Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Of pain, picnics and God.

“Joy is the sacrifice of praise” sums up a reality from hardest time in my life. Because it was also the best. In the broken moment of surrender, when I cried to God through a mouthful of carpet, as I lay face down sobbing, I learned more of God’s faithfulness than the 14 years leading up to it. The joy of the Lord is truly my strength, and in the face of a sick little sister I couldn’t cure, no matter how many bottles of formula I poured into her,  and the post-partum depression of my goofy, hilarious mother, who I now struggled to coax a wan smile out of, it was my only strength. During the bleak monotony of what we now call “The Hard Winter” I was an unwilling explorer in the vast terrain between happiness and joy. Happiness is dependant on circumstances, joy is the peace that comes from choosing to praise God in the midst of pain.
           Perhaps we experience the joy of the Lord best when the happiness of the world is stripped away.
My character and faith were formed and tested during that time, and while I wouldn’t willingly relive it, I would never trade it. In the years since, when my life returned to its normal state of sunny Sabbaths and late night giggles, I’ve wondered if I was growing, now I was out of the crucible. I want to be marked by the joys God has given me, as surely as the struggles.  
A month ago, sitting enjoying my first summer picnic with friends, the answer struck me. Praise is still the pathway to joy. Recognizing that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) is the key. Seeing our seemingly silly, superficial pleasures as gifts from God,  deepens our happiness into joy. Our pleasure and delight in warm bread, sand and pine needles, picnic baskets and laughter, are pleasure and delight in God, when we see them as from Him. Little instances of all the glory and joy backing each gift, the love He wants to pour out, the beauty that is Him.
Joy is still certainly the sacrifice of praise in the midst of pain. But sometimes joy is the overflowing of praise in a time of goodness.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Love, twue love.

All my life I have heard "God loves you". Which is really pretty wonderful, and I was very grateful to escape judgment, grateful for His inexplicable grace. But I also heard "God is love" and on an emotional level, the two canceled each other out. God's love was simply a result of the fact that He is love, and so he loved me because he couldn't help it; like his love for me was a glitch in his giant brain he'd turn off if he could. Because it made no sense that anyone would choose to love me.
But last Valentine's day, God told me he didn't just love me, he was IN love with me.
There is something mysterious and contradictory and deeply appealing about someone being in love with you. It means that they have picked you out of the masses of people milling about the earth, to be the one they love, the one they commit to. They have chosen you. But simultaneously they couldn't help but choose you, because there was something in you that pulled them, a gravity they couldn't resist. They've fallen in love with you. True love is a juxtaposition of involuntarily emotion and rational decision.
It is incredibly beautiful and holy. And it is what the God of the universe has for me.

P.S. That makes God my Valentine. Beat that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

to what thou knowest thyself to be

"Men will flee... from dread of the Lord, and the splendor of his Majesty, when he rises to shake the earth." Isaiah 2:19.
God is not to be trifled with. I trifle with him all the time.
The difference between God as I imagine him, and God as he is revealed in the Bible, is often vast. And the token worship I offer the safe, comfortable "god" in my head, is every inch idolatry. Worshiping a tame god I've made up is as much idol worship as sacrificing to Baal was, as idolizing sex is. And much, much harder to eradicate, because it's sneakier.
Unless I am worshiping the real God, apart from my conceptions and misconceptions of him, it is idol worship.
All worship, all communion with God needs to begin with us praying "Not to what I think thou art, but to what thou knowest thyself to be." (C.S.Lewis)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

You have been warned.

"Everyone should write poetry. Not everyone should inflict their poetry on others" - Some really smart dude whose name I can't remember. If you know who it is, tell me so I can give him his rightful credit as a really smart dude.
I am now going to ignore his wise advice, and inflict away. But I thought I'd give you fair warning.

Taught from the first
that you were here to satisfy my every thirst
were you cramped by my narrow needs,
my little dreams?
A god shaped hole means
a hole shaped god
and so you were no bigger than my wants
no grander than my greatest whims.
My pretty little god, my nice little god.
I kept you in neat boxes
leftover corners I didn't need.
Better than a genie,
my god-in-a-bottle
to forgive when I felt guilty
clean when dirty
fix my mess.
You made man in your image,
but I made you in mine.
But oh! you are infinite
and so I never knew you.
A crucible, but I like my dross.
"For who can see the Lord and live?"
A consuming fire
you'd make ashes of me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Suffering: Sin and Sanctification (and alliteration thrown in)

I spent yesterday crying about all the pointless pain in the world. Well, other than the going-to-church, eating, dance raving parts of the day.
Throughout the past year, God has taught me a lot about pain, life and the meaning of existence. Mostly, that without pain we cannot have joy. But that's another story, and another post on its way. 
I'm learning that we can "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
Pain as a part of sanctification I am beginning to accept, but what I cannot accept or understand is all the pointless pain. Yesterday I talked to my best friend from Africa/Iowa, and could only cry as she shared how she lays awake at night, haunted by the face of babies she's held from the hospital in Kuitiala. Wondering if they're even alive. Why does God allow a baby to be born just to suffer for two days and then die? Often for no better reason than the shortage of proper medicine and supplies. I don't see the point in that, or any way God can weave a baby's painful gasping for air into his little, collapsing lungs, into His bigger story of redemption. I don't understand why God allows it.
But this morning He showed me He doesn't. We do.
There are two kinds of suffering in the world. Suffering as a part of sanctification, which must be surrendered to and even embraced, and suffering as a result of sin.
All the pointless pain in the world, pain with no redemption in it, is the result of our direct disobedience and rebellion. God's clear commands are to protect and provide for the innocent and weak. When we fail to do that, babies die in Africa for lack of malaria medicine, and lukewarm Christians sit on their couches wasting their lives in America.
If we are not actively seeking justice, "defending the fatherless and the widow" then there is blood on our hands (Isaiah 1:15. You should just read the whole passage).
I am the problem.


I decided to start a blog because I always seem to be bursting with ideas and stories about life, and specifically what God is doing in my life. I get very excited and want to shout it to the world, but facebook doesn't seem like the right medium. And I'm not talented enough to write a book, so hey presto! A blog is perfect.
God, family, Africa and life will be the most common topics. Books might come up just a little too. Here goes.

P.S. Aunt Krista always referred to Mali, West Africa as "the land of sandals" and thus the title. I always planned on starting a blog when I move to Mali, and calling it "in the land of sandals" but I'm not technically in it yet, just on my way.