there is a crack in the door filled with light

If God is on my side, who could be against me?

I’ll tell you who – apathy and grief and sadness and confusion and depression and discontent, especially discontent. That’s who. These are all “against me.”

It’s gonna get good and honest, friends. First, you should play this song by NEEDTOBREATHE that I danced to in my living room last week. I didn’t even care that the curtains weren’t all the way closed and our 5-feet-away neighbors could probably see me stretching out in homemade modern dance moves on slippery hardwood floors. It’s okay, they clearly don’t care that we can see them.

Well, this is officially the weirdest part of my grief story (does it keep getting weirder?) – the part where I am still living, where I still have appointments and things coming up on the weekends and plans for this summer. This is the weirdest part of grief and it wrings at my insides usually when I am least prepared. Like when we watched a beautiful, northern New York sun sink behind mountains on Sunday or every time I walk in the door after a full day of work and see the excitement in my husband’s eyes because I am home.

People will find me after this post – perfectly lovely and well meaning folks – and they will say, “Give yourself time, Caroline. Give yourself grace to feel whatever you need to feel.” I get that, or at least I think I am starting to. But, I also feel the Spirit telling me to preach Romans to my fickle heart. Grief isn’t a trump card to “do whatever you want until you feel like doing something else.” I don’t get to sin that grace might increase.

And it isn’t all grief. That is the worst part.

I think am afraid of being content. I am afraid, I guess, that being “ok” where I am professionally, creatively, and intellectually means I have given up on everything I haven’t accomplished. I think I was/am afraid that this is it. I guess I want what everyone else wants: purpose, joy, fulfillment, significance. And grief makes me want all those things more while sapping my strength to chase like I could when I was less weary. So, I am afraid to be fully where I am if that place is too humble or too confused or even just too regular.

But there is a crack in the door filled with light.

I am learning about joy. There have been sweet times in my life where I think I felt the full freedom of joy and then there are times when I would rather slum it in the wasteland then turn my head towards the light. I would rather proudly declare the things that are dark than step into the light of the open doorway. Marriage is teaching me these things about joy and it is painful. I didn’t think I would be so resistant to my own benefit.

Pat is so patient and encouraging as I sort out my grumbles. He reminds me often that joy is a choice because God is not different in dark times. God is not less light or less provision. God is the same and He is all we need to get by, really.

There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament, one of my favorites. It’s actually in that long and tedious book of Numbers (21). The Israelites, all grumbles, are out in the desert. The whole freshly exodus-ed group was telling Moses they thought it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than to wander around in the wilderness (as free people with miracle food falling from heaven). Then they started to notice snakes at their ankles, snakes that bit people and bites that took their lives. The people came back to Moses and pleaded for him to do something – to speak on their behalf to God (who they knew they had offended). God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent on a pole and to tell the people that whoever would look up at the pole would live. And that’s what happened – some looked up and some didn’t, but the snakes still swerved at their ankles.

I really relate to this grumble-heavy waywardness. After being saved from a tyrant and preserved in the wilderness, the Israelites doubt that God can/will provide for them, for their joy. To experience God’s provision, the people had to obey His Word. The snakes stayed, but He saved those who believed His word because God is a promise keeper.

I wonder… I wonder how they talked about that snake-saving event – if later they said, “I am looking at the bronze serpent and I am not dying, but boy are there so many snakes around my ankles.” Because, that’s where I feel I am.

My pride keeps me from stepping into the light of joy because I really like to remember how hard it is with all these snakes. It’s hard to fully step into the provision of marriage joy and work joy and friendship joy and creation joy… because half my heart wants to talk about snakes at my ankles.

The point of “God is on my side” is not that there is no one against me. The point is that God is sovereign over everything that is against me. There is not a single snake or emotion or creative brick wall that is more powerful or able to steal the joy God provides. If God is on my side, which snake can prevail?

I’d like to stand in that crack of the door filled with light – to make statements about joy that aren’t quickly qualified by snakes at my ankles. I’d like to bring the grief and grumpiness of me into that shaft of light and believe that His light is  enough to cast out all darkness forever.

Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

humility is a sly fox

I am very aware of the difference between true humility and humiliation. The former, a heart chooses in secret before the watchful eye of my persistent inner boast. The latter, is not so subtle and usually comes about because of unfortunate circumstances (see yesterday’s post) a heart tries to avoid.

We are never really humble, or at least we would never know it. Our boasting nature would not let that knowledge sit long enough for it to remain true. Even as I was reading about humility in the Lent devotional this morning, I was thinking about publishing this post.

Then I got to the end and read this closing prayer out loud.

Humble my heart before thee, and replenish it with thy choicest gifts. As water rests not on barren hill summits, but flows down to fertilize lowest vales, So make me the lowest of the lowly, that my spiritual riches may exceedingly abound. When I leave duties undone, may condemning thought strip me of pride, deepen in me devotion to thy service, and quicken me to more watchful care. When I am tempted to think highly of myself, grant me to see the wily power of my spiritual enemy; Help me to stand with wary eye on the watch-tower of faith, and to cling with determined grasp to my humble Lord; If I fall let me hide myself in my Redeemer’s righteousness, and when I escape, may I ascribe all deliverance to thy grace. Keep me humble, meek, lowly.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.
The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, UK. 2003.

I almost didn’t make it through to the end because I started to feel dishonest. I prayed for grace to finish the prayer as I tripped over the words. Make me the lowest of the lowly? So that my spiritual riches may exceedingly abound. And the lines I will repeat to the rest of this Saturday:

If I fall let me hide myself in my Redeemer’s righteousness, and when I escape, may I ascribe all deliverance to thy grace.

Humility is a sly fox and I won’t try to scare him out from hiding. I will just keep praying for grace to pray these prayers, believing that God is always faithful.

I am a sinner, in the first person

Yesterday, I stood in a new church singing a song with all the old, redemptive swagger of a classic hymn. We rested on the chorus in repeat and I finally sang in the first person.

“I am a sinner, if it’s not one thing it’s another
caught up in words, tangled in lies
You are a Savior and you take brokenness aside
and make it beautiful, beautiful.”
(Brokenness Aside by All Sons & Daughters)

I am a sinner. 

Have you ever been challenged to make “I am …” statements? I often asked my students in Honduras to make a list of ways they could finish that sentence. We would then look through the list and talk about which of those statements were true, which were false, and which were within his/her power to change. All those conversations are nice and tidy when I’m on the counseling end, encouraging people to examine their inner being and ask God to reveal if there is any wrong thing.

As I stood there singing, “I am a sinner” in the first person, something broke. “Sinner” is not the first thing I’d like to have follow my “I am” statements. I’d like to have an impressive list before I make that admission. I always have a hard time thinking about specific ways I sin when I’m standing in church (so convenient, I know). But not yesterday. With every repeating chorus I thought of ways I’d made my heart ugly.

I am a sinner.

The pastor introduced the sermon series on generosity and we read from Luke 18 about the offerings of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

I work with the kind of stories that would tear your heart out – parents, children, families, neighbors capable of things we try not to know about. There’s a distance that threatens to creep in to my posture when I come before the Lord. There are so many things I haven’t done and would never do.

I pictured the posture of the tax collector at the temple and his first person proclamations struck me. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed for favor. The Pharisee was grateful for what he was not. The tax collector was grateful for who God was. 

The tax collector prayed with a posture that honored the Lord, recognizing how great God would have to be to save him – a sinner.

It is this kind of posture that produces a generous heart – a desperate, first person statement that begs for mercy from the One who is merciful.

I am a sinner, but You are my Savior and you take brokenness aside and make it beautiful, beautiful.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

a rebuke past due

Last night, around the dinner table, we got into a pretty heated discussion (which is unfortunately my modus operandi). The topic is not as important to me as my conversation this morning with my cousin. I guess you could say it was one of those personal revelations – where the layers peeled back and the “real me” was exposed.

I’ve mentioned before my grappling with the meaning of a “gentle and quiet” spirit that Peter talks about in 1 Peter 3:3-4,

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

I wrestle these words.

I want to justify my crazy personality, want to know that “who I am” is okay – even if I’m not the quiet girl praying in the corner. I do believe God sanctifies our personalities, but I’m just not sure how to balance my uniqueness with the ways God desires to transform me to His image.

Enter my cousin Vince.

This morning, I asked him about last night’s discussion. I knew the argument ruffled his feathers and I wanted to know what I could do better. I also, selfishly, wanted to know how to achieve that “quiet and gentle spirit” and still be, well, me.

In the course of our conversation, I realized a major character flaw that needs to be seriously refined by fire.

In a conversation/argument/debate, I often appear confident and decided in my view even if I’m not convinced of it myself.

Even writing it looks lame, but it’s true. I’m not sure who to blame – my brothers for their ruthless monopoly bullying or my sister for all those squabbles over borrowing clothes. In the end, I know it’s my own heart that is so stubborn. It’s my own pride that prevents me from saying, “I’m not really sure. What do you think?” It’s my selfishness that refuses to ask questions and instead offers, “Well, I think…” statements.

love to process through ideas, philosophies, and theological dilemmas. I welcome questions because every assumption/belief must be challenged to reveal its roots. But, I’ve often made my mind up to be defensive before I am convinced of my own position. I don’t ask questions or consider another as better than myself (Philippians 2:3) on the debate floor. My main focus is to be heard and understood, not to hear and understand.

Oh, dear. This confession is getting ugly.

Over omelettes and coffee this morning, my heart looked sour and silly. Vince saw through my selfishness to ways it has blinded my own heart. He saw my veneer of pride and called me out.

This is a rebuke past due that makes me wonder how many relationships and conversations would have ended differently.

My own pride keeps me from conforming to my Creator, but I would probably argue to the death that it’s not so.

Oh, that I would throw off all that entangles so that I can truly

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

pride is a big, fat thief

Sunday, I posted the song by Thad Cockrell called, “Pride won’t get us where we’re going” and I love this line,

When I lose my vision, will you lend me your eyes… to see exactly where I need to be.

It must be something… this pride. I want to make cute jokes about it, but the reality is it’s ugly. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the ways pride is like a thief. Without regard to the damage, pride steals our friendships, our families, our minds, and our affections… and then destroys everything completely.

This is an idea that’s been making a tortured trek around the hamster wheel in my brain recently. Maybe it was learning Sunday night that the brother of one of the Micah boys (and only sibling) was stabbed and killed, or maybe it was the re-introduction to one of my favorite soul-destroying films “Dancer in the Dark” or maybe it was a handful of conversations about the downward spiral of affluent youth worldwide… I’m sure of this:

the tragedies don’t stop.

I’m always trying to make some sense of things and so could I just process what has seemed to settle in my gut? I’ll take that as a yes. Bear with me… these ideas are not completely formulated.

On whatever end (or middle) of the socio-economic spectrum we find ourselves, I am starting to think what makes a person most desperate is certainly the same. We all know the feelings of humility, shame, and fear.

Unfortunately, the most ready weapon is itself destructive: pride. As John Piper‘s sermon was still marinading today in my mind, I thought about the two different groups who found themselves stuck in unbelief in John 7:1-24.

  • Jesus’ own brothers asked Him to go up to a party and present Himself in all His glory, with pomp and circumstance. They wanted a parade – someone they could walk behind and maybe stand a bit in the shadow of His glory. What they didn’t believe was that He was bigger than an entrance at a party or the praise of men.
  • The Jews didn’t believe in Him because His presence indicted them. Their lives were brought to account in His presence. Every righteous act felt less right in the presence of One who could do no wrong.

Both, Piper said, were blinded by pride (and, as a result, unbelief). I guess I’m just wondering how many sins we can really trace back to the root of pride.

  • I think of a recent conversation with students about 12-year-old pop singers with near-adult material with eyes ‘innocently’ set on a crash course toward success.
  • I think of the young girls here who are married at 12 years old to 20 or 30somethings who have very little understanding of love.
  • I think of the constant worry involved in “future plans,” lest a student or adult choose a less comfortable path.
  • I think of the person who is completely unaware of the layers of life surrounding him because he is so deeply involved in what he will do next.

Well, folks, we’ve plumb lost our vision. And I seriously think we’re seeing the results of our unbelief. We are proud – so proud – that we want Jesus around for His fame and VIP pass, but we don’t believe His presence can save us. We are proud – too proud – to admit that His deferring way of pointing to the glory of God is to us a lifeline, not a noose.

Instead, we’ve chained ourselves to the world’s ugliest attractions in hopes that we will find both significance and righteousness. God help us!

Pride is a dirty, devious thing. I suppose that’s better reason than any to

let LOVE fly like cRaZy