Loving the Father: a Theme for Lent

For the past six months or so, I have been hanging out in the book of Luke.  Months back I picked up a commentary on Luke and decided to recover the familiar ground. Just after that, Luke became the text for weekly sermons at church.  Most recently, I was invited to a neighborhood Lenten Bible study on the parable of the Lost Son, Luke 15.  Having always loved Luke’s gospel, this all suits me just fine, and I thought I knew it pretty well.  But, there is something about slowing down, approaching a text having asked the Spirit for a fresh vision, and taking the time to really reflect on what is being being said, intimated, and even not said at all that stretches understanding in new ways.

Most broadly, I’ve been struck by the way in which Luke fixes the reader’s attention on Jesus’ care for the weak, the marginalized, the outcast.  I learned in my reading this time around that there is some  possibility that Luke may have been a slave for at least a time.  This would not be unlikely as in age of the Romans, well-educated Greeks were highly sought after as slaves for the empire.  A physician, like Luke, would have been quite valuable to the Romans.  It also would have given him a place of low standing in spite of his gifts and education.  Perhaps this is why he focused on those who would have had no voice and no standing in the heavily hierarchical societies of both the Roman empire and the Jewish culture of the first century.  Regardless of whether or not Luke was actually a slave, a freed slave, or a free man altogether, his emphasis on the least of these—women, the demon-possessed, paralytics, tax-collectors, lepers, prostitutes—augments the compassion of Christ for those who are broken in both body and spirit.  Likewise,  Luke shows us that those who vainly think they are without need garner both the ire and the disappointed frustration of Christ.  Both sets of people are equally lost and in need of redemption.  None of us can read Luke without seeing ourselves somewhere and realizing that we, too, are in grave need.

Specifically and most personally, I have been lead to reflect a great deal on what it means to love God, not just for what He has done for me, but for who He is.  Reading through story after story of our Lord’s interactions with people, I’m always left wondering, “But did they love Him”?  That topic came up this  morning in Bible study.  Neither the older nor the younger brother in the parable of The Lost Son really loved the Father.  Rather, they loved the benefits the Father was able to provide them.  It’s convicting and painful to reflect on the proclivity we all have to love the gifts more than the Giver.

As is so often the case in the telling of parables, what Jesus neglects to say is as instructive as what He does say. The hearer is left with many questions.  One of the things He never says in relation to this story is whether either son, in the end, actually comes to genuinely love the Father.  As Jesus left the story in a bit of a cliffhanger where the older son is concerned, it is a bit easier to infer that this son is still harboring a hardness of heart as the story closes. The younger son appears to have realized the error of his ways and seems to be truly repentant, yet no verification is given that what he now desires is the fellowship of the father himself and not just a job and three squares.  By Christ leaving out such pertinent information, the hearer is left with white space prompting questions and allowing him to put himself into the story.  Which brother am I?   Do I love God merely as a receiver of His good gifts?  Does my heart long to be in loving fellowship with my Father? Am I content to live as His servant?  Do I delight in obeying Him?

 

There are no answers given here, but verses 18 and 19 reveal an attitude of spirit that is necessary for living in relationship with our Father:

“I will arise and go to my Father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired servants.'”

This, then,  has become my Lenten reflection: May these words be the first conscious thought of each morning.  May I learn to think of the rising of each new day as a fresh opportunity to spend time in my Father’s presence, serving Him in humble gratitude, thanking Him for His gifts, but more importantly, loving Him as my generous and loving father who delights to call me His child.

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How Long?

Today, news broke about the beheading of 21 Christian men in Egypt.  It was video taped. Just another day of escalating violence against “the nation of the cross.”  It is shocking to most people, but it comes as no surprise to Christians who have read and understood the message of the Bible.  Becoming a Christian does not make for a rosy, happily-ever-after life.  Au contraire!  Our Lord promises us that if we follow Him, we will have to take up our cross, be led to places we do not wish to go, be mocked, scorned, rejected, and maybe even killed.  Our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are in ever-increasing danger of the latter.  And our nation yawns as so many other nations have done in the past.

One of the greatest dangers for Christians living in the West is that we are daily bathed in foolishness.  We are lured into caring more about political shenanigans, gas prices, and the latest news about who got eliminated on American Idol then we do about the suffering of those whose lives are being shattered with increasingly violent frequency.  But this is not as it should be.  The church comprises one world-wide household, and the beheading of even one brother or sister anywhere in the world is a death in OUR family.  We should mourn as though our hearts were breaking.  Our hearts should be broken.

Yet, we do not mourn as those who have no hope.  For, though the sorrow of this world is real, the vindication of God’s people is equally certain.  The blood of the saints cries out to God just as the blood of Abel cried out from the ground.  In Revelation 6: 9-11 we read:

     “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for  the testimony which they held.  And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’  Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were was completed.”

These held firm to the testimony of faith to which they had been called, even to the point of death.  But, do you see what is remarkable here?  Though their voices are crying out,  they are told to “rest a little while longer”.  They are given white robes.  They have run with courage the race set before them and have overcome.  Yet, though they may rest, they cry out for justice;  not only for themselves, but for those of us who are still running.  They (and we) are told that they are not the last who will be killed for their testimony.  Perhaps we will never be called to martyrdom as these saints who have gone before us.  Perhaps we will.  We need to be reminded that those who have been slain before us (including those who lost their lives in yesterday’s brutal attack) are now in the presence of our Father pleading for justice, for vindication, and for those of us who must continue to dwell in this harsh and cruel world.

Can we do any less for our brethren who may be called to add to the number “…who would be killed as they were” completing the fullness of time when all will be set right?

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Me Restitue, Part II

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Today we awoke to yet another glistening, snow-dusted morning.  A scheduled trip to Boston has been cancelled due to the storm, giving me the gift of a free day stretching out in front of me. With the luxurious gift of time to write, I have decided to revisit some reflections on the lessons learned during the restoration work on our old house.

 

On the morning of our closing, David thoughtfully presented me with the perfect gift to commemorate the occasion. Tearing off the pretty wrapping paper, I yelped with excitement when I saw the black and yellow box with the name “Wagner” in the corner.  Here is a man who knows my heart.  A heat gun is so full of promise, don’t ya’ know?  And this was my third heat gun, having burned through two on our previous renovation projects.  I once again had a heat gun and I wasn’t afraid to use it.

 

At some point over the years, previous owners had decided that it was a good idea to paint all the trim on the house black.  Not just a little black, but a lot of black.  Even the one bit of adornment on this otherwise simple house…the classically beautiful Doric columns supporting the arched entry-way—had innumerable coats of flat black paint weighing them down.  Ever since we had first looked at the house, I had been itching to set them free.  Now armed, I was ready to get started.

 

The next morning, I got up early and headed over to commence the liberation.   After setting up the ladder and getting the extension cords in place, I plugged in my heat gun and climbed eagerly up to the top rung.  As I turned the switch to “high”, the old familiar whizzing sound took me to a happy place.  I smiled to myself remembering all the bygone summer days in which this sound had mingled with the sound of my happy children playing in the sprinkler while “mommy worked on the porch.”  They love to reminisce with one another about how several times per day they would ask me for various treats while I was working.  They knew that when I was engrossed in work they could get my distracted reply of “I suppose” which, of course, meant, “Yes, anything, please, so long as you behave and let me get this done before I have to go make dinner.”  But, I digress…

 

…I aimed the nozzle at the black paint and watched with satisfaction as the first spot bubbled up and began to peel away.  A kaleidoscope of other colors showed up beneath the black: green, rust, even pink.  Pink Doric columns?   Black suddenly didn’t seem like such an unreasonable choice.  The very bottom coat was, as I had suspected, a once bright, classic white.  Beneath that first layer, the scraper revealed the most beautiful, clear, tightly- grained, old-growth wood.  It was ninety years old, but looked better than the brand new material one could buy at the local lumber yard. 

 

What I love most about doing work like this is that it affords the mind space to think, pray, and reflect on all kinds of things.  As I worked on this project over the next few weeks, a few thoughts kept coming back day after day.  The first is how we human beings are so inclined to simply cover up what is ugly or damaged or failing.  It is so much easier to just slap something over to mask what it marred. And that is true, for a while. Over time, however, the cracks and chips begin to show through the latest white-washing (or green, pink, or black-washing).  There is simply no way to cover a failing substructure. 

 

The second thought is how much effort it takes to remove the cover-ups.  No amount of scraping in the world could have removed the layers of paint on those columns.  It was going to take hours and hours of labor-intensive work, sweat, and patience…and the power of a big heat gun…to get down to the root of the problem.  In some places the deteriorated surface came off with relative ease; in others, the unyielding blackness burned into a sticky tar that refused to be budged even by the heat gun.  In those places, the only answer was to strenuously sand and sand and sand until the stubborn black was ground away and the fresh, smooth wood surface was revealed. 

 

There are no words to describe the gratification that came when, at last, it was time to apply a fresh, clean covering over the polished wood.  The crisp, white primer slipped on like a silk robe…smooth, beautiful, blemish-free.  No longer hiding under layers of languid and decaying camouflage, the columns appear taller, more stable and prepared to weather the storms that are to come.

 

Thankfully, we have a Friend who was not afraid of the blood, sweat, and tears of the hard work it would take to unmask the beauty of what we were created to be.  Thankfully, we have a Friend who has promised to robe us in unblemished white, fitting us for the day when we stand tall before His face, and the storms simply pass us by.

 

Is me restituit et ei multas gratias humillime ago. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life is What Happens…

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We moved into “425” 18 months ago.  It was only a temporary place to be for a year while we built our new home. My thoughts about the house were little other than “that will do” while we make our other plans.  I never thought of it as a home.  But something strange happened along the way.  This little house has become a part of who we are as a family; it is now part of our story. It has been our very happy home.

425 has witnessed many milestone changes in the Warner family.  It is in this house where we sat together before walking up the street to celebrate that afternoon’s wedding of our son David to his beautiful wife Fiona.  It is in this house where Zachary brought home another lovely young woman for us all to meet before he asked her to be his bride.  She left from this house still nearly a stranger and returned to it a week later with her future status as one of us glittering on her left hand.  It is from this house that we sent our youngest son off to college.  We know from previous experience that sons leave home as boys and return as men, so I guess you could say that this house saw the last of our little boy, Caleb.  It is in this house where our baby girl, Grace, officially entered the physical world of young womanhood as her mother officially left the child-bearing years behind.  It is in this house that I made the decision to leave a job I loved to be more focused on home. It is in this house that we witnessed and celebrated Nathan becoming the first homeowner of the Warner siblings.  It is also to this house where Anna and Trent brought our first grand-child, Olivia Grace, for a visit at Mimi and Poppa’s.

We are moving from here in three short weeks.  It’s an epic tale.  But, the short of it is that we are moving into another rental while we complete our building project.  No, it isn’t the new house we had planned to build when we moved here.  It is something entirely different that we would never have imagined 18 months ago.  Our hope is that we will be moving into our new/old house this summer sometime.  We’ll see.  Today, as Gracie and I finished up her school work for the semester, I suddenly became a bit melancholy thinking that we will never do school next to this big picture window in this house…correction…this home again.  Next semester we will be in a new place, which I will not make the mistake of taking too lightly.  It, too, will be our home for the time that we are under its roof.

There are words from John Lennon that my sweet husband is fond of quoting:  “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”  I guess it can also be said that “Home” happens in the same way.    

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Generational Gratitude

Generational Gratitude

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Thanksgiving is in two short days.   The to-do lists of chopping, brining, cooking, decorating, and cleaning are lengthy.  Sitting down to devise my plan of attack this morning, I decided that the first thing to prepare was my heart.   Failing to see my work as an offering of love, I am all too painfully aware that my heart is likely to  become filled with something other than thanks.  Hence, item one:  Number God’s mercies.  Fill the heart to overflowing with thanks before doing one other thing.

 

The list grows of its own accord.  My hand can barely keep up with the torrent of grace being poured out before me on the page.   Streams of mercy.  Rivers of blessing.  Fountains of love.  But one theme emerges: vast oceans of covenant faithfulness.

 

Of course, there are the countless material blessings:  daily bread, a place to rest my head, every drawn breath, a new home project.   Each item jotted down elicits thanks to the Giver.  But, there is so much more than daily bread…something greater still that sets my heart into a frenzied, frantic search for a way to express the wild praise that stirs within.  Too big for my heart to contain, it leaks out in tears.

 

Far and away, the greatest blessings have come in the form of other human souls added to our number.  I am beginning to know with my heart, and not just my head, the true meaning of God’s covenant faithfulness.  “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him…” (Deut. 7: 9a)   God is establishing new households, extending his covenant blessings into a new generation.  What number generation is this?  I long to peer back in time to know where the seed first took root.  I long to exchange stories of God’s faithfulness with all those who preceded us and who obeyed the command to teach the ways of God diligently to their children.  I long to thank them for their obedience…for the legacy passed on through the ages.  I do thank God for them and for His faithful sustaining of their faith.  Countless, nameless men and women, I have not forgotten you.  Your blood courses through our veins; your faithfulness lives in perpetuity through the promises of the God you trusted and whom you now see face-to-face.  And this not only in our own families, but in the families who have been joined to ours through marriage.  God’s mercy is too much for my heart to absorb.

 

I never would have believed that the love I feel for our own children could be expanded to enfold their spouses.  Surprise!  Just as God’s love extends to successive generations, so does a parent’s love extend to embrace those with whom our children have become one flesh. God has added to us another son and two more daughters.   My heart has grown, and my ability to love increased.   Each one is precious in unique ways and adds so much to the fabric of our family life.  I dearly love them and want to be with them.  I want to bless them.  I want to make their hearts sing. If that were not enough, just one week ago today, our first grandchild entered the world.  As she drew her first breath, I stood in silent awe, tears streaming down my cheeks.  And it’s not just that she is a sweet little person who will bring us joy and laughter; it’s what her presence in this world signifies.  God is still at work fulfilling His ancient pledge to His people.  She represents the faithfulness of God, the faithful obedience of her ancestors, and the future of God’s ever-extending kingdom.  Oh, little one!  How full of promise, how mighty is your tiny life.

 

On Thursday, as we enjoy the food my hands will have joyfully prepared out of a heart overflowing with thanks, I will look around the table and thank God for the miracles of grace seated around me.  I will thank God for making a people for His Son in times past and in the years to come.  I will ask Him to strengthen our resolve to serve Him with gladness in the year to come.  I will look forward to the day when I, too, will see in full the breadth of God’s faithfulness that I can now only glimpse in part. 

 

May the words of Isaiah be fulfilled in you, little Olivia, and in all of our grandchildren yet unborn:

 

“Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.” (Is. 61:9)

 
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Me Restitue, Part I

Mē Restitue, Part I

 

After an Odyssean search for home, my husband David and I have embarked on another old house restoration project…our third.  Oh, here we are! We feel like us again.

For ten years we lived in a perfectly lovely subdivision home.  It was large, sunny, well-planned, safe, comfortable, and pretty.  But it just didn’t fit.  Enjoying many of the conveniences afforded by modernity, we took a detour toward building a new/old house.  Purchasing a picturesque, rolling property adjacent to fifty acres of woods, we set our plans into motion.  Until…we moved into a rental house in our date-night destination town: Geneva, Illinois.  Surprise!  Turns out that we didn’t want more land, larger spaces, longer views, more privacy.  The charm of living with abundant life right outside our windows, everything in walking distance, close proximity to fellow preservation enthusiasts, and the feeling of belonging to something vibrant…this is what we really wanted. One problem remained: we needed a house.

We had always said that our pie-in-the-sky-money-is-no-object dream was to own an authentic old home in Geneva’s charming Historic District. And so, we set our sights on that goal with little real belief that we would find something suitable and affordable.  After looking at several options, we began to lose heart.  While each home we entered rekindled and enflamed the old-house passion in our hearts, none had the unique combination of characteristics we had hoped to find.  One was filled with potential…truly grand…but everything everything needed to be upgraded AND the price was a king’s ransom. Off the list. One was fairly well-finished but far out of our comfortable price range.  Off the list.  Another was more within our reach, but not when the necessary upgrades were accounted for.  Off the list.  But there was one we had not yet considered.  We had looked at it frequently on-line, but rejected it as a possibility each time.  Finally, after looking at yet another no-go just across the street, our realtor suggested we just go have a look.  ”After all, we’re right here and the house is unoccupied.”  Alright, we’ll look, but we really aren’t interested.

As soon as the key was turned and the door swung open, there it was.  That inexplicable something that echoes across the years and whispers, “Welcome home.  I’ve been waiting for you. I need you.”  (If you are an old-house person, you know what I mean.  If you’re not, well…you’re missing out.)    Still, months would go by before we were to write an offer.  The lot was very tiny.  There was a lot of work.  The listing price halted our enthusiasm.  Had we imagined the whisper?

Four months later, we decided to go look one last time to rule it out.  No, we had not imagined it.  This was our house.  Bonus: the price had dropped significantly.  We frantically wrote an offer before someone else could snatch it up and began what would become a frustratingly long wait.  In the intervening months, the home had gone into short sale.  Waiting is not our strong suit, but God faithfully gives us opportunities to practice where we are weak. Turns out that short sales require the patience of Job—something we aren’t even close to having.

Five months later, the keys are finally in our hands and the transformation has begun.  Paint has been stripped from exterior details.  Blueprints with a period kitchen sit rolled up in the corner of our dining room.  Salvage materials are being gathered for lighting and baths.  A marring seventies addition has been removed.  We spend our evenings dreaming together about how we can recover the elegance of the 1920′s style while insuring the home’s future well-being by bringing the mechanical systems and conveniences into the 21st century.

As we have learned on previous restoration projects, when a house is yours, it seems to cooperate with you in the process.  As has happened in the past, as we get to know this house, we learn from it what needs to be done in each space.  It never fails that when we begin to do demolition, we learn from the house that what we envisioned is exactly what was previously there in the first place.  The most recent example is Nile Green paint.  I just knew this kitchen needed a pop of that quintessential 1920′s green.  I plan to put it on our island as a nod to the home’s vintage.  Sure enough, the removal of the 40′s cabinets revealed walls covered in flaking Nile Green paint. I knew it!  I love it when our house talks to us.  I can’t wait for the next conversation we have.

As 402 has given David and me the opportunity once again to dream together, to engage in deeply satisfying work, to participate in the exercise of dominion, to redeem beauty together, I wonder: who’s really being restored here?Image Continue reading

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Crocuses

Gray skies and blackened snow

Hold the days in their icy grip.

Seemingly barren earth carries

Frozen within her womb

The secret promise of life,

Preparing to burst forth

To lead the pageant of spring’s

Triumphal re-entry.

Undaunted by bitter blankets of white,

Courageous buds reach heavenward

Casting off the wintry death pall.

Tiny floral chalices

Robed in colors of royalty—

Kingly golds and purples,

Pure and virtuous whites—

Testify to the victory

Won for all creation

When her Sovereign broke forever

The chilling clasp of death.

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