Jackson Five Friday: Endless Wonders

Hey Friends,

When was the last time you were nearly undone by the beauty of creation? Do you know right where you were? Can you pull the image up in your mind’s eye? Maybe you even have a picture that falls far short of doing justice to the moment. Do you remember how you felt? Perhaps you felt humble, but not alone, awestruck but not anxious. Because something about beholding glory makes me feel fully alive and wholly content.

One night this summer I was with my family in Northern Michigan. We had dinner and watched the sunset, which is where I snapped the picture above. But then, since we had heard that there would be a vivid meteor shower, we laid on those lounge chairs on the edge of Lake Michigan, chatting until the sky turned dark. The boys were jumping between stargazing and teasing each other, but Will and I both had our eyes glued to the sky when a humongous meteor streaked by.

“Oh my gosh!! Did you see that!” we both yelled out.

I had never in my entire life seen anything even close to it. It was unreal. And all three of our sons had missed it!

A few months ago I read this devotional by one of my favorite writers. In it the author makes the point that when Jesus said “consider the lilies” as part of His instruction on not worrying, it’s not merely a comparison. Jesus is not just saying, “Listen, the flowers don’t worry, you don’t need to either.” Instead Jesus is saying, literally, consider the lilies, this is what you need to do; taking time to truly appreciate the lilies, this will help you.

But maybe it’s even more universal. Maybe taking time to consider whatever the wonder of the moment is will be a blessing. I looked up the origin of the word “consider.” Evidently, “consider” comes from the Latin “contemplate” and a literal translation is “to observe the stars.” When my family was hanging together on the shore of Lake Michigan staring up at the stars, contemplating the wonder of a meteor shower, especially that one unreal streak, the least descriptive word for my state-of-mind would be worried. Do you think that’s a coincidence? I don’t.

G.K. Chesterton said, “The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.” Combine that with Jesus’ message in Matthew 6:28-34 and it’s abundantly clear what we need to do.

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

We need to behold the wonder of creation, stop fretting and live in the moment.

Praying that you and I will both do exactly that this weekend!

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: Laughs Needed?

Friends,

Hope you are well and not too terribly discouraged about the rapid dissolution of civil society.  Of course you will be if your identity is found in politics or victimhood or success, or anything at all apart from Christ.  If this life is all there is then surely the weight of its undoing is heavy indeed.  But as for me, I find comfort in knowing that this is NOT all there is, that my Savior loves me and has a plan for me, and I do not need to flail about fretting over every little thing.  In fact, for the last eight or so months, a verse that has been on repeat in my mind is this: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” (Psalm 37:8).  I need to remind myself daily to embrace the peace of Christ and observe just how often fretting leads to evil.  Surely I’ve read Psalm 37 before but it has taken a tough 2018 for it to sink in.

One hard thing this year, that I blame squarely on the stress of the other hard things, was having a detached retina this summer.  It is alarming to have your field of vision begin to close, almost like a shade is slowly being pulled over your eye.  But more than the surgery, more than the vision loss, the thing that really freaked me out was being told that I had to lie face-down for six days.  I would be able to get up and use the bathroom, but I would need to keep my head down.  No upright position for six days.  The doctor stressed that re-detachment was not uncommon and that keeping my head down was imperative. Stunned, I asked if being comatose for those six days was an option, but it wasn’t.  In retrospect, it doesn’t sound so horrible.  But on the front end I felt like I just could NOT do it.

You are probably wondering if I’m ever going to get to anything funny.  Surely a detached retina is far from being inherently hilarious.  Lying face down for 144 hours doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs either.  Ah, but you doubt the goodness of my God.

He gave me something hysterical to delight over.  I cannot tell you how much of that face-down time I spent laughing.  The thought of it still brings a smile to my face.

So here’s how it all began.  Sweet friends delivered and set up their massage table while I was still in surgery.  When I got home I was able to lie face down and breathe comfortably through the u-shaped head rest.  My eye was covered with a plastic shield and tape, but every few hours we had to untape it to put drops in.  The taping and untaping tore up the thin skin under my eye in no time.  A bloody, inflamed eyeball with two sets of visible stitches topped off with a translucent bubble proved to be a really great look! Then the pitiful skin around my eye began to look ninety and angry. Poor Sammy would lay down on the floor to look up and talk to me through the hole in the massage table. But he was horrified by how I looked. I tried scooting my face over so he could only see my good eye. But even my good eye puffed up from being in that position so long.

Within the first twenty-four hours I noticed a little crack on the pleather of the massage table.  Dub had been there when it was set up, so I asked him, horrified, “Dub was this crack there before?”

“I don’t think so,” he said.

Then a little while later I woke up and peeled my face off the table.  Some of the table came with me!  Right then a friend delivered some soup and I tried to brush off the black debris imbedded in my sticky, irritated skin, but there was too much.  I had to accept the delivery with the speckling of pleather still there.

Pretty soon there were many cracks and the black dust like substance from the table was getting everywhere.  I even worried it would get in my eye. I’d shake out the sheet I was lying on, but a little while later it would be riddled with table soot again.

By Day 3 the previously pristine table was utterly destroyed!

How incredibly embarrassing!  I laid there laughing a bit to myself, but then with nothing but time on my hands, I started texting pics to family.

Then I started envisioning letting the thoughtful, unsuspecting owners pick up the table with no explanation whatsoever. “Thanks so much,” I’d say. Their faces filled with shock and awe.

It looks as if I turned cat-like and used it as a scratching post. The idea that simply lying on the table could wreak such destruction seems impossible.

I mean, look at it! Is it not hilarious?

The thing is this is not at all uncommon. Even in hard moments, if you have an eternal perspective, there are often some humorous nuggets. Mr. Rogers is often quoted as saying, when scary things happen, “Look for the helpers.” It’s great advice. Relatedly, when you’re in the midst of something hard, be on the lookout for the hilarious elements. My life has been a testament to the truth that some of life’s very best laughs are in the midst of the darkest hours.

Last week marked the one year anniversary of my mom’s passing. Even in her last couple days, my mom and I shared numerous soul-sustaining laughs.

Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything — a time to laugh, as well as a time to cry — don’t doubt that the two can overlap. I can tell you that laughing while prostrate makes the hours pass much more quickly than Netflix or solitaire!

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:1,4 NIV‬‬

Praying for some good laughs and maybe even some dancing for YOU this weekend!

Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: Identity Politics

Hey Friends,

First of all, let me begin by saying I do not have a firm grasp of the meaning nor the breadth of the term “identity politics.” I just know that being part of group can be fun.  It can give us a sense of belonging.  It can lead us to like-minded people with similar outlooks and experiences.  But the healthiest people I know are the people whose identity source is the most myopic: their identity is found in Jesus.  They may be part of many different groups, but the core of their identity is being a child of God.

This week in history is a particularly good week to re-evaluate how we derive our identity.  Since my life is divinely orchestrated, it just so happens that my Bible study addressed this precise issue in Wednesday’s lesson. The study is by Julie Sparkman and in it she talks about how we sometimes act like orphans.  I have never thought about it like that before, but it’s true.  When we forget that we are a child of the One True King — the King who has never once left the throne and never will — we act like orphans.  We behave as though it is all up to us, that we need to orchestrate everything in life.  Acting like an orphan is an exhausting and futile endeavor.  Where in your life have you been guilty of acting like an orphan?

Like many moms, the achilles that trips me up the most is my family.  I strive for a level of control that is simply not possible.  I love my boys so much and want the best for them so desperately that I habitually forget that I cannot produce any result.  We can lead our children to good streams (our church, their school, our sports community, our home library are all wonderful resources for them), but we cannot make them drink.

I wish motherhood was my only orphan-minded example, but it’s not.  It makes no sense but there are lots of areas where I act like I am in charge of making things happen.  In sharp contrast are the words of Jesus in John 15:4-5.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

The mere mention of the word “abide” always reminds me of one of my all-time favorite hymns.  The best version of it I’ve ever heard was Alison Kruass at The National Prayer Breakfast years ago, but sadly I can’t find any recording of it.  But these lyrics are so centering for me, such a comfort when “darkness deepens.”  If you don’t know it, you can teach it to yourself on hymnal.net.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

I hope you find your identity not in politics, not in being part of any group, but instead claiming the redemptive work Jesus did for you on the cross and resting in the truth that He loves you so much He died for you.  May we choose to turn to Him each and every day, asking Him to “Shine through the gloom and point [us] to the skies.”

With Love,

Kristie

p.s. The gloomy picture above is from a few minutes ago, but I know God is with me through cloud and sunshine! Of course I’m still praying for the sun to burst forth as quickly as possible!

Jackson Five Friday: Trench Lessons

Hey Friends,

Pixar movies aren’t a weekly part of our existence anymore, and part of me is sad about that. I loved hanging on the couch with a huge bowl of popcorn and watching movies with guaranteed laughs. Finding Nemo is one that we still regularly quote.

Then last Sunday I heard a sermon, that while not making any reference to Nemo, nonetheless got me thinking about a particular scene. Do you remember when the John Ratzenberger character warns the Ellen Degeneres character, Dory: “When you come to the trench, be sure to go through it, not over it.” Despite the fact that Dory makes assurances she won’t forget this explicit instruction, when they approach the trench she’s oblivious and yells out, “Nice trench!”

Dory ends up telling her travel companion, Marlin, she has a feeling they should go through the trench, but Marlin is not persuaded. They proceed over it, which they soon find is infested with jellyfish.

You may be wondering how this relates to the sermon. Well, the sermon was on sustaining grace, in other words, the truth that sometimes God gives us the grace to endure instead of the grace to escape. My pastor didn’t use the word “trench,” but he could have. Don’t you have examples from your own life where God’s grace has been THROUGH THE TRENCH, NOT OVER IT!?

If I had heard the same sermon — delivered powerfully and eloquently the way I did last Sunday — when I was a teenager or an early twenty-something, I doubt it would have impacted me at all. The concept of enduring grace was foreign to me, downright gibberish.

But once you’ve faced a trial or two, and the longer you the live the more you’ll face, you begin to understand the language.

But grasping the language is only part of the hurdle. You may theoretically understand that God sometimes sustains you in difficult situations instead of delivers you. You can acknowledge it with a heart of stone.

But when you can embrace enduring grace instead of insisting on “get me outta here” grace, then you are living a yielded life where no bitter root can take hold. You can be a sponge that soaks up the lessons God has for you even in the midst of pain and uncertainty.

That is my prayer today because I’m standing at the entry of a trench and my strong inclination is to try to maneuver my way over it, instead of through it.

And I know you too have circumstances where you are praying for some kind of change and yet God is instead offering You enduring grace.

I’ll leave you with two thoughts. First, never give up praying about whatever it is. And second, never give up trusting that His grace –whether sustaining or delivering — is enough.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: Beyond Superficiality

Hey Friends,

It’s actually Saturday –Friday kinda got away from me. Anyway this morning is unbelievably gorgeous. It’s 71 degrees under clear skies, with a lovely and uncommon little breeze. Maybe the breeze is somehow connected to Florence, I don’t know. How odd to be sitting on my front porch beholding such glory when just one state away there is such devastating destruction. Praying for all those affected.

I wish I could post about my sons. They say the most hilarious things. And I’d love to quote them and then pull out some spiritual lesson. It’s been one of my favorite things to do now for over ten years here on the blog. But sadly they’ve reached the age that they do not want to be quoted on my blog. And I get that. I really do. Still, it’s a little sad to have such an abundance of material and yet refrain.

I will say though that I am generally very proud of their depth of thought. Richard Foster said, and this was decades before Twitter, that “Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”

Are you blessed to have some deep thinkers in your life? Are you helping those around you to move beyond the superficial? One of my sons is less naturally contemplative than the others. Sometimes his analysis of an idea feels a millimeter deep. Who is better equipped to help him engage more meaningfully than me? It’s certainly part of every parents’ job to help their children move beyond superficial thought. We cannot get inside their minds but we can point the way. The question is how.

The answer, like so many answers, isn’t just found in the Bible. Of course the Bible has the answer and in various locations! What’s amazing is how many answers to living the Christian life are found in a single chapter. Romans 12 is a beautiful summation of living a Christ-like life. I think every Christian should know it inside out.

Romans 12:2a says “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Can I take a stab at an amplified paraphrase?

Stop letting the superficial, talking-point, buzz-word rhetoric get in your head. Just stop. Instead spend time alone with God and in His Word and in His Creation. Your life is transformed when your mind is renewed. Guess what never once renewed a mind? Social media, movies, friends, or even good books. Faithful friends and good books are important. But they do not renew your mind. The renewing of your mind is a work of the Spirit. Stop mindlessly conforming and let Him transform you.

Praying for a weekend at least sprinkled with quiet moments before the Lord.

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: What’s for Dinner?

Hey Friends,

Hope the back-to-school season is going swimmingly.  So far it is for us.  Since all three sons are now at one school, and we have a fully licensed driver and another with a permit, things feel a little less complicated.  Sports are part of the school day.  Sam goes directly to swim practice instead of being home for a while and then swimming or doing something else.  This simple shift in schedule has dramatically improved our lives.  Sitting down to dinner flows naturally.  They walk in the door hungry and I’ve been doing a pretty good job of having dinner ready to go.  We can linger at the table because no one has anywhere to be.  Evening obligations — games and meets — will creep back in in a few months, but right now I am loving the get-home-and-stay-home routine.

As Henri Nouwen writes “a really peaceful and joyful meal together belongs to the greatest moments of life,” and I agree.  I honestly don’t think the importance of this time spent together can be overstated.  In our house food makes people happy and chatty.  There is little in life as satisfying as winsome and chatty sons.

How are you and yours doing with indulging in peaceful, joyful meals?  It’s not really about the food.  Although, tasty nourishing meals certainly don’t hurt.  And obviously phones and other distractions need to be put away.  But mostly it’s just about the people.  It’s about undivided attention and continually pointing those we love to the ways of Christ.

The Bible says that we are to teach our children to love the Lord our God, to walk in obedience to Him and to hold fast to Him.  When are we supposed to do this?  At church on Sundays?  Family devotional time?  No.  Deuteronomy 11:19 says, “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  In other words, all the time.  And think of how few distractions and outside influences people had in the days of Deuteronomy!  People of that time weren’t bombarded 24/7 with the lie that stuff would make them happy, but still God commanded that the truth be shared over and over and over again.  All day.  Every day.

Parenthood is a high calling!  May I be faithful to the task!

Praying for you as well.  May this weekend include some peaceful and joyful meals seasoned with laughter and lots of truth sharing.

With Love,

Kristie

P.S. I took the picture of the schweineschnitzel above because I had made so much of it, and I wanted to see how much would be leftover.  Any guesses?

Jackson Five Friday: Sing!

Hey Friends,

Today would be my dad’s 86th birthday and I love thinking about him. I love thinking about how much he adored Will and how he’d be so enthralled with our sons. I love thinking about how maybe I’m a tiny bit like him. One way I know I’m like him is that as brilliant as he was, song lyrics were not his forte. My mom, on the other hand, was a sponge for lyrics. She knew every verse to obscure hymns, and then marveled that others did not.

“You don’t know that one either?” she’d say. “Mmhh.”

She’d laugh about how my dad could hardly recall the words to even the most familiar hymns. I too am a consistent butcher of lyrics, but I do try harder with hymns. In fact, in the last year or so I’ve discovered a solution for this inherited defect: http://www.hymnal.net.

Just this morning I sat on my front porch and used this website to sing all the right words to “May the Mind of Christ My Savior” and “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.” Do you ever get to behold the glory of a new morning and sing God’s praises alongside creation? I can tell you I’ve never once regretted carving out time to do so.

In Luke 19, in the midst of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Pharisees tell Jesus, in essence, “Silence these people who are praising you.” Do you remember how He answers them? He says, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (v. 40).

Do you think that still applies today? I do. Many times throughout Scripture we are commanded to sing our praises to the Lord. Are you obeying this command? Or are you leaving it up to the rocks? I am praying that I never keep quiet.

Obedience is a way in which we demonstrate our love for Jesus, but when we obey we often find an unexpected blessing. We may start to observe the Sabbath out of obedience, or to live according to God’s Word in some specific area, but we quickly find that instead of being a burden it’s spiritually, physically and emotionally beneficial. The same is true for singing God’s praises. You will be feeding truth into your life (See last week’s post, among others, for the importance of constantly and actively telling ourselves the truth).

So give hymnal.net a try. There are classics and newer songs too. I’d love to know a couple of your favorites. Maybe I’ll add them to my rotation, and I won’t even have to struggle like my dad with the lyrics!

With Love,

Kristie