God Doesn’t Grade on a Curve

When I was in school it was popular to ask a teacher after a test:  “Will you grade on a curve?” The hope was always that since it was unlikely anyone would get a perfect score, the brackets would be moved downward.

cartoon grade on a curve

Very few of us like absolutes.  We prefer to be judged one against another instead of against an unbendable standard.

It’s no different with morality.

If you asked me to judge myself on a scale from Hitler to Mother Teresa, I would definitely put myself closer to her rather to him.

As long I measure myself against other humans, I am comfortable saying I fall in the top 50 percent.

Trouble is, that’s not the standard.

The standard against which my actions and heart attitudes are measured is unchangeable and inflexible.

It is perfection itself-the holiness of a holy God.

And when I place myself next to that measuring rod, I am woefully short.

Jesus shocked His followers by telling them that unless their righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees (considered the most upstanding and holy in that day) they would never enter the kingdom of God.  He expounded on every aspect of the Ten Commandments by addressing not only outward conformity (which, in truth, was impossible) but also motive and intention.

By that standard, even my “good deeds” are inadequate because they are often done with a wrong heart attitude.

I give because I want someone to think I’m generous.

I volunteer because I am a people pleaser.

I work hard because I want a raise.

Paul wrote in Romans “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23)

I can never “measure up” to the perfect standard of a perfect God.  And while my flesh may be happy with “good enough” the holiness of God demands absolute perfection.

Truth is, I am a sinner-I miss the mark, I step outside the boundaries, I do what I shouldn’t do and don’t do what I should do.

Just like our first parents, I listen to my flesh and the evil one and question God’s goodness and His wisdom.  I want to plot my own course, captain my own ship.

And also like our first parents, I find that I cannot do it.  

I fall woefully short.

I am naked and ashamed, exposed in my sin and without hope for redemption by my own efforts .

In any other story, this would be the end-no hope, no second chances.

But God….

Two of the most beautiful words in the world!  

God has not left me without hope.

He has not left me in my sin.

He has not abandoned me in my desperate state of alienation from my Creator.

He Himself has provided the Sacrifice,

the Perfect Lamb,

the propitiation for my sin.  

lamb of god with crosses

 

 

He Is ALL That and More

Sometimes I have to remind myself that the One Who holds me in His hand IS “All That” and MORE.

He is more than I can imagine,

more than I need,

His resources are limitless

and His grace sufficient for every day

and all eternity.

HE IS-

The Way and the Way maker:

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”

~Isaiah 43:19 KJV

The Truth and the Truth Speaker:

“When swearing an oath to confirm what they are saying, humans swear by someone greater than themselves and so bring their arguments to an end. 17 In the same way, when God wanted to confirm His promise as true and unchangeable, He swore an oath to the heirs of that promise. 18 So God has given us two unchanging things: His promise and His oath. These prove that it is impossible for God to lie. As a result, we who come to God for refuge might be encouraged to seize that hope that is set before us. 19 That hope is real and true, an anchor to steady our restless souls, a hope that leads us back behind the curtain to where God is (as the high priests did in the days when reconciliation flowed from sacrifices in the temple) 20 and back into the place where Jesus, who went ahead on our behalf, has entered since He has become a High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

~Hebrews 6:16-20 VOICE

The Life and the Life Giver:

“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.”

~John 1:4 NLT

The Promise and the Promise Keeper:

“Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.”

~2 Corinthians 1:19-21 MSG

I cannot see the end of this journey but He is already there.  

god is already there

It looks black as night to me and I am fumbling around in the dark, but there is no darkness in Him at all.  

in him is no darkness

My flesh and my heart will fail, but His never will.

god is the strength of my heart

No Harm?

It’s so easy to take Bible verses out of context.  Our modern rendering of the Word of God broken into chapter and verse lends itself to lifting a sentence or two and ignoring the surrounding words.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter much-the verse CAN stand on its own.

But sometimes it is devastating.  Especially to those who find themselves in a situation that seems to clearly contradict the promise.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a popular verse plastered on posters, coffee cups, graduation cards and lovely Christian wall hangings.

jeremiah 29 11 road.jpg

It’s a hard one for me to swallow the way it’s usually dished out.

Death feels pretty much like harm to me.

I can spiritualize the verse and say, “Well, God’s ultimate plan is to give me and Dominic a hope and a future”.  

That is absolutely true.  

But that’s not what Jeremiah was talking about.  He was speaking to a specific people at a specific point in time.

The original context of the Scripture was just for Israel-a promise that the nation would not be utterly destroyed or left bereft in exile. A promise that God would fulfill His covenant with Abraham and keep for Himself a people to declare His faithful love to the nations.

I think we moderns take it out of context when we apply it to individual lives.

Many Jews died in exile and not all who could return, chose to return when Cyrus issued the order.

The Scripture that speaks to my heart in this Valley of the Shadow of Death is this:

And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.

Philippians 1:6 AMP

Here is my HOPE.  Here is MY promise of ultimate redemption and restoration.

God is still working to bring about His purpose in and through Dominic and in and through me “until the day of Jesus Christ”.

I don’t know how it works but He’s doing it.

He Who is Faithful and True has promised.

brought-me-safe

 

 

New Eyes for an Old Story

I’ve studied it many times over a lifetime-beginning with fun “coat of many colors” crafts in preschool and ending with an emphasis on remaining faithful in trials.

Joseph’s story is typically told from his point of view.  

But I’ve never considered it from Jacob’s perspective.  Until now.

Because on Jacob’s side of the door, Joseph was gone, gone, gone-beyond reach, out of sight,  nowhere to be found.

All the while Joseph was very much alive, God was working and Joseph would (ultimately) flourish and Jacob would (ultimately) be reunited with his son.

There was no way for Jacob to know this so, of course, he was heartbroken:

Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.  Genesis 37:34-35

Jacob’s grief was real.  His loss was devastating.  His heart was shattered and there was no substitute for the son he was missing.

I understand that now.

I glossed over these verses in the past-rushing to the “happy ending” promised a few chapters later.

But Jacob didn’t have that option.

He was living these years-one day after another, one foot in front of another, one sunrise, one sunset-never knowing he was making his way toward reunion with a living son.

I share Jacob’s heartbreak.  

My son is out of reach, out of sight, unavailable to my arms and eyes.

But I have something Jacob didn’t have-I know the end of the story.  I have the Bible and its promise that this life is not all there is, that while this body dies, the soul lives on eternally.

And for those who choose Jesus, the soul lives for ever and ever with Him.  

Hallelujah!

While I too, mourn deeply for Dominic, there IS comfort.

I cannot ignore the pain of separation, but I will hold steadfast to the promise of reunion. I cry for what has been lost, but cry out for faith to cling to what will ever be.

This earthly journey is dark, but there is assurance that light will triumph.  

john-1-5

 

 

 

 

Bifurcate \ˈbī-(ˌ)fər-ˌkāt, bī-ˈfər-\

Bifurcate:  1. to cause to divide into two branches or parts; 2.  my life.

Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I led a fairly unified life.  

Our family was unusually close, our goals closely aligned, we shared the same faith, had developed routines and even all liked creamy peanut butter.

That changed when Dom left us-suddenly I was forced to live with one foot HERE and one foot THERE.

I didn’t get to choose, it was decided for me.

Paul’s words took on new meaning and great relevance:

We know that if our earthly house—a mere tent that can easily be taken down—is destroyed, we will then live in an eternal home in the heavens, a building crafted by divine—not human—hands. Currently, in this tent of a house, we continue to groan and ache with a deep desire to be sheltered in our permanent home because then we will be truly clothed and comfortable, protected by a covering for our current nakedness. The fact is that in this tent we anxiously moan, fearing the naked truth of our reality. What we crave above all is to be clothed so that what is temporary and mortal can be wrapped completely in life. The One who has worked and tailored us for this is God Himself, who has gifted His Spirit to us as a pledge toward our permanent home.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 VOICE

GroanYES!

Deep longing can only be expressed with low, gutteral sounds-there are no words!

I am in this earthly tent but want desperately to be free of it and clothed with the eternal-where joy unspeakable will reign and sorrow and death will be no more.

So this Lenten journey is helpful to me-it acknowledges the struggle between flesh and spirit.  It encourages my heart to walk by faith and not sight, to grab hold of that which counts forever and let go of that which is doomed for destruction.

The truth is, all of us who follow Jesus lead a bifurcated life.

It’s simply that some of us can ignore that truth.  Until death touches our bodies or our families, we can pretend that the earthly tent’s not so bad, that it might be somewhere we’d enjoy staying quite awhile.

I am not at all thankful for Dom’s death.  I will never be thankful my son left us in the prime of life, full of promise and without saying good-bye.

But I am thankful that I am unavoidably confronted with the truth that this life is fleeting, this world is only a moment and this body temporary housing for my eternal soul.

Paul goes on to write:

In light of this [our understanding that our life here is temporary], we live with a daring passion and know that our time spent in this body is also time we are not present with the Lord. The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. There is no doubt that we live with a daring passion, but in the end we prefer to be gone from this body so that we can be at home with the Lord. Ultimately it does not matter whether we are here or gone; our purpose stays fixed, and that is to please Him.

2 Corinthians 5: 6-9 VOICE

My eyes see one thing, but my heart knows another.

walk by faith feet on path

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Blessings

I’ve always been this way-careful as I walk through the woods.  I don’t remember a time when I could crash unaware of what was underfoot.

So when springtime brings the violets, I find myself zig-zagging this way and that to avoid crushing them as I go about my daily chores.

Often obscured by last year’s leaves-I can make out the vibrant purple peeking from underneath-if I’m paying attention.  

But there are plenty of folks who make it all the way through March and April without ever seeing them.

And that makes me sad.

They are so beautiful.  

I consider them a gift.

It’s easy to race through life and never take note of God’s gifts.  We get busy and distracted and overwhelmed by the need to make a living and we ignore the Lord of life.

If I am going to SEE what He’s doing, how He’s providing, where He is blessing, I have to open my eyes.

But once I do, I find that blessings pop up everywhere.  

Just like springtime violets.

violets-in-wood-not-mine

 

 

Christmas Decorating: Take Two

 

 

photo-35

Last week I wrote how my well-laid plans for setting up the Christmas tree and decorating had gone awry.

I thought I was ready to pull out the old ornaments with the old feelings and forge ahead.

I was wrong.

But yesterday, after gazing at the “lights only” tree for all these days, I decided to make another go at it.

I packed up the tear-inducing decorations and stored them safely away.  I pulled out the box of ornaments I used last year-mostly new things I bought or made since Dominic left for Heaven.

Each group of ornaments was chosen because it helps me hold on to hope.

I have hearts-stuffed, handsewn hearts, papier mache hearts, corrugated cardboard hearts.

Lots of hearts.  

hope-and-heart

Hearts to remind MY heart that it was Love that brought Jesus to earth.  It was Love that kept Him here.  It was Love that took Him to the cross even after He had begged His Father in the garden for another way.  And it was Love that broke the chains of death and raised Him from the grave.

 

That same Love is keeping Dominic safe until we are together again.

Stars to help me remember that Jesus brought Light into darkness.  They help me hold onto the FACT that His light will not be extinguished.  They speak truth to my spirit that even though this Valley is dark, it will not last forever.

star-ornamentI made some balls from little scrappy bits of fabric wrapped and glued in place. The pieces are useless alone-not big enough to do a thing.  But together they are beautiful and strong and have purpose.  

My life feels like it’s been ripped to shreds.  But even shreds are useful in God’s hands. I’m waiting to see what He plans to do with them.

In the meantime, I hold on.

Old Christmas cards turned decorations are strung together and hung as visual prayers. I save my cards from year to year and cut out the lovely and meaningful pictures and scriptures.

I made my own paper copies of the Names of Jesus and burned the edges.

I cling to the promises in each Name.  I may reach heaven through the fire of tribulation and trial but no power on earth, above the earth or under the earth can stand against His Name.  

names-of-jesus

I will be preserved.

Little drums hang as silent witness to Dominic.  His heartbeat lives on in mine. His rhythm that thrummed through our lives and is missing now still matters.  He is making a joyful noise in Heaven.

He is not silent.  

One day I will hear him again.

So tonight I sat in the soft glow of the lights AND the ornaments remembering…

Remembering years past when life was very different-untouched by tragedy and gut-wrenching loss and also remembering the promise that this is not the way it will always be.

mourning-to-dancing

 

We Were Not Made to Die

i-have-come-home-at-last-c-s-lewis

My children grew up surrounded by life and by death.

On our small farm they got to see puppies, kittens, goats, sheep and horses take their first breath. We watched turkeys and chickens hatch-struggling in that last great effort to throw off the shell.

And we also witnessed life’s end.

Every. time. it feels wrong.  Every. time.  it feels like defeat.

And it iswe were not made to die.

God didn’t create this world to be full of endings.  He made it to be full of life and fellowship  and love and for His glory.

But we live in a broken world.

When the first man and first woman looked away from their Loving Creator and embraced temptation, death came in through sin.

adam-and-eve-sin

That longing we have, that sense that death is WRONG-that death is not the way things SHOULD be-that’s the spark of God’s Spirit speaking to us.

It’s the Father’s call to our hearts to turn to Him.

God the Father has made provision for eternal life with Him through Jesus the Son.

Yes, this world is full of death-it has touched my life in a very personal and awful way.

But my heart and God’s Word tells me that death is not what we are meant for-that there is MORE.

We who have known only futility, decay, homesickness, and exile, have found strong encouragement to hold fast to our hope because we are no longer helpless and alone. He’s already gone before us, trail blazing straight through exile and death into life as our Captain. Yes, I know this is true. I can hope even in the midst of doubt.

Through his death and resurrection, he has flung open the gate, torn the curtain that divided us from God’s presence, and done it all as the incarnate Son of Man. God has not forever abandoned his creation. Mankind is still his good work. In the body of Jesus, Man has gone into the presence of God, to his throne room, to the company of myriads of angels dressed for a party (see Hebrews 12:22). I’m in a form of exile now, but exile doesn’t mean abandonment. Jesus has made sure of that.

~Elyse Fitzpatrick, Home

As we move toward celebration of the birth of Christ, I pray we look also to His life, death and resurrection and the promise of hope He has placed in our hearts.

advent-candles

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting With Hope

Oh, we mamas are experts at waiting.

We wait for nine months to hold that little person growing inside us.  We wait for them to learn to crawl, walk, talk and read.  And then we wait to pick them up at school, for piano and dance lessons to be over and ball practice to end.

As long as our children are with us, we are always waiting for something.

We never expect to be waiting to join them in heaven.  

But some of us are. 

And this waiting is real hard-not like the other times when I knew about when the waiting would end.  Even though it was sometimes tiresome, lessons and practice wouldn’t last much longer than the appointed time.

missing from my world

I guess I believe there is an appointed time for this waiting to end as well.

I do believe that God has my life in His hands.  When my work here is through, He will call me home, just as He called Dominic.

Trouble is, I can’t find a clock that tells that time.  I can’t look at a calendar and know for certain THIS will be the day.

calendar

And not knowing how LONG I have to hold on is a huge part of what makes it

so.

very.

hard.

Sometimes I want to give up.  Sometimes I want to let go of hope and dive into despair.  

Some days I am afraid I can’t keep on keeping on.  

Not. one. more. step.

But God has promised to meet me even here.  

His Word tells me that there is a reward for those who wait with hope, who trust even when it seems foolish and who lean in even when they would rather run away.  

But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
     to deliver them from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

    We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
     In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
    May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33:18-22 NIV

The Amplified Bible renders that last verse like this:  “Let Your mercy and loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, in proportion to our waiting and hoping for You.”

In proportion to my waiting and hoping, God will fill my hurting heart with HIS mercy and loving-kindness.  

He will strengthen me regardless of how many days I must walk in this waiting.

If I hold onto the hope I have in Christ, He promises not to let go of the other end.  

hope holds a breaking heart together

 

 

I Will Not Be Moved

I’m not brave by nature.

If I have a choice, I will run every time.  But there are just some things worth fighting for.

My family is one of them.

I will not let the enemy have them.

I will not allow despair to overtake us, fear to bind us, hopelessness to sap our strength.

I will not let death win.

And though he stalks me like a hungry lion, knocks persistently demanding attention, follows me as close as my own shadow-I will not let the evil one overtake me or find a home in my heart.

I refuse despair. 

weeping

This night of loss will be longer than I can bear in my own strength, but I am convinced the Lord will restore my joy.  

I am committed to cling to Christ even through my eyes are worn out with tears.

I fight fear. 

worry-robs-corrie

There is no guarantee that my cup of suffering is full.  It may yet hold more sorrow, but I will not worry about what tomorrow may bring.

God is there

I won’t give in to hopelessness.

cup of blessing

I hold onto hope because hope is a Person.  He is faithful and He is able.  What I have given to His hands is safe and secure.

And though death is awful-it is not the end of the story.

rev-4-21

When trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, the nation of Israel was understandably frightened.

There WAS no escape-turn back and be slaughtered or move forward and drown.

They despaired of help and begged God to save them.

…Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch, and you will see the wonderful way the Lord will rescue you today. The Egyptians you are looking at—you will never see them again.

Exodus 14;13

They could never have imagined the miraculous answer to their desperate plea for rescue.

I realize that the answer to my cry for help is not going to be restoration of my son in this life.  I know that I will have to wait for redemption of my pain.

But I am convinced that what the world regards as a final chapter is only the beginning of the story.

I serve the same God Who parted the Red Sea.

He is still on the throne.

He is not sleeping and He is not silent.

I can stand my ground between today and eternity confident that He is at work in all things.

He is an ever present Help in time of trouble.

I will not be moved.