25 July, 2007

the vulnerable prayer

Today I babysat my former youth leader's daughter. Taylor is almost two and pure energy and joy. She is beautiful and precocious and lots of fun to hang out with. This morning, we were bouncing on the couch and she's giggling, perfectly happy. Suddenly, in mid-bounce, she turns around and rushes at me, shouting, "Miss Abby! Give me a HUG!" She wraps her little arms around my neck and kisses my cheek. Commence melting. Little girls are pearls. I wouldn't mind having a few. (Not... now... though.) I taught her how to say a few phrases in Japanese, too: like "Good morning, mama," and "I love you." After giving her some "frootschnacks" (fruit snacks), she beams up at me and says, "Aishiteru!" I smile, so proud of my little scholar, and say, "Taylor-chan, aishiteru mo." I love you too, Taylor.

While Taylor was napping, I finished Gone with the Wind. Mitchell was at the top of her game towards the end of that book; the conclusion was so perfect, so moving. I almost cried when Melanie died and felt a bitter triumph when Rhett delivers his classic line: "My dear, I don't give a damn." Scarlett's tenacity never wavers; you learn her vicious temperament so perfectly by the end of the book that there are few surprises, yet Mitchell has shaped her so that Scarlett still evokes interest, delight, and disgust. Her characterizations are so full, so robust, so complete. To have an imagination like that! It was the ideal summer book and I'm glad I finally read it. Woolf's The Waves is next, to be read, quite appropriately, while I am at the beach.

"You are not the God we would have chosen." -- Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth

Read this quote in a magazine today and it pricked me. He is not the God we would have fashioned if we could have fashioned Him. He is too unpredictable, too dangerous, too mysterious, too faithful, too difficult to pin down, too full of a ridiculous, all-consuming love. I would have made Him plainer, easier to understand. But when I think about it, really think about it, would I want a God any other way? No. It is somehow a paradoxical comfort to have a God beyond Reason. A God who startles us every morning with His faithfulness. A God with a savage beauty and a jealous love. A God of peace and wrath. This is our God. And even though He would not have been our choice, we were His.

I'll be wandering around the Outer Banks with Nick, his family, and a delightful assortment of friends until Aug. 6 or so. Hope you are all enjoying these last dregs of summer...

22 July, 2007


To a God nearby.

Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. The concept of a Living God who shakes the earth and yet stirs the soul is difficult to believe. On this bright afternoon, with the rush of cars like the waves of the sea, I feel like God is distant, bound up in the neat lines of my Bible or tucked away in the fuzzy corners of my mind. That He is not, somehow, despite this tale of His omnipresence, nearby.

The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Fear. I lack fear. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. But how does fear make me feel His presence? Mysteriously, this fear is what God will use to confide in me, to reveal Himself to me. Reverence is the hardest thing to conjure up. I don't think it can be faked. Something John Piper said yesterday in a sermon has haunted me: "Yesterday's record of life is enough to send you to hell. If you don't believe that, you don't know how holy God is." He's right; I don't.

But I can't stop there. It's tempting to throw up my hands and say, "It's too distant, too difficult, this knowing God business. Really, it's just impractical. God is infinitely beyond Reason. What can I know?" Not much. I know there are too many mysteries for me to comprehend. And yet, through it all, I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. The Living God comes to a living people. I am also confident of this: that I won't get to know how holy God is by resignation. I have to be so saturated with His word and so devoted to prayer that I can't help but have my mind captured by His character.

On God's character: I was blown away by what I read in 1 Timothy 6 this morning. Paul is closing up his letter to Timothy and writing a powerful summary of all that he has commanded Timothy to do. Verses 11 through 14 cover the exhortation, outlining what Timothy needs to DO: pursue righteousness, godliness, fight the good fight, hold on to the eternal life to which you were called, &c.

But then 15-16 changes the tone of the passage. Paul begins to list the attributes of God: He is the blessed and only ruler, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the only immortal, the One who "lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen and no one can see." He ends the exhortation with this: "To Him be honor and might forever. Amen." At first, it would seem like Paul got sidetracked; as if he forgot he was supposed to be giving Timothy his last and most important words of advice. But I felt, suddenly and strongly, that Paul knew exactly what he was doing. With these descriptions of the sovereignty of God, he was providing the reason, the ultimate justification WHY Timothy has to do all of these things. I felt like Paul was saying, "Timothy, follow these things in this letter not because I told you to. Not because it will make you a more effective leader. Not because people will praise you for your virtues. Not because it will make the church at Ephesus run more smoothly. Instead, do all of these things because God is God. Because He is who He says He is. That is why I wrote you this letter."

That is why I'm not entirely dejected by the feeling that God is far away. Sometimes He is. But His character is beautiful and strong and true and it is revealed to us in His word. That's amazing to me today.

20 July, 2007

when the tea gets strong and bitter at the end of the cup

I’ve been having complicated thoughts about people lately. (Let’s see if I can try to explain them without tying myself up in knots.) Preface: I don’t have any exclusive friends. Basically, everyone I know is friends with all of my other friends. This means I know about three hundred people who can be called “mutual friends.” Fuzzy Explanation: Because of this defining quality of my relationships, everyone likes to talk about everyone else. What’s been so strange for me lately is to notice the conflicting viewpoints you get from people on the same issue. For example*: A and B are both kind of frustrated with each other. A calls me up and says that B is simply being awkward and overly sensitive about everything and practically ruining a once perfect relationship. I talk to B a few days later about the same issue, and B insists that A is immature and too emotionally dependent. Or then there’s X and Y. X is really excited about hanging out some more with Y, but Y has told me that X actually gets on its nerves. Conclusion, at last: It’s fascinating how dishonest we have to be to function, to actually get along. What would our relationships look like if we really told each other what we thought? We probably wouldn’t have relationships, come to think of it…

(*Mutual friends, hear me! These are all purely hypothetical examples. I promise. So don’t get all huffy and go start grouching to X and B that I outed you. Because I didn’t.)

Kelsey and I have to work tonight at the bookstore for the greatly anticipated Harry Potter release. The store is having a party and we get to hand out “bubbling punch” and give Potter tattoos to the little Rowling rats. We have to be there at 10:30p and won’t leave until probably 1:00a. It’s not that I really mind; I love being in the bookstore and I like children. It’s just… I feel slightly traitorous because I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books. I confessed this to one of the customers yesterday, and I thought the woman was going to slap me in the face. She flushed and sputtered and stammered, “Wh… what's... what’s WRONG with you?” As if I had recently acquired a third nostril or something. I just never got into Potter. I think if he had come earlier, I would have. By the time the first book came out, though, I had moved on from fantasy books to Edith Wharton and J.D. Salinger and Charles Dickens. Pretentious homeschooler.

Listening to Third Eye Blind is such a great throwback to my childhood. I had no idea what they were singing about (I probably didn’t find out what illegal drugs were until I was fourteen), but I liked them anyway. Old music is fun to relive. As Paul would say, “God, why did you have end the 90’s?”

Today’s passage for The Gospel:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)