Monday, April 28, 2014

measuring life by loss

Loss of friendship.
Loss of community.
Loss of reputation.
Loss of momentum.
Loss of peace.
Loss of focus.
Loss of position.
Loss of weight.
Loss of dreams.

This year has been marked by profound loss. In the wake of all this, any little loss, like a broken dish, perhaps, swells in significance. Yet I'm challenged by others who have suffered deeply and found grace in that very place of loss. Lilias Trotter turned her back on a promising career in art in order to pour out her life in the deserts of North Africa. She writes boldly:

From the art and writings of Lilias Trotter in A Blossom in the Desert, page 27.
Also available freely online here.
By her definition, this has been a rich year, storing up treasures of faith and discovering the true source of worth in Christ. On the back side of every loss is a gain. We only need eyes to see it that way.

Pottery by Rebecca Ito. Photo by Carmen Imes.
Gain of empathy.
Gain of understanding.
Gain of dependence.
Gain of humility.
Gain of gratitude.
Gain of re-focus.
Gain of correction.
Gain of solitude.
Gain of identification with Christ.

I dare say the sting of loss is blunted when we discover we have not lost and cannot lose what is most precious—our Savior's deep love for us.

Friday, April 25, 2014

a note to my happy friends

I've had a lot to say over the past year about suffering. But perhaps you are in a season of celebration. If so, I rejoice with you. Lilias Trotter has a timely word for souls in springtime:

From Lilias Trotter's Travel Journal, 1900
"You are right to be glad in His April days while He gives them. Every stage of the heavenly growth in us is lovely to Him; He is the God of the daisies and the lambs and the merry child hearts! It may be that no such path of loss lies before you; there are people like the lands where spring and summer weave the year between them, and the autumn processes are hardly noticed as they come and go. The one thing is to keep obedient in spirit, then you will be ready to let the flower-time pass if He bids you, when the sun of His love has worked some more ripening. You will feel by then that to try to keep the withering blossoms would be to cramp and ruin your soul. It is loss to keep when God says 'give.'" (A Blossom in the Desert, 111, emphasis mine)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

the sweet side of suffering?

In February I was offered this little book: the sweet side of suffering: Recognizing God's Best When Facing Life's Worst. The title grabbed me—it was exactly the book I thought needed to be written. Each chapter drew me deeper into the pain of this year, helping me to stare into the darkness and see the gift.

The book is not a pep talk. It's not sugar-coated or superficial. Esther Lovejoy speaks out of the deep pain and loss she has experienced, inviting readers to trust God fully in the midst of suffering. Reading Esther's book was like sharing a cup of tea with a kindred spirit, someone striving to worship God when life is really tough. Much of what she writes expresses what I've experienced and have blogged about. God has met her in her dark valley the way He has met me in mine.

Esther's love for Jesus is contagious. She gently explores the sweetness of His voice, the sweetness of knowing God, the sweetness of His care, the sweetness of surrender, the sweetness of shared suffering, the sweetness of His comfort, the sweetness of His names, the sweetness of His grace, the sweetness of His correction, and the sweetness of hope. Here's an excerpt from her chapter on correction:

"No, suffering is not sweet; it's not even pleasant. The refining fire is still fire. But when we know that it's our loving Father's hand that holds us there, we can know that it will not be wasted. He is creating out of us a gold that will allow His face to be seen. We become what He planned for us to be before the beginning of time. It is one of suffering's sweetest rewards" (136).
May it be so!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

waiting for the glory

I received a precious gift earlier this week made by one of my students. Its stunning beauty spoke in parables to me about the glory that comes through suffering -- so appropriate for this holy week.

The rim of the bowl is blood red. This vessel has been filled to overflowing with suffering. And yet, forged in the fire of adversity, the glaze is transformed to striking purple, the color of kingship, with hints of radiant sapphire.

Deep in the center a surprise awaits -- a vibrant green -- proof of life after suffering, even in and through it.

Peter was convinced that the sufferings of Christ provide a paradigm for our own suffering as believers. The fires of adversity work out a glorious finish in us.

"Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.'" (1 Peter 2:21-24)
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13)

 Today we stand midway between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Though the piercing pain and raw wounds are behind us, we have yet to see the full glory that is promised. May this parable remind us of the beauty wrought through suffering, forged in the fire, and stamped by the Great Designer whose purposes are being worked out in ways we cannot yet see.
Pottery: Rebecca Ito / Photos: Carmen Imes

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

deep waters

Another gem from Lilias Trotter:

"'I am come into deep waters' took on a new meaning this morning. It started with perplexing matters concerning the future. Then it dawned that shallow waters were a place where you can neither sink nor swim, but in deep waters it is one or the other: 'waters to swim in'—not to float in. Swimming is the intense, most strenuous form of motion—all of you is involved in it—and every inch of you is in abandonment of rest upon the water that bears you up." (A Blossom in the Desert, 57)

Painting by Lilias Trotter, A Blossom in the Desert, page 37.
For all my dear readers who are in deep waters, listen to this assurance from the One who rescues you:
"But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, 'Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43:1–3a

Sunday, April 13, 2014

on the lighter side

Eliana (standing by my dresser, holding a bottle quizzically): What is this, Mom? Some sort of hairspray?
Me: No, it's wrinkle cream.
Eliana (a bit startled): Wrinkle cream?! But it's too late!

So true. :) May I age with grace ...

"You who are young, be happy while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth."
Ecclesiastes 11:9
"Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come."
Psalm 71:18 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

seeing both sides of holiness

Thanks to the recommendation of a dear friend, I've been reading A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter. Lilias was a British missionary in the late 1800's in Algeria, North Africa, and the founder of what eventually became part of Arab World Ministries. Her explorations of faith amidst suffering are profound. I'll share a few vignettes in days to come. Today, in light of my most recent post on Christian maturity, I thought I'd share a snippet of what she says about sanctification. It's much more than the absence of sin ...

"Holiness, not safety, is the end of our calling. Separation from all known sin is the starting-point for sanctification, not the goal: it is only the negative side of holiness; it is only reaching the place where God can develop His ideal in us unhindered. It is when the death of winter has done its work that the sun can draw out in each plant its own individuality, and make its existence full and fragrant. Holiness means something more than the sweeping away of the old leaves of sin: it means the life of Jesus developed in us." (125, emphasis mine)
Watercolor by Lilias Trotter from A Blossom in the Desert, page 219.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

how to grow in Christian maturity

Over at the Wheaton blog I've just published a review of Gordon T. Smith's Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity. It's a book to be savored and re-read. I'm grateful to be able to add it to my personal library.

Smith explores the essence of being a Christian (union with Christ) and how to grow in Christian maturity. He highlights four areas in particular—wisdom, work, love, and joy—that are transformed by our participation with Christ. My favorite chapters were the one on work, where he describes how to discern your vocation, and the one on joy, where he makes the radical claim that joy is the "emotional center" of mature Christians. Two appendices explore the implications of his vision of Christian maturity for churches and Christian colleges.

This would be a great book to read as a small group, a church staff, or in a discipleship relationship. It is well-written, wise, and insightful. I found it personally helpful in discerning our next steps as a family. I highly recommend it! You can order it here from Amazon.