service

"Even if you can't take me..."

She’s nearly 16, but her face is un-made-up, baby soft.  Her way of dressing, her way of carrying herself, not typical of her generation; she is both older and younger than her peers.  At one moment she bashfully tucks herself behind her father – and then she can’t help herself, and her mouth opens and eyes search the tops of walls for words.

“I didn’t see how God could accept me…I’m so prideful, sinful, and I thought He might not take me…”

Hands, fingers move in the air and her eyes grow watery and red as the words tumble out…

“But I just thought: there’s nothing else out there.  There’s nothing else worth living for. So I told Him: Even if you can’t take me, even if I’m not enough…I’m still going to serve you anyway, because You are the only thing worth living for…”

I was still on my feet, but my spirit wanted to sit down.  My eyes were fixed on this beautiful creature standing in front of me, not yet out of the nest, unable to commit heinous crimes or live a life of outward depravity.  But she knows her heart and is certain of her unworthiness before a holy God.

But it wasn’t even that…It was the second part:

“Even if you can’t take me…I’m going to serve you anyway.”

Do I feel this way?

Is this the way we live?

Do I give myself to anything, not only not demanding a return…not only not expecting…but believing I do not deserve?

Do we really, really believe that everything is gifted and not earned, grace? "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…" (Ephesians 2:8)

Will we keep making music, art, without awards or recognition?

Will we prepare food if no one expresses gratitude for our efforts?

Will we wash the feet of people who seemingly have nothing to offer us, or people whose company we do not enjoy?

Will we remain faithfully at our post, during seasons where the fruit of our labor is unseen?

Do I agree with this young girl?

With this...

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of   my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Psalm 84:10)

I want it to be true of me, that I live by this:  Even if... yet I will serve you.

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"Even if you can't take me..."

And her father turned to her and said: "But...you couldn't feel that way if He hadn't already taken you."

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And my heart sang:

Glory to God, Glory to God...my life for the glory of God!

Forgetting the rest...

*I feel the need to add this morning's reading to this post as a reminder that there is one place to go with these questions, with our needs.  And that the answer to self-driving busy-ness is not self-focus of a different kind.  It is only in re-directing the eyes of our hearts to the Giver of Life that we find any rest for our weariness: "Show me YOUR ways, O Lord

TEACH me YOUR paths

Guide me in YOUR truth and TEACH me

for YOU are GOD my SAVIOR

and my hope is in You ALL DAY LONG."

Psalm 25:4

He loves me, and he knows me.  He knows me, yet he loves me.

My better half has a way of seeing through the chaos and the tales I've led myself to believe…for better or worse.

Much to my chagrin, he knows my blindspots.

He sees the inconsistencies in my reasoning.  My seeming inability to trust, to relinquish control.  My addiction to work and anxiety and perfection and impossible commitments.  The resulting impatience I have toward the people I love most.  The constant running of a mind that has forgotten how to rest.

I’ve said it for years:

My greatest fear is not having enough time, in a day, in a life.

I love and I long to live love the way God does, and…I know it’s often not about anything but…I.

Every day feels like a battle against the clock.  Passion propels an exhausted body and large family relentlessly onward because the kids need clean clothes and healthy food and the church needs contributing members and the neighborhood needs community and the world needs saving and music and friendship and compassion and if not me, then who?

(It’s okay.  You can say it.  It's true.)

This isn’t noble, selfless living.  This is driven living.  It may be sincere, it may be love; but it’s also a false belief that everything and everyone depend on moi.  That God might not be quite up to the task, or may not have the army he thought he had.

Don't I sort of want to be hands and feet and every other part of the spiritual body?

Isn’t that just a bit egocentric?  Prideful?  Willful?

If it is, what then is the answer?  Scripture makes it clear that self-sacrifice is not a bad thing and that righteous suffering is part of the job.  And shouldn’t we wring every bit of ourselves out for the treasures of a permanent kingdom while we’re here in the midst of such spiritual and physical hunger?

Perhaps we are meant to do the work we are doing.  But differently.

Or…perhaps we are meant to do the work in seasons and not all at once.

I honestly do not know.  I only know we were made for the work and the rest.  And I. don't. know. how.

I write this here as confession.  I write it “out loud” because it’s embarrassing, and that probably means I should admit it.  I’m writing to ask if you’ll pray for me.

And, as I write anything, I write hoping we find ourselves less alone.

how to hear the music...

I heard the front door close behind him before I was even out of bed. I’d overslept.

Now I’m slurping coffee and lighting candles, reading from the One Year Bible. Sizzling sausage. This is the tranquil intro.

Tapping out a bass line in email responses.

I can hear the rushing water of the shower upstairs over tiny tan shoulders. Her small, high-pitched soprano sings out indiscernible words, bouncing off bathroom walls, floating through every room in the house.

A fork tap taps against a bowl of peaches in the kitchen.

The dishwasher we forgot to run last night is now swishing away at work.

Pointer pup and grumpy old cat stand off near the feeding area, hissing and growling, and my brain buzzes with the things I meant to have done this morning. With the plans on the calendar and preparations for this and that. Here comes the build.

The drowsy silence of early day quickly swells into song. This is the surround sound of our daily life.

But I remember when it was completely different. When I was 23, new in town, and it was only him and me in our little rental. When I decided to wait a few weeks before looking for work, thinking I’d spend the hours songwriting. Within a few days, I was sure the silence would swallow me up whole.

No friends. No work. No idea what to do with the songs I was accumulating. No place to be. No family around. And a painful distance between even the two of us.

Every week was blank, looming at me like open jaws of a great abyss.

A different season completely. God is conducting a magnificent symphony here. Now, if I occasionally long for something on earth, it’s rest, time, occasional silence.

But I know some of you are where I was. You don’t hear His music. Only the sound of isolation, insignificance, uncertainty. You attempt to eek out a melody, but it just keeps meandering and never seems to amount to anything.

Please hear this.

It matters that you keep breathing air into those holes. It matters that you get up in the morning and do what has been placed in front of you and use whatever has been placed in your hands.

There is no “Arrival” gate in life. You are already, today, doing the plan. If you think otherwise, wait until you achieve one of your life goals, and see how quickly you’re swept on into the next movement. The next thing. Instead…when you hear no music, make music.

This is what Love does. Find someone who needs to be sung to.

Today we will, if we leave home, cross paths with someone who needs to be sung to. What he needs may not be our “special gift.” Maybe what she is hungry for is not what we feel like giving or something that will further our own interests.

That’s okay. Sing anyway. Sing truth, with a smile, a conversation, a hand on a shoulder, a small gift, an act of service, a shared bit of time. Then you’ll begin to hear.

To live joyfully, we must stop trying to make ourselves happy.

If your own home is too quiet, if your own mind too haunting…spend less time there.

How I WISH I could go back, have my 23-year-old self hear this. How I wish my self-absorbed 16-year-old self could have understood it. How I hope to remember it today, when I am tempted to become consumed with myself and my own efforts, and I start to hear only noise.

I’m desperate to hear the layers of harmony in His song. He IS singing, you know. We’ve just got to train our ears to hear it. And watch for the build.

What can we give to the King?

A couple of years ago I read Noel Piper's beautiful little book titled Treasuring God in Our Traditions, in which she offers insight into the ways we celebrate holidays and other occasions throughout the year. Inspires us to pause and consider why this tradition and not that...

One practice we've adopted in our home since then (which is probably my modified version of hers) is to hang "shepherd's pouches" on the mantle during the days/weeks of Advent.  In place of stockings, these simple but shimmering cloth gift bags (Target!) are used by each child to collect his or her "gifts for the King."  

We first talk about our desire to give gifts of love to those we care about - on birthdays, especially.  But...

How do we give to an invisible being?  

Then we read Jesus' words: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

So.  This is how we give to the King.  We love and care for others.  Tangibly and intangibly.  Sacrifice. Service.

Yes.  This is how.

So this way of loving at this time of the year begins with the children considering together and choosing a person or a group to which they'll donate coins and dollars earned.  Maybe a local shelter that feeds & clothes bodies and souls. The adoption agency which brought our son home to us.  

This year, a catalog from Samaritan's Purse arrived, and the kids have enthusiastically turned its pages (helpful in its plentiful supply of photographs which accompany giving options!), choosing individually what they'd like to give.  

$35    One month of meals, lodging, healthcare & education for an orphaned child

$75    Basic necessities, shelter, counseling for a child rescued from abuse

$10    Treated mosquito net to cover a child's bed

$14     A dozen chicks to provide eggs for a hungry family

$18    Contribute toward a portable water purification unit for a community

$40    10 New Testament Bibles 

...so many more...medical care, training and education, food, water...(shocking how much can be accomplished with so little - less than one restaurant meal here)

It's not about this particular organization, or this particular tradition - there are many beautiful ways to share.

But - cultivating a spirit of self-sacrifice is hard for us anyway - harder still for children during this season and in this consumeristic culture, who are marketed to constantly.  We've found that even the visual reminder of the shepherd's pouch being in view, front and center, during these weeks helps us to maintain focus.  

But, as I heard someone say a few days ago: In our practice of social justice, we must not forget the Source.  The reason.

And so...imperfectly, we remind ourselves that the magnificent event we celebrate on December 25 began with Someone's fierce and determined desire to love a faraway people.  

Sacrifice.  

Service.  

Celebration!