Un-sheathed

The tube is just about dried up, but I pump it anyway, twirl out the last color, brush across lashes.

I want to be beautiful.

One of my earliest memories is when I thought I was…ponytail in hair, painted nails.

Mom had made me beautiful.

What happened afterward…that boy man who saw innocence and took it for himself…well, a big brush dipped in black slashed across soul and beauty was marred and I guess I’ve been trying to recover it ever since.

Or running from it.

That big black X said all sorts of things about me. It has been a task master, a slave driver. I’ve taken its message as truth.

But something happened somewhere along the way.

I encountered Beauty.

And as I draw closer to Him and awaken to words of Beauty, He whispers, “You don’t have to be beautiful; You can borrow Mine.”

“You don’t have to be good enough; You can have Mine.”

“You don’t have to try to be something more; You can have Me.”

And Beauty makes me beautiful.

I read the words and Beauty offers His cloak:

“Consider the lilies of the field. They toil not, neither do they spin.”

Those who allow Beauty to clothe, cease striving.

I can never rid myself of the black X. I don’t need to. Beauty tells me I can stop trying.

And flowers do this well while I miss it?

Oh no, I’ve been looking for Beauty all my life and here it is, that Pearl of great price. I’m not missing it this time.

“Yet I say to you that not even Solomon, in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.”

Yes, I think I will learn from flowers, how to be clothed with beauty. How to stop striving and trying and piling things on to cover up the black.

“If God so clothes the grass of the field, will He not much more clothe you? Oh you of little faith!”

Perhaps I hold on to the seed, not allow the bulb to die because I’m afraid I’ll be left with nothing. I grasp tight, thinking to save what is, not believing in what is to be.

But all along, the bulb begs to begat the lily that becomes clothed with splendor that surpasses Solomon.

Will I hold on to the bulb, tuck it away, refuse to plant and trust and wait… and settle for store bought color instead?

Must I insist on paying?

Earned beauty is nothing more than a tube of color that eventually dries up.

The secret of real beauty is that it’s offered without cost. Beauty has been poured out, made available to us, generously and lavishly offered. Just like wings that soar and seeds that bloom and grass that softens our steps,  beauty is ours, no charge.

Unsheathed beauty is that seed which falls and dies to all self effort and striving…it takes the risk…it gives up and lets go…it releases it’s shell, undergoes decay…waits on the One who clothes the grass…and is brought forth in splendor.

[ Adj. un-sheathed: not having a protective covering ]

Oh soul-scarred one, let Him birth your beauty?

{I’m taking the risk.}

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I would love the chance to attend a woman’s writer’s conference while we are in the states on furlough and am humbly entering with this post. If any of the other entrants happen by here, may I say I think you are beautiful? I have read a few dozen of the entries and have been so touched!  If you would like to learn more about the opportunity to win yourself, please see this post and check out the SheSpeaks website here.

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The Quiet before the Conquest

I sit in quiet, rare and a bit odd after holiday flurry.

But welcomed.

I have heard the words that are to be my footing for the coming year; I’ve embraced them and pondered them and they will become my daily portion for the year ahead.

Each year around this time He gives me a focal passage for the coming year and 2011 is to be The Year of Conquest.

I wonder if this is how Joshua felt? Did he sit in stunned amazement? After waiting so long, undergoing so many years of training and preparation?

Did he give in to fear? Did he ponder the obstacles…the fact that Moses was gone and the full responsibility fell to him…or did he find his faith-footing right off? Did he wonder at the timing, trying to make sense of it? Did it seem to “fit” or was it out of place, like words on a thick tongue? 

I think when we realize God’s plan for our lives can be lived by no one but us… well, it has a way of strengthening our faith if we will let it. If we don’t turn around and run. If we don’t keep looking for our Moses to show up and realize instead that I am up to bat. Only I can carry out my portion of His story. I cannot expect Moses to do Joshua’s job.

And this… To think that we, in some way, will lead others to take possession of God’s promises…that is our calling. That is part of why we are here. That is a slice of our “good works” prepared before the foundation of the world. That is what each of us have been given the privilege of doing.

And when God speaks this to a person’s heart, courage is the command. The task will not get done by shrinking back.

All our lives we have prepared for this moment, for this coming year. We have been trained and shaped and readied for what God is going to do in us, with us, through us, and to us in 2011.

So had Joshua. He had been Moses’ assistant and now Moses was dead and Joshua’s life purpose was at hand. The very reason for his existence stared him in the face, stretched out before him in the form of vast territory stretching from ocean to mountain, and he was told to conquer it!

What must it be like, to have such a moment of clarity? To realize that this is what everything in your past has been for, this is what God had in mind when He formed you in the womb?

I believe such times come throughout our lives. When we are allowing Him to shape us, make us, hide us, create us in those secret places and seasons, there comes a time when He brings us to the brink of a vast territory and says, “Be strong and courageous, for you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to give them.”

Joshua’s success depended on one thing. One thing. So does ours.

Here is the challenge: To take everything 2011 has for us by conquest, as a possession given us from God, AND lead others in doing the same.

If we do position ourselves to take 2011 as our possession, will we do the one thing required for success? Or will we be deceived into thinking we need the Word PLUS {…fill in the blank…} until the Book becomes marginalized into nothing of real significance?

What will I do? What will this time next year say of me, of how I lived 2011?

Do I really want the conquest? Then I must center my life on the key.

His words must be my life, my breath, my thoughts, my dreams, my wisdom, my eyesight, my strategy. More than mere words, they are my bread, my sustenance, my movement, my activity. They are my all and I don’t have anything in any given situation until I have His word.

This is how I want to live 2011.

And so I sit in the quiet before the conquest, pondering His words and praying them back to Him and asking Him for the miracle of them becoming part of me. Because when the conquest begins, this mere woman needs a Book to stand on.

UPDATE **After posting this, I read of Ann Voskamp naming her year today too…read the others who are discovering what 2011 is for them?


A Christmas Gift For You

For five long years it sat on a shelf in the closet.

Amidst shoes and winter sweaters and baby clothes its bright pieces beckoned a child, promising cheerful play.

Except the children were all gone and there was no one to notice a simple 8 piece track with matching bus the color of sunshine.

Then, Christmas 2010, the family returned! From travels and adventures spanning the world, they returned to this place for the holidays. This is the place they call “home.”

After the children are in bed, we visit the closet in Grandma’s house, sorting through stored belongings and taking out old toys that will be re-wrapped and discovered all over again this Christmas.

We find the sunshine set and I lock the pieces in place while husband finds a screwdriver to bring life to the matchbox-car sized school bus.

But when a new battery is inserted and the switch turned on…nothing.

Our hearts sink at the ending of the toy that brought firstborn son so much joy. “He played with this set for hours,” Husband says, and I nod sadly and finger the small bus.

“I wonder if they could just push the bus?” I mutter it as I place the bus on the board to see if it would work.

My fingers feel the familiar curves; my eyes imagine a little boy’s laugh as I push the bus around the track time after time. When I stop, the bus rolls just a split second…then keeps on going!

The wheels have come to life and what I thought was a thing of the past is new and moving and real and will be the joy of not one little boy on Christmas morning but 4 little ones, eager to have a turn arranging the pieces and seeing little bus go.

Something inside me awakens too.

It has been many long years since I dared to go there. It has been stored away, placed up amidst other memories and seasons gone by. It was a nice thought, once. A noble idea, a soul dream….but I moved on. I had to. Life didn’t have room for me to take it along, like an overstuffed suitcase. It had to stay behind, parked on a shelf in a closet far, far from me.

And when I chanced upon it again, I fondly fingered its beauty, remembered with bittersweetness its joy and awe. But it doesn’t work now. It can’t. It’s a thing of the past and cannot be resurrected to fit my present.

Except suddenly, when the wheels of the sunbeam bus are nudged and encouraged, Divine fingers seem to reach down and nudge and encourage the place of dreams in me.

And just as little bus drives around track on its own, awakened again by fresh power and a little coaxing to un-freeze his wheels, so the message reaches my heart: in its time, the dead can come to life.

Isn’t this what Christmas is about? “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son…”

Years and years of waiting…of wondering, “Is this the One?”…of longing…of finally closing the book for 400 years and placing it on a shelf in the closet…of silence.

Until…

The time had come.

The darkness behind earth’s closet doors pierced through as the Light of the world opened the womb of a woman.

Hands that Created brought Life to us and what we once thought dead and hopeless and just a dream of the past became living and real and not just for us to open but for a whole world to receive and awe over and find joy in.

The time has come. For you.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.

Today is the day of the Lord’s favor. Today is the day of salvation. Today.

Heaven has come down. Life has been given. Today is the day. Rejoice!

And like the wheels on little yellow bus, we can come to life.  Come to Life.


The Flightless Cormorant

“Mom, why do some birds have wings but can’t fly?” wondering one asks.

Normally I have to send wondering ones to their father for such questions but this time I have an answer and can’t wait to share it.

I turn from wiping down the counters and face Wonder, trying not to scare him with my eager anticipation. “Son, sometimes they forget how to use them.”

The story unfolds on the Galapagos Islands, the story of the flightless cormorant. All cormorants can fly, except the ones on these islands. Why? The scientists wondered. Why do these cormorants have wings but cannot fly?

Some unbelieving scientists jump at the opportunity to make a chaotic, convoluted case for evolution. One more link in the chain.

Christian scientists- Creationists- have no case to prove, just a simple, profound foundation from which they work: that God Created and that He blesses and that He gives the gift of adaptation.

With a basic understanding of our Creator as revealed in Scripture, the story of the flightless cormorant is easy to imagine… and the parallels to us easy to see. Cormorants arrived at Galapagos and thrived on the bounty of island life. In this beautiful, protected environment, the cormorants find an absence of land predators, meaning that they don’t need to fly for survival.

And for food?  Without the need to fly, they simply devote their entire life developing their God-given secondary skill for diving. All cormorants are natural fisher-birds, with their long beaks and webbed feet. The Galapagos Island cormorants have perfected the art.

Over time, these birds have adapted to a flightless lifestyle. Their bodies reflect these adaptations with shortened wings and a smaller keel, the place on the breastbone that supports the large flight muscles. Instead, the legs are heavier and more powerful.

Smaller wings means the cormorant is a better swimmer…but it has lost the ability to soar.

Relying too heavily on secondary giftings is the pathway to loosing what one was intended for.

I know this in my soul, as Creator tells me the story of the flightless cormorant and then explains why it is vital that I know: “The North American church is like the flightless cormorant.”

Hasn’t God blessed us with material abundance and resources beyond measure? Is this not the blessing of God?

Yet have we turned to these and relied on them so heavily that we have outgrown our need for His Spirit to lift us and enable us to do the impossible?

One might simply ponder the question, “What if all our resources were suddenly gone? What if we had no ability to pay pastors and staff, buy workbooks and curriculum…what if we lost our buildings and all the resources that generate programs, activities, good feelings that we are safe, well-padded, alright?

“If we suddenly lost all that… would we have the wings to soar?”

Would we know how to stretch wide and kick hard and believe deep and let God? Are we learning these things in our resource-driven Western Christianity? Or have we lost our wings?

Have we under-developed keels?

Is not the fact that 80% of our children grow up and leave the church proof that we are failing to pass on the ability to soar?

Do we only have silver and gold ministries to offer the lame beggar on the temple steps? Or can we, like Peter, say, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have, I give to you: In the name of Jesus, WALK!” (Acts 3:6)

All year these things have niggled me. All year I have seen how we, as a culture and for the most part, live the Christian life in the flesh. All year I have been sickened by how much of my life, my 12 years in the ministry as a church planter and missionary, have been lived relying on secondary skills.

The secondary skills aren’t the problem.

The forgetting what we are made for is.

We were made for Spirit wings to indwell us, fill us, empower us, carry us to places secondary blessings never can. We were made for “abundantly above all we ask or imagine,” from Him and to Him and by Him and for Him.

We were made for the kind of indwelling power that raised Christ from the dead. And we are content with diving?

All year I have approached His elbow. “So Father,” I ask and He slows to listen to me. “How is it that we can learn to fly again? How is it that we can be filled to the fullness of God by Your Spirit? How is it that we can get our wings back, stop over-relying on secondary giftings and do what we are made to do?”

He turns to me in eager anticipation, answer ready, thrilled to be asked by a wondering child. “I thought you’d never ask,” He whispers. “Come closer.”

And I embrace His answer…

{to be continued as I live it out}


New Things

This is my first post.  Today is a new day and grace is fresh to me this morning.

I have lived the Christian life up to this point in the flesh. Yes, I’ve been a good, responsible Christian. I’ve served God well. I’ve emptied bank accounts for God’s work.

I’ve joined my husband as he planted a church from scratch.

I’ve led Bible studies and taught all sorts of sound doctrine.

I’ve served eight years as a missionary overseas.

I’ve given up dreams and taken up crosses.

I’ve read through the Bible numerous times and memorized much.

I’ve been an exemplary Christian.

Key word in all those statements: I. I’ve lived the Christian life in the flesh.

Many months back, the realization hit that if life was going to really count, if destruction was to be avoided, the Spirit had to be the one in complete control.

The Christian life couldn’t be lived by me any longer. “I” must stop trying to live the Christian life and “I” must stop trying to tame and train the flesh.

The whole stinking ship needed to be abandoned.

The question was how? How to let the Spirit live? How to let Him flow freely out of me? How to let this life not be mine any longer but His?

I have sought God for many months about this. I have hungered for Him, for His life to replace my life, asked Him to be to me what I see in Scripture.

Along the way He has broken me. He has revealed the dark putrid stench in the bulkheads. He has revealed the deceptiveness of my captain’s compass, exposed the rotting planks behind the pretentious exterior.

The SOS signal grew stronger. More cries for rescue and truth and grace and a whole new way of life.

In the meantime, my oars dug desperately in the waters with all I knew: Anger and irritation seemed to be my constant companions, as an effort to get others around me to behave! My life message was “I can’t handle this! Stop making my life harder than it is already!” or “Come to my rescue because I’m about to lose it!”

Until finally…

I knew that in accordance with Scripture, God desired for me to have the better way and He wasn’t withholding anything from me, so that meant there was something in me still in the way, blocking it from happening. So I started praying,

“Lord, whatever is in the way, whatever I have to do, whatever I need to confess, whatever I have to give up or let go of, I will. I will do whatever You tell me so that I can have the fullness of Your Spirit.”

The first day He said, “In order to walk in the Spirit, you have to get off that mat.” (see John 5)

Before a crippled soul can walk, he must arise and take up their mat, be done with that filthy bed of comfort.

A cripple’s mat is what stood between me and the fullness of His Spirit and I needed my mat clearly defined.

On day two, He said, “There is no provision but My grace.”

He defined my mat for me: A lifestyle that demanded provisions other than His grace. My anger demands my kids behave. My stress demands my husband step in and help. My withdrawal demands life stops while I get my head and heart geared up.

All the while I never realized that by neglecting certain responsibilities and taking on other more “enjoyable” ones in the guise of service and rights, I was falling short of the grace of God.

But God said, “There is no provision but My grace and My grace is able to make you stand- Romans 5:2- and it is by My Spirit that you walk and you told Me you would do anything for the fullness of My Spirit.”

I am rolling up this mat. I’m standing in this grace. When the baby starts my day at 5am and the children’s bickering interrupts my morning and all 4 lambs need my attention and love at once and when no husband is around to help… “There is no provision but My grace.”

When my mind is numb from the demands placed on it and my emotions are unstable and I want to pick up that whip of anger and condemnation to get things manageable again and when the body is tired and there is no fix and when I long for freedom outside of these walls and when I’d like to take wings and fly… “There is no provision but My grace.”

So this is my journal and my journey.

I’m getting to my feet, taking up my mat, and walking in the Spirit.