The Nectar of Nature

The old proverb “It is better to know one mountain than climb many” allows me to sigh in relief. Long trips to majestic mountains or exotic places are neither in our budget nor our foreseeable future. We barely leave a 30 mile radius of our house. Yet, nestled right in the middle of our normal life, there is a mountain (of sorts) that I know.

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When life gets loud or my soul feels cramped and crowded by the mundane, I flee five minutes down the road to our regional park. It’s not Yosemite or the Grannd Tetons, yet Lord never fails to meet me there.

Though the park is mostly compromised of chaparral and rocky ground, subtle beauty surrounds me there. Tiny wildflowers unseen by most remind me that God sees and enjoys that which is unnoticed by humans. Gently moving streams follow their courses, reminding me of the One who holds and directs human heart like water courses (Proverbs 21:21).

Israel constantly used the topography, flora and fauna specific to her to remind her of eternal truths. As the mountains surround Jerusalem so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 125:2). 

Jesus constantly pointed His followers to learn lessons from their local world in agrarian parables and reminders in the Sermon on the Mount to remember the lilies and study the sparrows.

Nature is a nectar that the Lord can graciously use to nourish His children. To be certain, this is no disembodied Mother Nature experience but a chance to see through the creation back to the Creator.

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A little sip goes a long way for my soul.  This week, the Lord used simple songbirds to administer His eternal truths to my soul.

I may not be traveling to the far reaches of the globe or climbing impressive mountains, but I have an opportunity to know, see and learn from the place where He has put me. To know this mountain Is yet another invitation to remember and enjoy the One who made all mountains.

The Scrub Jay’s Scold

I saw a Scrub Jay this morning,
His ease scolded me, “Relax!”
“The creator loves to provide,”
Chirped he with a beak of flax.

Crackling lies were quieted
By songbirds’ playful chatter;
“Ignore the loudest voices;
Hear the One that matters.”

Again, He uses lower creation
To keep in check the higher.
Again, by aerie avian wings,
He lifts me from my mire.

If His eye is on each sparrow,
If He knows each hidden nest,
Then you, His precious child,
In His providence can rest.

Inviting Inspection

Selling a home is stressful. We are not going anywhere, but it seems that all our friends are moving simultaneously. Just watching them walk through the process, I have been experiencing flashbacks to the sales of previous homes.

The purging, the staging and the showings. The offers and counter-offers. Even when you have the buyer all lined up, you still have that one last obstacle: the inspections. Cue nervous knots in the stomach. What will they find? How old are our pipes again? Will we have to pay a million dollars of mold remediation? Will the buyers pull out?

Today, as I was sitting down to spend time with the Lord, I recognized that I had similar nervous knots in my stomach. Studying the Word and coming into the light of the Lord’s presence necessitates exposure and inspection, both of which can be terribly uncomfortable.

What enables us to not only allow, but even excitedly invite such exposure?

How does David pray the searching prayer of Psalm 139:23 and 24?
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grevious way in  me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” 

The context of the searching prayer gives us a clue. Throughout the entirety of Psalm 139, we see David’s deep understanding of the pursuing, powerful love of God. Because God is a Creator and owner intimately involved in the lives of His children, David trusts His searching gaze.

In the real estate world, sale is contingent on inspection; however, it is not so in the Christian reality.  Christ gave His life to purchase the messy manors of His children. The deal was closed on the Cross and confirmed in the Resurrection.  Thus, His careful and regular inspection of our souls is not to be feared.

A Messy Manor

Rusted pipes and rotten places,
An insidious infestation of lies.
Pretty paint cannot hide dents,
No matter how hard it tries.

You resist my inspection,
In fear of what I’ll find.
But you forget, dear child,
The contract has been signed.

You are a purchased parcel,
A dwelling in which I delight.
So lay down your defenses,
Please put away your fright.

Each fault my light uncovers
My love will fully repair.
Your list of full disclosure
You may confidently share.

My little mess of a manor,
My chosen dwelling place,
Your deepest, darkest flaws
The covenant will not erase.

Let me open up your walls,
And dig below the surface,
For all my painful probing
Serves an eternal purpose.

I bought you “As Is,” child,
But cannot leave you there.
Once bought at infinite price,
Now kept with intricate care.

Make my soul a holy home,
A fit dwelling of love divine;
Come, my rightful owner,
Your exposing light shine. 

 

 

Action-value in an Information Age

If the amount of input and information received over the centuries was compared to waves, the progression would look like the following: ripple, ripple, ripple, wave, tidal wave, tsunami. Even those who fight hard to limit technological and informational input are bombarded with a sea of often inert information and images.

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Although I am not on Instagram and only watch the PBS News Hour once or twice a week, I receive enough information from emails, texts and Facebook feeds alone to overwhelm me. I know what your child is wearing, who graduated from kindergarten, and that Fidgit spinners can be lodged in throats. I also have seen images of starving children in Africa and scrolled through two years worth of political rhetoric.

Information is a powerful thing; however, when we are inundated with so much information that we begin to feel powerless and overwhelmed by the global village in which we live, it may be time to stop and think.

Neil Postman wrote an insightful book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, in the mid 1980’s to discuss the way the television was shaping culture. If what he wrote was true of the television age, it is infinitely more true of the computer age. Postman writes about the ratio of input and output regarding information, which he calls the information-action ratio.

“In both oral and typographic cultures, information derives its importance from the possibilities of action. Of course, in any communication environment, input (what one is informed about) always exceeds output (the possibilities of action based on information)….Prior to the age of telegraphy, the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives. What people knew had action-value.”

He traces the beginning of the imbalance of the information/ action ratio to the invention of the telegraph.

“But the situation created by telegraphy, and then exacerbated by later technologies, made the relationship between information and action both abstract and remote. For the first time in human history, people were faced with the problem of information glut…In the information world created by telegraphy, this sense of potency was lost, precisely because the whole world became the context of our news. Everything became everyone’s business.”

If the information-action scale was set off balance by the telegraph, the internet has taken the imbalance to whole new levels.  We no longer have to walk to the local telegraph to send and receive information; we now have the equivalent of a lightning-speed telegraph in our pockets connecting us to the pockets of most of the known world.

I have been thinking deeply this week on the concept of action-value. I have tried to be cognizant of every piece of information I have willingly received to see what action-value might be assigned to it. What am I meant or able to do with this information? Does it have any direct bearing on my life? What tangible actions can I take regarding this information input?

Most of the information I have received has left me feeling, at best, amused or shocked, and at worst, overwhelmed, helpless, worried, heavy or guilty. The realization that most of the information I process is both emotional and inert makes me want to reconsider the information-action ratio in my little world.

While I do want to be and to raise global citizens concerned with the world, I find myself drawn more deeply to the local as a way to seek to restore balance to the information-action ratio.

Prayer has a real and tangible action-value. But even so, my heart can only hold so many burdens and pray diligently for so many people and causes. I have had to force myself to evaluate if there was room in my heart in that hour or moment for more information.

I have decided that I can only follow the goings-on of one situation or cause in such a way as to actually act on the information, whether by prayer or donation or investigation.

Before checking Facebook, I have stopped to ask myself the following questions: Are you in a place to do anything about you might see? If not, why are you looking?

I have also stopped to ask myself “What is the action-value of this information?” before posting something or dishing out information.

These small measures feel like cardboard shields against a tidal wave of information, yet they have helped me to add a few ounces to the action side of the information-action ratio.

 

A Dignified Derivative

Humans are quite the connudrum.  We have the capacity to be uniquely dignified by use of our higher reasoning skills and self-consciousness. Yet, we are simultaneoulsy derivative, made and kept by God the Creator.

Borrowing from the words of David in Psalm 8, God has made man “a little lower than than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” If you are unsure of the potential dignity and brilliance of mankind, simply walk around your house full of appliances or stop for a moment the next time you are in an airplane for a quick reminder.

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Man has the incredible potential for greatness, a fact that historic humanity seems to have easily abused. As early as the Tower of Babel, we have seen humans attempting to use their intelligence and unique position in Creation to make a name for themselves, to work their way up to or beyond God.

But unsinkable ships sink and megalomaniacs and tryants die, because man is not the end all be all, as much as we would like to be. Mankind is derivative, created and subordinate to the God and the laws He has set in play in the universe.

Derivative and dignified: it is a both/ and rather than an either/or. Mankind seems to thrive when both truths are held in tension.

A Dignified Derivative

Flying in a metal bird
Powered by propulsion,
I envy careening clouds’
Free and flowing motion.

Noble Nobel winners
Rightly win our praise.
But You are their source,
O Ancient of Days.

In slivers, with shivers
We explore this globe;
Into myriad mysteries
We have yet to probe.

Dignified and derivative,
You’ve made humanity.
Thus we are most humane
As we stand in awe of thee.

What God has wed as one,
We should not rip asunder.
Science and sincere faith:
Lightning with its thunder.

Pawn Shops & the Power of Maternal Love

My mother’s jewelry box was a product of the 80’s. It was large, luxurious and covered in a floral print. I remember watching her get ready for fancy events at the vanity in her walk-in closet, opening the box to pick out the perfect gold tennis bracelet or necklace. Those were the days when our finances were more than stable; we lived in a large home with a pool area and a putting green and limos took us to the airport. That was all we knew for the first decade of our lives.

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Finances can be shakey ground, and our comfortable life was shattered by the equivalent of a financial earthquake. We found ourselves packed in a U-Haul and headed to a fresh start south of the Mason Dixon line.  My brave mother showed no disappointment at being moved from our mansion to a double-wide trailer, so we followed her lead. Though I know that she must have had her moments, she never let on that the drastic life change affected her for more than a moment. She made the most of our prefabricated home and absorbed much of the distress and disappointment in that season of our lives.

She worked as a janitor at the Catholic School to help pay our way through a private education that we most certainly could not afford. She faithfully and compulsively cleaned homes to make money on the side, so that we could continue our activities like soccer or cheerleading. When even that was not enough to help make ends meet, my mother opened that floral jewelry box of hers yet again, only this time to part with her pretties.

I clearly remember sitting in our mini-van watching her fight back tears as she walked into a pawn shop to trade in some of those beautiful gold tennis bracelets she used to wear to the high-dollar conventions and parties.

Our finances evened back out over time, as they often do; however, despite all the gifts and displays of motherly affection that have come since, that trip to the pawn shop will forever be to me the most beautiful picture of the strength of maternal love.

My mother is far from perfect, but even her imperfections often stem out of the ferocity of maternal love. She can hold a grudge for record lengths of time, an outworking of her often biased siding with her children. She buys us and our children far too many needless gifts, an outpouring of the depth of her love that our small homes and closets cannot possibly hold.

Though I have read many books on mothering and listened to countless seminars and speakers, the most significant things I know about maternal love did not come from such resources. They came from watching my mother in the trenches of life, taking often ugly situations and doling them out as beautifully as humanly possible.

Maternal love absorbs as much of the shock of life as possible, leaving only the lighter bumps to be felt by her kin. Maternal love sacrifices beyond what is reasonable, goes to great and sometimes irrational lengths to provide a sense of security and protection for its own.  Maternal love is simultaneously fierce and ferocious and soft and stable. Maternal love makes the most out of every situation, even the least desirable, for the sake of its household.

Maternal love is far from perfect; it, too, has been heavily affected by the fall. It has its limits and its dark sides (Texas cheerleader mom; need I say more?). That being said, it is one of the strongest remnants of the sacrificial love God originally planted in the heart of humanity that I have ever experienced.

I thank God for a mother whose love sent her to dark places and pawn shops on behalf of her children. Even more so, I thank the perfect Father for a world of imperfect mothers who spend their lives living out slivers of divine love for their own.

Happy Mother’s Day to all women, whether they be physical mothers to their own children or not. You have implanted deep within you the fierce stuff of maternal love, whether you have children or not. The world is a better place because of the power of that maternal love.

To God be the glory for being the penultimate parent and for implanting into the heart of women rugged strips of his ferocious love.

 

The Gentle Butler

I could really use a butler. The slow erosion of household cleanliness standards with each subsequent child began this suspicion which was only deeply confirmed after a few seasons of Downton Abbey.

Mater, our overly energetic dog, provides a good greeter, but honestly only adds to the chaos.

Butlers are both out-of-date and out of our financial league, but a girl can dream.

As much as my house could use my butler, my disordered and dissheveled soul needs one more. As entropy is to the playroom, so is sin to my soul, fighting up against the order established and reestablished by the Lord and His truth.

Each Sabbath time, the Lord picks up the heap that is my soul and gently places it back upon the solid resting place of His Word, the hook that is Himself. Carried by His grace, He places me back where I belong, in His presence, under His authority, ordered by His truths.

I am so very thankful for the Gentle Butler of my soul, the one who orders my thoughts and desires and life in a way that most honors Him and most satisfies me. Without His moment by moment intervention, my soul would be in greater disarray than our playroom after the tribe has played dodgeball.

The Gentle Butler

They make it sound easy.
“Tell your soul where to go.”
But everything within me
Resists that upward flow.

It cannot climb, as hikers do,
With grit and maps and such,
A soul is more a fallen cloak
Unmoving though enticed much.

Pulled daily down to self,
Souls are subject to gravity.
Neither moralism nor ought
can overcome such depravity.

Souls belong on God’s hook;
There anchored they can stretch.
They can’t get there on their own,
So someone must go fetch.

Come again, O Gentle Butler,
Pick up this soul strewn about.
Misshapen, in an unruly heap,
Wrinkled with sin and doubt.

Pick me up again, Kind Sir,
Set me back where I belong.
You set all to order again,
You set right all set wrong.

Craving a Clothesline

I’ve been thinking about clotheslines lately. I know that seems odd. Believe me, I love my washer and drier so much that I use them daily. They have become old friends to me. And, while I know the sun is a natural bleaching agent, I am not a big fan of crunchy clothes. So why all the recent craving for a clothesline? Allow me to explain.

I was asked to speak at a women’s event for our church about the need for authentic gospel community. As I was preparing and praying and pondering, the unique isolation that women in our society experience kept burdening my heart and mind. In a day and age more connected to more people through social media and the internet than ever before, why are women, myself included, more isolated and lonely than they have ever been? What is missing? Can we bring it back?

Thus began my craving for a clothesline. I imagine that at the clothesline (or the town market, before that; or the well, before that), women had natural times and places to encounter and connect with other women. I imagine that there were rich laughter, tears, and conversations between women of different ages and stages at the clotheslines:  burdens shared, marital hardships discussed, fears assuaged. I am also fairly certain that there was also a fair amount of gossip peppered in there, as women are women, good, bad and ugly.

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As it stands in modern society, no clothesline remains, physically or metaphorically. Many women are, to use the timeless words of Thoreau, “living lives of quiet desperation.” They need a place to be real, to be raw, to meet with other women who have gone before them and can coach them through the stages of life.

Oftentimes, we look at the modern situation (the post-Christian situation, the post-modern situation, whatever you term it), and quake in fear for the Church, as if She is going out of style, as if She will be relegated to the history books. However, in each age, the Church remains relevant and deeply needed if She preaches and points to her Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Each age provides unique challenges and opportunities for the Church to be the Church.

The Church has a unique opportunity to be the clothesline and to create clothesline environments for women. The Cross of Christ provides the safest place for women to come broken, undone and wounded to other women. The Cross truly is the place where we can hang our dirty clothes and our unmentionables. The gospel alone can cut through the cattiness and comparison that pollute and discolor the friendships of women. The gospel levels the playing field and brings us all the clothesline of Christ with our hampers of stained clothes, not to compare and spy out the deep stains of our neighbors in an effort to make ourselves feel better, but to trade them in for like robes of righteousness.

In an age of selfies and Insta-competition and keeping up with a thousand Joneses rather than the traditional two on either side of you, the Church has an incredible opportunity. The Church has the chance to introduce women to other women in a uniquely intergenerational way, in a real flesh-and-blood presence way.

The Church can set up the clotheslines (and many have), but the clotheslines do no good if we don’t come honestly and vulnerably in the transparency that the Gospel allows.  So, put down the phone, turn off the TV and bring your dirty laundry to the clothesline of Christ. Deep healing and presence are there. There is always room for more.