The only road to freedom

NOTE: The audio of my reading of this post is at the bottom. Thanks for reading (or listening).

Just for fun--and in case you're feeling the need for some chocolate! (We didn't actually buy the chocolate bar--though the kids would have loved to!)

Just for fun–and in case you’re feeling the need for some chocolate! (We didn’t actually buy the chocolate bar–though the kids would have loved to!)

One day this past week I encountered a grumpy man at the dog park.

He didn’t say anything mean. He was just grumpy.

No big deal, really. In fact, I forgot about it the rest of that day.

But the next morning, it returned. And I couldn’t let it go. I grew frustrated with Grumpy man. Worse, I re-imagined the scene in my head—with a little more grumpiness on his part and some witty rejoinders on mine. It was ridiculous, and I grew even more frustrated with myself than with Grumpy Man. Why am I so caught up in this? I wondered. Why do I even care?

As I prayed about this, I remembered a scene I’d read the night before in The Hiding Place. My daughter is reading it for a class at school, and, though I’ve read it at least a couple times, it was lying around, so…

I was just going to read a few pages in the middle—but I finished it a little after midnight.

Oh, well.

If you haven’t read The Hiding Place, you should. This true story is gripping: a quiet Dutch family becomes active in the underground movement during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, assisting some Jews to flee the country and hiding others in the attic of their home. Eventually their work is discovered, and middle-aged daughters Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom, along with their elderly father and several other family members, are arrested. Their father dies after only a few days in prison; most of the other family members are eventually released; but Betsie and Corrie are sent together to Ravensbruck, the notorious concentration camp for women.

Betsie is a saint (I know Scripture calls all of us who believe in Christ “saints,” but I, at least, don’t generally act like one, and Betsie truly did.) For example, here’s how she acted in the scene I remembered this morning: Corrie and Betsie had just witnessed German guards mistreating some prisoners with intellectual disabilities. Corrie said, “Betsie, after the war, we must open a home so we can minister to them. They will have so many emotional wounds.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

Betsie responded, “Oh, yes, Corrie. They will need so much healing.”

It wasn’t until later Corrie realized Betsie had not been referring to the prisoners but to the guards. Even when she was personally mistreated by them, Betsie had compassion on them. She saw them as hurting souls.

Betsie was as free in prison as outside it because she harbored no bitterness. None! This allowed her not only to be an incredible blessing to those around her, but also made her own life—which could be accurately described as miserable, full of physical and emotional hardships 24 hours a day—joyous.

That is freedom, I thought as I reflected. How ironic that a woman in a hellish situation could be so mentally, emotionally, and spiritually free, while often we who are well-fed, well-clothed, and “free” to choose career/family/circumstances, live in bondage—to our own selves—and are therefore miserable and bitter.

Case in point: ME—fixated on Grumpy man.

Lord, I prayed, I want to be like Betsie!

But how?

It would be nice to end it there—as if the desire for change made it actuality.

But though I sure wanted it, it wasn’t the reality I lived in that day. In fact, my frustrations spread: one by one my kids got lumped in with the Grump. Finally, this afternoon, after another kid pushed another button (they were getting more and more easily pushed as the day went on), I escaped for a short run and listened to Tullian Tchividjian preach on the book of Romans. It was only the second sermon in the book series, so he was camping on chapter 1—with its strong emphasis on the complete sinfulness of all mankind.

Not exactly a “fun” listen! But it shut me up. All day I’d wanted to be more like Betsie and failed! And though I would never have said (or even “thought”) this “out loud,” I knew the fault had to be with the people rubbing me the wrong way—

Because it couldn’t be completely with ME!

But Romans 1 doesn’t allow for that shifting of blame, for blindness to personal fault, for portioning out wrong. So as Tchividjian broke down the second half of the chapter, peeling away the ways we lump “sinners” together and somehow remain outside that group ourselves, I had to sink into the truth.

I said it out loud in the quiet woods. “I am broken—to the core.” It suddenly didn’t matter that I figure out the specifics of each little set of frustrations. The ultimate reason I was frustrated was ME!

And then, finally, I was ready to receive.

It would be nice to think Betsie Ten Boom really was a “saint” in the way we think of the word: that she lived joyously and freely in her own power—out of some special personality she had (because then we might be able to achieve it on our own, too).

But Betsie arrived at freedom the same way I have to—through brokenness.

Her sweetness and joy was a result of her being willing, again and again, to admit her own inability, to be “ok” with her neediness, to say “NO” to self-sufficiency—and in that place of vulnerability and humility to drink in the great, ready grace of God.

In brokenness we receive—again and again and again.

It’s the only road to freedom.

 

*Seriously, if you haven’t read The Hiding Place, do! If you click on the book title, it will take you to the book’s Amazon.com page. If you need a little more convincing, read this review. Wow!

I ramble with a purpose

At one of Wheaton Academy's bball games not long ago, the students brought glow-in-the-dark bracelets/necklaces. After the game, PJ gathered as many as he could, and we had a light show/photo shoot that night at home. Here he is twirling a handful of them.

At one of Wheaton Academy’s bball games not long ago, the students brought glow-in-the-dark bracelets/necklaces. After the game, PJ gathered as many as he could, and we had a light show/photo shoot that night at home. Here he is twirling a handful of them.

I like cool blog titles. Here are a few of my favorites: Everyday Epiphanies, Still Point in a Turning World, Logic and Imagination, A Place of Abundance, Writing from the Margins, The Middle: Encouragement for the Journey Through, A Holy Experience

(I think very highly of all these blogs as well as their titles, which is why I provided links).

I used to have a blog title.

But it wasn’t very cool.

Journey to Jen—how’s that for catchy!?

My husband, Dave, hated it, from the very beginning. I won’t tell you what he said it sounded like, but I will tell you I laughed and was also a little horrified. “It wasn’t the title I wanted,” I told him, “but ‘Jen’s Journey’ was already taken.”

I wanted “Jen’s Journey” because that’s all my blog was supposed to be: a reflection of my journey, what I’m learning, how I’m growing. I write to process, and the blog is my outlet.

Plus, I love the word “journey.” I also love the word “pilgrimage,” which is the word that led me to “journey” because, when I suggested “pilgrimage” as my blog title, Dave said that sounded weird.

(And if you don’t know my husband and are thinking right now he seems a little grumpy, he’s really, really not. In fact, he’s my greatest encourager and he makes me laugh.

A lot!

Anyway, back to my blog title. I finally bought my domain (at the urging of Dave) and simply named it “Jen Underwood.”

As in, “Here’s me—and my journey.”

Come to think of it, “journey” was a bit of a misnomer, unless you think of a journey as a meandering path that sometimes goes in circles and follows rabbit trails and then comes back to another circle, much like one of the previously traveled ones, and at this point you’re all turned around and have no idea which direction you’re facing or, for that matter, where exactly this path is taking you.

That is the kind of “journey” mine seems to be. Every once in awhile I look back at my blog entries of the last few weeks and think, “It’s ramblings! Just ramblings. I’ve been all over the place, thinking about all kinds of things. There’s nothing linear about it at all.”

And sometimes I get discouraged about this, because the erratic nature of my blog is a reflection of the erratic nature of my spiritual growth. I share this with God. “Lord, I have this vague idea of the godly woman I want to become,” I tell Him, “and I have, really, no idea how to get there. In fact, I’m not even sure what this ‘godly woman’ looks like, but every time I try to plan out a ‘point A to point B’ sort of journey that I think might lead me closer to her, You rip up my map!”

“Come to think of it, God,” I tell him. “’Ramblings’ could be a good title for my blog, for my LIFE.”

But when I look further back than just a few weeks ago—when I read blog entries of a year, two years ago, when I pull out one of the notebooks I’ve been writing in for two decades—I see growth. I recognize that true good was formed out of disappointments and “rabbit trails.” I understand that each time I followed a circular path, it was a little bigger and a little deeper. I realize that I may not “look” more godly, but I’ve been drawn into a deeper faith in God.

I see a very masterful hand at work.

All my ramblings have had purpose! I just didn’t know it!

God knows very specifically how to draw me closer to Him so that I trust Him in and for everything.

Therefore, I am not responsible for planning my spiritual growth, just for following Him into it, one step after another.

And though that is frightening in one way, it is incredibly reassuring and hopeful in another!

I ramble with a purpose.

His.

And His purpose is sure.

 

VERSES TO PONDER (in the Amplified version today)

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), [a]recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].

Psalm 57: 1-2 Be merciful and gracious to me, O God, be merciful and gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge and finds shelter and confidence in You; yes, in the shadow of Your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed. 2 I will cry to God Most High, Who performs on my behalf and rewards me [Who brings to pass His purposes for me and surely completes them]!

Exodus 40:37-38 But if the cloud was not taken up, they did not journey on till the day that it was taken up. 38 For throughout all their journeys the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Isaiah 25:1 O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, for You have done wonderful things, even purposes planned of old [and fulfilled] in faithfulness and truth.

Resting Place

No connection to today's post--I just like the look of joy on Mad's face!

No connection to today’s post–I just like the look of joy on Mad’s face.

I went to a women’s service at our church yesterday. For two days I’d wrestled with a strange melancholy. I’d tried and tried to understand it, but couldn’t. I’d searched my soul, confessed the self-focus I saw, and asked the Holy Spirit to reveal other issues. I’d looked at the level of my mommy martyrdom—yes, there was some, but it wasn’t high enough to explain my strange sadness. I thought of things going on around me: my renewed research on sex trafficking, a friend going through a very difficult time, the transition to being a mom of a teenager…

Nothing jumped forward as a principal cause.

I tried reminding myself that others were dealing with horrible losses and troubles. They had real reason to be sad. I did not.

That didn’t help.

Is it all right to sometimes not know the reasons for our lows? Is it all right to simply be sad sometimes without clear cause?

I think it might be, if only because of the ways the Lord ministered to me yesterday morning without my ever learning the why and what of my mood.

The speaker for our service had chosen II Chronicles 20 as the text. King Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah knew a great enemy was coming against them. They chose not to trust in their own might or in the might of allies. Instead, they turned to God. They fasted and prayed and cried, and finally Jehoshaphat stood in front of his people and said, “Oh, Lord, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (vs. 12b).

Well, I’m not really faced with a decision right now, but the not-knowing certainly fits me right now, I thought.

At the close of the service, we sang “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” by Horatius Bonar, one of my favorite hymn writers.

I heard the voice of Jesus say

Come unto Me and rest

Lay down thy weary one

Lay down thy head upon My breast

I came to Jesus as I was

Weary, worn, and sad

I found in Him a resting place

And He has made me glad.

It was as if the Holy Spirit whispered the words to my heart. Weary?—yes. Worn and sad?—yes, yes. I didn’t know why (still don’t) and that’s all right.

Because, finally, when I rested and simply said, “I’m sad, Lord. I don’t know why. Here’s my sorrow,” He gave rest to my soul.

And He made me glad.

*The second and third stanzas of the hymn are truly beautiful as well. Here’s the link. And if you’d like to hear/sing it, here’s a Youtube video with words and music.

Practicing Awe

Sorry for the poor photo quality, but I took this on my phone on an early-morning jaunt a couple weeks ago. The sunrise reflected on a patch of ice in a field. Definitely a moment of awe!

Sorry for the poor photo quality, but I took this on my phone on an early-morning jaunt a couple weeks ago. The sunrise reflected on a patch of ice in a field. Definitely a moment of awe!

I continue my “crawl” through the Bible, and a phrase from Jeremiah jumps out at me. It’s from the fifth chapter, in which God is reminding the Israelites they have broken the covenant He made with their ancestor Abraham. Verse 24 is but one piece of His evidence: “They do not say from the heart, ‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God, for he gives us rain each spring and fall, assuring us of a harvest when the time is right.’”

“Live in awe!”

What an incredible phrase.

They didn’t do that.

Much of the time, I don’t either.

The consequences of their awe-less life were concrete and strong. Verse 25 reads, “Your wickedness has deprived you of these wonderful blessings. Your sin has robbed you of all these good things.”

The consequences for my oft-times awe-less life tend to be more abstract.

I have the concrete “good things”: food to feed my healthy children, a warm, snug house, enjoyable and fruitful work. A lack of awe does not always result in the gifts themselves being taken away, but we do lose some of the blessing and goodness of the gift when we do not see it as such, when we let it become commonplace, something we believe we deserve, or something less than a gift—a burden.

So, this day, I am going to practice “awe” for the gifts surrounding me in the moment. I will journal my practice. Here goes…

+++++

As I write this, I am secreted in my bathroom, the one that has one door that opens into my bedroom and another that opens to the den. Patrick and his friend, Ben, are having a rock concert in my bedroom; Jake and his friend, Josh (Ben’s older brother), are in the den playing on the Wii. I can hear both sides.

They’re. Loud.

Much of the time I forget awe at these amazing gifts: two healthy sons with good friends, toys for them to play with when the weather is such that I can’t simply kick them outside all day, more than one bathroom (that’s HUGE!), a warm house, and bathroom doors that LOCK! Woohoo! I am in awe at these gifts of God in this very moment, and the goodness of this moment is revealed, and I can view the chaos and noise as a blessing.

+++++

It is now ten minutes later, and I am no longer in awe.

I am fixing mac ‘n cheese and dishing up bowls for five children so they can go out and play in the snow with full bellies (and not come back in 15 minutes later because they want snacks). I’m feeling hounded by questions of “Is it ready yet?” “Where are my gloves?” and “Mom, I think I left my snow boots at school. What should I do?”

How quickly I move from awe to frustration. It doesn’t even feel deliberate. I don’t remember making the choice to get frazzled: I just slid right into it.

Choosing awe, on the other hand, requires, well, choice, requires acknowledgment of need and cries for help—and then requires the entire process again only moments later.

Awe is clearly not my natural state!

+++++

It is now three hours later—three loads of laundry finished, three loaves of bread made, children out to play in the snow then back in (with another neighbor friend in tow), the two brothers picked up by their mother, two of mine sent to a friend’s house, one quick run up to the high school to pick up Judy, who is exhausted from all-day play practice, and snacks fed to the only two young children left in my house—and they are busy with non-destructive play—Yay! Someone actually remembered to charge my laptop after they played on it during the three-hour interim, and I am sitting down to write this—because writing is how I meditate on truths God is teaching me.

As much as I would like awe to be a constant state, it simply isn’t, and that really has nothing to do with the chaos of my family. If I lived in a monastery, and everyone around me had taken a vow of silence and peace, something would still cause me to slip from awe.

Perhaps that is actually a good thing—not necessarily the slipping, but the struggle it pushes me into (which reveals my helplessness and ends in my crying out). The battle for awe, for joy, for peace—for God, ultimately—strengthens my desire for Him. I see the contrast between awe and “regular life” more clearly as I wrestle my way back to awe time and time again. Is this what James was suggesting? That my ongoing struggles will build endurance, that patient endurance will open my eyes to see God’s “good and perfect gifts” and see Himself as the Father of lights?

Maybe? Like my struggle for awe today, all my spiritual sight is shadowed and grows clearer only in small increments.

And that is all right.

On Inner and Outer Needs

Late last summer I took my children to the dentist for their pre-school-year checkups. One of them had some kind of procedure done, and the usual “thirty minutes before you can eat solid foods” was extended to two hours. So I decided to treat everyone to milkshakes from Scoobys.

On the way there I stopped in at Walgreens to pick up a picture order. The kids began to troop in with me, but a voice behind made us all stop.

“Hi m’am. Hi kids.”

We turned. “M’am, I was hoping to get some lunch at Subway. Do you have something to spare?”

He had big eyes and a mouth that grinned wide.

I pulled a bill from my wallet and handed it over.

He said it before I could. “God bless you, m’am. And your children.”

“God bless you, too,” I told him.

We picked up the photos, got back in the car, and headed to Scoobys. The children talked about the man. “I wonder what he’s ordering at Subway?” one said. “Do you think he has a home?” said another.

No one was in the drive-through at Scoobys, a good thing since my kids suddenly couldn’t make up their minds about flavors. I stopped about a car length from the order board so we could decide.

Suddenly a loud honk interrupted our deciding. A man in a large, shiny SUV, parked in the small lot to our right, was trying to back out, and we were in his way.

We weren’t keeping him from getting out of the lot. His was the only car in it. He could have moved straight back and had clear access to the road. We were in the drive-through lane, exactly where we would have been had another car been in front of us. But he wanted to go where we were.

And he was angry we hadn’t noticed.

Very angry.

Our windows shielded us from deciphering his actual words, but the volume of his scream penetrated the car. His face had turned deep red and his mouth twisted and distorted as he screamed. He jabbed his left hand up, middle finger skyward in a clear gesture.

For a brief second I froze. Then I eased the car forward.

He screeched back and rocketed out of the lot.

Silence.

I tried to bring back the celebratory mood. “So, you guys know what you want now?”

There was no more banter, no more fun in deciding. “Two chocolates, one vanilla, one strawberry,” I told the woman at the window.

The quiet persisted until one of the children softly asked, “Why was he so angry?”

We talked about it then, and Emily eventually cracked a joke that eased the tension.

But my kids haven’t forgotten. The other day I asked Patrick, “Hey, do you remember the man who yelled at us at Scooby’s?”

Patrick’s eyes went wide. “He was scary,” he said.

But he’s forgotten the man who asked for money just minutes before.

I have not.

They were so different—the one with his well-worn clothing and cracked shoes, the other with his giant, shiny car.

Yet they were also alike—with matching inward needs that stretch to the soul.

Would SUV man able to admit this inner need? Subway man admitted to his outward, obvious one. SUV man didn’t have Subway man’s obvious, outer needs, yet his angry outburst was evidence of something broken within him.

As I’ve thought about these two people, I’ve wondered which one would be more open to Christ. If God were holding out His hands to both men, which one would be more likely to grab hold? Could outward vulnerability make people more able to admit to an inner need as well? Could this hint at what Christ meant when he called the poor in spirit “blessed”?

I don’t know, and honestly, it’s not really a valid question as it pertains to those two men. I know nothing of them. I don’t know if Subway man was conning me with charm or if SUV man had just experienced something horrific and was simply overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve never seen either man again.

Will you acknowledge your soul-deep needs and cling to God’s hands?

I don’t need to know their answers to that question.

I need to know mine.

Skipping the “A” in the ABCs

Jake! (In the fake mustache, he makes me think of author Agatha Christie's Detective Poirot, famous for his "little grey cells"!

Jake! (In the fake mustache, he makes me think of author Agatha Christie’s Detective Poirot, famous for his “little grey cells”!)

“Pride goes before destruction,” says the King James Version of Proverbs 16:18, “and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Here’s how the Message puts it: “First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.”

Wise words.

The “crash” can range in severity and form. For me today it was an edginess, a tendency to blame everything on someone other than myself. Sarcastic retorts were my first responses, and a couple times I didn’t bite my tongue fast enough to keep them in. I should have worn a sign that read, “Leave me alone—for your own good!” I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know why I felt so terribly grouchy. I couldn’t pinpoint any particular person or event that legitimately could be the cause.

I fought back. This is not me, I told myself. I can control this. I can change this attitude.

I’ll just grit my teeth and smile, smile, smile.

It didn’t work. Well, outwardly it did, sort of. But nothing changed inside.

I went for a walk at the dog park. Cold air, outdoors, the physical effort of breaking a path through nearly knee-height snowfall—those are all things I love.

But that didn’t work either. I still wanted to bite the head off the first person I saw.

Poor person.

At home I continued my battle to snap myself out of it.

Until I sank into it and waved the white flag.

The truth, I finally acknowledged, is that the edgy, grumpy, sarcastic, self-centered person I’d been all day IS me. With all masks and Southern “lady” upbringing stripped aside, the true me is self-righteous, self-focused, and accusatory.

I looked out the window at the bright snow that blanketed the patio. “I’m not feeling too clean right now, Lord,” I prayed. “Feeling pretty stained, pretty dirty.”

The bulletin from the morning church service was next to me. I looked at the Old Testament Scripture reading from Jeremiah 31. God said, “With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back. I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble…” (Jeremiah 31-verse 9).

I’d been doing nothing all day but stumbling, tripping, and falling all over myself in my attempts to be a “nice” person on my own. I sighed with relief. You say You will lead me back, Lord. I don’t have to find the way myself.

I read further: “’(M)y people shall be satisfied with my goodness,’ declares the Lord.” (verse 14)

That was the root of my problem. I’d been satisfied with my own goodness—till I discovered it was anything but good!

Several years ago, when Em was 10, the twins 6, and PJ only 4, Em shared with the entire family the ABCs of salvation she’d learned in Sunday School. “A is Admit you’re a sinner,” she told us. “B is Believe that Jesus paid for your sins. C is Choose to follow Christ.”

“Hmm,” Jake said. “I think I’ll take B and C.”

Funny–but true.

Too often I still want to drop the A. I want to have some personal righteousness to boast about.

But I don’t! And mercy isn’t sweet and grace isn’t beautiful unless I see how desperately I need it.

And I’m not really following Christ unless I’m following Him as my only hope.

When death breaks in

This morning I learned of the death of a former student.

Sudden, unexpected death.

Now, in this season of life, when we read verses like Zechariah’s pronouncement about Christ’s birth: “…the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,” death has again triumphed, and a family is weeping. Christmas will forever be changed for them. Even when the great waves of grief have passed, every year, in the midst of celebration, there will be a tinge of sorrow.

Death has broken in.

My soul rages when I hear news like this. Somewhere deep down in me is the knowledge that this is wrong. It should not be like this. We learn to live with dysfunctional families, fallen bodies, mental illness–all the “subtle” reminders of a broken system. But then death breaks in and hauls us up short. We turn the corner from “life is hard but endurable–even good at times” to find that the passage before us is gone. It has dropped off and all we see is darkness.

“This is unacceptable,” I want to say.

But I have no power to change it. In fact, in my own small way, I, too, will wreak death as I walk through my days: wounding those I love most, including my own self.

I don’t always notice this, but then a life that intersects with my own is snuffed out, and capital-D Death makes me wail with a specific-yet-vague knowing of the shadow that hovers over our planet and in our very hearts.

At times like this I get a glimpse into what God must have felt when His beloved image-bearers made that irrevocable choice that doomed all of creation to groaning and travailing in a bondage of corruption.

God sorrowed–far more than we because He could see the great contrast between what was planned and what we chose.

But then He did more! The Lion of the tribe of Judah roared.

We thought it was simply a whimper–an insignificant birth, a controversial life, an ignominious death.

But no! It was a roar! “It is finished!” was a victory cry. His death had swallowed up death itself.

We are in the night of sorrow.

But morning will come.

 

 

From phileo to agape

“Would you die for your beliefs?”

That might be an odd question to ask here in the U.S., in an age that promotes “tolerance” above all, but it’s a question I’ve asked myself. When I’ve read about martyrs—in the past or present—or about believers being persecuted for their faith, I’ve wondered, “How devoted am I? If I were going through what that believer is, would I be able to stand strong?”

I tend to think of those believers as “better” Christ-followers than I. One day, as I was leafing through a Voice of the Martyrs magazine (www.persecution.com), I expressed this thought to my husband, Dave.

“I disagree,” he said. First, he argued, what does it mean to be a “better Christian”?

All the answers that popped into my head, I realized, had to do with ME, with what I do or don’t do. They had nothing to do with Christ’s work in and through me.

Second, Dave exposed the root of my guilt. “You feel like a second-rate Christ follower because you’re not enduring really hard things, but in doing this, aren’t you kind of questioning God? He’s the one Who has placed you exactly where you are. When you feel guilt over not being somewhere else, suffering like someone else, you’re not willing to be the person He created you to be in this time and place.”

His third argument is one I’m not sure I agree with. “I think loving God and loving neighbor is in many ways a harder task here in suburban American than it is in violence- and poverty-riddled cultures,” he said. “With so many distractions and such a great emphasis on comfort, it’s harder to focus on what is really important.”

As I thought about all this, I studied Peter’s declaration that he could die for his beliefs, for Christ. After Jesus told the disciples they would “all fall away on account of me,” Peter said, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

Jesus disagreed. “Truly I tell you…you will disown me three times.”

Yet Peter was still certain of himself. He protested, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (This story can be found in both Luke 22 and Matthew 26. The above quotes are from the Matthew passage.)

Here’s what strikes me about the passage: Jesus didn’t ask Peter to make a declaration; He wasn’t impressed when he did make it; and He didn’t seem too fazed by Peter’s denial of Him. I’m not saying Peter’s denial wasn’t a big deal (it certainly was for Peter), but I am saying that Peter’s statement of devotion had a lot more to do with himself than with Christ, and Christ knew that.

As part of my study on this, I also looked at the John 21 passage, in which Christ restores Peter. I found it significant that Christ asked Peter three times if he loved Him—the same number of times Peter denied Him—and that Christ ended with telling Peter that he would actually die for Christ. He would eventually have the level of devotion that Peter had wanted and claimed to have before Christ’s death.

But I was still puzzled.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I listened to a sermon in which the pastor pointed out the difference in the Greek verb forms used in the John 21 passage (in the English they are all translated simply as “love.”) I went home and looked it up in my Amplified Bible and was amazed at how that shed light on my understanding of devotion.

When Jesus first asks Peter, “Do you love me?” He uses the Greek verb “agape” for “love,” which the Amplified translates as “reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father).

Peter answers, “Lord, You know that I love you,” but he uses the Greek verb “phileo,” which the Amplified translates as “deep, instinctive, personal affection, as for a close friend.” Jesus asked using a higher form, but Peter, more knowledgeable of his shortcomings at this point, answered with a lesser form.

Jesus accepts Peter’s answer and gives him a charge: “Feed My lambs.”

Then Jesus asks again, “(D)o you love me?” using the agape form.

Peter answers, again, with the phileo.

And Jesus again charges him: “Shepherd My sheep.”

Then a third time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” but this time He, too, uses the phileo form of the verb.

Peter is “grieved that He should ask him the third time,” and he says, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I (phileo) You.”

Peter now understands his own limitations. He longs to say that he agape-loves Christ, but he knows he cannot produce that kind of love. So he says only what he knows to be true: he does phileo-love Christ.

And that is enough. Christ tells Peter again, “Feed My sheep,” and then He tells Peter something that sounds very, very strange to our modern, Western-world ears. “You will indeed die for me,” He says to Peter, and John, the writer of this gospel, adds, “He said this to indicate by what kind of death Peter would glorify God. And after this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’”

That must have been very, very encouraging to Peter. Jesus is telling him, “Peter, I know that you want your love to pure and beautiful and deep, but in reality your love is small, weak, and limited. That’s okay. I am still entrusting you with a great charge: to feed and care for My people. And as you follow Me in this—aware that you must abide in Me to find what you need—I will work transformation in you so that when you are old, your devotion will be such that you will not only not deny me, you will die for Me—and in so doing you will glorify Me.”

Father, I, too, want to love you with my entire heart, soul, mind, and spirit, and I want to love my neighbor as I love myself. But I am learning that my love, like Peter’s, is weak and frail. I am grateful that You understand and accept my weakness. Please help me to accept it, too, for You tell me that Your grace is enough for all my weaknesses. Help me to follow You in what You have set in front of me and to trust that You will transform me.

From dark to light

I took this in Montana a couple summers ago. Amazing!

Daughter Emily took this in Montana a couple summers ago. Amazing!

With the time change, I rise in grey light rather than pitch dark. By the time I hit the trail, I can see the round walnuts, black against the white gravel. My ankles are thankful.

I run due west, and at my halfway point, I turn around and head back, and the sunrise lifts in front of me.

Glorious!

But the payoff for the morning light is early dark. Earlier and earlier dark. It’s creeping in on us, hemming in our days, tighter and tighter.

It feels as if it’s crept into my soul as well.

I’m reading through Isaiah currently, and I just finished Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel The Road. “Doom and gloom” shrouded my thoughts this last week (hence the break from blogging). In between my times of people-filled activity (parenting/tutoring/teaching/meetings), my thoughts nearly immediately wrestle with the traumas of our trouble-riddled world, and my heart not only aches but wanders, confused and fearful.

At the height of day, with the sunlight brilliant on the lingering yellow leaves, the melancholy recedes a bit, but if I read through major headlines or listened to news talk radio, it returned. From all I can see and hear, we humans are not moving toward peace and goodness and Truth, and we become more and more bent on denying there is a God Who actually determines and is Himself Peace, Goodness, and Truth.

A few days ago I read Isaiah 22, and verse 11 jumped out at me. It summed up all my fears. The prophet Isaiah has told the Israelites that trouble is coming and they will do all in their power to fight against it: fortifying walls, arming themselves, creating a reservoir. “But you never ask for help from the One who did all this,” writes Isaiah. “You never considered the One who planned this long ago” (Is. 22:11b).

That describes us, I thought. We are so bent on finding our own answers to problems. We are so self-reliant and certain of ourselves.

What I missed at first was the irony that I, too, have been doing this.

The verse applies to me in my time-change-induced melancholy.

Though I have not been feeling self-sufficient, I have been trying to discover the “right” view on issues. I have wanted to feel certain and secure, and I have wanted my world to be certain and secure.

My eyes have been on the trouble rather than on the Solution.

What is too big for me to understand and too much for my heart to hold is not too big for HIM.

He is not helplessly wringing His hands over the statistics and news and debates that frighten and confuse me. He does not cry out, “I don’t know what to do!” (or “think” or “believe”)

Last night I drove my girls east to soccer practice. As I turned to head home, dusk kept pace with me. The shrouded sky behind gradually ate up the sunset in front.

But then I noticed that Venus, visible even in the last of daylight, shone even brighter after it was surrounded by night.

I am not left alone in the dark. WE are not left alone in the dark.

The Morning Star still shines, and He will not be overwhelmed.

When I focus my eyes on the Him, my uncertainties and fears shrink in their power. I still have them, but they lose their grip on me. They do not crush me.

So, right now (and again and again in the future), I “ask for help from the One who did all this.” I “consider the One who planned this long ago.” I turn to the Light.

“…Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”

NOTES: SO many beautiful passages that speak of God bringing light into darkness and Christ being light in the darkness. I’ve listed just a few below.

Psalm 18:28 For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.

Daniel 2:22 (H)e reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.

Micah 7:8 Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.

Matthew 4:16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”

Luke 1:76-79 (Zechariah singing a prophetic song over his son John)

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us[h] from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

I John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

From then to now-Grace

Random shot--beautiful leaf on my driveway

Random shot–beautiful leaf on my driveway

The past couple of days I have been ridiculously dramatic—in some ways approaching the time of mother martyrdom I wrestled so much with when my kids were very small. This time around, though, I’ve given into it with greater abandon and even a bit of flair, and deep down I’ve known what I was doing.

I attribute the difference to Grace.

I’ll explain, starting with the past first: When my children were toddler-stage, I believed that “good moms” loved being with their children 24-7 (along with a host of other bad beliefs). Therefore, I rarely took my husband up on his offers to let me “get away.” Despite his offers, in a deep down, hidden place in my heart, I blamed HIM for my sense of duty, for my unhappiness. But I didn’t come right out and say all this. I was prim and proper in my martyrdom, quietly convincing myself that I truly was right to see myself as the “martyr” who “willingly” (hmm!) took up the slack in her home, in her husband’s busy life, with their children, with her friends, in her job…

I saw that as saintly.

Ugh!

It was truly a miserable time. I was locked in a pious, tight mold of spiritual smugness. It was constricting. It stifled true life.

When God began tugging the log out of my eye, I began to see my “mommy martyrdom” more clearly, and I began to battle it. Not a pretty process! It was tooth-and-claw, hair-pulling, nail-scratching. I remember thinking—wailing at times—“I will NEVER be free of this!”

Fast forward to the present: I’m not going to claim “complete victory in Jesus” over my martyrdom tendencies, but I do have a far greater freedom from it than I did (which leaves me “free” to battle other monsters in my soul.)

So during the past couple days, as I’ve gotten irked with my kids for cluttering up the house (“I’m not your slave, you know! My job is not to clean up after you. I’m not doing you any favors if I do for you what you can do for yourself!”) and with my older daughter for asking me to run her here, there, and everywhere (“She has no consideration for my time,” I’ve thought.), things have been different. I didn’t hold back as I ranted in my journal yesterday about feeling invisible to my children, like a “non-entity.” I let it loose, and I didn’t try to couch it as a prayer for God to change my children’s hearts. And as I was doing it, I KNEW deep down that I was being a bit ridiculous.

After all, just the night before, Dave and I watched a documentary on REAL slavery, about the 27 million people around the world who live in bondage. Just that day I’d read about the Nepalese workers dying at the rate of one per day in Qatar because they are being forced to labor in horrific conditions on the stadium that will be used for the 2022 World Cup.

So I knew I was being dramatic, but at the same time I also knew I was getting a little closer to the honesty that makes me cling to Christ in real desperation. He sees right through my politely expressed prayers of grievance to the far grittier issues in my own heart, and THAT is what He wants to expose. So when I vent to Him (and not to every other person at random—that’s just complaining), I am coming like a little child, without pretense, admitting that I need…something! and I’m coming to Him because I may not know exactly what I need in that moment, but I know HE is the source of ALL I need, and I go running to him.

So, though my rant wasn’t pretty and it will never, ever, ever be published, I’m leaving it in my journal.

Because the difference between then and now is GRACE!

*Here are the links to the End it Movement website (lots and lots of great videos and info on human trafficking) and the news story on Qatar.