The Indie Film Maker

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  Psalm 139:16

If my life were an indie movie, it would be so much cooler.  Last night, after watching a great one called Happy Thank You More Please, I enjoyed that temporary lingering delusion that I was in the camera of such a film.  It made brushing my teeth so much more interesting, having the camera focus in on the running water and the spitting of toothpaste, as if those acts had intricate significance for the plot of the film.  That is what independent films do so well:  they take quirky or seemingly plain and perhaps slightly unattractive people in painfully ordinary situations and show their layered beauty and fascinating complexity and powerful, life altering meaning.  They make brushing your teeth influentially beautiful.

I don’t see myself or my days the way the camera of an independent film would.  The bad smells in my house aren’t quirky or atmospheric.  The endless clutter of things not put away as quickly as they are pulled out is not charming or amusing or setting the scene for something profound.  The drudgery in my tasks of cleaning the counters, folding laundry or sorting paperwork isn’t helping endear my character to any audience.  My lense is not that of the artist but far more short sighted, missing the way these details do in fact tell a meaningful and interesting story in the hands of an expert Storyteller.

Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,… Psalm 107:2

God’s story is never boring, never mundane, never insignificant.  God tells GOOD stories.

And here is another thing about God, the greatest independent film maker, and His stories…they are always novels and almost never short stories.  That was an insightful line in last night’s movie said to one of the characters who was a writer of short stories – he didn’t know how to live more than short stories and his honest friend told him she was tired of living in short stories and ready to live in a novel.  I think I’m like that character, a sprinter who doesn’t know how to go the distance and am ready to give up or change course in “short story” time.  I think this is why I miss the beauty and meaning in my moments because I don’t see how they are crafted in the longer tale.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  Gen. 50:20

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. Acts 22:23

For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Romans 9:17

Whether harmful, wicked or rebellious or simply painfully ordinary, there is no event or character that falls outside of God’s redemptive story line.  This means that my shuffling down the hall past clutter or brushing my teeth or wiping off the kitchen counter are necessary details even if my unimaginative mind can’t see it at this point in the film.  This is where He grows my faith, not to begin to believe that I am suddenly the main character instead of Jesus, but to trust that because He is sovereign, it all does matter.  His detailed scripting gives each moment greater significance than each should otherwise have.  And perhaps this is where He begins to reverse the curse of toil in my labor, as He lets me look through His camera’s focus to view the influential beauty and profound meaning.  Hope breaks in and strength slowly follows.  That makes me happy.  Thank you Lord.  More please!

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.  You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139:2-6

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

About Benjamin he said: “Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.”  Deut. 33:12

I have a headache tonight and am tired.  I’ve been tired for a long time. I am weary.  Its been a long three years.  More than three years ago we decided to move to a neighborhood that is different from what most people find appealing.  A little over two years ago we began the process to adopt from Uganda.  A year and a half ago we finally got a contract on our townhouse and moved out (to get to the new neighborhood) but after moving into an apartment the contract fell through and we were stuck.  Then we found renters for the townhouse and a smaller house in the new neighborhood.  A little over a year ago we began self-renovating the house that is not pretty and was really disgusting after being inhabited by squatters.  Then we were sick for about three months and then we got our referral for our new baby in Uganda.  We traveled to Uganda in August and endured some of the hardest weeks of my life.  We came home and after settling back in, we began the life of a homeschooling family which looks nothing like the cool, achieving and impressive life I had in mind when I graduated from Vanderbilt.  So here I am, in a hotel room alone, and just cried one of those from the chest cries that is so blubbery you can’t even blow your nose for relief.

I’ve been trying to dig and understand what the idol of my heart is that keeps robbing my joy and peace.  What idol am I replacing God with that leaves me so angry at the little things in my house and so weary in my weeks?  What sin was filtering my experience in Uganda that made it so hard, when others fall so in love with it that they return over and over?  And tonight, in the midst of those tears, I think my Wonderful Counselor may have shown me it actually hasn’t been the idols of power and control as I suspected nor has it been a great sin of mine.  The deep desire of my heart is that I want to be loved.  I know that sounds lame or cliche or just said so often that it is meaningless, but tonight, it was a profound and slightly embarrassing truth.  When my cookies get eaten by the dog, that makes me feel unloved or like my special treat isn’t worth preserving or respecting.  When our house gets trashed, furniture scratched or stained or ripped, it makes me feel trashed, scratched and ripped.  And when I was in Uganda, bringing a former orphan into her forever family, I felt like an orphan, left alone to survive.

I know that God promises never to leave me nor forsake me, that He promises that nothing can separate me from His love in Jesus and that He loves me with an everlasting love.  But knowing isn’t the same as believing.  I’m a perfectionist.  It is much easier for a perfectionist to see sin, to acknowledge shortcomings and even to unequivocally claim, “Its not about me!” than it is to believe “It is finished!”  My anger, my weariness, my critical spirit and judgment aren’t about idols after all.  They are about unbelief.  I do not believe it is finished but am continuing, like Macbeth, to keep scrubbing out that damned spot.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  Romans 3:21-26

I want to be justified through my membership in the Westminster community, a community of scholars and leaders by which my children are given credibility as “insiders”.  This association makes me feel more definably lovable or worthy of love.  I want to be justified by writing and am looking for love to be demonstrated to me by “followers”.  As the two of you who read this can attest, that is a weight neither of you can possible carry.  I think I’ll feel more loved if I can be up on stage teaching others.  I think I feel more loved if I am better known.  I think I’ll be more loved if I am more clearly seen.  I am still striving to be loved and lovable.  I am still searching for affection in the deepest parts of me.  It is this deep need to be loved that provokes anger when one more item that I like in our home is disregarded, when a good friend is silent for months on end, when the followers or rsvps aren’t enough to justify my efforts, or when I’m not asked to lead or speak or share or even participate.  It is the unbelief in my heart that is at the heart of my sinful responses.  None of those things were, are or ever will be capable of loving me in the deep, knowing and accepting way of parent retrieving their child from time in a nursery.  None of those people, places or things will ever stand with arms outstretched, an affectionate and warm expression on their faces and the welcoming embrace that the toddler sees at that nursery door after being left alone for what feels like an eternity.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  Psalm 23:2-4

God knows.  He sees.  He understands.  He appreciates.  He cares.  He is interested.  He is delighted.  He isn’t looking for perfectionism from me because He’s already gotten that from His Son.  He is satisfied.  He is well pleased.  He cherishes.  He embraces.  He loves.  And He loves me.  Can anything refresh my soul better than that?  And if He can refresh my soul with this truth, if He will convince my heart of its truth, if He gives me faith to believe more than just know, how might I then begin to love my children throughout the day, particularly on Monday mornings?  How might I begin to respond to broken dining room chairs and ripped curtains?  How might I change my disposition toward homeschooling and be freed from my need to impress others or seem cool and superior to them?  If I quit looking to anything and everything other than God for the deep love that fuels life, oh what abundant life I might then be able to offer to others!

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Cor. 13:4-12

What I Worship Shapes How I Love

Then a voice came from the throne, saying:   “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!”  Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:   “Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns.”  Rev. 19:5-6

I’m not sure when I quit worshiping God and turned that focus toward myself, but it is showing up in my words and attitudes this weekend.  My fierce commitment to my own reign and rule is overwhelming.  And, I don’t know how to distinguish the ways in which God has gifted me to participate in the healthy functioning of His body from the ways sin corrupts and so easily entangles me.  The truth of the person and work of Jesus is so life giving and so often replaced by the person and work of the Christian, but then I do the very same thing even as I criticize another for doing it.  Is my mockery of the smoke machine in worship any less distracting than the fact a smoke machine is being used in the worship band?  Actually, my mockery steals worship attention far more and doesn’t only distract but turns the attention onto me and away from the object of our worship no matter the context.

Why do I judge the other body parts?  Why do I ruthlessly critique the behaviors, words and practices of other believers without once being interested in their hearts, looking to see God’s story of redemption written through them and celebrating the grace and beauty that covers them in His righteousness?  Why do I want to be an only child in His family and forget that He has the whole world in His hands?  Why do I take delight in their condemnation and not rush to see His righteousness at work in and through them?

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 2 Peter 1:2-7

Through the knowledge of God and Jesus my Lord come grace and peace, experientially that is…theologically His grace obviously preceded my knowledge.  Interestingly, I reverse it and want to be known myself and then wonder why in a setting where I don’t have power and a voice I am so rattled.  The result of my demanding to be known is division and injury.  The result of God the Father and Jesus being known is mutual affection and love.

How did I get here?  One  answer is that it is the constant gravitation of my heart – to be served rather than to serve, to receive rather than to give, to love myself far more than others, to put myself on the throne demanding worship and praise and exchange the reality of being God’s image for the deception of being my own god.  A longer answer may begin with the fact that without noticing it, I stopped eating fully and drinking deeply from His life and now wonder why I’m so light headed and weak.  I have been adopted by an exuberantly loving, abundantly providing, fiercely protecting and undefeatably sovereign Father but I keep wandering into the street begging others for food and shelter as if I were still an orphan.  I’ve forgotten how huge and mighty my Father is, how radiant and breathtaking Jesus and how powerful and satisfying His Spirit is.  I’ve forgotten how much more a fun a family meal is with a full house than just one only child.

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.” Rev. 19:9-10

So can I separate my sin or the sin of others from the “very good” creation with which God made us and to which He is recreating us?  No, not yet.  Sin will continue to corrupt His image in me and His image through others.  I will continually be tempted to worship the messengers of His very good news and not mind being mistaken by others as a fitting object of worship myself.  But His righteousness will continue to cover and penetrate and transform.  He is patient, not wanting me to perish and He is faithful and promises to do it.  As I turn my own worship, which includes my trust and reliance and security, from myself to the Only One who sits on the throne and will always sit on the throne, I can relax my shoulders and let Him rule and reign.  When He reminds me of how lavishly He loves me and how deep and rich and wide and full is the life found in Him, being an only child loses its appeal.  As I enjoy knowing Him more than needing to be known, worshiping Him more than demanding to be worshiped, may my affection and love for the rest of His family grow to the same degree.

 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.  John 15:12-17

 

 

You are Mine

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  Is. 43:1

There is this wonderful little board book entitled Hug that I just read to Martha Jane before her nap.  It really only says the word “hug” all the way through as a little baby gorilla points out other animals hugging and slowly goes from delight to sadness as he realizes he isn’t part of their hugs.  Then, mid-book, you read, “Bobo!”, followed by, “Mommy!”, and then they too get to have the hug Bobo was increasingly missing.  As emotions often do, mine snuck up on me when I read that universal longing for one’s parent and the great safety and comfort of being in her or his embrace.  The sense of belonging that a child has with a parent is a powerful force.  I thought about little Martha Jane and what she might one day feel, similar to Bobo, when she looks around and wonders about her biological Mommy.  And I was overcome with the need to tell her, with a smothering of hugs and kisses, “You are so loved, little one.  You are so very loved.”

This is what the LORD says:  “The people who survive the sword will find favor in the wilderness;  I will come to give rest to Israel.”  The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love;  I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.  I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.  Again you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful.  Jer. 31:2-4

This past weekend, we had the chance to spend just 45 mintues at my favorite beach in the world.  We had just enough time between breakfast and Ellie’s first soccer game to get over there from Savannah and let me run on the beach from our usual summer residence there to the south end of the island and back to the car.  The south end of the island might be the physical location where I feel closest to God.  At low tide, you can walk a good ways out over rippled sand toward little Tybee and look back feeling you’re millions of miles away from the land.  You can yell or sing or cry and nobody can hear you but God (and the passing birds, I guess).  The beauty, restfulness and solitude are what my busy mind needs to see more clearly.

On one of my many days in Uganda which included a long wait in the U.S. Embassy’s waiting room, I took extra time to soak in the pictures on the wall that displayed “Life in America”.  Admittedly, they were a bit funny and probably not exactly what those Ugandans in this waiting room, hopeful of admittance into our country on various visas, would experience.  But the picture that made me cry there in that waiting room was the one that I least expected to see there, a photograph of a beach on the coast of Georgia…live oaks, spanish moss, golden sun and inviting beach.  My happy place, my home and the place I felt furthest from waiting in that room wondering when I’d ever be given the green light to return.

So, when I reached the south end of the island Saturday, just like my reaction to Bobo in his mother’s embrace, I was surprised by the eruption of my emotions.  I didn’t just tear up a little, I sobbed to the point of wondering if I might be having a stroke.  I was light headed and messy…and grateful for the solitude and privacy to be so.  He brought me back.  I was home.

Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.  He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.  He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” And now the LORD says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength— he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This is what the LORD says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel— to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”  This is what the LORD says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances,  to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ “They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill.  They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.  He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.  I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up.  See, they will come from afar— some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan.”  Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. Is. 49:1-13

Redemptive Fight

Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.”  On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.  1 Sam. 17:10-11

Spinning the old expression to make it accurate, its become awkwardly clear that I’m a fighter not a lover.  What has brought this to my attention?  It might just be that in the past week, I found myself in three “fights” and nearly pulled into a fourth.  As a kid, there was little as satisfying as that final slam of the door to my room to really clinch the win.  Now, of course, I’m much more sophisticated and “use my words”, but those can be far more biting than any dagger.  Not all fights cause injury, of course, and there are some fights which actually bring life – fighting for survival, for instance, or fighting for another person’s dignity.  But mostly, fighting is bad and as a girl, well, we apparently prefer to be rescued and leave the fightin’ to the menfolk.  As I stood on the sidelines at my daughter’s soccer tournament in Savannah this past weekend, I realized what a heart issue this really is, even as I had to walk away at one point to readjust my own.  Not all opponents are Goliath and often, it turns out, my heart is the Goliath needing to be conquered.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:1-2

As my heart began to race in response to the non-stop “instructional” screaming of the other team’s coach and parents and our team’s parents responding in kind to aggressive behaviors, offering passionate encouragement to “push her back!” and “take her out!”, the frenzy over who would come out the winner had become something of a forest fire.  My racing heart and my pacing legs were telling me that my heart had taken a turn with this game that was no different than these “crazy” after-school-special parents I was surrounded by.  This was not a made for t.v. movie but real life and something had become way more important to my own heart than it should.  But I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was.

The weekend before, as I was coming out of the gate at the Bark Park at Piedmont Park with my dog, two children and a neighbor’s child, a man loudly criticized me for taking too long and holding everybody up.  I did not care for that.  I wrongfully engaged the man in a battle of wits and snarkyness.  I’m not proud of it and it didn’t have a satisfying ending.  But my heart was beating just as fast along those sidelines this weekend and a clue was provided as I reflected on Mr. Bark Park.  My most natural fight has as its goal that I be proven right and all others humbled in their inferiority to me.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  Phil. 2:3-8

I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.  For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Phil. 2:20-21

Jesus ran into a whole lot of rude people, disrespectful people, arrogant people, competitive people and people who were long on accusations against Him and short on humility in regard to their own position.  Of all people in the world to have the right to put those clowns in their places, clearly Jesus was the man.  But He didn’t.  The only ones He engaged in conflict were the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, along with the money changers in the temple.  And in those instances, unlike me at Piedmont Park or along the sidelines at a U-9 soccer game, the desires battling within Him weren’t about self-preservation, self-promotion or self at all.  When Jesus fought, it was always for the hearts of His people and against anything that would keep those hearts locked in darkness and condemnation.  His fight always has a redemptive goal.

The LORD has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you.  One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised.  Joshua 23:9-10

God isn’t fighting for an earthly kingdom or a human ego.  He fights for me, just like He promised in Genesis and afterward repeatedly, to redeem me.  Just like Adam and Eve, when my heart starts racing and my personal image is on the line, I want to either jump in and take my opponent down (never mind loving my enemy or seeking to serve rather than be served) or I want to tuck tail and run away.  I tend to either feel shame for the fight in me (because girls aren’t supposed to fight, for one, and because I confuse “nice” with loving well) or take it as license to disregard God’s mandate to love Him and others ahead of myself.  Naturally, I am torn between just hauling off and slugging the people I find ridiculous or staying home and being a lover not a fighter.  The Gospel’s beautiful third way doesn’t make me choose but offers me the opportunity to fight as a way of loving others, loving His Kingdom more than my own and loving Him above all else.

Last weekend, one of the conflicts I got into was with some men at the gas station down the street from my house.  I actually feel good about that “cordial brawl” because their Goliath stature in the world’s eyes (men plural, area of town where some have little to lose, etc.) wasn’t remotely on my mind.  Instead, God fought for their dignity through my refusing to let them play into stereotypes.  It was a back and forth that ideally fought against either of us being characterized in such a way that would allow us to leave the interaction without realizing we had dealt with another real human being.

God made me a fighter, and there is no shame in that.  Where I need the person and work of Jesus in that particular crafting is to fight for redemptive purposes rather than my own rights and honor.  When my heart is racing because my own superiority and “correctness” is on the line, that is not the fight that loves others more than myself.  And, I will sadly probably continue to be tempted by that fight as long as I have energy and a flapping tongue.  But when God does use that same instinct of mine to grab my slingshot and pay no attention to Goliath’s size, He reminds me who is Big and who is not, including the girl with the slingshot.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you  to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.  1 Tim. 6:11-16