Carrying Weight

We spread out two nights’ worth of backpacking, covering the entire lower level of our home with sleeping bags, Therma-Rest pads, two tents, freeze-dried dinners, rain gear, S’mores ingredients, fishing lures, flashlights . . . did we forget anything? We roll, fold, stuff, tie, pack, and squeeze the air out. We’re able to confine our shelter, food, clothing, and every need into five packs, compact and tight.

Our backpacking preparation always culminates with the same ritual: we weigh each pack before the trip. Tense and unmoving, we watch the scale until its numbers settle. Then comes a trumpet accolade and the announcements:

Charles: 51 pounds!
Monica: 28 pounds!
Derek: 15 pounds!
Titus: 10 pounds!
Byron: 3 pounds!

The packs weigh more than they did the last trip, and our faces beam.

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At the trailhead I shoulder my load, taking pride in every pound. I keep track of how much I carry. I am proud of the weight on my back.

It is my own weight, mine, and I carry it alone. My strong legs take the trail and its 1,000-foot elevation gain. I can do it.

Self-sufficiency is an illusion, and I fall for it again. As a result, anxiety hovers close by, ready to swoop down on me. I am now a clear and easy target, having marked myself with pride.

But anxiety’s deadly talons never reach me. God’s Word has come between.

So, humble yourselves under God’s strong hand, and in his own good time he will lift you up. You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.

– 1 Peter 5:6-7 (Phillips)

Father, I don’t want to hoard my worries from You. Protect me from thinking that I operate on my own strength. I recognize that without You I can do nothing. Teach me (again) humility, which is an anti-worry shield. Show me how to shed pride and transfer the weight from my shoulders to Yours. I want to labor for You, but only by taking the yoke of Jesus. With this yoke upon me, may I learn from You and find rest.

When we humble ourselves each morning by casting all our cares on the Lord, we will start the day free of care. The humble are genuinely care free.

I’ve discovered how true that is about myself and my soul. Where there’s worry, where there’s anxiousness, pride is at the root of it. When I am experiencing anxiety, the root issue is that I’m trying to be self-sufficient. I’m acting independent of God.

– C.J. Mahaney, in Humility: True Greatness

***

It has been six years since I wrote the above, and backpacking is different now. Instead of going twice a year, I go once. Each son’s pack is heavier than mine.

I don’t feel strong nowadays. Instead of taking pride in the number of pounds in my pack, I gladly transfer as much weight to my husband’s and sons’ packs as they will take.

When people asked, “How far do you go on a backpack?” I used to say, “As far as the youngest hiker.” Now I answer, “As far as I can go.”

Yet the temptation to self-sufficiency can still be strong, and I need humility now more than ever.

***

To read 1 Peter 5 (entire chapter) in the Phillips translation, visit BibleGateway.com.

Open Letter to the Generations Before Me

The following is for the blog tour of Emily Wierenga’s memoir Making It Home. Did you know Emily has provided blog prompts?

Here are Emily’s blog prompts 14 and 15:

14. How would you encourage a woman who feels unnoticed, left out, or no longer relevant as she grows older?

15. How can the older generation encourage the younger generation to stay focused on God’s peace, identity and purpose through multiple life changes and seasons?

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Dear Christ followers of the generations before me:

I once overheard someone ask a woman in her twenties, “Are you going to the women’s mini-retreat?”

“Nah,” the twenty-something replied, “It’s just going to be a bunch of old ladies.”

This young woman came to church dressed in classy leather boots and neatly arranged, fashionable clothing. Her hair was expertly highlighted and curled, her makeup applied with a model’s know-how. Her dad was an influential leader in the church. When she threw a party, all the other young and younger ladies wanted an invitation. She landed a go-getter job that could easily extend into a prestigious career. She volunteered in the children’s ministry and was popular with kids and teens.

These are the girls and teens who heard her say, essentially, that she’s too cool to hang with the old ladies.

I wish that twenty-something woman and those girls and teens would be intentional about getting to know you. I wish they knew Amelia Sorensen, the woman in her eighties who taught my husband’s Sunday school when he was in first grade and invited families with teenagers over for a home-cooked meal. I wish they knew Hal DeMooy, the man who modeled daily Bible reading and encouraged the young to do the same—or Jim Downing, the Pearl Harbor survivor who, at age 102 and counting, is mentoring teens. I wish they knew the python-slaying Egelers.

I wish they knew the value of interacting with you, the generations who came before. Because if they don’t, they miss out on a chance to be rich—like passing by a cave of precious metals and walking away without mining it.

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
so you will be wise the rest of your life.

(Proverbs 19:20)

Your white hair and wrinkles represent decades refined and lived out under God’s grace, like nuggets and flakes of gold. You have the advantageous perspective of looking back on the same years and experiences younger generations still look forward to. You have already seen, perhaps multiple times, the same struggles and blessings I am experiencing right now.

I once sat on a panel to answer a local MOPS group’s questions about parenting. The young moms asked questions like, “What can you do when the kids don’t eat?” and “What if you and your husband don’t agree on the kids’ discipline?” and “How do you educate the child about ‘stranger danger’ and still encourage them to treat strangers kindly?” All of the questions were narrowed down to one person’s specific situation.

It occurred to me that a single answer could address every concern brought to the table:

You.

You are the answer that would provide a custom solution not only for every young mom but even for that individual’s pinpointed question at that Q&A.

So I encouraged those moms leaning forward and eagerly asking questions of the panel before them:

Find a mentor. Or several mentors.

Then I told them I get together with Jill once a month and Jean once a week. My senior year in college, when I was a newlywed navigating the new relationship with my husband’s parents, I pursued Mary to ask about her in-law relationships. I call Linda when I’m having a parenting crisis. When I was a new mom, I turned to Miriam, the Byrnes, Paula, and others. One day a few years ago I called Dorothy and asked, “I need help with marriage. Could I come over?”

“Sure, dear. When would you like to come?”

“What time do you get up in the morning?” I asked. I was there at seven a.m. the next day.

Richard Peck, Newbery-winning YA author and former high school teacher, agrees with me that we need you. He makes sure an elderly character appears in each of his novels:

I need them. Young readers need them more. The old folks are there in the novels as counterbalances. They provide wisdom and seasoning won only through long lifetimes, and compassion unavailable from the peer group. They offer alternatives in the accelerating battle between parents and children, and glimpses of the problems and sorrows of old age for a young generation fixated on their own.

– Richard Peck, Invitations to the World (New York: Dial Books, 2002), 26-27

We need you, and we need to pursue relationships with you. I’ve asked myself, How could I draw out wisdom from the older women around me? How do I mine wisdom from the quiet ones? What questions should I ask? What steps of relationship should I take? More than once, I’ve started by asking you for a recipe in hopes that it will lead to deeper friendship.

Though good advice lies deep within the heart,
a person with understanding will draw it out.

(Proverbs 20:5)

And then you remind me that every person is both young and old, so I ask myself questions as an older woman, too: What young person could I reach out to today? How can I be winsome and inviting to the young? What can I learn from the young?

Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. What would we do without you who have gone before?

With deep gratitude and appreciation,
Monica

Cold Shoulder / Silent Treatment

Giving the lens the cold shoulder

I know how to give the most vicious, wicked “cold shoulder” and “silent treatment” (CS/ST). I activate CS/ST when someone does something to upset me. Sometimes, the people on the receiving end are caught off guard because they have no clue why I am upset with them. This bewilderment makes CS/ST especially effective in its caustic damage. Also, CS/ST makes me feel powerful. I indulge in a crazed, cruel pleasure in hurting people.

The above paragraph is a confession. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). I’m confessing to you and every person with access to the World Wide Web how malicious I have been and still can be.

***

I have many job titles: teacher, editor, budget manager, house cleaner. Chauffeur is one of my favorite titles. I don’t consider driving my sons to their various activities a tedious chore but a pleasure. I actually like taking them to art school or the library or track practice.

“Don’t worry if practice runs late,” I tell my son. “I always have a book with me, so I’ll read in the car.” I have even dropped him off at an hour-long event and stayed there, taking advantage of a full hour of reading or writing time, instead of going home.

But in one case, I gave him 12:15 as a firm pick-up time. He misunderstood and thought I meant I’d be there at 12:15 but, as in other cases, would read a book and wait if he ran late.

Not only did I have no book, but my other son was with me, and we had other errands to run in a short time. At 12:45, after waiting and working myself up to a fuming (but silent) rage, I went into the building to get him.

He had no idea.

I activated my CS/ST at full throttle.

He tried pleasantly chatting about his time with the teachers at the event. I answered curtly: “Oh.”

We went to drop off recycles. I opened the door to get the recycles out of the trunk, and he said, “Do you want me to help?”

I pretended not to hear him and shut the car door without reply. Silent treatment. Caustic.

Next stop: Goodwill, to discard unwanted books and clothes. The same thing happened there: “Should I get out and help?” he asked.

Cold shoulder. Icy silence.

Final stop: pick up Dad after his soccer game at the park. The game was not yet over when we arrived, so the poor kid was trapped in close quarters with his mother emanating shock waves of malice. I am an expert in CS/ST tactics.

How could I have been so cruel to my own child? If he were two or three years old instead of a high school senior, he would have been traumatized and in need of counseling. Not until hours later did I explain why I was angry. Not until days later did I finally apologize and repent.

When my husband and I married, we spoke our own vows in addition to the traditional ones (for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health). One of our custom vows: “To be honest and open with one another in an attitude of love and humility.”

In other words, don’t hold grudges. Talk it through instead.

Ann Kroeker recently offered her readers 6 Questions to Ask Yourself. Question #3 is “How do I need to change?”

I need to change by shedding my CS/ST habit and the deranged satisfaction I get from the “power” it gives me. There is far more power in love and humility.

What is the opposite of Cold Shoulder? Leaning toward the person in conflict. Pressing past cruelty’s false sense of superiority and control. Asking myself, as a friend advised, “What’s really important here?” Putting the relationship before my selfishness.

What is the opposite of Silent Treatment? Quick communication about what’s bothering me. Being honest and open, with an attitude of love and humility.

God, help me to change.

———-

Click to tweet: There is far more power in love and humility.

For The High Calling community writing theme: Reconciliation at Work. UPDATE: This post was featured at The High Calling.

Also, don’t miss Glynn Young’s perspective on Change at The High Calling.

Photo credit: Juhan Sonin via Flickr Creative Commons

Open-Heart Bible Study (by Jean Fleming)

In the foreword to Pursue the Intentional Life, I mentioned the article “Open-Heart Bible Study.” Many people have been looking for this article, and I’m delighted to make it available here (with thanks to Jean Fleming for her permission). This article, which first appeared in Discipleship Journal (a discontinued publication of NavPress), will also be linked at the (in)courage Bloom Book Club wrap-up post for this book.

by Jean Fleming

When we approach the Scriptures, too often we grab our tool box of the mind—the concordance, dictionary, commentary, notebook, and pens—and neglect the essential intangibles of the spirit and heart.

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A curious, capable mind alone cannot invade the deep spaces of this Book. An academic approach to the Scriptures may be fascinating, but it cannot take us beyond the outer husk of truth. To taste the sweet fruit within, we need more than gray matter.

What intangibles of the spirit and heart do we need to bring to Bible study? If I were to choose one verse to capsulate the essential attitudes I believe God looks for in His people as they approach His Word, Isaiah 66:2 would get my vote. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” We don’t hear much about sticking a humble and contrite spirit and a good solid tremble in with our Bible study helps, but without them we will always shuffle around the edges and never penetrate to the heart of God’s riches.

Let’s take a look at three essential attitudes and why they are important as we come to understand the Scriptures.

A Humble Spirit

First, we need a humble spirit. A humble spirit grows in a proper understanding of who God is and who we are in relation to Him.

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God looks for a particular spirit as we come to His Word precisely because it is His Word. The Bible is communication from the high and lofty One, the One who lives forever, whose name is holy, but who lives with the person of humble and contrite spirit (Isaiah 57:15). This Word is the most complete revelation given of the God who is eternal, divine, holy, and personal. God has “exalted above all things [His] name and [His] word” (Psalm 138:2). God gives His Word a place of highest honor.

When we grasp something of the reality that it is God’s Word, we realize that we cannot come to this Book on an equal footing with it. The human mind cannot fathom the thoughts, the character, the Person of God.

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Jack, May, and Gail are people who approach the Scriptures with humble spirits. Jack and May, a vibrant Australian couple, had come to Christ in middle age. As new believers unfamiliar with the Bible, Jack and May felt they needed to start at the beginning and at the bottom. They bought and read a Bible written for children before progressing to an adult Bible.

At conversion, Jack and May, like us, got their first really good look at who they are and, more importantly, who God is. Seeing themselves in their sinfulness and need and God in His pristine holiness left them little confidence in their own abilities to understand the thoughts of God. They would start where babes start.

Like Jack and May, Gail came to the Scriptures with childlike humility. When I met Gail I was particularly impressed by her spiritual depth and insight. I wanted to know something of her story and what kind of spiritual help she had received. Her tale was one of ignorance, frustration, perseverance, and blessing.

Gail’s first attempt at Bible study ended in tears; she couldn’t answer any of the questions. The doors of comprehension were bolted. The windows were boarded over. Not a shred of light seeped in. She read and reread, but her effort yielded nothing. Why could a more-than-reasonably-intelligent woman not understand even one question? she wondered. Her hunger and frustration drove her to call out to God, with weeping, “Please help me to understand.”

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The next morning she got up to try again. This time the door gave way; the windows of her soul let in the light; the Book came alive.

Jack, May, and Gail are not models of humble spirits because they were ignorant and admitted it, but because they continued in that same spirit, aware that they don’t come to this Book as God’s equals in intellect, character, or experience.

Gail’s story seems to me a parable. God withheld from a bright woman the ability to understand the Bible so that He might implant a deeper lesson in her life. God can open or close this Book to us. An intelligent, inquiring mind is not enough. While most people do not find the Bible to be a completely closed book, Gail’s experience illustrates a spiritual truth. Even scholars remain in the outer courts, handling the outside of spiritual things, unless God admits them into the holy of holies.

God calls us to emulate this spirit of humility and hunger whether we are accomplished students or new converts. Intelligent, diligent, careful study is important, but the Bible doesn’t relinquish its bounty to high IQs and polished exploratory skills alone. While it is true that the Bible is in many ways like any other book, it is absolutely unique. This Book reveals “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (1 Corinthians 2:7). Wisdom that no eye has seen “but that God has revealed to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

Biblical truth isn’t discovered; it is revealed, interpreted, explained, taught by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God alone knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), and He communicates “spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:13) to the human spirit. The language He uses is not Greek, Hebrew, or English; it is spirit. The Holy Spirit whispers it to humble spirits.

So, like the psalmist, let us cry out, “Let me understand the teaching of your precepts” (Psalm 119:27). Charles Simeon (1758–1836), an English preacher who taught others how to preach, wrote, “The more lowly we are in our own eyes, the richer communications we shall receive from Him.”

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A Contrite Spirit

Next, we need to have a contrite spirit. A contrite spirit has an acute awareness of its failings. This awareness is accompanied by deep distress over them and gratitude that there is a place of refuge in the mercy and grace of God.

The concordance defines contrite as “smitten, maimed, dejected.” It only follows that if we get an accurate picture of ourselves in our fallen humanity and of God in the splendor of His holiness, we will be a bit bruised by the contrast. As Isaiah lamented after seeing the Lord in His glory, “Woe to me!” (Isaiah 6:5).

But, of course, the glory of the gospels is that “the bruised reed he will not break” (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus doesn’t break but, rather, He blesses those who are poor in spirit and who mourn over their sin (Matthew 5:3-4). “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

The Word comes in love to bruise as well as to bless. If we come the Word as self-sufficient, self satisfied consumers of blessing, the blessing cannot penetrate the armor of self. The Word of God must pierce our thick skins, must strike stinging blows at times, must put our hips out of joint, must hold a mirror before our faces that we might see what our sin is doing to us. The Word must wound before it binds up. Otherwise, far worse sores fester out of sight, waiting to erupt and destroy us. A contrite spirit welcomes God’s work that reveals who we really are. It limps to the throne of grace to receive the healing balm.

It is clear that God values a contrite spirit, but do we? Let me illustrate. A mature believer in the Sunday school class I attend confessed her failure to share the gospel with family on a recent trip. She said she had been unfaithful and asked us to pray for her. Her words bruised me. I, too, often lack the courage to speak the message God has entrusted to me. I was ready to stand and say so. But before I could, the class rallied to erase her discomfort. With the kindest intentions, they assured her that God had used the time and that contrition was unnecessary, even out of the question.

Just as I became aware of my sin and need when I heard her confession, my heart is made sensitive by the Scriptures as I see God’s plans, commands, and promises. But always I must be alert to the tendency to undermine or dismiss the response of contrition. This tendency makes us discriminating “partakers,” straining out anything unpalatable to us, instead of devoted servants.

Apart from the Holy Spirit’s enlightening ministry to our spirits, not merely to our minds, we will certainly accept or reject the thoughts of God according to our reasoning. We cart along Bible study baggage of which we are barely aware. John R.W. Stott wrote, “It is essential to give up the illusion that we come to the biblical text as innocent, objective, impartial, culture-free investigators, for we are nothing of the kind.” We must face our defects—and acknowledge that we have barely begun to face them. We must acknowledge our biases and blindness—and know that we are still blind to them. We must come as open-minded and openhearted as we can—with the full realization that we are entangled in the sticky web of our humanity. And we must grieve. This is contrition.

Trembling at His Word

God wants us to come to the Bible as those who tremble at His Word. That means we need to take God seriously and believe God is who He says He is, that He thinks and acts just as He says. Trembling at His Word is the equivalent to the “fear God” used so often throughout the Scriptures.

Years ago on an Okinawan beach, my husband and some of his friends spent the day reading together passages from the gospels that took place by the water. The day climaxed with a fish and bread dinner on the shore after they read of Jesus feeding the multitudes. As they ate, my husband noticed a man watching them from the cliffs above. Roger climbed up to talk with the man and to invite him to join them. The man turned out to be a young Marine involved in Satan worship. As they talked, Roger thought of Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac (Mark 5:15ff.) that they had read earlier in the day. Roger extended his New Testament toward the Marine. The man began to tremble violently and ran off.

This is not the trembling that God honors; nevertheless, his trembling puts me to shame. James 2:19 says, “Even the demons believe … and shudder.” It seems the demons in him grasped more fully than I do that this Book is alive, powerful, dangerous.

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Bible brings me into direct contact with the clear-eyed gaze of Jesus Christ. As the demons know, this Word is not something to be trifled with.

Josiah was the kind of “trembler” God esteems. During his reign the long-neglected Book of the Law was found in the Temple. When Josiah heard the message of the book and realized the extent of the nation’s disobedience and the judgment that would surely fall on them, he tore his clothes and wept in anguish (2 Kings 22–23).

Josiah came to the scrolls with a prior commitment to obey them with all his heart and soul. He reinstituted celebration of the Passover and began a vigorous campaign to rid the land of false gods. His responsiveness characterizes the man or woman who takes God’s Word seriously.

A trembling heart prepares our spirits for greater intimacy with God’s Word. As a teenager, E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist missionary to India for 50 years, would press his lips to passages that spoke to his heart. Jones’s holy kiss seems to me to express the same spirit the writer of Psalm 119 recorded: “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches” (verse 14). “Your statutes are my delight” (verse 24). “How sweet are your words to my taste” (verse 103). “My heart trembles at your word” (verse 161).

When we take God’s Word seriously, our hands hover over our Bibles in anticipation.

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God said His Word is the necessary bread that will satisfy (Isaiah 55:1-3; Matthew 4:4). It is like snow and rain that come from heavenly realms to the earth for a purpose. God’s Word comes to nourish and refresh, to make fruitful and effective. The Bible is not ineffectual; we can expect something to happen when we receive God’s message to us (Isaiah 55:10-11).

A spirit of anticipation banishes a blasé approach to Scripture. A trembling heart does not tolerate the thought that it is okay for “mature” believers past the first flushed excitement of life in Christ to stifle their yawns.

Before you open your Bible, stop! Reflect. Kneel. Pray. This book is spirit, and you need the indwelling Spirit working on your spirit to receive spiritual truth. The Author of this book is your Interpreter. Who else knows the deep things of God except the Spirit of God? He comes to read to your spirit the language of your Father. The translation you need is something more than Greek or English. The Spirit works both to bruise and soften your spirit and then to unfold the mysteries of God to you when you can receive them. Be alert to your spirit because it is a Book interpreted Spirit to spirit.

———-

“Open-Heart Bible Study” first appeared in Discipleship Journal (Sep/Oct 1995). Copyright © 2014 Jean Fleming, all rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Also by Jean Fleming: The Practice of Pondering

Jean Fleming is the author of Pursue the Intentional Life, A Mother’s heart, Feeding Your Soul, and others. Visit NavPress.com for details.

FREE PRINTABLE: Would you like to hand out free copies of “Open-Heart Bible Study” in your Bible study group? Download this printable version.

———-

Photo credit (Bible): MattLake (Creative Commons license)

Photo credit (girl reading Bible): Brielle King (Creative Commons license).

The Mercy of Horizon

What a mercy to have a horizon—
that faraway line reminding me
while my head is in the clouds
that earth and soil are under my feet
and everything is not sky. The horizon

is horizontal only because of my
smallness. In fact, it is a curve beyond which
my hands cannot reach, my eyes cannot see.
It is a great circle inscribed where the heavens
and the two-dimentional place of my perspective

intersect, a reminder that God is always
more than I know. What a mercy to have a horizon
that hides (for now) what is past the threshhold—a mercy
because the knowing, the sight, might be more than

my easily blinded eyes can bear. A mercy because
if I see too much, I may not have faith enough. Funny, too—
without the horizon that limits knowing
there can be no azimuth,
no arc to give direction, no reference point
from which to measure a navigating angle.

Listen as Wisdom calls out!

“…I was there when he established the heavens,
when he drew the horizon on the oceans.”

(Proverbs 8:1,27 NLT)

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(All photos are part of this set at my Flickr account.)

This is my first opportunity to use the 4000-cubic-inch Kelty backpack they gave me for my birthday. We are always curious about how much our packs weigh, so we weigh them before leaving the house. Charles’s, as usual, comes in heaviest (25% of his body weight), then Derek’s (22%), Titus’s (20%), mine (17%), and Byron’s (13%).

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After a two-hour drive we begin at the Venable Trailhead, 9000 feet elevation. By tomorrow we will gain 3000 feet more. The last time we went backpacking at “the Sangres,” it was September, and the wildflowers were already dead. This time, they are at their peak. I wonder at the plants and animals in this wilderness. All creation really does sing His praise.

Of course I know the Columbine, our state flower . . .

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. . . and the Aspen, which every Coloradan knows . . .

aspen leaf 7/2011

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. . . but, ignorant of birds, bugs and botany, I don’t know what anything else is called up here. I can’t identify them, so these are anonymous beauties. What are the bushes we bushwhack through? What kind of bird makes that two-tone call? Whose are those faces greeting us from the trailside (“Welcome! Welcome to the mountains!”) Are those moth caterpillars that keep greeting us from midair?

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tree and succulent-looking ground cover

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yellow flower with bugs

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What is the name of those little trumpets heralding in unison, “The Lord is good! The Lord is good!”

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I don’t know their names. I only know them by where they are; these wildflowers, this ground cover, those birds are the wonders I always see at “the Sangres”—the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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I, too, want to be known by la sangre de Cristo—the blood of Christ. I want the world to identify me by what Jesus has done for me on the cross. I want to be an anonymous beauty, made beautiful by wearing Christ’s righteousness.

If Jesus is known by His scars,
may I be known by His blood, known
by la sangre de Cristo.

Father, I ask again, may it be no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

“He must increase; I must decrease.”
(John 3:30)

(For the Summer Vacation writing project hosted by Charity Singleton. Visit Charity’s place for more community posts!)

A Little Pronoun

In the stories, I often remember
the blind man who saw
or the paralytic who walked out
carrying his mat, or the deaf one
whose ears were opened.

But there are others mentioned only
by the humble, behind-the-scenes,
almost-too-small-to-notice
pronoun: “they.”

The beautiful, unnamed “they”
who cared and carried,
who implored the Lord
with prayers not for themselves
but for another, and another;

the selfless “they” who brought to Him the deaf,
who brought to Him the sick and lame,
who brought to Him the blind.

We don’t know their names.

May I live to be
included incognito
and have the faith of the faithful
“they.”

And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.
(Mark 2:3-4)

They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him.
(Mark 7:32)

And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him.
(Mark 8:22)

When [Jesus and the disciples] got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was. Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.
(Mark 6:54-56)

The Benefit of Deficiency

My husband said that the harder something is, the more likely I am to try it. He’s right. I’ll snatch up a challenge like I would a free book or chocolate bar.

So when someone challenged the women’s retreat attendees to memorize Romans, chapter 12 in two days, my heart rate increased. I felt like I did in college, right before a tennis match against a nationally ranked player. I thrive on adrenaline and competitiveness. Memorize Romans 12 by Friday, and I’ll get a prize? I took the bait and ate it up.

The first two verses went down easy (I guess because I had previously memorized them):

I urge you, therefore, brethren, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is; that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

(Romans 12:1-2)

But after that, it got hard to swallow. Verse 3 took me by surprise. I thought I was just taking up a memory challenge, but God had another purpose.

And through the grace of God given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

(Romans 12:3)

The two days I had to memorize this chapter were the same two days I was—(this is not fun to admit)—thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think. Internally I wrestled with thoughts about someone in the Body of Christ, someone to whom God has allotted her own, individual, unique, God-given measure of faith. Why does she do things that way?! Why can’t she communicate like I do?! Things would go more smoothly if only she would …

According to the Scriptures, I was not thinking so as to have sound judgment. Arrogance is not sane.

As meditation is inherent in memorization, I began to think about this. I continued with the rest of the chapter:

And just as we have many members in one body, and all the members do not have the same function; so we, who are many, are one Body in Christ, and individually members of one another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly…

(Romans 12:4)

Somehow it’s supposed to help with realism and humility (not thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think) if I consider how God has gifted each of us differently.

She and I are different, just as all the members of one body are different—all the body parts don’t have the same function. An eye cannot walk. A hand cannot taste.

In the Body of Christ, one person cannot do what another can—and this is for everyone’s benefit. By God’s design and intent, it is good for me to have a lack. Many lacks. “Deficiency” is beneficial. Pride thinks I am better. Humility understands I am not.

I did reach my goal of memorizing the chapter in two days. But God had accomplished His purposes, too. He corrected me into humility and gave me a better love and appreciation for others in the Body.

On top of all that, I got a great prize . . .

monkey lamp photo

. . . to remind me that the Word of God is a light to my path.

This Thursday Bonnie Gray hosts a community of those who share about a verse containing the word “faith.” Click on the FaithBarista badge below to read more posts on faith!

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Weight

We spread out two nights’ worth of backpacking, covering the entire lower level of our home with sleeping bags, Therma-Rest pads, two tents, freeze-dried dinners, rain gear, S’mores ingredients, fishing lures, flashlights . . . did we forget anything? We roll, fold, stuff, tie, pack, and squeeze the air out. Somehow, we confine our shelter, food, clothing and every need into five packs, compact and tight.

Our backpacking preparation always culminates with the same ritual: we weigh each pack. (Hear the drum roll.) Tense and unmoving, we watch the scale until its numbers settle. Then comes a trumpet accolade and the announcements:

Charles: 51 pounds!
Monica: 28 pounds!
Derek: 15 pounds!
Titus: 10 pounds!
Byron: 3 pounds!

The packs weigh more than they did the last trip, and our faces beam.

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At the trailhead I shoulder my load, taking pride in every pound. Why do I keep track of how much I carry? Why am I proud of the weight on my back?

It is my own weight, mine, and I carry it alone. See? I can carry it! My strong legs take the trail and its thousand-foot elevation gain. I can do it. I need no rest.

It is an illusion, and I fall for it again: self-sufficiency. Anxiety hovers close by, ready to swoop down on me. I am now a clear and easy target, having marked myself with pride.

But the deadly talons never reach me. God’s Word has come between.

So, humble yourselves under God’s strong hand, and in his own good time he will lift you up. You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.
– 1 Peter 5:6-7 (Phillips)

Father, I don’t want to hoard my worries from You. Protect me from thinking that I operate on my own strength. I recognize that without You I can do nothing. Teach me (again) humility, which is an anti-worry shield. Show me how to shed pride and transfer the weight from my shoulders to Yours. I want to labor for You, but only by taking the yoke of Jesus. With this yoke upon me, may I learn from You and find rest.

When we humble ourselves each morning by casting all our cares on the Lord, we will start the day free of care. The humble are genuinely care free.

I’ve discovered how true that is about myself and my soul. Where there’s worry, where there’s anxiousness, pride is at the root of it. When I am experiencing anxiety, the root issue is that I’m trying to be self-sufficient. I’m acting independent of God.

C.J. Mahaney, in Humility: True Greatness

(We just went backpacking, so I’m remembering this (originally posted 9/17/2009).)

(Linking with Ann Voskamp, who hosts on Wednesday a community of those who share about Humility. Click on the Holy Experience badge below to read more posts on Humility)