Archive for the ‘The Illuminated Word Project’ Category

The Illuminated Word Project (December): Riches

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

This year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Riches

Normally, this is a blog circle. However, not all of us decided to post this month because it is a busy time of year.

Christmas Riches

Yesterday, I celebrated Christmas with my family—Greg, Emmeline, Carter, and Harrison.

It was a day full of riches:
• We got to celebrate Christmas together.
• We woke up in our home.
• Greg and I witnessed our kids’ child-like excitement about Christmas.
• We enjoyed several delicious meals.
• We had many gifts to enjoy and share with one another.
• I had the joy of selecting gifts for each person that would make them happy.
• Our house was full of beautiful things and decorations.
• I used my gifts to make each person in my family feel special and to point them to Christ.
• I snuggled with my kids.
• We stayed in our pajamas.
• I took a nap in the afternoon. I was far less tired than I have been in years past with younger kids.
• We laughed together. (Harrison had us cracking up in the afternoon.)
• We played together.
• We sang and prayed together. Music filled our home.
• Quite simply, we had fun with each other.

We even ate birthday cake for breakfast, a Christmas tradition. . .

(One side note, Carter was feeling under the weather for parts of the day. The morning got off to a slow start for him, but he did perk up later.)

Quite simply, it was the sweetest Christmas to date for me.

I am so thankful for these riches.
They are gifts that come from my Heavenly Father, the Generous Giver.
I relish these gifts.
I especially treasure my family.

And yet, I must be careful to remember that not all of these gifts are guaranteed.
Not all of these riches endure.
I cannot put my trust in my home, my health, my happy feelings, my possessions, or even my family relationships.

The Poverty of Christ
I have been thinking about lasting riches during Christmas.
I have been dwelling on this:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (II Cor 8.9)

Philippians 1.4-11 unpacks these ideas even more.

God the Son, who eternally enjoyed fellowship with the Father and Spirit, left the richness of heaven to become a man. He came near to us in our misery and our sickness and our loneliness. He chose to be a helpless baby born in a barn. He chose to get sick and feel intense hunger. He was tempted. He chose to feel sadness as His friends died. He chose a life in which His closest friends would abandon him. He chose to suffer the ultimate aloneness as His Father turned His face away from Him when He bore our sin on the cross. The eternal God chose the poverty of humiliation and the pain of death. . . in order to save me.

Riches in Christ
Because of his poverty, I have been made rich. The first chapter of Ephesians floods me with the riches that I have in Christ:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1.3)
I honestly don’t think about the riches I have in Christ very often.

I want to think more of the riches I have in Christ. The whole Bible is full of these truths.
I am rich because:
• Jesus took the punishment for my running away from Him. He leads me back into the sanity of life lived under God’s loving rule.
• His Spirit uses His Word to teach me how to walk with God.
• Nothing can separate me from God’s love.
• God rejoices over me and treasures me.
• I belong to God. He made me. He has re-made me.
• I see Him more clearly and love Him more as I study His Word.
• He wants me to spend time with Him and respond to Him in prayer.
• He is patient with me.
• He cares for me as Creator and Father.
• His love is changing me—gradually. He is freeing me progressively from the misery of a life lived for self.
• I am a daughter of the King of Kings.
• He is with me at all times. His love for me is a never stopping, never giving up, always and forever love.

Do you know the richness of Christ?
Do you want to know Him more?
Do you want to be like Him?
Yes.
Yes.
And yes.

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE

The Illuminated Word Project (November): Judge Not

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

This year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Judge Not

***After taking a look at my post, please check out all of the other photographers participating in this project. The next step is Gail Pomare. Just click HERE.***

Dear Carter,

Last week you turned 8. I am so thankful for you. You make our family much more colorful than it would be without you. I appreciate your active and witty mind. I appreciate how you protect the people that you care about. I enjoy watching your expressive, sweet face. I enjoy seeing what your latest collection is that you are hiding away in your bed. I am always amused by how you connect words, questions, ideas, and observations into one wacky and perceptive mental tapestry. (I’ll try to explain what that means later, but trust me, it is a compliment.)

I am so glad that I am your mom. You give great hugs and kisses. They mean a lot to me because I know that you don’t give them out carelessly. I appreciate how you refuse to perform for people. You don’t fake feelings or act a certain way just because people might expect that of you. When you do make choices out of a love for God, you really shine for him because it is real and not fake.

Even though you are a kid and I am an adult, I know am going to learn a lot from you. I already have learned a lot from you. You are teaching me how important it is to live life as a child of Our Heavenly Father. God doesn’t want either one of us to live as orphans. You remind me about how much both of us need God. And even though it doesn’t feel comfortable to see how much we need Jesus, we will never appreciate his love for us at the cross, if we don’t first see our sin.

You know that I am not a perfect mom. I get frustrated with you a lot. I say mean things to you to try to get your attention. I try to force you to do certain things so that will make my life go more smoothly. We both know how well that works(!). I often don’t slow down and try to understand you when you are frustrated and angry. I try to take short cuts. I try to avoid looking at my own heart when we have a conflict.

See your big eye in this picture? (Yes, they are pretty awesome. You can thank my genes for that!) I’ve been thinking about your eyes a lot. When Jesus taught important things to his followers, he would often explain his ideas using word pictures. In the Sermon on the Mount, he uses eyes to teach about our relationships. Here’s what he said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7.1-5)

Now can you imagine if you had a piece of saw dust in that big, beautiful eye of yours? It wouldn’t feel very good, would it? Your eye would burn. Your eye would itch. Tears would build up and your eye would water. So let’s say you asked me to help you to get the piece of sawdust out. But imagine if I said, “Sure Carter. I’ll help you get that speck of saw dust out of your eye” and I walked over to you with a big plank of wood in my own eyes. Do you think I could a very good job helping you with your eye if I had problems with my own eyes?

Jesus was teaching us that sin makes us blind—not really blind but blind to seeing life correctly. Sin darkens our vision of who God is and what he is really like. Sin confuses us about what is valuable. Sin messes up our relationships and blocks us from seeing even ourselves well. My sin has blinded me.

So all this to say. . .would you please forgive me? I am way too eager to point out your sin. I make my sin way smaller in my head than it really is. I act as if I’m better than you, when the truth is we both have the same need. As a mom, I’ve been like a blind eye doctor—digging around in your tender eye before I have dealt with my own heart.
I want to talk less at you.
I want to listen better to you.
And when we do talk about the lies you believe and your off track heart, I don’t want to stop there. I want to show you mercy and grace. I want to help you to see God as much more beautiful than whatever has hijacked your heart.

Of course, as I think about how God wants me to love you, I know I can’t do it. I am tired a lot. Our life moves pretty fast, and there are a lot of things we have to get done in a day. You are not a simple person. You are complex. It will take years and years for me to even begin to understand you. And I need to grow up a lot. I need to love you more than I love myself. So I am asking God to change me so that I can love you better. And he promises that when I pray persistently, He will give me His Spirit and change me so I can love you better.

One last thing: Thank you Carter for giving me permission to write this letter to you and share it.

Love,
Mom

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7.7,8)

the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. (Matthew 11.5)

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE

The Illuminated Word Project (October): Need

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

This year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Need

Apart from me you can do nothing. John 15.5f

***After taking a look at my post, please check out all of the other photographers participating in this project. The next step is Ginger Ingley Unzueta. Just click HERE.***

Our October hasn’t been the easiest month. Our family collectively got the sickest that we have ever been with an unusual, persistent flu like illness. The symptoms included: intense fatigue; sore throat; dizziness; headache; nausea; body aches; and runny nose. Even after 5 or so days of being sick, we were experiencing high fevers (like 103+). These high fevers produced enough sweat to drench clothes.

Harrison got sick first.
Greg got it next.

After being sick for 6 days, Harrison got better. Greg seemed to be perking up too. Emmie and Carter were their normal, healthy selves. I took a brief (and miraculous!) trip to Tennessee for a women’s retreat the first weekend of October to return to this:

Emmie sick.

Carter sick.

Greg sicker.

Mountains of laundry.

Empty refrigerator.

Need all around.

My husband and kids were having a hard time standing or walking. Some nights, I carried my kids from the couch to the bed because they couldn’t make it on their own. Greg missed four days of work in one week. Greg is never absent from work like that.

At least two people were seriously sick in my family from Friday 9/28 until Saturday 10/13.

My Hatred of Need
So how did I respond to all of this illness and struggle? I worked super hard. I brought drinks. I made beds. I washed laundry. I set up doctor appointments. I took people to the doctor. I cancelled my normal life.

But I also got angry and discouraged. Even though I was amazingly spared this illness, I felt desperate when faced with the level of need in my family. In terms of the physical needs of my family, I realized that despite using all the tools in my “mom toolbox” to help my family feel better and get well, I couldn’t heal them. Medicine and wet rags and hugs and Gatorade and trips to the doctor can only do so much.

And when I saw my whole family laid out in the den and the room covered with laundry, it became a word picture for me of our spiritual need. I feel this spiritual need daily even when we are well.

Our family life has much beauty in it, but it is still full of radical self-centeredness.

Let me tell you what I mean. You know the drill:

The kids fight.
I forget God.
I blow my top.
I feel guilty for treating them like crap and falling into the same old, sinful patterns.
I feel so discouraged about the direction of our family. I wonder, “Is God at work here?”

You see, I can’t climb inside my children’s hearts and turn them to the Living God. It is sinful for me to try to do what only God can do. I can be sign post; warning light; consequence provider; teacher; friend; fellow disciple; but I cannot be the Spirit.

I can’t even get my own act together. I can’t manage my sin. It just doesn’t work when I try hard to be a better person. God hates it when I try. God doesn’t want me to believe that He is out to lunch so I need to take matters into my own hands. God wants me to wage war with my sin while living in total dependence on Him to fight for me (Philippians 2.12, 13).

Our Collective Hatred of Need
It’s not just me who hates need. We all do. This very issue of need is what makes the gospel so distasteful to so many people. It requires humility. We lose control. We have to admit that we can’t do for ourselves the very thing that we need the most. Self-rescue isn’t an option.

As Martyn Lloyd Jones writes, God’s Word “comes to us and says, ‘There is the mountain that you have to scale, the heights you have to climb; and the first thing you must realize, as you look at that mountain which you are told you must ascend, is that you cannot do it, that you are utterly incapable in and of yourself, and that any attempt to do it in your own strength is proof positive that you have not understood it’ ” (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount 34).

To the One who supplies our need, we owe a debt of love and gratitude.
For many, the option to live for yourself sounds better.

The Christian Life Begins and Continues with Need
The Christian life begins with need.
Before the Spirit’s work in us and separate from Christ, I was hopeless. I was dead in my trespasses and sin. Ephesians 2

The entrance to God’s kingdom is being poor in spirit (Matthew 5.3). The very gateway to the Christian life requires you to stoop in humility.

Just as the Christian life begins with need, so also it continues with need.
We cannot do anything apart from Christ (John 15.5).
We stay hungry. We continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5.6).
We never mature as Christians beyond the point of continually needing God.

The Beauty of Need
Q: So why do I continue to resist something which is central to the Christian life?
A: I am a work in progress.
God is teaching me the beauty of need as I think about the following:

1. As afraid as I am of being in need, is living a life of feigned autonomy really better?
God has been kind enough to allow me to know a person who is an expert in feigning autonomy. As I get to know her better, I see a person enslaved to relational score-keeping. She strategically receives and gives favors so as to never end up in another person’s debt. She misses out on community. She is exhausted from trying to fabricate and maintain her own moral reputation. She is a slave to what other people think about her. She viciously fears getting older when she won’t be able to fake her autonomy as well. She misses out on God and His good gifts altogether.

Could any sane person say that this kind of life is better than a life of need? As uncomfortable as I feel when I taste my need, I prefer the purposeful discomfort over the alienation from God and other people.

2. Doesn’t Jesus’ own example of living a life of constant dependence on His Heavenly Father show the beauty of need?
He prayed all the time because He needed the Father.

John 5.19: Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord
John 5.30: I can do nothing on my own.

Here is the ultimate example of what it looks like to live a holy life. Need isn’t something for me to be ashamed of. There is beauty and humanity all over it.

3. Would I see the beauty of Christ without first seeing my need?
Short answer: no
Longer answer: My need shows me the greatness of God. If I have a small view of sin and brokenness, I will have a small view of Christ.

Once again Martyn Lloyd Jones shows the necessity of seeing our need in order to see Christ:
“The Christian should always be anxious to know himself. No other man truly wants to know himself. The natural [a.k.a. non-Christian] man thinks he knows himself, and thereby reveals his basic trouble. He evades self-examination because to know one’s self is ultimately the most painful piece of knowledge that a man can ever acquire. . .. Only the man who has truly seen himself for what he is who is likely to fly to Christ, and to seek to be filled with the Spirit of God who alone can burn out of him the vestiges of self and everything that tends to mar his Christian life and living” (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount 291).

Do you want to know yourself?
Do you want to know your need?
When you see it where do you run?

I want to get better at running to Christ.

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE

The Illuminated Word Project (September): Be Different

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

This year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Be Different

***After taking a look at my post, please check out all of the other photographers participating in this project. The next step is Denean Melcher. Just click HERE.***

It is like apples and oranges.
Jesus tells his followers to be different. He tells me to be different.

When Jesus begins to teach his followers about who they are and how they are to live, he spells it out in Matthew 6.8: “Do not be like them.”
Be salt that preserves a world headed toward further decay.
Be light shining into a world in darkness. Be different.

Let me get a little more specific.

When I want to display my own fabricated goodness to impress others, Jesus reminds me to be different from the religious people. (Matthew 5.17-6.18)

When I am consumed—nearly overwhelmed–with acquiring and maintaining the material things in my life (clothing/ doing the laundry, food/ feeding my family, washing the dishes, buying the groceries), Jesus reminds me to be different from those who don’t know God’s Fatherly care. (Matthew 6.19-34)

This theme of distinction or contrast runs throughout the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5, 6 & 7. I have enjoyed feasting on this passage of Scripture this fall.
The Sermon on the Mount is largely about contrast.

1) Jesus contrasts the genuine Christian with the person who goes through the religious motions but is not inwardly new (a.k.a. “the Pharisees and scribes”).
AND
2) Jesus contrasts the genuine Christian with the secular person (a.k.a. “the Gentiles”).

Read these chapters and see for yourself. The theme of distinction helps us to see the forest for the trees in the Sermon on the Mount.

I am not a performer. I can’t perform well enough on my own for a holy God. He sees into my heart what I can mask from others.

I am not a chaser. If I live a life in pursuit of what I see, I will never “catch” those things.

Instead, I am a hungry girl. I hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. I need Christ’s performance. I need His death to satisfy what God’s holy law demands. I hunger for fellowship with Him continually that I may lead a holy life.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5.6

Father, forgive me for trying to manufacture my goodness to impress other people.
Father, forgive me for forgetting your Fatherly care for me and the certainty of your love.
Father, help me to be distinct before a watching world so that people might see me (even with my flaws) and glorify you.

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE

The Illuminated Word Project (August): Substitute

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

his year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Substitute

***After taking a look at my post, please check out all of the other photographers participating in this project. The next step is Denean Melcher. Just click HERE.***

God has been teaching my young son, Harrison, some important things.

God has taught him that sin is saying “I don’t need you, God.” Sin isn’t just specific bad behaviors; it comes from a heart that is bent away from God. Harrison is having the courage more and more to admit when he has been running from God. (I hope he sees this same courage in his mom.)

God has also begun to teach Harrison about his guilt; about his need; and about what Jesus has done for him. One day, I was talking to the kids about Jesus’ death. Harrison piped up and exclaimed, “There should have been too much crosses.” When I asked him what he meant by “too much crosses”, he tried to explain to me that there should have been a cross for every person—me, him. . . .everyone. That word picture of individual crosses for everyone as far as the eye can see has stuck with me.

The churchy phrase for what he was getting at is substitutionary atonement. It simply means Jesus paid for my sin. He was my substitute. He got what I deserve. This isn’t just a made up phrase. It comes from the Bible. Read it for yourself:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. I Peter 2.24

Because God is showing Harrison these things, Greg and I thought it might be time for Harrison to join our church as a communing (or communion-taking) member. In our church, you wait to eat the bread and drink the wine until you believe.

Harrison initiated a meeting with our Pastor Tom.
Tom asked Harrison some questions.
Harrison had a few questions of his own.

Tom agreed that Harrison was ready to profess his faith.

So last Sunday, 8/26/12, Harrison simply stated his need and trust in Christ in front of our church family. He promised to follow Christ by His grace; to submit to the leaders in our church as they submit to Christ; and to love our church.

Harrison joined us at the table for the Lord’s Supper for the first time.
(I didn’t take a photo of that out of respect during our worship service. We took this photo in advance.) While Harrison took the bread and drank the wine, I thought about God’s kindness. God has kindly revealed himself to Harrison and is working in our flawed family in ways that I don’t fully understand.

Speaking of flawed families. . . See this picture that my mom took right before the worship service? Some might say that we look like a great, pulled together, church-going family.

But let me give you some context.

Greg and I started this morning with a fight. I felt hurt and angry because Greg hadn’t made himself available conversationally the night before in the way that I had demanded. The very first thing we heard as we came down the stairs was our boys shouting and yelling at each. One had just hit the other hard because the other one had destroyed something he had buitl. Of course as divided and preoccupied parents, we did a lousy job of loving our sons through their conflict.

We drove to church. You would not have wanted to be in the car.

After we arrived, I arranged this shot outside. No one was cooperating. I felt desperate and frustrated. Carter was crawling on Greg and knocking him off balance. After a few shots in this spot, Greg said with exasperation, “I’m finished here” and just walked away. I felt embarrassed that my visiting mom was seeing me and our family struggle so much.

We walked in the doors and were greeted by my friend, Kacey. She asked how we were doing. I told her the truth. She understood the desire that moms have for these special days of celebration to be free from sin, struggle, and conflict.

This day was the perfect context for Harrison to profess his young faith.

God kindly and firmly reminded me of our need. Without God’s work, we would forever be running from Him. We would forever be slaves to score keeping in relationships and to the thoughts and opinions of others. Did you read that verse from I Peter carefully? It states that Jesus was our substitute SO THAT we would die to sin and live to righteousness.

His substitutionary death is not just a payment for my sin.
His substitutionary death is the engine behind change.

God left no room for self-congratulatory thoughts. There was no room to think, “Wow, we’ve done a great job so far as parents.” This was a day to celebrate God’s ability to supernaturally bust through and work inside of our hearts.

I’ll admit that even I tend toward skepticism. I have doubts. If you know me at all, you know that my mind doesn’t ever stop. I process and think all the time. I think, “How, God, is it possible for Harrison to understand these basic, foundational things? Does he really get it?”

I worry because I know something about the hard road ahead for my son as he follows Christ. I think, “God, are you big enough to continue to work in Harrison’s heart so that he will know you more deeply and love you more and more?”

God is teaching me some important things too:

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Matthew 11. 26, 27

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1.6

One side note: Greg and I reconciled that afternoon. I’m not even sure I could summarize how it happened. All I remember really is that Greg by the Spirit chose to move beyond score keeping and personal hurt to try to understand me. That set in motion our reconciliation. Only God could have done that.

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE

The Illuminated Word Project (July): Thirst

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

This year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Thirst

***After taking a look at my post, please check out all of the other photographers participating in this project. The next step is Denean Melcher. Just click HERE.***

This parched and brittle corn plant brings Psalm 63 to my mind:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

As I read this psalm, I am exposed. My soul doesn’t thirst for God often. I don’t see my surroundings as a “dry and weary land”. Instead, I think that the stuff around me can quench my thirst. I don’t think about myself regularly as one who desperately needs God for life—just like this corn is in desperate need of water.

I reject my God, and I try to quench my thirst with lesser things. I don’t think God’s love is better than life. I think that life is better than God’s love.

I am thirsty for the admiration of others. I am thirsty for people’s love. I am thirsty for efficiency and order. I thirst for a crossed off to do list. I am thirsty for beauty. I am thirsty for my kids to behave well. I am thirsty for an easy and fun life.

Admiration, respect, order, beauty, family and comfort are all good things. However, the problem arises when I desire these good gifts more than I desire the Giver. Sprite got it right; you obey your thirst. And although I’m not bowing down to statues or golden calves, I’m bending the knee to the often less tangible gifts of creation.

The idolatry in my heart is nothing new.
Listen to what God says to his people in Jeremiah 2:

Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Jeremiah calls these inadequate thirst quenchers “broken cisterns”.
C.S. Lewis calls them “mud pies”.
He writes, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

I don’t want to settle. I want to experience thirst and be quenched deliciously by Christ. I have a lot to learn. I want to grow.

So are you thirsty? Or do you feel satisfied?

Where do you go to quench your thirst? What are your favorite “cisterns” of choice?

Do those things really satisfy you in the end?

If you follow Christ, how is your loving God showing you that your broken “cisterns” cannot hold water? When God shows you the holes in your “cisterns”, do you thank Him?

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE

The Illuminated Word Project (June): Story

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

This year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Story

***After reading below, please check out all of the other photographers participating in this project. The next step is Gail Pomare of Aroha Photography. Just click HERE.***

Karen and storytelling
Meet Karen. Some of you may already know her or know about her. She is one of the best visual storytellers I know. She takes countless photos of her family. And when you read her blog, you get an honest taste of what her family is like. Her photos remind you of the beauty in everyday life.

Her work reminds me of the importance of story.

I just got to meet Karen in person when I visited her in Oregon. Ever since I took her photography class three years ago, I have wanted to meet her in person. This past weekend, we took photos together. We ate lots of great food together. We drove around together. We edited images together. We went jogging together. We dreamed about the future together. We played with her kids and hung out with her husband together. (I hope to blog more about our weekend together very soon.)

We asked each other a lot of questions about life and about photography.
And we started to piece together each other’s story. I got to see flashes of God’s mercy and kindness woven through Karen’s life.

I will leave it to her to decide how she wants to tell her story. All I’ll say is that as I heard more and more pieces of her story (and believe me, we both covered a lot of ground), her current situation made more and more sense to me. In other words, I got a better understanding of the person that she is now as I learned more about who she used to be. I couldn’t begin to get to know Karen at this place in her life until I learned her story or her context.

The Bible and Story
It took me a while as a Christian to get the importance of story. I used to want to put God and His Word in nice and neat categories—even though I now realize that is impossible. I wanted to extract certain passages about different topics (like marriage, the church, Christian growth, money, God’s will, etc.), reorder them, and then file them in my mental filing cabinet. I thought that this filing system would give me guidance and help me make good decisions. But that is not how the Bible works.

As the intro to The Jesus Storybook Bible makes clear, the Bible is The Story about Jesus. I know that may sound super basic and obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me. Most of the Bible is narrative, not ethical principles. And any time you read ethical principles, they flow out of historical narrative.

Listen to what Sally Lloyd Jones writes, “Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done. Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes. . . . They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book or rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s like an adventure story about a young Hero who came from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne, everything to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that have come true in real life.

You see, the best thing about this story is—it’s true.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this story. And at the center of the Story there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.”

Now, of course, Sally Lloyd Jones didn’t come up with the idea that the Bible is one, unified Story about Jesus. Jesus himself said it as he interpreted all of God’s Word to two travelers after he rose from the dead:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24.27).

Back then when someone said, “Moses and all the Prophets”, it was shorthand for the whole Bible.

my story and The Story
So in order to understand the Bible, you have to see Jesus. But God takes it even further. He builds on this idea of One Big Story about Jesus when He teaches us that our stories are embedded in The Story of God’s Word.

This idea of our lower case “s” stories embedded in the upper case “S” Story is all over Scripture. You read it in places like:

Colossians 3.3-4: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

II Timothy 2.11: The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him.

And Paul practically beats you over the head with this notion that our story is embedded in Christ’s Story in chapter one of Ephesians. I mean, how many times can someone pack phrases like “in Christ”, “in him”, “in the beloved”, “through him” to drive home the point?

Here are some ways God’s Story connects to mine:
God created the good world. Therefore, I am His creature responsible to Him.

The world came undone as a result of sin. Therefore, I live in a world broken by sin and full of suffering. My heart turns from God. I hurt people. People hurt me. Life is now the way it is supposed to be.

God is remaking the world through the death and resurrection of His Son. Christ died for me. I get credit for His perfect life. I am a new person with a new desire to live for God and not for myself. I’m a work in progress. I am a daughter of the King.

I still have a lot to understand about this idea that my story is embedded in His Story. I think it will take a lifetime for me to understand the importance of my story as it relates to God’s work. And I know that I will need God’s wisdom to see how other people’s stories relate to Him. (I’m starting to realize that this job of connecting stories is much of what I want my parenting to be about.)

This is what I am beginning to see. If my story is part of God’s overarching Story then. . .
1) My Heavenly Father is writing my story. My story is not the result of invisible, impersonal forces.
2) My life has purpose and direction.
3) Suffering will come my way because my story is patterned on The Story of the Suffering Servant.
4) The ending of my story is glorious—not because of my “goodness” or striving, but because I am connected to The Resurrected One.
5) The borders of my life will be greater than my own self. God will increasingly draw me into the lives of other people and His work around me.

I think Ed Welch (a Biblical counselor) summarizes the importance of story well:

“In order to understand people, you have to think about their story in the context of God’s story.
‘You are not your own, you are bought with a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Life lived large. I have found that there is something about knowing that Jesus is the King and his Kingdom is on the move that compels me into action. In my counseling I have noticed that I am increasingly prone to preambles such as this. “Okay, we are no longer ordinary people. Our King has rescued us, now we belong to him. Our job is to figure out how to be his wise children today – and it will probably be the opposite of what we think.”

You can link to his article HERE.

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE

The Illuminated Word Project (May): Sting

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

This year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Sting

***After reading below, please check out all of the other photographers participating in this project. The next step is Jenny and Stephanie at The Pure Life Project. Just click HERE.***

My much loved grandfather, Howard Nisbet, died last week. No, he didn’t “pass” or “pass away”. He died. There is no getting around the horror of death. Body and soul are ripped apart. A person disintegrates. Relationships are cut in two.

Right now, I’m writing from my parents’ home. I’ve packed the “little black dress” that no woman ever wants to pack. I’m tired. I’ve worked hard to prep my family for my early departure. (They will join me later on in the week.) I’m emotionally spent. I almost don’t even want to try to write this post now. I won’t be able to write it as well due to fatigue.

I feel stung.
I’m sad.
I miss him.

I called him Gran Gran. My brother was his first grandson. I was the first granddaughter.
With him. . .

Smoking chicken was a religious experience.

Every lane change was accompanied by a loud grunt and massive acceleration.

All conversations, for a time, led back to a tearful play-by-play of some bombing mission over Europe.

Your mood was affected by the score of the latest Michigan football game.

All packages in the mail included more packing tape than box. They were able to withstand an air drop and were stamped all over with B-24 Liberator stamps.

The house was filled with tropical houseplants.

Tomatoes and spinach were growing in the garden.

Honey with the comb was on the kitchen table.

Breakfast most often included a halved grapefruit.

A dangling golf ball marked where you parked in the garage.

Venison sausage was served up every Christmas morning.

The weather channel was always on. The Farmers’ Almanac was always at hand.

Every day on a road trip wrapped up with an early happy hour for anyone over 21 years old.

This man prided himself on his ability to drive a boat and teach young people how to water ski for the first time.

This is the man who let me put clip on earrings on him.

This is the man who introduced me to wild huckleberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

All mail featured a handsome, architectural penmanship.

He was a record keeper. He kept records of football scores, of birthdays, and of completed missions.

Want to see what I mean??? Check out these football tickets from 1947.
My grandfather made this note about his proposing to my grandmother during a date that included a Michigan Football game. We discovered the pair of tickets with his note and her wedding dress during their 60th wedding anniversary celebration.

The memories of our time together during my childhood are sweet. The memories of our recent time together are even sweeter. My grandfather was suffering. He felt bad. He felt tired.

Suffering reveals a person’s heart. It distills. It clarifies what we live for and what our life is about. I witnessed a childlike faith in my 92 year old grandfather all the way to the end. He shuffled his wound-covered, socked feet along in his wheelchair and would sing “Closer to Thee” or “In the Garden”. He didn’t speak up a lot, but when he did, it was most often to express gratitude. Even in immense pain that he would try to conceal, he was grateful and thoughtful of others. Even when he sometimes didn’t recognize the people closest to him, he was still asking about what we needed.
I want to be like that.
I wonder if I will be like that.
Every time he thanked God for the food that we were going to eat, he prayed with intensity and earnestness. The tears were always right under the surface.
His dependence on God and love for God was sweet.

Here he is blessing the meal at our annual Thanksgiving reunion of my dad’s side of the family.

Here he is praying with my older son, Carter.

For the past three years, my grandparents have lived next door to my parents. We have sat quietly together. We have shared meals together. We have gotten Sonic drinks together. Every time we have parted ways, he has sandwiched one of my hands in his and has told me important things. He has told me things that he wants me to remember. He has been preparing me for his leaving. These times and words have been so sweet to me!

Patriarch is a word that has gotten a bad wrap lately. I don’t buy those negative connotations in this case. I am learning that kind authority is a beautiful gift. My grandfather was the patriarch of our family.

First, his service in World War II anchors my patriotism. (No, I’m not saying that I think America is perfect. And I’m not making a political statement about war in general. In fact, I even heard my grandfather toward the end of his life wrestle through some of the consequences of his bombing raids during WWII.) What I am saying is that being an American does really shape who I am. And out of all the people whom I know personally, he reminds me of the cost and risk associated with serving one’s country and freeing other people from a tyrannical ruler. That type of service is admirable.

Not only did my grandfather connect me to America, he also connected me to God’s work over centuries in my family. I didn’t grow up learning a whole lot about God. I didn’t grow up talking and thinking about what God had to do with daily life. But after I became a Christian in highschool and learned more about my family history, I was greatly encouraged to discover God’s saving hand in the Nisbet family. This hand of grace and mercy stretches way back to 16th Century Scotland. (Here’s when it pays to have a diligent genealogist like Charles Whalin in your family.) You can read more about God’s work in the Nisbet family. Click HERE for Murdoch Nisbet. Murdoch Nisbet hid in his basement so that he could translate the New Testament by hand into everyday Scottish language. Click HERE for John Nisbet. John Nisbet was martyred on December 4, 1865 in Edinburgh, Scotland. If you want to read even more, check out this book which gives the account of what John Nisbet did and said before being executed HERE.

I know from God’s Word that His love for me extends way back before I was born. I see confirmation of that saving love as I trace it through the Nisbet family to me.

I miss my grandfather. My mom misses her dad. My dad misses his father-in-law whom he met over 40 years ago. My grandfather wasn’t just the patriarch of the Nisbet family. He filled a father-shaped vacuum in my own dad’s life. All three of us are so very sad. Here is a picture of my Nisbet grandfather (my mom’s family) participating in the life Thomas family (my dad’s family) Thanksgiving reunion:

I’m not going to sugar coat it. It sounds like crap to say, “Death is a normal part of life” or “It happens to all of us.” As a Christian, I’m glad I have license to get mad about death. It is the consequence of sin. It is an intruder in God’s good world. It goes against God’s life giving and sustaining ways. Jesus wept about death. Jesus came to fight death.

Memories don’t do it. And as much as I love photos and photography, they are not enough. I took many, many photos of my grandfather. They are precious to me. But they don’t bring him back. I don’t want to just look back at past memories and old photos. I want to look forward. I want HIM.

To view a slideshow of my grandfather’s life and legacy, click HERE.

I live between the already and the not yet. Jesus has already defeated sin and death on the cross. I know the end of the story: Sin and death lose. Jesus wins. And yet, this world is still messed up in many ways, and people still die. My grandfather’s death gives me a greater hunger for Jesus’s return.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
I Corinthians 15

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE

The Illuminated Word Project (April): Renewal & Restoration

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

This year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Renewal & Restoration

Lately, I’ve been asking God some big questions, questions like:
Are you big enough to mature me spiritually in places where I have struggled for years?
Are you big enough to breathe life into my most challenging relationships?
Are you big enough to teach my children Your worth so that they live for You instead of being enslaved to lesser things?
Are you big enough to show my friends and family members who are battling addiction that You alone give life and hope and meaning?
Are you big enough to give light and clarity when we are blinded by self deception?
Are you big enough to give comfort and wisdom when you call us to endure some extremely challenging trials?

God, do you really change people?

I am clinging to this promise given in Revelation:
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (REVELATION 21.5)

God is making all things new. He is making people new. He is in the business of renovating lives.

***After reading more about this promise below, please check out all of the other photographers participating in this project. The next step is Jenny and Stephanie at The Pure Life Project. Just click HERE.***

I’m attempting to compare how God works in our lives with the process of restoring a disorderly house. Even though I think this analogy is helpful, it’s important to remember that any analogy breaks down at some point.

I am not talking about becoming a Christian. On becoming a Christian, the Bible teaches us that we are dead in sin (see Ephesians 2). We are not “fixer uppers” that “have good architectural bones”. We don’t just need cosmetic, superficial change or a “little Jesus”. We need a heart transplant. We need life.

What I am talking about is the experience of being a Christian. Being a Christian is following Christ. We follow the God who became a man. This God got down and dirty with our sin and suffering. He battled sin and death and won. He lived a perfect life that we get credit for. He received the punishment we deserve.

THEN He sends His Spirit. The Spirit takes up residence inside of us. The Spirit goes room by room opening up the doors in our lives. He exposes the junk and chaos and the pretend gods that we serve. And He starts to put our lives in order. He shows what we love more than Him. He shows us the misery of running from God. He shows us His kindness. He reminds us of Christ’s completed work. He equips us to battle our sin.

The Spirit’s work in us is much like the work of remodeling a dilapidated home.

David Powlison hits the nail on the head when he writes about God’s transforming love. God’s love is better than “unconditional”. Although wonderfully accepting, divine love is also intrusive, intimate, personal, and active. Instead of simply loving us as we are, God loves us enough to change us (Powlison). If you want to be stretched and comforted about God getting in your business, check out this booklet HERE.

Meet my Aunt Marja and her husband, Don. My mom is the oldest of four kids. Marja is the youngest. Marja and Don are remodeling a two bedroom house in North East Texas. They made the bold choice to move away from Marja’s 3 grown/semi grown kids in Florida to this tiny town in Texas to care for my grandparents. Her beautiful life has grown out of the soil of a very difficult first marriage and a battle with alcohol addiction.

The house that they are remodeling is a visible word picture for the way God has been at work in her life. I am so very grateful that she was willing to share more of her story with me and with you.

Listen to her story in her own words.

I started by asking her some questions about the house.
Q: What was the house most in need of? What were the biggest challenges and problems?

A: The whole thing had to be redone. Only the wood floors were intact and even they had to be redone. Everything that was in that house had to be “touched” in some way to give it life.

Q: What challenges have you faced while remodeling your house? What setbacks did you experience?

A: The biggest challenge has been discovering the next thing that was wrong that we didn’t think of yet. You start working on the old doors. . . and you realize that it wasn’t properly mounted from the get-go. So a project of just taking off the door and redoing it turns into needing to change the door jamb because it is not square. So something simple turns into a multi week project. So why ignore it and say that we can just patch it and cover it up? It may give way in 5 years.
The incredible thing is the amount of money that we needed is what we had.

Q: What excites you most about your new house?

A: It’s not just the same old “we built it so that it is beautiful”. It is our forever home. That is something that I have always wanted. Not a perfect home. But the home that is going to feel the most like home. We have both had other marriages. We’ve both raised kids in other houses. We wanted enough land to make a garden and to have an area for kids to play in. We wanted space to have social events and have multiple families over. There is something about the fullness. And land enough for my husband to have a shop. (Rachel’s note: He is a welder.)

And then, I asked her some questions about her life.
Q: What things used to own your heart? What used to control you?

A: Materialism, material things, and other people

Q: What people, truths, circumstances, and trials did God use to change you?

A: From my first marriage I learned how I didn’t want to be or think or choose.
It is such a beautiful thing because I learned it was me who was making those choices. At the time, I thought that those things were being dictated. I didn’t understand that I had a choice. I wasn’t a good decision maker. I did not comprehend that I had the choice to grow with God as my leader.

Q: What has been the most painful part of following Christ into maturity?

A: I created [my own] pain by going in the wrong direction because I just didn’t get it. It is the same adage. I was lost, but then I got found–but I was 38.

The biggest thing was going from an egotistical self to a humble self because for so many years I did [things so] that I was perceived [in a good way] by others. It had nothing to do with being Jesus’ feet and hands and eyes and ears. I want to be that [kind of] disciple. I did a lot of things that would be considered disciple-worthy [in the past], but I was doing them with the whole wrong attitude, “Look at me.”

The cost [of following Christ] was an acceptance of taking responsibility. I wasted a lot.

Q: What has God done in your life that is extra sweet for you?

A: It really has to be right away—Don [my husband]. I wanted so long to experience what it was like to be honestly and truthfully in love and God-centered. When two people bond that way, there is nothing else like it. There was this incredible spark in my heart for this man [when I met him]. There is so much beauty in him. God is so forgiving that he gave me that [love] in my second marriage.

The other thing that is incredible in my life is my three kids. There is so much awesomeness in giving birth to another human being. I didn’t do much right in the parenting, but now I understand it. I can still be a good parent now.

Q: What places in your life do you see a continued need for growth and change?

A: The biggest thing is that conscious contact with God. When I stay in conscious contact with God things feel right. And I understand that I need to do that all the time.

I asked her to explain more about what she means by “constant contact with God”. Basically, it is taking the time to pause and seek God’s wisdom when met with a difficulty or challenge. It is asking, What is the best thing to do here? What is the best choice? Then she adds. . .
Now I know I need to stop and think about the best way to respond to what happens.
She recounted a story about how she responded to a challenging situation poorly this morning and commented. . .
I should have stopped and asked God for direction. He would have given it to me if I had asked for it. He always does. Like who is the most trustworthy person in the world?? God!

[Another place in my life where I see continued need for growth and change is] in parenting. I raised my children with very little thought. I let them choose everything. Now as a sober, passionate Christian person I want to be able to be an example for my grown children.

[Finally, I need continuing growth and change in my] relationship with my husband. So easily the person that we are with the most, we “poop” on the most. When things don’t go my way, who pays for it? Don. I am such an emotional person that I have to learn to put things in the right place. I will be mean and have a yucky attitude. God will [ask me], “Let’s look at why you are feeling that way.” This changes how I talk to Don about my feelings.

Q: How do you want people to think about and interpret your story?

A: Go to the world with what God has given you and done for you and do it.
Don’t waste time.

——————-

I see so much good fruit in my Aunt Marja’s life. I’ve known her all my life, and I see a changed woman. I see a woman whose inside and outside “lives” match. She is an integrated person. I see a climate of mutual kindness and respect in her marriage. She shows a joyful contentment, and she lives within her financial means. She works hard. She serves my grandparents. She and Don have patiently delayed the dream of “reaching the finish line” with their renovation in order to care for her parents (my grandparents). She listens to what God says in His Word and through people who love Him. She and Don live in community. They receive help from others. They strategically help others. They pursue people who are running from God with urgency, love, and wisdom–but all in a way that ultimately leaves room for God’s supernatural work.

Marja’s life points to God’s promise to renew us:

I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
(Joel 2:25-26 ESV)

I love my Aunt Marja. And I love her God.

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE

The Illuminated Word Project (March): Mercy, not Sacrifice

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

This year, I am participating in a group project with other photographers across the country. Once a month, we each select a part of the Bible and represent it some way visually through our photos.

We are a diverse group of seven women with different beliefs, and I am looking forward to an ongoing conversation with these photographers and with the people who read these blog posts.

Welcome to The Illuminated Word Project!

Mercy, not Sacrifice

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9.11-13

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After reading more about this passage below, please check out all of the other photographers participating in this project. The next step is Jenny and Stephanie at The Pure Life Project. Just click HERE.

I had high hopes for that Sunday afternoon. After church, we planned to eat a quick lunch; grab our bike helmets; and drive downtown to enjoy Siclovia, an outdoor bike festival. The day was perfect—sunny, dry, and crisp. Our family isn’t very good at spending time together. We struggle with it. Getting all five of us heading in one direction together is hard. Finding something that we can all enjoy is hard. In fact, it rarely happens.

Anticipating the challenges ahead, I told the kids in the car after church, “We are going to have to work as a team for this plan to happen. We are going to have to say ‘no’ to certain things in order to say ‘yes’ to Siclovia. We need each of you to get changed and to grab your bike helmet. And if you have a conflict with another person in our family, you will need to take it seriously and work it out right away.”

I was changing my clothes upstairs when I heard two of my kids racing up the steps yelling at each other and yelling at me. Each one was trying to plead their case before me louder than the other. I told them to go downstairs and try to work out their conflict on their own. I offered help if they needed it. (And yes, we have practiced and practiced working out conflict God’s way in our family so this is not new for them.) I went downstairs to throw together lunch, and it was clear that these two were still fighting. One kid in particular didn’t come clean. He threw up an emotional smoke screen of fake crying and wailing and confused, playing-dumb answers in order to avoid thinking about how he had contributed to the conflict.

My heart was angry.

I was angry that they were taking short cuts. I was angry that they weren’t applying what we have been practicing as a family. I was angry that one of them was purposefully creating confusion to sidetrack all of us. I was angry that they were derailing the plan for the day. I was frustrated that I often don’t know what to say to my kids when they are struggling with each other. I was frustrated that my own off-track heart was “snowballing” the conflict. I was feeling the hopelessness of being a parent. Yes, there is much a parent can and should do. But a mom can’t get inside her child’s heart and turn it. Only God can do that. I was so sad and discouraged that my family couldn’t simply get its act together long enough to do something fun together.

Greg and I wrestled with what to do next. Should we stay home? Should we divide and conquer? Should one parent go to the bike festival with a kid or two? Should the other parent stays home with the most off-track kid as a consequence? Does it send our kid(s) the wrong message when there is a reward (a fun activity) after a refusal to love another person in our family?

I ate lunch. I boiled inside. I went to lay down in Harrison’s bed and check out. I cried.

This Sunday wasn’t just about a single conflict between two of my kids. And it wasn’t just one instance of my angry response to feuding kids. The events of that Sunday afternoon were indicative of patterns and themes in our messed up family. Simply put, 1. our parental fatigue, 2. the burdens of our responsibilities and most importantly, 3. our sin seem to crush our little family.

I talked to Greg about what these events represented to me. And he got it. I’m thankful for that. I told him, I was finished trying to “pull our family together”. I was sick of trying to work hard to do something fun together as a family. When I went upstairs to watch some recorded show, I was saying, “I give up. The challenges of our family are more than I or we can take. We are individual and collective failures. Our family is broken.”

Let me put it in a slightly different way: Greg and I aren’t at the beginning of our parenting life. We’re midway now. Our family culture is fairly developed. There is a gap between what I wanted my family to be and what it is in reality. And there is a big gap between the kind of mom I wanted to be and the kind of mom I am. I struggle with what to do with these discrepancies.

I watched TV upstairs for a long time. I wanted to doze off. I was exhausted physically and emotionally.

About an hour later, Greg sought me out. He and the kids came upstairs and interrupted me. We asked each other for forgiveness. Those type of exchanges happen a lot in our family. Greg told me and the kids to get in the car. He said, “We are going somewhere. This may be a failed experiment, but we are going to be open to having fun together.” He had packed a water for me, my iPhone, and my camera. The kids had a few little toys to entertain them.
On the road, I was battling with huge waves of disappointment as we literally drove right past the bike festival. I looked out the window at all these other people and other families enjoying the beautiful day together. I wanted that very, very much. It felt like the kids and their fighting and my anger had disqualified our family. We had self-destructed. I told Greg (at the risk of creating a conflict with him and discouraging him) how deeply disappointed I felt.

We drove for a couple of hours. I figured out where we were going, but I kept my mouth shut so that the surprise wouldn’t be ruined for the kids.

Greg was taking us to the beach. What an incredible gift!

We hadn’t “earned” this fun as a family. We hadn’t “merited” it by our good behavior. It was pure grace and mercy. This trip to the beach pointed us to the gift of Jesus Christ. God gives us rescue, salvation, and life that we don’t deserve. That is grace. God doesn’t give us condemnation and separation. That is mercy. Seeing our kids’ major awe and delight at their first encounter with the ocean was a HUGE reminder that God’s love for me and my family doesn’t hinge on our moral performance. God’s love for my family hinges on the performance and substitutionary death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

So to sum it all up: I don’t want to be a “good person”. I don’t want to be a religious success. I don’t want to have a nice, church-going, all-American family. I don’t want to be a cute mom with cute kids. I don’t want our family to have all their crap together. I want something more delicious, more wild, and more free. I want the gospel.

I choose grace and mercy. I choose Jesus’ completed work. I choose the gospel of God coming down in the flesh to rescue the world broken by sin. I reject the religion of trying to climb up to God by working hard. It is a ladder to nowhere. (Tower of Babel, anyone???) I understand the futility of trying to fabricate and maintain my own goodness. I need the borrowed goodness of Christ.

Grace and mercy are far more beautiful than religious performance.
See for yourself:

It’s not surprising that Carter made it to the ocean first. Here is his first contact with the ocean, beautiful and wild.

Sweet Harrison didn’t last long in the water. His lips turned bluish and he started to shiver so Greg took him to get warmed up in the car. He still said he had a great time.

One final note: Did I mention that Greg thought the kids would “just get their feet wet because the water was so cold” so he didn’t pack swimsuits or a change of clothes? The kids came home sandy and stripped down to their undies, wrapped up in towels. We cranked up the heat to keep them from shivering. Best afternoon ever.

My Beliefs
I think it is only fair to tell you where I am coming from. We are all religious people. We are all trying to find life, meaning, value, and purpose somewhere or in someone. What matters is what or whom we believe. This is what I believe. What do you believe?

This is what I believe: WHAT I BELIEVE
This is what I care about: WHAT I CARE ABOUT
Think Jesus Christ is irrelevant to your everyday life? JESUS CHRIST CHANGES EVERYTHING
Want to get fancy? GETTING FANCY
Have no idea where to start? Want to teach your kids about God? START HERE