Reclaiming Abundance: He Will Be Our Sanctuary (week 14!)

“He will be our sanctuary; let our hearts not be afraid.” This phrase reached out to me like a lifeline this season when I heard it in this song by Aaron Shust:

 

If life is full to the brim of the world, of stuff, busyness, and self, then there’s no room for sanctuary. And how can we be sanctified without sanctuary? Without intentionally surrendering to Christ, we can’t be transformed. If there’s no room to listen, all we hear is noise. When we stop reaching for Him- highest and holiest- we settle for lesser loves, for faulty idols. Instead of being disciples who trust in the One with power over the storm, we act like superstitious sailors, grasping for any port in the storm. If it isn’t the harbor of His Presence, it is sinking sand.

 

This is what I need to know all year round.
This is what I need to know all year round.

 

Sanctuary is really about peace. And not just pretty ideas of peace like armchairs by fireplaces, or beaches with soothing waves on sunny days. Those could just as easily be advertisements for bed & breakfast places. Those pictures are faulty, paltry impostors of the real thing. For he himself is our peace. If you were wondering what the Christmas story is about, that’s it.

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

(emphasis mine)

In him, we too are being made walking sanctuaries. Let every heart prepare him room. Instead of being an empty cavern inside me, the heart becomes a dwelling full of life- “in which God lives by his Spirit.”

 

This is not a traditional passage people think of when Christmas comes around. Especially since it talks about circumcision. (How festive… Kids, gather ’round the Christmas tree with some cookies and let’s talk about circumcision!!) However, circumcision was never just an odd and painful ritual that the Israelites did just to be in the God’s Chosen People Club. It was to be a physical reminder and symbol that not only were they set apart as children of God, but that even the most intimate, vulnerable parts of them belong to Him. It’s so much easier to gloss over something sinful, or even something that’s not sinful that becomes an idol, like food or money, when I’m so full of stuff, commitments, to-do lists, ego- distractions. How much easier to rationalize or downplay the most destructive tendencies we have?

 

What God desires (that He’s been pointing out to me lately) is not a 99% heart given to Him. He wants a 100% heart. As many people have said before, “If you’re 99% in, you’re 100% out.” Someone recently explained that in circumcision, the extra layer is also like a layer of sin that surrounds our hearts that prevents us from experiencing growth in our relationship with God. When we cut off that layer like a shackle, what unimaginable freedom is waiting for us!

 

But the mistake I often make is to think I’ve gotten rid of that shackle and then I forget that I’ll have to guard my heart against it as long as I’m here on earth. And what guards the heart? The peace of Christ.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(emphasis mine)

Peace that transcends all understanding. Peace that cuts away the layers, the walls that hold us back from the greatest good, the greatest love, the greatest God. It’s hard to let go of the lesser gods. Even though I know they steadfastly fail me, I still fight the lie of Satan which says that God is holding out on me. And I don’t think Satan is derailed from his quest for our self-destruction when we get excited about an aspect of God (i.e. my epiphany about the peace of God, or a really great sermon series about living radically, or joy, or salvation, etc). Do you know what I mean? It’s like when a theme or small group study or sermon series helps us understand a characteristic of God more intimately, and it sort of becomes our main thought for awhile. And we grow closer to God, knowing Him just a little better. But I don’t think Satan gets worried about that. Because he STILL finds a way to turn that into an idol. I don’t remember who, but recently someone mentioned loving not the idea of something- like joy for example- but loving God, who is the Giver of joy. And that stuck with me. Sometimes the concept of something can be so powerful and appealing that I’m infatuated with the feeling I had, instead of really experiencing the real thing.

 

And- at least for me- it usually doesn’t take long before warm fuzzies are just lukewarm fuzzies… But isn’t that what we do, especially at times like Christmas?

 

We set out decor full of sentiment, bright shining baubles and strings of hopeful twinkle lights. And some of us may enjoy a day with our families, full of food, presents, and armchairs by fireplaces. Maybe one that’s miraculously void of drama. We may even slow down enough to enjoy a modicum of sanctuary in the fast paced, breakneck scramble of the season. None of those things are bad- in fact, they are really wonderful! And I look forward to them just as much as anyone else! Here is the proof:

be merry 2 lego sleigh christmas tree pinecone side be merry 1 banister pinecone closeup vases closeup cozy bench  cups 2

(The exorbitant amount of pinecones just kind of happened. I know it looks like I went out into the imaginary woods behind my imaginary cabin and gathered them, but for real my mom just brought me like, 2 bags of them… Hi, Mom! *waves frantically* You might also have noticed the handful of little Christmas Legos? Those weren’t originally there. But my husband added them in, because they’re kind of his thing. Hi, Husband! *waves frantically*)

But, I wonder if- in our quest for Christmas- we are left wanting and a little depressed when it’s over, because we got just enough off track in loving the idea of Christmas, instead of the Christ of Christmas. The created instead of the Creator. And all the striving for nostalgia just leaves us stale. We clean up the lights and streamers, which can seem more like unnecessary clutter, and we blame them for not being more than we thought they should be. But if we could just see the glory streaming from heaven above instead, maybe we could reclaim the abundance of Christmas. Reclaim the abundance of Christ.

 

Joy to the world, the Lord is come

Let earth receive her king

Let every heart prepare him room

And heaven and nature sing.

 

ice skates sparkle  joy dove star sparkle jingle bells 1 lego snowman

 

Maybe this year, we’ll sing with 100% hearts. We’ll be all in, like Mark Batterson wrote about. Deuteronomy 30:6 says,

“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. “

So many around me echo this desperate desire to let God more fully reign over their lives, to be their sanctuary so they can live. For he himself is our peace. I’ve heard it from friends, from other blogs I’ve been reading, from the amazing message delivered by our minister this past Sunday– and from excellent, beautiful, heart-overflowingly-good music like Aaron Shust’s new Christmas album, going to Andrew Peterson and friends’ Behold the Lamb of God concert (post to come about that!!!), and the gift Justin Mosteller gave me of Jason Gray’s Christmas albumespecially this song.

 

I’ve been convicted to find the shackles; what are those things holding me back from living more abundantly? What physical, tangible stuff is cluttering our life? How can we be more all in together as a couple, as a family? How can we risk and dare and dream God-sized dreams, and then actually take action in pursuit of them?

 

I don’t know yet how to do all that, exactly. But this need for sacred space, for sanctuary so consumed me this week, that I did something as a way of staking my claim in what I have a feeling is the next chapter for our family. Are you ready? It’s a pretty big deal:

photo 2

 

I made a mess! No, just kidding. I added to our pile of goodwill clothes. So, not that big a deal. But even physically clearing something away felt like I was preparing a little more room for Him, emptying a little more of myself. My prayer is that we’ll start to clear enough room in our life for movement. For His movement. So we can be, “…built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” more and more.

He will be our sanctuary; let our hearts not be afraid.

 

Let’s tell each other that story- the Christmas story- this year. And we’ll still put up all the decor and the bright shining baubles, and the nostalgia, etcetera… but we’ll let them be what they are- adornments to the celebration of Christ. And then we’ll be a little more who we are- saved sanctuaries in which God lives by his Spirit. There’s room for Jesus here.

 

Merry Christmas
~Merry Christmas~

 

Reclaiming Abundance: Proverbs Mean Girl? (week 13!)

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come. Prov. 31:25

Can’t you see her now? That woman Proverbs 31 tells about? I’ve realized recently that sometimes I receive the meaning of this chapter more deeply when I let isolated verses wink at me. They slow the swirl of unattainable perfection that Proverbs 31 woman seems to juggle tauntingly. I mean, don’t you hate her a little bit sometimes? That grating combination of impossible perfection and annoying piety? Like, this woman not only is a stay-at-home mom, she’s an entrepreneur, who always makes her husband happy; feeds her family perfect, delicious, well-balanced meals; who apparently doesn’t ever sleep (or need to); doesn’t have emotional breakdowns (once a week); bakes cute Pinterest perfect snacks from scratch (but manages not to Pin like it’s her job); and doesn’t eat “the bread of Idleness” (whatever, she probably doesn’t eat bread at all).

 

At least, that’s how I feel when I don’t use my brain and read what’s actually going on here. You know how when you were a kid, grown-up tv shows were thoroughly uninteresting to you? Like, you didn’t understand why your parents couldn’t just watch cartoons and Disney movies all the time??? But when you grow up, you realize how much more meaning and depth is there and you become receptive to broadening your horizons of entertainment (while of course reserving a special love for cartoons and Disney movies, too). You actually want to watch stuff like Bones or Castle or CSI… or Scrubs. (Ok, I don’t watch CSI. I barely can watch Bones. They really play up the gross on that show. Castle is great, and Scrubs is just a staple of life, to say nothing of Gilmore Girls or Chuck or Merlin…) All this to say, I feel like over time it’s been the same process with my understanding of this infamous chapter of the Bible.

 

I know I’m not the only one to have a visceral reaction to this chapter. Upon first reading, I come away with an impression that the woman is just boring, door-mat-ish in her makeup, and would probably make me feel bad about not loving Jesus enough… Then I read it again, and realize- no, it’s not that she’s boring: she’s impossibly interesting! Because she apparently does everything (except sleep, which she doesn’t need because of some sort of secret, high-powered batteries that keep her running). Upon a third reading, I’ve decided she doesn’t actually exist and why did no one tell the author this??? Then, I tell myself- Haylie, you are a grown woman, and you do love Jesus, and you must not roll your eyes at the Bible.

 

This is, perhaps, the downside of growing up hearing chapters like these over and over. You tend to think you see them for what they are. But it’s a huge mistake to think you’ve read something of the Bible once or twice and have therefore plumbed all its depths. I’ve been similarly mistaken in thinking I understood this woman. I don’t think she’s as unattainable as we think she is. I think a few other (bazillion) women read this chapter and had the same thought, and somehow this massive misconception of the Proverbs 31 Woman has run rampant in the body of Christ. (Satan loves it when we do that with the Word of God- take it to mean something it doesn’t based on half-truths or partial understanding.)

 

But recently, I heard a different explanation of this chapter. That we may actually be seeing a picture of- not a day in this woman’s life- but different seasons of her life. Which makes sense to me. My husband reminded me that the other crucial part of studying any part of the Bible at all is that you need a perspective of faith to actually understand what’s going on. (Maybe that’s why Paul described it as looking like foolishness to the rest of the world? Seriously, click both of those links. They are SO worth it.) We- the human race- are just slightly prone to hyperbole. That exaggerated, awful, judgmental, pearls-wearing-Stepford-wife picture is something we have drawn from this chapter and allowed to burn us out. (Which should have been our first clue- since when does any word God gives cause burn out??? It doesn’t. God’s Word is life-giving.)

 

And rereading it, I realized that’s totally off-base. This woman, though she is active, doesn’t strike me as striving any more. She reveals herself as being purposeful, like she knows who she is- Whose she is. “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” That woman sounds like she is filled with peace- with abundance. (She sounds like Aimee, right?!) That is SO backwards compared to the way I used to read it. How did I take it so wrong before? Maybe I wasn’t quite grown up enough to see the childlike faith she has.

 

That other Proverbs 31 Woman? If you think about it, she’s basically a Mean Girl.

 

 

Yeah. When she smiles, it’s not a good thing. (You want to tell her to keep her forked tongue behind her teeth.) And based on who she is, I would imagine her god to be petty and small, painting him as if he merely requires you to adhere to an impossible list of demands that somehow make you “virtuous.” That sounds more like a human- like maybe a strict sorority sister (though let’s be clear: my understanding of what sororities are like comes exclusively from movies and TV shows) than the living, loving, Almighty God. She leaves out His love, grace, and the fact that in our weakness, His strength is made perfect. That His grace is sufficient for us:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions,in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

So, if we know God’s grace is sufficient, than we can give up our striving, our doomed-to-fail, try-hard dying life. If Jesus really came to give us abundant life, then the Mean Girl can’t be right; we can’t be meant to live in incessant torment, constant shame. (That’s one of Satan’s other great and widespread lies- that Christianity is about shaming you into a certain way of life. But ironically, isn’t it the other way around? Isn’t it humanity’s incongruous expectations and fickle, changing opinions that really perpetuate this toxic outlook?)

 

Shame, after all, is the opposite of dignity. And the real Proverbs 31 woman is clothed in dignity. She doesn’t live in fear, either. “She can laugh at the days to come.” Wow. So hype and headlines don’t define how I live? I mean, the world says everything is failing, and that you should worry about everything failing. Governments, systems, institutions, families fail. Technology will falter, the power will go out, bank accounts will empty, then your fridge will empty, and worst of all your personal style will, altogether, dissipate and no one will like you! Eesh. (We live like we’re doomsday preppers sometimes.)

 

That’s a lot of lack. However, abundance says there’s more than enough. God reminds us of His infinite resources. Because of Him, we have security that 401k’s can’t provide. Easy for me to say… but it’s hard to live that way.

 

“The most revolutionary thing we can do is choose to see the good instead of the lack.”

– Leeana Tanersly

Breathing Room

 

Isn’t that good?! I saw this quote at The Nester’s blog. (And now I have another book to add to my list… speaking of impossible…) That’s the whole point of this project. It’s not even to have a post for every single week that showcases a new doodle. (Good thing, because clearly I haven’t done that… I counted up all the RA Project posts so far, and I think I technically need to be on my 15th-ish post right now. Or something…?) The point is and has always been to be intentional, to stop living in lack. But, like anything worth pursuing, it’s harder to be abundant and choose joy than it is to be fearful and despairing.

 

But, let’s you and me choose the better things anyway. I mean, we could just skip all that kneading and waiting for dough to rise and buy some canned cinnamon rolls at Walmart, but real cinnamon rolls- and real faith- are worth the work and the wait. (I feel I should confess that I have never made real cinnamon rolls. But the amount of energy I’ve invested in dreaming about them makes me feel as if I’d done all the work…)

 

Is that the pearlescent picture frame that was a wedding gift 4 1/2 years ago that I haven't known what to do with? Why, yes it is!
Is that the pearlescent picture frame that was a wedding gift 4 1/2 years ago that I haven’t known what to do with? Why, yes it is!

 

So, this one’s going on my vanity. Which was a HOT MESS before. No, really. It looked like this:

photo 16 photo 17 photo 18

 

It’s really probably the most beautiful piece of furniture we own. And now, you can tell.

 

photo 1

And I think maybe- if I pretend well enough- I can imagine myself putting on strength and dignity like clothes. And then maybe- just maybe- that could someday be what I’m known for. Not in a feeling-superior-to-everyone-else kind of way, but in the way that someone who’s been through the wardrobe returns seeing the world through a different lens and lives in a different plane.  photo 4

Thus, if you need me, I’ll be over here in my dignified yellow pants, laughing through my lip gloss at the days to come, becoming- in spite of myself- who I was made to be, “…A child with palms stretched open toward the sky” as a kindred spirit recently described it.

photo 2

Are you reshaping the way you see that Proverbs 31 girl? What is she looking like to you, these days?

Far from perfection, but still swirly and fun.
Far from perfection, but still swirly and fun.

Reclaiming Abundance: Give Thanks (week 12!)

Thanksgiving was this week. (This public service announcement has been brought to you, free of charge, by me. You’re welcome.)

I love Thanksgiving. I love food and gratitude, one of which I tend to be more known for than the other… And family, of course. But I love that Thanksgiving is without the pressure of presents. Don’t get me wrong. I love presents. I love giving them. I love getting them! (I like them in a box. I like them with some socks… Did you not sense the Seussical cadence?) But sometimes, the whole, simple, lovely event of giving and/or getting a gift is sullied by the tyranny of obnoxious commercials and abrasive banners, all urging the masses to hurry yourself over here and buy up every last list-filler. The early bird gets the worm, after all! (A highly unattractive and unmotivating picture if you ask me… It should’ve gone, “The early bird gets Starbucks” or something.) 

And I promise not to spend the entire post bemoaning the fact that more businesses are open on Thursday too. Did you hear me? Thursday. THURSDAY. Aka, Thanksgiving Day! It’s just nonsense. There is no such thing as a retail emergency, so unlike hospitals, there’s no reason Target should be open. The affrontery. (Which apparently can also be spelled “effrontery.” Make up your mind, stupid English language.) 

Ok. I’m done.

As previously stated, I love Thanksgiving. I love that there’s a holiday intended purely for fellowship and gratitude. Key word here being “intended.” Humans have such a talent for missing the point, and this is no less obvious at Thanksgiving, when- instead of filling with gratitude and joy- we sometimes settle to merely fill up to bursting on food, and then spend a significant portion of the time digging for Black Friday coupons so we can get more stuff… kind of contrary to the whole being content with what you have thing. Not to say I didn’t do both of those things, or that they are inherently bad in and of themselves… But it never ceases to amaze me how easily derailed I can be from the good things I intend to do. Know what I mean?

I love how this time of year can soften us in spite of ourselves- can coax us to relent to gatherings with friends, new and old. We give in to beauty, adorning our tables, our homes, our cities- it’s like an act of defiance. Creation suggests gray trees and brown landscapes, but we festoon the world with garlands and lights and bright baubles, and we feast our eyes and hearts and starving souls. In days of shadow, we bravely herald light. Even in seemingly frivolous and silly ways, sometimes.

Two Friday nights ago, for example, I got to go with a friend of mine to a craft night. A craft night, people!! And I didn’t have to buy anything or bring anything or prep anything, except scissors (which of course I ended up leaving behind). We just showed up and they had these three tables laden with all their crafty goodness. We were briefly shown how to accomplish the task at hand, and set loose upon a handful of wooden blocks and paint, armed with some hot chocolate from their- wait for it- hot chocolate bar. YOU GUYS.

But though I prepared myself to relish in the hot-chocolatey goodness and inevitable sugar high from hot chocolate AND the full plate of varied chocolatey-type snacks that were available, they ended up only partially sampled and nearly forgotten once the crafting began. (Partly because there was paint all over my fingers fairly soon after I started. The ONE time I don’t have baby wipes with me…)

After a slight mix-up that resulted in our arrival at an hour and a half after the actual start time (we firmly blame the Facebook Event page… which I maintain must have been struggling with some lingering confusion after the time change), we settled in and began the first craft. Because there were- apparently- three. Which would’ve been super exciting except that I get somewhat perfectionistic and exceptionally slow on the uptake when hearing instructions. So, it took me longer than any normal person to just begin…

As ever, my photographical skills remain at their obvious and usual level of prowess.
As ever, my photographical skills remain at their obvious and usual level of prowess.

Isn’t it cute?! And who isn’t a sucker these days for a good DIY-holiday-sign-project???

photo 2 photo 14

Here it is on the teensy little mirror in our apartment that vaguely functions as a minuscule hall tree (since we don’t have room for an actual hall tree/entryway). I love it, because one side is for autumn/Thanksgiving, and the other is Christmasy… You’ll have to wait for the inevitable post about Christmas and my subsequent attempts to festoon Christmasy-goodness all over our little apartment to see that side. (Is that the second time I’ve used the word “festoon” in this post? Well, now you have something fun to mumble under your breath.) So filled with pride was I over this great feat of artistic achievement, that I brought it along with me to my parents house last week to show them. (Again, very like a child displaying a macaroni necklace they made.)

My mother's lovely mantle. A smidgen more exciting than my teensy mirror in our apartment.
And I promptly put it on my mother’s lovely mantle. A smidgen more exciting than my teensy mirror in our apartment. (THAT CLOCK!)

Give Thanks. Oh, that this would be the banner over my whole life. Ann Voskamp shared through this book her own revelations about thanksgiving, counting gifts, realizing how in Scripture giving thanks always precedes the miracle, and instead of attempting to sum up the entire book in this sentence, I encourage you to do whatever must be done to get your hands on it ASAP! It’s not that she is the single greatest authority on living thankful or anything- she’s a seeker just like you and me. She just shares her journey of knowing God better, knowing his intentions for us better, and understanding how big a part thanksgiving plays in that journey. (The reason I echo her so frequently is because I have often merely played at being thankful, treating it more like a pretty word than a powerful, life-changing way of being.)

photo 5

So, I now have these humble little blocks of painted wood to add to our fall decor. They cheerfully, ardently beckon me to live in the abundance thanksgiving creates. Such a soul-healing thing, thankfulness. It slows me down, helps me rest; in the chaos of a Black Friday world, it breathes into me the peace of Christ. And when you slow down, you stop seeing things in a blur, and there’s enough room for wonder again. “Let every heart prepare him room,” thankfulness cries.

Sometimes it’s a hard and brave thing to be thankful- and really thankful, not just the obligatory lip service we guilt ourselves into. Which isn’t thankfulness at all! When we feel like there’s only mediocrity and famine, thankfulness opens our eyes to the feast.

So, whether you had a Thanksgiving akin to a Norman Rockwell painting, or whether you felt that the Black Friday mindset invaded and left you reeling, I hope you can be blessed and un-blinded to the feast before you as we head into December. And together, maybe we can stand in defiant thankfulness in a scrambling, unseeing world.

Here’s some loveliness from our Thanksgiving this year (Lucy’s first!):

photo 10 photo 1 photo 8 photo 2 photo 5 photo 7 photo 4 photo 9 photo 11

Did you do anything special for Thanksgiving this year? Or see any particularly well-festooned mantles??