liking, and channel-surfing, don’t shortchange yourself. There’s an important place for enjoying the work of others. But that’s not all you’re made for. God has made you in His creative image also. You are more than a spectator.

Maybe you’re worried that what you have to offer somehow won’t be good enough. Do yourself a favor. Turn off the critic. Give yourself permission to be a learner and to make mistakes. God doesn’t want your perfection. He wants your participation. He wants you to rally your soul in bold hope by participating in some small act of creation.

 

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This Child of Mine: The Weight of Carrying a Soul

child of mine

Luminous mystery—in my clearer moments, I see you, child of mine. You are dazzling. You take my breath away. You embrace me with nothing held back, with no pretense, no ulterior motives. You are a possibility I have not yet come to know. Sometimes at night, I watch you sleep: your chin tucked to chest on your pillow, your knees pulled in, your slim frame curls into a question mark. Who will you become? What will you teach us? What shores will be changed by the ripple of your life?

But your worth is not in your possibility, but in your present. The world does not wait to be changed by you. This light one whose fingers clasp around my neck, and whose head lies so softly on my shoulder, you who I lift almost effortlessly have a weightiness, a heft, because you are more than possibility, you are a person. You are a person who is changing me. You are a person, created in the very image of God.

Jesus, said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:4). He knew we had something to learn from your dependence, from your abandon, from your wonder, from your joy, and from your trust. Hear the way He speaks of you. He held you on his knee as ones who possessed dignity, as ones made in the very image of His Father, as ones who had something to teach the so-called “wise.”

Do I treat you this way? Do I revere you as a splendid person of infinite value, not because of your possibility or your capability, but because of your essence? Do I remember that I did not create you, nor do I own you? You are not my child, as I would talk about my car or my house. You are on loan to me. You are entrusted to me, not simply for what I can do for you, but for what He wants to do in my life through you. So thank you.

I do not mistake you as perfect, dear child. Oh no, of all people, I have a front row seat to your sin-soaked moments (as you do for mine as well). I know we are both desperately flawed and desperately in need of the One who called us both to come. But neither should I mistake you as ordinary. We should both remember that as Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. “

As I teach you right from wrong, let me remember that you possess an everlasting soul, and that I struggle along with you in bending my spirit to do that which I know I should. As I explain to you things which seem simple to me, like 5+5=10, may I remember that while you may lack knowledge, your mind is a dazzling wonder, assimilating information at a rate which far surpasses my own. While I dress you, may I remember that you are an individual, unique in your tastes and personality. When you ask me to play with you, when you cuddle up next to me with a book, when you instinctively reach for my hand, may I remember that I have a friend in you who perhaps surpasses any I have ever or will ever know. When you speak, may I listen with expectation for how you will challenge and change me. As I lead you, may I do it with a trembling heart, knowing what a treasure God has entrusted me.

Little one, may I always remember and respect that you are a distinct and splendid person. May I hold the lightness of you in my arms with the weight of wonder your soul deserves.

 

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High Hopes: The Upside Down Path to Giving Our Children Greatness

Matthew 2

Every mother wants the best for her children. From even before she holds that baby in her arms she’s already hoping great things for the life of that someday man or woman. The mother of James and John, two of Christ’s disciples, was no different.

Their mother, traditionally thought to be Salome , and perhaps the sister of Mary was likely also one of the earliest followers of Christ. Many Bible scholars believe this not only because we find her at the foot of the cross during His passion, and also going to anoint His body at the tomb, but also because the evangelist, Mark, identifies these women as ones who had followed and ministered to Jesus while in Galilee (Mk. 15:50-41, Mk. 16:1). As an early follower of Christ, this mother knew that the best for her sons could only be found near Christ. So she asked Jesus, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (Mt. 20:21). Here’s a mother who seems to be looking out for her sons, asking a very special favor of Jesus, who did indeed hold these “sons of thunder,” as he called them, close.

When this mother made her request though, it’s likely that she envisioned greatness for her two sons, perhaps a seat of honor and power, and likely an earthly kingdom. Christ replied to her question with a question for her sons, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” The sons’ reply, “we can,” showed they likely had no idea what their mother’s request entailed. To drink from Christ’s cup meant to share in his sufferings. To sit near Him meant, not power, but meekness and servant-hood. To be first was to be last.

James and John did indeed follow Jesus in this upside down path to greatness. It is believed that James was the first of the 12 apostles to face martyrdom (Acts 12:2). And while tradition has it that John, the beloved disciple, author of 5 books of the Bible, outlived all the other apostles, he did face his fair share of suffering: he was thrown into prison with Peter, faced the persecution of Herod Agrippa, the loss of his brother, and the subsequent scattering of Christ’s followers, and later in his life after more persecution ended up in exile on the Isle of Patmos he wrote the book of Revelation (Acts 4:3, Acts 12:1-17, Rev. 1:9).

This isn’t exactly a mother’s dream come true for her children: early death for one, imprisonment, suffering and persecution for the other. And yet, while the earthly life of these two sons was anything but easy, they lived the fullest of lives: walking with Jesus up-close, attesting to His resurrection, glorying in His ascension, proclaiming the way to abundant life to all who would believe. As my former boss, and dear friend, Chuck Colson, would have said, they did indeed, live “the good life.”

The message here is a hard one for us mothers. And for me personally, with two little ones three and under and another on the way, I feel like I haven’t yet even begun to truly and deeply understand the letting go that is required for a mother who trusts her children into the good—but not safe—life of a sold-out follower of Christ. This is where we must not only believe the message of the Gospel, but place our entire hope into it, and into words like those of St. Paul who said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Roman 8:18). We have to believe that the sufferings of this world that we or our children will undoubtedly face if we follow Christ with any reality at all will indeed be but “light and momentary,” compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that awaits us (1 Cor. 4:17).

The ironic lesson in this story is that if we truly desire greatness for our children, we must help them obtain it by modeling the heart of a servant. In God’s kingdom, a leader leads by taking up the basin and the towel and washing the feet of another. This is the way of his upside down kingdom. The only way up is down.

Talk to me: Sometimes our dreams for our children do not align with God’s dreams. One mother dreamt of greatness and power for her sons, when true greatness meant serving, not being served. How do we submit our dreams for our children to Christ? How can we make this both a habit and a posture?

On your own: Motherhood is by nature a journey into servant-hood and sacrifice. Write a prayer asking for God to help you serve joyfully and as unto Him.

 

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