Sometimes I sit in my chair with my Bible and journal, and I grapple with all sorts of complex theological issues. If I’m not careful, I invite existential crisis by 8:00 AM. I worry and worry about correct doctrine. I labor over what I’m feeling about things. I wonder why I don’t feel particularly close to God.
I question my good reasoning skills, my intelligence, and my mental health.
I berate myself for my terrible mood. I go down the black hole into the familiar abyss–but wait! Wait!
I don’t have to do this. I remember a wise person saying to me:
“Your feelings about the Bible don’t change the reality of it and whether or not it’s true.”
Then I read Hannah Whitall Smith’s bold declaration that our earnest feelings about Jesus–or right theology, or a positive mood, or clear thinking–are false resting places. Nothing about Jesus depends upon how we feel in any particular moment. God doesn’t change (Psalm 55:19). He’s exactly the same every single day no matter how I’m feeling about Him.
I am a shifting shadow; the Lord is not (James 1:17).
I’m so thankful that nothing depends upon my emotions, my good reasoning, or my ability to think clearly. These things are not the most important things. Truth does not depend on me.
I read the simple reality in Psalm 139:5 that God “hems” us in, and His hand rests upon us. The verb hem means to completely enclose.
We are completely enclosed. Guarded, protected, surrounded.
I’m hemmed in by God’s great love.
I notice the strangest thing: the old, gnarled trunk of the Weeping Cherry–the same angry trunk that looks haunted and dead–has blossomed into the most beautiful blooms.
It’s true: the worst of the tree displays a shawl of white and pink blossoms against the freshest, newest green growth.
This observation comes after I see the neglected and certainly dead raspberry canes that nevertheless change before my eyes. Life swallows death. The fresh, new thing invades.
You can’t stop it.
My soul whispers out the truth: God resurrects every dead thing in us. He brings new, fresh life wherever we allow Him entrance. Inviting the invading presence of the Holy Spirit means all the old, gnarled things transform.
I also remember Psalm 90: 14-17
Relent, O Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love
that we may be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us–
yes, establish the work of our hands.
Some translations say, “Make us glad for as many days as we have suffered.” I think of that request, and I see suffering swallowed up in new, fresh things. I see life that comes in impossible places where no new thing should be.
I’m not sure why, but I rarely find students using verbs that start with the letter B. I check. I do. It’s a strange phenomenon (both the lack of B verbs and my checking up on this).
We must banish this discrimination and beckon beautiful B verbs! A student delights me with a sentence in which bewitch
wins out over enchant or entrance, deceive or seduce.
The B verbs! I’m now motivated to excavate the C and the D verbs, chained and denounced, that we’ve long forgotten. What about F? Furnish me. I’m tired of the same old verbs, said the same old ways.
Some estimate the English language holds within its mines hundreds of thousands of sparking verbs.
The thought alone enraptures.
When my youngest was just a toddler, we visited a home where the mother displayed the weekly dinner menu on a big chalkboard in her kitchen. I wasn’t even a member of this family, and I was excited about their dinner for the week. I gazed up in wonder as I thought about each evening’s joy: broccoli cheddar soup, enchiladas, grilled chicken, pasta, beef casserole. . .
In my memory, it was glorious. To think of everyone coming home for dinner in anticipation made me so happy. It structured the week around seven points of light: Dinner! Dinner is coming! Every night, no matter what you’ve been through, we’ll have dinner!
One day, I thought. One day, I would have my own table to set with children who could eat more than pureed carrots and mashed potatoes. One day, I would be this organized, this thoughtful, this prepared. I would display my dinner menu and feel this happy once again.
Eight years later, here I am with a ten year old and a thirteen year old who absolutely love it when I post the weekly dinner menu. It’s nothing fancy; it’s an old dry-erase board with a green marker. But they love it. It makes them happy to know.
Something about the weekly dinner menu builds security and love and happiness into the week. It’s such a simple thing. They run to look at what’s coming. They declare that Tuesday will be the best day of the week for them. Saturday, in case you’re wondering, is always a surprise. Even to me.
As I listen to a Christian professor discussing what motivates his research, I’m so struck by his claim. He says, “God gives us significant insights. . . that we then share with people to make their lives better and their appreciation of God and His goodness greater.”
We share our God-given insights to improve lives and to increase the appreciation of God and His goodness.
When I think about personal mission statements in teaching, writing, and research–or simply just living in a neighborhood–I’m compelled by this two-fold question: “Does this activity improve lives and help people understand God’s goodness better?”
I love thinking about work and life in these terms.
Our days of childhood school projects for the S.L.A.M fair (Science, Literature, Art, and Music) will end after just next year. As I get ready to deliver another project to school, I find myself reminiscing about days of glitter and hot glue.
What fun we’ve had! One year, we explored making butter from cream; another year, we astonished the chemistry teachers with how we distilled fragrance from flowers.
This year, in the bitter winter, my youngest daughter and her friend designed a Pioneer Log Cabin Interior, circa 1875, with all that salt dough I told you about. Each week, all winter long, they added new little elements and talked about what life might be like inside that little cabin.
I think about butter and flowers and salt dough and elementary school days gone by. Next year is the last elementary school year! I’m so glad to have blogged these days to slow them down, if possible, just the tiniest bit.
Meanwhile, I would love a little cabin with a fireplace, wouldn’t you?
Do you remember how our daughters planted all their seeds in their mini greenhouses several weeks ago? Well, we realize that we began the process much too soon. In Pennsylvania, the planting season really begins later in May, and folks often don’t touch their gardens until June 1st.
Our plants have nowhere to go. They have nowhere to put down roots.
I’m staring at those plants, and I realize that when God delays a dream, perhaps it’s because if it came about, it couldn’t take root and thrive. Timing matters so much when you consider what God needs to put in place in order to sustain and cultivate the dreams or vision we have for our lives. I’m learning more and more to trust God because He sees what I don’t see.
He carefully guards our lives and our dreams.
In the meantime, we’ll transfer these plants to larger pots and more soil as we await the perfect warm day in late May or June to plant them. We’ll keep them inside as this April snow falls on the garden.
And every time I observe these plants, I’ll remember God’s perfect timing.
1. The sound of a creek flowing over rocks that I heard this morning (I visited a retreat center where I parked my car next to a hillside that tumbled down into a litte creek!)
2. Thinking I forgot my umbrella in a downpour only to realize my daughter tucked one into my bag.
3. Laughing with college students.
4. Making pineapple stir-fry for dinner.
5. Lighting my lavender candle.
Despite last night’s hailstorm, chilly temperatures, and a cloudy sky, the blossoms opened. They are all the more beautiful because of what they’ve endured.