Monday, March 09, 2015

Demonic Linguistics

Dear Wormwood,

I am writing to commend you on your recent activity down below in the realms of relevance and blogospheres.

My particularly favorite turn of phrase came in a recent interview, where the individual claimed, “Like every generation before and after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the places he’s always been: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.” This is excellent work, my dear Wormwood, worthy of true accolades amongst the word-smithing elites. We must keep as many of the Enemy's words as possible, while questioning, switching, or inverting one or two. Yes, keep the verb looking instead of obeying (or Hell forbid submitting). Maintain those horrifying words of love, inclusivity, community, and even baptism while sucking all the marrow of the definition. Blow, my dear Wormwood, with the pleasant breeze of prosperity or the mighty winds of adversity and eventually watch the breaking of both word and speaker.

This is how it was from the beginning, Wormwood, and you do well to emulate your Master. We must always whisper in the ear, “did he really say?” In the beginning was the Word, and so the beginning of every philosophy and action now not only involves what each individual does with that one Word, but every word thereafter.

Thus, as you have exhibited, we must first divide words from that Word. We must take words like love and sunder them fully from their Referent. Once we have unmoored the boat from the dock, so to speak, we are free to diabolical steering. A particularly effective method here is to continue entrenching in the humans' worldview one of our glorious victories, the Endarkenment, when we presented the utterly ludicrous separation of truth and fact, reason and faith. Because love is no longer moored to anything Other (whereby you understand I am speaking of the Enemy) or factual, it can become entirely relative, allowing us to redefine love as selfish, blindly accepting, and untethered to anything like justice, righteousness, or sacrifice. Because they have lost the standard of sweetness and goodness against which they could understand our artifice, we are free to feed them poisoned filth, their new delicacy! 

Once we have removed that Referent (you know of Whom I speak), and Man considers himself the new Lord of Language (foolish worms! No offense, my dear demon), then we have him. We can parade out the intellectuals who throw empty (but truly artistic) rebuttals at the enemy, reducing him to no more than an anti-intellectual, judgmental, and closed-minded individual (glorious words, these).

What a tremendous victory, my Wormwood! That very sentiment and word that (supposedly) compounded elements, hung gravity, schizemed atoms, hefted waters, moulded hands, and allowed rough iron to pierce that flesh – all to the goal of true love! - has become ours!

Continue your work within the Enemy's own supposed ranks, my dear Wormwood. Use the polished, the learned, the hollowed-out emotionally empathetic to bring along the poor, weak, lonely sheep who – often through the laziness and error of the Enemy's own camp! - have been left by the wayside, no Shepherd, no Word to warn them of the deadly predators right beside them.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Acne & Mini-skirts

I have spent the past two years doing serious reading and research into nutrition, hormones, exercise, and overall health. As I continue to try and connect all these various dots, I have begun to realize that I've likely had some hormonal off-balance for years now. In the past, I would go to the doctor and ask why I got such deep acne, or why I had enough peach fuzz over my face to well enshroud any peach, and he or she would dutifully send me over to the dermatologist, who would give me some face wash or hair remover or cream. But  I now realize that the zits are not the problem - they are merely symptoms of something deep, internal, and complicated.

During a discussion with some youth from church, the topic of being a control-freak surfaced. As a well-trained control freak myself, I listened as they described being controlling of their siblings, academics, etc. Though such manifestations are important to both recognize and treat - like a zit - I encouraged them to delve deeper - figure out what was going on in their souls that was making that particular blemish pop out. At least for me, such manifestations are entrenched in sins of pride, selfishness, and lack of faith in the sovereignty of God. It surfaced in how I dealt with school applications, academics, horseback riding, or my future plans, but I needed to get to the root. In high school, I remember specifically beginning to pray that God would reveal my sin and break me of it. Those are dangerously good prayers, and He has been so faithful to do so. Sometimes it literally meant being driven to my knees (in the case of one disastrous cross-country skiing expedition), but often He had to pry my feeble, clenched fingers off some prized possession. The mighty God of the Universe first helped me see the zits, but then moved far past that into some of the crevices of my soul where sinful bacteria bred.

Modesty - always the hot topic come summer - has been littering news feeds and status updates for a few months now. As Christians, we understand it is important - somehow hefty concepts like purity and holiness and freedom and submission and beauty and love all intersect, but we don't entirely know how. We want to draw lines in the sand, or on bodies, to show exactly where two-inch wide straps should go and the appropriate length of hems. The brutal part about it all is that we are only measuring and evaluating zits - ugly and scar-causing though they may be.

Thus, the two-piece versus one-piece debate becomes rather topical, like slathering some cream over that Rudolph nose. Everyone can see it - everyone wants to talk about it - but what causes it? What causes a young woman to dress in a way that desires attention, versus a young woman who rightly wants to wield the beauty God has given her? God doesn't shirk back from beauty - He laces it through sweet peas and ignites it across the sky and splashes it against coral reefs. Woman is His crowning creation - we are meant to be beautiful. So what happens when a woman feels neglected, nurses bitterness, has deep wells of pride, or even deep wells of father hunger and need not being met in her own father? Often, the acne starts to spread. It might be a few blackheads here and there at first, as a tween, and then it grows ever deeper.  Yet such sins don't manifest themselves only in overly tight jeans or low tops - we need to see the gossiping or lying or manipulation just as quickly as we notice cleavage.

Most likely, what that young woman needs first is not a tank top over that swimming suit, but love and truth and grace. Much like hormone imbalances, it takes time to not only figure out the problem, but remedy it. It's a trial-and-errors mess, but it brings health where there once was sickness, and can even circumvent potentially deadly consequences.

Practical applications of modesty can be beneficial - so can salicylic acid. Often, we need to be trained how to care for our skin and our bodies, like we need to be trained when we walk into Target to buy clothes. But if a young woman desires to honor God and her father, then she will also honor her brothers in Christ.  She need not worry about protecting them - she needs to worry about joyously submitting to the father who has been entrusted to protect her. If a woman can emerge from the fray of this current darkness with a deep-seated humility, faith, joy, and strength in who God is and who He has made her to be, most of the modesty debate will be a non-issue. If she willingly and delightfully rejoices in the beauty God has made and wants to showcase Him instead of Herself, her face will shine like the noonday with purity and fierce beauty.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Frozen Princess-hood

A dear family friend took the older girls and me to see Disney's new Frozen. The animation is spectacular, the characters likable, the comic relief genuinely funny, and the music top-notch. Now, I love me some Broadway-belting songs, archetypal explorations of familial relationships, and cute reindeer, but it left something missing. As I have rolled this snowball about in my mind for a few days, I've landed on some observations of the movie as a whole that relate to my current quest to reclaim the Princess for my daughters.

At the core of this story are two sisters - one with an inborn ability to control ice and cold, and the other one plain-ol' boring, except for her remarkable love for a sister who, through a series of events, is shut away from her for almost their entire childhood. The parents mess up royally in this one, not only by how they treat the older sister's abilities, but also in their choice of sea-faring vessel. In short, they tell the older sister (Elsa) that she must ignore her abilities, be a good girl, and wear gloves.

It all blusters up eventually, and Elsa leaves the kingdom, delivering the movie's best show-tune as she finally lets her powers go, takes off the gloves, and builds an ice palace in the mountains, 'cause the cold never bothered her anyway. The song, which is on permanent repeat in my head, is all about "letting go" and "giving in." Thus Elsa does, complete with guard-abominable-snowman, until she plunges the whole kingdom into ice. She isn't mean - she isn't evil - and she wouldn't hurt anyone. Except she does...and her sister adventures to find Elsa and convince her to bring back summer, and we get a nice slide to the end where love is the answer and the flowers bloom.

Here's the problem. "Love is the answer" is correct, on the surface. But crack through that surface-layer and you actually need something underneath. As a reviewer pointed out - not in complaint but observation - there is no antagonist in this movie. You have a few minor villains, sure, but no central Voldemort or Sauron or Maleficent. Shoot, I would even take an inept dentist with a penchant for snorkeling off the reef. But the plot-driver of the whole movie is the conflict between the sisters, and Elsa's inability to harness her powers. 

And that just doesn't work. For love to be legit, there must be a villain, and there must be a hero. Post-Modern storytellers just love to tout hollowed-out love and throw it onto everything like magical fairy dust....Voldemort couldn't kill Harry? Love! You want to wear skinny jeans and smoke marijuana and be okay? Love! And Disney tries it here, but just like in the other instances, it is a pale and brittle shadow of the original. Our story-lines have become those toy horses who lay in a heap until someone pulls the strings taunt and they rise to life. But no one is really trusting those bad boys to stay up, let alone carry the day.

But the answer is love. Define your terms. Love as incarnated in the form of a tiny baby who held the Universe within His might and clung to a human girl for sustenance. This baby came knowing there was a villain, and knowing that evil and death could only be abolished through love. And self-control is central to love, not just 'letting go' and accepting your abilities as though that is the ultimate good. Sure, accept your abilities, and then hone them. Beat them into submission. Lay them down. Take them up and die a thousand deaths every day as those gifts get worn and battered unto others.

Being a true princess, like being a true knight, is not embracing the post-modern putridity about loving yourself and accepting who you are. Christ lay in a dirty barn and hung upon splintered wood so that He might love you into God accepting who you are. The fight is not some disembodied misunderstanding between two people that ends in sappy, water-colored dance, but against the powers of this present darkness, and a fight for joy and love and courage and sacrifice against a seemingly insurmountable foe who has been crushed. What do real princesses look like? They are the daughters of the Most High King who scrub floors with strong arms and sing into darkness, who face cruelty and judgement and hatred with humility and kindness, who grow up and marry their Prince Charming and then get down to the real business of it all. The cold doesn't bother them not because they have accepted it, but because it can't touch their light. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Response to Extroverted Introvertednism

There has been some talk about a certain post and debate about whether people are actually introverted or extroverted - if introversion is just a sin - if we should even apply such secular terms to people like objective, subjective, introverted, etc. I am sure the conversation will continue, and it should, but I realized one of the reasons I liked said post was because I related with her, but interpreted and applied her words quite differently than what was actually written. I'm trained in such matters.

That said, I did have a few thoughts about being an introvert, because I really am one, and I think it's a legitimate classification of people, though a sorry mask to hide behind.

1. Being an Introvert is not a sin
This necessitates definition of terms. If you are defining an introvert as someone who doesn't like people, only wants to be alone, and wanders about wearing skinny jeans and darkly musing upon the internal workings of the psyche, then yes, it is a sin. However, as I have learned about introversion over the years, I think the best definition of an introvert is someone who tends to be drained by people (versus being enlivened by them, which is typically true of an extrovert). They are also people who (generally) process privately and spend a lot of time working through things internally. When the fan starts blowing and stuff starts flying, they want to retreat, muse, study, write, draw, play music, whatever. Individuals like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and even David had some degree of introvertedness.

2. Pick Your Battles Wisely
That said, God consistently pushed these men into very public, social, daily, draining interaction and life-on-life battering. That is what He does with introverts...He does other things with the point is, recognize you tendencies and the potholes that come with them, and get over yourself. When you have three little girls climbing all over you and trying to teach you about the alphabet on a calculator and reaching new heights of verbal scale practice, your first response is retreat. Don't do it. As an introvert, tottering on the edge of social overload is NOT the time to lock your kids outside or in their rooms. It's a time to breathe, pray, and press on. Sure, you might need five minutes, and there is no shame in that, but that is only to re-engage. Die to self. Pray for grace. Pick up those weights again and keep going. It will make you stronger. You don't naturally feel inclined to play games? Feeling guilt over that inclination is silly, but not getting off the couch to pour some time into a person who wants to play Monopoly is plain selfish.

3. Do Use What God Has Given
Internal processors are great, and not just in your computer. That need to be alone can be good, as Christ exhibited, but not at the cost of others. Ask, why do you want to escape? From what? Is the fire feeling a little too hot? Maybe you are supposed to lean in. Is the race wearing you down? Maybe you need to push to the next mile marker. But sometimes, we do need the quiet. The quiet can produce amazing poetry, songs, sweet fellowship with our Lord and Savior, prayers and petitions, wisdom and insight.

As an introvert, you need to resist the temptation to waste that introspection on selfishness, sin, or wandering tales of fancy. Christ used His time to fellowship with His Father, and so must we. For an introvert, your time alone must not be self-serving, but a brief time of rest, regrouping, and refocusing to reenter the fray with grace and joy. Don't reach a breaking point mid-way through the day - wake-up early and feed your soul in the quiet of the morning with the Word and prayer. Don't fritter away school breaks or nap times with Facebook feeds, but truly use that time to refresh. Picks some weeds, sing a song, run a race, even watch a show. Introverts might need a little more time regrouping behind the lines, but it's only to fight the battle with more strength and focus.

When you come home from a tiring day and just want to collapse on the couch and turn on a show, sit down on the couch and draw a kid on your lap. When you have had too much drama and touching and chaos, pray. When all you want to do is escape from your children and have some time, ask your husband if you can have an evening out with a girlfriend....and then jump on your kids the next morning. When you have nothing left at the end of a grueling day, ask the Lord to help you give the very best to your husband. He controls all the energy of the universe. He maintains super-novas and migratory geese. A little extra energy? He's got that.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cake and Arrows

There is something unique in living where you got married. The landscape changes with your life - for us, the trees and the light strings are gone, and a new house sits on our ceremony location. Laughter fills new hallways that connect two homes and two generations together - the two have literally becomes three little ones who dance to television show music where we stood nine years ago. Where the cake was cut, a playhouse now stands. One of the roses we planted has died, but the other thrives across the arbor.

The benefit to such living is it forces your vision from a still frame into a movie camera. The shots are there in memory, but also changing, morphing, fading, and growing more crisp. Right now we are in an intense season of trench work with three little ones who, for the most part, are still dependent on us for all of their needs. Our marriage was like a bow and quiver getting together, and now we have some arrows to manage. When you dream of your wedding and then your marriage,  often you are standing upon a grassy knoll, the golden sunlight of late July slicing through airy clouds, a meadowlark singing, and target practice with perfectly straight arrows twanging across a slight breeze.

It is not like that - it happens in the aisles of Target, the seats of minivans. Right now we are studying our arrows. What is this one made out of? Do you see that little bend in the shaft? We need to teach that little arrow how to work with that, or it's going to veer wildly off course when it's launched. What in the world is the arrow doing? Don't eat that! Why is one arrow biting the other arrow? We are in the process of cutting the wood, honing the shaft, shaping the heads. We have been given three very different bits of eternal raw material watching us with very big, blue eyes. Thank God the Master Craftsman is directing our fumbling fingers!

Because right now, we are making arrows. In a few years, we're going to notch them on the string. Then, we're going to pull back. There will be some tension, as the arrow gets ready to fly, but holding, holding,holding.... twang. Our arrows aren't meant to hang on our wall, stay in our quiver, or plunk down at our feet. The bow needs to be strong - a faithful father who pours into his wife, into his children, looks for ways to serve and wash grime from in-between un-manicured toes and faces the battle head-on. The quiver needs to be steady, nurturing, loving, bold, unafraid, supportive. They need to work together - and the arrow needs to be ready. Not to soar upon a rose-scented breeze, but to drive with deadly accuracy into the fray of this present darkness.

One of my students was chuckling about me having three daughters and how crazy that was. I looked right at him and said, "well, when you grow up, you will have a boat. When I grow up, I will have three game-changers." Thank goodness the cake canopy is gone, and the target is clear.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The ZEAL of Marriage

Zealously Pursue the Lord. Romans 12:11 & Revelation 3:19
  • Live near the cross and the empty tomb. We are called to weep both tears of sorrow and joy in our walk, but everything about loving our husbands is founded on and empowered by the work of Christ.

  • Read your Bible first thing every day. Then, read good books. I know you don't 'have' to read your Bible every day, nor at a certain time, but I have to get some Bible and prayer into me before the kraken are released.

  • Pray. In the quiet and in the whirlwind. Work for times of solitude that are devoted to prayer, and pray every moment of exhilaration and discussion and the second time someone's elbow sends a full glass of milk to the floor.

  • Fight for satisfaction in Him alone. The loneliest people are married ones. Don't find your greatest joy, hope, purpose, beauty, or identity in your husband. Fight - and it will be just that at times - to root yourself in Christ alone. As your love for Christ flourishes, your love of your husband will abound.

  • Find a church family, wherever you are, for however long, and put down deep roots.

  • Find an older woman. Let her see your mess. It will grow you.

  • Find a younger woman. Let her see your mess. It will grow you in a different way.

Ennoble your husband. Proverbs 12:4
  • Speak respectfully of him. Sometimes, don't speak at all. The Proverbs 31 wife probably could have destroyed her husband's reputation with the city leaders - wives have that ability. In a culture where husband-bashing is an up-and-coming Olympic event, purpose to speak highly of him. Build him up. Sometimes, that means not saying anything.

  • Be the Trophy Wife. You have found wonderful love and acceptance for who you are - regardless of make-up, clothing, or fitness. But still try. Do it for him.

  • Trust the Lord to sanctify your husband. Be patient. When something is irritating you, pray first. Ask the Lord to convict him. Work at sitting back and waiting on the Lord.

  • Pray for him every day.You are his greatest cheerleader and prayer warrior. This is serious work. Get to it.

  • Pursue him physically and delight in your beloved. Be delighted in. Depending on who you are, one side of this is harder. But it is central to your marriage.

  • Think positively of him throughout the day. There is no better way to destroy intimacy and desire for your husband than to let little nagging annoyances crowd your mind. Build your anticipation for him coming home and spending time with him by fostering thankful thoughts and prayers throughout the day.

Adorn the Gospel. Titus 2:10
  • Titus 2 says that what you do in your home - at Walmart - on the phone - either beautifies the Gospel or smears filth all over it. Your attitude, from a kid giving herself a haircut to the stomach flu to meltdowns in play areas, matters. This is Kingdom work.

  • So repent often. Repent first. This is a huge area God is refining in me. Really say you are sorry, name the sin, ask for forgiveness, and turn to the good. 

  • Put flesh to your husband's provision. Just as Christians are the hands and feet of Christ through the Church, so too are wives and mothers often the hands and feet of their husband's provision. He earns money, and you 'incarnate' that into a great dinner, or red sparkly shoes, or watercolor paints. So give like He gives - brilliant petals on spring trees that aren't really necessary, or a million varieties of ants, or chocolate.

  • Pursue ministry. Start at home, but don't stop there.

  • Discuss. Disagree. Submit with a happy heart...that last bit is the hardest.

  • Your body and soul are meant to be worn and used. Give them joyfully. We are not to be preserved. Wrinkles and stretch marks and muffin tops are glorious. Give freely, lift some weights, but know that these are only our peanut shells. Our little clay pots are being worn out into eternal, brilliant glory.

Laugh. A Lot. Proverbs 11:25 & Ecclesiastes 3
  • Make your home a haven. Decorate in a way your husband enjoys. Greet him at the door with a kiss. Get candles in his favorite scent, watch the shows he loves, and enjoy what he enjoys. Even if it is basketball.

  • Enjoy your children. Really.

  • Give extravagantly. Start with your time. Give like Christ has given to you.

  • Don't take yourself too seriously. Seriously.

  • Enjoy the process - dishes, laundry, travel, packing, dirty diapers, weeds, meals that inevitably need to be made. He has given you the ability the enjoy this abundant life. And don't forget, blessings aren't always butterflies and kittens. Sometimes they hit you like a hail-storm.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Sin of Beauty

Beauty crises abound. From without, we are bombarded with falsified images of perfection, ads for cosmetic surgery on religious radio stations, and young girls who struggle with a fleet of issues from eating disorders to depression. From within, we have young Christian girls ping-ponging between what they see externally, and the standard of love and beauty somewhat disjointedly presented to them through kitsch devotions for girls and self-help books about belovedness, dust-jacketed with women flitting airily in the breeze.

I have struggled with self-image for as long as I can remember. I was always tall for my age, certainly, and if not overweight than simply solid. There was that horrible time of perms and bangs, and I did not discover what a hair dryer was until late high school. My idea of fashion was a t-shirt, worn jeans, and my trusty pair of Birkenstocks. From a physical perspective, my foibles made sense, but I also came from a loving and close-knit family, with an amazing father who supported and upheld and encouraged me. For all those who, rightly, point the finger to missing fathers (be they absent or abdicating), my case does not fit. To make sense of me, we could certainly riffle around a bit in my psychological past, but that is about as profitable as sifting through a garbage dump. Sure, you might find something, but it's only a rotten bit of apple core.

I was discussing this topic with a friend the other day and chuckling about how illogical it all is. I had a father who constantly told me of my worth. If I had been aware, I would have realized that people did like me through high school, though I never dated anyone. If I had not been blinded by my own sin, I could have chuckled along with my college roommates about the ridiculous stories involving men from Home Depot. Thankfully, God redeemed even those stories by writing one amazing man into them.

And, buried back in that paragraph, is the point. It was sin, and it made me stupid. It wasn't poor self-esteem, body-image, or never being desired. It wasn't even a lack of grasping the facts about God and His creation (though more to come on that). A few years back, our youth pastor at the time preached a retreat on repentance. There, he defined it as a turning from the sin to the good.The first step, then, for those who struggle with this – or have been blessed with daughters who will surely do so at some point – is to recognize 'poor self-esteem' as a sin. In terms of specifics, you can label it any number of ways. Idolatry is a good place to begin. It is setting up a false image of beauty in place of God's definition and revelation, and seeking to find satisfaction in that idolatrous image of worldly smut. It is allowing those magazine racks to define you and your terms, and not the Word Himself. You could add some more sins onto this, but suffice to say, the moment I realized this was sin that needed confessing, things began to change.

But you have to complete the turn. Confessing it was the first half – turning to the thing of Beauty itself was the second. How could I understand beauty if I was only staring at myself, and then turning my gaze to false images? I spent the whole time thinking of how I was beloved, I was created beautifully, I was a princess. Too many personal pronouns in those thoughts. As I started to round the turn, I realized how little I was enamored with Christ. What did I know of His beauty, holiness, belovedness as the second member of the Trinity? What did I know of the beauty of the Trinity – its delight in itself – its creativity and relationship and solidarity and fellowship (and the list goes on to eternity). The more I focused on God and His revealed beauty through creation and Scripture and relationships and the cross and the empty grave and the Church, the more my old struggles faded. And, the more my beloved husband both encouraged and accepted me – giving much grace, the easier it has become.

Ultimately, it is all rooted in Christ's grace and power and sanctifying work. Those old lies are still there. It is a different fight now – one of realizing my body is made to be worn-out and used into the truest of beauties, like a well-worn baseball glove or one of those tables made of old barn siding that everyone likes on Pinterest. It is recognizing stretch marks and wrinkles are Kingdom work. I am not meant to preserve external beauty here, but instead, have those same wrinkles swallowed up in a glorious, radiant internal and external beauty that will dwarf the sun itself.