Saturday, February 7, 2015

The idolatry of numbers (and how He sets us free)

Photo Source: @chrisinplymouth.

I hate math, but sometimes I act as if numbers are my thing. I’ve been guilty of counting “likes” on my Instagram post, girls in my Bible study, RSVPs to my party, and visitors to my blog. Then, just like a certified hypocrite, I inwardly roll my eyes when a friend boasts about how big her church is, or posts how many words her two-year-old can say. And really, who cares how many activities you crammed into this weekend?!

Oh, we do. We really, really do.

Shortly after I gave birth to my son, I lopped off exactly 899 friends from my Facebook account. Those first months of motherhood were overwhelming, and social media stressed me out. But within the year, I started to regret the lopping—not because I missed those “friends,” but because I wanted people to realize that despite my new motherhood status, I still had an impressive social circle.

Um, excuse me. What?! Did I just admit that in public?

The idolatry of my heart is pathetic, causing me to worship something as ridiculous as numbers. But like any good idol, statistics can give me a (false) sense of security and value. If I have a large network, receive multiple emails in response to my latest article, or have more friends than you do, I’m special, right? Unique. Different. Better. Valuable. Desirable.

Isn’t that what we women long for more than we dare admit? If our hearts could beat in words, surely they would say,

I want to be loved.
I want to be known.
I want to be desired.

So we post selfies and successes, that the crowds might adore us. We fill our calendars to overflowing and juggle dozens of relationships.

The problem with numbers is they make impressive promises, but they lie like a lover whispering sweet-nothings just before breaking up with you. The more you measure your worth by your stats, the more you need stats to feel worthy.

And chasing down "likes" is just plain ol' exhausting.

But there is One who can bestow on us all the beauty and love and value we desperately desire. We could have the attention and adoration of a million people, but without This One, we would still be left empty and wanting.

Instead of baring ourselves to the masses, we were made to hide ourselves in God. We were made to measure our worth by His Son Jesus. What He has done (not what we have done) defines us. God is not impressed with numbers and crowds and claustrophobic calendars. Rather, He says, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word.”

Dear One, we will never learn to tremble at His word if we are codependent upon everyone else’s words. Humility will constantly elude us if we keep looking to them and not to Him. We must practice the art of slipping away from the crowds, as He did. To be quiet and still before Him. To find refuge in Him.

In Him, our hearts go from chaotic to quiet.
In Him, we become grateful instead of greedy.
In Him, we don’t earn love, we exult in it.

Then, and only then, can we effectively engage our world—social media and all—for greater purposes than our own image and identity. Only then can we filter both compliments and criticisms through His love for us.

Only then can we freely love others.

Does everyone around you seem to enjoy a wealth of amazing friendships while you feel the sting of loneliness? Is your ministry small and unimpressive? Do you look at your numbers on social media and feel like you’ve come up short?

The psalmist said, “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. [But, wait!] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

And there is no place sweeter, safer, and more satisfying than in His shadow.

So how do I shelter myself in God in a culture of overexposure? How can I value the opinion of One more than a hundred? How do I tune my heart to listen to His Word above theirs?

I come to Him. I draw near to Him. I make room for Him.

And when I don’t have the “want to,” I ask Him to give it to me. He is in the business of changing hearts and minds, and doing “abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine.”

God’s numbering system is so different than ours. We bring our nothing and He gives us His everything.

Getting 127 “likes” on social media is a lot like getting breadcrumbs for dinner. Crumbs are fine to eat, but they really aren’t satisfying—especially compared to the feast of love that’s waiting for us in Him.

Scriptures referenced: Isaiah 66:2, Psalm 91, Psalm 142:4, James 4:8, Psalm 119:36, Ephesians 3:20

Monday, December 22, 2014

He Made Himself Nothing

These words have been on repeat in my head (and heart) as I anticipate Christmas: “He made Himself nothing.”

He, as in GOD. The Great I Am pressed Himself into nothingness, bound Himself up in mere flesh and blood.

It’s beautiful and bewildering. “Nothing” is not attractive to me. I want to be “something.” I want love and affirmation and respect and value. I want to feel significant, to make my mark in this world and be remembered well for it.

But He turns our world upside-down and inside-out and says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Do we appreciate what He did? What Christmas truly means? How do I—a naturally self-absorbed, self-important person—embrace this kind of humility?

This past week I journeyed back to Bethlehem, to that extraordinarily ordinary stable, and I marveled. I marveled at Scripture after Scripture, teary-eyed and awestruck at the perplexity and paradox of the Incarnation….

The One who owns “every beast of the forest” and “the cattle on a thousand hills,” made His first bed in an animal’s feeding trough. (Psalm 50:10; Luke 2:7)

The One whose voice “breaks the cedars, flashes forth flames of fire, and shakes the wilderness,” took on the cries and coos of a newborn. (Psalm 29; Job 38:34, 40:9; Revelation 1:15; Isaiah 53:7)

The One who rides through the skies in His majesty, who binds the chains of the Pleiades and looses the cords of Orion, looked up into His star-studded sky through the wonder of a child’s eyes.  (Deuteronomy 33:26; Job 38:31)

The One whose love for His children is “as high as the heavens are above the earth,” became the humble recipient of a mother’s imperfect love.  (Psalm 103:11)

The One who alone treads the winepress of wrath, who has “walked in the recesses of the deep,” became a toddler who took faltering steps and stumbled and fell as He learned to walk for the very first time.  (Psalm 104:32)

The One who is the King of kings and Lord of lords, who rules over the nations and whose “chariots are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands”; entrusted the first news of His birth to a shabby group of social outcasts. (Psalm 47:8; Psalm 68:17; Revelation 19:16)

The One “who can number the clouds by wisdom” and numbers the hairs on our heads, and keeps count of our tossing and tears, learned how to count from the beginning: 1-2-3. (Job 38:37; Luke 12:7; Psalm 56:8)

The One who adorns Himself with majesty and dignity; who clothes Himself with glory and splendor; whose appearance is as jasper and carnelian; He let Himself be wrapped in swaddling cloths and “had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” (Job 40:10; Revelation 4; Isaiah 53:2; Luke 2:7)

The One who created all and before whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess as Lord—He became a misfit, “a root out of dry ground,” despised and rejected, “one from whom men hide their faces.” (Isaiah 53:2-3)

The One who fights for us, who daily bears our burdens, who is “the Shield of our help”—became a helpless babe, a child utterly dependent on human parents. (Exodus 14:14; Psalm 68:19; Deuteronomy 33:29)

The One whose fame leaves men prostrate and speechless, became the child of scandal (a virgin mother, indeed!), the subject of hushed (and not-so-hushed) conversations and chastising sideways glances. (Habakkuk 3:2; Psalm 19; Daniel 7; Revelation 4)

Dear one, our God became poor so that we could become rich in Him. He set His gaze upon the cruel cross, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,” taking our place so that we could know Life forever and ever.

He became like us so that we could become like Him. 

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

This post also appears on True Woman

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When darkness seems to hide His face

Depression first found me when I was an idealistic 19-year-old with plans to change the world. Panic attacks and obsessive thought patterns soon followed, and the promise and excitement of my 20s was to be often overshadowed by mental and emotional angst.

I’d grown up reading the biographies of dead saints: men and women who gave up everything—from worldly comforts to their very lives—in order to love Jesus and love others. My young life was immeasurably shaped by the compelling examples of these courageous believers who accomplished great feats for the Kingdom of God.

I had known they were broken too. Many had suffered cyclical depression as I was now experiencing in my 20s, and I clung to their stories of God’s faithfulness in their brokenness. I needed to know that others had walked this path before me and still been fruitful and effective in living out God’s purposes for them.

But 17 years after my first depression, now a wife and mother at 36, yet another season of crippling panic attacks, insomnia and darkness was upon me. The long-awaited joys of marriage and motherhood were finally mine, but I was struggling to string together three rational thoughts. I wrestled with God. Why had I waited 15 years for such joys, simply to watch them snuffed out by this demon depression?

Join me at today as I review the book that God used to shed light on a dark season of my life....

Sunday, November 23, 2014

When the holidays are hard

I was 31 and it was Christmas Eve when we had The Talk. Everyone thought we were the perfect match, and I'd already given him too much of my heart. So even though I put on a happy face, my heart reeled as he told me we should "just be friends." We wished each other a merry Christmas, he walked out the door, and I fell apart. Then I pulled myself together again to join my family for Christmas Eve dinner—where loved ones joyfully announced their pregnancy. I rejoiced as I choked back soul-deep sobs.

My single years held many Christmases like that one—sweet joys in the midst of silent anguish, bitterness tangled up in beauty. The very things about the season that enchanted me, also served to magnify my heartache: parties with everyone coupled up but me; romantic Christmas music and movies; and those annual Christmas letters brimming with friends' burgeoning families. It all reminded me of what I didn't have, of what I longed for with all my being. My fight for contentment and hope was so much more intense through those holiday weeks.

But I didn't have the corner on the market of pain. Others were also hurting and hoping for better Christmases to come.

Over the years I wept with friends who suffered the loss of a newborn baby, a parent's sudden death, a broken marriage, a barren womb, and financial hardships. My heart grew tender toward those who lacked the very basic necessities of life: shelter, food, and love—as well as those who suffered "smaller" pangs: strained family relationships, the betrayal of a close friend, or the loneliness of living far from home and loved ones.

And while marriage and motherhood have taken much of Bitterness' bite out of the season, my husband and I have navigated a job loss, flooded home, debilitating illness, and other such stresses, all while celebrating "the most wonderful season of all."

Dear one, you've been here too, haven't you? You have fasted in the middle of the feast, and you've tasted the bitterness in the bounty.

The holidays, especially Christmas it seems, represent all that is generous and beautiful. We sing of peace and well-being and hope. We give thanks and we exchange gifts. We cherish the idea of an invisible Santa Claus delivering wishes-come-true, of family gatherings around a festive feast, and of hot drinks sipped at the fireside with Bing Crosby’s voice crooning in the background.

But we feel the deep disparity between this broken world we live in, and the world we were made for. Our hearts long for unadulterated happiness and peace, but we are marred by brokenness and need.

And therein lies the greatest gift of all: this deep disparity brings us back to the true meaning of Christmas. Our heartaches, our have-nots, and even the brokenness of the world around us—they drive us to the Only One who can satiate our souls. And that longing within us for something more, that discontent that follows the feast and the gift-opening—it reminds us of the immeasurable gift God gave us in sending his Son Jesus to us...

To live with us.
To die for us.
To give us the infinite riches of Himself.

And not only did He give us His Son, but He also constantly works this brokenness and heartache for our good—our infinite, perfect, glorious good. Though I won't know the fullness of that good until eternity, I've experienced it here in a million ways. Do you know how thankful I am for those years when God didn't give me what I so desperately wanted? Oh, how I praise Him for that long wait that made me fall in love with Him, and for saying "no" to every other man so that I could marry the best man of all, Edward Chao.

These holidays are for us, dear one—for the hurting, the broken, and the needy. Our culture is enamored with busy, expensive, indulgent, feel-good holidays. But God is always about us finding our highest good in Him, even when that requires us to suffer, to do without, or to wait an inordinate length of time. He loves us too much to let us settle for lesser loves.

This Christmas, may our silent aches and longings compel us to worship the God of the Universe, who wrapped Himself in flesh and blood so that our lives would have meaning, so that we would know the Hope that does not disappoint.

{Scriptures referenced: Hebrews 13:14-15, Romans 8:32, 2 Corinthians 4:17, Romans 5:5}

This article is from the archives (originally posted November 2013). This was also posted on True Woman

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Finding rhythms of rest (even through the holidays)

He has always wooed me.

From the time I was eleven and my heart caught fire for His Word, I’ve come to know this God as Pursuer. He has always pursued me, faithfully, even when I wasn’t faithful to pursue Him.
A few days ago, I drove up a winding hill, fresh after fall’s first storm, with thick foliage around me (a rare find in our concrete desert) and no one in the car with me; and the tears started. They were longing to spill out before Him, to be seen by Him. Despite my daily Bible study, I felt like I hadn’t experienced Him in weeks.
My soul was made for this One. Everything about me—my personality, my frailties, my history, my hurts, my hopes—it’s all meant to sing His song, to spill out the melody of His gospel on those around me.
A Dried-Up-Soul Season But a season of crisis and nonstop needs can dry up the soul until the only thing that seems to be spilling out is a monumental mess.
Can you relate?
Join me over at True Woman today as I share what I'm learning about resting in Jesus—even when I'm exhausted, numb, or facing the frenetic holiday season. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A life well lived

For years I had very few opportunities to rub shoulders with wrinkled wise ones... till God moved us to a church wealthy in age. Now I'm looking for any excuse I can find to spend time with folks over eighty. 

Sitting down and listening to Henry Stuursma tell the story of his life slowed my own life down, gave me much-needed perspective, and made me worship a God who masterfully pens our days....

It was the year Winston Churchill became British minister, Albert Einstein unveiled his theory of relativity, and Babe Ruth made homerun history. And while it didn’t make any news headlines, the birth of Henry Stuursma was no less extraordinary. Humbly begun in a small town of Iowa on April 25, 1921, Henry’s life would be shaped by constant change, courage, sorrows, and joys—and these in turn would forge a legacy of love.

The Early Years 
Henry was the youngest of seven children, and when he was just 18 months old, his mother died suddenly, leaving his sisters to raise him. Several years later, his father’s chronic asthma drove the family to seek a better climate in Denver, Colorado. There his father met and married his second wife—providing little Henry with a much-needed mother.

Two of Henry’s brothers were twins, one of whom had Down syndrome. In the 1920’s, very little was understood about the syndrome and his brother was labeled a Mongloid. Doctors counseled his parents to institutionalize their son, but they refused. So Jake remained an integral, beloved part of the family, and Henry learned to love and value a sibling with special needs.

When his asthma didn’t improve, Henry’s father loaded up his wife and three children (the oldest four remained in Iowa) and set off for what he’d heard was “the land of milk and honey”—California. It was 1929, and it took two weeks to drive the 800 miles from Denver to Mentone. Henry recalls the trip with fondness even though his seat was the tailgate of the truck, where he shivered through rain and snow. Every time they encountered a hill, they drove up backwards; it was the only way the gasoline could reach the engine. In retrospect, Henry recognizes the strength of his mother, caring for three children in these less-than-favorable conditions:

“Mom would get up early and make breakfast. Then she’d make sandwiches for coffee time. Then she’d make lunch. And then she’d make some more for afternoon teatime. And then [she and Dad would] try early enough to find cabins and go to a grocery store because there was no McDonald’s back then. We were chasing around, causing trouble. She was busy cooking and fixing things for supper. She must have worked her head off. And she was a city girl too. In fact, she came out of Holland. Her dad was a professor at University of Leiden. And she came here and married in Denver, and that guy died, and then she married Dad. And she came out here to work at a chicken farm.”

Henry’s father had his heart set on working a dairy farm in Mentone, but when that fell through, he started a chicken farm instead. Henry remembers the Flood of 1938, when the streets were submerged and “rocks as big as a VW” were loosed from the mountains and rolled down, causing the ground to quake. The storm knocked out the gas supply, which was the heat source for the farm’s chicks. Henry’s family had just purchased 2,000 chicks, so they brought them all inside the house, spread out newspapers, and kept them warm by the stove. “We had a noisy couple of nights,” he says with twinkles in his eyes.

Henry speaks of many close-knit relationships, of Redlands Christian School days (he was in the first ninth-grade graduating class), and of the church on Clay Street, filled with young people who loved choir performances and “stupid plays” that would turn out huge crowds.

In Love and War  
Henry’s personal relationship with God grew under the influence of the Southern California Young People’s Group. The new association drew participants from as far away as Los Angeles, a city that he says was “just starting; roads weren’t that good; [it was a] long haul to L.A.” It was at a Young People’s summer camp at Forest Home in 1940 that Henry met “an amazing woman” named Betty. It was love at first sight.

Betty lived in L.A., so Henry scraped together gas money from his weekly salary of $10 to go visit her and take her on dates. Then news came that postponed any hopes they had of marriage. At a Young People’s gathering he and his friends “heard war was declared, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Our days of freedom are over with; we’ll be called.’ Sure enough, it wasn’t long. I could have been exempted [because of the family business], but I felt like I should go.”

Henry was stationed in Alaska, and he and Betty exchanged love letters. When he was reassigned to San Francisco to work in embarkation/debarkation, Henry was finally free to marry Betty. It was 1945, and the war had made it difficult to find a place to live in the city, so the newlyweds shared an apartment with another couple. He happily recalls meeting “a lot of interesting people” during that time.

Making a Home
When the war was over, he and Betty returned to Mentone where they started both a new chicken farm and, more importantly, a family. They bought a tiny house with knotty pine walls and a huge yard, added 6 children and 30,000 chickens, and called it home.

“When I look back I see how my planning was so poor, but the Lord always provided and we never went hungry. We had some rough times and almost lost the business. We built it up from practically nothing. But He supplied our needs.”

All six of his kids worked the farm. “Back then they belly-ached, but they say now it’s the best thing that ever happened to them. They all learned how to work; they all learned how to do anything.”

Henry’s love for his kids (and his 18 grandkids and 18 great-grandkids) is contagious. “They are just tops,” he beams and points to their pictures all over the walls. But parenting had its sorrows too. Henry and Betty discovered their eldest son had Huntington’s disease. The effects of the disease were cruel and cost the son both his marriage and an influential job at a hospital in Colorado. He died at the age of 50. Henry explains that the worst part of it was the fact that his grandson also inherited the disease, and passed away at age 30, just two years ago.  

Henry and Betty cared for their son until his death. Betty also took on the full-time care of Jake (Henry’s brother with Down syndrome) till he passed away at 64 years old.

Lifelong Love 
“She was an amazing woman. Never had an argument. She wouldn’t argue. Nope, if we disagreed: ‘Okay,’ she’d say. ‘You have it your way,’ and she’d go on. And next time I’d have a Bible verse laying on my desk or somewhere.”

Henry chokes back tears as he talks about his bride of 69 years. Just two months ago, and just shy of their seventieth wedding anniversary, Betty went home to be with Jesus. Henry still speaks in terms of “we” and “us,” as if Betty might walk into the room and sit beside him at any moment.

But while her presence is still keenly felt, her absence is what Henry describes as “terrible.”

“Right now I feel like someone dumped me in the water and I don’t know which way to swim. It’s terrible. But the Lord gives you strength, and I’m so glad she didn’t suffer. But it’s awful lonesome bad.” His voice breaks with emotion.

“Next month would have been seventy years. And the secret—and I didn’t know it, and I’m finding out now—she had drawers. Every drawer in the house was stuffed full. And I says, ‘Honey, what are you doing with all that?! How come you’re using every drawer in the house?! I knew she was scribbling, and I thought she was writing her own personal diaries, but… It’s prayers!! She’s got books of prayers for every birthday the kids had. Every event. I didn’t know that. I’d be at the table asking, ‘Honey, do you want to pray?’ ‘No, you do it better than I do,’ she’d say. But here I find books of her prayers. What a woman. What a woman. Here she was a city girl, and I took her to the farm. And we didn’t have it easy. And she never complained.”

Henry sits across from me at his turquoise-colored kitchen table, and as twilight settles upon us through the big picture window, I’m teary-eyed. This house that once burst at the seams with busy love is now remarkably quiet. Henry would say it is too quiet.

But if walls could speak, this house would dance. Here is a legacy of love—a story worth telling.