Sunday, October 11, 2009

What we need is here

The sunset was stunning tonight as I left church. As I walked to my car, I watched a flock of geese fly past the blend of pink and golden hues, and I was reminded of one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry, The Wild Geese.

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

The pastor tonight encouraged the congregation to focus, breathe, and relax in the peace of Christ Jesus. Sin has corrupted our world, but He is the ultimate victor, and He will come to our rescue. He is all we need. What we need is here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Cost of Free Time

When I last posted, I was packing half of what I own into storage tubs and praying my transition to college life wouldn’t be completely overwhelming. Thankfully, the past 25 days have gone exceedingly well. For more information about my time at Transy, feel free to check out my other blog.

Unfortunately, as you might notice, this is my first “among the maidens” post in more than 25 days. College is interesting and entertaining, but it is also demanding. As my economics class discussed last week, even for someone with as many resources as Bill Gates, time is scarce. Twenty-four hours always make one day.

Last Thursday, one of my professors asked the class to write out on index cards the different ways we spend our time. He then gave each of us 24 poker chips, one for each hour of the day, and told us to allocate the chips to the different cards. This supposed lesson in time management concluded then with me recognizing I waste too much time each day on Facebook or other semi-meaningless activities, but I do not believe I realized any true lesson about time until this afternoon during a (texting) conversation with my friend.

After relating my day’s schedule to her, she merely observed, “Man, you have a busy day, don’t you, ma’am!” I responded with a couple of comments such as that I love staying busy here and that when I am busy I do not have the time to waste dwelling on unnecessary things.

My last text to her continued with the suggestion that I have been using the free time I do have to think of God and how I can work to represent him daily on this campus. I acknowledged that I ought to be spending more time in the Word and in prayer, but also that I am trying to make this “free time” fruitful.

This friend has yet to reply, but I hope that if and when she does respond, it is not with the gracious spirit I know her to always possess, but rather that she challenges my words just I have in this past hour. Have I truly been fruitful for His kingdom this month? Yes, I have sought a new Christian community here in Lexington, attending Sunday services at Southland Christian Church, joining a girls’ Bible study group on Wednesday nights, and getting involved with the Campus Crusades for Christ chapter on Transy’s campus. I try to read my Bible most days, and my friends and I will text each other encouraging scriptures we encounter several times a week. Prayer remains an integral part of my waking hours.

Even as I read back through that last paragraph, however, I know I am lacking. As wonderful as it has been to worship God through music at both South and Cru, how often do I care more about my own contentment during those times than about fully glorifying my incredible Lord? When I do finally spare a few minutes at the end of the day (or actually, usually the very start of the day) to devote to my Bible, I barely keep my eyes open long enough to read through the passage. What about my heart? If I can hardly process the words in my mind, how do I expect to gain any deeper understanding? I believe I used the word “devote” loosely up just a few lines. And then there’s prayer. In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells His people how they should pray. This prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, reflects God’s holiness, will, provision, mercy, and deliverance. My prayers too often only reflect my personal needs and desires. My church’s motto is “Christ first, others second, we’re third.” Perhaps I need to work on remembering and applying that mentality.

You might notice that I put quotation marks around free time in an earlier paragraph. Of my several realizations today, this point lies at the heart of them all. When I say I have free time, I mean that I have time not designated to any obligations. But is “free” really a fitting description? What if Christians began acknowledging that all of our time has come at a price, and is only ours by the grace of our Lord? This time has been given to us, but not without cost. What if we earnestly devoted our “free time” to the work and will of the One who paid that ultimate cost? Could there be a greater act of worship?

Though I have another blog now (with deadlines) and must write papers for class as well each week, I hope I will no longer let this page slip down my list of priorities. It’s time to refocus.

Note: I asked a friend of mine to look over this before I hit publish. I thought her comments on my last paragraph were worth sharing:

"You will not let this page slip down your list! You've gotta do more than hope, because that gives you room to back out when it gets tough. When I hope for something, it's more like some certain amount of chance, where as when I set my mind on something, I will more likely get it accomplished."

I thank my God for friends willing to hold me accountable like this. She was right. So, my last paragraph should instead read this way:

Though I have another blog now (with deadlines) and must write papers for class as well each week, I WILL no longer let this page slip down my list of priorities. It’s time to refocus.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I AM a Promise!!

Songs pop in my head frequently. Few touch me quite like one did tonight, however.

This one made me giddy. For the past few days, weeks, etc., the thought of leaving for college has left me rather anxious. New people, new city, (new bathrooms?), new expectations...the apprehensions quite overwhelmed me on more than one occasion. And that's without factoring in all the monumental decisions I will face in the upcoming years including choosing a major and career field. Needless to say, even with my building excitement, the unknowns were casting unbecoming shadows on this supposed great milestone of going off to college.

Tonight, though, a song I may not have heard since the long past days of children's summer choir at church cast aside those concerns. The words I played repeatedly in my head were as follows:

"I am a promise
I am a possibility
I am a promise with a capital "P"
I am a great big bundle of potentiality
And I am learnin' to hear God's voice
And I am tryin' to make the right choices
I am a promise to be anything God wants me to be!"

What greater reassuring need I seek? Coupled with a seemingly random (or rather providential?) comment from a friend thanking me for merely just being myself and encouraging me to not change who I am, and then furthered by the words of Romans 4:20-21 I stumbled across as I sought out the remaining lyrics, this song brought me tremendous joy. Thanks be to God for his everlasting love, understanding ear, and comforting whispers!

Romans 4:20-21 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Becoming strong

I despise treadmills.

Even disregarding my childhood accident in which I got stuck between a wall and the end of a treadmill (picture five-year-old me screaming “MOMMYYYYYYY!!!” while waiting for my cousin to notice me, stop the machine, and halt the treadmill belt from further detaching the skin from my body), I simply do not care for them.

I have never been fond of running just for the sake of running. I like tennis, and I do not mind the running required for the sport, but then at least tennis involves running toward an object, toward a goal. If the ball moves faster than the player, the other player gets the point, so running is a rather fundamental aspect of the game. The concept of running in order to practice running faster, meaning that one consciously wishes to torment oneself at an even quicker pace, never appealed to me. Thus, the practice of running on a stationary machine also fails to tempt me. (For some unknown reason, however, ellipticals usually escape this contempt from me.)

But what did I do at the gym yesterday morning? After my regular workout, I hopped on the treadmill for fifteen minutes. I never advanced more than about two inches from where I first planted my feet, wasted that exertion for no progress.

On the other hand, perhaps progress is the wrong word. Maybe I never went much of anywhere, but I did progress. I improved. The exercise developed my muscles and endurance, as much as it can in fifteen minutes, anyway. And I sure sweat enough to convince myself I was working hard!

Sometimes in my Christian walk, I feel as though I am stuck on a treadmill. No matter how hard I press on, the belt catches up with me, and I am right where I started again. There is no advancing. My efforts feel pointless, and I wonder why I continue to bother. I may pray, study scriptures, go to church, serve others, or sing worship tunes along with the car radio (usually quite poorly), but I seem no closer to God or act more like Him than I did before. Like my regular workout, day to day living is exhausting enough. Why fuss with extra efforts that seem to offer no immediate gains?

Fifteen minutes on a treadmill will not groom you for the Olympics track. For some, fifteen minutes probably is not enough prep for the sidewalk. But a first-time marathon runner would not head out for 26.2 miles without training first. The same is true for faith.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of running in the book’s twelfth chapter, in the first passage about God’s discipline. “…let us strip off every weight that slows us down…And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us… No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:1, 11-13 NLT)

Our spiritual lives do not always center on “moving forward.” In order for us Christians to run toward our “heavenly prize” that Paul mentions in Philippians 3:14 though, we must train for the race. We have weight to cast off, endurance to improve, pain to suffer, and knees to strengthen, all while staying on a straight path. Is God calling us to a spiritual treadmill? What if those morning devotionals, afternoon prayers, and evening Bible studies serve a lasting purpose even when they seem futile in the moment? Though those fifteen minute “workouts” usually present little or no instant improvement, God uses this time to strengthen us for future trials.

And unfortunately, His treadmill often makes me sweat just as much as those pesky things at the YMCA!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

After twenty years...

"The world cries for men who are strong--strong in conviction, strong to lead, to stand, to suffer. I pray that you will be that kind of man--glad that God made you a man, glad to shoulder the burden of manliness in a time when to do so will often bring contempt."

--Elisabeth Elliot in a letter to her nephew

Twenty years ago today there was a flock of women in royal blue dresses, a brilliantly ornamented cake, and a Chrysler New Yorker filled with Styrofoam packing peanuts. Twenty years ago today was my parents’ wedding day.

Today there was a leather briefcase, dumbbells, a grocery cart, and a 1996 Chrysler Town and Country. Today was my parents’ twentieth wedding anniversary.*

Many, if not most, girls envision their perfect wedding day, and I am right there with ‘em—sitting in the back of Books-A-Million flipping through a bridal magazine while concealing the cover from snickering tween boys coveting the latest manga magazines on the next shelf. Flower choices range from gardenias, to roses, to tulips, to irises. There will be live music primarily featuring the piano. My dress will be white, beautiful, and elegant. Despite my bookstore perusing, apparel details beyond that still remain somewhat blurry.

Amid the fancied flowers, music, guests, and attendants, stands the crucial figure. Waiting at the altar for me, his precious bride, my groom will be the most extraordinary man. His face too currently appears distorted in my fantasies, but if He intends me to marry, I trust my Lord to know now every freckle on my future beloved’s cheek.

For me, however, my reveries do not end with the pronouncement, kiss, cake, and Cinderella carriage heading off into the sunset. Walt Disney’s fairy tales may wrap up with “happily ever after”, but is marriage merely about two lovebirds gazing into each other’s eyes ad nauseam for the next sixty-seven and a half years? Or, could nuptials instead indicate the colliding of two egos in the hope of still cherishing each other’s quirks and relishing fleeting moments together when oil changes, grocery lists, credit card bills, and parent-teacher conferences vie for precedence, even on anniversaries?

If love commands more than romance, I request more than just a tuxedoed charmer for my prospective groom. A succession of demands soliciting utmost discretion, marriage requires acute vigilance and passion from both partners in addition to a fervent commitment to, quite simply, commitment.

I frequently pray for my future husband. In fact, my petitions often echo those Elisabeth Elliot offered on her nephew’s behalf. I will not disclose specific particulars on a public Internet blog, but I will say that at the heart of the matter, I want him to be a godly man. I pray that he will daily seek the will of God and fall before Him humbly, always relying on the Lord for strength and mercy.

As I endeavor to further discern qualities of a valuable woman, wife, and mother, I am also learning how to recognize characteristic of a good man, husband, and father. My chief realization thus far? If we hope to celebrate a twentieth wedding anniversary someday, my husband and I must have Christ as cornerstone of our marriage and home.
*I honestly did start writing this the night of my parents' anniversary, but my poor habit of writing most clearly late at night led to the postponed finishing and publishing of this blog post! Also, my parents did go out and celebrate their anniversary nicely. I just focused on the rest of the day instead, to help make my point! :)

Why blog?

This is my first experience with blogging. My ramblings usually take the form of excessively long Facebook messages or text messages to my closest friends, but as I have lately expressed greater concern for the hearts of younger teen girls around me and sought a fitting medium for sharing some of my thoughts with them, I am now turning to Before today I considered submitting articles for an online magazine, organizing a youth conference, leaving the responsibility up to my youth minister, or ignoring the notion altogether. Instead, I plan to wrap up this post, click publish, and disclose the first bundle of my thoughts online for public review.

When asked to submit a title for my blog, I immediately thought of Song of Solomon 2:2, the verse posted at the top of this page. Also posted on my Facebook profile, this verse continually reminds me of how I ought to live in this world. Romans 12:2 with its call for Christians to no longer conform to the world's ways does the same, but the words of Solomon speak to my heart somewhat differently. Solomon's comparison of a virtuous woman to a tender lily evokes the image of a very (to borrow the phrasing of Leslie Ludy) set-apart female. As vulnerable as any flower petal, she is delicate, but not weak, for her strength comes from the Lord. And she is not delicate as in timid, but instead has a heart that bends easily with compassion for others. Such a woman is not callous toward sin. Her heart radiates God’s mercy, and as the thorns crowd around, she endures resiliently. Yes, it is such a standard as this to which I must hold myself.

One of my new favorite writers is Elisabeth Elliot. Just this morning, I read a quote from her which rather simply, yet also quite strikingly, sums up my intentions for not only this blog, but also my daily walk: “The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of woman. For I have accepted God’s idea of me, and my whole life is an offering back to Him of all that I am and all that He wants me to be.”

I hope this blog becomes a means to hold myself accountable as I strive to be this “darling among the maidens.” I want to be accountable not only to God and to myself, but also to other lilies reading my words. And maybe even some thorns…