Friday, October 23, 2015

Be church.

It is not we who bulid. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to bulid the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.  We must confess---he builds.  We must proclaim---he builds.  We must pray to him---that he may build.

We do not know his plan.  We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down.  It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction.   It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.

It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province.  Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well.  Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don't ask for judgments. Don't always be calculating what will happen. Don't always be on the lookout for another refuge!  Church, stay a church!  But church, confess, confess, confess!  Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can yo ulive as you are. Christ builds.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, October 22, 2015

success, contentment, and the boxes that remain

A good question: What is your idea of success?

Success, right now, today, in your various callings: what would you say that looks like?
Take a moment to consider this with me.
Many months ago, I was challenged by some words from a friend. She said, “It was when I dropped my idea of success that I began to experience contentment." (Heidi Goehman)

Wait, what?

She dropped her idea of success?
Why would someone do such a thing?
That makes me anxious, not content. How could I find contentment if I drop my long (long) list of goals for the day?
Her words continued to echo in my head, “When I dropped my idea of success…”
What is your idea of success? Mine has a lot to do with completed tasks, with order and neatness, and being helpful, with emotions in control and cheerfulness and health. Basically: cleanliness, productivity, order, health, and a good attitude to smooth over any rough patches, which there should never really be if you’re doing it right.
Am I right? And assuming this checklist is perfectly completed, contentment will come naturally.
This is why I need God to adjust my aim.
I make myself a list, and contentment becomes my reward for “success,” for perfect completion. It’s on the list, it’s just at the very end. 
Oh friends, don’t you see? Our God is not such a harsh taskmaster as we are ourselves.
He is the author and finisher of our race. He has set us on this journey in the first place.  He invites us to rest and contentment along the way, not as something we earn but simply as another gracious gift from His loving hand.
Surely He who gives us His Son will give us this thing.
Soul rest.
Sucess. What if it has more to do with rest than with work?
No, we don’t get to curl up with our Bible and ignore our neighbors. But we can return to our sanctuary often, in His lap, in His Word. In fact, we are actually invited to do this time and again, as if resting in God and believing in Him were our most important “work” in this life. As if everything depends, not on our constant giving, but on our receiving.
The boxes are not all unpacked, but I have more important things to do.  The children are napping, and it's time for me to set down my vocation for a moment, and become a child.  
Eyes on Jesus, hands open to receive.  It is enough.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone,
my hope comes from Him
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honor depend on God;
He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to Him,
for God is our refuge.

Psalm 62:5-8

Friday, October 16, 2015

art in transition

Have you ever been given a time in your life when you get to just sit back and watch God provide?

That's where I'm at right now.

Well, when I say "sit back" I really mean pack and unpack a million boxes, learn a new city and a new school and a new life for myself and my husband and this wild pack of children, and meet hundreds of new people whose names are a blur, and organize a house while pizza-eating kids stomp on bubble wrap and fight over night lights.

This life is full of so much everything right now.

But part of me is sitting back.

Though the grief lingers, and I miss my Indiana home, and the to-do list is huge, the biggest of the Big Feelings I have at this moment is: Wow.

Wow, how God provides.

We have only just begun to drink of His provision here in Michigan, but the well is deep, and He has already given so much more than we asked or imagined.

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

hand-me-down art and luncbox packing art!
I haven't been writing much. And I almost said something crazy about that, like, "I am setting my art aside for awhile while we get settled." But then I remembered what I learned from Emily P. Freeman about art.  I'm still me, still a child of God accepted by grace alone, still receiving all that I need and more from the Father.  And what He gives is still spilling out all over the place on those around me. And that's art.

I've been practicing the art of organizing a home, helping with homework, walking a dog on a leash, and hanging up uniforms in a neat little rows.  We've been learning the art of sitting in grief, and the art of opening hearts to a new place and new people. We've eaten the fruits of other people's kitchen art, and we've moved into a house full of new-floor art, and clean everything, and the smooth art of freshly painted walls.

And God is still creating, sustaining all things by His Word:
the pine trees, the black squirrels, and the people in the hundreds of cars driving by my new home each day; and the pastor, called to this place, to this enormous job; along with his family.

We are upheld.  God is faithful.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Sheep of His Hand

When we moved to Indiana, nobody had ever gone to school before. I was a stay-at-home mom with four preschoolers. Little Lorraine was the first one to leave. I remember the nights leading up to her first day of kindergarten: her big brown eyes asking me terrified questions, “Mama, what was school like when you were a kid?”

“Mom, will I get to have a stay-at-home day with you again?”

“But what if I miss you?”

Years later, a son's first day of school. His face said “this is no big deal” when he left me, but after school, he grabbed my hand and made a quiet confession: “Mom, I cried a little at rest time because I missd-ed you, but nobody saw me.”

Now, a new city, a new home, and all six are old enough for school.  God is asking quite a bit of me, it seems, to trust my precious babies with people I hardly know. But He is kind to me, even through this, providing me assurances of His presence and His love for these dear children; a love greater than mine.

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In Indiana, and now, here in Michigan, we walk across the yard to school.  I may be able to see the school from my window, but the distance between home and school is huge, no matter where you live. Here, I am the one to whom they come with joys and problems. At school, to whom will they go? If they cry, will anyone see? Once they are on the conveyor belt that takes them to kindergarten, to sports, to junior high, to high school, to college, will they ever come back to me, to simply rest in my arms?

Yet, they are not mine, and I have no right to hold them as if they are. Our children are ours for a season, but by the grace of God given in Baptism, they are His for eternity. And here in my kitchen as I pray for my school kids, I know that God Himself is there in the school with them, helping them grow into who He has made them to be.

God is there, and I thank God, that His presence is welcome at this school.

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Last night, one wouldn't eat. Another had a horrible dream that he went to school and forgot his shoes. One was extra fussy about her hair. They are wearing unfamiliar clothes (uniforms!), and they don't know their way around the building.  They need to learn to use lockers, and they are meeting all kinds of new people.  And yet, this morning, they each managed to put one foot in front of the other and walk into the unknown.  Not one of them cried when I left.  God is holding them up, even as He has promised.

And now, they are sitting in new desks, learning their new lives. And God is with them. They are watching for his provision, and He will provide. They gather with their peers and their teachers, not only to learn multiplication tables and phonics; they gather with the body of Christ, and together, they will receive good things from His hand.

The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand;
    you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 145:15-16

Almighty God, heavenly Father, You have blessed us with the joy and care of children in our homes and in our school. Give us calm strength and patient wisdom that, as they grow in years, we may teach them to love whatever is just and true and good, following the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord. We cannot do this except by your strength. Please pour out your abundant provision for us, your church, and grant us faithful hands and faithful hearts.
In His name we pray, Amen.

(prayer paraphrased from LSB p. 315)

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Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,

    and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another,

    and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
    and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
    and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,

    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
    and his mercy is over all that he has made.

(Psalm 145: 3-9)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

see you in His hand...

When we moved to Indiana seven years ago, there was crying and hugging and much sadness as we said goodbye to our dear friends there.

But I remember one lady, an elderly lady who worked alongside me at the pregnancy care center, and I remember her goodbye as quite unusual. We loved each other, and she was surely sad to see us go, but she didn’t talk about that so much. Instead, she filled her conversation and her goodbye card to me with encouragement from the Lord, thanking Him for the times we had shared, and praying to Him for future blessings. Then, she ended her card simply,

See you in heaven.

Those four simple words, “see you in heaven,” were startling to me then, and strange enough that they made me think. She had the perspective of age, and perhaps her age gave her this clear-sighted perspective. She did not know how long she had in this world; for that matter, none of us know. My friends and I comforted each other with promises of visits and emails, but these things were unnecessary with her. And in truth, there were further visits, and I have seen her again, and when we parted again, her response was the same: See you in heaven.

The words, the life of this dear saint, has become a sermon to me. She lived , eyes on Jesus, always walking toward her rest in Him. She said her see-ya-later simply, as if to say, “I may see you before then or I may not; we cannot know those things, and how much do they matter, really? We have eternity together, and in Christ we will be reunited when change and tears are forever past! Perhaps we will be allowed more time to encourage each other in the weary journey of this life, perhaps not; but surely we will be together in the great celebration at the end, the final victory, when sin and death and the devil are defeated, when the saints are perfected in love, when we begin the forever days of perfect love and life in the presence of Him who made us his own!”

As I received this open-handed love, it gave me permission to fly, to seek the Lord where He called me to find Him, and to trust Him to restore all that I grieve back again someday, in His timing.

I carry these thoughts with me today, as we say our last round of goodbyes to Indiana.

I want to make more memories with these people. I want to know when I will see them again. Yet these things can only be placed in God’s hand, in His hand that has provided all we have needed and so much more. We place ourselves and those people and places we love in His hand. When the grief tsunamis come, I will curl up and ride them out, in His hand. And when the new joys pour over us, we will receive those also, from His hand.

It will be His own hand that cares for the church here, and for us as we leave. And it will be His own hand that brings us back together again, in His timing, as He works all things for our good.

As we leave our dear friends in Indiana, words cannot recount the ways we have been loved and cared-for here, or the depth of our gratitude. We will miss you dearly, but even as we part, we know that neither you nor we will be so far as to be outside of God's loving hands.

See you in heaven
(and maybe even sooner!)

See you in His hand!

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