Tag Archives: Eternal Perspective

When you want to trade Little for Big.

They are still small, mini-people, with that baby fine hair and the imperfect use of pronouns.  But every single one already has strong opinions, big plans.  “Mine,” says one. “I want purple.”  She snatches a block, fierce and determined.  Her tower is prodigious (maybe six inches tall).  She guards it with a look that means trouble is coming; the boy next to her grins and his arm swings.  Purple blocks go flying.

She has built her little masterpiece with great care, but doesn’t yet know the rules of the game.  Nothing built under the sun will last.

Ecclesiastes says it loud and clear:  “I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.   And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless!  So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world.” (Ecc. 2:18-20, NLT)  

It’s a knowledge that can drive you mad or set you free depending on your perspective.  Howard Hughes?  Crazy as a loon.  Ernest Hemingway?  Despondent to the point of death.  It was Hemingway who once wrote, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”  It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that life is short and work is hard.

Still, tilt your head another way and it’s a beauty that will knock you down.  Sometimes artists grab onto this, chiseling their sculptures in sand or ice or melting candles.  Even the medium they choose testifies to the truth:  life is so, so very short.  Like a fabulous sunset or a towering stormcloud, we live for a brief, incandescent moment, and then we are gone.  It's the blink-and-you'll-miss-it quality of life that makes it so precious.

But we little people like to do big things.  We want to build the Taj Majal, the Great Wall — but even those are an earthquake away from oblivion.  Our best efforts are more like the ancient mosaic archaeologists uncovered last year:  a happy skeleton with his wine bottle proclaiming, “Be cheerful, enjoy your life.”  Yep.  Chew on that irony for a minute.

So we squirm, we scorn our little lives.  We miss things of eternal value because they are small and transient, and we are reaching for grand and magnificent.  But what if the things that really last, that really matter, are intangible?  We see “through a glass darkly,” a wobbly, cloudy image of what’s real.  But one day we’ll step into the light and see clearly.

In an absolutely fascinating BBC video you can watch a Japanese pufferfish on the ocean floor–happy little guy, living his fishy little life far from Hollywood.  He seems to have found the secret of joy “under the sun,” embracing his momentary existence with verve.  He is just like us, small and insignificant, committed to projects that will soon wash away.  And yet in his own little way he whispers his winsome secret in his quiet corner of the sea.  It really is a marvel (you have to see it to believe it), but this engaging creature went undetected through all of history until just now.  The BBC comments, “Its fragility has no doubt played a role in this undiscovered secret. The structure has no permanence, or any need for permanence. Perhaps its simplicity has rendered previous witnesses confused or merely unimpressed.”  Think of it, such a wonder happening year after year, never seen or celebrated by the likes of us.  What kind of God bothers to make such crazy spectacles, only to keep them hidden for millennia?

My small son commented that our fishy friend has painted the sun, just as it would look from a rippling under-the-sea perspective.  I would like to say to Solomon that even “under the sun” there is beauty.

A fish that makes God smile.  A sandcastle that will soon erode away.  A life that flashes by, but touches other lives that touch other lives that touch other lives…

A diaper changed.  A nursing home visit.  A cup of hot chocolate for cold, homeless hands.  A field plowed and sown, weeded and fertilized, not just the once, but year after year after year.  Choosing joy when your heart aches and it would be so easy to just give up, choosing to serve when you’d rather sleep.  These little things are slow, unseen, difficult, and generally monotonous.  They remind us that we have more in common with strange, small fish than Michelangelo, and even Michelangelo is more fishy than forever.

Don’t be too quick to exchange Little for Big.  Maybe in the end, a little love is all that lasts.

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photo credit:  BBC

Glory in the Grilled Cheese

What’s a good career path for a girl who just wants to change the world?  Stay at home mom, right?  Wait…

I’m a person who feels strongly what Courtney Reissig calls the “pull of the spectacular.”  I want my short life to count.  I want to do eternal things with the days I’ve been given.  I wanna imitate the disciples, 12 ordinary guys who turned the world upside down.  And the world needs changing.  It’s so broken!  There is so much injustice, so much poverty; it breaks my heart.  In college, I studied great writers, great thinkers, great teachers and revolutionaries.  I studied the lives of missionaries and politicians, and I wanted to be one of them.

I’m all about doing big things.  If I help to plan an event, I want 1,000 people to show up.  If I write a book, I want 1,000,000 to buy it.  I want to do big things for God, but that’s not the commission He has given me.  Evidently, He wants me to do small things with great love.  He wants to take center stage, not to shine a spotlight on me.

So I’m a stay at home mom.  I don’t even have a dozen children to boast of, just three.  I spend my days assigning books to read, catching up on a sinkful of dirty dishes, and cooking.  I don’t even cook amazing gourmet meals — we eat a lot of cereal.  My house is always in need of a good scrub, and I’m perpetually behind on school with the kids.  So what does it mean to be faithful in exile as a mom?  It’s what my husband calls “the peculiar glory of humble circumstances.”

First, I think being faithful means having faith.  Having faith, as we teach our little ones, that “God is great,” and “God is good.”  He is mighty, He is thoughtful, and He is sovereign over all of the little details of my life.  He doesn’t need me to accomplish great things; He’s got “great” covered.  Just as I can trust Him for my salvation, I can trust Him to make all things beautiful in His time—including all the little details of my life.  And little things can be eternally significant, like little mustard seeds that grow up into towering trees.

I think being faithful means loving God—ridiculously.  It means worshipping Him with a glad, full heart, day in and day out, even when my days kinda start to look the same from one to the next.  My primary contribution to the world is to adore and enjoy Jesus with my husband, with my children, with all of y’all.  It’s not about me at all.

I think being faithful means loving my neighbor extravagantly.  In this case, my most obvious neighbors are Michael, Josh, Abbey, and Patrick.  When I wash a pan that somebody made a grilled cheese in, I am loving my neighbor.  When I do the bills, I am loving my neighbor.  It’s not glamorous, but it is God-honoring.  And frankly I don’t even do it for my family, I do it for Jesus.  Whenever we give a cup of cold water in His name, He receives it as a gift to Himself.

And finally, I think being faithful in exile means remembering that what matters eternally far outweighs what matters for a fleeting moment.  Love is significant, because it plants seeds that bloom in eternity.  Our lives are really, really short, but every moment that we dedicate to the Lord will have long-lasting impact.

We are in exile here, in a broken and fallen world.  There are “thorns and thistles” — obstacles and tediousness and heartache galore.  As a stay at home mom, I experience this exile as a long wait, a wait for Home.  And whenever I can serve with humility and love, I am reminded of Jesus’ exile here on earth.  He did not seek fame and fortune; He came to love extravagantly, to serve ceaselessly, and to lay down His life for you and me.  Any frustration I feel at being mired in little chores is swallowed up by awe when I consider the God who came to our little earth out of a great, great love.

This post was written for a quick testimony at church.  We’ve been walking through the book of Daniel (check it out!) and considering what it means to be faithful in exile.  Each week someone from the congregation has shared what faithfulness looks like in their unique context.  This was me taking a stab at it.

Startled

Sometimes Facebook juxtaposes just the right pair of posts, just the right images to startle me awake, to catch a new glimpse of truth.  Today I saw a such a pair.

Post #1, a video:  colorblind people see color for the first time with innovative new glasses.  Now, I’m going to let you roll that around in your mind for a minute before I hit you with Post #2.  A stream of people unable to distinguish red from green, trapped in a world where everything is a muted, muddy brown, suddenly seeing all the great glory of a simple garden, overwhelmed.  You see them see colors and suddenly you’re seeing color through their eyes, and you realize how much we take for granted, how much beauty overload we live in all the time.  You wonder what else we can’t see, what else is hiding in plain sight.

Now.  Post #2:  women at the March on Washington hold a sign proclaiming “If Mary had had an abortion, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”  And it’s a kick in the gut, one of the few statements left that still has power to shock.  Really?  And it’s a flood of horrifying thoughts, one struggling to top the last—you’d trade the Christmas story for a coat hanger?  Jesus’ death on a cross wasn’t awful enough?  You have that level of hate for the Savior of the world?  You lay the blame for all that’s wrong at His feet—at ours?

But then I understand.  Post #1 is the explanation for Post #2.  There is rampant blindness in our culture, like a population struck with scarlet fever.  I am not exempt.

We do not see the beauty of Christ, because we are dazzled by rhinestone substitutes.

We do not see the Great Story of the world, because we are sidetracked by our own little dramas.

We do not see the long stretch of eternity, because we are caught up in the vapor of now.

We don’t see the struggle and pain of others (but stub a toe and we’ll nurse it all the day long.)

We don’t see the glory of people Not Like Us, because we’re too busy gazing in a mirror.

We miss the rich tapestry of the races.

We miss the quirky strength of the genders.

We can’t see the value and dignity and perfection of the disabled, the bent and twisted ones, the elderly, the mentally challenged, the helpless, unborn human beings whose presence causes us discomfort or inconvenience or shame.

We are so very blind.  And I wonder what it will take for us to see, like Neo to wake up in the Matrix.  But like our colorblind friends, we have been given a pair of nifty glasses; all we have to do is put them on.

So let me pop those puppies on, let me remind myself of Truth.

Back in the very beginning there was a Trio of Oneness, an everlasting symphony of Love.  And this Love, this triune God, His creativity and laughter and yes, love, bubbled over and made the vast and spectacular universe, from Milky Way to micro-organism.  And there in the middle of an extraordinary garden (red and green included in all their shades), He put a pair of people, and He called them very good.  But a snake slithered in, and the world was broken, and instead of choosing light, we craved the darkness.  All that is broken and hurting and wrong in the world traces back, back, back to that choice, that moment, leaving us crying out, “Vanity!  Vanity!”

But still He wasn’t done, and Love came down into the muck to be spat upon, mocked, beaten, rejected, and finally murdered.  But still He wasn’t done; He burst the bonds of the grave, defeated death, and made a way for blind eyes, my eyes, to see.

He is beauty.  All that is good and right in the world shines because He breathed on it, shines because it bloomed out of His imagination.

Those women, the ones with the sign—they were dreamed up and fashioned out of Love.  There is grace for them just as there was mercy for me.  And the babies they’d just as soon dispose of?  Each one a wisp of smoke that never was?  No.  Each one was painstakingly designed, seen, and adored.

Let’s be the people of color, the people who dole out compassion, joy, forgiveness, and kindness, who lend others our lenses and help them want to see.

Dostoevsky said beauty will save the world.  Thank the Lord, He already did.

Election Year Exiles

So Michael (my husband) is a council member over at GCL, and they’ve invited me to write for their blog time to time.  This month the focus is politics, so (PoliSci geek here), I was happy to oblige.  

When we read the New Testament in present day America, it is always with a degree of imaginative remove, like watching a period piece on PBS.  We cock our head: you don’t say!  There always seem to be sandals and dusty robes, grapes and flatbread, lots of sheep… bleating.  Peter and Paul and all those Marys — they look dirty, but somehow pristine; wisdom makes them seem to glow.  They look like Morgan Freeman, or Gandalf, and when they say curious things, it’s hard to separate what’s cultural from what’s timeless.

It’s easy to relegate Biblical themes to a Roman Empire movie set — for example, assuming that idolatry was an ancient problem, or that modesty is now outdated.

Likewise, the idea that we are all aliens and strangers is hard to grasp in our patriotic “Christian country.”  After all, the early Christians (and for that matter, the Jews) lived in enemy-occupied territory; of course Peter would talk like that.

Continue Reading HERE.

Homeschool 2016: Thinking With Forever Glasses On

It’s the first week back.  That means we’re still eating breakfast — the good kind, with fruit and waffles and mmmm, bacon.  We can still locate sharpened pencils (though we did somehow misplace a book on Monday.  Monday, people.  The first day.  Not to worry, it turned up, obviously, in the closed, dusty, cabinet under the computer desk — you know, the one where all of the old hard drive equipment used to go.  Of course.)  But it’s still fresh.  There’s laughing.  Interest.  We aren’t impossibly far behind… yet.

What if it could stay this way?  What if we were still laughing and curious and well-fed in February?  What would it take?

I think it would take anticipation — cultivating an expectant attitude every day.  And I don’t suppose I’m very expectant if I’m in the throes of self-pity; pity-party Kate is not thankful, but grumpy, disappointed in what’s gone wrong instead of grateful for what’s gone smashingly.  I tell my kids I don’t speak Whinese — but maybe, too often, I do.

It follows, then, that it would take gratitude, wonder, recognition of little victories and amazement at the grand stage.  Living like I have an illness in remission.  (What?  I feel good?  I get another day with these people?)

Living with a forever mentality means remembering that life is so, so short.  The stresses will pass; the kids will grow up and move on.  (Theoretically) we’ll miss them someday.  My husband likes to say that every complaint betrays a blessing — the dirty socks on the kitchen counter (what, you don’t find dirty socks on the counter?) mean I have a delightfully absent-minded kiddo.  The dog-chewed wallet means I have a wallet (and a dog.)  Living in light of eternity means seizing the joys life affords, knowing they are fleeting.  It means remembering the big picture, the prize at the end of the race, the purpose behind the cost.

I’m not just filling minds with facts, I’m filling hearts — with what?  A contagious attitude (thankful, I hope, and curious, full of awe at the incredible intricacies of the world and fascination with its people), hope, determination, purpose, love.  I’m not plodding back through 5th grade lessons for the educational thrills; I’m investing in world-changing people that will explode like dominoes from our home and set off chain reactions in a thousand unpredictable directions.

This life?  This is my one life.  This is their one childhood.  Help me, Lord, to make the most of these wildflower days.%22To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.%22

Under the Sea

We’re all up to our necks in it: deadlines, bills, school supplies, car repairs, health concerns, the neighbor’s noisy music, that stinky something in the refrigerator that’s gone bad and can’t be located.  And when we’re personally standing firm and holding fast, others around us are drowning.  Look to your right and left at the next stoplight.  See that guy?  The weary one?  See the angry mom?  The weepy kid?  That’s the human condition, right there.  A philosopher might say it better than I can:  “Everything is meaningless, utterly meaningless!  What do people get for all their hard work?  Generations come and generations go, but nothing really changes.”  All our lonesome days under the sun, we strive, we struggle, we gain and lose again.  What’s it all about?                                       

I wasn’t familiar with Jason deCaires Taylor until last week, as I searched the internet for images of slavery.  The first sculpture I found, a ring of people holding hands, popped up on a number of sites and was described as a memorial to the slaves lost during the brutal Middle Passage.  (I have learned now that Taylor actually didn’t set out to create a memorial, but welcomed this interpretation.)  That image, and all the varying photos of it, haunted me.  Who built such beauty?  Who thought to leave it hidden under ocean?  Won’t it be destroyed by salt and water?

What else is tucked away out of view under the green waves?

I’ve been snorkeling in the Florida Keys just once, and never scuba diving.  I’ve put my face down out of the bright air and under the blue surface and discovered an entirely new world.  It boggles the mind that such beauty exists in our midst, under our noses (or under the hulls of our paddle boats, more like) unseen and unvisited by all but a few.  And I have only broken the surface, never dived down to the depths.

Of course, there are shipwrecks, fascinating museums to loss and adventure.  And in several scattered places in the world there are underwater sculpture gardens, or lone statues, like “Christ of the Abyss” in the Mediterranean.  But Taylor really takes the cake.  This man (born in 1974, same year as me! has he learned the secret of freezing time? how else can he have accomplished so much??) married his love of diving with his love of sculpture, and the result is dozens of incredible works of art making habitats for coral, starfish, shark.

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If his sculptures could think, if they took stock of the world, what would they find?  Look to your right, look to your left — sorrow and weariness and trouble and decay.  How quickly we age!  How alone, unseen, forgotten, we are.  Where is our creator, who set us here and left?

“So now I hate life because everything done here under the sun [under the water?] is so irrational.  Everything is meaningless, like chasing the wind.  I am disgusted that I must leave the fruits of my hard work to others.  And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish?”  (Ecc. 2:17-19)

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And so, despair.  Look down, brood.  Stick your head in the sand.  Return to dust.  Oh, it’s all vanity.

And let’s face it, if Taylor’s ranks of men and women were all alone under the sea, if never visited by angelfish or mermaid, then all his work would fade to oblivion for no greater good than the fact that they existed in the first place.  Like Solomon’s parks and gardens, they would disappear under the silt of time, unmourned.

But some of Taylor’s creations seem to sense another story.  Instead of gazing down into the muck, they are looking up.

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man in seaweed looking up

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The existence of an entire world above them must sound far-fetched to the underwater dweller.  Farms?  Airplanes?  Roller coasters?  Impossible, surely.  But then, what is that light that pierces the water day after day?  Who are these visitors who come and go?

Under the water, under the sun, everything is futility.  But if indeed there is another reality, another truth, an entire bright world where a person can breathe free, well, that puts another spin on it, don’t you think?

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(All photographs in this post are depictions of the work of Jason deCaires Taylor, and I didn’t take a single one.  For more of his unbelievable work, visit http://www.underwatersculpture.com.)