Waiting. Impatiently.

The beginning of Advent.  Our time of waiting for Christ to come and make all things new.  To make me new.  I wait.  (Though impatiently, and not for very long.)  Then ask, ‘When?  How long, O God?  How long must I wander through this wilderness?’  I look for you, but you cannot be found.

It is strange, the way you work.  Just when I need you most you seem to hide yourself.  

You have ways of making me feel desperate.  Of showing me what lasts, and what does not.  Of testing what is in my heart and mind.

I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds. (Jer. 17:10)

God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart. (2 Chron. 32:31b)

In the midst of the testing, this concept seems strange to me.  But I suppose the testing, in whatever form it takes, reveals what is truly there.  What is really inside me.

And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested. (Zech. 13:9a)

It can seem cruel, this testing.  I say, “Why not mercy, Lord?  Why not purify me through more gracious means?”

And you say, “This is my gracious means of purifying you.  It is hard for you to see.  But it is the best way.  Trust me, even though you don’t understand.”  

When you see I am putting my hope in that which doesn’t last, you test that hope.  You refine me, that I might call upon your name.

They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’ (9b)

I don’t want to be tested, Father.  But if it is the only way, Thy will be done.  I don’t want to persevere.  But if it is what you require of me, Thy will be done.  You have promised not to tempt me beyond what I can handle.  To never leave me or forsake me.  To work all things together for my good.  To provide all things necessary for life and godliness.  Today.  Your grace is sufficient for today, even if I don’t feel like it is.

Have mercy, O God.

Slow growth (part 2)

Thanksgiving was everything I hoped for.  Relaxation, coffee and conversation.  And food, of course.  But I don’t look forward to the gorging as much as I used to.  Maybe my metabolism is slowing.  Maybe I’m more nourished on the whole, so stuffing my face seems less necessary.  (Less fear of starving between meals?)  But the food was fine, don’t get me wrong.  One can’t go wrong with deep fried Turkey, pork loin, mashed this-and-that, beans, salads, and beers.

There was one conversation that’s had me on edge more than I’ve realized, though.  At first it seemed inconsequential.  In fact, it seemed strange.  But I’ve been lost in thought over it while washing the dishes.  While tossing for rest in the middle of the night.

My sister told me about a mutual co-worker, some relation on her husband’s side, who works in the same building as I.  And out of the kindness of his heart, seeing me eating lunch outside, alone at a picnic table, he stopped over to extend his hand in greeting and say hello.  But as the story goes, I had my ear bud(dies) in, and a book open in front of me.  Supposedly, I looked up, locked eyes with him, then went back to my book without saying a word.  I completely ignored him, and he was deeply offended.

I couldn’t believe my ears.  Not because I’m not rude.  (I’m sure I am.)  But more because I don’t remember it.  At all.  I can’t even remember a single time someone introduced themselves to me at work.  (That’s just the sort of culture it is.)

It’s not that I’m concerned about that particular interaction, only because I trust we’ll be able to make amends on Monday once I track him down.  Rather, I think it’s had my head spinning, wondering, “How many people have I offended without knowing it?  Who else thinks I’m an arrogant jerk who hogs the toaster oven at work?” (which was another of his accusations).

I cannot control what others think of me, it’s true.  And one can live at either extreme – not caring at all what others think, or being obsessively consumed by it – both of which are unhelpful.

But it was sobering to be on the receiving side of someone’s judgment.

And maybe that’s the crux of what’s been bothering me about it.  How often have I uncharitably judged others without taking the time to understand their situation?  Maybe he caught me on my worst day there.  Maybe I was on the phone.  Maybe I didn’t actually see him because my thick glasses frame blocked him from sight.

It was sort of a slap in the face reminder, “So that’s why Jesus said, ‘judge not.’  Because it divides.  It doesn’t allow room for empathy and compassion.  It leaves no room for patient understanding of another’s situation or hurts.

*        *        *

Everyone suffers.  Everyone has their hurts.  And those that seem to live the most fulfilled life on the surface may be the very ones who feel their inner-emptiness, their alone-ness, more starkly and sharply, simply because they expect they should be happy but aren’t.  We are all pretty good at hiding our pains.

I don’t know the pain that others may be facing, but I do know that where there is darkness, even a little bit of light can be helpful.

I’ve always struggled to evangelize in the ‘be bold with Jesus’ sort of way.  It seems like such a big leap, especially when I barely know someone.  “Hey, did you see that Eagles game on Thursday?  By the way, what do you think about God?”  Then, as a result, I find I don’t want to even try to get to know anyone new because of the weight of the burden to evangelize them.  It’s a downward spiral, I know.  I don’t like to share the Good News in one fell swoop, so I don’t get to known anyone, so I never tell anyone about Jesus.

Lately, though, I’ve been trying to think about it more incrementally:

People are hurting all around me, whether I realize it or not.
There is darkness in all our lives.
People are in bondage to things they want to be freed from.
Relationships are hard.
People want deep relationships but are afraid of them.
Jesus is the light.
Sometimes light shines dimly, sometimes brightly.
Sometimes we are afraid of the light, when we are comfortable in the darkness.
If I can shine even a little bit of Jesus’ light, I might bring a small amount of hope to someone in darkness.  I might help them to see the Light.

Simple, but I need it broken down into terms I can understand.

It is a challenge to remember these things, especially when I want to wallow in self pity, but that’s where the baby steps come in.  I may not want to tell someone, ‘Jesus died for your sins,’ and as a result, clam up.  But I can look them in the eye and ask them how they are, and really want to know.  I can, at the least, listen to them.  Because don’t we all need someone in our lives who will listen without judging?  Someone to come along side us in our hurt?

*        *        *

Change rarely happen instantaneously.  And even when it seems to, or when we experience a so called ‘breakthrough’, there’s been a lot going on behind the scenes for years to bring it about.  It takes time to break free from an addiction.  It takes time to learn to eat healthy.  It takes time to learn a skill.  Developing a healthy marriage and nurturing your children takes decades, and the work is continuous.

And change often involves people.  I need help from others.  I cannot do life on my own.

I change one degree at a time.  And the changes are imperceptible.  And from my vantage point, sometimes I think I’m going backwards.  I’m more aware of my immaturity at 30 than I was at 20, or 10.  Because I change so slowly, because I want others to be gracious and patient with me, shouldn’t I extend the same grace and patience toward others?  If I change so slowly, shouldn’t I adjust my expectations for how quickly others will change?

Isn’t this how God treats me?  Even though he sees me perfectly – imperfections, failures, sins and all – he is gracious and merciful.  Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He does not deal with me according to my sins, nor repay me according to my iniquities (from Psalm 103).  He does not treat me as I deserve.

And, in so doing, I have changed.  Slowly, yes.  But as a result of his steadfast love, mercy and patience.

Read Slow Growth.

Glory is my naem

Morning glories climbed and vined all summer
through metal wires twisted into fence, held by stakes
along the edges of the garden.

I wish my name could be Morning Glory
she tells as we walk past the violet blossoms
lingering late this warm November.

“Glory is my naem” she writes later
on little papers which recline
on the wooden easel.

What does glory mean? she asks over a cup of tea.
I lean back to Webster on the shelf
and wonder that she must know,

And has so aptly given herself
the trumpet mouthpiece name,
praise and adoration,

She who has written songbooks filled
with love and adoration for the one
she cannot see

And stands upon the steps and sings
from her books, from her heart
of a love I long to have.


Give it to me!

Several Fridays ago when I left work, I felt inspired to stop at Whole Foods to pick up some snack-y things for the kids.  A sort of treat, if you will.  Olives from the olive bar, cheddar cheese, apples, almond butter, and of course, LARABARs!  And they were thrilled.  (This is what happens when you don’t have sugar in the house.  Children get excited about this kind of stuff.)

They all love gifts, but giving and receiving them is Micaela’s love language.  She is already addicted, I can tell, to the adrenaline rush that is both giving and receiving.

The next Friday I did the same thing, but on a slightly smaller scale.

I don’t know if this was what started it all, but since then, Micaela’s been strongly hinting at the fact that her favorite days are the ones that I come home with special treats.  Wanting to facilitate this a bit from her end, she began making me little pouches and purses out of paper and string saying, “Bring this to work and put something in it for me.  Then bring it back home.  It’ll be like a present!”  So, with my instructions fairly clear, I brought it to work and placed a little sticky pad in it.  A small gift, but again, she was extremely thankful and thrilled.  Well, of course, Emeth and Annie longed for one, too.  “I really want something like Caela’s,” was Emeth’s subtle theme for the night.

“You have to make a little pouch for me to bring to work,” I said.  And so, he did.

The next night, sticky pads for everyone!  It was a little crazy, but well worth the joy of seeing their faces light up over something so little.

This experience, while fun at first, has become a bit of a drudgery recently.  Caela and Emeth gave me yet another pouch with yet another instruction to “put something in it for me and bring it home like a present!”  I really don’t have much at my desk.  And besides, I don’t like bringing little trinket-y things home every single day.  (You only need so many clips, pens and pads in the house.)  I can understand, though, as I remember loving to putz through my dad’s supply closet when I visited him at work.  Pens, pencils, and paper galore!

So, not sure what to do, I drew little pictures and wrote little I Love U’s all over pieces of paper and brought them home.

“Where’s my present!  I want my present!  Give it to me!” they all screamed when I walked in the door.  I was going to try and hold off till after dinner, wanting to slip an extra little cacao piece from the fridge into each one, but they wouldn’t have it.  “Give it to me!  I want it!” they shouted, endlessly.  Tired of hearing their whining voices, and no longer looking forward to giving them a post-dinner treat, I relented, and they were disappointed.  “Love notes?  Where’s my sticky pad, dad?”

*        *        *

Father, give me another job!  I can’t do this!  I prayed, over and over on one of my recent walks around the parking lot.  Give it to me!

Often when I read the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1), or the account of Jesus with the Canaanite woman, (Matt. 15:21), or “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matt. 7:7), I think, “I should pound on God’s door until he hears me and gives me what I want.”

But more often than not, these times of asking, pleading and pounding lead to anxiety and discontentment, because I am asking but not receiving.  Where is the thing I’m asking for?  It’s not here.  It has not come.  And I lay exhausted at God’s door, curled up, whimpering and alone.

I think there is something to these passages, for sure, but I think I’m missing it.  In John 16:24 Jesus says, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  James, a little more starkly, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:3).

I do believe that God wants my joy to be full, and that he is not ignoring me or closing the door in my face.  He’s not standing on the other side laughing, or saying, “Poor child.  If he’d only learn.”  No, I believe God is with me in this very moment.  That he is closer than the air I breath.  That he is sustaining every cell in my body.  That he has not left or forsaken me.  Even though I feel like I’m in a vocational wasteland right now, and the winter is coming, I am not alone.

As a father, I see the difference in my children between expectation and expectancy.  When they expect and receive something less than expected, they are disappointed.  But when they are expectant, open to receiving any gift, their joy overflows.

I don’t know how long I will be here.  I don’t know how long this will last.  I don’t think I need to passively wait until something better comes along.  In fact, I have been applying frivolously for jobs that seem in-line with my experience.  (So far I’ve gotten only one nibble.)  But in my asking, in my searching, am I seeking for joy in the hope of things changing?  Or is my joy and delight in the Lord?

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4)

Just as I love when my children are excited to see me when I come home, and not just my gifts, does my Father delight when I delight in him, and not just his gifts?  I have everything I need, and yet I say it’s not enough.  My children have everything they need, and they still want more.  I can’t give them everything.  There are limitations.  But there are no limitations with God.  He made everything.  He owns everything.  He is everything.  He is all in all.  And if I have him, I have all I need.

Father, give me yourself.  Amen.

Contemplative Micaela Jane

“Daddy, want to read my writings?” Micaela asks as she enters the kitchen.  I dry my hands off and sit down with her notebook.  She writes:

Jesus loves me
Love me Jesus
Me I do love you Jesus
Jesus I Love you soso* much
I love Jesus and God too
I love you too so much
I do not stop loveing you too
You too are love for
You too Jesus
And you too God
Jesus and God I love you too [two] loves

This is mi love

*I’ve attempted to keep her original spellings and punctuation throughout, but not her capitalization, as it does not translate well to the screen. Any clarifications are in [brackets].

*        *        *

I love you God
You created me.
Faith is good for me too.
I can imagine you.
I ahv [have] joy in you.

*        *        *

I can believe you God.
I can love in you God.
You created me and you love me
I can imagine you

*        *        *

Jesus you are my won [one] I love.
You’re the won I love soso much.
I do not stop loving you.
Because you are soso good
I love you all the tiaem [time].

*        *        *

I love you and you love me
You created all of you’re pepple [people]
Faith is good for me too

*        *        *

Jesus you are good to me
not only you Jesus lovs me.
But God dos too.
It is good that too av [two of] you love me.
It is soso good too love pepple.
It is vary fun too love pepple