Saturday Song: Glorious Impossible

“How will this be,” she asked.

“Who then can be saved?”

Impossible…That’s what we would say.  Impossible that a virgin should give birth to a son. Impossible that God would take on human flesh and come to walk on the earth He created. Impossible for the dead to live again.

“With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.”

Even today, God makes the impossible a reality.  “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” So, it is by grace we are saved, through faith, which is a gift of God and not our own doing.

Glorious impossible made possible with God.

Glorious Impossible:

See the virgin is delivered / In a cold and crowded stall / Mirror of the Father’s glory / Lies beside her in the straw

He is mercy’s incarnation / Marvel at this miracle / For the virgin gently holds the / Glorious impossible

Love has come to walk on water / Turn the water into wine / Touch the leper, bless the children / Love both human and divine

Praise the wisdom of the Father / Who has spoken through His Son / Speaking still, He calls us to the / Glorious impossible

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah / Glorious impossible Glorious impossible

He was bruised for our transgressions / And He bears eternal scars / He was raised for our salvation / And His righteousness is ours

Praise, oh, praise Him, praise the glory / Of this lavish grace so full / Lift your souls now and receive the / Glorious impossible

A Toy Piano and the Promise of Eternal Life

 

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Triggers can be unusual, capricious things.  At least for me, they are almost always unwelcome. Last Wednesday, my trigger was a small, worn-out, Little Tikes piano. A toy piano like the one I started playing almost from the time I could sit up by myself. A toy piano like the one my grandpa tried to teach me to play  by ear — even though I didn’t understand why this was necessary since I had perfectly good, color-coded music. Wasn’t it easier to just use that? Years later, I learned to appreciate that lesson from my first piano teacher. But it was too late. My suspender-wearing, organ-playing, book-reading, pocket-knife-carrying, even-tempered, loving grandpa with a wood shop in his basement was gone. Last Wednesday, that little, out-of-tune piano in the church nursery brought back what little I can remember of my grandpa’s voice… and it reminded me how much I could miss a man who has been dead almost 25 years.

Then, with a goodness and comfort that passes all understanding, the Holy Spirit stopped me from lingering alone in that hurt. He prompted me to also remember that there will come a day when I won’t miss my grandpa anymore. In my future, there is a day when both the pain of missing Grandpa and the joy of being reunited with him in heaven will be consumed by the unimaginably perfect joy of living in Christ’s presence.  And no one will be able to take that joy away from me. (John 16:22)

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

Lord, tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait- the sky, not the grave is our goal. Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed rest, blessed hope of my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, a song in the night, o my soul!

– Horatio G. Spafford, It Is Well

If Christ can be trusted with such a future, then He is to be trusted with my present and my past, whatever the joy, pain, or memories… even the ones triggered by little toy pianos.

Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:18

The Heart of a Single Woman’s Home: Buying a House (part 7 of 8)

It was seven years ago and February had quickly rolled around again. Year one of graduate school was barely half over, but it was time to think of next year’s housing.  This was a university town, and rentals went quickly. One roommate was moving out and the leasing office was raising the rental prices. My remaining roommate and I had to sift through decisions: stay and find another roommate? Stay and downsize? Move somewhere cheaper? But where?

I’ve had nine roommates and nine different living spaces in the eight years since graduating from college. As I mentioned in the first post in this series, our housing situations changed rather more frequently those first few years than I had anticipated.  Every year my roommate(s) and I had to decide if we wanted to keep living together, if we should renew our lease, or if we should seek another rental.  There was always the desire to lessen the financial burden.  The apartments in the “safe” parts of town were quite expensive.  Another lack of permanency is the changefulness of roommates.  They may back out of commitments. They can sign a lease, and then decide to leave early.  They may get married, as four of mine did.  They may take jobs out of the area.  I believe many other single women (and men) also sense this lack of permanency inn housing situations.  When my living conditions are in a state of flux, I often feel that the rest of my life is, too.  At those times, marriage seems like the ideal solution.  If nothing else, at least the roommate would be permanent.

While housing can be an annual issue for singles, a single woman does have a lot of freedom when deciding where to live.  For example, there are no husbands or children to take into consideration.  Be that as it may, a single woman can feel the pressure of those around her when picking a place: “Why do you need a house, you’re just one person?” “So-and-so would be great roommate, you should ask her.” “Why do you want to live alone?” “Why don’t you live with your parents and save money?”

One of the scariest decisions I have made was the decision to buy a house.  I had always thought that I would buy a house, but I never meant to do it alone.  While I knew of a handful of single women who were homeowners, I didn’t think I had the courage to do it.  I was still encumbered with the philosophy that if a woman wanted to marry, she had to present herself as marriageable.  I was afraid that buying a house as a single woman in her late-20s would send one of two messages.  The first message I was afraid to send was that I was too strong to need a man or that I’d at least be difficult to lead.  The second message was that I had resigned to my singleness by giving up and buying a house. Buying a house seemed dauntingly permanent.  I was afraid that I would be cementing my singleness as well.  I was afraid of the stigma I might attract.  I was also afraid of this new change in plans that didn’t seem to lead to marriage.  Just like grad school was a change in my original plans for my life, buying a house while unmarried was another great change.

As deeply as I felt these fears, I also knew that apartment living, even in “nice” apartments can still be rough and downright expensive.  I was tired of my upstairs neighbor who banged mercilessly on the wall when I practiced piano (with headphones) at an hour he deemed too early.  I was tired of throwing money into the rent vacuum.  I was tired of the apartment pool drama outside my window and my neighbors’ intoxicated/high shenanigans. I had also just “lost” my roommate to marriage (She is still a sweet friend and I don’t regret this ‘loss’ at all).  I was looking at a single rental, which, in a safe apartment complex would cost as much as a monthly mortgage payment on a small house. I planned to buy a few years later when I was in my 30s, but I had also been keeping my eye on the market to see what was available and the prices.  I found a home I liked on Zillow (it was the kitchen) and e-mailed a realtor who also “happened” to be our music deacon.   I’m not really in the market for house hunting, but I have just one I want to see and since I don’t know what I’m doing, would you show it to me, please?  I spent two hours looking through the house and several conversations with my realtor and my dad regarding the finances and logistics.  Logistically, the process was smooth and simple. I had a real estate agent I knew and trusted.  All the inspections and negotiations went quickly.  Emotionally, however, the process was more difficult.  I remember praying through the process.  Several times, I would panic and think, “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.  What makes me think I can buy a house?” I would often remind God (as if he needed it) that I was going to buy a house since that seemed like a wise decision and an opportunity he was giving me.  If it wasn’t from him, I begged that he would take that opportunity away from me. Long story short, I wrote a really big check and bought the house.  Three years later, I still really like the kitchen.

There are many lost hopes that I could regret.  I could regret that I didn’t save, dream, and buy with a husband.  I could regret that when I walked through the house, I didn’t have a family of my own to envision living in these spaces.  I could regret that I didn’t have a husband to lean on for making the decisions.

As much as I could focus on regret and resent that my fairy-tale plans weren’t actualized, I have much more cause for thanksgiving. I had a wise real estate agent who was a trusted friend. His wife was a constant source of enthusiasm and encouragement through the buying process.  She even gathered several of my close friends to host a shower with other ladies from the church.  She lovingly planned and wrote prayers and scriptures to be prayed through my house by ladies in our church.  God gave me a wise father to walk through the house and be a sounding board for ideas.   God gave me a supportive and encouraging mother who never reproached my singleness or suggested that I was ruining my chances for marriage.  A close single girl-friend went through the house-buying process at the same time, which provided a listening ear that understood perfectly the emotions I felt through this process.  I also had a dear single friend who had owned her own home for a while who graciously shared her thoughts and prayers she had recorded from that experience.  God gave me everything I needed in the way that he knew was best.

I’m not saying that single girls have to buy their own houses, but that is what God planned for me.  He gave me the experience of making a major life decision that was “all on me”.  I could get advice, but in the end, it was my call.  God provided: the finances, the timing, the support I needed to get through the process and stay sane, and faith in the truth that He is sovereign.  And in that experience, he showed me that the decision was technically mine, but it was really on His authority that the door was opened or closed.

As a note to married friends of singles: One encouragement during the home-buying process – and I want to say a repeated thank you to the ladies at my church – was a first-house shower.  I still use the gifts I received with happiness, but the prayers of the ladies all as we walked through my home and their encouraging confirmation of my work in the home were the biggest blessings I could have asked for that evening. So, please encourage the single women (and men) in your acquaintance that their work in the home is important and glorifying to God.  Give encouragement and confirmation of their homemaking, and don’t dissuade them from taking the steps of obedience God has called them to.

To single women, don’t be afraid to live the life God has called you to, whether in an apartment or your own house.  You have the Creator of the Universe who delights in you and fulfills your request for wisdom (James 1:5).  You may not be planning with a husband, but you can seek the will of and plan with the the one true, sovereign God.  During our walk though, my realtor asked if I was afraid buying a house would mean I’d always be single. “Because it doesn’t,” he added, without waiting for my answer.  Don’t make decisions based on whether or not it hurts your chance for marriage later.  Keep your focus on God himself.  He, not marriage, is your only hope and the only ultimate goal.  The Proverbs 31 woman considered a field (discernment) and bought it (strength).  Don’t shy away from practicing discernment and making business choices because you might appear too strong.  Do not be afraid to exercise strength and discernment that is completely dependent on God.  However, do be afraid of worldly, self-empowered wisdom and arrogant, independent strength. Walk in faith remembering that the days of your life are written in his book, even before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16).

In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:6

The Heart of the Single Woman’s Home: Fear and Safety (blog series part 6/8)

Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Proverbs 29:35 The fear of man lays a snare,
                         but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

A godly woman is called to be fearless.  A quiet heart, which in God’s sight is very precious, is not in a tither of worry (1 Peter 3:4). Married women are called to fearless submission to their husbands.  Should not a single woman submit fearlessly to her Creator? The call to “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6) is a call to every woman, because her hope is in her God (1 Peter 3:5).

Physical Safety and Fear

As a single woman living and working on my own, safety can feel like a constant burden.  I am often tempted to worry about safety… and I often give in.  If I want to justify my worry, I can draw up a long list from headlines around the world and from personal experiences of my friends, family, and myself.  For example, one night, my roommate and I came home at 11 p.m. to find someone had broken into our apartment.  While nothing came of it, the invasion of privacy, of knowing someone was in my home and I didn’t know what they had done, gave me a sense of violation that I hadn’t felt before.  There was the fear that it was actually a neighbor. Or maybe it was a former resident who had kept a copy of the key. Would they come back? Had they left hidden cameras?  Had they done terrible things to my toothbrush? We threw away all our open bottles and asked the apartment office to transfer apartments. This was the year we started using a home security system.

Maybe that’s what comes of single girls being too independent and moving away.  Maybe I’m supposed to wait until I get married. Was I being too independent? My thoughts started sounding like some circles of thought that depend more on the teaching of tradition, and not Scripture. Living with parents or away from them is only a sin if discontentment, rebellion, fear, or hate fuels those decisions. While my roommate and I prayerfully took the next steps, and lived with my parents for another month before a new apartment was available, the mercies and graces of the situation became more apparent to us. We had not been hurt.  Our loved ones were not hurt.  An unknown someone(s) had sinned against us.  We didn’t know how or why this had happened or even all that had happened.  But God knew. And He provided our safety.  We only had to keep trusting and He kept providing.

For me, I can fuel my discontent in singleness by dwelling on the perceived protection a husband could provide.  While I do take more precautions now, I realize that precautions will not keep me safe.  A locked door is not omnipotent, neither is a husband.  My safety doesn’t depend on the quality of my security system.  God wants me to trust Him to give protection.

My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2

When I am strong in this dependence, I can find myself feeling rather haughty against my married friends who confess that they are afraid when their husband isn’t home for the evening because they aren’t used to being alone.  I think I appear to listen patiently, however my thoughts are in a darker place. ‘Welcome to my world,’ I think smugly, ‘how would you like this to be your whole life?’ This pride is every bit as dangerous to my soul as my fear – perhaps even more so. My perceived strength in my perceived dependence on God is no refuge at all. Far from it, a haughty spirit comes before a fall. My ability to trust is a result of faith, which is a gift of God.  If my hope is in anything, it is not that I know I will be fine, but that God is good to me and that everything that comes to me can only come because He allows – even sends – it. My hope is in God Himself.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

For my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

My fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my salvation and my glory;

My might rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;

Pour out your heart before him;

God is a refuge for us.   Psalm 62: 5-8

Like all other sins, however, fear is persistent and keeps creeping back in. It comes whispering during the lonely nights my roommate is out of town.  When a possum rattles my window in the early hours of the morning, I am afraid. When I turn on the alarm and turn off the lights, I feel fear creep in behind me. Perhaps it is our cultural association with evil and darkness, but when the night hours roll in, evil seems more real to me than it does during the day.  Perhaps this very fear is a grace to help me remember that as real as fears may be, God is more real. As strong as they are, He is stronger.  Plans made for evil, God uses for good.  In the dark hours, I realize that my hope is not in a fairy tale ending, but in the Creator of the Universe Himself. His promises and plan endure whatever evil there is in the world.  He cannot be thwarted.  And He uses the whispers of fear to make me cling to his promises in his word.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 56, which was written by David when the Philistines had captured him in Gath:

When I am afraid,

            I put my trust in you.

In God, whose word I praise,

            In God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

            What can flesh do to me? 56:3-4

David was in a dangerous place.  The man after God’s own heart was afraid. Notice the grace revealed through David’s admission: when I am afraid. God graciously works in his child to remove fear.  He commands us to fear not. And yet, He does not listen because I am fearless, but listens to my pleas when I am afraid.

Spiritual Fear

I often forget that the spirit world is every bit as real as the physical world.  In other countries Christians witness first hand demonic possession in people and even in places. In the USA, that is usually brushed aside and only entertained in horror films.  As real as spiritual terrors are, however, God is greater still. The Jesus who commanded the legion in Mark 5 still delivers from the legions oppressing his people.

In my first couple years of teaching, I had times of experiencing demonic nightmares. One particularly bad month, I cried almost every night before bed. I was exhausted, but I dreaded going to sleep. The images in my dreams were vivid and filled with a terribly dark and oppressive evil. The nightmares were keeping me from getting rested because I would wake every hour or two in a panic.  The only difference between the dreams and being awake was that I could no longer see the evil that terrified me when I awoke.  I could, however, still feel it near me in the dark, quiet room. This troubled me more than the dreams. After about an hour of crying and praying, I would fall back asleep.  Many nights, this process repeated itself as many as three times during the night.

When I was little, I remember calling out to my dad and mom after a bad dream.  The comfort of their loving arms and their prayers helped me go back to sleep.  As a grown single woman, I often wished that when I woke up from one of these nightmares that I could roll over, wake up a stronger person (i.e. my husband), and ask them to hold me until the fear went away. I may not have my parents or a husband in my house to calm me, but I have something even more beautiful and comforting. The God of all comfort did not need to be awakened, because he had never stopped his watch over me. I could pray scripture – His very words to me, put there be his spirit – until I fell asleep again.  I learned to trust deeply in the truths of Psalm 56:

You have kept count of my tossings;

            Put my tears in your bottle.

            Are they not in your book?

Then my enemies will turn back

            In the day when I call.

            This I know, that God is for me.

In God, whose word I praise,

            In the LORD, whose word I praise,

In God I trust; I shall not be afraid…

For you have delivered my soul from death,

            Yes, my feet from falling,

That I may walk before God

In the light of life.  Psalm 56: 8-11a, 13

 About a year after these occurrences, I didn’t have dreams, but the sound of footsteps and the presence of someone who wasn’t there consistently woke me up every morning about 2 am.  One of my roommates at the time wisely led us in prayer for God to protect the house so that no evil spirit could enter and that I would stop having nightmares and hearing noises.  The 2 am occurrence and nightmares never happened again.

Since then, it became a tradition on the first night in a new home, either alone or with my roommate, to walk through the home and pray over every room, specifically that the presence of God would fill the home, so that all human and spiritual powers could know that it belonged to Him alone.  I also started doing this with my classroom.  Through these experiences, God showed that my trust should not rest in a security system or a husband – although there is nothing wrong with those – but that the heart of my home should rest in His protecting presence.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

The Heart of a Single Woman’s Home: Hospitality Outside the Home (part 5 of 8)

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:8-11

The last post in this series touched on lessons God has taught me as a single woman hosting company in her home – whether a dorm room, apartment, or house. Seasons come and go.  Sometimes my home is not available for hosting people.  This school year has been one such season.  Work has been so much more demanding that the time and where-with-all to have people over is not available as much as I would like. Instead of wishing and wallowing in self-pity that my home is going to waste (although, there has been some of that…), God reminds me that He has given me other venues of practicing the Christian art of hospitality: my car, my workplace, my church.

One of my biggest material blessings from God is my car.  Eleven years, 98,000+ miles, a new roof, new fender, and new windshield later, and we’re still going strong. Now, I can tend to take a more utilitarian view of my car. The car is meant to transport people and things.  I don’t often think of keeping it as clean as my home, or decorated like my home.  So, I’m usually more mindful of the readiness of the house than the state of my car. (OK, who am I kidding?  I’m always more mindful about the cleanliness of the house.  The only time I think about the cleanliness of my car is a brief twinge of guilt whenever I happen to look in the back seat… which isn’t that often). I don’t think about it needing the same kind of peaceful atmosphere for hospitality that my home does.  That is, until I suddenly need to give someone a ride. If I have half empty water bottles, a Kleenex box, items to be returned, and dishes (I know, right?) scattered around the inside of my car, I have a feeling that my car will speak of stress much louder than my cheerfulness will speak of peace.  Granted, I’m not going to decorate or invest as much time in my car as my house, but now I ask myself: Is the car clean?  Does it smell good?  Am I a safe and courteous driver?  Do I tend to let the gas needle get dangerously close to empty? What purposeful conversation and music happens during the drive? Do I give people rides begrudgingly? Am I giving rides out of Christ’s love in my heart? It’s not unreasonable take a few minutes to make sure my car is as hospitable as my home.

I have the blessing of a classroom in which I can practice hospitality to students, parents, and co-workers every day.  I have the freedom to pick out the decorations, set the behavior rules, arrange supplies, and decorate to a certain extent.  I keep notecards, gum, and chocolate in my desk for teacher friends that may need them. But, as I mentioned in “Hospitality in the Home”, that is not enough to make a place hospitable.  Do I welcome students or co-workers when they interrupt the other work I have at that moment? Do I greet others with a smile — a genuine, glad-to-see-you smile? Does my desk speak chaos or peace? Do my ears listen for the well-being of those who come by or are my lips quick to encourage gossip? Hospitality is possible whether I have a classroom or a cubicle.

Another place to practice hospitality that may get overlooked is the local church.  All who enter need to be welcomed, visitors and long-time members.  Is there someone habitually sitting alone?  Is there a new visiting mom who needs someone to help get her kids to Sunday school? Is there someone who needs to be cheered? Hugged? Encouraged? How can I contribute to the needs of the saints on Sunday mornings?

God has given the means and the grace for me to practice what He commands.  Hospitality in the home is so important, but, praise God, my ability to practice hospitality is not limited to the home.

And so

Last week, I came across one short phrase that, small and uninteresting as it seems,  stopped my reading and demanded I give it my full attention.

And so we came to Rome. Acts 28:14.

Granted, not much there at first, except the sheer nonchalant nature of the phrase.  καί οὕτω (kai hoútō) — and in this manner, for all that, in this way, thus — we came to Rome.   It was the context that gave the phrase itself the strength to arrest my attention. It seemed as if the phrase called out, “Think of what I convey. Think of the depth and feeling that one little phrase can hold.”

The first power of this small statement was in the events preceding. Those events began in Acts chapter 21, or, in human time, over two years earlier. It was a journey that began with the violence of an angry mob and a divided council.  It was faithful testifying in the face of that violence. Paul escaped two plots against his life. The journey continued with a two-year detention in Caesarea and being left in prison as a favor. The journey continued with an ill-timed journey across sea, a horrific storm, ship-wreck, poisonous snake-bite, and a prolonged stay on Malta. Afterward, the author takes us on a dizzying overview of cities where they stopped after Malta.

And so we came to Rome.

The second reason that phrase delivered such an impact is the theme of God’s plan coming to fruition. At the beginning, when Paul’s testimonies were met with riots and few others besides accusers seemed to be standing by him, the Lord himself stood by Paul and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23: 11).

After Paul’s two-year imprisonment, it is revealed that had Paul not appealed to Caesar, he could have been set free.  From a human standpoint, the journey seems worthless.  The human thought of freedom makes the reader want to cry out, “Why did you appeal?” At least that’s what I thought for years. But Paul is meant to go to Rome.

Finally on the ship to Italy, a violent storm arises that lasts for weeks, meaning almost certain death. But it has always been as before:

“For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.  And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith  in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

Nothing could stop God’s plan. No aspect of the journey was without hope, because God had spoken.

And so we came to Rome.

The third aspect of this journey is that the delays were not wasted. Paul was meant to go to Rome, yes, but along the way he was meant to testify before two governors and King Agrippa, he was meant to witness to the men in the storm. Paul was meant to encourage the brothers and bear witness at Malta. All the other people and cities along the way to Rome, Paul was also meant to see.

And so we came to Rome.

In the end, I was impressed with these things:
In obedience to God, the journey may be long and dangerous, but God will accomplish all He means to do.
The Lord himself stands by us in the journey. The same God that spoke hope to Paul, speaks hope today.
The path of obedience may seem littered with setbacks, waiting, and detours, but those too are sent by God to accomplish his purpose in and around us.

And so…