Fullness

Thou hast revealed to me myself as a mass of sin, and thyself as the fullness of goodness, with strength enough to succour me, wisdom enough to guide me, mercy enough to quicken me, love enough to satisfy me.Thou has shown me that because thou art mine I can live by thy life, be strong in thy strength, be guided by thy wisdom; and so I can pitch my thoughts and heart in thee. 

This is the exchange of wonderful love — for me to have thee for myself, and for thee to have me, and to give me thyself.

There is in thee all fullness of the good I need, and the fullness of all grace to draw me to thyself, who, else, could never have come. 

But having come, I must cleave to thee, be knit to thee, always seek thee.

There is none all good as thou art: 

With thee I can live without other things, for thou art God all-sufficient, and the glory, peace, rest, joy of the world is a creaturely, perishing thing in comparison with thee. 

– Fullness, from The Valley of Vision Prayers

Swirling Clouds and Songs

Great is Your Steadfast Love

Psalm 86 — A Psalm of David

1 Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
    save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
    for you answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and worship before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, insolent men have risen up against me;
    a band of ruthless men seeks my life,
    and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
    give your strength to your servant,
    and save the son of your maidservant.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
    that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
    because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

In an Instant

He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.  They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.  Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. Job 37:11-13

It was sudden.  Even with sirens, there was no warning for what was about to happen. 200+ mph winds. Shattering glass. Roaring thunder. Pitch blackness.  Crying people. Leveled buildings.

And God’s amazing mercy.

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:50

February 5, 2008

The first storm came that afternoon.

The forecasts warned of such strong storms that the city’s public schools let out early.  I was four days into student teaching.  My cooperating teacher and I were on the phone calling the numbers on our students’ information sheets to tell a parent – in Spanish – that school was closing early because of the bad weather.  The buses were leaving in 20 minutes.  Would someone be at home to let the child in?

As the children left, I held the door open for a group of second graders on their way to the bus. Wind gusts howled around the corners of the building and thunder stormed overhead from this, the first storm.  A little girl threw her arms around my waist, looked up with big brown eyes and asked, “Are we gonna be OK?” “Of course you are, baby,” I smiled at her. “But, you are gonna get awfully wet if you don’t go on.”  She laughed and move on.  The nagging truth of what I didn’t tell her settled in to my stomach.  I didn’t know if we were going to be okay, as we’d like to think of it.  It wasn’t my promise; it wasn’t her promise.

What was our promise that day? Safety? Preservation of possessions? Is it only with those realities we can say that God is good?

The First Song

Two songs stand out in my mind. The first was the last song I heard before the second storm came with its lasting changes.  On my drive back to my dorm room, Mark Shultz’s voice sang out,

You never said it would be easy, but you said you’d see me through the storm…

And even though I’m walkin’ through
The valley of the shadow
I will hold tight to the hand of Him whose love will comfort me
And when all hope is gone
And I’ve been wounded in the battle
He is all the strength that I will ever need

He will carry me…

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  That was my promise.  I could plan, and prepare, and pray, knowing that at every second my God would be with me.  He would be with me for one of two ends: either to preserve my life or to bring me safely from this life into His presence.

The Second Storm

A little over three hours later, the sirens were going off.

In fact, they’d been going off for fifteen minutes.  Eight of us girls sat in the downstairs dorm bathroom (with our homework of choice), reading, talking, laughing.  Two other girls sat in the living room just outside the bathroom.  We’d been through this before.  The siren would run its course and nothing would happen.

Then we heard a train.

The lights flickered.

Our ears started popping.

We yelled for the other two girls to get in the bathroom just as they jumped in.  One of the girls slammed the door shut as the power went out and the windows exploded.

I remember when I first discovered how fast thoughts are.

I was a little girl trying to see how many thoughts I could think before four seconds went by on the microwave timer.  The tornado seemed to last an eternity, but it probably only took a matter of seconds.  I wish I could say that I wasn’t afraid when I heard the train coming, but I was.  It got louder – sounding more like ten trains – then even louder, until it sounded like nothing I’ve heard before or since.  It felt as if the sound were vibrating through every organ, bone, and muscle in my body. The wall I was leaning against for protection shook from the tornado’s fury.

Surely I had mere seconds left to live.  For a moment, I was filled with awe that the time had come.  I was going to see my Maker’s face!  I had waited for this for most of my life!  Then, I remembered what might happen in those intervening moments.

And I was afraid… afraid die in a building torn apart by a tornado.

Then I felt a voice say, “But then you will never hurt again.”  I felt courage from that.  That was my promise.

A couple seconds later, the tornado was gone.  I was still there, and so was the dorm.

It was so dark in the bathroom that we could not see one another.  We called family members to let them know we were okay. We prayed. We cried. We sang to our God because He had saved us.

Then we heard the news being shouted from outside. “Hurt and Watters are gone!

Five simple words, but I couldn’t understand them.  How could two entire residence complexes – fourteen dorm buildings – be gone?  On our evacuation route we soon saw with our own eyes.  The tornado had gone right through both complexes.  The buildings that weren’t leveled were missing walls and roofs. People were trapped in the rubble.  Paramedics were loading students into ambulances.  Surely dozens of our friends were dead.

Was God still good?

The Second Song

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales.

‘Cause after the last plan fails
After the last siren wails…
There is love.

Andrew Peterson, After the last tear falls.

The second song softly played over the speakers of the van as we drove back to the university the next morning.

The EF-4 tornado had gone through the rest of the town, and the morning light revealed the damage left behind.  Whole houses were gone.  Roofs had been lifted off and set down in a neighboring yard.  Debris lay everywhere.  Cars were flipped upside down and dragged across parking lots.

The view behind my dorm

At Union that day, search and rescue crews went through the rubble of the damaged dorm buildings.  Around mid-morning we got the news that everyone had been accounted for… and no one at Union had died.  Did this mean God was good?  Was that the proof of God’s love for us?

My Final Hope

Scripture is clear: God is love and his love never fails.

In every circumstance, God is good. He shows His goodness in fulfilling His promises.  Sometimes He shows that goodness by extending mercy to save from physical danger.  If this life were all that there is, then saving my life would have been the ultimate mercy.  If, however, there is life after death, then the ultimate mercy would be to save me for that life.

The truth is, I was an enemy of God from my birth and marked for destruction. I didn’t need my own actions to condemn me — although those came soon enough.  I was condemned because of my sinful heart.  God extended the ultimate mercy to me by awakening my heart and mind to believe in Him.  Because of Christ’s death for my sin, I am now saved from judgment to belong to God forever.

One day, I really will have only two seconds left to live, and then I will see my God.  And I will not be afraid, but stand before God as a beloved child.  That is my promise and I will rest in it because the steadfast love of God never fails.

 

His grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

12 Questions Concerning My Gift of God’s Varied Grace

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 4:10-11

In this context, Peter is addressing using God’s gifts of speaking (teaching) and serving.  As I read these verses, however, it occurred to me that these are not the only gifts God gives believers.  According to Paul, singleness and marriage are also gifts from God (1 Corinthians 7:7).  With that in mind, here are twelve questions I believe 1 Peter 4:10-11 begs me to ask of my singleness, one of my gifts of God’s varied grace.

1. Do I view my singleness as a gift of grace?

Singleness is not a lack-luster stage of existence, nor does it mean there is something about me that needs to be fixed.  It is a gift from my heavenly Father who knows how to give good gifts.  As a gift, then, singleness should be received with thanksgiving.

2. Am I using my singleness, or am I wasting it?

Singleness is valuable and should be used to help advance the Gospel.  It highlights the fact that God alone is enough to satisfy my soul.  It paints a picture of child-like trust and dependence on Him.  However, singleness can be squandered by fretting away the hours.  A single person consumed with worry or preoccupied with marriage will not be able to fully use their God-given singleness.

3. Am I using my singleness to serve others, or myself?

Singleness is more than fulfilling my whims: traveling where I want, buying what I want, keeping the hours I want. It is not a chance to complete a bucket list (although there is nothing wrong about trying new things and seeing new places).  Singleness is primarily a chance to “secure my undivided attention to the Lord” and serve with a freedom I may not have later in marriage (1 Cor. 7:32-35).

4. Do I desire marriage so that I may serve others, or serve myself?

If I desire the gift of marriage, I need to understand that I serve in that as well.  It is not so that I will have a husband to do the yard work or give me companionship or make me feel completed.

5. As a single woman, do I see myself as a steward of God’s varied grace, or as someone who is being deprived?

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) God has called me to himself and planned out my works that I should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)  If his power has given me all I need pertaining to life and godliness, I am a poor testimony to His goodness if I go through life as if he hadn’t. (2 Peter 1:3) As a steward, I am content with what my Master has given me, and aim to use it so that it will multiply dividends for his use.

6. Do I appreciate that marriage and singleness do not surpass the other as gifts of grace, but are simply varied expressions?

Pride wants self to feel that it has a harder time than others or that its service is better.  However, God has appointed to each person the events that will sanctify them in his service.  I am not made inferior or superior by my relationship status.

7. Do I treat my gift of singleness as seriously as Scripture says I should treat the gift of speaking?

Singleness should mean more than the ability to lounge in my yoga pants, eat ice cream, and binge-watch Netflix. It is also more than a prep-period for marriage. It is a time to practice putting on the full armor of God, to be ready to share the reason for the hope that is within me, and to fight the good fight of faith.

8. Am I living out my singleness in my own strength, or the strength that God supplies?

Whether married or single, each Christian must admit that the grace and strength that life requires comes through Christ alone. If I can’t even guarantee my own next breath, I cannot presume to walk through singleness on my own terms and in my own strength.

9. Am I using my singleness to glorify God, or myself and my freedoms?

My Instagram is a good indicator of whom I am glorifying.  Is it full of my accomplishments and adventures or wine nights out with the girls? Or, is it often silent because I am visiting shut-ins or tutoring inner city kids?

10. Do I desire marriage so that I may glorify God?

Desiring marriage is not wrong.  Like all desires, however, it must be examined.  If I want marriage because it will complete me, I set my marriage up for heartache.

11. Do I believe that all dominion belongs to Christ? Do I submit my desire and pursuit of marriage to that truth, or do I complain and strive against His gifts?

Christ is in control of all, even my singleness.  This should free me from worrying that I messed up my life because I blew my chance somewhere.  It frees me from scheming and trying to manipulate events so that I get my happily-ever-after.  Christ’s dominion enables me to find rest in him, even as I pray that I may someday be married.

12. Is my strongest “Amen” that Christ is over all and glorified over all?

The answer to this question reveals whether my priorities are in good order, so that my attention and devotion to him will be undivided.

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.

The Heart of a Single Woman’s Home: Time and Money (blog series part 3 of 8)

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For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

There can be temptation to be selfish in how I decide to spend my time and money.  I don’t know whether or not this temptation is stronger for me because I am single.  I am pretty sure, however, that I have less to balance and fewer constraints on my budget than a married woman.  My singleness, in some sense, gives me autonomy over the budget and decisions for hospitality, home improvement, travel, etc.  My salvation, however, means that I must submit every decision to God.  He is my husband to whom I bring my ideas and plans and wants and desires to save or splurge.  It is God’s money, how would he have me spend it?  It is God’s time, how should I use it? What works would He have me to walk in? How am I investing the talents He has given so that I can gain more for His kingdom? (Matthew 25)

I have also noticed a correlation between my contentment in Christ and my spending habits. I would suggest that a big part of contentment comes in realizing my life, possessions, time, and money are not my own.  I was brought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  My worth doesn’t depend on things or accomplishments, but, as God says of Israel, “because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you (Isaiah 43:4).  When I am content in Him, I can cease from striving to fill my life with worldly things. As Lydia Brownback writes in Fine China is for Single Women Too,

Being content means that we are no longer held hostage by a hidden agenda within our hearts.  When we are content to live as God has called us to live today, if we see that our boundary lines are falling in pleasant places, we are more discerning about how we spend our time and money…We no longer make choices based on the desire to escape our empty lives, because we have found that our lives are no longer empty.

Indeed, the life of a believer, regardless of marital status, is full.  I am filled with the Holy Spirit.  Life is full of challenges, yes, and yet full of everything needed for life and godliness.  One of the elders in my church challenges us to dream.  I can dream with God about the ways He would use my temporal possessions to advance His eternal kingdom.  Even living on one income, even with debt from college, or a house, or other things, God is unlimited even with a single girl’s limited means.  It is exciting to pray for the faith to live generously, to take God up on His ability to provide, and to experience the joy of seeing the fruit of time and money invested for Him.  So, I am reminded to continually pray for wisdom to know how to save well and how to save well.  To pray for the self-control to deny myself unwise splurges that are easier to make because I am single.  To pray for strengthened trust in God’s provision when finances seem insufficient.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others… 2 Corinthians 9:6-13

 

Blog Series- The Heart of the Single Woman’s Home: Introduction (part 1 of 8)

I had the opportunity last Saturday to share some of my testimony at my church’s women’s conference.  The topic of the conference was the heart of homemaking, so my topic was the heart of a single woman’s homemaking.  Preparing for the talk was a wonderful process of remember the past faithfulness of God and again searching my heart to tease out the lies and misperceptions still there.  So many times I had to stop and thank God again for how patiently and completely He has loved me.

In my continued thinking about this topic, the 15-20 minute talk has grown.  In this little blog space, I would like to posted excerpts of the talk with extended ideas that have come in the week following the conference.  It encourages me to think on these things, and I hope that it might encourage others – especially single girls – in their pursuit of God and godly homemaking.

This post will just be a brief introduction to the series.  Since I’m talking about the heart of a single woman’s home, here is a little background on my housing situations: after graduating from college in 2008, I moved 9 times in 4 years. (This seemed a bit excessive to me… and also probably to the ones who helped me move.)  Those living situations included apartments with 1-2 roommates, a large house rental with 4 roommates, transition months when I lived alone, and my parents’ house. Almost three years ago, through God’s provision, I bought a house, made move #10, and I haven’t moved since. I’m 30 now and in my 5th year of teaching at the same school, so I feel pretty settled now.  In all my different situations, however, the constant has been my faithful God, who has lovingly and patiently molded my thinking about making and running a home as a single person.   It is not as if I never struggle now, nor that I don’t foresee struggling in the future, but that God is faithful. So, in the upcoming posts I’d like to share a lie I believed about my homemaking, the truth to that lie, and some examples of what making a home has looked like for me in the areas of money, safety and protection, hospitality, and buying a house.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:23