Monday, November 14, 2016

Suspending skepticism

Hidden Berries--Peter Wood
"Our culture has cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes...(yet) We are required to 'bet our life' that the visible world, while real, is not reality itself."--Dallas Willard.

I ran across the quote above last night and it brought home to me the profound gulf that exists in our society between the skeptical and those who believe.  The skeptic is elevated to the highest positions of thought in our culture.  All statements must be backed up by multiple corroborating sources and hedged in tightly by arrogant doubt alongside the caveat that more research should be conducted. Once, when I said I could see both sides of an issue, my husband responded, "but which side are you on?"  I love his clarity. 

As a consultant, I need to see all sides of an issue.  As an engineer, I have to make a decision and rely on it.  I have to recognize that I will never know everything I want to know about an issue and choose to believe some things and disregard others.  Having a life with God is contingent on recognizing skepticism and intentionally choosing to let it go. In the Amplified version, Hebrews 11:6 tells us: 

"Without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him."

Ironically, our "prove it" culture has a macabre fascination with the supernatural--as long as it's not related to God.  So many see occult practices as innocent and exciting while God is boring and confining. We can revel in meditation or astrology but a belief in God would require something from us, not the least of which could be giving up our right to be our own god.  

So where's the problem?  The problem is that there is real power in the unseen and a war that is being waged for the unseen souls of mankind. Those who are dead to it are easily robbed in their blindness but could never recognize what has been stolen. Those who dabble in spiritual matters are like toddlers playing with loaded handguns. The battlefield is only measurably safe for hardened, trained soldiers, yet we are born into that battlefield and casualties surround us all.  

Dallas goes on to say, "God's spiritual invasions into human life seem, by their very gentleness, to invite us to explain them away...We are hindered in our progress toward becoming spiritually competent people by how easily we can explain away the movements of God toward us.  They go meekly without much protest.  Of course God's day will come, but for now he cooperates with the desires and inclinations that make up our character, as we gradually become the kind of people we will forever be.  That should send a chill down our spine."  

God is not the forceful lover of a rape fantasy romance novel.  He respects us and waits for us to come to Him as free agents, of our own accord.  Even in the Bible, there are remarkably few times that God steps unveiled before the eyes of mankind.  He stopped Saul on the road to Damascus, but Saul honestly believed he was doing God's will, and an honest follower will be corrected.  A wandering dilettante will be allowed to meander.  

So what about you?  Is it possible to relinquish the need to know it all fully before being fully known?  Can you hear the still, unseen voice that pleads for your heart?  Interestingly enough, what has been seen and experienced cannot then be "unseen."  Suspend disbelief for even a moment and the spirit realm comes alive, like the gentle flutter of a butterfly's wings or sweet berries hidden behind lush foliage. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Special Type of Gratitude

20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Eph 5:20

This was the verse the Holy Spirit stopped me on this morning, so I began to thank Him for all He has provided:

  • the ability to work
  • my children
  • the clicking of Sally's nails on the tile as she follows me around the house
  • a Sophie ball
  • pain that shows me boundaries
  • healing that frees me to follow
This felt surprisingly empty.  

Then the Spirit stopped me and made me reread the verse.  Give thanks to the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This means thanking Him for what Jesus is thankful for not just for what I'm thankful for.  When I asked what Jesus was thankful for, the answers stirred my sleeping heart:
  • Friendship with God
  • the closeness provided by Your Spirit
  • growing peace
  • images to understand how You make all things new
  • eyes to see both Your work and how you work with us to create beauty
  • rescues through intercession
I could feel the gratitude of the Son welling up in me toward the Father and the Spirit for all they do.  I could feel the power of the Holy Spirit breathing new life into my praise.  What a grace!

Now you try!



Thursday, June 18, 2015

Where's the Brakes????

There comes a time in every parent's life here in the US, when they have the task of teaching their budding youth the most primary task in our society:  driving.  (I can hear you all screaming with me).  Honestly, I've been looking forward to this.  I need help with the chauffeuring.  P.J. knows this so he has dreaded learning to drive and fought the process tooth and nail. 

Ok, so I get him out in a parking lot to practice.  This is where I discover the secret to the terror of driving lessons: 

I don't have brakes.

He now has the brakes.  I can tell him to stop.  I can scream in horror.  I can faint dead away, but none of this matters.  If he doesn't hit the brakes, the car won't stop.  Control over direction is nice, but when things are coming at you fast, it's the brakes you want. 

I have discovered that this is a profound observation.  It seems like this comes up as a constant issue in raising a teenager.  I can tell him "No" but it just doesn't have the same punch these days.  He has to make his own decisions and even if I scream at him about getting up at a decent hour or making sure that all of his assignments are turned in, he is still the one who has to execute.  I can't do it for him.  Letting go of that control isn't easy for anyone, but when you care so much about that person, it's ridiculously hard to let them do things that you know will hurt them.  At some point they have to learn for themselves and that means letting them make mistakes. 

This is one of the most amazing things about God.  The fact that He ever let us make our own choices astounds me.  It looks like the supreme misstep in all creation.  I understand that He is far wiser than I am, but wow--talk about giving up the brakes!  I know we couldn't truly love Him if we didn't have the choice to love him or not, but what a cosmic scale risk!  He endows us with His very own image--so that all of creation does a double-take when comparing us to Him, and then He lets us loose to run the show here on earth.  From the foundation of the world, He had a plan to handle our disasters, but how it must hurt the heart of God to see us make the choices we constantly, foolishly make.  Yet He still chooses intentionally not to take our free will back as some "What was I thinking!?!?!?" mistake. 

Yet, I hear Him whisper, "For every terror of a bad decision, I remember even more the delight of choices made that honor Me, reject self, and grow into the image I have placed on you.  Even more, I have given you the opportunity to rely on Me, and at that choice, I place My Holy Spirit within you so that you have the chance to complete My joy at your freedom in Me."

And I remember the joy I have at seeing PJ grow and succeed and those delights far outweigh the terror of our afternoon driving lesson--white knuckles and all...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Treasuring the lull between the years

 

This Christmas break has been fraught with sicknesses many and varied from all quarters that kept nearly all of our gatherings far smaller than they could have been.  I could bemoan missing so many people, but it has made the holiday much sweeter in so many ways.  We could have cleaned furiously so many different days, but we were sick.  We could have decorated to the nines, but didn't have the energy.  We could have gone to parties, hosted parties, gone shopping...but we couldn't.  I'm glad.

I missed family, but they're coming anyway--just later than expected and not all at the same time.  I missed overwhelming piles of wrapping paper on Christmas morning, but instead we had contented kids playing with the one major gift they received from just us--because that's all that were there.  We did clean a little each day, but nothing frantic or crazy. 

Last night, on New Year's Eve, I asked my Father again, in another one of those still spaces created by our minimalistic holiday, what the word for the year was to be.  You cannot imagine the peace that flooded my heart as he sweetly whispered:

"Enough."

You have enough.  You are enough.  You will have enough.  You will do enough.  You will feel enough.  You need no more.  I AM enough. 

Yep. He is enough.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why I fight Down Syndrome...Our story.

My sweet Katie just turned 12 and she is more than I could have ever dreamed on that overwhelming night she was born.  It's hard to describe the disbelief and uncertainty of hearing from your OB the gentle, mournful sounds of "I think she has Down's."  Believe it or not, my husband's first panicked question was, "What are we going to do about her college?"  We had just purchased a prepaid college plan for our two year old son and had planned to do the same for Katie as soon as we could.  We were waiting that night to hear back on a counter-offer for our house.  John's questions about the house sale and my work were completely unanswerable at that time.  The future just seemed completely uncertain.  There was only one thing I knew.  God was still in control and I had been following Him as hard as I knew how for my whole life.  This was no surprise to Him, even if it was a surprise to me. 

As Katie grew, my research instincts kicked in.  As an engineer, I found some peace in finding answers, praying as I go.  My cousin had a little one about 6 months older than Kate with Down syndrome (DS).  She had started her daughter on a set of vitamins formulated for kids with DS, so I researched it and the research was sound.  Her daughter, Charity, was thriving.  I prayed about it and got a clear, "No."  I held off for a few weeks.  During that time, Kate got so constipated, I felt helpless.  So I tried it anyway--just a tiny amount.  Katie had projectile vomiting for 6 days--just once each day, but shooting a foot away from her mouth.  I humbly went back to the Lord and promised that I would never disobey His direction again.  He promised that if I would wait on Him, He would provide the answers I needed, when I needed them. 

Around the time Katie was 9 months old, I was reading my alumni magazine when I stumbled on Dr. Cade's research into gluten and casein intolerance.  He reported that a full elimination diet avoiding all gluten and casein could reverse autism symptoms in about 90% of the patients they treated.  Turns out that gluten and casein had morphine-like properties when they were absorbed undigested and that interfered with kids development--in autism, schizophrenia and DS.  I knew what this kind of elimination diet would mean to our family and I just wasn't able to do it.  So I went back to the Father and told Him so.  He responded again for me to wait--that He had could handle that. 

Around the time she was 12 months old, I had a horrible nightmare--except it was so sweet and delightful while I was asleep.  In the dream, I was spoon-feeding an adorable baby and we laughed and flirted with complete joy.  I woke up sobbing because I knew Katie didn't do any of those things and I thought it was my own fault.  I assumed that I was so depressed that I had interfered with her development. 

A few weeks later, I was reading online and found a website talking about enzymes that would break gluten and casein down in the stomach before they could be absorbed in the intestines and cause problems.  Dr. Cade's research had criticized this approach, so I dismissed it as someone just trying to make a buck.  The very next day, I met Dr. Houston at a conference here in Orlando and he just handed me a bottle and told me to try it.  Of course, at that point, I had a 12 month old baby and he had just handed me a bottle of capsules.  It took me 4 months to figure out how to get them into her.  It turned out that we could put the enzymes in tempered chocolate and they would last for about 2 weeks in the freezer.  I started her on a Friday and she took them without too much complaint.  So I waited to see the results.

Nothing. 

I kept giving them to her every meal.  Why not?  I had 2 weeks worth.  On Monday, we had our normal speech appointment.  At the end of the session, our therapist came running out of the room demanding to know what I had done to her.  She was making more sound than ever and had even tried to say a word or two.  I mumbled something about trying a new supplement, but she looked the same to me.  The same thing happened on Friday with our OT appointment.  Hmm...that's enough evidence for me to keep trying.  At three weeks, I asked the PT if he had seen any changes.  He responded exuberantly, "Oh my yes!"  Before he had needed to hover over her so that he could catch her if she fell, but if he accidently touched her, she would stop everything and look down to see where he had touched her.  He told me, "Now, I could touch her anywhere.  She doesn't care--She's so into everything around her."  That week, she started walking--at 17 months.  I finally noticed around a month after we started.  It was like the light came on in her eyes.  Suddenly she was all there with us.  No more space cadet.  Again, I cried, but this time for the joy of seeing Katie, herself, rather than the fog that DS had imposed upon her.  I promised myself I would do my best to figure out whatever it takes to remove the layers of bondage that this disorder has imposed upon her because I liked seeing her without the extra baggage. 

Today she is a bouncy 12 year old and will start 4th grade next week, still in a typical classroom after all these years.  Her language remains delayed and her cognition is still fairly concrete, though she is unbelievably aware spiritually.  She prayed our Thanksgiving prayer at 7 years old, thanking Jesus for dying on the cross for our sins and coming back to life.  What a delightful surprise!  Her physical coordination is pretty typical and she loves cheerleading and dance.  Through the last 4 years she has gone to Nationals every year--of course, when you're on the Challenger team, all you have to do is show up and they will give you the big trophy.  She's cute and funny.  When I asked her today what a million times zero is, she responded, "Lots and lots of zeros..."  She and her brother fight like cats and dogs but they also hug until they break into a new fight. 

I still research like crazy.  We've seen several things that have helped along the way and I look forward to finding more.  I believe that since God has placed mankind in authority over this world (and we have messed it up pretty badly) that we have a responsibility to redeem it in every way God grants.  Of course that has a spiritual component, but it has a physical outworking as well.  The process of understanding and fighting disease is a sacred trust that God has bequeathed to us.  Thankfully, He gives us the following promise: "Call on Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things that you do not know."  I have been grateful to be a part of that process within our own family and am happy to share what I have found just as a beggar shares with other beggars where he found a loaf of bread. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: Hunger Games, The Mockingjay

 

I've been on vacation this week (sort-of...the kids are out of school and we went to Georgia).  That meant that I had time to read--Wow!!

The Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins is the third in the Hunger Games series and is a real page-turner.  I'll confess that I haven't read the first two books, but I enjoyed the movies so much that I wanted to know how it ended and the book didn't disappoint.  The plot centers around Katniss Everdeen, a 17 year old girl that has already survived two "battle to the death" challenges.  She has become a rallying point for a rightful rebellion against the abuses of the elites in the Capital against the common workers in the Districts.  Those in the Capital have every modern convenience while those in the districts are starving. 

Several themes recur during the book like the use of propaganda to drive popular opinion, the value of human life, and the corruption that absolute power brings.  In many ways, the ending takes on the same feeling as Animal Farm, by George Orwell. The new powers seem to be just as willing to treat life with indifference and manipulate public sentiment as the old leaders. 

I was struck by the scale of the despair that runs as an undercurrent throughout the book.  Katniss' emotions are driven by the state of her friends and relatives so she often seems tossed about like a bobble on a fishing line in a storm.  She is the visible presence of the rebellion, the Mockingjay, but her only motivation is to protect her family and friends.  She has rudimentary compassion for others, but is willing to sacrifice others to save those that give her peace of mind.  Her life and the story lack any sense of transcendent value beyond her immediate circle and times. 

Of course, as a God-friend, the most compelling absence was that of God himself.  The book inadvertently shows the horror and despair of a Nietzschean (God is dead) worldview in stark reality.  Technology and political manipulation are the rescuers and God is never even mentioned once.  Elites abuse others because they can and no one will hold them accountable.  When given resources, the commoners adopt a socialistic/militaristic distribution of scarce resources based on need and the value of the contribution that a person makes.  Life has a rudimentary value, but no transcendent value.  Suffering has no redeeming virtue.  Innocence is a tool to be abused to manipulate others.  Suicide or alcoholic escapism is the emotional normal. Love comes down to a matter of survival:  those that help you and your family survive are those that you love.  Only Peeta shows even a hint at unconditional love, and that is nearly tortured out of him.  People often sacrifice themselves for the sake of the Mockingjay, but she is at a loss for why.  Even when a new normal is achieved at the end of the book, the only hope is that they can teach their children something that will keep them from facing the same horrors but what they will teach about the meaning of their suffering they don't seem to know. 

When Francis Shaffer spoke with those that carried this worldview, he would often come down to the question, "So why haven't you killed yourself yet?"  Every character in the book seems to have a slightly different answer to that kind of question, but ultimately they are only a few decisions or tragedies away from despair.  For a person who knows that there is a larger framework, an eternal destiny, a plan for our lives, and a hope for our future, the ache is palpable.  Life doesn't have to be that way but the enemy has blinded their eyes.  Their freedom to choose for themselves has become a prison of despair, as it always does. 

"For the message about the cross is nonsense to those who are being destroyed, but it is God's power to us who are being saved."  I Cor 1:18 (ISV)

Heaven help them.  They will find help nowhere else.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Unplanned: Caramel rice crispy treats...

This week, PJ actually planned ahead and told me he needed rice crispy treats for his 8th grade science lab, so off to the kitchen we go...

I pulled out the bag of snowmen marshmallows that we didn't use this winter.  At the last minute I decided to double the batch to use up the glut of marshmallows left over this year...PJ and I love hot chocolate.  I had a huge container of really big, really stale marshmallows.  The recipes all said to use fresh ones, but how could fresh be different than stale?  It's all just fluffy sugar, right???

You can see what's coming, can't you...

The snowmen dissolved into a blonde goo while the huge, stale marshmallows swam in that goo, unrelenting.  Ten minutes went by.  I stirred; nothing happened.  I started chopping up the marshmallows.  Now I had big chunks floating in a honey colored slop.  It looked worse than ever.  I pulled out the mixer.  The chunks went through the beater like it was an amusement park ride--entertained but unaffected.  I added milk.  I stirred.  I beat.  I smashed.  It just ended up being smaller chunks in a decidedly caramel hued sauce.  By now it had been at least half an hour and if we didn't hurry PJ would be late for school.  I gave up and started adding the rice.  Six cups of rice went in and the chunks began to disappear.  Another 6 cups of rice and it was a mass of sticky goo--no chunks to be seen.  We poured it out on the foil hoping for the best. 

My first taste on the edge confirmed what I suspected.  All that extra time meant that a bunch of that sugar had caramelized.  A dusting of Himalayan sea salt and, --voila'--I had the most addictive things I had tasted in a long time. 

There are so many times that God starts refining us and we know we're in for some heat and mixing.  We expect that it will be tough, but life turns out so much harder than we bargained for.  If I had used fresh marshmallows, it would have been a 10 minute job.  The marshmallows would have melted and I would have mixed and it would be done.  Instead, I included some old, tough marshmallows that didn't want to respond to the heat and pressure I exerted.  I added more stress--beating them.  I added softness with milk.  The pieces began to shrink, but they certainly didn't go away. 

It's easy to be jealous of some Christians.  They face God's refining fire and they melt--they seem so usable so quickly.  Then there's folks like us:  quirky, tough, rough around the edges, stiff-necked, maybe even tainted.  We go into the pot and our old habits swim around in our new nature seemingly unaffected.  God sends more trouble our way and the habits only seem more obvious for the beating.  He shows us His tender love and we still fret and argue.  All the while, we remain in the fire of His presence wondering if the preparation will ever end; wondering if we will ever "arrive."  Then suddenly, before we think we are ready, he plunges us into ministry.  We squeal, "I can't do this yet!!"  But as we work alongside Him, we find that those rough edges don't poke others quite as much.   His fragrance seems to flavor our work in ways that are easy to see came from the long, painful hours alongside Him.  He adds the Holy Spirit's power and influence not just within us, but for others too. 

For our recipe, it may have taken longer and the outcome was uncertain, but the additional time and work added a flavor that was unexpected and delightful.  For you, God's preparation may take more time than you think.  The ground He starts from may be rocky and unprepared.  The extra time is never wasted.  Rice crispy treats are yummy when they take 10 minutes to make but they are a whole different kind of amazing when they take 30 minutes.  Only the cook knows when it's done.  Trust Him.