What’s Enabling This?

The sickening smell fills the garage and overflows into my lovely, cinnamon scented kitchen. I labor to ensure the perfect scent in my house. You know what I mean: the Yankee Candles (Coconut Vanilla and Autumn Wreath), the wax melts (caramel latte), and the mulling spices (clove and ginger). I love the smells of November. So when the smell of death enters this sanctuary of autumn, I know what’s happening because it happens every year.

Some creature has tried to nest in the insulation in the garage and has died. My husband is traveling, so I know I have to dig around in there, find the dead chipmunk (I think it’s a chipmunk), and remove the thing. I send one text of support out:

I’m going in.

I put on rubber gloves, examine the part of the wall that allows creatures to enter, and pull back the insulation. As I do this, the decaying carcass falls into view. I’ll spare you the nightmarish details and just tell you that it was gross. And it smelled. Badly. And it was sad. I was sad for a second and then disgusted.

I’m so disgusted I fling the dead thing so far out of my garage that I lose sight of it. And in a fit of disgust, I rip the entire wall–the one with the crack that lets the creatures in–off to reveal corroding and infested insulation that I then yank down in one large sheet of putrid hiding for creatures that die there.

And I realize this: I’ve just removed the structures that support what brings death. I’ve just disabled everything that draws the creatures in. I’ve just cleared out the space and let the fresh, clean, light air in. No more cozy nest. No more dark little refuge. Never again can the creature return because what draws it no longer exists!

All afternoon I think about corrosive sin in my soul. I ask what structures in my life aid and abet what opposes godly living. (Abet: I’ve never used it in writing before. It’s a verb meaning to entice and encourage towards wrongdoing.) I remember to think about the whole structure of my life and whether I’m set up well to honor God. I ask about physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While I’m not sure my rampage and tantrum are the best methods to destroy parts of life that harm me and my relationship with God and others (think gentle recalibration instead of ripping down walls and insulation), I do think it’s worth asking the question, “How does the structure of my life–my schedule, activities, relationships, thinking, and even financial choices–encourage personal holiness?”

If something isn’t leading me towards Jesus, I take the dark thing’s hiding place apart. I let the light in.

Oh, the clean, fresh autumn sanctuary!

 

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I Was Warned But Didn’t Listen

Three years ago, I blogged with joy about how we turned Velvetleaf into a beautiful indoor arrangement. You remember the story: My mother and I discovered this unwanted, invasive, terrible weed in the pumpkin patch at the fruit farm.

velvet leafWe created the most lovely bouquet. I boasted about how living with flair meant turning the obnoxious weed that nobody wanted into something beautiful.

Velvet leaf in houseBut if you remember the story, the farmer warned us: “You do not want this anywhere near your home! Even one seed will destroy your yard! You can never get rid of velvetleaf. Don’t do it.”

I did it. And in summer, I threw the bouquet into the compost bin next to my berry patch because I wanted something fresh for my living room. I hadn’t been to my berry patch for a month or so, and I venture out this morning to find this:

IMG_6654I was warned and didn’t listen. Velvetleaf now covers my berry patch. My poor strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Immediately, I remembered with shame how even a little sin—something that seems beautiful that nevertheless plants a seed into the heart—will take over my life and choke the landscape of my soul. I remember how David cried out in Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. Find out if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!”

Velvet leaf—such a small, harmless looking thing—harbors toxins that destroy plants, blocks light from your crop, stays viable in soil for 50 years, is highly competitive with anything around it, knows how to block herbicides, releases chemicals to starve other plants, and if you crush it, it thrives.

I remember the warning from the farmer I never heeded today. And I praise God that “He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

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The Weeping Cherry Speaks

My husband calls me over to the Weeping Cherry because a bright red cardinal hides within its branches.  He flies away before I see him.

The gloom settles on the tree; it too chokes and freezes with each news release surrounding Penn State.

This isn’t going away.  It shouldn’t.

I observe that little tree and notice the black bare center.  Stripped down to the core, the tree offers nothing but its own naked shame.

You can’t wish the season away or ignore it.  You can’t imagine your way out of it.

But you can hope.

I stand by the Weeping Cherry, and I think of all the ways shame turns glorious.  We aren’t who we thought we were!  The glorious revelation that we can’t ignore stands:  sin is real.  The ancient story stands!

We’ve fallen short of glory in a million ways: Those who tease Penn State students have failed in their mockery.  Those who detach from the pain have failed in their denial. Those who move on have failed in their lack of compassion for victims who never, never move on.  Those who insist they would have acted differently have failed in their self-righteousness. 

Who hasn’t–when laid bare before a Holy God–failed?

The Weeping Cherry will stay in the stark reality of failure for all the time it takes.  And, at just the right time, the sun will pierce through and send it blooming.

How glorious it will be!

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Journal:  How has Penn State’s scandal affected you?   

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Deep in the Heart of Man

This morning, the neighborhood children call me over to a huge, gaping hole in the earth.  Construction workers have dug down so deep, you can see sewage lines exposed.  With this rare vantage point, we peer into the secret inner workings of our town.  Even under the most beautiful lawns and gardens, excrement flows. 

It’s not very pretty.

I think about sewage in the human heart as I remember the truth in Ecclesiastes 7:20:  “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” 

I can’t escape the reality of sin today.  On this day, I cry on the bus with others who sit in complete silence as they think about innocent boys abused; as they think about authority figures they mistrust; as they think about a beloved coach who said he wished he’d done more; as they think about their own angered response in rioting.  

I go back and peer inside the hole with my daughter beside me.  This is the truth about our hearts.  This is why we so desperately need a Savior

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Thank you for praying for our community today.

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What the Strange and Horrible Odor Was

All day, a strange odor wafts through the entryway, the kitchen, the living room, and the hallway.  I’m actually on my knees, sniffing to discover the source.

“Can you smell that?”  I ask everyone who comes by the house. 

Finally, I trace the odor to the corner of the garage where I spy a tiny hole in the wall.  My husband comes home, and I just point my finger and declare, “Something is in there.”

I run to safety inside the house (I’m a chicken) and leave my brave and wonderful husband alone in the garage.  With a flashlight and tools to cut into the wall, he finds the source of the impossibly foul and impressively permeating smell.

A tiny, deceased chipmunk.

Within a few minutes of removing the odor source, the entire atmosphere changes. 

All morning, I consider the power of that one small thing to overtake the whole environment.  That little thing became impossibly foul and impressively permeating.  I thought of my own life and those small things that inevitably change the atmosphere:  negativity, complaining, gossip, suspicion–all the not-flair that can overtake a life.

I’m on a mission to search and root out the smallest things that I imagine cannot really harm.  Actually, they do.  They quickly become impossibly foul and impressively permeating.  Living with flair means removing that odor source.  I pray God shows me quickly and thoroughly. 

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Journal:  What foul smelling thing do we need to remove in our lives?

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Flossing and Jesus

Sometime this year, I fell out of the habit of flossing.  I’m not sure when it happened.  Maybe it was when I ran out and forgot to put it on the grocery shopping list.   Maybe it was when I decided I was too tired one night and just chose not to floss.  It was easier to “forget” the next night and the next. 

This morning, I realize I really need to floss.  I find the floss, saw it down between my teeth, and feel surprisingly good about this activity. 

It feels like I’m living with flair when I floss. 

I learn that bacteria in the mouth starts to harden into plaque within only 48 hours.  In just 10 days the plaque becomes tartar–rock hard and incredibly difficult to remove.  Tartar leads to gingivitis which leads to periodontal disease (not fun). 

I think about my week and how hardened my heart often feels.  I wake up some days and feel the weight of my own selfishness.  In just 48 hours (or less), I can turn from a spirit-controlled, loving wife and mother into a narcissistic she-devil demanding her own way.  Left unchecked, in less than 10 days, I’m off in the pursuit of false dreams and false gods.  I’m in a rage: complaining, entitled, tearing apart my family.  Who is this woman?

How do these attitudes and behaviors lodge and harden?  What could I have done to break up that bacteria and stay fresh and clean before God? I remember the Psalmist who wrote,

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 See if there is any offensive way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Living with flair means I floss.   I apply, on a daily basis, the truth of God’s word against every surface and root out even tiny–seemingly harmless–bacteria that overtakes and hardens in just hours.  

I ask God to reveal “any offensive way in me.”  And when he does, I confess and know that, as 1 John 1:9 claims, “God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I can’t forget this habit, this flossing.  
  

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Journal:  How can I build in the practice of confession on a daily basis? 

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A Message From God in my Vacuum

Yesterday, I vacuumed my entire house. 

We recently had the carpets cleaned, and the kind cleaner suggested we needed a new vacuum.  He said to get a “multi-cyclonic” system with a canister I empty out–not the bag kind. 

I like my old vacuum.  It’s been with me all these years.  To me, the carpets look great: clean and soft with little lines from where the vacuum travels.  We don’t need a new one. 

But late in the afternoon, my husband suggests we purchase the “multi-cyclonic” vacuum (it was on sale!) to help keep our carpets clean.  With his fall allergies, our three cats, and our Grand Central Station lifestyle of game nights, parties, and meetings in our home, I agree to see what the big deal with multi-cyclonic vacuuming was. 

So I test it.  I re-vacuum the entire house. 

Apparently, multi-cyclonic means “miracle” in Greek.  From the view of this different mechanism, the carpets I think are clean are actually filthy.  The new vacuum removes so much unseen debris from my carpets that I literally sit on the floor and admire it in the canister. 

I even call two friends to tell them about this vacuum. 

Today in church, I think about that different mechanism that could remove what the old one couldn’t.  I ask God to come in multi-cyclonic form into the depths of my being to lift the stain and invisible dirt that I can’t see.  God removes it thoroughly, and for me, that’s the beauty of the gospel. 

The unseen violations–pride, criticism, judgment, favoritism, self-focus–sink deep in my fibers.  Let me not just be clean on the surface.  Let me be multi-cyclonic clean. 

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