You do you

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It’s been a hectic week. I’d been burning the candle at both ends for a few days straight, trying to accomplish all my obligations. It culminated in a supremely stressful day yesterday, by the end of which I started exhibiting physical symptoms, which was very unusual.

Last night, after the last Thing was done, I pretty much hoisted the white flag and quit Life. I arranged for my husband to pick up cheeseburgers for dinner, took a bath and went to bed 5 hours early. When I woke up this morning, I still had residual effects, a “stress hangover,” if you will – headache, groggy, forgetful, and kinda disoriented. I’m super surprised I got the kids to school with lunches and everything. I relied a lot on Caleb’s help.

I got back home, feeling thankful that it’s my morning “off.” Thursdays are the only  morning both kids are in school and I don’t have plans, so they have become bless-ed mornings to me. Usually, I try to take advantage of the quiet by doing something creatively focused. But I realized pretty quickly today that I was in no condition to expect anything from myself that looked remotely creative or focused.

So, channeling this feeling of existence akin to a bump on a log, and knowing I was no good to anybody in this condition, I texted my husband at work, jokingly starting with the sentence, “I’m worthless today,” and then explaining my plan to be vertical as little as possible.

You already know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Not five minutes later, I was buttering my pancakes in the kitchen and I distinctly felt the Lord say, “You’re not worthless.”

 

“Oh Lord,” she laughed politely. “I know THAT. I just meant I’m worthless today, because I’m not getting anything done.”

And then He recalled to my mind the truth He’s been bringing to me over and over, but I seem so slow to latch onto: Your value as a person has absolutely nothing to do with what you accomplish. Your worth is not found in what you Do.

“Oh thank you, Lord. *hearts for eyes* Yes, the only reason I’m so exhausted is because of all that good service I did this week, so it’s ok to have a recovery day, right?”
“Charity… your value as a person has absolutely nothing to do with what you accomplish. Your worth is not found in what you Do.

He brought to mind all of the examples He’s been using to teach me: Babies. Elderly. Disabled. Many of whom have zero point zero zero things on their To Do list. And all of whom are cherished, loved, and VALUED by God and by those around them.

Wait.
Wait wait wait.
You mean I don’t need excuses?
I don’t need to call it a “day off,” it can just be a “day?”
Are you telling me that, theoretically, I could quit everything, drop it all right now and decide to live a life of luxury and I would still be loved and cherished and valued? Just for being… myself???

God is not looking for slaves to do His bidding.
He wants a loving relationship with His children, for us to spend time with Him and for Him and us to ENJOY each other.

In our study of Romans this year, we’re in chapter 4 and Paul has been trying to teach us about what righteousness really looks like. My righteous deeds are NOTHING compared to the righteousness of Jesus. And when I realize that all my good deeds are for naught on the tally board, my only option then is to lean into my faith in Christ. FAITH is what the Father counts to us as righteousness. Not deeds, but faith in Jesus!!

I really did grow up believing that the sacrifices in the Old Testament were what made a person righteous in God’s eyes. Our study took a little detour to Genesis, and read in 15:6 where Abraham “believed God” and THAT was credited to him as righteousness. God declared Abraham was righteous DECADES before any law or covenant was even given for him to fulfill. And even at that later point, his obedience was an outward sign of the faith that had already been living inside. But his obedience is not what made him a righteous man.

When we obey or do good or seek to spread light into the world, it should come out of a loving response to Jesus and everything He Is for us, and everything He’s done to show His love. Right obedience is a Love Response. It doesn’t say “I do this because I should or because it’s right or so I can feel better about myself or so God will like me.” God already likes you. In fact, He’s crazy about you! He loved you way before anyone else did. He loved us first! And our obedience should say “I love You too and I’m so thankful for what You’ve been to me. My life is yours, and it’s easy to want to obey You because your law is Love.”

Our good deeds are fruit of our love for God.
But any righteousness that’s tallied on my account is a GIFT from Jesus.

I could never be the source of righteousness.
But, like Abraham, I can believe that somehow out of all this deadness around me, God can bring life.
Not done, did, doing work.
But LOVE, life, living in Him.

 

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Nature

A man who doesn’t see me often, except online, greeted me at a party a while back. And started out by commenting that he noticed I posted about nature a lot. “Is that what you’re into? Are you a Nature kinda gal?” I just kinda laughed at first because I was taken aback by the question. Who *isn’t* into nature? How can someone who loves the Creator NOT be “into” nature? It was one of those moments where a dozen thoughts started migrating into my head but none of them landed on my lips. So I just nodded my head and said “well. yeah, I guess I am.” For DAYS I thought about this exchange. What is it I wish I could’ve explained to this man? And now almost a year later, I’m in my study of Romans and it hits me. THIS. This is what I would’ve wanted to share with him. That not only has God set us within a glorious tapestry of gorgeous creatures and landscapes to enjoy, but HE is visible within it. Like an optical illusion where you see one face, but when you look again you see Another, His invisible attributes are visible in creation. He uses so much of it to teach us about Who He is, how vast and powerful, and how much He loves us. It’s like the whole thing is one big spiritual analogy! I pray He gives us eyes to see and a willingness to quiet ourselves, look closely and be humbled. 💚

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Originally posted on Instagram

Remembering Rich

In the wee hours of the morning on September 20, 1997, I awoke in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. After tossing in the dark for awhile, I gave up, switched on my nightlight and turned on the radio for some comfort.

A few songs in, there was a short news break. And the lead story on Christian radio that morning had a whole population waking up with a terrible gasp. I still remember the exact pitch and tone of the news anchor’s voice and the words he spoke so coldly and matter-of-factly, burned themselves into my memory as my mind played them over and over again in disbelief. “Christian singer/songwriter Rich Mullins died last night in a car accident south of Chicago….”

After the shock wore off, the tears began to flow.

I had just discovered Rich a few months earlier. My brother, Chris, who was much older than me, called me into his room and, as he had done several times before, slapped his oversized headphones on my little-girl ears and said “Listen to this.” In the past, Chris had used this method to expose me to everything from Chopin to the Newsboys. This particular time, he hit play on “Pictures in the Sky.” It was an old record, even back then, but I found myself reveling in the dancing melodies and playful poetry of the childlike title track. Then he skipped to “Verge of a Miracle” and then “Screendoor” and that was it. I was hooked.

I don’t know how I got my hands on more of Rich’s music. Maybe I saved up my birthday farthings or perhaps I “borrowed” more albums from Chris while he was away at work during the day. But I distinctly remember the first time I heard “Calling Out Your Name.” I replayed it about a dozen times and, because I didn’t have big fancy headphones of my own, I remember pressing my ear against the speaker of my stereo, like somehow I couldn’t get close enough to the music. It was so enchanting, I wanted to surround myself with it, be enveloped by it, have it fill every crevice of my wrinkly brain. I was gone. Not present in my room anymore, but away with the music somewhere, hanging on each sweeping note of the violins and delayed hammer of the dulcimer. The instrumental intro somehow found its way to a part of my heart I hadn’t known existed. That was gorgeous enough, but then later with verses like “The Lord takes by its corners this whole world and shakes us forward and shakes us free… to run wild with the hope…” and so forth – this guy was a master of melody and a poet to boot. I was captured by his beautiful thoughts, set to beautiful music.

All of this beauty is what I grieved 20 years ago. And still get more than a little soggy-eyed thinking of today.

A couple weeks after he died, one of the syndicated radio shows did a special broadcast on Rich – gathering pieces of interviews they’d done over the years and several of his more popular songs. I remember it was the first time I got to hear his speaking voice (which was an oddly fun rarity in the days before podcasts and YouTube), and his thoughts on life, God and music in general. I found his perspectives unique, refreshing and inspiring. I’d never heard anyone share thoughts quite like his before. It was the first time that I heard someone speak truth to power in such a way and acknowledge that, maybe, in humility, the church could admit it might be able to do a couple things better. Or more honestly, that salvation was nowhere near the Doing of anything but in the Being in Him and Loving each other. This was good news to my young heart. I was so encouraged to hear his wild devotion to God, and commitment to the example of Jesus. I have since learned that that is all any Christian can really do, in the grand scheme of things: point to Jesus, always point others to Jesus. And Rich was so good at pointing to Him.

That was pretty much the moment he went from being maybe my favorite musician to becoming one of my lifelong heroes. I decided right then and there that I wanted to be like him when I “grew up…” (or perhaps “grew young,” as Rich might say). These words shaped me very sharply as a young girl and as they continue to ring in my ears, along with other words I’ve gathered over the years, they inspire me and shape me even now.

I don’t think I’ve seen another person who had quite the grip on Jesus that Rich had, quite the devotion to His Word or wrestled quite so much with His untamed Heart. While he was the first to admit his screw-ups and his un-deservedness of God’s grace, and while I am becoming more aware that we are all just fumbling towards Glory… still he was, in my opinion, one of the few persons who got this “Jesus-follower” thing mostly right.

So, today, on the 20th anniversary of his passing over the “Jordan,” I thought I might share that broadcast with you. If you never listen to anything else I share online, I hope you’ll give this one a shot. Cuz it’s one of my favorites. If you’re familiar, perhaps it will be sweet to reminisce. And if you’ve never heard of him before, my hope is that you’ll find a new source of inspiration and encouragement. It gets a little sappy and/or dated at points… and it’s a long share at close to 2 hours, but I think it’s worth it. So maybe pick a quiet time some evening or weekend to settle in with a cup of coffee (Prairie Home Companion-style) and “visit” with a man by whom I’m sure you’ll be very blessed.

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20 the Countdown Magazine Remembers Rich Mullins

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If reading is more your speed,
perhaps you’ll enjoy some of these essays written for Release magazine:
https://www.kidbrothers.net/release.html

I can also recommend this bio written by James Bryan Smith.
Great stories, peppered with quotes from some of Mullins’ favorite authors:

 

Struck by God’s Love

The Bible study I’ve been attending has been working its way through the Gospel of John, and it’s been very profound to be studying Holy Week for the past couple months now, leading up to the story of the crucifixion this week. Some reflections leading into Good Friday:

These disciples.

Boy, what a motley crew.

The gospels record that they had been fighting over who was going to be greatest in the bunch or most powerful when Jesus brought down the new kingdom He kept talking about. They had to have everything explained to them two or three times (although I’m a little thankful for that – because we get to eavesdrop on the expounding, which I also need). They were slow, angry, prideful, glory-seeking, doubting, awkward Sons of Thunder that were so precisely human in all the ways we try our best to hide from one another, that to ponder it is to have our hearts filled with praise – if God can favor these men, then surely there is hope for me. Jesus is present with them, patiently but pointedly answers their annoying questions, guides them in the truth, challenges them in love and in their identities before God.

After three years of living with each other, studying at His feet, praying together, singing together, eating together, the Hour had come for Jesus to get down to the business of dying. So there, in the garden of Gethsemane, at night, waiting for his betrayer to show up with the lynch mob, He asks if they could pray and instead the boys keep falling asleep on Him. Judas had sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver, shows up with a small army and betrays Him with a kiss, of all things. Man, if Judas had done that to me, I’d be steaming mad. But Jesus, in His response, doesn’t push him away, doesn’t yell, doesn’t cuss him out.

He calls him “Friend.”  Like what even?

Grace upon grace, siblings. Do you see it?
He is so patient in His love, so comprehensive in His care.

Probably one of the more touching stories we’ve read this week, although there are many, is regarding Simon Peter, who is mellow-dramatically swearing his life and limbs to Christ. “I’ll die for you, Lord! They’ll have to get through me first!” But Jesus sees right through his fickle friendship and tells him straight up – “Peter, you’re gonna pretend you don’t even know me when it starts getting ugly around here. You’ll deny me. Right now. Tonight. Three times before the rooster crows in the morning.”

As Jesus is arrested and led away, the disciples scatter, and Peter follows the crowd from a distance. And I bet you can guess what happens next.
“Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?” a servant girl asks Peter.
She’s not really any kind of a threat to him, but still “I am not,” is his response.

As Jesus is being shuffled around from one illegal trial to another in the middle of the night, Peter went to warm his hands by a fire outside and someone asked “Aren’t you with that Jesus guy?”
“I am not,” he says.

As dawn breaks, Jesus is in the courtyard, having some philosophical conversations with the church leaders and getting slapped around a little, when a soldier who had been at Gethsemane confronts Peter just outside – “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
And Peter is swearing mad now and yells defiantly that “I do not know the man!”
In a goosebumps kind of moment, even before Peter finishes his sentence, the rooster crows at the rising sun. And in that very same instant, Luke says, the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter from across the courtyard. Jesus, already having been beaten up a bit, allowing Himself to be so for the sake of Peter, among us all, turned and looked at him in his moment of shame, in denying that he ever knew the Son of God.
The greek word for “look’ here is emblepō. Strong’s Concordance translates it as “properly, stare at with a ‘locked-in gaze’; look at in a sustained, concentrated way, i.e. with special interest, love or concern.”

He loved him.

Even after Peter abandoned Him and treated Him like He was less than. Knowing that torture and death, emotional and spiritual agony were just a few hours away, things He would endure for Peter’s sake, He loved him.
“In that moment, Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And Peter went outside and wept bitterly.”

But cheer up, friends, I’ve read ahead and I can tell you how this little part of the story ends.

Jesus visits His friends in His resurrected body days later. One morning, after some of the shock of seeing Him again has worn off (a little) and they’ve enjoyed some fish breakfast, Jesus has a moment with Peter in which He asks him – “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Again He asks him, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord, You know that I do,” Peter answers again.

Then He asks a third time. “Simon, do you love me?” And Simon Peter was sad that He had to ask three times. But you know what, I’m not. I think it’s a beautiful, tender gesture. Because I see how the Lord is faithful to pursue us to the very end, how He is after our hearts and restoring our brokenness (three times affirmed for three times denied) and how even in our shame and anger and weakness, and when we are so precisely human in all the ways we try our best to hide from one another, He looks from His  wounded eyes to ours with love.

The Deal

I told my family I had to go out.

Joel wondered aloud where I was going. I told him I was “going to meet somebody,” but I didn’t elaborate, and assured him I’d be back in a minute.

I drove down to the pre-arranged meeting place just in time for our appointment. Before I got out of the car, I pulled the cash out of my wallet and counted it out so I wouldn’t have to fumble with it later. Then, I ran out across the parking lot in the rain.

The library door was locked so I waited for someone to notice me and then flagged him down. He cracked the door, and looked out from the dark hallway behind him. “Are you here for the gardener meeting?”

“No. I’m here to meet a guy at your gardener meeting.”

He slipped me in, gave a cautious eye to the the people loitering under the eave, and then shut the door. “They’re right in here,” he pointed.

I walked into a room of unpretentious faces all chatting around a power-point screen, and spotted my guy in the back of the room.
“Tom?”
“Yeah.”
“Charity,” I shook his hand. “We spoke on the phone yesterday.”
“Right. Come this way, I’ll show you what I’ve got.”

He walked me to a table and opened a small plastic container.
“There’s not much left here. Some of them are leafcutters instead, so let me make sure I give you the right ones.”
“Uh-huh,” I impatiently pulled the cash out of my pocket while he inspected them.

An anxious woman jumped up from her seat and quickly walked over to us. She kept her eyes low, looking at the merchandise, but asked Tom in a quiet voice, “Are you gonna have any left for me to buy today?”

Still holding up a round tube, he turned and looked over his glasses at her.
“We might need to make an appointment,” he said.
She looked disappointingly at me. Apparently, I had gotten the last ones. She watched as he quietly handed me the tubes, and I exchanged them for the cash, thanked him, and quickly walked out of the meeting room with the coveted items.

Waving a second thanks to the guy in the hallway, I ran back out to the car, tucking the goods in my jacket to protect them from the rain.

I debated whether to hide them from Joel when I came inside but decided to be honest about where I’d been. When I walked in the door, he saw the thin, brown tubes and asked if I had taken up smoking cigars. When I told him what they really were,  he teasingly rolled his eyes at me.

“WHAT? I’m sure there’s worse habits I could have than raising bees!”

Dormant

I feel tired. Sluggish. My blood flows thick and cold, like a slushy river in January, the month of allegedly new beginnings, when we pull off the old man and determine that maybe mercies can be new after all.
I still feel like an old man. With an old pen and clogged ink.

I want to write.

I can feel it in me. But it’s not flowing hot like summer.
It’s dormant. Hibernating.
Deep in the earth, under the snow and layers of autumn leaves decomposing, piling black rot higher and higher all around it. It’s just a smidgen of a seed, a kernel inside me, an acorn I buried as a squirrelish child and then promptly forgot.

“I’ll come back to this later,” I said then, as I swept soil over the mouth of it and patted it gently, safekeeping.

When later came and I went back to find it, I quickly realized, in my squirrelish way, that I had no idea where it was. So I just stood there, in a forest overcrowded with the brush and bushes of responsibilities and distractions, overwhelmed by the prospect of searching.
I had it.
I had it right here in my hands.
Why did I ever let it go?

I sat by the creek and fed a few salty tears to her eternal current. She babbled comfort – babbled  something about how I had only forgotten because I was busy being creative in other ways. Sweet stream. We sat there hushed for a long while and listened to the wind blowing through the trees, lending song to leaves that were themselves once tiny acorns, planted and nurtured by mighty authors, thinkers, and dreamers throughout time. I sat for a moment in their company. Just listening. Learning their stories, and letting the wind carry something through me too. Inspiration. Breath.

Some of the story-leaves danced at my feet and some brushed past my head, as they sailed by to eventually land in a far corner of the forest, decompose, and feed a tiny acorn hidden in the snow.

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Perspective

What I perceive to be happening:
The mountain is so close to me that when I breathe deeply to relieve my tension, I feel the exhalation whip up from its jagged face and flip back onto mine. My rope is Faithful and True, but sometimes I doubt if I’m wrapped in it properly. My insecurities in my limited experience and narrow perspective cause me to doubt if I’ll ever see the precipice. I try not to think of how far I would fall if anything happens at this point. I take one careful step at a time, one feeble pull at a time, slipping often, but always my rope is there to catch me, bearing the weight of my burden, and allowing me to slowly get my grip again. I call on some reserve of something mysterious within myself that I didn’t even know was there. And it is what allows me to keep putting one foot above another.

My muscles are giving out and trembling with exhaustion as I pull myself up by the last foothold and flop face first to the top.

One more big breath with my face against the rock in my new horizontal position, before I flip around and slowly sit up. The view that now sits in front of my face is… indescribable. Sierras stretching deep into the horizon. The chasm of empty space between them is so grand, it feels like it will suck me into its void. A 360 view of ranges and valleys begs to have me drink deeply.

It’s all behind me now. I feel the struggle lifting and the joy release. Accomplished. It’s done. I’m here.

And from this new perspective I can now see the mountain as it sits in its place among all its relative slopes and cliffs, and in its new relation to me.

Sometimes the mountain moves – or the stone rolls away… and sometimes the movement happens within. My mountain is now beneath me and also under my feet. That which once loomed over me is now merely a stepping stone to a new point of view.

What actually happened:
I have been feeling for 3 months now like I might quit tomorrow.

Feeling like I’m scrapping for strength, scrounging for time, rummaging for whatever motivation or devotion I can cling to in order to get through the next week.
It had been a very long, rough day of caring for the kids in my class, multiple babies crying a majority of the time. My co-leader had to leave early and I was left to run the ship alone for the first time, which made me a little nervous. I had felt very much like I had been putting out fires all morning, rushing from one sobbing sweetheart to the next, not utilizing my volunteers like I could, forgetting the schedule and feeling like I had failed at being a leader. But I was just rolling with the punches as best I could.
During a rare and short lull, as the ten toddlers played with their individual toys, an ancient woman who had been volunteering as “rocking chair/cuddle duty” that day, waved me over to whisper to me.

“You’re really good at this,” she said.
“At what?” I asked in disbelief.
“This,” she motioned around the room, at all the babies in the nursery.

I pushed my voice up past the lump in my throat, “Well, then that’s God’s grace, because I don’t feel very good at this.”
“Well, you are. You really know what you’re doing.”
At this, I simultaneously laughed right out loud and almost cried. “Well, then that really is God’s grace. But, He has been faithful to show up for me every week. I think He really fills in for all my weakness.”

“Yes. But you show up every week for Him, too.”

All I could do was smile at her. She was handing me encouragement and I thanked her thoroughly because it was much needed. God has often told me – the battle is sometimes in just Showing Up. Whatever situation I’m in, showing up is often the hardest part, but once I do, how quick He is to bless me and others around me. How quick He is to use our willingness to Him and turn it into His work. Accomplished.

Moms started showing up, babies smiled, waved to me and blew kisses bye-bye.
And, as we packed up binkies and lovies and chatted about how well they played and ate, if we were to spontaneously hush ourselves, we might have said to each other – did you hear that? Did you feel something?

What we would’ve acknowledged there in those moments was a conviction that was so thick in the atmosphere that we could almost blow our breathes against it. The Spirit was present. And faith was planted and watered and grew roots within the Words we spoke over each other and prayed into one another, as well as in the hugs and smiles offered abundantly. We were all holding each other up. Bearing each others’ burdens. And He too carried us and continued to hold us up as we parted ways, saying “See you next week.”

Good Timber

I was watching the roses in my backyard swirling and twirling in this wind and thinking how strong these plants and trees must be to last years and years of storms. It reminded me of the gardening practice of “hardening off,” which is to set your itty bitty baby seedlings outside to toughen them up. Blowing in the breeze causes them to grow stronger stalks. And in fact, if you don’t harden your seedlings, they will grow week, spindly, and won’t survive when you transplant them. It’s so important, that one teacher even suggested putting a fan in the greenhouse, “or sometimes I’ll just run my hand over them when I’m walking by.”

Maybe some of us can use this encouragement. When it feels like a storm is going on in our lives, or we don’t understand why God would leave us out in the wind… maybe He’s just growing Good Timber.

Or as Paul would put it
“…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

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The air is absolutely still.
The clouds are motionless
outside of their fading
as the light visibly dims
Yellow to pink
To purple to grey
Shrinking into twilight.

The birds come in for their last landings
Quietly greet their families
and coo more quietly than usual,
Discussing tomorrow’s plans,
What they might sing for wake up call.

The crickets come in on their cue.
The frogs join in on the second verse.

And I’m reminded of Chesterton.
“Here ends another day,
during which I have had
eyes, ears, hands
and the great world around me.
Tomorrow begins another day.
Why am I allowed two?”

~ Charity

Saint Teresa

As of Sunday, Mother Teresa becomes known as “Saint Teresa of Calcutta”
Here is one of her favorite prayers

“Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me,
but only Jesus!

Stay with me
and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from You;
none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me.

Let me thus praise You the way You love best,
by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching,
not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.

Amen.”

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