Oct 19, 2009

28 Days of Joy

The other night I could not sleep. Pressing down on me, a massive, immobilizing weight, were all the things I had to be anxious and sad over. It has been said that the artistic temperament (which I don’t think I have) tends toward angst, but that has always been an ill-hidden and blatant strategy of the enemy’s, designed to draw people like me into deep mires of oppression and confusion. I finally turned the light back on, reached for Habakkuk and re-read the portion God had led me to the previous day.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

GOD, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer's;

he makes me tread on my high places.

(Hab 3:17-19)

It was that little middle part, the one I’ve highlighted, that suddenly struck me with such clarity. I was granted, simply put, revelation. You know those moments when the Holy Spirit has (very graciously) made it all very black-and-white, very easy to understand? Something in the scripture that has been staring me in the face for decades, and that every once in a while I’ve grasped only to loose, finally stood straight up and demanded a decision.

The question is not whether I am or am not currently experiencing some sort of loss or delay. Nor is the question whether I will eventually be happy (we all know I will, when heaven comes to earth or Amy comes to heaven). The question is what will I choose today? It turns out, I have the right to choose joy. It turns out, joy is the portion promised to me. It turns out, that if I decide to reject joy, or not engage in the pursuit of joy, I will have submitted myself to a double loss, an unnecessary loss – one that could truly be called a tragedy because its opposite was fully within my grasp.

Something deep shifted, and all emotion stood far off, as I stared a simple decision in the face and told the Lord that I chose to rejoice in Him.

I immediately decided to thank Him for anything that came to mind. After a few minutes (and a bunny-trail adventure of having to squish my first cricket – because, well, it was hopping around in the bathroom at night…I apologized to the Lord first and got a very thick shoe to use so I wouldn’t feel its substance) … after getting through only about 5 items of thanks, I fell asleep.

The next day, the Lord had orchestrated that people very dear to me came to pray. There are definitely prophets among us, and these called right out that I was living under a spirit of fear and loss and sorrow, and that the fight against these things was “the fight of my life”. They are right. At the end of our time I pulled out Habakkuk (everybody loves that guy!) and we agreed that the road of joy is one rarely discerned or chosen amongst believers. A powerful time of intercession sealed the deal and dealt with a lot of the power these spirits had, but it is my job before the Lord now to consistently choose His way (of joy) instead of the old way.

And so, I have an invitation. I’m in receipt of one, I mean. To spend each day of the next four weeks fighting for joy – against fear and all its constant companions, like sorrow and loss (which make themselves seem oh-so-spiritual in our Christian circles).

I don’t know quite how it will go, but since our personal “un-restoration” (if I can coin such a term) actually affects all those around us whether we realize it or not, and so, conversely, does our restoration, I want to make these days of joy public. So I extend back to you the invitation I received. Join me in the journey of joy (oh boy…that’s just WAY too much alliteration). Let’s see what God does!

Lord, make the deception of fear utterly apparent to us, give us strength in the inner man to do the opposite of what we have spent our lives training our souls toward, and remove the pretend spirituality of sorrow, angst, isolation, introspection, and self-preoccupation. Teach us to choose the inheritance You’ve offered – joy.

Jul 31, 2009

The Whole Story

Some of my favorite things to read are the Old Testament passages where the Lord starts off explaining the wickedness of those who have not sought Him, the destruction He will bring because of it, and then the absolute grace and mercy He will pour out on the very same people who rejected Him. Zephaniah is like this -- the whole book is just three chapters long; it begins "I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land," and by the end a "meek and humble people" are trusting in the Lord.

I love seeing the whole picture (which is why when I sit down to read the Old Testament, I'm lost to the world for a good chunk of time). And the "whole picture" usually follows the same pattern:

a.) wicked & rebellious us
b.) holy and just God
c.) unmerited favor/rescue/grace from His Hand

Oh, and then of course,

d.) happy us

Usually the fact that God is jealous comes up somewhere there in the middle. This struck me again today in Zeph 3:8. "All the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy." Immediately after starts the beautiful ending song, where He gives us a pure language, takes away our pride and shame, and brings great rejoicing. "He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."

I remember hearing Oprah describe how she began her descent away from God. She was sitting in church, and the very animated preacher declared that God was a "jealous God". Offense and unbelief entered, and she turned away from Him. It is epically tragic, to the point of poetic irony, that the very phrase describing the extent of the astounding personal love God has for us should be understood by her (and so many) as the utterly opposite emotion, one of selfish violence. Good being spoken of as evil -- the predictable, and all-too-often-effective, tactic of Satan in his campaign against God.

But for such a thing - such a trick! - to lead to the unleashing of the most extensive and powerful harlot spirit in centuries, as it has with Oprah! (Where is Tolstoy when we need him?) Is that it? Can Satan manipulating semantics among people who don't read the whole story really be the tipping point on the world's journey into moral relativism, secular humanism, and the end of the age?

It was already there. The whisper, as horrible a thing as it was referring to, was yet assuring. The anger at God, the rebellion, the sin leaving one open to offense...these things are already existent in a heart that looks to observers like it was suddenly, without warning, smashed by as light a thing as a misunderstood meaning. No, none of it is the fault of semantics. At root, already there, making the heart ripe for such reaping, is demonic wisdom and human pride that have combined to build vast complexes of empty heartroom just waiting to be filled with the anti-Jesus spirit.

(Gulp of air)

Those are my Zephaniah thoughts for the day! Thanking Jesus for His mercy to even grant us humble and pliable hearts, and for promising in the end that we "shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain," I shall move on to my next task for the day -- cleaning the windows! (Those bothersome spiderwebs shall finally, thoroughly, be demolished.)

Jul 25, 2009

The Best Beans, Please

"Will the New Earth have fewer resources for human enjoyment than Eden did or than the world under the Curse offers? If you're tempted to say, 'But in Heaven our minds will be on spiritual things, not coffee,' your Christoplatonism detector should go off. It's fine if you don't like coffee, but to suggest that coffee is inherently unspiritual is...well, heresy."
-Randy Alcorn, Heaven

This made me smile. I'm loving Randy's book; sometimes he just tells the truth in spite of the hair-raised yowl it generates in our religiosity-loving souls.

No yowl this evening. I have often said that in Heaven the promises of smell will finally be fully manifest in taste. Coffee, specifically, has always been my example. Can you imagine if it were to actually taste as delightful as it smells? I've always somehow been sure that it will, without having ever definitively said to myself, "we will drink coffee in Heaven."

But Randy lays it out on the table, giving a whole little 2-page section to the question: "Will We Drink Coffee In Heaven?" He's addressing a much wider question, of course, but what me made me smile so was its appropriateness to my evening.

Yesterday I ran out of coffee and, happy with my new Costco card, gleefully bought a huge bag of replacement stuff. Dunkin Donuts. One problem - I discovered this morning. The kind I used to drink at Sally's house and loved was a different blend, a dark roast. The brew I made this morning, to my horror, I hated.

Enter Jesus. Yes, carrying coffee.

Anniebugs, who has been dilligently saving her pennies to buy the food for a bbq she was throwing her worship team tonight at my house, and who thus has NOT been buying any coffees or lunches or extras... showed up this morning to pick me up for a trip to the market WITH AN ICED COFFEE for me in hand. I guess it was celebration day :)

"So, a morning coffee from Jesus, eh?" you say, still slightly skeptical.

"Yes," I reply, "and another month's supply, too, this evening!"

Ryan and Betty, whom I'd never met until this evening, arrived for the bbq with supplies in hand for the making of iced coffee. Supplies they intended to leave, as Ryan has completely renounced coffee & caffeine (as of 5 days ago). An extra-big, unopened bag of Starbucks beans now sits on the shelf above the coffee-maker, along with a collection of intriguing individual serving packages of a Korean speciality coffee you just mix with water - milk and sugar already included. He and Tim both said it's great stuff.

Hmm... Jesus? Why do You sometimes just come out of the blue and treat something so inconsequential with such care? I know it's not about coffee itself, although it is certainly fun to have Your stamp of approval on enjoying a particular taste. (I guess if You distinguish between poor and good wines, and between regular meats and "the best of meats" Is 25:6, its outlandish for me to think You don't discern the taste difference between mediocre and excellent coffees.) But in the middle of the coffee-fun you're saying several important things:

1. Your love is not generic, but of specificity toward me, including all the ways a lover would be aware of the loved -- of her tastes, of her likes, and of how to care for her.

2. Nor is Your love passive. You don't sit back, point out to Your Father how we serve and love You, but never respond directly to us. You are such a responder -- vigorously, sincerely, joyfully -- to every little move of our heart. And sometimes You decide to make it impossible for us to miss that fact!

3. Our religous ideas get in the way of reality - Your reality. Yes, we'll have resurrection bodies. Yes, everything You made is good. Yes, the delights You designed for us are not sinful. Thus Randy accuses almost the entire Protestant population of heresy -- lightheartedly and accurately! It's the old difference between sacrifice (deciding to give You what sounds super-holy and self-sacrificing of us) and obedience (believing You enough to actually act on what YOU SAY, not on what we imagine You must want).

Oh boy...Heaven does not fall into the "sacrifice" category, but the "obedience" one -- happy souls, us, who are destined to obey the truths that emerge when the most powerful and loving Being ever, has focused His heart on loving us well!

Some unimaginable things await -- a New Earth, new waterfalls, new shorelines, [insert here, when one has a few extra eons, several 700-page volumes of all that He's designed], imperishable bodies to enjoy them with, and the real Man Jesus at whose side to explore them all. It's excessively more than I could ask or think.

(Oh, and along with it, every few days, a coffee date with God. Only the best beans, please, and some raw cream to smooth the taste!)

Jul 16, 2009

Tactic: The Slow Wean

I sat down in my morning room yesterday, Bible in lap, and discovered something I'd forgotten. When I am sick (head throbbingly sick), the usual resistances my soul seems to develop to the presence of God just sort of melt away. A.) I don't know WHY my soul would build invisible little walls against Him whom I love so much, and B.) It's odd that sickness would dismantle them, but there it is. What He had to say, simple little verses, seemed to go straight in. I love the feeling of just being able to quickly, easily, and transformingly believe the words of His mouth. Love it!

This is in stark contrast to what the enemy has been doing around here lately, though I've only just realized it today, while sitting in the same morning room chair, with the same Bible atop the ottoman in front of me. One of my dearlings has been recently telling me about her battle with a constant sense of sin. As we dismantled the feelings and actions involved, I concluded she was under a sense of condemnation, not conviction. That conversation reoccured to me when I plopped into my chair this morning and opened the Word with a feeling that I should apologize to God.


"Apologize" is a very different thing than "repent". To repent is a relieving and cleansing activity; and at the end all sense of guilt is gone, replaced with a floaty, clear, almost memory-less sort of attraction to the lap of the Father. But to apologize...

Apologies can be vague, general approaches to smoothing over some rough spot in relationship, or an ongoing personality issue that causes friction. They often come and go with no actual release from guilt. What, I asked myself, do I have this impulse to apologize over?
  • I stayed up later than I should have for the health of my body last night.
  • I don't feel I accomplished as much as I needed to @ work yesterday.
  • I'm still in my pajamas at 9 am, since I'm home sick today.
Wait a minute. None of these are sins, and they're certainly not things the Holy Spirit is actually convicting me to repent of! And yet they'd pressed on me a vague and general sense that I was bad. Condemnation, loud and clear. And yet so subersive and hidden.

It's that always-sense of not having done quite enough, of not being as devoted or systematic in prayer as one should be, of disappointing Him in multiple little things, and of having "missed the mark." I've never liked that summer-camp description of sin: "missing the mark". In one fell swoop enter elements of perfectionism and human striving, now deeply mixed in adolescent psyches with the concepts of actual sin and rebellion. No, "not being good enough" is not a sin to repent of; "not hitting the bull's eye perfectly" is not rebellion. (I know; I just tried a game of darts and failed utterly at it.)

Now, not everyone deals with huge amounts of condemnation, but I think it is more common than we normally observe. Particularly here at IHOP, where devotion and holiness are so sought after, the spirit of condmenation is one of Satan's giants, sent regularly against this camp and "entrenched" to a certain degree. I'm not soft on sin by any means, and I'm quick - sometimes disturbingly quick - to call for repentance. Undealtwith, habitual sin is a gangrene, keeping one from holiness and joy, and spreading destruction to other parts of the body. It must be mercilessly uprooted with the same right determination as a sheep farmer who shoots the wild dogs killing the lambs.

But that is for sin! This general feeling of not being full-force enough, not aromatic enough for God, is condemnation, not sin, and is designed to slowly wean us from the presence of God. The dearling I mentioned before could not rest in God through an entire two hours in the prayer room because she was constantly wondering if she was walking in some sort of rebellion and if that would then keep God from meeting with her there or honoring her seeking of Him...

Let our ruthless war against sin also be a war against condemnation; and may the Lord Jesus win both!

(Disclaimer...I'm not sure of the policy on using photos from the internet. The one above is linked from its original spot, and I think that's legal. If not...apologies - and compliments - to the photographer! It reminds me of how it feels to talk with God after a real bout of repentance. It's a very different feeling than lingering condemnation. If you don't feel like this photo after you've repented of a sin, it's time to go to war against condemnation! :)

Jun 25, 2009


At Jim and Anna's yesterday before lunch I blatantly admitted my plan to my hostess as I walked toward her back door. "I'm going to indulge in some garden jealousy." Problem was, when I got outside and actually beheld the garden, my joke turned into reality. Perfect, weedless rows. Plants that would tower over mine... I bent down to pick the needed cilantro and began singing my favorite song, just the chorus, which goes like this: "I repent. Open the eyes of my heart. I repent..."

I have a little bit of blog envy going on too. (I repent.) Annie-bug's blog constantly stays nicely updated. It seems one has the most to say when the most is happening, but that is when the least time is available to say it in. And so, during the last few weeks, my blog has been utterly silent exactly because I have so much to say. Counter-intuitive, eh?

Here's one of the things I have to say: I'm going to let $75 settle down into the dust, and I refuse to pursue its resurrection. Today was another lesson in dividing the heart from the things of this world. And at the end of it all, I decided to do what, for me, is opposite my natural instincts.

I spent $3.30 on an iced coffee to celebrate a $500 blow to my bank account. Wait--I can explain!

It's car-registration time in Missouri, which also happens to be the land of "personal property tax", a yearly tax assessed on depreciable items like cars. Crazy to begin with. I braced for the ordeal in the morning, then headed out to get my car inspected (who knows what hundreds of dollars the mechanics might find in "needed" repairs) and a property tax paper stating I didn't owe any tax, before going to actually get the new plates.

I prayed for favor, followed Lance's advice to "dress nice", and discovered the only things wrong with my car were a bad brake light bulb and a wiggly wiperblade. All told, the "repairs" only cost me $11.00 in parts, since the mechanic smiled, held a "shh" finger to his lips, and charged me nothing for the labor. First hurdle jumped (although I did wonder what he expected from me...and began to pray that the Lord would let me someday see a man be super-kind to an ugly woman--now that would be beautiful. does anyone know? what do men expect when they do something nice like that? they know they're never going to see the girl again, don't they?).

Anyway, on to the personal property tax people, where I was stridently informed that because I had never registered my car in another state, even when I moved away from Missouri, I owed taxes as if I had been living in state. On top of that, though a tax bill had never been sent to me, I owed penalties and interest for being late! I have no problem with paying the taxes...if that's the law, that's the law (as I said to lady behind the counter, "render unto Caesar..." I don't think she recognized the reference). But to pay late penalties on a bill they admit they never issued me, now that seems a bit outrageous.

Outrageous or not, by the time I got home I was $490 dollars poorer. And so I celebrated. Again -- I can explain. There is a caveat to this story:

Several months ago the Federal government had sent me a letter saying "we think we owe you more money on your tax return...please fill out this form." Shocked and fully believing they were 100% misguided, I filled it out and sent it back in. Then several weeks ago, I got a check in the mail for $450. It wasn't until a day later (and multiple conversations with Wendy in which I declared that I'd already been given my tax return and that I had to call the IRS because this money obviously belonged to a different Amy Peterson) that I remembered that little form I had filled out. Wow. At about the same time, the car-registration notice arrived in the mail and a little feeling began to form in my gut...

God had given me money ahead of time to pay the taxes I would probably owe.

Wendy insisted it was for me to buy a digital camera (at least one of my blog-readers has noticed the dearth of photos herein), but something told me otherwise...a "something" which was proved right today.

Remember how, along with telling people to "render until Caesar that which is Caesar and unto God that which is God's," Jesus also sent Peter off to find a particular little fish that was swimming about with gold-coin-provision in its mouth? He did that for me today! I guess the money was Caesar's, but God provided it for me (and from another Caesar, to boot)! Hooray! ... Well, at least some of it was Caesar's. I could really take issue with that $75 worth of penalties, and I have the address where I'm supposed to go to plead the case with the higher-ups. But being tired in general, I'm tired of such things. I'm tired of fighting my own fights. Let God fight them. I'm tired of wanting my own way. Let God choose circumstances. I'm tired of thinking I know the best way for it all to come together. Let God make His plans. And even (gasp) when it comes to injustices, I have lost the need for them to be righted here on the unredeemed earth. They will all be righted, and righted in a much better way than I could currently bring about in this world. I'm ok with waiting a bit for that "righting". So, go down to the dust, seventy-five dollars! I don't want you! I want a heart that longs for Jesus Himself instead of for my own rights, and for His heart to beat inside of me instead of for my own self to stay alive. Money-shmoney, as my sister would say.

So, I did what is foreign to me (the spending of any money at all is generally foreign to me, as my family and friends will attest), and celebrated God's ahead-of-time-goodness by splurging on an iced coffee at Higher Grounds today with Annie and Glorie (MissBe got strawberry milk, of course). Because I've noticed something else -- God's celebrations in the scriptures always seem to involve feasting. And what better way for me to feast than by pounding the final nail into the coffin containing the idolization of money?

I'm sorry there are still no photos in this blog, but I trust you'll agree with me, the gold was for Caesar. (Now if I can only remember to actually screw the new plates on the car before the old ones expire... :)

May 11, 2009

"She's Fighting Back"

I’m writing. I meant to clean the kitchen for this hour before bed, but something just happened … and I forcefully changed my mind.

It’s my way of walking in the opposite spirit.

Oddly, I have realized over a number of years that the enemy attacks my fingers and hands when I am writing. Even, sometimes, when I’m just thinking about writing. I guess he doesn’t like what happens when I write (which I find slightly encouraging, actually). It happens too often for me to remember all the instances. But it has become unmistakable.

A new friend asked me an hour ago what projects I was currently working on. I told her a little bit, and my heart began yearning to write, to write.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when, turning to run down the stairs, I whacked my hand against the point of the banister, right on top of the very spot I had hit it on Saturday and had developed a bruise.

I knew immediately what was going on. I should have directly rebuked the activity of the enemy, but this time I sat down on the step and cried—partially because it hurt so much, but mostly because being physically harassed is not a pleasant experience. (Now understand, I am not saying that every little cut or bruise we receive is a direct product of demonic activity. Please don’t imagine that!) It’s fine to express some emotion in a few tears, but that can’t be the end of the story. It certainly wasn’t going to be the end of tonight’s story!

So, though I have no specific soapbox to get on tonight, I decided to write this little blog. Just to thwart and frustrate that attempt at silencing me, that anger at my vocalizing of God’s works. I will not pull back from doing the things of God because it hurts or puts me at risk. That’s what I mean by walking in the opposite spirit. So what if I’m harassed, so what if I’m attacked? May it spur me on even further, rather than cause me to falter!

I write with ice on my hand and a decided bump underneath the ice. But I write happily. God wins! My roommate just summed it up nicely: "She's fighting back!"

Apr 21, 2009


Cleaning the house almost pushes me to socialism. Almost. I quickly revert to the safer, saner waters of capitalism. Neither, however, seem to be God’s solution.

It’s just, why does each house have the same stuff, which all must be bought, and then which all must be cleaned…over and over and over? Ten sets of pots are being washed up and down our street every day, not to mention ten floors vacuumed and ten bathrooms scrubbed and so forth…

Then sanity brings to mind a picture of what it would be like if there was only one set of pots, and one kitchen, for all the ten households-worth of people on said street. Awful. Multiply that by tens of thousands of awfulnesses and you get gray places like the former USSR, North Korea, etc.

But the reason socialism (the full expression of which is communism) is so wrong actually isn’t the poverty, corruption, and oppression it breeds. It’s the collectiveness of persons, a collectiveness which strips individuality and the human dignity of having been created in the image of God – created as, yes, a person. God, actually, is a far more individual God than most religious folks imagine. As my father began to say during my growing-up years, “Love is person-to-person.” He was referring to God, to God’s love for us, and therefore our love for each other. True love is not a blanket feeling for a large, faceless group. It is a specific feeling for a particular person or people.

A person-to-person relationship enjoys each individual as such – an individual. It expresses itself in appreciating, gaining from, and celebrating that individual’s facets … most of which are very different from the person next to them.

This is why we love each other dearly, but we live as neighbors and not collectives. It’s because God loves us person-to-person. He loves our tastes, which are vastly different from each other, especially when it comes to food and home d├ęcor. He loves our personalities – mine is quieter than my sisters’. He loves our shapes, our heights, the sounds of our laughs, the turning of our hearts. What moves me is slightly different than what moves you, and He loves those nuances. It’s not that He loves differences, as some mistakenly put it; it’s that He loves us each separately.

God, of course, is capable of this person-to-person love for each one in the universe. As a human, I am not. But I sure am able to recognize a good thing when I see it (or when it is directed at me). So when I step back from scrubbing the kitchen counter and take a moment to consider then reject a socialistic/communistic approach to living life, it brings a sudden joy to know that I am one of those who He loves and appreciates individually, and to whom He has therefore given the desire and ability to creatively express myself in such realms as home and family and career. Hooray for God! Hooray for love!

Apr 5, 2009


I walked into my sister’s house today and saw a big box, wrapped in Williams Sonoma paper, complete with the little pineapple on top. Two days ago I’d discovered an item from their store that I really liked, and had posted it on my birthday “wishlist”. Ahhh…cake plate with dome, that turns into a punchbowl when needed. Hooray! I smiled happily to myself and promised to make nary a comment. I would pretend to be blind…

I slipped to a seat at the table where Judah, happily scarfing mac and cheese, extended his 2 ½ year-old-arm, fork clutched, and waved generally in the direction of the box.

“That’s your present because it’s your birthday coming,” he said. “But you can’t have it until then. Because, it’s the plate for a cake. For your birthday. But, because you can’t have it until then.”

“She’s not supposed to know what it is,” piped Ariel from beside me.

“Ok. You can’t know it – that it’s the plate for a cake. For your birthday,” he clarified.

“Ok, I won’t know what it is,” I agreed, joining the toddler world where all one has to do to make something real, is say it. What a delightful world! I remember it, and how shattered it seemed if something said didn’t solidify.

I’ve been tense for a few days – have woken up in the middle of the night, and have felt the tightness in the morning of having clenched the muscles in my jaw all night long. It is very unrestful. But it wasn’t until today in prayer I asked the Lord why. Why am I tense? It was a surprise to me to think to ask Him, and it was a surprise how clearly I felt I heard the answer – one which He illustrated to me with this recent imagery:

I’d planted a garden a while ago, and yesterday when I went out to put a few more seeds in, I searched for a sprout – any sprout – in the ground. Spinach? Not one. Chives? Scallions? No. Snow peas? None. I went back into the house and pulled out the packets I’d used, searching for the instructions.

“Germination time: 5-10 days.”

I stepped to the calendar and counted the days from planting. TEN. Oh no!

It felt like the bottom had dropped out from under me – like the roller coaster ride where suddenly a downward motion happens at high speeds and you feel there is no stomach, no body, no carriage, no track, and no earth beneath you. Just emptiness. Screaming, black, earth-disappearing emptiness.

My little seeds! Are they all dead? Will they not come up? I did everything for them I knew to do. I double-dug the ground, down a foot. I fertilized it. I put fresh, ready topsoil over it all. I planted on the right date. I covered the beds with leaves and black plastic when it snowed (and in the process finally understood why being wet and cold makes you die so much faster than just being cold). I’ve never planted my own garden before; my mother always did it when we were young. Greenery magically sprouted under her touch. But I suddenly began questioning the reliability of the entire process, of the whole system. Why did I think those ugly, tiny bits of flotsam would turn into green, living, edible plants? Perhaps they wouldn’t – perhaps for me, when it comes to my efforts, that little part of the universe is broken.

I seriously did doubt whether it’s really going to work. After all, I’ve seen others do it, but this being my first time, have never actually experienced it before myself. And today, today is day ELEVEN, but still no sprouts. I used organic, heirloom seeds, which means they haven’t been treated with chemicals and don’t say “guaranteed to grow” on the seed packet.

Lord, nothing might come of all this.

This is what you’re tense about. This is your life right now. You’ve voluntarily (and sometimes involuntarily) given up thing after thing, desire after desire. You’ve let every seed I’ve given you die and enter the ground. You’ve spent a life, now, consistently and willingly enduring loss. Suddenly, with only My promises to go on but no prior experience to assure you, you notice nothing has germinated yet, and the bottom drops from your stomach and you wonder – is it broken for me? I’ve done everything I could, but maybe it won’t work for me. Maybe it will all stay this way – dead, brown dirt. Lord, what if I have no happy ending?

There is only one life. Reincarnation is ridiculous; no one gets to have a trial run and then come back and do it again. Which means, not one of us gets to know for sure, from past experience, that things will really work the way God says they will. We have to take it on faith, and do all the hard things – put in all the hours of back-breaking work, let the deepest hopes die, give up all the things we could grasp in our own strength, and just believe that fruit will come – just believe that the end will be worth the horrible beginning. I know we’ve seen other, older saints do it – or at least have read about them. But somehow that doesn’t translate fully into real faith when it comes to our own little plot and seeds that seem to be taking an awful lot longer to poke their heads through than they should.

I grew up in a huge city where the streetlights were always on. When, in my young twenties, I first drove through winding, mountainous roads on a two-lane highway in the pitch black of night, I discovered the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. My head knew road engineers don’t just stop when they feel like it. My head knew the road I was on wouldn’t suddenly end over the edge of a cliff. But my heart couldn’t see farther than my eyes and the 10 feet in front of me the headlights were illuminating. Beyond that -- utter blackness. The unknown. The potentially roadless unknown. My hands shaking, my blood pounding, I finally had to pull over and let my friend from the country drive.

In the incident-by-incident sense, we are seeing God keep His promises, and our faith is built. But in the entire-direction-of-a-life sense, it only happens once. There’s not going to be a “first time” that gives us more courage for the second time. That once is now.

So, He was right; and the reason I’ve been tense?… I wasn’t believing Him. I’m turning 34 in a few days and it’s the first time I’ve had difficulty with a birthday. There seem to be so many things I’ve spent my life losing and giving up, and not even a sprout to show for it all yet.

(Well, if I was being entirely circumspect and reasonable, there actually are some sprouts, and a few half-grown plants as well. But I’m not being entirely circumspect and reasonable, obviously.)

Why did I tell you about Judah? (Hopin’ Suz doesn’t read this blog until after my birthday!) Because Jesus is a lot like Judah. He has a big boxed-up gift, but He just can’t keep the secret. He has all the fruit and harvest and happy endings right there, ready and wrapped, and He’s dancing around us with clear, honest eyes and blurting it all out ahead of time:

But as it is written, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard," nor has it entered into the heart of man, "the things which God has prepared for those who love Him."

[Don’t stop there. Have you always stopped there?! This is the next sentence: ]

But God has revealed them to us by His Spirit…

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

What’s coming is TRUE. Whether or not I’ve driven the road before (or can even see the road), it does continue until it reaches the destination. God’s ways are not breakable, and if the seed falls into the ground and dies, it will produce fruit.

How can we be sure? Because the end results are not dependent on us. We happen to be breakable, and fallible, and unfaithful, and too weak to do our tilling and our sowing and our weeding and our harvesting 100% perfectly. But the scripture doesn’t say the growth comes from any of those things. It says this:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything,

but only God who gives the growth. 1Co 3:7-8

We certainly can be sure that the growth will happen, precisely because it’s not up to us. I have yet to see whether my heirloom seeds will germinate their sweet little heads above that soil, but I’m resisting the fear that they won’t. After all, God's been doing this for centuries. And I have yet to see the full resurrection of all the life I've laid down, but I’m believing God that I will. King David knew all about this. He said he would have lost hope unless he had believed that he would see the goodness of the Lord while he was in the land of the living (Ps 27:13).

God's birthday box for us contains more than Judah's does, much as I'm going to enjoy the "plate for the cake". It contains joys and fruit to be experienced in this Old Earth, and exponentially more joys and fruit to be experienced on the New Earth. Whichever Earth I receive them in, I'm super, super grateful. And how freeing to know that while sweat and prep and sowing and watering is part of my job, the germination and growth of it all is up to Jesus. That's why its
His box, and will be given to us in His time.

Mar 30, 2009

Named No More

We spontaneously went to the fine arts museum yesterday afternoon. A stunning March storm had smothered the city the day before, leaving deep, dense snow covering every surface of ground and branch. What a fun evening it had been to put all the children to bed at my house and stay up late celebrating my sister’s birthday, playing games around the round table in the fire room, getting giddy on being together, being happy, and being the consumers of a perfect lemon sponge custard. Travel was almost impossible by the time we broke up (OJ came within inches of smashing my car in the driveway multiple times while the wheels on his minivan spun and spun), but by morning the sun had come out and Ariel and I tromped from my house to Liz’s for a pancake breakfast and a webstreamed sermon.

It sounded like rain. Bits of thick, dense snow were dropping from the thousands of interlacing branches above us, landing with half-wet, half-frozen plops. Ariel had to hold my hand and close her eyes, for the sunlight on the white world blinded her. The morning spent itself in a slow melt, and by the time the girls and I emerged from our car at the museum its green manicured lawns were fully visible and only small fields of snow still clung to the slopes, under the evergreen shadows, surrounding joyful groupings of daffodils. Their yellow faces were bent slightly downward from the night-long weight of snow, but what a sight they made!

This might be why the interior of the museum became such a weight of its own to us. The purity of all we’d seen for the last 24 hours – the white and spring green and peeking bud-ness of it all – is in direct opposition to much of what that huge, columned building holds. I had forgotten – forgotten the heaviness of windowless halls and room after succeeding room of idols and statuary and man’s attempts to imitate beauty. Stone Assyrian libations to the god of fertilization, bronzed Roman Mercurys with winged heels, corpulent Buddhas sucking the life out of every generation that ever worshiped them.

I hurried, behind Annie, through the room of Buddhas, holding my breath. At a certain point it just becomes too much. I’m not afraid of ungodliness, nor of a spiritual fight. Though I am simple, I know enough to understand God’s great power over the demons these idols represent. But I had forgotten that having been buried and unearthed and moved to an American museum doesn’t mean the spirits attached to those things have been vanquished.

Oonagh reminded me of this once in her sweet Irish accent after we’d toured a kiva in the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde and then each had a disturbed night’s sleep in the local lodge. “What were we thinking, Amy? When the American park service bought this place,” she said, “I doubt they hired priests to come in and perform an exorcism.” I’d laughed hard at the image of American modernists taking such a step, and learned my lesson. Hundreds of years don’t make much difference when land or an object has been dedicated to Satan. Spirits don’t dissipate or wear away through centuries, like stone gargoyles under the acid rain.

It was great relief to emerge from the high halls of that building into the sunlight, the yellow-and-white-and-green spring of life that God had been creating outside for us. We shook off the memory of passing a hundred idols, and took photographs with the fresh daffodils. (Annie, ever more direct than I, rebuked and severed anything not of God, her hands moving in little chopping motions unconsciously for a few seconds.)

This morning a verse that would have seemed obscure to me a day ago popped out as a great, glorious promise:

“For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more.” (Hosea 2:17)

Ah, the victory! Ah, the sweetness of a total vanquish! Those evil spirits that have hung on to cultures and peoples for so many centuries, that have smashed and sucked and embezzled the life right out of human beings, that we don’t even have the discernment today to reject-instead pedestaling, spotlighting, and studying them-those evil things will not be remembered by their name. God isn’t going to just cage them and punish them. The remembrance of their very names will be wiped out. If one could walk through the same museum in the New Earth, not only would the statues themselves have been smashed, the white name cards on the walls beside their pedestals would be blank. No one would be able to recall what they had been named.

Names are deep things. They personify a truth and even call forth destiny in lives. Each of us will receive a new one so precious, it is known only to God. The ability to discerningly name was given to Adam and is one of the deepest reflections of the image of God in us. For our name to be remembered no more is to go down, not in infamy, but in an obscurity so deep it cannot be reversed. The Egyptians wrote the dead’s names on tablets, hoping future generations would read and speak them, thus giving those deceased people a chance to be real again in the underworld. Their continued life, they believed, had to do with the continued remembrance of their name. Obviously, truth twisted; yet it acknowledges the power of a name. What joy I found it this morning to have God whisper to me… “they shall be remembered by their name no more.”

He, yes HE, shall really have the victory!

Mar 7, 2009

So Grateful...

A few months ago a friend instructed our small group to ask God what our sins were - personal, church-wide, and nationally. This, in itself, might seem a shocking enterprise, especially considering we were then to go around the circle and share them. Freedom was given to withhold sharing on any we'd like, though, and we happily commenced the praying.

Ungratefulness. It was the last, most personal, and most prominent one the Spirit whispered to me. But I had such a long list already, that when it came my turn to share them I didn't get to that last bit, the ungratefulness bit. Perhaps I was trying to downplay it; perhaps I didn't think it would strike anyone else as very important. Either way, I kept silent. But when the leader finished up the time with his own list, there it was in big, bold type, spelled the same, hanging on the air in his voice: ungratefulness.

At first glance it seems a sort of Oprah-ish concept. "Let's all be grateful!" In fact, I think there was even a book she promoted where one was supposed to write down each day something one was thankful for. This would have some sort of beneficial effect on "my spirit", she explained, pulling heavily on the swirl of new-age thought she was long ago lost to. Unfortunately (for me) her having handled it sullied the concept of gratefulness. (It felt rather like eating salad made by someone who'd been handling raw chicken.) And unfortunately (for her) the right recipient of this gratefulness was entirely missing -- the real God.

Perhaps in the save-yourself world a general sense of gratefulness will have the beneficial effect of at least reducing the harmful levels of cortisol produced in our bodies by ongoing, underlying stress. But in reality (the God-saves-me world) gratefulness rightly directed toward the One who actually gives all the gifts ("Every good and every perfect gift is from above..." James 1:17) will guard the soul against spiraling down into the worst mire of evil and wickedness. Don't think it's that simple? Read Romans one, eighteen through thirty-two. I'll Cliff-Notes it:

Every sort of vile wickedness in verses 22-32 [lesbianism, homosexuality, murder, deceitfulness, envy, hate, violence, strife, disobedience, maliciousness, unmercifulness, covetousness, etc. - it's a stunning list] has its source in two simple, smallish-seeming actions. Or non-actions, if you will. Verse 21: "because...they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful".

[For you word-lovers, "thankfulness" means feeling or expressing gratitude.]

What a horrible spiral to start out of not thanking God for what He does and who He is. Now, I'm not concerned that everyone reading this is, by their forgetfulness to be thankful, on the verge of tipping over into that big, black hole called eternal wickedness. God, after all, is greater than your forgetful mind. (I'm talking to believers here.) But it is sobering to see the connection between my own state of gratefulness and the long-term trajectory of my soul. And since my mind is so forgetful, I'm going to need the Lord to train my spirit to be always, unconsciously, habitually GRATEFUL to HIM.

[Ah-hem. I seem to be turning into my Dad with this liberal use of caps and italics and paretheses and brackets. Now all I need is to start changing font colors as well :) ]

All these are thoughts of a few months ago, which have been brought back to me by the gratefulness I now feel rising inside as I review His faithful kindness to me. Yesterday was my last day at a temporary job He provided for me in a local doctor's office. It was a place I was appreciated, praised, useful, and yes, paid. And of course, in the middle of it all, a place where I was able to bring the Spirit of the Lord and some of the light of God into the lives of those who don't know Him yet. He provided the job through a series of "coincidental" circumstances - ha! :) And I've been so thankful for it.

But what a good day it was to be leaving, to be moving on to a job that will require more of my skills and heart, and that will give the return of a certain satisfaction only to be found in the direct service of the Kingdom and fellow believers.

My list of things to be thankful for is far longer than that. It has to do with fireplaces, homes, nieces, nephews, siblings, beaches, books, revelations, feastings, fulfillments of promises to my friends, the prospect and experience of eternal love... Oh, it all sounds so drab in words. If I could just sit with you and describe, at length, the history of each of these, the length and depth and width and height of Christ's passion for me might make you shiver with delight.

I can't, of course. But just think -- your own list is as long as mine, whether you've ever noticed it or not. Spend today and tomorrow asking God to bring it to mind, and thinking about what He lists. In the process, you'll be building a protection around your intimacy with Him that is virtually impenetrable by the enemy's arsenal of lies and doubts and fears. Ah, freedom.

Feb 15, 2009

A Vision of the Church

Judah (see the previous post) is not the only profound McDowell. They are all wont, at unexpected moments, to pop out with life-changing statements. Suz is the most recent culprit. Her blog post a few days ago is, well, indescribable. Want to read it?? Huh? :)

How could you not, after an intro like that! Here you go -- Enjoy!

A Vision of the Church


But Who Lives Up There?

The joys of an aunt don't begin to compare to the joys of a mother, nor do the trials of aunthood approach those of motherhood. But sometimes, when the four-year-old girl curled on your lap with a "sore throat" says in a choked sort of way, "I - I cannot speak," and then barfs what looks like several days worth of victuals up all over herself, you, and the blanket you'd both been cuddling under, well on those days, the aunt gets a glimpse...

In the midst of it all, with Ariel stuck in the bathroom still barfing, Judah is put at the table to eat his dinner. He begins what initially sounds like un-reasonable questions: "Uh, uh, wha-what is up there?"

"That's the ceiling, Judah."

"But, but what's it called up there?"

"Outside it's called the roof, and inside it's called the ceiling."

"But," [hand still pointing up, his little 2-year-old Brooklyn accent permeating the house] "but who lives up there?"

"Usually nobody lives in the ceiling, Judah."

"But, but where is Jesus?"

[OJ takes over the adult part of the conversation here.]

"Oh, Jesus lives up in heaven with God. Way, way up in the sky, way far beyond that."

[Every time Judah talks its in the voice of proclamation. But the subject matter of this proclamation riveted us:] "I want to see Jesus."

[OJ stops in his tracks.] "Me too, buddy. Oh, me too. I want to see Jesus. Why don't you tell Him that? Tell Him you want to see Him."

[Judah shuts his eyes tight and states loudly and matter-of-factly:] "I want to see You, Jesus!"

That done, his fist reached out again for the apples on his plate, which had recently become covered in ketchup.

Oh. Oh. Yes.

Feb 4, 2009

How Did You Get So Happy?

We're sitting around waiting for the kiddos to get in bed, at which point we three sisters will delve into planning the fourth sister's birthday party :) In the meantime, let me interview a budding young woman of God...Annie Peterson.

So, Annie, what is resting on your heart right now?

"A chubber named Samuel." [NOTE: Samuel Eisenhower is actually resting his little baby body on her as she speaks.]

But seriously...?

"Seriously? That the Lord is doing crazy things and making awesome connections and I am so glad to be part of it all. Connections between Tacoma and Kansas City."

Um, are you talking about the recent spate of train-track-laying we've been doing in our favorite game, Ticket To Ride?

"Most definitely not! [giggle, giggle] I don't know how to say it. The Lord is telling one ministry about the other and how they need each other, and highlighting what He's been doing in other parts of the world. I've longed for this for a long time, so to actually see it happening and be a part of it is thrilling."

Can you explain, for our readers who are not familiar with Tacoma and Kansas City, what you are referring to?

"Tacoma is somewhere where the Lord has poured out a special work of healing and restoration of people's hearts. Kansas City is a place where thousands of young people have flocked, with zeal for the Lord, to basically pray day and night. So the two put together -- restored people who walk like Christ with crazy zeal and are constantly pursuing His heart -- is like dynamite!"

So, the intimacy message is combining with the evangelism message; and the restoration message is combining with the prayer movement. Yeah, the result is ...

"The world is gonna know Jesus!"

Hooray!!! And Annie, can you tell us just one thing? How did you get so happy?

"How did I get so happy? :) Uhh, I'm not always happy. But I got so happy because Jesus has been SO good."

What has He done?

"Well there's really nothing better than getting to be with Him all the time. And when you realize that's reality, you're happy! There's no reason to be sad, cause anything that would bring anxiety or sorrow isn't a problem. Like, there's stuff that is intense and seems like it should bring sorrow, but the Lord says that we don't have to be afraid or sorrowful even in that stuff. There's a time for weeping, but Jesus came that our Joy may be full. And so that's what He does. The fruit of the Spirit is joy, and the Spirit is inside of me, so there's joy." [Several kisses were here given to Samuel Eisenhower.] AND there's a chubba, sitting on my lap lookin' cute."

Samuel Eisenhower, by the way, had his first taste of solid food tonight. I'll digress from our interview for a moment, if you'll bear with me, to download the best photo taken in the whole world within the last few minutes.

There now, wasn't that worth the wait? For added measure, here is a photo of the interviewer and the interviewee... For some reason, my eyes refused to stay open for a flash that night.

And to finish off the interview...

"And THAT was the end of the letter."


"From Emma. You know that part where Mr. Weston is telling about a letter from what's his face. What's his name? The guy who plays Obi Wan Kenobi?"

How do you spell that?

"I'm a dork that I know how to spell that. It's Ewan McGreggor. Yeah. Just one "G"."

Well, I'm the writer who doesn't know how to spell that. So maybe we're dorks together.

Jan 28, 2009

A light layer of white, frosty snow covered everything this morning, so that the world was diffused and quiet. It seemed like it continued right into the sky, making the sunrise's colors into cool pastels of blue, pink, and yellow. But the space in between was in perfectly sharp relief - every bare, lacy tree limb, bush, and even the white truck in front of me on the road. We drove into the sun, and I just hoped that truck wouldn't make any sudden moves, because I couldn't see a thing in the piercing orange light.

It reminded me of the painting "The Song of the Lark", one of my favorites back home at the Art Institute of Chicago.

I want so much. Is it perhaps too much? So many women have worked their whole lives -- in the field, in the cottage, bearing children, raising children. Lives pass in simplicity, full...but full of work that on the surface does not seem momentous or directly related to the coming of the Kingdom or the exercise of one's deepest giftings. And yet, the value in these lives of peace and contentment surpasses, in the unseen and eternal, those lives of high achievement and visible effectivness. Am I right? And should I so fight within my own soul to place and find myself always within the sphere of overt usefulness and Kingdom-bringing? Perhaps what is overt and seen would asuage my flesh, but what is humble and unseen would propell my spirit into a maturity that will follow me into the years after these, those years that are most important...when I'm face to face with God, ruling and judging in agreement with Him, enjoying His presence, living the real life of real life.

Jan 25, 2009

Have Mercy

I've been singing Tim Reimherr's song since I woke up:

Jesus, I plead your blood over my sins,
And the sins of my nation,
End abortion, and send revival.

We're standing in the gap,
Between this nation and Your wrath,
We're guilty, have mercy.

The blood upon our hands,
Is the blood of innocents,
We're guilty, have mercy.

Listen by clicking on the text above and choosing "Standing In The Gap".

So I wasn't surprised when at church this morning Tim was not only leading, but played this song. So many things are converging in our country to point out, blatantly, our deep, deep sin. In my little pile of circumstances this tragedy has been glaring stronger and stronger.

The new president, Obama, has quickly and quietly decreed that our country will fund abortions internationally -- that under the guise of "aid" and "compassion" my tax dollars will be used to kill the poorest and most disadvantaged in the world. When the Democrats are able, the FOCA bill will be introduced and the President will sign it, declaring abortion an inalienable right and thereby nullifying every law that states and the federal government have ever instituted to regulate, reduce, or outlaw it. Non-physicians will be able to perform this medical procedure; young girls will be able to obtain one without their parents' knowledge or consent.

My sister Suz just discovered, to all our horror, that the Chicken Pox and MMR vaccines given to all children (hers, yours, your friends') were developed from the bodies of aborted babies. See the links and read her outraged blog about it here.

I had a dream recently in which I was given a window into what is (or will soon be) the state of the inner conscience of many, many in our country. The line between life and death, right and wrong was so gray and hazy, that I discovered it was hard for people to remember whether killing a baby after she was born was illegal or not. This was several days before Obama's inauguration. After I thought over the dream, I realized it was insight into the heart of the nation and into the utter moral confusion we are entering. While I watched the inauguration I could not shake the feeling of grief. Millions gathered (and more watched globally) to worship and welcome one who would lead us deeper into this wickedness, into the full searing of consciences. It is like watching a movie on some terrible tragedy, like the holocaust or 9-11, and knowing ahead of time what is going to happen. Grief rises up -- in its wake is a helpless feeling of being unable to stop what you know is about to happen.

The difference is, of course, in those movies the tragedy is already fact. There is nothing to do about it. Today's tragedy? We do yet have something to do about it, and that something is not fighting or yelling or quivering in our corners. Nor is it just trying to bring the truth out about where our new leader is leading us to. No, it is praying - for God to move. It is asking for God's mercy. And it is, unfortunately, inviting His strong hand to shake everything that can be shaken, in the hopes that within His judgments some, even some, may turn back to Him and to His ways.

Do what You must do, God, to turn our hearts back. Raise up your prophets like Elijah and John the Baptist, who will turn the hearts of the fathers back toward the children (Luke 1:17).

Jan 15, 2009

The Road to Victory

A week ago tonight I pulled "The Hiding Place" off my housemate's shelf, took it over to Lizzie's, and made Annie watch it with me while we babysat Glorie. Annie had never seen the movie, and I hadn't seen it since I was in elementary school. I don't know about her, but the next day I arrived at work with puffy eyes.

When we'd finally turned the movie off that night - which is usually the moment when one can quiet one's emotion and get hold of any tears that had been pushing themselves forward - I sat next to Annie on the sofa and wept, utterly losing the control I'd fought for through the last few moments of the movie. The Lord had required of Corrie Ten Boom something stunning -- a soft heart in response to evil and terror and torture and loss. And she had been victorious.

"Victory" is the word we associate with winning visibly. When all the world (or all the Sunday night football fans) have seen the win, you'll be labeled victorious. It's a marching, blazing, flags snapping smartly in the wind sort of word. But when Corrie achieved it, it was a quiet, no-one-noticing, silently-leaving-the-dead-body-of-the-most-cherished-sister-behind sort of word. It was gained not by triumphing over the cruel Nazis, but by forgiving them. Not by destroying the killers, but by loving them. And it was so obscure.

Well, obscure in a sense. While all the angels were rejoicing and honoring God because of Betsey and Corrie's love, all the prisoners and guards and townspeople barely saw Corrie's insignificant form, and certainly few of them comprehended the spiritual battle that had taken place inside those camp fences, and the victory the Lord had won over Corrie's heart.

Is it usually like this? It is for me. The biggest things in my heart are the ones invisible to others, and sometimes I don't have the energy or inclination (or freedom) to explain them. It is a part of surrender, this state of having an internal life with God that only He and I know. And it is definitely a humbling process...to not explain or prove myself to those around me, to not have a victory that is as visible to them as it is to me.

I'm not trying to say here that I've had some sort of deep victory I can't tell you about :). No, I'm just pondering the amount of work God has to do in our hearts to get us ready to walk through the sort of thing Corrie did, and to come out victorious in the end. Annie and I read through her wikipedia article after the movie ended, and from the short paragraph on her "Religious Views" this sentence leaped off the computer screen at us:

"She was known for her rejection of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine. Her writings claim that it is without Biblical foundation, and she has claimed that the doctrine left the Christian Church ill-prepared in times of great persecution, such as in China under Mao Zedong. She appeared on many Christian television programs discussing her ordeal during the Holocaust, and the concepts of forgiveness and God's love."

Of course.

Of course a woman who had endured so much (including the death of almost her entire family) would see right through a new-fangled doctrine designed to keep Christians from believing they would ever suffer deeply. And of course she knew how dangerous such a belief is; when those believers do encounter real persecution and suffering, they are ill-prepared.

I know that when God's wrath is poured out on the wicked during the Great Tribulation, the believers will be severely persecuted. (But not any more so than our Lord was; we are certainly not above our Master.) But what is gently surprising and instructive, in both Christ's story and Corrie's, is the road to victory. That it lies in quietness, meekness, the laying down of life, in suffering silently, in loving to the end.

May we learn this now, Lord! May we not be of the foolish virgins, who do not obtain oil to last the night...for the night will likely be very, very long.