Wednesday, December 25, 2013

To Treasure and To Ponder

The house is still, and the twinkle of the Christmas tree makes the room feel warm.  I can still hear Anna's little squeals, and the songs playing on the new toys that she received today.  She had a blast digging into Christmas presents, eating green tissue paper, exploring empty boxes, and giggling as her Daddy pushed her so high on the swing outside. Our hearts are full tonight after celebrating Christ's birth together as a family of three.  This time last year I was very pregnant and dreaming about the little babe that would bless our family.  As Drew and I read the Christmas story this morning in Luke 2, I felt as though I understood the emotion that Mary might have felt a little bit deeper this year.

Luke 2:19
"But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart."  

One thing that I have said a lot in these last 10 months of being a mom is that I just don't know how to take it all in.  Anna is growing so fast and changing everyday.  I just can't take enough videos or photos to capture the joy and excitement it is to watch her grow up.  Her first Christmas has come and gone.  It is simply impossible to hold onto a day forever, and Anna will only be this little for so long. We have been being intentional to be present with her in each moment in order to remember and treasure these days.  I think I am learning what it means to ponder and cherish each moment with my little girl.

  As Mary celebrated her first Christmas in the cattle stall she didn't have an iPhone to record all of baby Jesus' little noises, coos, or cries.  She had to be still and take it all in. When I try to picture the scene in my head I imagine that Mary was quiet as she gazed at her baby, gazed in wonder at his little fingers and little toes.  This little baby, conceived by the Holy Spirit, that she just gave birth to, would be the Savior of the World.  Mary had a lot to treasure that day as she held her baby close to her heart. She pondered what was said about her Son by the Angel, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).  This was good news of great joy that was for ALL the people (Luke 2:10).  Mary's Son would save ALL people from their sins!

Luke 1: 47
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."


Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Not So Perfect Christmas

This morning I posted an Instagram picture displaying our numberless advent calendar and admitting that it may just stay that way this year. Yesterday morning's family activity was supposed to be Christmas pancake extravaganza and we missed it. We went to get our Christmas tree on Tuesday afternoon and we had our red Starbucks cups full of yummy coffee (as is our tradition when picking out our tree at Home Depot - yes, getting our tree from Home Depot also happens to be a tradition)! Instead of wandering through the tree aisles debating about multiple trees, I sat in the car with a sleeping Anna while Drew held trees up from the other side of the barrier.  I gave a thumbs up or a thumbs down to communicate which one was my favorite - this was not the sentimental tree shopping I had envisioned.

This morning I wrote in my prayer journal that my heart just cannot grasp the depth of this advent season and the celebration of Christ's birth. It's so easy to get distracted by the ups and downs of the holiday season.  The lack of money for that perfect Christmas present for your spouse, the child who just won't sit still for your family devotion, or the inability to see certain family members who you would love to spend the holiday with.  We all long for perfect and sentimental gatherings during the holidays, but the reality is that there might be disappointment because we live in a broken world. I heard a lady recently speak on this topic at a church event, and I was very encouraged.  We long for perfection because that is what we were created for.  It's right to long for those perfect holiday moments when everyone in your family gets along, and you find that awesome gift to bless your spouse with.  These things are good gifts from God. However, the reality of our broken world makes these longings a bit shattered at times.  The wonderful thing about this season of advent is we are celebrating Christ, the perfect one, who came to fix the brokenness!

My prayer this season is that as I face these disappointments (because they will come) that they will only point me more to Christ who came as a baby to heal this broken world.  Let these disappointing moments turn your eyes to our hope in Christ, and feel free to laugh and give yourself and your family grace when the Christmas dinner burns and your toddler pulls the tree over!


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dream The Promises

A few weeks ago our little Anna was baptized.  It was a really special time for our family to celebrate God's faithfulness to his promises.  It was a joy to take these vows before the congregation: 
  • Do you acknowledge your child’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?
  • Do you claim God’s covenant promises in (her) behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for (her) salvation, as you do for your own?
  • Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will endeavor to set before (her) a godly example, that you will pray with and for (her), that you will teach (her) the doctrines of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring (her) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? 
I love the language of "in humble reliance upon divine grace." Our prayer as parents is that we would rely on God's grace for raising our daughter and that we would model what it means to abide in the love of Christ. It was so special to watch Drew baptize Anna and introduce her as the newest member of the covenant of faith.  After the baptism I had the privilege of singing a song that Drew wrote the words to and our friend Steph wrote the music to.  The words are beautiful and we look forward to singing this song to all of our kids!  

You were made for life fantastic
His image in your form,
All creation, sings ecstatic
To see her steward born

Slow in wrath with love abounding
While our fresh offense still stung
Though the close of Eden's gates were sounding,
His promises of hope he sung
So close your eyes and dream the promises
Made by God to his little ones
He claimed your heart before he made you,
Calling forth his daughters and his sons
Born into a deeper story
One extending from the start
You are a bearer of his glory
Born to play your special part

He died to bring the death of death
The grave, it could not keep its hold
Rising redeemed our ransomed breath
and swallowed the night in mercy bold
His promises of gracious glory
Are your foundation in this life
So breathe in deep and step into his story
The unfolding end of death and strife

And though you still will feel the sting
Sins’ broken days will not endure
Your life in his, though now limping,
shall shine with glory evermore!  

So come, O city, ever bright
Built on these promises so true
Inaugurate your kingdom's right
That all of this will be made new, 
That all of this will be made new!     

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Remembering Them

I received an email recently titled "remembering..." from a dear friend.  She was writing to let me know that she was thinking of our babies, our babies that are in heaven.  This month is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month.  I wasn't even aware that there was such a thing, but I am thankful that there is.  We lost our two babies in 2011 through miscarriage.  I know that I am not alone in this loss and that many other women in this world experience this tragedy as well.  We named our little ones though we didn't know their genders.  I will never forget the ache I felt that morning after I lost Autumn.  I felt so lonely and empty.  After losing William, our second baby, the feeling of deep sadness just continued.  I continue to reflect on what God taught us through this experience of brokenness.  My friend said these words to me, "Looking forward to the day when Anna can meet her siblings, and we can meet them too.  All joy is theirs..."  They are experiencing full and perfect joy as they are with Jesus, and we wait with hope when we will all experience this full joy together!  Thank you dear friend for dignify and remembering Autumn and William's lives!  These are our babies, and though we never got to hold them we will always love them! I was encouraged by a another friend who had experienced miscarriage as well to have something that would remind me of our babies lives.  I had this ring made with their initials engraved inside.  I love everything about the ring and I look forward to explaining its significance to Anna one day!


Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Mirror

This week my little girl discovered herself in the mirror.  Recently we have been stopping at the mirror in the mornings or after naps, but before this week she wasn't interested and didn't respond.  Earlier this week we stopped and she immediately reacted and let out shrieks of joy and laughter. As I watched her discover her own reflection what struck me was that she was able to look at herself without one bit of shame, fear, or insecurity.  Even as I held her and saw my own reflection it was easy for my mind to slip into contempt towards my body that is still carrying baby weight or my own fears about my new role as mama.  Oh how easy it is to forget that I am loved by my Savior no matter what image is reflecting back at me.

My sweet Anna has also been broken by the fall, and her ability to look at herself without shame will only last so long until she herself is flooded with insecurities.  My prayer for my little girl is that she would know how high and wide and deep and long is the love of Christ for her, so that when she is tempted towards contempt at her own reflection, these truths would lead her back to the love of her Savior.  That despite her brokenness, shame, and insecurities, her Savior purchased her life by his death and resurrection, and therefore she can look in the mirror without shame because she has been forgiven!  That by the riches of his glory she will be strengthened in her inner being to know this love of Christ, be rooted and grounded in it, and know that nothing can separate her from this love!  It seems as though even this mama needs to be reminded of these truths on a regular basis!


Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Husband and Anna's Daddy

I can't express in one post how blessed I am to have Drew as my husband and how blessed Anna is to have him as her Daddy.  We are thankful today, and as our pastor reminded us this morning above all we want to give praise to our heavenly Father.  The Lord has adopted us as his children, and loved us with an unfailing love.

I was so encouraged this week by a post I read on the blog She Worships about the Proverbs 31 Man.  As she said, I will not claim to be the Proverbs 31 woman, but I resonated with her point that the marriage between these characters reflects the marriage that the Lord has blessed me with.  In one line she says,

"These are the men who support their wives, trust their wives, praise their wives, pray for their wives, and sharpen their wives. These men believe in their wives and exhort them to pursue God’s calling, whether that calling is to ministry, business, teaching, writing, or being a stay-at-home mom. These men help their wives to be better disciples, friends, mothers, and daughters."

I appreciate the way my husband encourages me in the roles that the Lord has given me in this life, and I know that he will do the same for our daughter.  I enjoy watching his love for the Lord and his dependence upon God's grace grow each day.  This dependence upon grace overflows in the way he cares for me and his little girl!  Drew points us to Christ and sets a tone of joy and grace for our family.  This post is to celebrate Drew as the amazing husband and father that he is, but above all this post is to give praise, glory, and honor to our Heavenly Father.  Without the Lord Drew would not be the father and husband that he is, and I would not be the wife and mother that I am.  We continually repent of our shortcomings and rest on God's kindness and love!

This Father's Day may we bless and celebrate the men in our lives, but above all may we praise our Heavenly Father for he is the one who has given us life!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

This Guy.

So there is This Guy.  This Guy is one of those guys who is totally "that guy."  As good ol' Churchill is quoted to have said, "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."  Though we both received a significant amount of education in the same fields, both work in vocational ministry, and both subscribe to the same theological foundations, I am pretty sure we disagree on many aspects of what ministry is and how it should be done.  Everything about him makes me want to dislike and despise This Guy.  Even the way he dresses irks me!  If he were to say that all trees are green, you would probably find me painting my dogwoods, oaks, and elms red, just so I wouldn't be caught in agreement with him.  If it were me, a chicken, and This Guy stranded on a desert island together, it just might be the chicken and I who had a nice snack when the going got rough.

And yet, This Guy is always quick with a kind word.  He asks me good questions when we talk.  He was touchingly excited at Anna's birth.  He goes out of his way to include my wife in theological conversations.  He always smiles when he sees me.  He humbly hears those who disagree with him.  He receives correction graciously.  Because of this, though in my sin it is my instinct to dismiss This Guy, look down on This Guy, or even mock This Guy, I can't.

This post is not about my differences with This Guy, the ways that I believe This Guy is wrong, or even the ways that he may believe I am wrong.  Rather, it is about the startling love that paves the way for unity despite our differences, the startling love that This Guy shows to me.  Christ said that his followers will be recognized by how they love one another. Christ's repeated message throughout the final chapters of the gospel of John is that we, as his disciples, should love one another.  We all have a This Guy in our lives, and we must all guard ourselves against the sins of devaluing our brothers simply because we disagree.  I have been such a fool to be so willingly divisive in my heart.  Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that I now agree with This Guy in everything - but his love is inarguable.  This Guy humbles me; I need This Guy.

May my life be so filled with Christ's that when I am off, when I am confusing, when I am uncool, and even when I am flat out wrong, God's love will yet shine undeniably in me - may I be found so loving when I am someone else's This Guy.  Thank you, This Guy.

- Drew

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Naming Our Daughter and the Birth Story!

So I have debated back and forth about sharing my birth story on this blog.  I decided to share the story because it's a beautiful story about how our little girl was brought into the world.  Sure it was full of pain, but that doesn't take away from the beauty of the gift of childbirth!
   Anna was born on February 22nd at 10 am.  I woke up that morning around 3 am, and I needed to use the bathroom.  After going to the bathroom I came back to bed, but I just didn't feel right.  I tried to go back to sleep, but I woke up 45 minutes later and needed to go to the bathroom again.  I noticed in the bathroom that I had bloody show, and I immediately called for Drew.  He rushed into the bathroom in his sweats, looking like Kramer from Seinfeld!  His hair was standing straight up and with bleary eyes he asked what was going on.  I told him that I think labor is starting.  I laughed at his appearance and I think that was the last time I laughed until the baby arrived.  We pulled up all of our knowledge from our Bradley class, and remembered that in early stages of labor it is best to rest.  So we did, but it only
She presented with her head forward, hence the large lump
lasted 2 minutes.  I was already very uncomfortable and was unable to lay on my side.  We went into the living room, and Drew blew up the yoga ball.  I started trying to time my contractions and they were about 10 minutes apart.  We called our doula and I texted my friend Steph in Scotland since she was the only friend awake.   The doula said to rest and call her when the contractions are closer, and she would start getting ready to come over.  I did my best to rest, but there was no relief.  I paced in the living room, I sat on the living room floor with my head in Drew's lap, but really the only place that was the most comfortable for me was the toilet.  I began to throw up and we called our doula again.  She said that this was pretty normal in early stages.  I decided to try to take a shower since I had hopes of looking nice for labor and all those wonderful pictures (HA!).  I labored for a while in the shower until the hot water ran out, and I was only able to wash my hair. I threw up again in the shower.  After the shower I sat back on the toilet.  I am pretty sure I went through some sort of transition on the toilet because I had thoughts like, "I can't do this!," "I want to go to the hospital and have a c-section!"  I never voiced any of these thoughts to Drew, but just kept moving forward.  We were trying our best to time the contractions, but they were all coming so fast.  We called our doula again and told her that the contractions were about 4 minutes apart from what we could tell.  She said to go ahead and call the midwives because they would want us to come in, and she would leave her house and head over.  The midwives told us to come in right away. Drew was running around trying to get everything together.  He would try to talk to me, but I actually just wanted him to be quiet.  I was in the zone!  I do remember him saying how beautiful the sunrise was that morning!  I was going from hot to cold and was in a lot of pain!  It was probably 45 minutes after the midwives told us to come in that I was able to get off the toilet, get dressed, and walk to the car.  I saw Drew's fleece on the table I grabbed it, and said "LET's GO!"  Thankfully the birthing center is only 5 minutes away.  We arrived and I walked inside around 8 am.  The midwife told me later that she didn't think I was very far along when she saw me.  I got inside and she checked me, and she said that I was 8 cm dilated, and that we would be having a baby soon!  I was so thankful that I was so far along after all that painful work at home.  My blood pressure was reading a bit high so they had me lay on my left side.  It thankfully went down.  I heard the midwife call the nurse and say, " I needed you here 10 minutes ago!"  My baby was coming!  I labored on the bed on my left side for about another hour.  I remember when I finally felt the urge to push, it was real!  Our nurse Laurel came and sat by the bed, Drew was there, a student mid-wife, and our doula Annie all helped me.  Annie applied pressure to my lower back, Laurel covered me up because I was cold, but then I was hot.  They all encouraged me so much in my pushing, and gave me updates as to where I was.  At one point they were still a little concerned about my blood pressure so they wanted to see if I could give them a urine sample.  Walking to the bathroom was MISERABLE, and I wasn't able to go.  As I walked back I had to squat and push a few times.  I held onto the student midwife, and they also tried to listen to the babies heartbeat.  They were not able to find it because she was so far in my pelvic bones.  They did though hear sounds from the placenta so they knew everything was ok.  All I can say was the sound of the Doppler heartbeat finder thing was DRIVING ME CRAZY!  I finally made it back to the bed.  I rested for a few minutes, and started pushing again.  Drew was with me, and I remember saying I love you to him.  I think I was feeling guilty because I wasn't hanging onto him.  He responded with, "We have nothing to prove here baby, I love you too!"  I love that man!  Everyone's encouragements were so helpful as I pushed.  I remember them telling me that her head was crowning.  I could hear the excitement in Drew's voice.  They told me to wait a minute in order to prevent too much tearing.  I gave another push and the babies head was out.  The baby made a squeak, just with it's head out.  Everyone awed at that.  They called Drew over in order to let him deliver the baby the rest of the way.  I pushed again and Drew pulled the baby out.  I heard him say with tears in his voice, "Linds, it's a girl!"  I was overwhelmed with it being a girl, and so thankful that she was here.  They let the umbilical cord pulse the rest of the way, and then Drew cut the cord.  He is pretty proud that he got to make her belly button!  The nurse asked if she has a name, and we said "Yes, Anna Catherine."  I only had a 2 degree tear, and the nurses stitched me up while Drew cuddled with Anna.  They cleaned me up, and propped me up on the bed.  They left Drew and me alone, and we called family and friends to announce the arrival of our daughter.  Many of the family members were guessing height, weight, and gender, and so it was exciting to call and tell everyone the wonderful news and to see who was closest! The nurses weighed her a little later and she was 6 pounds 15 oz and 19.5 inches long.  She passed all the tests, and began nursing easily.   Drew's mom and brother brought us food which was awesome!  I showered around 4 pm, and we left the birthing center to head home around 5pm.  We were greeted with banners and 'Its a Girl!' signs!  We are so thankful for our experience at Special Beginning Birthing Center, and for our wonderful doula Annie!

Our daughter Anna is named after the prophetess Anna from Luke 2:36-38.  Anna the prophetess was a faithful servant who spoke to many about God as they waited for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Our prayer for our little Anna is that she would tell the story!  That she would tell the story of our Savior Jesus who came to bring redemption to this world.  We pray that she knows and loves this story for herself, and that she shares it with compassion to those around her!
All dressed and ready to go home!

We are blessed to be her parents, and are so thankful for her life!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Conductor

From The Floral Library in DC
Yesterday our family went for a walk to enjoy the beautiful spring time weather, and all the blossoming trees.  As we passed one house I was amazed by the landscape of all of the flowers.  I was especially amazed that all of the tulips, daffodils, and other assorted flowers were blooming all at the same time.  The image of a conductor popped into my head.  I imagined the owner of that house standing out in her garden dressed in dirty stained clothes and a sun hat waving her arms and instructing each tulip when to pop.  God must have had such delight as he created flowers, trees, and plants and conducted them into an orchestra of beauty to bring him glory and us joy!  I am thankful for the spring time!


Friday, April 5, 2013

I Can Do Nothing!

Hello Friends!  It's been a while since I have posted on this blog.  I have missed taking intentional time to reflect on life and ministry, and share it with you.  As many of you know our little girl Anna was born on February 22nd!  We are so thankful for her and feel privileged to be her parents.  Tomorrow she will be six weeks old, and as every parent has said...time does fly!  This whole being a mom thing is awesome, but it sure is overwhelming at times.  It's a big responsibility to be the one to care for this little life.  The past six weeks a million "what if" scenarios have run through my head regarding Anna.  On top of that Drew started a new position at the church, I finished up my job at the church, we are continuing our support raising, we are moving from one house to another in a few weeks, and I am still trying to recover from my labor.  The truth is I have been trying to do all of these things on my own strength.  These are words that we as Christians say often, but yesterday I hit a wall.  I saw my sin in some pretty ugly ways!  I have been living out of fear: what if something happens to Anna, what if we don't get our support raised, what if (you fill in the blank)!  The truth of it is that my little Anna's life belongs to our Heavenly Father.  Our support account and how fast or slowly it increases is in his hands as well.  It seems though that my sin and doubt trumps these truths more often then not.  This morning I read 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."

I was really struck with the words, "...for apart from me you can do nothing."  Ouch...but I have been trying so hard to do EVERYTHING!  I may be trying hard, but I am failing miserably.  I must abide in my Father and trust his promises and sovereignty.  As I continue to be Anna's mamma and follow our call as missionaries I must abide in my Heavenly Father knowing that apart from him I can do NOTHING!

Here is a verse from one of my favorite hymns Abide With Me that reflects these themes:

"I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me."


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Stood Will Stand

Artist unknown...any idea?
What stood will stand, though all be fallen,
The good return that time has stolen.
Though creatures groan in misery,
Their flesh prefigures liberty
To end travail and bring to birth
Their new perfection in new earth.
At word of that enlivening
Let the trees of the woods all sing
And every field rejoice, let praise
Rise up out of the ground like grass.
What stood, whole in every piecemeal
Thing that stood, will stand though all
Fall - field and wood and all in them
Rejoin the primal Sabbath's hymn.
     -Wendell Berry

Sabbath has always been a concept that intrigues and often confuses me.  In this poem Berry drew out a few more aspects to it that I hadn't yet considered.  The lines "Their flesh prefigures liberty / To end travail and bring to birth / Their new perfection in the earth" elicits the recognition that while the brokenness of life is undeniable, the beauty it contains demands recognition that it was made for and looks ahead to much much more than what it currently is.  The last line, the hope of that enduring, glimmering remnant of creation's original intent, to "Rejoin the primal Sabbath's hymn," speaks of what the Sabbath is ultimately a sign of: rest from our long repeating labor.  Perhaps this is why the Sabbath is so emphasized in the Old Testament (See ESPECIALLY Exodus 31:12-18): it is the seal of God's unfolding story, the prefiguration of our entering God's rest and the return to and deeper entering of his design for our existence, minus the toil and trial that so profoundly marks our current estate.

Such thoughts make "Sabbath" more than just an escape, a day off, or a time of restriction.  Sabbath is the seal of the story the Scriptures tell.  Sabbath is promise; Sabbath is hope.

- Drew

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lifting Up

Ben Nevis, the highest point in Scotland.
Photo by Drew Wilkins
The Psalms are some pretty crazy things to have in a "holy book."  They raise TONS of questions, they provide few answers, and the answers they do give usually only lead to more questions!  Of late I have found myself very interested in the more intangible aspects of Christianity, and I have been amazed at how much the Psalms both focus on and reflect the experience of the life lived in the intentional awareness of the presence of God.

Several months ago I read through Psalm 24, a psalm extolling the holiness of God and questioning what character one must have in order to approach him.  After describing God's grandeur and authority as the creator of the earth, the question is asked, "Who may ascend the hill of the LORD?  And who may stand in his holy place?"  In other words, given that he is so powerful as to have so beautifully crafted the entirety of this world in which we live, how is it that God desires to be approached by man?  The answer that it gives in the next lines continues to challenge my own understanding of not only who I am, but of how I am to grow.  

The answer it gives is, "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully."  Though to do it well is still far beyond reach, I can understand what most of this means pretty easily:
  • clean hands = lives righteously
  • pure heart = motivated rightly
  • does not swear deceitfully = lives honestly
However, the piece that continues to catch me up short is "who does not lift up his soul to what is false."  What a challenge!  To what do I lift up my soul; to what do I offer myself?  And if I am to avoid what is "false," what then is true?  What is worthy of my soul?

Personally, I wrestle with this a lot.  I find myself "lifting up my soul" to all kinds of things!  And yet, I believe that the only true thing worthy of my soul is the one who created it.  To lift it up to anything else is to serve the creation rather than the Creator, to love the sign more than the thing signified, to try to eat at the billboard rather than the restaurant it advertises.  Here again, I fall very far short of the mark.  And yet, here again, is where God's grace supplies my need.  It is by his grace alone, that I am continually learning how to lift up my heart to what is true.

The challenge of the Psalm is this:  Would you approach God?  Then to what do you lift up your soul?

Psalm 25 actually rolls on to model how to rightly lift up one's soul, but that is a post for another time.  For now, rise to the challenge of 24: to what do you lift up your soul?

- Drew

Monday, February 4, 2013

Considering Mysticism

Hildegard of Bingen, detail fromKosmosmensch Scivias domini , 12th c.

Some words carry a lot of baggage along with them.  'Mysticism' practically needs its own luggage rack.  This is not really a bad thing as long as one is careful to unpack those bags with discernment as the concept is investigated - such heavy-laden words deserve a little extra consideration.  As such, this post is really only a brief off-the-top-of-my-head consideration of how to appropriately engage this particular one.  However, in the time that I have spent mulling over the concept of "Christian mysticism," I have found myself surprisingly, and even positively, challenged by what I've encountered.  That said, here goes nothin':

It has been my experience that in Christian circles the concept of mysticism is one that is often at best feared, and at worst demonized...and I mean with literal demons (sadly, we Christians seem to LOVE to jump to that conclusion).  And yet, while it is undeniable that the mystics of the faith have often had a lamentable tendency to chuck their theology out the window with tragic rapidity, I believe their openness toward and contributions to the less tangibly and more spiritually oriented aspects of the faith warrant a much larger platform for consideration and discernment. That is not to say that their thoughts should simply be adopted, but rather that, viewing them through the discerning lens of theological and hermeneutical astuteness, it would be unwise to neglect that which our more traditional systematics and frameworks may not be quite as equipped to explore.  The challenge of not being so distracted by the signs that we miss the thing signified is certainly the challenge of the ages, but I believe it is a challenge to be shrewdly engaged.  I don't believe we should be so scared of "slippery slopes" that we are afraid to tether ourselves to solid theological foundation and repel down to explore dangers and watch for hidden gold.  

Anyway, these are just some thoughts I've had running through my head of late, and there will be more to follow later.  however, I'll finish for now with a quote from the journaled reflections of a renowned missionary of who dared to investigate the more mystic side of his faith a bit further himself: 

"Last Thursday night I was listening to a phonograph in Lumbatan and allowing my heart to commune with God.  And something broke within me, and I longed to lift my own will up and give it completely to God.  How infinitely richer this direct first hand grasping of God Himself is, than the old method which I used for and recommended for years, the reading of endless devotional books."
- Frank Laubach, in Practicing His Presence, page 9.  

- Drew

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

By God's Grace, I Have.

Ruling and Teaching Elders, ordaining
me to the office of a pastor.

"Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?"

This fifth vow asked of a candidate for ordination, is significantly different from the rest.  While the other questions are designed to elicit commitments from a pastor as to what he will do or adhere to, this vow asks of the hearer to affirm what he has experienced, what has been done for him; it seeks the motivation rather than the response.  

Has it been my love for God and my desire to promote his glory alone that has driven me to pursue being a pastor?  This is a particularly good question because it speaks not only to how I must enter the ministry, but also to how I must proceed in ministry as well.  What a challenge to consider!  To be completely honest, I would have to say no, not always.  Go ahead, imagine what other motives I might have...chances are you won't be far off.  There are a thousand other thoughts that have played into this!  And yet, at the same time, I cannot deny God's leading.  If I enter this calling out of my own desire for advancement, it will certainly not get me very far.  If I enter this calling out any fancifully philanthropic goals, I'll simply burn out.  The only way to enter this calling is to do so out of a sincere love of God and pursuit of his glory.  As such the only response that I can give is "by God's grace, I have."  This isn't to claim the proper motives myself, but to own the fact that because of the way HE has engaged my life with his grace, I am convinced of his leadership and call.  That said, I am simultaneously humbled and emboldened in this calling, am thrilled to have made it through the process, and am excited to see how God will lead us forward!  

Thank you SO MUCH to all of you who have prayed for, encouraged, and supported me along the way; the journey's far from over, but this milestone was a big one.  Thank you for being with me in it!

- Drew 

PS - Lindsey, my lovely bride, has done more than I can communicate to make this possible.  She grounds me when I get flustered, redirects me to God's glory when I get distracted, and soothes me when I get overwhelmed.  My love and my partner, I couldn't ask for a more wonderful wife!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Life Experiment

Flannel sheets are the best!
Today, I launch a life experiment.  One of the most wonderful parts about being a missionary is that you alone dictate your schedule.  One of the most challenging parts about being a missionary is that you alone dictate your schedule.  If you are a bit of a fly-by-the-seat of your pants person like I am, this can prove to land on the more challenging side more often than not.  As such, I am going to conduct an experiment.  My usual system is to squeeze every minute of sleep out of the night as possible and only roll out of bed when absolutely necessary (which generally means when I know I'm already going to be ~5 min. late).   This can continue no further.  Thus, the life experiment shall proceed as follows:
  • Subject shall set Half Hour Warning alarm for 6:00.  
  • Subject shall set Wakey-Wakey Time alarm for 6:30.
  • Subject shall actually get out of bed at 6:30.  
  • Subject shall, at this point, probably commence grumbling about how dumb of an idea is.
  • Subject shall get over it.  
  • Subject shall brew coffee, wrap in blanket, and begin morning prayer and readings.
  • Subject shall commence day.  
  • Subject shall repeat this schedule EVERYDAY for one month.  
I'm pretty curious to see what kind of a difference this will make.  Stay tuned for my one-month (potentially very groggy) update.  

Life experiment begins...NOW!

- Drew

PS - Even if this next month goes well, there's no telling what'll happen once the baby gets here!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Wise Old Dead Guy - Brother Lawrence

Image of Brother Lawrence from a book published by Fleming Revell Co. in 1900.
Appropriate for the article on the subject. 
Devadaru (talk) 18:58, 5 May 2010 (UTC)
Recently a friend of mine recommended to me a book called Practicing his Presence, which is a collection of writings and reflections of Frank Laubach and Brother Lawrence.  The driving core of the book is the intentional development of one's awareness of the constant and active presence of God.  As the contents of Practicing his Presence are principally journal entries and excerpts from letters, it is a rather concise read.  And yet, given the more intimate and relational nature of the authors' original writings, there is a startling depth to such a simple collection.  I've been giving it a rather slow read in order to soak in their thoughts all the deeper, and today I reached the end.  Brother Lawrence would by counted among the "mystics," his focus being more intent upon the experience of the Christian life rather than the systematics of the theology that supports it.  For me, this is gold.  I have the greatest respect for the systems and frameworks that support and uphold a right defense and establishment of the function and trustworthiness of Scripture.  However, it has never been these things that speak to my heart or convince my mind.  Rather, it is the experiencing of how the metanarrative of Scripture, the story of life which the Gospel tells, meshes so completely with my life that it captures me wholly for Christ.  It is because of this that I have appreciated Brother Lawrence so much.

The heart of his message is this:
"I made it my business to be in the Lord's presence just as much throughout the day as I did when I came to my appointed time of prayer.  ...[W]hen we are faithful to keep ourselves in his holy presence and to set his face always before us, there is a good result.  ...But even more, such an exercise begets in us a holy freedom and a familiarity with God.  We ask, and ask successfully, for the grace we stand in need of.  In short, by often repeating these acts they become habit.  The presence of God becomes natural to us" (Practicing His Presence, p. 60, emphasis mine).

The presence of God becomes natural to us.  What more could we ask?

- Drew

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wendel Berry & J.R.R. Tolkien

Sunday Painting, by Ben Shahn
- featured on the cover of A Timbered Choir
       For Christmas this year Lindsey bought me was a copy of A Timbered Choir, which is a collection of poems composed by Wendel Berry.  Being fascinated with the complexity, structures, and formats of poetry, I immediately dove in.  However, I didn't get beyond the first page of Berry's introduction before I had to stop and reevaluate my approach.  A Timbered Choir is a collection of Berry's "Sabbath writing;" poems composed during his weekly time of repose, basking in his enjoyment of his creator's craft.  In his introduction the describes the attitude with which he would desire his readers to engage his work, saying "I hope that some readers will read them as they were written, slowly, and with more patience than effort" (p. xvii, emphasis added).  More patience than effort.  Wow.  Now there is a thought that has had to elbow its way into the crowded anxiety of my mind!
       In a class I attended that studied the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, a theme that we explored was the way he presented the passage of time amongst the Elves.  In Middle Earth travelers lodging with the Elves would often have difficulty recalling exactly how long they had been there.  Tolkien's intent behind this was to demonstrate the Elves' more pure engagement of the events of a day, contentedly accommodating the flow of each moment as it came.  I believe that the best fiction should not only leave us fascinated with the author's created world, but turn us around to marvel at our own.  Tolkien's portrayal of the elves contrasted so starkly with my own experience that it has taken up a firm residence in my mind.
       Thinking through the lesson of Tolkien's Elves and the Berry's simple juxtaposition of such gentle patience with such rigid effort offers a cooling balm to my burning sense of performance.  I have often noticed how when I am faced with most any challenge, even if it is an exciting and fun one, my first response is fear seasoned with just a touch of panic.  Such a patient approach to meeting and exploring the various moments and needs of the day challenges my easily adopted black and white perceptions of what and even how life must be done.  Echoing Tolkien's Elves, Berry's call to patience is the call to relationship over structure, to the personal over the programatic, and to grace over law, and is a great way to begin reading through a book of poetry.  I'm excited to dive in all the further!

- Drew 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

And, We're Back! ...Or Are We?

After taking a bit of a blogging hiatus, I was inspired to take up the keyboard yet again after perusing the most recent issue of the magazine By Faith, and coming across an article entitled "Neither Fruitful Nor Multiplying: Are humans going extinct?"  Being heavily invested in next-generational ministry, the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28 ("be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth...") has always been something I've been passionate about, and so I was quick to read through it.  The whole article is worth the read, but there was one point in particular that stood out to me.  After citing several statistics demonstrating the global decline in reproduction the article quotes one researcher stating that as an economy industrializes, "Having a child goes from a source income - think of a farm-based economy or craft economy...where children contribute to the family by working - to a dramatically higher source of expense."  "In other words," the article goes on to explain, "just as a kind of selfishness might motivate families in poor, preindustrial societies to have large numbers of children, a kind of selfishness might motivate couples in wealthy societies like ours to have fewer children."

Wow!  If one is to assess and evaluate the motives of reproduction, it begs the question of the purpose and design of procreation in the first place.  If that doesn't make your head spin enough, the next question that must follow in this train of thought is to ask what responsibilities are necessitated by reproduction, a furthering of generations?  Did God command reproduction in order for the race of Adam to carry on a name? a reputation? a fortune? an ideology? or what?

As Linds and I have a little one of our own on the way, this article pushed my mind ponder these kinds of questions all over again.  As a missionary focused on reaching out to the rising generations, I think these questions are very important to consider.  As God's instruction to multiply was given to Adam and Eve before the Fall, it must be concluded that progressive generations are a foundational part of God's design for humanity.  Scripturally speaking, the intent of human generation was to produce further image bearers of God to tend and cultivate the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26-17).  Already one can feel the inherent need for intentionality in bringing up the rising generations in relationship with God.  How much more so AFTER the fall, when older generations, subjected to the penalty of death, are no longer around?  Our responsibility, then, is to engage the emerging generations by graciously drawing them into their own unique roles and positions in his continuing story of redemption.  No big deal, right?  Ha!  Therein, I believe, lies much of the theological foundation for church based youth ministry.

From the way you see adolescents approached in the world around you, what would you deduce about what your local culture's belief, purposes, and motives are toward the rising generations?  Is your culture or church living up to it's responsibility to raise up the next generation?  What is there to affirm?  What is there to resist?

- Drew