Redeemed. Redeemed…

redeemedThe writing I do in my head is beautiful! As I walk at the dog park or fold laundry in the basement, words, lines, and ideas float through my mind and I am awed at their perfection.

First chance, I grab pen and paper and fix down the words that hang like masterpieces in my brain.

This fixing destroys them, or, rather, it unveils them. What I imagined as a Renoir is nothing more than a child’s cartoon drawing. “What happened?” I wonder. “Did I remember it wrong? Was it not really that beautiful to begin with?”

I am not alone in this, not as a writer, nor even as a person. We all long for perfection. We plan perfect dinners, evenings, vacations, outfits. Those are small imaginings. Bigger are our dreams of ideal families, marriages, lives, homes.

This fascinates me. Why do we have this obsession with perfection when we have never, not ever, experienced it?

And isn’t it ironic that though we long for perfection, our very natures seem bent to ruin any good we do encounter?

A few days ago I bought myself a new MudLOVE necklace ( It says “Redeemed.” I picked this one over others that read “Blessed,” “Believe,” “Hope.” I picked it even over the “Set Free” necklace, which I bought last year but then gave away to a young man in Africa this past summer.


MudLOVE does not have a necklace that reads “Perfect” or even “Perfected.”

That’s not surprising. Few of us are that egotistical, at least outwardly.

Perfection implies there is no need for any kind of change, no need for redemption. If something is perfect, it simply is. There are no marks of fixed flaws, no evidence of past issues.

Yet Christ told us to “be perfect, even as the Heavenly Father is perfect.” (

Impossible—which was pretty much the point.

Which brings me back to redemption.

I look at my reference tools and find the definition of “redemption” that fits the Biblical idea of the word: “the buying back of something.” But when I switch to the thesaurus, it’s the synonyms that catch my attention: “recovery, renovation, reclamation (I like that one), restoration, revitalization.”

Yes, I think. This is what I do with my writing. I tinker, trying to reclaim a bit of the perfection the words seemed to have when they floated through my head.

But our perfection is more than a puff of smoke in our Creator’s mind. There once was perfection, when our actuality matched His design. Now, however, there can be no more perfection. We’ve been marred. So there must be “the buying back,” accomplished by the unmarred Christ, whose Perfection stepped in for us. (

So the positional perfection, the positional redemption has been accomplished. But what about all the synonyms? I don’t continually feel or act restored, recovered, revitalized.

I look at my necklace again. “redeemed.” There is a period after the word.


Bought back—past tense, completed? Yes.

Still being revitalized, reclaimed, restored?


Redeemed. AND Redeemed…

Africa devos, cont.: BIG and small

Aunt Josephine (right) and Suzanne (left) spend their days taking care of babies and toddlers. It probably doesn't feel very significant many days--but it IS. Thank you, dear ladies, for your selfless, redemptive work.

Aunt Josephine (right) and Suzanne (left) spend their days taking care of babies and toddlers. It probably doesn’t feel very significant many days–but it IS. Thank you, dear ladies, for your selfless, redemptive work.

On page 101 of K from K, Katie writes this: “Every day, we have a choice. We can stay nestled in our safe comfortable places. … Or we can take a risk, do something to help someone else, make a person smile, change someone’s world.”

God has used Katie to touch the lives of many, many people. We see this as ‘bigger.’ But no less of a calling is when God calls us to meet the needs of ONE! We see this example in Scripture. The shepherd went out in search of the one lost lamb. The widow swept her house top-to-bottom looking for the one lost coin. The angels rejoice over one lost sinner who turns to God. Do you feel overwhelmed by stories like Katie’s? Do you feel like there is no way you could do something like that? Are your “dreams” smaller? Maybe you’re supposed to care for “one.” Your life—with all its moments—has been planned for YOU, with your gifts and background in mind. Lean into the God who planned not only your life but YOU—and He will lead you into your BIG “calling” one step at a time.

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. What do you think is “big” to God? Where does “big” start?
  2. Read Matthew 25:21, 23. How does that relate?
  3. On page 181 Katie hints at the fact that often this life of hers is not easy. Sometimes she may not even feel like it’s very fulfilling. It can be very tedious and repetitive. WE see redemption written all over Katie’s story, but sometimes she may wonder if she’s doing any good. Redemption doesn’t always “feel” purposeful or good. It’s often messy. Sometimes it feels like we are spinning our wheels. Ask God for glimpses of the bigger picture, for patience and endurance to continue till you catch a glimpse. Continue in the good work. Read page 204.
  4. Could it be that every moment has something “big” in it—we just miss it b/c we’re looking through the wrong eyes? He created every moment for a purpose, not just the ones we consider “big.” How is God using you now?

the mess that’s me

Dog and husband hanging out in our new bedroom/my office. Yes! After 9 months of moving our bed from laundry room to old playroom to new playroom--as our great contractor Ben remodeled our basement. Our new bedroom has a door! A door! Woohoo!

Dog and husband hanging out in our new bedroom/my office. Yes! After 9 months of moving our bed from laundry room to old playroom to new playroom–as our great contractor Ben remodeled our basement. Our new bedroom has a door! A door! Woohoo!

It’s summer—but the pool’s not yet open, so my kids have been home a LOT! Every time I enter a room, be it their bedroom or a family area, I discover a new mess. We’ve already had the conversation about Mom not being a personal slave, about how my job in regards to their cleanliness is not to pick up after them so they can continue to be slobs for the rest of their lives but to prepare them to be good roommates (perhaps even spouses) and employees who notice and take care of their own messes. (There was a lot more, but I’ll spare you! I probably should have spared them!)

Ah, that word “notice,” as used in “notice their own messes.” It’s key for any sort of progress. Yesterday I sent the boys off to clean their room. They returned in three minutes. “Done,” they announced.

No way. I’d seen it that morning—and hours had passed since then, enough time for unheard-of chaos to happen.

I was right—shirts dripping out of drawers, dirty underwear peeking from under the dresser, a pile of clothes that looked like PJ had worn them in a mud wrestling event, granola bar wrappers on the floor, Legos in various stages of construction on every surface…

But here’s the thing: THEY thought it was clean.

I John 1 metaphorically fleshed out.

“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” NLV

The Amplified expands that first phrase to “(If we) refuse to admit that we are sinners.”

Sinners: unlike God, missing His mark of perfection, incomplete in strength and knowledge and will.

Here’s my version of that first phrase: “If I refuse to admit that I am messy.”

Messy: not perfect, prone to do/say/feel the wrong things, carrying baggage (some of it unknown), unable to truly know and follow the “right way.”

This past weekend—graduation weekend—I had a conversation with one of the international students that went something like this:

International Student (IS): I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t think I’m doing a good job saying goodbye with my friends, and there’s so much to do, and I know I’m not spending enough time with God, and that makes me feel worse and…” (She’s crying now.)

Me: What do you mean by “not spending enough time with God”?

IS: I’m not having devotions or praying. I can’t seem to get it all together so that I can.

Me: You don’t have to. Actually, you CAN’T. And He doesn’t want you to try. He wants you to come IN your mess, IN your humanity, and He wants you to cry out to Him. Right now you feel like God’s withdrawn because you’re so confused. He hasn’t; you’ve just built a wall between you and Him. He knows your mess and your inability. He died for it! Now let Him come into it and comfort you.

Lots of tears then, lots of hugging. So much better.

And as the old perfectionist (that’s me J) shared advice with the young perfectionist, I was preaching to myself.

I often don’t acknowledge my own messiness to God. I often try to deal with it in my way—which is the equivalent of my boys shoving clothes under beds, cramming overstuffed drawers halfway closed, and brushing litter into a pile in a corner.

In doing this, I cut myself off from the Gospel that God wants to work out in my life every day. I hold back from redemption.

If I’m going to embrace God’s redemption, I must also embrace an acknowledgement of my messiness.

He loves to cleanse.

And I need it…

‘Cause I am messy!

Remember, remember, remember

Another guest photo! Since Judy is taking a media arts class, she’s been using the camera to take some very fun shots, like this one of our kids plus a couple extra enjoying the trampoline.

The entire Old Testament can be summed up as a recurring cycle of creation, fall, redemption. It starts with the capital-C Creation: the first, tragic fall, and then the redemption promised by God in chapter 3. The cycle is repeated on big levels—the creation of the nation Israel, its refusal to enter the Promised Land, God’s raising up Joshua as a triumphant leader—and on individual levels–Abraham receives the promise of a son, he lacks trust and has Ishmael by Hagar, Isaac is miraculously conceived and born.

When you read large chunks of the OT at a time, you get the feel that God is constantly having to remind His people of His faithfulness. He recounts their history to them time and time again, through songs, through the speeches of prophets, through annual celebrations and feasts, through rituals and sacrifices. Over and over they are reminded that they failed, God disciplined, they cried out, and God redeemed. The message is this: trust Him so the cycle does not repeat.

Things change in the New Testament, as the biggest redemption story of all is told. Through Christ’s work on the cross, those trusting Him are redeemed for all time. No further sacrifice is needed.

Yet, on a smale scale, I still see the OT cycle in my own life. God creates new work in me, yet I become complacent or proud or angry or distant, and God must draw me near again.

Just like the Old Testament Israelites, I need constant reminders of God’s faithfulness so I don’t continue to repeat this cycle. Recently I read Psalm 78, one of those lo-o-o-ng reminder Psalms that reviews Israel’s history from Jacob to David, and it gave me the idea of reviewing my own history with God. I don’t have as much to look back on as the Israelites—or as much as the 70 and 80-something saints I’ve been interviewing lately for Wheaton Academy publications—but at age 42 I’ve had a good 25-plus years of walking with God, and He’s revealed Himself to me again and again.

So here’s the beginning of my own Psalm 78, starting when I was 16:

-When I was 16 I led a kids’ Sunday School class in a downtown federal housing project. One of the older kids from the project—his name was Peanut—was my guide, taking me safely through the project, telling me which sections not to enter as I gathered children each week. I remember praying as I walked, for my own safety and for the wellbeing of the kids who lived there. I knew the presence of God as I walked there.

-I was 17 when I first experienced a time when the Lord gave direct leading. I just knew I was supposed to go to Grace College, 11 hours from home, sight unseen, without knowing a single other person going there.

-Near the end of my junior year in college, Dave and I, engaged at the time, broke up after dating for 2 ½ years. I set my ring aside, spent a lot of time alone (he did, too), and came to a point at which I could truly say, “Lord, I love You first. To marry this guy or stay single—I’m waiting to hear from You.” Though that was a difficult time, it was truly a sweet time—maybe the first time I can remember losing a sense of time and place with the joy of fellowshipping with God.

-My first teaching job at a public middle school in Warsaw, Indiana, the tiny, misfit youth group Dave and I started during those years, the mission trip we took together to Argentina—there are so many ways I remember God leading and directing and teaching me during these years.

-In 1998 we knew we were supposed to go—somewhere. I remember filling out the application for overseas teaching and looking at this question: Are you willing to go anywhere God wants you to go? Well, what do you say to that? I originally wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country, but God made it very clear we were supposed to go to Okinawa, Japan.

-When I went to the doctor in Okinawa to confirm my first pregnancy, he looked at the ultrasound and counseled Dave and I to expect a miscarriage. Separately we were both given the same verse to hold onto—“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts you”—and we went back to the next doctor visit sure that, no matter what the outcome of the visit, God would give us peace and comfort. Emily is the result of that pregnancy!

-We returned in 2000 and went through a difficult time of doubting that we were supposed to be back in the States. God reassured me so abundantly of His love during that time that I began to rethink how I viewed God, comparing my thoughts of Him with the way He is revealed throughout Scripture and in the person of Christ, learning to think “rightly” of Him.

I’ll pause here so the blog entry doesn’t run too long—maybe part two will be my next entry. Writing this has been a wonderful reminder to me that God has revealed Himself to me over and over—and these are just the “big” ways; there are too many small things to include in between all the “big.” Maybe you want to write your own Psalm 78—or if you don’t feel that you can, ask God to help you see the ways He is working in your life.

Thanks for reading—hope it was helpful.


The Long View

All of the kids except Nina. They love photo shoots.

I watched Wheaton Academy’s performance of Les Miserables tonight.

Amazing story, amazing performance, music, direction, and adult leadership.
It was seriously excellent, and I was moved,
But I needed some time to get past the amazing performance to the truth God wanted me to see in it.
You see, I left the show missing working with high school theatre, the incredible thrill of working with students, of helping them transmit a character and story they didn’t know they had within themselves, of getting to know students in the very personal ways theatre creates. I left missing the world I was involved in for many years.
With that longing still in my chest, I came home to my 11-year-old daughter baking shortbread–while listening to the music of Les Mis. Jane was in the kitchen, too, singing along. Then Nina came down. They all saw the show last week and have been waiting to hear my reaction to it. Nina wanted to talk through several of the scenes. We sang songs together–not very well.
No wow factor—just my life.
And it struck me that my longing for something I no longer have—though not wrong—is a desire for a different story than the one God has put me in right now. I, like most people I know, am drawn to redemptive stories, stories that have purpose and sacrifice and change and love. The problem is that, though I’m pretty good at recognizing redemption in others’ life stories, I can be really bad at spotting it in my own.
So I want someone else’s. Tonight I wanted what I used to have. Yesterday I read the blog of a friend who is working in Africa marketing jewelry handmade by Ugandan women (check out her blog on my blogroll), and I wanted to be on the front lines of a social justice mission. Two days ago I learned of an Iranian pastor who is on death row for his Christian faith. Though I did NOT want HIS life right now (or that of his wife’s!), I for certain thought of his story as being more redemptive and more important than my own.
But generally, when we look at a life from outside it, and think, oh, that’s so redemptive, so purposeful, the people in it don’t see it that way; often, they are asking for escape from it (a truth clearly showed by the characters in Les Mis).
It’s good that we recognize redemption in others’ stories—we should use that recognition to encourage them and pray for them—but we also have to START seeing redemption in our OWN stories.
We have to start seeing it in the crushing, painful times.
In the grind-it-out, nitty-gritty times.
In the waiting, I’m-not-going-anywhere times.
In the doubting, wandering, holding-on-by-a-thread times.
If ANY of our stories could be condensed down to the 2½-hour-movie-version, we would be able to see redemption in it—at least our OWN redemption. But life doesn’t come with a soundtrack that lets us know when big moments are coming—or that this IS a big moment, a moment full of grand and glorious purpose. So we don’t see the BIG story.
We need the long view, the big view. God tells us His view of time is entirely different from our own. Our days are but moments to him. Our lives like breaths. This does not at all mean that our lives don’t matter to Him (for we know His thoughts toward us are precious and numerous, like grains of sand on the seashore; see Psalm 139:17-18); no, it tells us that He HAS the long view, the big redemptive view of how all our lives web together into the biggest story of all.
All these things in my life that I am tempted to think DON’T have real meaning—they DO. They are part of that biggest story. They may be behind-the-scenes stuff, but they matter. My nitty-gritty is affecting the stories of Dave, Em, Jake, Maddie, Patrick, Nina, Jane—and all the others they bring home for dinner, for the night, for the weekend. My nitty-gritty is being used to change ME.
MY story is a story of redemption.
So is yours.
We need to ask for the long view
And for the grace to persevere when we don’t see it.
Scripture passages:

Psalm 90:4 (The entire psalm is one of lament, but even in his sorrow he looks to the Lord for the “long view” {verses 16 and 17})

2 Peter 3:8-9 (and from there to the end of the chapter—lots of long-view “stuff”)


We had communion this past Sunday. I love taking communion, its reminder of the very core of our redemption. If I were a poet, I would write something beautiful about how the bread sits on my tongue a moment longer than it needs to. I postpone sliding it between my teeth, hesitate before biting down on it. “My body, broken for you.” My inner ear hears the small wafer break; my jaw feels the crunch and the release, and I see and feel in a different way Christ’s body being smacked about by the huge, meaty hands of Roman soldiers, His flesh being torn and ripped by the multi-barbed whip, pierced by heavy nails. “My body, broken for you.” I am glad for the time our pastor gives before he prompts us to take up the plastic cup, filled with juice in my church. “My blood, shed for you.” I pour the grape juice into my mouth. It gathers bits of the cracker as it makes its way to the back of my throat and then down, down into my stomach. So much blood–shed in great beads of sweat, in flying droplets of red rain, in a head-to-toe-covering slick, and finally, in a gushing torrent, blood and water mixed, the elements of redemption and purification finally, ultimately provided from a pure, single source. “My blood, shed for you.”

So that we do not bite and devour each other, and ourselves, He was devoured. So that we do not bleed to death from the wounds of our sin, He bled.

Broken body, shed blood.

Amazing redemption.