Pressing Into the Quiet

quietThe following guest post was written by Kelly Keller. Kelly is a transplanted Massachusetts native who this year celebrates a full decade living in Charlotte, NC. When she’s not homeschooling her five kids (four boys, one girl), Kelly enjoys live music, baseball, writing, reading great books, and traveling with her best friend and husband, David. If you don’t want to hear her blathering on about her upcoming trip to the UK this fall, you should probably just avoid her from now on.

I live a loud life.

It’s not loud in the sense of enthusiasm or passion. There are things I am quite passionate about — just ask me — but I don’t wear flashy clothing or make thunderous, sweeping statements about politics or other issues.

It’s just loud here. In our home we have five active children between the ages of 6 and 13. They learn, they fight, they make explosion sounds, and my name is the one they call most often. This position is a privilege, I am aware.

But when we’re discussing reflection, quiet, and what Luci Shaw in Breath for the Bones calls “active readiness,” I immediately view it as a fight. When there are needs to be addressed at every turn, it’s difficult to cultivate meditative thinking.

No matter what the “noise” is in your life, that sentence right there may be the understatement of the century. It’s difficult to cultivate meditative thinking when the roommate insists on the twenty-four hour news channel….when the boss demands long hours in a drab office…when people fill your schedule for all good, but all time-consuming and noisy, needs.

But “cultivate” is exactly what we must do. Like tilling the soil, cultivation of quiet is sometimes a hard-won battle. We must exert ourselves to break through the unyielding soil. It requires more than a little effort in a culture that wants to fill our days with sound.

The culture. Yes, it is true, the culture is at fault. But so are we — after all, we make the culture. As Ms. Shaw rightly points out:

“But so many are afraid of silence and of being alone. They wonder, What if nothing happens? What if God ignores me? Or what if he isn’t there? But, in gradual steps, and given some simple tools, people can begin to experience contemplation for themselves and discover that it is transformative. And this transformation (as well as the waiting) also informs — always — the place where our creative work is done. For artists, this combination of discipline and listening-receiving is a true cornerstone.” (p.79)

Shaw later says,

“…passivity has no place in the life of art or of Christian spirituality.” (81)

She uses the term “active readiness” to describe the role of an artist or individual in a waiting time. The phrase rang a bell in me, because it reminded me of Charlotte Mason’s concept of “masterly inactivity.” As a teacher, sometimes I press into a child to gain knowledge, but other times I must retreat and allow time and the Holy Spirit to enlighten. This retreat is not passive, but active. The teacher is backing away consciously. Always the Spirit-led result is better than a reckless, human straining towards mastery.

It doesn’t need to be in quiet solitude that these moments happen — although those moments help the process. It is a cultivation of our minds and spirits to recognize God’s work in our lives and how He is unfolding our days before us. That realization happens just as often in the noise of my family as it does in a solitary place. It’s a matter of my heart and the effort I’m taking to listen.

But like I said before, the quiet times certainly help. We are finite creatures. We can’t clear our heads and come to good perspective if we are immersed in the bedlam our culture makes available to us twenty-four hours a day.

This perspective that this is an exercise is a helpful one. While the world often wants to look at time of quiet as leisure, Shaw casts that time for Christians, and artists in particular, in a light of important effort and discipline.

Perhaps I would more passionately pursue it if I saw it that way. A little less rolling over for a few more minutes of sleep. A little less media. A little more quiet.

– – –

This post was written in response to reading Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. If you’d like to read along, the schedule is as follows:

Week 1: Graffiti Art and Repentance (Intro, Chp 1-2)
Week 2: Tell Me a Story (Chp 3-5)
This week: Chp 6-7
Sept 22: Catch up (or read ahead)
Sept 29: Chp 8-10
Oct 6: Chp 11-12



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Grandma

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A few years ago at a little radio station in Mystic, Iowa.

We are burying my grandma today.

Friends have been so kind to offer words of comfort and support. Strangely, I’ve felt a twinge guilty to be on the receiving end of such emotional generosity. I’ve watched others endure a fierce anguish at the death of their loved ones. That hasn’t been the case for me. As I stood by my grandma’s bedside in her final hours, the primary feeling that flooded over me wasn’t grief – it was gratefulness.

We grew up 900 miles from my grandparents and were fortunate to see them once or twice a year. She was never part of my daily life, I can’t remember her babysitting us, and the longest period of time that we spent together would have been a week. We didn’t have deep, life-changing conversations and my children have only fleeting memories of her. Yet as I look back over the last four decades, I can see the significant impression that Grandma’s life has made upon my own – and in turn – on my family. When viewed as individual moments in time, our relationship looked like the close-up view of a Seurat painting – colorful, but lacking form and substance. I’m grateful that time has given me a larger perspective. Those individual dots of visits to Iowa and remembered birthdays and quilts made for babies were tiny brushstrokes of what became a masterpiece. Her life was a work of art in the truest sense – taking the raw materials of love for her Lord, her family, and all things creative – and transforming them into life-giving beauty.

Grandma’s life wasn’t easy. I don’t think she finished high school, she married young, and she and my grandpa endured the great depression on a coal-miner’s wage. They raised their four children in little more than a shack in a tiny town in Iowa. Yet they worked hard and dreamed of a better life, one where their children would thrive. And they did.

We remember Van Gogh for his bold use of color. Rembrandt, for his masterful use of light and shadow. Grandma’s life had distinct qualities that have marked her time on earth and those who knew her.

~ A quiet strength and steadfast faith. She was always a safe place for her grandchildren. No doubt, she prayed us into the Kingdom.

~ A home that welcomed all. And at all hours. When arriving after midnight on a trip from Tennessee to Iowa, she would stumble down the hall and greet us by sleepily asking, “Do you want some ice cream?” Every. Time. Candy dishes brimming with butterscotch , photo albums crammed with pictures of grandchildren (and the occasional newspaper clipping reporting that “Lem and Thelma Stolz had grandchildren in town visiting this week”), and walls covered in portraits that she had painted of her grandchildren, all declared that we were loved.

~ A love for all things creative. At 50 years old, she decided to learn to paint – because she wanted to paint her grandchildren. Within a year, she had won a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair for her work. Many years later, she learned to quilt. The embodiment of her warmth and creativity, she gave dozens of quilts to charity. Our home enjoys handmade quilts for holidays, each baby that’s been born, children’s rooms, and even baby dolls. Such heirlooms are a rare treasure. When I visited Grandma near her 90th birthday, she had recently given up cable television. “I just don’t understand those old people who sit around and watch television. I need the extra money for my crafts.” She painted and quilted until her final years. We are the grateful beneficiaries of her work and her spirit.

~ A grounded presence. She had the rare gift of being both practical and tender. When my grandfather died, grandma was beside herself. She had lived more than fifty years with one man – each life bleeding into the other. Shortly after his funeral, she sat at the kitchen table, memories and tears flowing. Then the tears stopped. “Well,” she said. “Now I can eat chicken. And I can go back to potluck at church.” Grandpa didn’t like chicken, and his declining health toward the end of his life made church attendance difficult. She loved him deeply. She grieved fully. But she chose to see the good in life as it was given to her.

~ A love for music. When my mother was young, she and Grandma had a spot on the local radio show. In homemade matching outfits, Grandma played the piano and they sang gospel songs together. Even in the past few years as her memory and eyesight failed her, the music she loved dearly did not. She couldn’t remember her children or grandchildren, yet she could sit at the piano and play beautifully.

My grandmother will be missed, but we are eternally grateful for her legacy of faith, creativity, steadfastness, and music.

We are burying my grandma today. But the melody of her beautiful life will continue to echo into future generations.

 

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The 90th birthday party.
August 2006 054
Grandma with her namesake (Caroline “Hamilton” – from Grandma’s lineage).


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Less than Ideal

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It’s been a hard month at our house. I’m not sure when the tone started taking a turn – I think maybe sometime late summer. Life had been moving swiftly down the track, a rhythmic clickety-clacking through each sports event, date night, business meeting, and coffee with friends. Yet the track ahead had a sharp bend – one I didn’t see coming. Clackety-click shifted into an ominous creekety-lurchety screech. It didn’t sound good.

My child who loves and breathes activity developed a sharp pain in his foot that wouldn’t go away. After first dismissing his complaints (with five children, dismissing is a legitimate step in the process), we finally went to the doctor. What had seemed to be a temporary ache was actually more serious. He couldn’t run or jump for any length of time without significant pain. The combination of his intense activity and his rapid growth had contributed to a semi-chronic condition that could last for months. Although stretching and ice should bring eventual relief, time was the only guaranteed remedy. Despite his determined spirit, he wouldn’t be playing basketball this fall. He wouldn’t be playing much of anything this fall. My boy had received his first dose of grief. Sometimes, the world is less than ideal.

The early weeks of school are always bring transition, but this year was different. The simple, quiet life that we’d worked so hard to build could no longer be maintained. Although the shift is appropriate given the children’s ages, I’m grieving the closing of a sweet window in life. One day, I found myself driving the same stretch of road twelve times. Twelve. Times. Thus was my initiation into this next phase of parenting. I’ve been there before with our older kids. I know what to expect. Yet I found myself feeling profoundly depleted – after three days. Driving up and down that street through congested afternoon traffic, Ionging for a jog or a book that were no longer options, I could feel the frustration mounting. I knew the correct spiritual answers to my predicament. They couldn’t tame my discontent. I was bored. I was grouchy. I was irritated.  Life was less than ideal.

The same week that school was off to a hobbling start, we happened to notice that my husband’s ankle looked thick. Not swollen – thick. He’s an avid athlete, complete with all the requisite injuries and strains, so we didn’t give it much thought. Until the next day. A precautionary visit to Urgent Care turned into a concerned visit to the ER. “Nothing serious”, we were told. Probably a twisted ankle. Yet the voice of reason outweighed the ER’s diagnosis, and he learned three days later that indeed, he had a blood clot. “Fresh”, “acute”, and “deep” were the terms that applied. Not good news. The weeks to follow were full of unknowns. They still are. Although grateful for a correct diagnosis and treatment, the athletic options for my active husband have become quite limited. Multiple visits to the doctor and trips to the hematologist lab have replaced long jogs on these beautiful crisp mornings. We’re not sure what the next several months will hold. Not ideal.

In a defiant act of hope, I planted my fall garden. My fingers meandered longingly through the dark, moist earth. The earth that would eventually bloom life. In the still point of that late August afternoon, it dawned on me like the obvious answer to a riddle. It was death that had prepared the soil – hundreds, perhaps thousands of years of decaying plants. Plants that had once been green, soaking in sun, giving the good gift of oxygen, drinking in rain. They had served their temporal purpose on earth. Yet it was through death and decay that their impact would be generative. The process was far from immediate. Yet it would be lasting.

Ancient seeds were planted long, long ago. Hidden deeply away in the darkness, they are germinating. Their soil enriched with the death of convenience, ideals, comfort, security, and preferred agenda. If I readjust my eyes and look closely, I see the beginnings. Small signs of growth. Glimpses of what once flourished in the Garden and will be formed fully again. Unfurling are the tender leaves of thankfulness in my son, contentment in my husband, and patience in me.

Perhaps “less than ideal” is ideal after all.

 

 

 

 



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Posture

Xray-Julie-Posture-June-2013

I recently had an ugly fall while running. I lost a layer of skin on my hand, mobility of my jaw, and a modicum of dignity. I gained six stitches squarely at the base of my chin and a healthy fear of pavement. Months later, I’m grateful to report that the external injuries are no longer visible. My body had totally healed. Almost.

Despite my recovery, one nagging reminder of the painful incident remained. My jaw wouldn’t close completely – at least not without intentional effort. It’s amazing what we take for granted every day. Eyes that blink. Fingers that grasp. And a jaw that closes when not in use.

Weeks rolled into months. There was no longer pain in my jaw – just a nagging reminder that something wasn’t quite right. Surely time would heal that as well. When time didn’t heal, my dentist nudged me in the direction of a physical therapist.

I confess that the few minutes spent filling out paperwork were marked by a combination of pride and irritation. I’m rarely sick. This would eventually get better on its own. For crying out loud, I don’t even have a primary care doctor. Doesn’t that say something? I should have waited it out. I have better things to do with my time. Then the physical therapist walked through the door.

After asking the prescribed battery of questions and assessing my condition, she made a few, measured comments. If I didn’t deal with the cause behind the issue, permanent scar tissue could develop. Full healing might become impossible.

The recommended rehabilitation for my jaw included daily ice packs, isometric exercises, and the need to hold my head straight (rather than tipped forward). I read a lot during the day. A whole lot. Actually, most of my activities result in my head being tipped forward ever so slightly. Apparently, this didn’t help my jaw; rather it stretched out the very muscles needed to keep my jaw securely closed. If these actions didn’t remedy my problem, we’d have to resort to a high dose of topical steroids. “We’ll see,” I thought. After all, we were heading out-of-town for several days. Surely, it will get better on its own. Pride and denial make a powerful cocktail.

I promptly disregarded all instruction while on our trip, except I was intentional about correcting my posture. Head up, jaw back. It turns out that I didn’t need ice packs or exercises. I didn’t need steroids. Within days, the tension in my jaw had vanished. It closed easily and without effort. A change of a few degrees in posture had changed everything.

Some injuries are obvious. The gash in my chin and subsequent flow of blood made it clear that a visit to the emergency room was in order. Six stitches, and I was on my way toward healing. Other injuries are more subtle and easier to disregard. Like my achy jaw, they may not demand immediate attention, but if left untreated, long-term damage can occur.

I have “achy jaws” in many areas of life.

~ Relationships that aren’t completely healthy, but that I’ve chosen not to address. “It will get better over time. Surely.”

~ Envy of others who are smarter, more disciplined in their pursuit of fitness and nutrition, better parents, etc.

~ Laziness masked as busyness. If my life is full of (fill in the blank), I can’t possibly have time to attend to (fill in the blank).

The chronic, muted ache is a warning sign of a deeper problem. One that won’t go away with time and could prove to be insidious if left untreated. At the very least, it’s a problem that will prevent me from flourishing.

Yet if we’re willing to listen to the ache and have the courage to address the root cause, then there’s hope.

Sometimes hope comes in the form of excruciating surgery.  Sometimes it’s found in years of adjustments and rehabilitation.  In the midst of the uncertainty and suffering, we can take courage. We are under the tender care of the Great Physician.

But occasionally, our pain is more subtle. It’s the result of spiritual misalignment – the seemingly innocuous habit of looking down rather than looking up.

Sometimes hope comes from a change in posture.



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Moving Forward

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It was a big day today. I went on my first run since the accident over four months ago. After my fall, I vowed that I’d never let it happen again. It was a vow that wasn’t hard to keep during the winter. I don’t like cold weather, and my jaw has continued to serve as an achy reminder of that painful autumn day.

It was time to find an alternative form of exercise. One with less impact on my knees. I am in my (early) forties, after all. This was a sign. I retreated to the safety of my elliptical machine, but it just wasn’t the same. The Carolina spring has been casting its spell, and I finally succumbed to the enchantment.

I chose my path carefully. Dirt trail, not pavement, just in case. The first step evoked a strange combination of terror and exhilaration. My heart raced, not from increased work load, but from a rush of adrenaline brought on by memories of blood on pavement and a long ER wait. One slow, careful step led to another. Step after step, I was tempted to stop. Step after step, I chose to keep moving. It was an unimpressive run at best, but I couldn’t help but to feel a small sense of victory. I was no longer gripped by fear. Although slowly and cautiously, I was moving forward.

A friend recently asked me what I thought it looked like to forgive and move forward after having been hurt or betrayed. Forgiving is one thing. Trying to heal a severely wounded relationship is quite another. I found myself grasping for words. I’m not a fan of trendy, positive clichés. Too many have been tossed my way, causing further pain rather than the intended encouragement.  After stumbling around in my head and trying to piece together some semblance of truth, I found I had little to say.

But now maybe I do.

While taking my first tentative steps on the trail today, I realized that for me, running would never be the same. What had once been pleasurable and instinctive has become a cautious act of will. I would never again run with complete abandon. The doctors still don’t know what caused my foot to go numb, so there is no assurance that I won’t fall again.  The reality is that I could.  In order to move forward, I chose to believe that what lies ahead is of greater value than that which staying still will protect. There was risk involved. It was an act of hope.

As my brisk walk morphed into a slow jog, I was granted an unanticipated gift. Before my accident, I had run without much thought or concern. As a result of my fall, I had become acutely aware of the miracle of each step. Innocence had been replaced by gratefulness. I would never again take the ability to run for granted. Although riskier, it now holds much greater value.

For four months, I had structured my world in such a way to allow for healing. I didn’t put myself in a position to be hurt again. Having gravel being dug out of my chin isn’t something I want to relive anytime soon. Protection for a time was appropriate, but with time came healing. Eventually, I had a choice to make. I could live in fear or dare to hope.

Most of us tiptoe through life avoiding pain at all cost. It’s not that we underestimate the pain of the fall. It’s that we underestimate the cost. We may gain self-protection, but we pay a high price – the price of forfeiting deeper dependence on our Maker and a life marked by freedom, peace, and the deep abiding joy for which we were created.

If I’d have given in to the strong (understandable) compulsion to play it safe, I would have missed the long-awaited warm spring day. I would have missed the chattering chipmunks’ playful game of chase. I would have missed the heads of determined blooms, which were pushing through the darkness toward the light. The very soil from which they grew and drew sustenance was a byproduct of death. Each vibrant green sprout testified that death is necessary in order to birth new life. Death, even of a dream, is to be grieved. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

In fact, it may be what comes before the very best part.

“Most of human life is Holy Saturday, a few days of life are Good Friday, but there only needs to be one Easter Sunday for us to know the final and eternal pattern. We now live inside of such cosmic hope.”   Richard Rohr

To forgive and move forward starts with grieving the death of what was, yet daring to hope for what could be. It means leaning in, exchanging a posture of self-protection for a posture of loving another. It means coming to terms with the frailty of human relationship, yet being willing to depend on the Father (rather than another ) to meet my needs. It means trusting in the goodness and power of my Healer, regardless of what the future may bring.

To forgive and move forward means choosing to believe that the power of Easter Sunday can resurrect and breathe new life into the dead.
And then to live like I believe it.

 

 



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The Problem of Forgiveness

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This post was originally shared with Redemption’s Road, a ministry of The Barnabas Center. Take a few minutes to visit and read about others’ experiences as they journey the road of redemption.

— — —

There are times when forgiving another comes easily. Bridges are crossed and damage is repaired.  Yet at other times, the choice to forgive feels too risky, if not impossible. We’re frozen. The following piece is written from the perspective of one who can’t seem to move forward. Perhaps you’ve been there as well.

— — —

The icy waters wrap around me like a dark deadly blanket. My body, initially shocked, is becoming numb to the pain. There’s a strange comfort in numbness – granting temporary relief while causing excruciating damage.

It’s your fault, after all. This predicament I’m in. Each act of betrayal, each harmful word, and even your deafening silence. They doused buckets of frigid water into this vast pool of pain.

The first wave brought shock. I was unprepared. Disoriented. Confused. With each icy blast, the warmth I’d always known was stripped away from me. I thrashed about wildly. Despite all my scheming, I was trapped.

Eventually, I adjusted to the new environment.  The numbing water did its work. I wanted to forget what it felt like to be warm, to be comfortable, to be safe. Those memories had become more painful than the insidious cold death creeping through my veins. Every moment that transpired, life-giving blood moved more slowly.  Tissues were starving. I was dying.

In the dark, cold waters, I became consumed by my struggle to survive. I had little awareness of anything other than my immediate crises. Unbeknownst to me, a shift had occurred. You had entered my pool of pain and were moving toward me, moving resolutely across the frigid sea. I braced for the next wave to hit. I squinted and tried to assess the situation, but my vision was distorted. All I could see through fear-clouded waters was a shadow of someone I thought I had known. I could no longer see you clearly. Rather, all I could see was a shadow moving toward me. One that was no longer safe.

I didn’t consider that you had taken this risk to jump in with me.
I didn’t know that you were trying to help.
I didn’t care that you were sorry.
I didn’t want to take the risk.

Frantically, my eyes scanned the horizon for options.

Then I spotted it. At first, I struggled to see. Then the image became clear. Just outside my grasp floated a life-preserver. It was old and tattered, covered with scarlet stripes. Stripes that hade been singed into the surface 2,000 years ago. It offered a way out. For both of us.  I had a choice to make.

I could take hold of the float and extend it to you. We could emerge from the slow, frigid death and let the sun warm us. Thaw our bodies and hearts. Bring us back to life.  My heart skipped a beat. This nightmare could be over.

But what if the waters came again?
What if I found myself helpless once more?
No, that’s a chance I cannot take.

Indeed, there’s a strange comfort in numbness.

So I’ll tread my icy waters and turn away from the raft.
I won’t be hurt again.
I’m in control.

I’m drowning.



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The Mind of the Maker:  Week 3 (Chapter 5 & 6)
If you’re not reading with us, that’s ok… Each post shares one idea found in the text. 

With little-to-no warning, the small, innocent piles of paper had grown into mounds of clutter.  Remnants of late-night swim meets had developed their own little communities – hanging bags, crumpled damp towels, and stray coins left over from concession stand purchases were congregating in their respective corners of the kitchen.  In response, we declared war.  We spent the morning cleaning and de-cluttering.  For a brief period of time, we had transformed chaos into order.

Clean, organized countertops greeted us as we entered the kitchen the following morning.  The renewed sense of order brought with it freedom and a surge of energy.  We had planned on making blueberry muffins for breakfast. But ideas were percolating.  The previous day, the kiddos and their buddies in the neighborhood had created a lemonade stand.  The money raised was for their friends, who were going on a mission trip to Mexico this summer.  They wanted to do it again.  Eureka – we could sell the muffins at the lemonade stand!  The plan quickly came together, and within a few hours, a fair amount of money had been raised to donate to the cause.

I’m struck by how the joy from the morning’s lemonade stand was a direct result of the prior day’s work.  We had been enjoying the relaxing pace of the summer.  Freedom from the constraints of a busy schedule had slowly eroded order in the house.  Yet on Friday, order (at least in my kitchen) had been regained.  It was that sense of space and organization that provided the mental and emotional (not to mention physical) space needed for creativity.  I wouldn’t have been up for the morning lemonade stand had we not buckled down to clean the day before.  Order wasn’t something to escape – it was a venue through which we could experience freedom for more.  (Although I’m also aware that for some, the constant compulsion to maintain order brings its own set of chains).

The Laws of the Universe are constant.

Physically – If I eat poorly and don’t exercise, eventually…

Intellectually – If I treat my mind to a steady diet of mindless entertainment and starve it of healthy, stimulating ideas, eventually…

Relationally – If I take more than I give, or am driven primarily by fear or control eventually…

Spiritually – If I live a life in which I decide what is true and insist (even subtly) on independence from my Maker, eventually…

We were all born with the fatal flaw of independence.  We think we’re beating the system by living on our own terms.  Yet ironically, it’s that very spirit which eventually brings our downfall – or at the very least, limits our capacity to live the full, rich lives for which we were created.  We’ve all experienced the consequences.  Some seasons of life are marked by catastophic downfall – like deeply wounded or severed relationships.  Others are much more subtle – like the decreased capacity to create.

In Chapter 5 of The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers explores the relationship of free will and miracle as seen in the relationship between a playwright and his characters. A playwright who creates substantive and believable characters can’t be egotistical (enforcing his will and viewpoints upon the characters).  The characters, however, have innate limitations.

“For the true freedom of Energy (activity) consists in its willing submission to the limitations of its own medium. The attempt to achieve freedom from the medium ends inevitably in loss of freedom within the medium, since, here as everywhere, activity falls under the judgement of the law of its own nature.”  Dorothy Sayers p. 66

 

Our choice to clean the kitchen seems like a frivolous example when compared to the laws of the universe.  Yet, the reality is that our lives are rarely defined by dramatic, life-altering events.  Rather, we build our lives one small, seemingly insignificant choice at a time.

Do I clean the kitchen or become distracted with something more pleasurable?

Do I speak into lives of those around me based on what is in their best interest, or am I easily offended (or angered, or guarded)?

Do I defer to the Source of all wisdom, strength, and power, or continue to rely on my own resources?

Our spiritual heritage, inherited from our parents in the garden, is marked by a legacy of independence.  We think that we know best.  We live life accordingly.  Yet if we dare to trust the heart of the Father, it is possible to live a life that more closely resembles the original design.   A life lived more richly.  More fully.  More freely.  His heart is not one of control, domination, or manipulation.  It’s one of sacrifice.

“The business of the creator is not to escape from his material medium or to bully it, but to serve it;  but to serve it he must love it.  If he does so, he will realize that its service is perfect freedom.  This is true, not only of literary art but of all creative art.”   Dorothy Sayers p.66

And I’d add, true of all creative art – including The Creator’s masterpiece, of which He said, “It is very good.”

Consider your everyday choices.

Are there areas of life where you’re trying to “beat the cosmic system”?

Are there times when you’ve experienced greater freedom as a result of living within limitations?

Life is full of choices.  And thankfully, the Father is full of grace.

~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s not too late to join us as we read through The Mind of the Maker this summer.  We’d love to have you.  The reading schedule has a bit of a break for the week of July 4th, so it would be a great time to catch up and join us!

Thoughts from week 1 found here
Thoughts from week 2 found here 

 

 

 

 



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Sweet Communion

The following is a guest post by Rebecca Reynolds.  In addition to being a gracious and thoughtful writer, Becca’s repertoire includes star-studded peep-o-ramas, circus peanut sculptures, and stunning portraits etched in Oreo cookie creme.  You can visit her blog at Little Boot Liturgies.

 

Sometimes M struggles with “lifting” candy. We were expecting this, because orphanage living caters to the shrewd. It’s fairly common for parents of internationally-adopted children to find stashes of food stuffed in hiding places all around the house. Kids do this because they want to make sure they have something to eat later if they need it.

Mosie doesn’t hide regular food, but he does lift suckers. If I get occupied with some chore around the house, I will hear little feet thumping through the dining room, hear the kitchen stool scooting, and soon I will find a pile of paper wrappers and sticks lying on the counter. He knows this is off limits. He does it anyway.

I’m more concerned about his heart than a little extra sugar. Truth be told, he’s so cute, it’s difficult to make myself deal with such a small offense. However, since the trajectory of his heart is developing, I kneel down and show him the wrappers. I let him know I’m in on the sham.

Then, I will re-explain that he can have candy, but that he needs to ask Momma first; and we’ll slowly talk through the dialogue that should have happened in the first place. I’ll make sure he can repeat it, ask him to apologize, give him a big hug, and give him a chance to do it right. Then – don’t judge me – I’ll give him a sucker so he can enjoy it sans guilt.

This has been happening for several weeks now. During that time, I’ve intentionally kept the suckers where he could reach them. I want him to learn to resist them.

As our relationship has grown, I can tell that his dilemma has grown as well. At first, when he was feeling guilty, he would avert his eyes when I walked in the room. He would hang his head. His face would flush.

Then, something new began:

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. (Enter little feet.) “Hello, Momma!” One hand behind the back, shifting from foot to foot.

“Hello, M. What are you doing?”

“Hello, Momma.” (Forced smile. Hand still behind back. Still shifting foot to foot.)

I know he has a sucker in the hand. I can feel the tension within him. He wants closeness with me. He wants the candy. He wants both.

My little son waits there with all the pain I feel when I want both. “Hello, God. I want You. But what I’m protecting from You tastes sweet, too.” So I stand at the fork in the road, with my hand behind my back (as if flesh could shelter idols from the All-seeing), teasing out the advantages and disadvantages of communion.

Suddenly, I see in those two little eyes an appeal. Not for candy, but for understanding. “Can you feel how hard this choice is, Momma? This awful dilemma? I want this thing. And I want to be free of it.”

We are the same, he and I.

So I put my hand behind my own back, and I look into his eyes. I turn around, showing him my hand, and that I know what he hides.

His mouth flies open. He is astonished. He is loved despite the worst. Relieved and undone, he seems not to know whether to laugh or cry. What a terrible, wonderful thing to be understood!

Quickly, I scoop him up, and I kiss him until he realizes that being known is a refuge in times like these. Because by bringing me the dilemma, he did choose me — before he even realized he had made a choice at all.

He brought me his weakness, and I gave him sonship. Also, I gave him candy.

“All of life is repentance, and repentance increases joy.  It’s not traumatic; it’s joyful and it’s healing.”  Tim Keller

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

 



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Lessons from the Master: Freedom from Ties that Bind

“The Painter in His Studio” by Rembrandt

Rembrandt van Rijn is undoubtedly considered one of the Great Masters of painting and etching.  As with all of us, his life was marked by both success and tragedy.  He suffered the death of his wife and 3 of his 4 children, and endured significant scandal and bankruptcy. It would be reckless to hold Rembrandt up as the standard for which we should strive, yet there is merit to gleaming insights from his remarkable life.

During his career, Rembrandt received a fair degree of criticism for his unconventional methodologies. Ironically, it was often this deviation from the norm that resulted in the extraordinary nature of his artwork.  Some say he was intentionally “bucking the system.”  I’d suggest that his motivation was not externally motivated defiance.  Rather, he was intensely determined to be true to self.

“Instead of being commissioned, the subjects for most of his works were chosen by Rembrandt himself.  Other contemporary portrait painters, like Van Dyck, Velazquez, or Hals, worked almost exclusively on commission, which meant they had to abide by the narrow restrictions on the form imposed by the expectations of the sitter.  Make me look good, whatever you do.”    Roger Housden

Rather than painting in order to please patrons, Rembrandt honored his sense of creative expression.  He chose artistic integrity over financial security.  Some of his most moving and memorable works were produced as a result of the resulting creative freedom.  He painted in order to reveal souls, not capture images.  Holland was a magnet for refugees, and many of his subjects were poor Jewish neighbors (he was the first of his time to paint Jesus as a young Jewish man).  He captured the moods of everyday people as they went about in ordinary life – teaching a toddler to walk, cleaning, and sleeping.   All because he was free from the ties that come with needing to please others.

I’d imagine that if Rembrandt had restricted his artwork to the parameters set by patrons, his paintings still would have been remarkable.  We simply would have never  known that we missed the best part of him.  The same is true of our lives – although seemingly fruitful from the outside, we often don’t experience the fullness of life that we were intended to live.  We too, miss the best part.

I’m challenged by the contrast of Rembrandt’s freedom with my frequent bondage to the opinion of others, and to the commitment to make life work on my terms.  I want a life freedom, yet find myself bowing down to the idols of approval and control.  The struggle is revealed daily…

~ When I find myself angry with my older children for making poor choices, or with my young children when they exhibit less-than-expected manners.  Not always because I want what is honoring to God, but at times because I want affirmation that we’re good parents.  Rather than live a life marked by patience and encouragement, I become a slave to approval.

~ When I’m not willing to go to my husband and ask for forgiveness after an argument, even when I know  that I was in the wrong.  Rather than living a life marked by love and freedom, I become a slave to the illusion of control.

~ When I maintain a safe distance from friends instead of entering into the messiness of relationship.  Rather than living a life marked by integrity and long-suffering, I become a slave to the attainment of safety and acceptance.

I want to live a life marked by peace, integrity, humility, and vibrancy.

Yet I also want to win the approval of others, control of my life, and experience safety in relationships – all which come with strings attached.  Ties that bind.  Chains that enslave.   By my own hand.

We see the cycle of bondage as it played out in Israel’s history.  Until they were delivered.

We are still in need.

I am still in need…

 Our enemy, our captor is no pharaoh on the Nile

Our toil is neither mud nor brick nor sand

Our ankles bear no calluses from chains, yet Lord, we’re bound

Imprisoned here, we dwell in our own land

 Deliver us, deliver us

Oh Yahweh, hear our cry

And gather us beneath your wings tonight

 Our sins they are more numerous than all the lambs we slay

These shackles they were made with our own hands

Our toil is our atonement and our freedom yours to give

So Yahweh, break your silence if you can

 Andrew Peterson “Deliver Us”

The majority of us will not leave a portfolio of priceless artwork for which we will be remembered.  Our legacy will be more subtle, yet no less significant than that of Rembrandt’s.  We’ve each been given a unique palette of talents, experiences, and predispositions with which we paint upon the canvas of the world.  We leave our mark on those we meet, indelibly altering the composition and tone of their lives.

Daily, we choose for whom we are painting.

Do I take the talents and abilities that I’ve been given to fulfill the expectations of others (or myself)? In doing so, I become a slave to that which I hope to attain.

Or do I choose to live life as a student of the Master?  Trusting his guidance, studying his ways, and painting to please him alone…  and as a result, leaving behind a legacy that bears a resemblance to the Master himself.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1


 



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