The Great Weaver: A Story with a Punchline

 

To bestow on them

a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called

oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:3

Last week I shared this verse as one of several to which God had pointed me recently. He has not stopped leading me back this powerful verse. I share my journey as an example of how God uses His Word to weave our lives together, one to another. My hope is that this story will resonate with others striving to hear God more clearly in their own lives.

Strong Roots

My sons and a couple of their friends have unified in prayer recently, and I shared the passage above with them as a daily verse. I was unfamiliar with it before attending She Speaks last summer. There I met a woman who was so strongly rooted in faith you could feel God’s Spirit on her. In our speakers’ small group she spoke of how God had used this verse to restore her “oil of joy” following the death of her son.

She shared in a recent phone conversation that she had not planned to speak on that verse. She had prepared another message and was frustrated that the Spirit was pushing her so strongly in this direction. She found it encouraging to learn that her message had become a source of comfort and inspiration to others.

While I was still on the phone with her I received a text from another She
SIsaiah 61:3peaks friend who had just purchased a ring a few days prior inscribed with, you got it, Isaiah 61:3. When she saw last week’s post referencing this verse she knew it was more than coincidence.

Tiny Acorns

Following She Speaks I published a post called, “May I Have a Word Please?” about how God had given me a word at the conference to focus my ministry for the coming year; it was brokenhearted. It’s a word that appears only twice in the Bible: In Isaiah 61:1 and in Luke 4:18 when Jesus proclaims an “Amen” over it, claiming Isaiah’s prophesy for himself:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted

I have remained open to the relevance of this word in my life, and realized that brokenhearted connects me with parents whose children are hurting. The pain over a child’s suffering is far deeper than anything we as parents experience directly.

How like God it is to introduce me to this notion through a woman who survived the ultimate heart break of losing her child. God’s promise in verse 3 is rooted in His desire to heal the brokenhearted.

Mighty Oaks on the Rise

When my sons and their friends embarked on this recent prayer journey I encouraged them with James 5:16:

The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.

I challenged them to consider how powerful and effective their prayers could be together since they are all righteous men. As I looked more closely at Isaiah I realized that they, and the friend for whom they are praying, are being grafted together through this experience:

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

And Now for the Punchline

So from the mighty oak of a woman of faith to me, an acorn by comparison; and from me, like all parents, called to be an oak of faith to my children and their friends, rising oaks in the faith.

God’s word is alive and active in those who believe in him. As we share His word and pray together, God works beneath the surface to bless and refine us all, individually, and relationally with others and Himself. You can feel all the layers of stories happening in this one verse, can’t you?

The end for now is to remind us that we are part of God’s grand design. We see only our small piece at the moment, but God is a grand weaver, crafting a divinely intricate tapestry through our lives and the lives of others. We are threads held together by His Word.

In contemplating this metaphor I researched weaving terminology, wanting to know the word that refers to the starting point of the tapestry, metaphorically, the origin of God’s grand design. And it is this:

Cross

The figure eight made at one end of the group of warp threads used to keep those threads in order during the threading and sleying process of dressing the loom.

God’s grand design stretches to infinity (represented by the figure eight), and it always begins at the cross.

tapestry of the cross

About the Crown

crown of life

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

I shared this verse with a friend who is facing a difficult season of trial recently…and God’s promise stuck in my craw. I thought to myself, “How would I receive this verse in such a time? Would I find comfort is some ethereal promise of a ‘crown of life’? What the heck is that anyway, and is it tangible and powerful enough to fortify me in times of trouble?”

To be frank, I actually somewhat regretted sharing the verse; I figured if such a promise was lost on me it would come across to my friend as one of those Christian euphemisms that doesn’t apply to present reality.

I haven’t seen anyone in a crown lately, and I would probably laugh if I did. After all, a crown is not something an American gives weight or value to; we are rebels of the crown.

It’s in these times that God is like the Verizon guy for me, putting  the notion of crown in front of me relentlessly every day since, and whispering, “Can you hear me now?” Both in my own reading of the Word and as part of my Bible study I’ve encountered crowns everywhere I turn:

  • Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10
  • I am coming soon. Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. Revelation 3:11
  • He has sent me …to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:2-3

There are several Greek words used to refer to crown. The one used in all of these texts except Isaiah is stephanos, which refers to a literal crown, a mark of royal or exalted rank, the wreath or garland given as a prize to victors in public games and “the eternal blessedness which will be given as a prize to the genuine servants of God and Christ: the crown (wreath) which is the reward of the righteousness.”

The other words for crown are nezer which refers to consecration and priestly separation, also a woman’s hair; and diadema, which was a blue band marked with white and worn as a turban by Persian kings. It is similar to the word used in Isaiah, pe’er, or turban.

If this is all Greek to you, let me share with you what God has shown me this week. In 1 Corinthians 9:25 Paul teaches:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Our lives are defined by striving and competing, whether as students, athletes, professionals, parents or in other roles. Whatever vocation you’ve been called to it is human nature to execute and excel to the fullest of your potential, and when you’ve hit your max to buckle down with discipline in order to increase your potential.

The question becomes “Why?” Why do you do what you do? Why do you strive so hard? Where do you find your reward? (I can already hear the whispers of conviction gaining strength as the dots begin to connect.)

When I strive for a worldly crown I typically come up short of the mark, not capturing the grade, title, salary or recognition I hope will validate my worth.

On the other hand when my striving is to serve the Lord I am showered in His abundance. For example, God recently called me to lead a small group in prayer. Like manna in the desert God is faithful to provide a scripture passage daily that aligns with the need at that time and focuses us in unity. The process of studying His word and meditating on it with “other-centeredness” stokes my endorphins more than any race I’ve run.

Do you remember when you were a child and you did something that delighted your parents? I remember those moments as some of the happiest of my childhood. It was the joy of pleasing them, of feeling their joy wash over me, and experiencing a sense of accomplishment by earning the approval of the only authorities who mattered in my life at that time.

That is what God invites us into with his offer of the crown of life, the stephanos. Whatever it is He is calling you to do today, whether to serve, to witness to another, to persevere and endure, or to soar, look to Him as you do so.

What you will see is a Father who delights in you, who approves of you and whose joy will wash over you in trial or tribulation because of His great love for you, his very precious child. That is the true, unmatched and unsurpassable pleasure available to us in this life, and miraculously offered.

crown of life

  • What is the motivation for your choices, activity and words today?
  • What is God calling you to do today?
  • What would it look like if you made God’s delight the goal of your work, suffering or service?
  • Will you allow yourself to feel His pleasure and lower your head to accept the gift of His crown of life?

 

And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown (stephanos) of thorns, and put it about his head.

Mark 15:17

Part 3: The Prodigal Returns

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.

Luke 15: 20

Faithful Expectation

The father of the prodigal son has just spotted his boy. Can’t you just see the silhouette on the horizon, indistinguishable to any but the one who gave him life? It’s not dumb luck that he happened to look out at just the right moment. You know this man had gazed at that horizon longingly, and without reward, for days on-end.

When your child is distant from you — physically, emotionally, mentally or all three — the pain of the separation is palpable. This is true under the best of circumstances (See On Roots and Wings), and even more true in the worst of times. As you abide the stranger in your midst, you seek any sign of the babe you once held in your arms, the toddler who clung to your legs, the child who leaned on you — and struggle to remain faithful that he will resurface eventually.

Joy of Redemption

Imagine if, as the boy looked toward home, the shadow he saw in the distance was of his father standing with arms crossed and foot tapping? Would he have persevered?

Fortunately his father didn’t need a close-up look to know his son had been through the ringer. Jesus tells us the sight of the boy filled his father with compassion. In Greek the word is splagchnizomai; it literally means “to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity).” I think of it as shaken to his core.

This father recognizes what a journey his son has endured to reach home. Without needing  to know the sordid details he instinctively knows that his son is hurting. There will be time later for wisdom, lessons learned and even for consequences. In this moment this Daddy didn’t need to think about the right thing to do; his heart led the charge with complete abandon! He threw off his shoes, hiked his robes and:

prodigal son
credit: rationalfaiths.com

…ran, and fell on his neck,

and kissed him.

What a beautiful image. This is “throw-yourself-in-front-of-a-bus” love. Don’t you know that father knocked his son to the ground and smothered him with kisses? Wouldn’t you?!

Now imagine the son’s reaction. He had dragged his feet for miles, remembering the things his father had taught him, lessons he had cast aside with the same reckless abandon that he was now being loved.

Betrayed and wounded so many times since rejecting this man, he must have been afraid to trust the resplendent, lavish love pouring over him in this moment, for he stuck to his script, acknowledging his wrongdoing and asking only for the bare minimum needed to sustain himself.

Redemptive Restoration

But his father’s love is so much more than sustaining; it’s abundant. He can’t wait to fulfill the dream he has held close since the moment he lost his son. “Quickly” he instructs his servants, and requests a robe, ring and shoes for his son. The robe in which he cloaks his son denotes primacy; the father immediately restores his place as first son. He adorns his hand, the source of authority, with a ring, and binds his feet, the same feet that took him so far from home, in shoes to protect him from harm.

When challenged about his response by his other son the father is unequivocal about both his emotion and the wisdom of his decision:

We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours

was dead and is alive again;

he was lost and is found.

Luke 15:32

Living with the End in Mind

Jesus’s parable has a quick and happy ending; he conveys the entire story in just 21 sentences and leaves us to fill in the gaps.

If you have walked — or are walking — the path with a prodigal child it’s the gaps that get you:

  • The nights of not knowing where she is or if she is safe
  • The days spent in hostile silence with the stranger in your home
  • The months spent allowing the consequences to roll in even as your child takes his first, tentative steps in the right direction, and the fear that too many may knock him back down
  • The frustration of continued stumbles, just as you thought she was moving in the right direction
  • The grief in your heart for your lost child, grappling against the hope that he’ll re-emerge

Perhaps you are standing staring at the horizon, waiting on your child’s return. What can you do in the meantime? I think there are three roles as a parent that are meaningful and valuable in such a season:

Pray

First and most importantly, intercede for your child in prayer. There are two instances in the New Testament where parents implore Jesus on their children’s behalf. In both cases their children are possessed (and if you’re parenting a prodigal this thought has probably crossed your mind, more than once if you’re honest!) In Matthew 15:22 a mother comes to Jesus about her daughter. “Then Jesus said to her:

Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

In Mark 9 a father says to Jesus of his son, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” ‘If you can’?” Jesus replies. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaims, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus said to his apostles of this possession:

This kind can come out only by prayer.

I firmly believe God uses such times as these to refine our faith. Cry out to God in the same honest, plaintive voice as this parent, ““I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  Let God use your faithfulness on your child’s behalf to enrich your own walk with the Lord.

Remind Your Child How God Sees Her

Even as they grow up children care deeply about how they look in their parents’ eyes. Shame over their mistakes and fear of being labeled a “problem child” deceive many a prodigal to not look toward home.  Remind your child who she is in God’s eyes and your own. One practical way to do this is to give your child scripture passages that speak of God’s love for his children, personalized with your child’s name:

For God so loved [name] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Love Unconditionally

And finally love unconditionally. The most important gift you can give your child is the unconditional love that you have been given first by God. Knock him over with your love and kiss him all over. Make sure he knows that nothing he has done or ever will do could change how much you love him.

There will be time for truth and most of it will arrive on its own accord. Your role now is to make sure it is covered in grace, the same grace you received:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

Hope

Sadly not every prodigal returns home. Not every parent is blessed to be able to lavish his child in hugs and kisses again. As you walk in faith, hope and love and wait on a child that remains far from home, hold this promise close to your heart:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called

according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Read this series from the beginning.

Part 2: The Prodigal Departs (Here come the consequences.)

rock bottom

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. Luke 15:14-16

We all are rebels at heart. No doubt you can recall, probably with a rush of adrenalin, the night you snuck out of your parents’ house and sped down the highway in the family car, stars blazing in the clear night sky, and the cool wind invigorating the ride. Or, the time you kissed  that boy your mother forbade you to see, only to discover the unexpected sweetness of forbidden fruit. Maybe it was the intoxication of drinking or smoking for the first time, the heady, out-of-body sensations carrying you and your friends to a temporarily altered reality.

Such moments — and the fact that we outgrew them — blur the boundary between when our children are acting out in typical teenage rebellion, and when they have crossed over into more ominous territory that threatens to delay, disrupt or derail their development into functioning young adults.

While the prodigal son believes he is ready for his freedom and independence, his choices indicate otherwise. It is not long before he squanders everything and begins to experience need. He is slowly awakening to his deeper-seeded poverty. He begins to look backward and forward for sources of support.

He knows that talk of his recent stunts has reached his family’s neighbors by now; even without hearing the whisper campaign he knows what’s being said, and he resents being labeled a problem child.

He considers his friends back home, but realizes he has fallen behind his former peers. Maybe it’s because his grades dropped as a result of his distraction, or because his friends understandably closed ranks after being repeatedly let down. Defying the rejection he turns elsewhere to try to close the gap.

What he finds is someone identified only as “a citizen.” Jesus tells us that he “joins himself to” this individual. The Greek word for this, kollaō,  means to cleave to, to glue together. But this is a citizen of a depraved land; the son soon learns the difficult lesson that people cannot give what they have not received. When he leans on this friend for support, he is thrown to the pigs. To make matters worse it appears that no one notices or cares to come to his rescue.

and no one gave him anything.

This is rock bottom; the pig pen providing a blunt metaphor for the Jewish audience to whom Jesus is telling this story. Having rejected his family, abandoned the friends of his youth and squandered his resources, the son is betrayed by someone he thought was his friend. He has no where to turn and no one to turn to. Jesus doesn’t specify how much time has passed, probably because the journey to the bottom is not a temporal one.

One of my husband’s mantras to our children is, “When you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging.”

rock bottom

Yet it seems that when our kids find themselves in a bad situation they inevitably do the opposite: they dig faster and faster until they are too exhausted to dig anymore.

And that is a good thing. Exhaustion often is the catalyst to revival. Rebellion is exhausting. Rejection is exhausting. Being in need is exhausting. Can’t you just picture this boy, the perfect symbol for every one of us in a state of sin, sitting in his own squalor: dirty with shame and guilt, starving for nourishment of his body and soul, isolated from everyone and everything that he once valued?

No parent wants to see his child in that situation. But the wise father knows that to rescue his son prematurely, to grab that shovel and yank the boy out of that hole, will only result in him digging a new and deeper one. Regardless of how tempting it may be, this child needs to experience the full burden and consequences of his choices before he will turn around for good.

I believe the Lord makes us parents so we can get a glimpse of His relationship with us as our eternal Father. How many times have we refused to stop digging until the consequences, the pain and the separation from our Father compound beyond what we can bear? It’s only then that we come back to our senses and begin to yearn for home.

Start at the beginning: Part 1: The Prodigal Arrives

Read the final part of the series: Part 3: The Prodigal Returns

Part 1: The Prodigal Arrives

parenting the prodigal

There was a man who had two sons.The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Luke 15:11-12

Jesus begins the legendary story of the prodigal son abruptly. Without context or foreshadowing we are dropped into the middle of a family in crisis. A family that once was functioning suddenly is not: The younger son has rejected his father’s authority and requested his inheritance, in essence declaring his father dead to him.

First Appearances

Let’s pause briefly. If you have been called to parent a prodigal you can relate to what just happened here. It is that moment, the one where you are confronted with information about your child that challenges everything you thought you knew. Perhaps it is:

  • the website you accidentally found on the computer
  • the cut that can’t be accidental
  • the unexpected conversation with a friend’s parent
  • the call from the principal or the police

Only in retrospect do you see it coming. Until that moment trust and unconditional love obscure the darkness you later realize had been creeping in along the edges for some time.

First Response

It appears that the father divides his property between his sons without protest, handing over half of his estate to his rebellious child.

If you’re like me at this point you’re thinking, “Well no wonder he’s rebelling if you’ve indulged him like that all these years?”

But this is Jesus telling the story; certainly there is more going on. In verse 12 the son requests ousia, the Greek word for property, possessions and estate. “The part that falls to him” comes from two words: meros which means destiny and epiballō which means what belongs to me, my share. So it roughly reads like:

The son asked for what was coming to him.

So does the father gives him what he asks for? Not quite. His father gives him the Greek word bios, translated life or that by which life is sustained. And herein lies the paradox of parenting: Little paradigms of the Fall our children rebel against our authority, demanding gifts they haven’t earned, oblivious to their selfishness or its cost. This tension is depicted beautifully in Shel Silverstein’s classic, The Giving Tree.

parenting a prodigal

 

 

 

 

 

The Consequences

The father could have said, “No, go to your room.” After all it is clear the boy is not in his right mind. But the father appears to value his son’s freedom to love – or not – more than he values his desire to experience that love. Or stated another way if the father holds his son captive to his will he risks losing his heart.

Alternatively, he could have kicked him out and disowned him. But that seems premature as there is no indication this was a pattern — quite the contrary — it appears to come out of no where. Perhaps the father recognized this as a temporary, if necessary, season of refinement.

His response is the only one truly available: He grants his son’s request. He gives him his life, his freedom and the accountability for the consequences that go with them. Shortly thereafter we learn:

…the younger son packed up everything he owned and left for a foreign country, where he wasted all his money in wild living. Luke 15:13

You have to believe the father saw this coming.

Yet here is where the power of the father’s true inheritance  — his bios — is made manifest. While his son quickly squandered his ousia, his worldly wealth, he could not touch the eternal wealth reserved in escrow for him: the faith, hope and love deposited in his son’s heart from the day he was born. The wise father knew these were the resources that would sustain his son and ultimately draw him home again.

The Application

  • Are you intentional about investing for your children’s futures not with worldly wealth, but with the enduring riches of faith, hope and love?
  • Do you allow your children to experience the rightful consequences of their actions and choices, appropriate to their ages and maturity?
  • Do you assure them, especially in times of need, of your unwavering, unconditional love ?

If you answer yes to these questions, then when your children enter seasons of rebellion, be they short or long, you can wait, like the wise father, with hope and confidence that the seeds you sowed will draw your child back home.

Please feel free to share your experiences of parenting your child through a prodigal season.

Read Part 2: The Prodigal Departs: Here Come the Consequences

What Say You?

child of god

Today’s story begins at the very beginning…in the moment that God shifted from being into doing, specifically creating.God said

Unlike Gary Larson’s classic depiction in The Far Side, the God of the Bible created with His words not His hands. Ten times we read “God said” (Genesis 1: 3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28 and 29) and five times He names what he has made, “God called” (Genesis 1: 5, 8 and 10). And in a magnificent “tri-alogue” God even imagines and speaks us into existence:

Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness….

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1: 26-27

What does it mean to be made “in His own image”? Do we resemble the Maker of the universe in ways that resemble having our Father’s eyes? As a writer and a lover of words I have learned one important answer to this question:

We share in the mystical, creative power of words.

Word Power

Let me say it again: Our words, the ones we speak and write daily, often with little consideration, have the power to bring ideas to life. Words form an invisible bubble that floats unformed, unshaped elements of thought across the frontiers of our mind across and into the temporal world.

One example of this that always comes to my mind is when President Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gates and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Until that moment the idea itself was inconceivable. And, people in the know considered even saying it a significant risk to the fragile relationship with the Soviet leadership.

Yet against those odds Reagan spoke the words, words that birthed an idea, and the idea took root in the hearts and minds of some of its listeners. Then, just two years later, the wall that had stood for 20 years — dividing the free from the captive, mothers from children and the very heart of a country — came tumbling down.

I know what you’re thinking, “Those words were uttered by the leader of the free world. Of course they had the power to create change.” Yet I tell you:

The power of words to create monumental change emanates not from the speaker, but from the life-giving truth the words contain.

Learning to Respect the Power We Possess 

Men speak an average of 7,000 words a day; women nearly triple that at 20,000, that is two-and-a-half hours a day of straight talk, ladies. Another startling fact is that every two days we generate more information than was created from the beginning of recorded time through 2013.

What would the world look like if we began today to live our lives with acute awareness of the power we possess in our words? For starters it quickly would be a much quieter place.

Several years ago at Bible Study Fellowship the teaching leader paraphrased Matthew 12:34 saying,

The words you use show the condition of your heart.

I took her at her word and checked the condition of my  heart. Over the next few days I began listening to myself and was alarmed to discover that I suffered from some heart damage: I was astounded by how many of my words were filled with gossip, anger, frustration, selfishness or envy.

I decided to see if  the converse of that statement also was true: Could changing my words produce a positive change in the condition of my heart? I embarked what has become a seven-year journey toward the answer. Here are the steps I follow:

  1. Begin in the Word. The more consistently I read and study God’s word the more often it comes to mind first in the course of my day so that more of my thoughts and words emanate from His heart for others.
  2. #Speak Life. I love that Toby Mac song for its stickiness. I ask myself regularly, “How can I speak life into this situation”?Speak Life
  3. Get Regular Checkups. I periodically “check my heart” by auditing my word for a few days; I consistently find room for improvement.

Here are two quick examples of how this looks for me in real life.

Last weekend I received a solicitation call from a student at my son’s college asking for support of the parents’ organization. My response was that we were paying a premium in out-of-state tuition and were not interested at this time. Following his script, the young man dutifully suggested a smaller gift and then a delayed timeline. In the middle of my weekend chores I felt that old surge of irritation percolating, along with an impulse to fire back a smart-aleck comment and hang up.

But I didn’t.

Instead I told the caller that I respected his tenacity and shared that I had done cold calling  in college too. I encouraged him that he would learn a lot of good things from the experience. He laughed and thanked me for being patient with him…and then he asked me one more time for a donation. This time we both laughed; I still declined, but I hung up feeling blessed by the interaction.

The next day I called a company about a water softener and the woman on the other end was immediately salty and it had nothing to do with her products. I responded saying, “I am trying to buy your product, so I’m having a hard time understanding why you are being rude,” to which she yelled,“You are the one not understanding me!” Our call ended without any attempt on my part to be a light….I’m still a work in progress.

Applications

  • When have you seen your words bring life to others?
  • When have you had to face the destructive power of your words?
  • Do you model the power of words to your children in the way you speak behind the wheel, to service staff or to your spouse?
  • Can you recall a time when someone else’s words inspired or sparked change in you?

Put your words to work: Share your answers and perspectives in the comments section!

From the Lives of Babes

Mother and son

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 1 Peter 3:15

Wisdom of childrenToday is my son, Trevor’s, 17th birthday. Coming just a week after my oldest son left for college I find myself particularly reflective and nostalgic on an otherwise unremarkable, Monday birthday. 

Trevor has been content to be the “wind beneath his brother’s wings” for most of his life; no, more than content, fulfilled. It began when they were toddlers; Trevor would take on a pack of plastic plant-eating dinosaurs knowing full well that his brother’s carnivores would defeat and eat his in short order. Whatever his big brother took an interest in Trevor enthusiastically followed, from Pokemon to skating. What became clear throughout their growing up time together was that Trevor had a singular focus: unconditional love of his big brother. The other thing that became clear was his unique ability to love without expectation. Not that he didn’t receive love back, but it had no bearing on Trevor’s abundant, wholehearted love for his brother. It’s an approach to love that Trevor extends to others in his life as well.

That brotherly love cultivated a core to Trevor that has shaped the man he is becoming. He is a rock both physically and in his character. He said to me recently, “I like to be someone people know they can count on.” I was so moved and humbled by his statement and the simple truth of it in my experience of him.

Trevor’s greatest life passion right now is for athletics. A notoriously heavy sleeper, he will pop out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to go work out. Part of that drive is his accountability to his teammates. This big strong boy has been reduced to tears when he has felt his performance has let his teammates down. And when asked to lead he carries that burden heavily because he believes he must work twice as hard to be a worthy model. He doesn’t say these things out loud; I know them only because I get to edit his school essays and then watch him live them out. Trevor values trust more highly than anyone I know. He knows  it is an unspoken foundation to loving relationships. He has worked hard to earn and keep our trust, even when it has come at a cost. 

If all of this sounds like Mother Glow, it certainly is, but there are two things that make this gush worth sharing. The first is that these heartfelt thoughts about my son are not where my eyes lead me to focus on a day-to-day basis. I see the messy room, the stinky sports gear and the child who cannot get out of bed with alarms blaring and me yelling his name until I’ve reached the target TPS (“Trevors” per second, his term). But now that my oldest has flown the coop I am committing to be more intentional about taking time to seek joy in the many blessings my children offer as they grow up.

Second, I realized in this process how much I have to learn from my son, and I invite us as parents to take a fresh look at our children as not just receptacles for, but sources of, wisdom. Beneath the shell of this typical teenage boy lies a heart that knows the Lord, and one who strives to live in a manner that provokes others to question the “reason for the hope that is in [him].” Here is the wisdom I’m borrowing from my son today:

  • Live positively. Trevor’s words for other people are almost always filled with grace and positivity. He chooses to spend his time in laughter and encouragement with his friends. He expends little energy on people or situations that are not positive, and that helps ensure he almost always is.1510517_10206639821971678_6662163685608386182_n
  • Love abundantly. I encouraged Trevor one time to guard his heart so as not to open himself up to being hurt. He looked up at me through tear-filled eyes and simply said, “I can’t.” That’s not how God made him. He loves as hard as he hugs.
  • Think deeply, live simply. Trevor thinks deeply about the issues that count, what he believes and struggles with about God, life, family and living out his faith. He has surprised me on more than one occasion with the unusual perspective he brings to such topics. And yet he lives them out simply in his approach to each day.
  • Don’t worry, be happy. Finally, while I have always envied the absence of worry in his life, the car accident Trevor experienced last summer deepened his awareness that all he has is today and it is a gift. He is a 17-year-old who lives with the end in mind. 

I close this post by sharing a final secret for the few of you, other than his grandmothers, who made it this far: With every post I write I strive to find eternal truths in my life experience that can encourage or support others. Today that goal is there, but I also needed to write about how wide and how deep is my love for this boy. On the day he was born my father said to me, “This boy is going to bring you a lot of joy.” And indeed he does, every, single day.

Happy birthday, Trevor Nelson Kirsch.

Love,

Your Momma

Could My “Treasures in Heaven” Yield a Little Interest Down Here?

treasures in heaven

If you’ve ever questioned whether sharing of your faith with others makes a difference, this post is for you. You’re about to meet two heroes who will greatly encourage you, one from a generation ago and another from Biblical times.

I was 40 years old before I ever studied the Bible. My neighbor invited me to BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), an international, interdenominational study. I was forever changed by it; I saw the words in the Bible come to life for me and others through that study. In fact, I can hardly wait to rejoin BSF for this year’s study of Revelation.

I was deeply moved by the story of BSF’s founder, Audrey Wetherell Johnson. (I recount it here as I recall it, and apologize in advance for any errors.) Ms. Johnson knew God’s call on her life was to bring the Bible to China. After ministering there and seeing her colleagues and friends persecuted as a result of her presence, she returned home to California physically weakened and emotionally defeated. It was a group of “real housewife” types who shook her out of her doldrums, albeit a bit begrudgingly.

They heard that she had been a missionary and implored her to teach them the Bible. I have to believe this was not what Ms. Johnson felt God had called her to do, and I am quite certain this mission felt far less noble. Who would want to lead a cackle of spoiled American women after being part of bringing light to one of the darkest places in the world? But Ms. Johnson was obedient in this call too and began to lead women’s Bible studies.

When I joined BSF in the mid-2000s we heard Ms. Johnson’s story because, 40 years after she began this ministry, BSF classes were being opened for the first time in mainland China. They were only for expatriates, and they were government-supervised, but they were there nonetheless. A couple years later we heard that the Chinese government, traditionally antagonistic to Christianity, had softened its position, embracing the notion that good Christians make good citizens. And following the success of the ex-pat pilots the government opened the first BSF classes to Chinese nationals. Long after Ms. Johnson answered God’s call He was faithful to fulfill her mission, and posthumously the program she began as a consolation to her call fulfilled it.

I had an epiphany this morning listening to a sermon by Ravi Zacharias Ministries about the disciple Stephen. It had never occurred to me before that Stephen was the spark that ignited Paul’s spiritual fire before he ever got knocked off his horse. In Acts 6 we are introduced to Stephen as a powerful presence for the Lord.

They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…(Acts 6:5)

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8)”

Acts Chapter 7:51-60 provides an account of Stephen’s famous martyrdom. After recounting the Messianic message of the Old Testament, revealing to skeptics in the Sanhedrin how the law and prophets foretold the coming of Jesus, Stephen convicts them with the following bold truth:

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Not surprisingly his message was not well received. I love that the scripture reports “they gnashed their teeth” and “covered their ears.” (Sounds like something straight out of ‘Where the Wild Things Are”!) While it seems somewhat comical in reality it certainly was not; these leaders were completely undone by Stephen’s bold embrace of truth. Here is a young many whom previous verses make clear is virtually radiating with the fullness of the Spirit, and yet the intellectuals of his time are reduced to toddler-like tantrums in their efforts to rebuke, discredit and destroy him. The passage continues:

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.

Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

It’s safe to assume Saul didn’t end up there by accident. A known persecutor of Christians he certainly was a leader or instigator of the attack on Stephen. In his mind he was a bold defender of the faith against followers of The Way, a group that was leading many astray from the teachings of Moses and the prophets.

He had heard the story of Jesus and rejected it, which blinded him to the truth…a blindness that would become quite literal very shortly. And then he is confronted by Stephen, a compelling young man willing to die for the truth he believed in, and imbued with the grace to pray for and forgive those who were in the act of stoning him.

I have to imagine this scene began to peel the scales off of Saul’s spiritual vision:

  • Was he similarly willing to die for what he believed?
  • What was his heart for his enemies, was it filled with love or something darker?
  • Was he demonstrating the relentless pursuit of God’s people that the Lord himself had modeled, or had he gotten off track somewhere, wandering lost in his own desert?

No doubt these questions were swirling in Saul’s mind, reinforced by the images of the innocent Stephen dying, his face illuminated by his vision of the Lord. Perhaps that distracted driving is what caused Paul to initially lose his balance and fall off his horse, which led to his own close encounter with God and an undeniable confrontation with the truth.

Stephen was not there to see his faithfulness break the stone heart of the man God would use to write more than half of the New Testament, the “Good News” that has brought generations of people into relationship with Jesus Christ.

When you doubt that your small acts of kindness, forgiveness and love make a difference in a world full of darkness, recall the examples of Ms. Johnson and Stephen who:

  1. Listened for God’s call on their lives.
  2. Were faithful to obey, even in the face of opposition and discouragement.
  3. Died with no confirmation that their ministry had made any difference.
  4. Strived to earn this final reward:
  5. Well done, my good servant! Luke 19:17

Seek inspiration from these verses to seek to serve others and to do so faithfully without expecting reward here for your efforts.

  • Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1Peter 4:10)
  • Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
  • For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.(Ephesians 2:10)
  • Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (John 10:10)
  • As for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

May I Have a Word, Please?

brokenhearted

Brokenhearted. It wasn’t the word I expected. But I’ve learned that element of surprise can be a good indicator that God is the one doing the talking.

The question that led me to this word was a lot less clear cut than the response. In fact, it wasn’t even my question; it was prompted by Whitney Capps, the closing keynote speaker at Proverbs 31’s She Speaks conference. My prayer sounded something like this: “Lord, I’m not sure what she said to pray for right now. I don’t know what I’m asking or hoping to hear. But I think it’s about my ministry call; I think I’m praying for a word, one word, for where you would have me serve.”

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26

The idea of one word had been popping up a lot. First a friend told me about the book One Word and how it had changed her life. Then a woman I met spoke extensively about this concept, although it turned out she was unaware of the book. And now the keynote speaker had just directed 800 women to pray for one word from God to guide their ministries. She instructed us to write that word with a Sharpie on one of the rocks on our table.

The still small voice rang quickly and clearly: brokenhearted. As I wrote it on my rock I found immediate confirmation right in the palm of my hand: Had I held onto the small rock I originally selected instead of accepting the bigger rock my friend insisted on swapping because it is my company namesake (Big Rock Marketing), I would not have had space for my long word. Then several recent scenarios sprang to mind supporting this word:

  • I was in the midst of a Bible study with a friend who has suffered much loss in her life. The study we chose? “The Mended Heart.”
  • I recently reconnected with an old friend who, among other struggles has had a child diagnosed with a heart condition.
  • And one of the book ideas on my own heart has been “God’s pursuit of the orphan’s heart.”

Personally I’ve never felt much affinity for the word brokenhearted; okay it’s worse than that, I don’t even like the word. Along with adolescent angst the word conjures unwanted images of 80s romance movies like “Ice Castles.” But the truth is I often wish for a more empathetic heart. I used to marvel at my coworker who cried regularly while reading the daily newspaper. My response to such stories is a sense of urgency to do something; I want to drive awareness, speak truth or create change. But empathy is a critical first step that I too often miss.

Brokenhearted comes from the Greek words syntribo (break, to break to pieces) and kardia (heart, denotes the center of all physical and spiritual life). These words appear in together only twice in Scripture, first in Isaiah 61:1, foretelling the coming of Messiah, and then in Luke 4:18 when Jesus claims Isaiah’s prophesy for himself:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up,and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 

A sentence later it says, “He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

Synonyms to brokenhearted appear in several Psalms, but this specific combination only: in reference to the coming of Jesus and in the proclamation of his arrival. Perhaps that is to make it clear that only Jesus can restore the brokenhearted. Paul instructs those serving in ministry: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

My return home after She Speaks illustrated the importance of being the hands and feet of Jesus as clearly as, well, glass. The joy I felt from the conference and the anticipation of returning to my family quickly drained as I walked into a kitchen strewn with empty glasses, a laundry room brimming with clothes and plants drooping from neglect. It was a relief to see the dog still alive. I had been gone for just three days. My hope, my desire, was that my teenage children would “be my hands and feet” and serve my will by caring for our home, showing their love for me through service. I did not “expect it” as a test or proof of their love, but I hoped for it as an expression of gratitude and acknowledgment of the many ways I strive to serve and bless them. But alas, my kids are messy sinners just like me. With a few exceptions they could not see beyond the end of their own fingertips to see the need.

How often God must feel this way when I am so consumed with my own wants and desires that I fail to see the many ways, large and small, to be His hands and feet, even in my small corner of the world. My hope is that a commitment to be attuned to the “brokenhearted” will lead to a deeper understanding of what it means to live wholeheartedly. I am committed to write about the journey over the coming year.

More on the call to serve:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake2 Corinthians 4:5

And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

Jesus Take the Wheel

Fields of grace
Field of Grace

Last Friday at noontime, my 17-year-old son set out with our close family friend and my youngest daughter for a lacrosse tournament in Maryland, about a five-hour drive. Twenty minutes later he fell asleep at the wheel — for nearly 10 seconds according to the driver behind him — crossed the opposing lane of traffic, dropped the vehicle off a 10-foot embankment and ripped 30 yards into an empty field before coming to rest, with all three riders badly shaken, but otherwise unharmed.

“You pretty much know God took the wheel for those 10 seconds you were asleep,” my son’s friend stated plainly as we tried to process the scene in front of us. His was the truest expression of what we were seeing.

It was impossible not to mentally animate all the possibilities that didn’t happen: an oncoming car in the opposing lane of traffic, my son awakening a moment earlier and sending the car into oncoming traffic or reflexively hitting the brakes and taking the car backward off the drop, the nearby houses, utility poles, trees and most chillingly, Falls Lake. On my way to the scene, as I searched for their car, it became apparent how little room for error the road offered. This lucky threesome had landed in the only open field for miles in either direction.

Not only that, but my daughter happened to be wearing her seatbelt as she lay asleep in the backseat, preventing her from being thrown from the vehicle. Our friend had tilted his seat back to more comfortably watch his movie, avoiding more severe injury when the airbag deployed, and after some debate they had opted to take the only vehicle we owned that could have sustained that particular type of crash without rolling or being crushed.

My heart overflowed with humble gratitude as we stood in a circle with two kind strangers who offered thanksgiving for God’s goodness in protecting these young lives. Yet even in that moment another thought tugged at my heart: “If this saving act was from God then what does that mean for the kids just like mine who die in similar scenarios every day?”

I’ve always struggled with how Jesus selected the people he would heal, feed or raise from the dead. The scripture writers never imply that all who were in need found wholeness, nor do they suggest any qualification by the people for whom Jesus performed miracles.

In the days that followed the accident God provided some important insights that clarified my vision of the abundant goodness at the heart of this story. Today my Bible reading was from John 9: “True Blindness.” Jesus and his disciples saw a man who had been blind since birth and the disciples asked:

Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?

Jesus said,

You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. (MSG)

In a different translation, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

An important corollary to this idea emerged Sunday when the pastor taught on the burning bush. In Exodus 3:2 “…the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet was not consumed.” Moses looked and beheld; he took the time to see what was happening and to recognize it as an act of God. And, “When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush.

Click. The puzzle pieces fit into place, the living Word speaking once again directly to the questions on my heart. Here is what I believe the Lord is teaching me through this experience:

  • Yes, what I saw was real. Jesus did “take the wheel” and intervene supernaturally to save these children. I saw and beheld it with my own eyes.
  • To the question of why God saved these children and not others? It simply is not about us. God allowed this situation to unfold as it did so that His glory might be displayed. He saves some so that all might see, believe and be saved.
  • Our only response to such a brilliant display is to follow the example of Moses and worship Him.

As a result, I now feel free to joyfully and boldly share this wonderful story of God’s goodness, beginning here and now.

Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. Psalm 66:16