Monday, September 7, 2015

Usurpers, All

I haven't posted to this blog in quite some time, but in the last few weeks I listened to several messages by John MacArthur and Al Mohler that sparked the idea for this poem. The idea bounced around in my head for a while and I figured I should finally put it down on paper. It is my response to the recent affirmations of immorality in our country, the tragedy of "marriage equality" and the atrocities of Planned Parenthood, among other things. Please read and consider:

Usurpers, All

When Satan fell as devil and pariah
And slyly tempted Eve with godlike fame,
When Pharisees reviled their Messiah,
The lie, the desecration was the same.

From Adam’s faithless lips the fruit seeds dropped
And rooted in the newly thistled ground,
Where grew a thorn bush one day to be chopped
By Roman hands and made into a crown.

Man, who in God’s likeness was designed,
Refused to worship Him in reverent fear
But strove instead his Maker to malign,
Fashioning his idol from a mirror.

When priests and bishops dared to charge for grace
Or naturalists to mythic chance did cling
Or men, while naming Jesus, judged by race,
Each stubborn act insisted, “I am king.”

The crowds who cry for unrestricted lust
By children, faith, and gender unrestrained,
Who say that every act of man is just
And standards, of necessity, must wane,

Claim truth as that which does away with God
And love as that which best conceals their sin,
Denounce as obsolete the judgment rod,
And coronate themselves amid the din.

I watch such people, dead but unaware
And grieve for every truth that they ignore.
If left alone no better would I fare,
And but for grace, thus I would be and more.

In death, the Lord paid treason’s price for man:
Usurpers, all, rejoicing in their coup.
In life, the Lord extends a gracious hand
And offers not demise, but life anew.

You, who have been ransomed, watch and pray
And plead with men who wrestle for the throne.
Despite their vain attempts, soon comes the day
When they will see that Christ is King alone.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Still, Small Voice

Sometimes, the things we write mean more in hindsight than they did when we first wrote them. It may take years for this to happen, or it may take only a few days. On December 30, I wrote this post, looking forward to the New Year: "If I Had Known..."

Since then, I have gone back to read over it at least half a dozen times. You see, I have spent the first 10 days of 2014 watching a close friend go through a difficult, unexpected trial. And I feel as if God is saying, "Do you truly believe what you wrote, Allison? Do you trust Me?"

Several days ago, I came across two prayers from The Valley of Vision that mirrored my previous post.

     A Prayer for Year's End
     O Love beyond Compare,
     Thou art good when thou givest,
          when thou takest away,
          when the sun shines upon me,
          when night gathers over me.
     Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world,
          and in love didst redeem my soul;
     Thou dost love me still,
          in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.
     Thy goodness has been with me another year,
          leading me through a twisting wilderness,
          in retreat helping me to advance,
          when beaten back making sure headway.
     Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
     I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
     With thee as the blessed pilot of my future as of my past.
     I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.
     If thou hast appointed storms of tribulation,
          thou wilt be with me in them;
     If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and temptation,
          I shall not drown;
     If I am to die,
          I shall see thy face the sooner;
     If a painful end is to be my lot,
          grant me grace that my faith fail not;
     If I am to be cast aside from the service I love,
          I can make no stipulation;
     Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
          as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use.

     A Prayer for the New Year
     O Lord,
     Length of days does not profit me
     Except the days are passed in thy presence,
     In thy service, to thy glory.
     Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides,
          sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour
     that I may not be a moment apart from thee,
          but may rely on thy Spirit
          to supply every thought,
          speak in every word,
          direct every step,
          prosper every work,
          build up every mote of faith,
          and give me a desire
          to show forth thy praise;
          testify thy love,
          advance thy kingdom.
     I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
          with thee, O Father, as my harbour,
          thee, O Son, as my helm,
          thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
     Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
          my lamp burning,
          my ear open to thy call,
          my heart full of love,
          my soul free.
     Give me thy grace to sanctify me,
          thy comforts to cheer,
          thy wisdom to teach,
          thy right hand to guide,
          thy counsel to instruct,
          thy law to judge,
          thy presence to stabilize.
     May thy fear be my awe,
          thy triumphs my joy.

The message is simply this: only God knows what lies ahead. What I said of 2013 can also be said of 2014. If I had known what it would hold, how would I have approached it ahead of time. It's a moot point, because we cannot know. We have only to love and to trust, to listen for God in the midst of trials. Which is easy to say, because words are cheap. It is so much harder to do. 

These prayers were what I needed to hear: the Lord asking me to sit still and know that He is God; to understand that while I may not be able to fix things when they go wrong, I can always pray.

Just like Elijah in the midst of the wind and the earthquake, I am listening for the still, small voice.

And though it is a new year, the truth of God's sovereignty and faithfulness is an old one, an eternal one.

Monday, December 30, 2013

If I Had Known...

It's been quite a long time since I've posted on my blog--perhaps too long. But 2014 will be upon us in little more than 24 hours, and I feel as if that deserves some recognition. New Years is often considered a time to look ahead, but I keep finding myself looking back...back at what 2013 has been.

Today's quote is not really a quote. It's a Facebook post that I wrote on December 31, 2012.

"Well, 2012 is all but over. It certainly has been quite a year. I'm excited to see what the future holds, and though 2012 has had its share of trials, I'm almost sorry to see it go."

I remember where I was sitting when I wrote that, and the things going through my mind. And I can't help but thinking, wondering if I would have been so optimistic about the New Year if I had known what it would hold.

I don't want to sound melodramatic. But I think that I can say without exaggeration that 2013 has been the hardest year of my life.

Maybe that's not saying much. I'm only 22 years old. I haven't really lived yet, and I'm sure that life will get much harder before it's over. It might also get much easier. I don't know what life holds. And I think that's one of the most important differences between New Years 2013 and New Years 2014. Last year, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what lay ahead. This time around, I haven't a clue. It's a good reminder that we never know what our future holds. God's plans are often not the same as ours, but His are always better.

And let me make one thing clear before I continue. There are many things about 2013 that I am thankful for. I am beyond blessed by friends, family and most importantly, my Savior.

I am thankful, too, for the lessons this year has taught me. Though often I have been an incredibly stubborn student. They are lessons I did not necessarily expect to learn--about myself, about people, and about the Lord.

I have learned that trials have no easy fix, no easy out. Life has no "undo" button or fairytale ending. But I have also been reminded that trials show us for what we really are, and so I am that much more aware of how much I need God's grace. I fall woefully short of the mark.

And so, sometimes I wonder how I would have approached 2013...

...if I had known about the disappointments.
...if I had known about the nights I would sit alone in my room and cry.
...if I had known about the things I would do and say and later regret.
...if I had known about the "goodbyes" I never expected to say.

But you see, mixed in with all of that were times of such laughter and love, such honesty and vulnerability, such joy and hope.

There will always be shadows, but you need light to make those shadows. You can't have one without the other, in this life anyway. There is a life coming with all light and no shadows.

Ultimately I'm glad that I do not know the future. God only gives us as much as we can handle. Whatever blessings and trials lie ahead, there will be grace enough to face them both, if only I rely on the One who supplies it.

My hope for 2014 is that I can be content to trust God, even when I can't trust people. My hope is that I can rest in His grace and mercy, because nothing else can save me. My confidence is that He is with me EVERY step of my life, no matter what 2014, 2015 or the rest of my years bring. From Him are the blessings and from Him are the trials (blessings in disguise). Blessed be His name!

So, I greet 2014 with a smile and open arms. Not because 2013 was a triumph, not because I have this all figured out, not because I expect it to be painless. But because HIS grace is sufficient.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Remembrance

November 9, 1938. Kristallnacht. The Night of Broken Glass. It was more than five years after the first official boycott of Jewish shops and businesses in Germany. Treatment of God's people had been growing steadily worse, but this date went down in infamy as the worst organized pogrom since Adolf Hitler came to power. Jewish businesses, synagogues and houses were burned and looted. Men and women were dragged out of their homes and beaten before being carted away to concentration camps. 

And all this in the name of justice, sanctioned by the government, because a man of Jewish descent had assassinated a German official. Chief of the Reich Main Security Office, Reinhard Heydrich sent a telegram to state police across the country instructing them to not interfere with the planned demonstrations and destruction. 

He even went to far as to say, "As soon as the course of events during the night permits the release of the officials required, as many Jews in all districts--especially the rich--as can be accommodated in existing prisons are to be arrested. For the time being only healthy male Jews, who are not too old, are to be detained. After the detentions have been carried out the appropriate concentration camps are to be contacted immediately for the prompt accommodation of the Jews in the camps."* 

Kristallnacht is just one of many examples of the Nazis' disregard for human life and their hatred of the Jewish people. But this time every year, I stop to think about the people whose lives were forever changed that day. Who may have never seen their homes--or their families--again after that night. Who might have not made it through the war.

Several years ago I wrote this small vignette, imagining I was a resident of Berlin, walking the streets on November 10, the morning after Kristallnacht. It is dedicated to those who were never able to pick up the pieces that the Nazis forced them to leave behind.

* * *

Glass doesn’t melt like ice. I remember walking these streets on January mornings when I was young, the cobbles iced over, sun hitting them slantwise as it yawned and stretched above the horizon, casting light between the crowded buildings. I always ran faster than I should have and fell more times than I remember, but I loved to hear the ice and wet snow under my feet. Squish, crunch, slip, smack, laughter, red cheeks, and a wet bottom. By spring it would be gone. We’d run madcap over the streets, ice and wet bottoms a mere memory, a vague one.

There is nothing vague about glass. The sun hits it slantwise this morning, scattering rainbows across the cobbles, as if an ice sculptor had gone mad last night and smashed his work all over the city. The glass doesn’t melt beneath my feet, nor do I slip. There were others who went mad last night, and they weren’t ice sculptors. In front of one house the lawn is almost white, because the glass is so thick. I walk up the front steps, tripping and falling over bricks scattered in the way. No laughter this time. The windows don’t have panes anymore. Like hollow eyes wide with horror they stare at the white lawn, at what they have lost, unable to recover it. The door is still swinging on its hinge. Maybe the people who lived here were hospitable, doors always open for friends and visitors, anyone who needed a smile. There were other visitors here last night, and they wouldn’t allow their hosts close that door one last time. The wind picks up and plays blind man’s bluff with the curtains, fingering every tear and charred edge, winding under upturned chairs, searching for any sign of life. I am searching, too.

The house smoldered all night, but the wind has blown most of the smoke away. Ashes cover everything like snow, a shroud as pure as a frosty breath on a January morning, and as painful. My chest constricts. The wind stirs again, catching the corner of a curtain and snagging it on the broken window. One tenant still remains, curled beneath the window, unaware that her cover has been removed. Her whiskers are singed, but her striped chin is pressed to the ground in that sly smile cats have when they are about to catch a mouse. I stroke her wooden back and turn away.

The wind has also shifted the ashes on the table. It is the one piece of furniture still standing. Underneath its shroud is a meal partially-eaten. The cups are mostly intact and the bowls are still full of soup, thick and white now. Only the candlesticks are broken, snapped in half with the decorations pulled off and strewn among the ashes. These decorations stare up from the snow, two triangles intersecting. Copper stars in a white sky. On the wall above there is another intersection, two lines meeting at insolent angles--black on brick like gangrene. I will leave before long; even now there is still too much smoke.

When I think of my childhood it is like looking through a frosty window--shadows, voices, impressions. I am always trying to see something that never becomes fully visible. Memories slip from my mind like an icicle in a hand warmed by running through the streets. But memories of today cannot slip away. Images of horror-stricken windows and a lonely wind that had only curtains to play with, are a part of who I am now: crystallized forever. The cold and silence of the November morning swallow me whole, and I wonder if it will ever be warm again. 


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Beauty in the Eye of the Creator

Someone pointed out to me recently that she'd noticed how prone I'd become to negativity and self-pity. I had to mentally take a step back. I would normally consider myself to be a happy person. There are so many things I genuinely find joy in. But this hasn't been an easy year, and I hadn't realized how easily I'd fallen into a pattern of complaint and anxiety and self-centeredness. I had lost sight of the One who is the source of our joy. The poem I am going to share with you is one that I started months ago, but as I pulled it out to finish in the last couple weeks, it turned into a conscious effort to see things differently.

My quote for today is the title of one of my favorite films, 
"Life is Beautiful." 
For those of you who haven't seen this movie, DO! Don't let the fact that it is in Italian deter you. Believe me, it is well worth the effort. "Life is Beautiful" is hilarious and tender, though the ending is hard. I won't give away that ending. Suffice it to say that the movie is the story of a father's love for his son, how he protects him from fear in a concentration camp by pretending the whole thing is a game.

And the little boy looking back, describes it this way, "This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me."

What the movie suggests is true. Life IS beautiful, but not because we are being shielded from the harsh truth. There's no doubt about it, life is also hard, but we have a God who is above those trials, who promises us a future beyond this damaged life, and who is even willing to walk with us in our present times of need.

It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I believe that's true, but it depends less on differing opinions and more on whether you intend to see beauty in the first place. There is beauty all around us and of all different kinds. Let us rejoice in what God has created and in what He has redeemed.

A Study of Beauty

The mountain peak in sunset dressed,
The cheerful river at play or rest,
A tranquil wood when thunder sleeps,
The calming rain when heaven weeps:
Beauty tried and beauty true.
Beauty neither old nor new.

The intricacy of a spider’s toil,
A butterfly’s tongue, the slender coil,
The veins of a leaf, like stained glass green,
The infant plant within a bean:
There is beauty still so small
That most cannot be seen at all.

On forgotten moons the wastelands lie
Beneath the stars that crown the sky,
The rich expanse of the Milky Way,
The emptiness without night or day:
Beauty too vast to comprehend
Spans the Universe, end to end.

The smile that’s worth a thousand thoughts,
That comforts the heart with misery fraught,
The embrace that forgives an angry word,
The ear that listened, more than heard:
Beauty is a three-strand cord
To walk alone we cannot afford.

The joining of two lives as one,
The aspirations of life begun,
To make a house his castle grand,
And growing old while hand in hand:
This beauty beyond horizons lies.
I wait for One whose plans are wise.

The design of suds across a plate,
The delight of a sock who has found his mate,
The valor of a dust bunny chase,
The mirth of dirt that streaks the face:
Beauty often smells like bleach,
A beauty never far from reach.

The mischief made with food or dirt,
A “Jackson Pollock” on his shirt,
The nose that does not cease to drip,
The sticky hand with tightening grip:
A beauty I have yet to know,
A sprouting of the seeds you sow.

The misused life, the damaged heart,
The dream once sure that fell apart,
Still this by God can be renewed,
With grace’s beauty thus imbued.
Imperfect beauty fills our earth,
Excepting one unblemished birth.

The wounded hand, the heaving chest,
One Son by wrath of God oppressed.
The lonely tomb, the weight of sorrow,
Until the wonder of tomorrow:
Beauty in each drop of blood
That fell unheeded to the mud.
The beauty of a tombstone rolled,
A God who every vow upholds,
Because of this His bride receives
A beauty where no soul can grieve.
Till then He shows us beauty here.
If grand or humble, hold it dear.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Checkered Life

The Cat in the Hat was the first book I fell in love with, the first book I memorized before I could read. It has held a special place in my heart ever since. I shared it with my siblings before they learned to read, and I expect I will read it to my children if God blesses me with a family. But I find that the longer I live, the more I envy "Sally and I" in the story. The Cat put those two children through quite a bit, with his wild games and the antics of Thing One and Thing Two. By the end of it all, the house was in shambles. And I often react much more like the fish than the children when things in my life get turned upside down. Even the fish was lucky, though. The Cat came in with his "clean-up machine" and put everything right in a matter of minutes. It was as if he hadn't been there at all. The children's mother never knew any different.

Real life isn't like that. When something goes wrong, when we sin, when we are hurt by other's sin, when circumstances beyond our control sap time and resources and energy, there is not a magic "clean-up machine," no rewind button. This angers me, because I can't seem to give up the idea that everything can be fixed if only we try hard enough. I want to "make it better," to stop the hurt I see wearing on myself and those I love. But, there are things I will never be able to fix. 

What then? Do we despair? Today I came across a quote from Charles Dickens, a favorite author of mine, that I think provides interesting insight into trials, regret, and life that is never what we think it will be.
"To remember happiness which cannot be restored, is pain, but of a softened kind. Our recollections are unfortunately mingled with much that we deplore, and with many actions which we bitterly repent; still in the most chequered life I firmly think there are so many little rays of sunshine to look back upon...and memory, however sad, is the best and purest link between this world and a better."
This is taken from Nicholas Nickleby, a book I only started reading, but I know the story. It is spoken between travelers on a journey, just before the title character's life will take a turn that he hardly expected. It will all come out alright in the end, but there will be trials and tragedy before that point. In a way, this quote captures the theme of the book.

It captures life pretty well, too. Life is a strange blend of joy and pain. The two are often inseparable. And the lost joys we recall, the unfulfilled hopes, the sins and regrets, the irreparable parts of life, serve to remind us that our entire world is irreparable. So damaged is this world, that God will one day exchange it for a new one. We were once irreparable. Until Christ fixed what we could not. He renewed us, though we were decrepit and dead. Without him, we would indeed despair. 

There is something better coming, and this perishable world reminds us that we were made for an imperishable one.

Dickens is not a Christian author, though his work often expresses Christian themes. His sentiment made me think of this Sovereign Grace hymn.

"The sun beams on behind the clouds
"And in the dark still grace abounds
"All is well because of God's great love
"The road of disappointment runs
"Where unseen mercies wait for us
"And all is well because of God's great love."

Think of a checkered hillside in the interplay of light and shadow on a cloudy day. When we walk that hillside, we are sometimes in the shadow and sometimes in the light, but God is with us all the way. It is God's love makes this life liveable. 

I often cannot fix, but I can hope. I can remember the joys that I had for a little while. I can thank God for the joys that I have now. And I can wait for the day when nothing will mar the joy of seeing my Savior's face.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Comb That Was Mightier Than the Sword

My dad is someone blessed with particularly vivid dreams at night. Often populated by spaceships and time travel, any number of them could have been an episode from the Twilight Zone or Star Trek. I find myself fascinated and sometimes even envious when he tells me about all the interesting things that happened to him while he was sleeping. 

The other day, he related a dream to me that was not so much exciting as it was convicting. He dreamt that he was standing in line at the grocery store. In front of him was a mother and her little girl, about six or seven years old. As they were standing there, the little girl pulled a comb out of her mother's purse and began hitting my dad on the leg. When he asked her why she was doing that, she said,

"I'm protecting you from a life of comfort."

Now, I'm not the kind of person who puts very much stock in dreams, and neither is my dad. But, I thought this one was particularly interesting, counterintuitive, and even uncanny. It gave me pause, and I am starting to realize how important comfort is, in America, and in my own life particularly.

The idea that we need protection from comfort is not a new one, but very foreign in our culture. In Deuteronomy 6:10-12 Moses warns the Israelites about the dangers of forgetting God when they have become comfortable in the Promised Land:

"Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

And in 1 John 2:16, the Apostle John warns his readers to beware of what the world has to offer:

"For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world."

It is not that the physical, mental and emotional comforts this world has to offer are inherently bad. We ought to enjoy those things with which God has blessed us. On the other hand, when we begin to put to much value in worldly comforts that are passing away, they take our focus off the One in whom we should find value and comfort. In those circumstances, a trip to the threshing floor would do us good. 

To add to my father's dream, I have experienced something over the last several days (though a very mild example) that has really made me reconsider my attitude toward comfort and pleasure.

For health reasons, I have decided to give up wheat, dairy and cane sugar for a month. For someone like me, who could eat pasta and ice cream every day of the week, it seemed like a big deal at first. But I also recognize that I have plenty of friends who have much more serious food restrictions that they have dealt with their entire lives. And even more, there are so many people around the world who are lucky to get a bowl of rice in the morning. I may not be able to eat my favorite foods right now, but I still have a fridge full of nutritious and delicious options, and that is exactly the point.

It may sound like the argument to get a little kid to eat his spinach--"Now, you remember that there are children starving in Africa..."

But, I'm not saying that what I can and cannot eat is really the issue. It's not that I can't get a scone from Starbucks or have a cupcake at an office party. The issue underneath it all is this: How much stock do I I put in those things, or anything else that makes me "happy."

Ours is a culture based on rights. The right to free speech, free press, free elections, etc. We have taken that idea much too far, demanding that we deserve to be comfortable. If traffic is jammed, we complain. We deserve a stress-free commute. If the wi-fi is down, we complain. We deserve our favorite shows on Netflix. If Burger King gets our order wrong, we complain. We deserve a hamburger without pickles. And I say this knowing that I am guilty of all of it.

So what is the secret to contentment if it isn't comfort? We know that those in our society who have the most physical comforts are often the least content. Christ promises not physical comfort, but eternal comfort. And that comes not from knowing that heaven will be beautiful and pain-free, but from knowing that we have been made forever righteous before God. We have worth because when God sees us, He sees His Son. We have worth, because we are His children, even though we don't deserve it. We are not the sum of our possessions here on earth.

It was Paul who said it best, "...for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."