Friday, July 22, 2011

The Tree of Life

Last night my boys and I, everyone else being out of town, went to see the movie, The Tree of Life. Never have I been more touched by a movie. It was beautiful, symbolic, heartfelt, uplifting, meaningful. I can't wait to see it again.

As we read online before we went, however, it is no "Raiders of the Lost Ark." It's an artsy film, and I am not an artsy film lover, probably because I cannot stomach the meaning behind most of modern art.

But this is beautifully Christian. I have never seen God, His grace, His mercy, His sovereignty so exquisitely, delicately portrayed. The story captivated me with the contrast between grace and the law, gave me a fresh love, a fresh understanding of Him His majesty and His ways.

Comically and ironically, we saw this movie in the very same theater we saw that loathsome, green movie, Avatar, with its thinly veiled evangelism for the religion of Mother Earth, shamelessly manipulating the masses with stereotypes and misrepresentations. Talk about doing a 180!

Sadly, when this movie was over, a handful of people in the audience started laughing -- loudly, rudely, and unconvincingly. Something in the movie hit a nerve they didn't want to admit to themselves or their companions. But they "got it." They understood the movie, but couldn't face it. I've been to plenty of bad, really bad movies, and never have I had the urge to burst out laughing at the end. At most I just heave a sigh of relief that the thing is over! Their blundering attempt to camouflage their heart response to the movie actually gave evidence to its power.

I can't do this movie justice with my clumsy words. Just go see it! It is sublime. A true magnum opus.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Scroll Saws and Jack Hammers

Sometimes when I go to church, I get the most out of teachings that leave me stone-cold and bored to death, annoyed that someone with so little to say, with so little insight, could have found his way behind a microphone in front of so many people. Sometimes I get a lot out of those very teachings because of the clash of the titans going on in my heart. Waves of uncharitable thoughts toward the unsuspecting speaker are crashing through my mind, fueled by irritation and disappointment that I came to be encouraged and enlightened in the Word, and now I'm stuck sitting there for an hour or more listening to banalities.

But I am in church, and my conscience is sorely pricked by these uncharitable thoughts, so I make every effort to combat them by reminding myself of the intrinsic worth and foundational truth of the ideas being expressed, however trite, and the value of all the personalities God has seen fit to put under the sun, even those who by nature lack insight.

Such was the case today. This was a guest speaker, of course. (I couldn't bear to go to a church where the regular teaching pastor put me through this every week!) But because I sit there arguing with myself for the entire teaching, I actually pay much closer attention, and in the end, always walk out freshly encouraged by something.

Today's fresh encouragement came in the form of being reminded that God made me exactly the way He intended, with exactly the strengths and exactly the weaknesses He designed, and He put me in exactly the life position He purposed to accomplish exactly the work He created for exactly me to do. Exactly.

This was a good thing for me today, because yesterday I indulged in a few hours of black perspective on the world, revolving, of course, around myself and my hopeless weakness. Not weaknesses -- just my general, wretched, sorry, weak excuse for a self.

I took some time, went out and prayed, and God's answer during my prayer time was to have my lovely second daughter call from where she's spending the summer as a counselor at a Christian camp. That took me sufficiently out of myself to regain a better view of things, because of course, that was the problem in the first place: I was completely absorbed in the black hole of myself.

And then I got up this morning and finished up my last blog entry before church, which always makes me happy. (The date seems to always remain the date of the original posting, even if I make changes to it days later. I'm glad about that, because the date of the original posting is the date of the origin of the thought, even if it takes longer than that to get it expressed just the way I like it.) I also wrote my husband an e-mail, catching him up on the goings on with the kids since he went out of town. That also made me happy.

So this guy who was speaking today is a good guy, I'm sure. I'm sure he's godly. However, if he were to take any one of those personality tests, most of which are very similar, he would undoubtedly score high in the personality category that I have the most trouble appreciating. It comes out in his teachings too, and that adds another level of gurgle in my gut as I listen.

And of all things, this is the guy talking about how God made us each just the way He wanted us, that "God doesn't make mistakes." (He actually said that in his teaching. He quoted a bumper sticker, basically.) This is the guy reminding me of what I already know is true, that God designed each one of us exactly the way He intended, to be His tool in glorifying Himself on this earth. And He will use each of His tools for their intended purpose, not for any other.

Just like a hammer would be an awful tool to use to open a bottle of pop, and a shovel would be an awful tool to drive a nail, and a wheelbarrow would be an awful tool to dig a hole, so would I be an awful tool for ... lots of things. There are a lot of things God would never use me for, because it would only result in a big mess.

And maybe it has resulted in big messes at times, when I've tried to be something I'm not, when I've tried to do a job meant for someone else. I'm embarrassed to think about it!

But it was wonderful and comical to realize that this very guy speaking, as much as I don't understand his type, is an awesome tool in God's workshop. God uses people like him in grand ways. I could never do what he does. And He could never do what I do.

What is it that I do? Well, I don't know -- but I do know that nothing fills me with more joy than putting words to ideas. I love ideas, and I love conveying them in exactly the right words. It's the craziest kind of joy to which nothing else can compare in this undistinguished little life of mine. I'd never reveal how often I read and reread e-mail, especially if I've just told someone something important to me. Sometimes I even do that with text messages. It's why I love this blog, even though I wrestle with the vulnerability of going public with my private musings. I can blow hours of a day putting something in just the right words and feel so accomplished afterward, like something very significant has happened that day. But on a day like that when my husband calls to ask what went on that day, I have nothing to tell him. This happiness and pride, this joy and fulfillment swells in my heart, but all I have to say is, "Not much," because nothing tangible did happen. I blew hours in front of the computer when I should probably have been cleaning something.

(Mind you, I'm not saying I put words to ideas well. I'm only saying it gives me joy to think I've done it well. And I also understand that most of my blog entries are self-indulgent and not worth the cyberspace they occupy. But it is enormously cathartic for my to be able to express them.)

Anyway, I ended up being refreshed in just the way I needed to be by that very annoying teaching. And I have a new appreciation for this guy who bugs me. Just like a jack hammer has no appreciation of the need for, say, a scroll saw, because it's too busy busting up asphalt. And a scroll saw sees no need for a jack hammer because it's too busy carving pretty little curves in pieces of wood.  So our diverse personalities often miss the importance of each other. But God makes jack hammers, scroll saws, and everything else in between, and He knows exactly where He needs to put each to use.

So if a scroll saw finds itself feeling weak, wretched and hopelessly useless some days, it needs to remember that it is weak, wretched and hopelessly useless if it's trying to bust up asphalt. It will be much happier if it contents itself with carving pretty little curves in pieces of wood, like its maker intended.

Friday, July 15, 2011


I'm beginning to understand.

My sons both played hockey and baseball for most of their young years, and my husband often said something that struck me as so strange when I'd drop one of them off at a practice. He'd say, "Did you stay to watch? How'd he do?" I wonder if the incredulity showed on my face -- I hope not. Because for the life of me I couldn't conceive why I would ever stay to watch another endless practice, either in a freezing cold ice arena, or, depending on the season, a freezing cold or sweltering hot baseball field. I hope my face remained impassive as I'd tell him, "No, I didn't stay to watch the practice." Because inside I was always very sarcastic. Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING me? Why, WHY, would I stay to watch a practice????

But now my youngest daughter dances. And as all good mothers will tell you about their own, she is very good. And now I get it. I would watch the entire ballet class if I could, if it wouldn't embarrass her to death and make me look like a loon. As it is, it is my private joy to arrive to pick her up from class 10 or 15 minutes early so I can watch the tail end of the class through the window in the door. I think she's beautiful always, but when she dances, something inside me melts. She is strong and graceful and controlled.

At the beginning of every hockey season we were always required to sign a Code of Conduct form, basically agreeing that we wouldn't beat up or verbally abuse any other parent or player. No problem there. It always struck me as more than slightly unbalanced that any of the parents could get so emotional at hockey games, but especially that they could be so into their own kid's play. I love both my boys, loved to see them play well, but I never entertained the notion that baseball or hockey would take them anywhere special. They were always my boys first, athletes second.

Well, this baby of mine, she's still my daughter first and dancer second. But her dance stirs something in my soul, and helps me to understand why my husband would watch an entire hockey or baseball practice just for the sheer joy of watching the boys play.

So now she's at this ballet camp. The dancers are separated into levels according to their ability once they get there, and her teacher here at home suggested that there was a possibility she would be put in level C, a higher level, rather than B, which would mean she would be allowed to compete for a scholarship for the camp for next year. The adjudicators would be watching the dancers for the first 3 days of camp and placing them in their final levels.

Now this made me crazy. I started praying that the moment I heard about that, that the adjudicators would be dazzled by the obvious brilliance of my daughter, and put her where she so clearly belonged, in level C! Worry about this consumed me for days.

She ended up in level B, not C. She was so happy with her classes and teachers and the dance the B's would be doing for the end-of-camp performance, it was hard not to be happy with her. So my aspirations for the gilded "Level C" were dispelled for this year.

Then last night she texted that, only four days into a two-week camp, she has a sharp pain in the front of one of her knees. My soul twisted in consternation. I drove her crazy with return texts filled with advice about how to care for it. I texted her teacher at home for any advice she might have, and forwarded her teacher's text to her. I prayed. I asked my sisters to pray. My husband and I prayed together for this knee. Images filled my mind of her having to sit out for days, waiting for this knee to recover, and my heart twisted a little more.

So, I'm not a crazy hockey mom, but maybe I am a crazy ballet mom. Amounts to the same thing in the end, except that I sense no urge to punch anyone. Yet.

The whole experience has caused me to do a little soul searching. Why is this so important to me? Where the heck is this coming from? It's not balanced, not in the hockey moms and not in me.

Well, I know where it comes from. She's beautiful, and I've never been beautiful. Not in the way I look, not in the way I move. But she is a part of me. So through her, in a contorted, unhealthy way, I get to be something I've always longed to be: Beautiful.

The other morning God reminded me of Psalm 145:10:

Listen, O daughter, give attention and incline your ear:
Forget your people and your father’s house;
Then the King will desire your beauty.
Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him.

Then the King will desire my beauty. When? When I forget my people and my father's house. What could that mean?

I think it means when I allow my heart to be consumed with Him, rather than being consumed with "my people." Friends, the circle of acquaintances, family -- the whirlwind of the heart that ensues from too much conversation, too many activities, with too many people in one day. Forget friends, forget the circle of acquaintances, forget family, forget their needs, concerns, opinions, demands. Take the time to hold still, quiet the soul, and focus on Him, His magnificence, His glory, His worthiness, His sweetness and compassion, on pleasing Him. The beauty that draws His eye is the soul that will quiet itself before Him and listen for His voice. And that's the only beauty I should long for.

It is dizzying to fathom, this idea that the King would desire my beauty. Somehow, it is scary to dare to believe. Somehow in my heart, I'm afraid to look too closely at this idea, even to see how true it is. Inwardly, I glance at it ever so briefly, and then look away...ashamed.

I am ashamed because I so little deserve to be loved in this way, to be longed for by anyone, let alone Him, the magnificent and glorious King. It's so much easier for us to skate along the surface of the notion: oh yes, Jesus loves me, God loves me. And then we skip along our merry way, trot off to do more stuff. But to enter into the reality that His love for me transcends banal church dogma, that (through Jesus) He sees a beauty in me that fills His heart with desire, is staggering, breathtaking and...daunting.

Will I allow myself to be daunted? Will I hold still and allow the truth of His love to wash over me? Or will I continue to glance at it quickly and then run away because it's too much to bear? Instead be content with a mere morsel of what could be mine, be content to pathetically glean some imaginary regard through the fleeting beauty of my daughter?

HE: Behold, you are beautiful, My love; behold, you are beautiful. SS 1:15
SHE: He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love. SS 2:4
HE: You are altogether beautiful, My love; there is no flaw in you. SS 4:7