on Drifting

Boat

There’s a gentle sway I’ve detected in quiet moments of my recent days.  A pitch so forceful at times that I’m shaken off-balance.  And in those moments, I know – I’m drifting.  The course has been unknown from the start, but have I deviated from it?  Is the yaw working unseen, taking me steadily through uncharted waters or have I ceased striving, being taken adrift by currents, winds, and waves indeterminable?

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
Proverbs 16:9

Is my life on track?  Am I going the right direction?  Is this heart planning my steps or is my mind taking paths as they come upon me unawares?  I want to live a life guided and directed by the will of the Father.  I long to be known by my love, by a heart shaped in the fashion of my Maker’s compass.  Long has this struggle haunted me.  I come up wanting.  Not measured to be enough.  But when I close my eyes, my prayers assure me that I’m not out of His hands or His control or His path.  Until recently.  I’m off the map.

There’s a tightness in my chest that grips so hard I can’t find air.  It threatens to unravel me.  To crush me beneath its reality.  That I regret.  I’ve never felt regret like this before.  I’ve bought into the world’s idea that all mistakes are part of what makes you the person you are today – and the Christian’s idea that everything happens for a reason and is never outside of God’s plan.  But.  But.  Did they take into account me?  And my immeasurable ability to defy the Most High?

“But if they openly curse, what will they gain by spitting at the sky?”
John Calvin

With nothing to gain, I tilt my head and scream profanities to the One who swore I could never be wrestled from His hand.  And now, covered in my own accusations, I find myself cursing every stumbled step I take.  Unable?  Unwilling?  To be still and seek Him.  First.  To look beyond the fire and feel more than the quake – to hear Him.

But.  But.  How do I go back?  No amount of correct steps from this moment forward can recoup the wears of wasted travels.  And this I know, it will never be enough.  Not a single right intention, not a moment of true worship, not a step of the preordained path.

How can I lift my head to the One who gave much when I have so little?  I haven’t even tried to profit more.  I’ve buried my treasure and waited for His return.  Making no gains.  No interest.  Nothing to show for the years entrusted to me.

 “But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Matthew 25:29

And I feel it slipping.  I feel myself drifting.  Taken away.

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Review: “Faithful: A Theology of Sex” by Beth Felker Jones


If our bodies don’t really mean anything, then we will act as though we can assign them meaning at random. We will act, or others will act, as though our bodies – free of real meaning – can be used, in a given moment, for nothing but pleasure or nothing but power or nothing but selfishness. We will act as though bodies can be disregarded or discounted. We will act as though bodies can be used as commodities, bought and sold on the free market. (p. 15)

We live in a very broken world. Much of our brokenness, many have argued, is centered around the long-misguided views and uses of the physical body. The first national survey conducted of adults regarding sexual abuse published its findings in 1990 with the staggering statistics that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Many since then have suggested the rates to be even higher. In his book The Wounded Heart, Dr. Dan B. Allender confesses, “At times, I wonder if every person in the world, male and female, young and old, has been sexually abused.” His musings are not unfounded.

What if sex is not about a list of rules, a set of dos and don’ts? What if sex isn’t, most of all, about us? What if sex is about God and who God is and about God’s good intentions for creation? . . . [T]he way Christians do and don’t have sex is about who God is and the good life God wants for us. (p. 10)

The immediate verse following the sumptuous tastes of a forbidden fruit in Genesis tells us that “then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen 3:7a).  From the very first moment that sin entered our world, the human body felt its effects. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3:21).  And since man’s first shortcoming, God has been clothing our unrighteousness, covering our shame, and redeeming our transgressions. This is the basis of the book Faithful: A Theology of Sex by Beth Felker Jones. From the marital bed to celibacy, from exploitation to false notions of purity, from a glory once known to a panoptic fall and a redemption unwarranted, Jones’ extrapolation of the Bible’s real teachings concerning the human body are both piercing and refreshing.

What if, instead of teaching that we can “expect to get married,” we taught that everybody’s body matters and that everybody’s body can be a sign of faithfulness to God? (p. 91)

After having several of my friends, both married and single, recommend the book, I added it to my reading list. In just over 100 pages, it is the most profound book on the subject that I have read to date. Without question, it should be required reading for every person with breath in their lungs.

We don’t need a sexual ethics based on fear. God, not shame, is the reason for chastity, and God, not shame, is the one who can change our behavior. (p. 74)

Our world is rampant with pornography, unrealistic romantic expectations, sexual abuse, an idolization of marriage, fear-based coercion of purity, a disconnect of sex from intimacy, impossible standards for body image, the exploitation of human bodies, the degradation of morals, a transient notion of gender, and an overall culture that worships and yet devalues the human body on a worldwide scale. Where is a Christian to turn to find truth about the human body and God’s real purposes for it? How is the Church to cultivate a truly Biblical foundation for her members to build upon as image-bearers of the Most High? These issues, these questions, and so much more are unabashedly confronted in Jones’ book.

What if we taught that men and women are precious? What could we do to make it clear that said preciousness is unconditional, that there is nothing we can do, nothing that can happen to us, that can take away our status as free, image-bearing children of the Creator? (p. 92)

As a godly woman with a broken notion of God’s goodness for and through our bodies, the wife of a husband who is equally broken, the mother of two quickly maturing girls, the mother of a growing boy, and an undeniable daughter of the Most High, this book and the Biblical truths defined in it have single-handedly given me hope for the sexual problems facing our world. The doctrines in Jones’ work can be applied to singleness, marriage, child-rearing, counseling, preaching, and worship. They can be a healing salve for those who are or have glorified their own attempts at purity, thought lost something they never owned, searched for the value of their gender, struggled with their sexual identity, and the 1 in 4 or 1 in 6 who have been sexually traumatized. The declared goodness of God’s created bodies is real. The fallen condition of those bodies is real. But the Jesus of the Bible is also real. And with Him comes a redemption impossible without.

Resurrection works by continuity. The Jesus who died on Friday is the same Jesus who is raised from the dead on Easter Sunday. He still eats fish, and he bears the scars of his crucifixion. The seed that was planted in the earth is the same individual and the same species as the plant that grows from it (1 Cor. 15). God kills all those things about bad sex that destroy human flourishing. God kills all those things about bad sex that tell lies about reality, which fail to testify to the God who is faithful. When God kills pornication , he raises it from the dead as desire redeemed. He raises it as sex that tells the truth about reality. Desire is God’s good creation, and God will not let it go. (p. 56)

Buy it from Amazon: Faithful: A Theology of Sex by Beth Felker Jones

2 comments

on Defiling Religion

White Dress“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” – James 1:27 (ESV)

There is little room in the scriptures for a believer to be about the Father’s business and not attend to widows and orphans.  The Old and New Testaments are speckled with charges for God’s people to care for the least of these; most namely, widows and orphans.  It should come as no surprise then, when we read in James that God equates “pure” religion with caring for widows and orphans.  That’s not the shocking or impossible part of the text for me.  It’s that last part.

Because to visit the least of these, the lost, the forgotten, the broken, the forlorn in their affliction is going to take some getting dirty.  The challenge is not just to care for them.  In so many regards, that’s the easier half.  It’s also not just to remain unstained, orphans or no.  The challenge is to advocate in a way that does not stain or spot or tint or blemish you.  You can be changed.  You will be changed.  That much I can almost promise – or I’d argue you’re doing it wrong.  But to walk away without a dark mark seared into your soul is the key – the part that I find impossible.  Though we’re called to do it nonetheless.

The deeper I get into ministry, the more and more I feel stained.  I feel defiled before the Lord.  I find myself unable to love as He loves me.  Unable to ignore the crashing waves.  Unable to sacrifice myself and my will.  Unable to do as He calls me to do and be whom He has called me to be.  The more I try, the less I am.  Seeming to be unstained and being unstained are worlds apart.  And as my facade comes down, I’m left lacking in being.

I know that even as I have been commanded to advocate, there is One who advocates for me.  And just as my religion is sure to be impure, His sacrifice is promised to be sufficient.  It does not lessen the truth, but it lessens the blow.  With or without my service, I would be stained.  With or without my stain, I am called to serve.  It’s a Catch-22 of the worst and best kind.  That though I will never wipe away every tear, He shall.  And though I cannot save a single life, He does.  Though my trust is failing, He is fulfilling.

And even as my stain is growing, He is washing.

Less of me.  More of Him.  Less of me.  Less of me.

2 comments

on Making the Wrong Decisions

Road

Recently I stumbled upon a question that stopped me in my tracks:

“When is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards, and just do what you know is right?”

This question sounds like such an easy solution to all of the world’s problems, doesn’t it?  If we apply this simple formula at each bend in the road, wouldn’t we be assured of living a life full of the “right decisions”?  The problem though is God.  His right is not always our right.  His answer is not always so simple.  His plan is full of our wrong decisions, catastrophic mess-ups, and generation-begetting sins.

Don’t believe me?  Crack open that Bible you’ve got sitting on the bookshelf and count how many blessings came out of man’s wrong decisions.  How many promises God made turning our mistakes into His glory & His kingdom’s gain.  How many Biblical heroes turned left instead of right at the fork in the road.  Read through the genealogy of Jesus & think about each person mentioned & the life they led – wrongs and all!

Resting in His providence is sometimes better than doing what you know is right, especially when the right thing isn’t so obvious.  I’m not excusing sin.  I’m not encouraging you to falsely rely on grace as a ticket to live however you want.  I’m just saying that maybe the better question to ask ourselves is:

“When is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards, and just do what the Lord is calling you to?”

Because sometimes He’s calling me to silence when I think words are necessary, to be still when I want to jump into action, to rest when I want to scream, to stay when I want to go.  And sometimes He’s calling me to speak when words are sure to fail, to plunge when I can’t see the landing, to race when I’m too weary, to go where the footing is unsure.

He’s a God of consistent inconsistencies.  He’s a God who revels in our dumbfounded confessions of “only You”.  He delights in our weakness and is made strong in our failings.  He is faithful.  He is just.  And He confuses the hell out of me.

This God of mine is unrelenting.  He nags and tugs and stirs and breaks.  And never when I want Him to.  He is silent and still and quiet and benign.  And always when I need Him.  Yet into the stillness I groan, “Your will be done” as He undoes me, and into the chaos I cry, “Send me!” while He lies in wait.  He is good.  And I am His.  He has hemmed me in.  And with every intake, I’ll breathe life into His plan and surrender my own to His will.

Because risks, rewards, and all; this is where I want to be.

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on One at a Time

Bed

So, you know when someone in your house is sick and then they get better just as someone else gets it and around and around it goes?  And you think to yourself, and probably say to everyone around, “I wish they’d just all be sick at the same time so we can get it over with.”  Well, I’m here to tell you that being sick sucks to the power of the number of total people sick.  Example: we’ve got 5 sick people in our house right now.  That means it sucks5.  If only one person were sick it would just suck¹.  That means that with each additional person you add, the sucking multiplies exponentially.  As you may have presumed, it is a scientific fact.

For the first time, ever, our entire family has the same illness at the exact same time.  I would give just about anything to trade the “all in” scenario for a “one at a time” option.  I really thought I was going to beat it; I was the last holdout.  But this morning I woke up and called it official.  Now there’s no one running at full capacity to care for the wounded.  Everyone is having trouble sleeping, everyone is coughing horrifically, everyone is a zombie, and we look even worse than we feel.

I really don’t have a point here.  I’m just wasting space so I can say that I haven’t given up on my goal of writing every day.  Though if pressed in the court of law, I would not, under oath, count this as real writing.  It’s “I’m sick and I’m exhausted and I have a lot of meds in me and need to pee again because I’m drinking too much Echinacea tea” writing.  Which I think, according to the dictionary definition, means it’s rambling.

I don’t want to be sick.  I want to be healthy.  I want my brain to function so I can get back to real writing.  And I want my family to be healthy too, so I can stop taking years off my life worrying over them.  The whole thing, you guessed it, sucks5!!

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A Real Life Update

Rain Leaves

I’m plumb out of eloquence, so I hope the last few days’ posts are enough to tide you over.  I’m just drained.  With the news we received yesterday, 3 kids + 1 husband being sick, rain & more rain today, our fireplace being remodeled, the Republican debate last night (yes, we stayed up way too late watching it), and the regular duties required of a wife, mom, & breathing human being, I just don’t have much more to offer.  Which is really saying something, because even on a good day, I don’t usually have a lot left over.

I’m really enjoying being a writer, though!  After almost 2 weeks, it’s getting less & less scary with each post – and yet there’s more & more pressure to write something fancy, entertaining, and not so stinking depressing.  Though I did warn you.  This is real.

Possibly irrationally, I’m starting to think I can actually do this.  I can be a real writer.  And not just for myself.  I should hedge my hopes, though, because I tend to get really depressed when I’m let down.  Shocker, I know.

I’m dying to write some fictional pieces here.  Just haven’t had the time or energy to start a project like that yet.  And I haven’t quite figured out how to do it.  It can’t be too long – or it would need to be broken into multiple posts, which I think would be fun – and I’m a little trepidatious about other people stealing my work.  I’m utterly vain & unrealistic.  I know.  I know.  I’m still paranoid.

This is the part of the conversation where I say, “So, how are you?  What are you up to these days?  Do you know who you’re voting for?”

Feel free to answer in the comments below 🙂 …

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on Death

Rotating Stars

This morning we received a blow to the chest.  And I can’t catch my breath.

I don’t care what you say.  I don’t want to hear the detached Bible verses promising “happily ever after”.  I don’t want your clichéd remarks read right off a decorative pillow or that ugly embroidered flower mosaic hanging on your wall.

There is one thing we all share in common.  One thing alone that every 108 year old grandma shares with every 8 week old unborn baby – and all the helpless saps in between.  Death.  And if we’re all headed towards it anyway, what does it really matter how it happens?  At a ripe old age, snuggled in bed, surrounded by loved ones, life full of happy memories to usher you in.  Or only a few years inside, cold in a ditch, no one to grieve you, anguish and injustice left behind.  It doesn’t, right?  So let’s baptize those babies, slit their throats, and wish them Godspeed on their way to Paradise.  Everything after conception is just useless noise.

But it does.  Matter.  And they don’t.  All go to Paradise.  And it sucks.  Every heartbeat.

I’m tired of the journey.  Of the noise.  Of the rising and falling and failing and praying and hoping and resolving.  Of the promises and the breaches.  Of the fine print that lines every luminous ray.  I’m emotionally ravaged and physically disabled by the woes of this world and the wrapped-up-in-a-pretty-bow well wishers and the least of these.  The least of these.  I’m numb.  Disjointed.  Isolated.  Severed.

And I’d run if I could.  But I can’t.

You’ve hemmed me in.

From the start of Creation, I was marked off.  Designed into the blueprints of this crazy mess.  And try with all my might, I can’t get away.  Though I beat at Your chest and I spit in Your face; You touch my hip and I’ll never be the same.  And You promise anew to never forsake.  And I resolve afresh to not wander.

And until this very moment, this desolate moment, I didn’t understand how anyone could urge, with a straight face and steady heart, “Come Lord Jesus, come.”  I’ve screamed, “Take me!” more times than I can recall, but that’s not the same.  It’s about taking me away.  Not bringing You back.  Ending the night.  Not striking the day.

With eyes open wide, I’m ready now.  Take it back to what it was supposed to be.  Right the millions of wrongs that lead to an empty death.  Expose every last inch, wipe every last drop, shift and sift and separate and unite.

I don’t understand this business You’re about.  I don’t know the purpose of the waiting.  I just know I’m tired and life isn’t fair and I’m ready to stop the rotating.

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on Forgetting

Flowers in Hair

Something big happened today.  Something that is of utmost importance and has everything, yet nothing, to do with everything.  Something that’s shroud of uncertainty has the probability of certain sadness. This monumental event has been on my calendar for weeks and consumed my thoughts, prayers, and conversations.  Today was the big day.  The culmination of so many things.  And I forgot.  Until just now.

And I’m undone.

I want to take back the day I’ve spent on busyness.  The morning of volunteering at Open House.  The afternoon of buying tile for a fireplace remodel.  The evening of making dinner and playing and laughing.  I want it all back.

To lock myself in with echoed prayers and phantom faith.  To devote one more day to the hope of unlikely and the pleas of impossible.  To be present in the absence.  To do something when nothing is sought.  To fortify myself for what is to come.  To prepare for the privation.  The famine.  The wilderness.

But I can’t.  Because I didn’t.  And I’m not.

And I’m undone.

Oh Lord, be my help.  Call forth Your mighty army.  Conquer the depravity.  Grant provision where none is prepared.  Grant hope where daylight is fleeting.  Breathe life into dry bones.

And when You don’t.  If You don’t.  I pray You will rescue me from sadness.

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An Open Letter of Encouragement

Friends in the Cold

Dear Discouraged Friend,

The one being crushed by doubt and uncertainty.  The one crying in the shower, begging for clarity and the promise of a good outcome.  The one being tossed by life’s waves and scattered by life’s wind.  You rage against the past, despise the day, and wish tomorrow would set before it dawns.  You, with pain so acute you can’t catch your breath, with an ache so persistent you know it’ll scar; screaming from a cavern deep, with edges sharp, the emptiness inside threatens to consume you.

I have been where you are.  I find myself there often.  And though it’s never quite the same, I’m fighting this battle beside you.  I’m knee-deep myself, but still, I want to offer my shoulder.  Maybe if we spark hope enough for the other, we can both climb out alive.

So, here goes.  This is me rooting for you to win.

You are going to make it.  You will wake up and swing your legs over the bed and go through this painful day.  You will find a scrap of shelter in the storm and wait out the dark clouds.  You will make the tough decisions and do the unthinkable and reach deep into the sludge to pull goodness and hope from their graves.  One shallow breath at a time, you will beg, “Lord, sustain me.”  Tucking those knees to your chest, you will whimper, “Lord guide me.”  And when the water rushes over, you will prostrate yourself on solid ground, feeling the unmovable earth below and picture the powerful hands in which it rests.  You won’t fail.  You won’t run.  You will not give in to the void.

Because you are not alone.  You are loved and you are treasured and you are necessary.  The world does not rest on your shoulders, though they slump ready to take it on.  Your heart will not actually consume you, though it’s vacuum threatens it will.  Earth’s axis is constant, the falling tides cyclical, there is nothing new under the sun, and this too shall pass.

These miles you’ve shuffled through are taking you farther than you know.  And all the stumbling blocks with which you’ve contended have mounted you to higher ground.  The hardest part is over.  It is.  Though from your vantage point, it may not seem true.  Don’t be discouraged by the forecast ahead; now that you’re on your way, a little rain won’t be enough to thwart you.  He has led you here.  He spoke into the stillness and beckoned you to come.  He threw wide the doors and uncoiled the path.  With sure signs and a gentle tugging, He has brought you to this place.  Remember.  Remember.

And now, when obscurity encompasses you, seek out the memory of His face in the crowd.  Hold to His voice in the cacophony.  For He is there.  And He has promised that all shall be for His glory and your good.  He in you and you in Him.

And me.  I’m here!  Applauding your progress, your faithfulness, your courage; vowing to walk this road with you for as long and as far as you’ll allow.  As friends, comrades, and confidants.  We’ve got this.  We can do this.  We are going to make it.

With all my heart –

alecia

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on the State of the Mission

Map

Mission statements are all the rage these days.  Every company, organization, community, church, school, and even moms’ group has one.  A few years ago, I was challenged to come up with a mission statement for my life.  Overwhelmed and indecisive, it took me a long time to finally get my mind and heart around a concise way to sum up all I was striving to do and become.

In college, I took a class on “Christology”.  It was the study of Jesus – as a person, as God, as an historical character, and the implications for society and the church based on His being and the theories surrounding Him.  It was, hands down, one of the most challenging classes I took at Covenant.  The work load wasn’t what kept me up at night, though.  It was the way we would discuss my Savior as if He was a paint option on a color wheel for our bathroom remodel; detached and argumentative, we would debate and dissect the person of Jesus.

This class really confronted my lack of reflection on His life.  He died, sacrificed Himself, rose from the dead, and ransomed me.  Wasn’t that the point of His life?  Wait – but all of that, even if you expand the scope and include His documented years of ministry, only spanned three years.  Three years of thirty-three.  What were the other thirty years for (Luke 3:23)?  I mean, we know His birth was monumental, and then the rest of the time was just Him incubating until the appropriate age of adulthood when He would pay the price for my sin?  Clearly not.  Though the spaces in-between aren’t fully spelled out for us in Scripture, we know from every glimpse we’re given that Jesus’ life and ministry had three major objectives.  And from these, I devised my personal mission statement:

I will glorify God.

I will serve others.

I will seek the lost.

As Christ did perfectly before me, I aim to glorify, serve, and seek.  Which means even on my most mundane days, when I feel that my bucket list has sprung a leak and I’ve been wholly awakened from my dreams, I can still live for the goals encompassed in my mission statement.  Glorify the Lord as I nurture my children, serve my family and community even as I’m not much more than a confidant and friend, and seek out ways to exemplify God’s grace to those who may never shadow the entrance of a church.  All while cleaning the house, attending playdates, and shopping the aisles of Wal-Mart.

And if I someday am honored enough to live in the clouds, I can refer back to these same goals at every turn and temptation: Am I glorifying God?  Am I serving others?  Am I seeking the lost?

Knowing I have a mission and defining it for the days, years, decades ahead, has helped me rest in the present more and yet plan for whatever the future holds.  Though I’ll always be only a fantasy away from fiction and constantly penning line upon line of irrational hopes, having a mission statement means that if I come crashing down to Earth, the landing will be a little softer and the climb back up partially etched.

Do you have a mission statement for life?  What are you striving to do?  Who do you hope you’ll become?

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