Monday, January 31, 2011

10 Ways My Husband Challenges Me

I started this blog mainly to write about ways God is working in my life, so there are less "just for fun" posts- but one way God is working in my life is through this person He put next to me 24/7! I've been making a mental list about ways my husband's influence makes me better, and I felt like sharing a few of them with you in his honor. So this is a "just for fun" post that is also ultimately about God's goodness to me :)

1. He chooses things like Mozart's 40th Symphony as our soundtrack for Spring cleaning ventures and car trips.

2. He subscribes to and actually reads political journals and publications (ie. he cares about what's happening in Washington and around the world!)

3. He holds me accountable for my time on Facebook and balks when I try to pick up a trashy magazine at the grocery store.

4. Most mornings when I wake up, he's already sitting in our living room praying.

5. He washes dishes every day, without being asked (hearing that water running is convicting, believe me!)

6. He notices when I'm not doing my reading for classes and he, er...encourages me to keep up.

7. He listens to sermons in his free time, just because he wants to! And it's not like he couldn't say, "oh, I get enough theology every week in school and at church."

8. He makes it very difficult for me to slack off during the work day. Once he even made me go back to the office because he thought I left too early for integrity.

9. He is always asking people how he can pray for them; and then he actually does it.

10. He eats healthy. He drinks healthy. And he actually enjoys exercise!

...OK fine, 11 ways!

11. He reads things like The Brother's Karamazov by Dostoevsky for FUN.

Monday, January 24, 2011

This is My Story, This is My Song

When I first started singing classical music, The Lord's Prayer was one of my favorite songs. I admit (to my own mild embarrassment) that Charlotte Church was my first real exposure to "songs for soprano" and I remember thinking, "I didn't know singing like this was an option! This is how I want to sing!" It's probably similar to a woman's thoughts after her first taste of chocolate. Anyway, one day I was in my dad's room singing The Lord's Prayer for him and then he asked me a question I will never forget: "Will you sing this for me at my funeral?"

I know it's a sad way to start a post, but there's a sweet element to this story. I ended up recording the piece ahead of time so I wouldn't have to attempt to sing at his funeral (there's no way that would have happened) but also so that my father could hear it himself. We gave him the recording about a month before he died and he listened to it many times.

The reason I've been thinking about The Lord's Prayer lately is because I'm going to sing it again- this time, for a speaking event held by our seminary; Tim Keller is coming to Dallas to teach on "the Gospel of Peace." I've realized- it's because of that very "Gospel peace" that I could sing words like, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done" as I watched my father's casket be wheeled away. It's because of God's peace that he could say during his last week of life, "don't cry for me. It's ok." It's because of God that we can have peace at all- and peace through even the most heart-wrenching grief of our lives.

This week I've also been thinking about this song as a testament to God's goodness- that the same "gift" I offered up during one of the darkest times of my life is a gift I can offer up now, in a season of pure joy. That He has truly "turned my mourning into dancing" (Ps. 31) but given me the same song to sing. What an opportunity to worship!

God, here is my song, my gift. I'm singing Your Words and I thank you that they're true in moments of delight and in moments of despair. Thank you that I don't need to erase the painful past in order to enjoy the beautiful present. You have all of me, my whole story. You haven't erased my pain, but You've redeemed it, and You've given a new dimension to the song that I sing. And right now I'm thankful for this season of bliss, but I also know that because of who You are, I don't need to fear any future suffering. I know that this peace You give doesn't come from my circumstances- it comes from You in the midst of them.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Better Than Life

My friend recently let me borrow a book called "In the Arena," a biography about a woman named Isobel Kuhn who went to China in the 1920's to tell the Lisu people about the love of God. I've been pouring over this book and loving the story- and thinking about China a lot- because also recently, God gave me a friend in China that I've been sharing with about God's goodness.

On the first night of a conference I recently attended, they gave away a book to the person who came from the furthest away. A white haired lady with a cane walked up to the front and said "I'm from China!" (needless to say, she got the book :) I remember hoping that I'd get to meet and talk with her, but it was a 1600 person conference, so I pretty much didn't count on it. Then on the last morning I went to my usual back row seat and there she was, about to sit down. In my typical overly-caffeinated fashion, I walked up and said "are you Miriam? I want to meet you" and then continued blabbering. I got to sit next to her for the worship service and I was just overwhelmed.

God, the timeless God, loved China in the 20's through people like Isobel Kuhn and He still loves China now through people like Miriam. And this God is so good, so global, and His Gospel so worthy, that an old woman who could very well justify retiring and just quitting at life is still giving herself to the poor, to the lost, to the nations. Psalm 63 says "Your love is better than life". For Miriam, sharing God's love is certainly better than comfort, safety, or even relief from the pain of old age (which we in America so readily expect.) It's "no sacrifice!" In the worship service, we were singing a song about the forgiveness of Christ-

"this the power of the Cross
Christ became sin for us
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the Cross"

I caught a glance at Miriam next to me and saw tears shimmering down her wrinkled face, still smiling. The power of the Cross doesn't fade with time. The Gospel is not just a box to be checked in church one morning. It's the power of God, Love Incarnate, who came to dwell among us; the Perfect One who came near to rescue those who had rebelled and hurt themselves in the process. It's about the unfailing and unending Love that continues to pursue us, protect us, and change us. The power of the Cross is still at work in my life today, tomorrow, and until I leave this earth permanently.

I was so thankful for the example, live and in person, of Miriam- and countless others who have known this God and who have seen it as "no sacrifice" to let go of safety, a comfortable bed, a retirement, or even their own lives in order to share this Love with people who wouldn't hear of it otherwise. "Your love, O Lord, is better than life!"

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cancer and the Cross

Last night when I was close to falling asleep, my husband tip-toed into the room. He had been studying late and was trying not to wake me up- so he was surprised when he quietly snuggled in next to me and I asked, "will you sing me a song?" (He gets that question a lot. When we were dating I'd beg him, and he'd beg me not to make, his response time is seconds!) My mom used to sing to me at night and something about it comforts me.

The song he chose to sing was an old hymn that I haven't heard in a while.

"On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.
But I love that old cross, where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain!
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down.
I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown."

(You can tell it's old, right? :) Anyway, it immediately took me back in time to a conversation I had with my father before he died. He was telling me about a time that he was alone in a hospital bed all day after a surgery (my mom was traveling back home to take care of us kids) and he felt incredibly lonely. He was crying out to God (a bit like Habakkuk!) and just asking to be comforted. Then he told me that the words to this old hymn from his childhood came back to him, and he sang it to himself for hours. He said it was an incredible experience because his spirits were lifted, he forgot his pain, and he felt the kind, caring presence of God. He felt comforted. He asked for God's help and God gave him music- He comforted my dad through singing.

This memory is taut with emotion for me. Remembering my father become increasingly debilitated by cancer- seeing him go from the strong, invincible superhero to a weak, dependent hospital patient was pretty scary for an eleven year old. Moreover, thinking of him having to go through that- even a day of that- completely alone, rips my heart out.

As I laid in bed last night hearing that melody, I began to weep. First I wept at the sadness- my dad, seeing him die, thinking of him alone and in need. But then I began to weep at the beauty- that the words of comfort my Gracious God gave him (and me!) were words of the Cross. It's the image that perfectly portrays the tragedy of all we are- broken, weak, and in need (like my father) mingled with the miracle of all God is- justice, mercy, and love. At the Cross, we are at our lowest moment. Like my father, we are alone, in pain, and at the end of ourselves. And Christ meets us there and suffers for us. He takes our brokenness on Himself and offers us His victory.

In a moment of my father's greatest suffering, Jesus comforted Him with words of His own suffering. Why? He reminded my father that at the Cross, Christ suffered to save the only part of my father that really can be saved. What I mean is even if my father had been healed from cancer, he still would have had to face physical death later. It's the surest thing in all of our lives- we will all die. But we don't need to fear it, and we don't need to despair over it! There is something more than what we see and even what our bodies feel. What comfort!

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, so our inner self is being renewed day by day." -2 Corinthians 4:16

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us." - Romans 8:18

I am learning from my father and clinging to the old, rugged Cross.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Questions for God

Yesterday at church, my world got rocked a little bit. You know when you hear something that you already knew in a way, but it's presented to you again at just the right time and it feels like a revelation?

So we started a sermon series on Habakkuk (if you're thinking, "what's Habakkuk?" you're not alone- it's one of the books in the Bible that contains the writings of a guy named Habakkuk!) which basically starts out with Habakkuk crying out to God about his confusion and frustration.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
...Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?"

Now this guy saw some pretty serious injustice and sin, and he was being honest with God about his confusion in the midst of it all! And this is so different from what we grow up doing. Either we grow up believing in God but we learn to avoid our confusion (hurt, questions, or doubts) because we're afraid people will judge us, or we grow up not knowing God and we continue to avoid God because of our questions, doubts, and concerns. Either way, we let our fear and confusion keep us from deeper relationship with Him!

I have been a Christian for about 15 years, and I still have major issues and questions for God. But that doesn't mean I should run away from my questions, discomfort, or doubt! It means I should lean into them and let God teach me more about Himself! Because here's what I'm learning- I don't have to know it all and understand it all before I can know Him- and I don't have to have it all figured out before I can trust Him.

One way God is teaching me to "lean in" right now is through an area of confusion that has more to do with my own sin and brokenness than with an intellectual qualm. This is such a humbling experience b/c I personally find it's easier to say, "well I'm so smart that I don't easily accept the Bible, or the death and resurrection of Christ, or life after death" etc. etc. than it is to say, "well, I've been following God for a long time and I am still really insecure about these things" or "I am still really afraid of marriage" or "I still have an addiction/I'm codependent/I struggle with rage". Basically, it's easier for us sometimes to put our minds out there for people to dialogue with, but it's a lot harder to put our hearts out there. But God cares for our minds and our hearts, and He is capable of handling both! And so far, I've gained a lot more by being honest about my struggles than by trying to hide them.

Difficult? Yes. Worth it? Yes.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Trust and Unemployment, Part 2

Recently I've blogged a bit about money- trusting in God to provide, etc. And this is so cool- I have a real life story from a real life friend about this! So first of all, this friend of mine actually gives. What I mean by that is she decided to set a goal for herself to try and give away half her income this year, just because she can! In other words, she's not blowing it on Starbucks, Outback, or movies (things I typically blow money on) but she added up what she needs- rent, groceries, etc- and pledged to give the rest away! So in the month of October she gave away all her excess- about $600.

A lot of Americans (including myself) are trained to think, "man, that's stupid. What if something comes up, like she gets sick or a flat tire and needs that money later?" Well, the next month some things did come up. Her brother got sick and came to live with her for about a month. She had to miss quite a bit of work and buy extra groceries to help take care of him. She also heard back from a missions organization that she had been chosen (they only chose one applicant!) to do an exchange in Africa for the next two months. Which means she needed some extra money on hand for a visa and vaccinations- about $600. If only she had been a good American and hoarded her excess!

There are two really cool parts to God's action in all this. Firstly, He provided almost twice the amount of money she had given away in one fell swoop. Secondly, it was in a way that happened to be something out of her wildest dreams! Let me explain. She's a singer and works really hard to audition to sing with different choirs in New York. So in December, she happened to be online the moment she got an email from her DREAM choir, asking her to fill in to perform in one of their most famous productions of the year, for $1040! She doesn't have a smart phone so she usually has to wait to respond to emails until the evening. Because of that, she had missed other offers to sing that month because other people responded first. But if she had gotten those other jobs, she wouldn't have been available for this one- the best paid one- and the one she wanted more than all the others!

So anyway, this isn't a post to say that saving is bad and we should all be irresponsible, throwing money around and then expect our dreams to come true. It's just a really cool example of someone who responded to God's invitation to give, even when it was kind of scary! -and how God still met her needs, just the way He promised.

"Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness- and all these things shall be added unto you"