How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

dad and daughter cuddling on couchLike her parents, my oldest daughter is more on the introvertive side.  Sure, we can host crowds of people, or invite friends over, but we find our energy reprovisioned in a still and quiet house, being able to rest, read, pray and relax.

So it was appropriate after a busy season of hosting that my oldest daughter simply wanted to cuddle on the couch.  Just to be close and to rest.  In the quiet.  No words.  Just rest.  As I enfolded my arms around her, it occurred to me the benefit of this simple process.  I simply held her, stroking her hair by her face, letting her know she was loved. Home.  Safe.  And accepted, just as she was.  There was not any need for performance here.  No striving to earn either my love or her ability to come near.

I was struck with the similarity of this picture with my daughter and my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  God, too, wants me just to be with Him, to pause from the busyness of the day (days?!) so that He can remind me that I, too, am loved, am accepted just as I am without any need for performance.  His love for me is “deep, vast beyond all measure,” as the hymn says, powerful enough that in God’s giving His only Son, it brings many a wretch His treasure, bringing many sons to glory.

Each of us—my daughter, you and I—are learning these truths, that “because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions, for it is by grace we have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2).  May this reality of ours become more and more accepted, noticed and lived in each day.

Who Brings You Rain?

N.B.: I wanted to share with you this timely post from my friend, Ty Hoad. May it be as meaningful to you as it was to me.

Like some of you, my family has been praying for rain here in Southern California for a while now.

For those of you unaware, California is in the midst of the worst drought we’ve faced in 100 years.

After months of praying, it rained Saturday night.

Twice.

And then again on Sunday morning.

Did I ever rejoice in the rain!

Anyone who can remember the last time we had measurable precipitation in August in Southern California can attest:

It doesn’t just happen.

It truly was a miraculous answer to prayer!

Standing at the end of my driveway on Saturday night in bare feet and head back letting the warm drops spill on my face, it was hard to tell my tears from the rain.

The rain was a promise from my Heavenly Father, you see.

No, I do not think this weeks’ rain will, nor was meant to, end our drought.

I believe it was meant to encourage us in the midst of it.

God’s presence is like that sometimes.

He allows us to go through the hard, cracked, challenging, dry spiritual seasons — not to be cruel, or to cause suffering and loss (though sometimes an amount of loss is necessary) — to bring us to a place to get our attention.

To bring into focus the things He wants us to see in the way He sees them.

Drought is an interesting metaphor for the human heart.

Some I see around me have yet to change their patterns of consumption of water at all even though they are aware there is very little usable water available. In similar fashion, so many friends of mine refuse to accept the Truth about God because it might mean they’d have to be honest about the quality and quantity of real living resources in their own lives…

Without God, my heart and own resources look so much like the reservoirs I see on TV with no water left in them: Dry, cracked and caked with yesterday’s residuals and nothing much to expect tomorrow.

Supposing the rains did come, I’d live with the knowledge that at the depth of my own reservoir, it does eventually come to an end having no spring or “source” to replenish it.

I’ve tried to live life on my own terms and while materially I did “okay,” without a natural spring, there wasn’t much to depend on in times of drought.

There wasn’t much to hope for past the pool I could draw from.

So, like my friends who have yet to change their water usage in the midst of this season, I would pretend not to care or trouble myself with the actual condition of my heart… And just keep on keeping on… Spraying down the walk and watering my lawn…making sure everything looked good to the passers by… and “Hoping” there would always be rain — even when it wasn’t “supposed” to fall… I find it interesting that a life without God produces the same need as a life with God: reliance upon Him to deliver what is necessary even though we don’t deserve it.

So what’s the difference?

Posture and attitude.

We can choose to believe everything is well and good, and we’re doing it in our own strength and power…

or we can choose to acknowledge Who it is that really sends the rain.

I, for one, have turned my eyes and hopes to Heaven.

Not just for the hope of ending the drought in California, but for the drought in the hearts of all humanity as well.

You?

Good Odds Going On?

citycouncilIt’s warm today.  And dry.  In February.  And the next week of weather forecast appears to bring more of the same.  So it came as no big surprise—a little, for sure—to find seagulls flying overhead this morning, even though I live about an hour from the Pacific Ocean.

Yes, friends, the drought that has hit me and my southern California neighbors is taking its toll.  For once, we’re thinking of ways to not use as much water as we usually do.  Do we mellow if it’s yellow (yes, I said it)?  Perhaps not wash down our driveways everyday?  A whole new sense of responsibility is hitting us (do sense my sarcasm here).

Seriously, though, the oddness of the weather is just one factor in my own life of the oddities of life.  And as I look at these places within me, I notice that there is a strong drive to make things easy.  To make them right.  To make them…controllable.  The activities of my life must have some aspect of control, lest I get jumpy, anxious, grumpy, out of sorts.

You’ll remember in the movie Horton Hears a Who that Mr. Mayor’s city council was quite determined to the same thing.  When the mayor announced that he had noticed tremors, clouds swirling in the sky, and that sort of thing—“odd goings on”—the council was determined to make sure that they were indeed good odd goings on, all for the sake of maintaining a face of calm and control even when the evidences showed otherwise.

So, whether seagulls fly over your Omaha skies or clouds swirling in the skies show up outside your window, may each of us be willing not to hide ourselves from the truth that is at the end of our noses.

The Polar Vortex

Few of us made it through this past week without hearing of the “polar vortex” that brought a drop in thermometers to the northern part of the United States and Canada.  For some, it froze soap bubbles.  Others reported never seeing their town in such a blanket of white before.  Still, others were glad that school wasn’t cancelled, a testimony to the hardy stock of their neighbors. 

What impressed me the most with this year’s first big icy storm were some Niagara Falls photos, where our mild winters of recent years haven’t allowed something so stark and frozen for a long time.  And the photos of a white wonderland where the Falls appear nearly frozen are a reminder of our journey of faith, where rarely does the Christian walk go in a linear fashion.  Instead, like the polar vortices of the soul, the process of following Jesus requires a continual submitting to the unknown and uncontrolled.

As we journey forward in 2014 with hopes renewed—maybe this year I will lose those extra pounds, or go on this trip, or have that conversation with that certain someone…you know where you fit—may we remember that our journeys at times look like the Falls this past week.  Having visited there in a balmy August some years back, I never would have imagined the area to look as desolate—and scary—as it did this past week.  But it is still the same Niagara Falls.  The same place where people have descended in a bucket, the same place where tightrope walker Nik Wallenda recently crossed on a highwire like many others before him, the same place where our jaws drop to the floor in awe.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8).  Like the frozen falls of this past week, may we remember that the hiccups of life that come our way and cause us to question what is going on are not places for doubt.  Instead, they are places for faith.  It’s this faith that C.S. Lewis described as “the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted in spite of your changing moods.”  Neither mood nor Polar Vortex can change who Jesus is, and that is a great outlook at the beginning of any year.

Wishbones, Wisdom and Words on the Thanksgiving Holiday


woodstock-thanksgiving-pumpkins-pilgrimN.B: It’s not often that I have written about my passion for food, but in “chewing” on this amazing holiday and in recently studying Proverbs 9, I could not resist such a mouth-watering post (ok, I’ll stop).

Over the last few days, it’s has begun.

Turkeys have begun their yearly thaw.  Brined.  Prepped for the big oven.  The fryer.  The Weber grill.  You name it, it’s happening. 

Yellowed copies of recipes from yesteryear for Aunt Sue’s stuffing, Grandma Margarett’s cranberry relish, and Mama Jennifer’s apple pie have made their annual trek from the file to the kitchen counter, preparing those in possession of them to cook. 

Countless ingredients have been purchased, pantry items restocked, all shouting… 

It’s here. 

Yes, that’s right.  The time when all of America dons on the apron and becomes a master chef.  Thanksgiving is that time of year when our inner gourmet, whether galloping or frugal, awakens and we prepare a rich feast for a holiday that echoes the proverbial call of Solomon, where Lady Wisdom personified calls:

Confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
   Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,
roast lamb, carefully selected wines
(Proverbs 9:4-6).

This is no Taco Bell holiday.

This is a holiday that rings of rich preparation.  Of rich understanding.  And as we sup tomorrow on turkeys—brined, fried or smoked—and mashed potatoes—with blue cheese, cheddar cheese or no cheese, Wisdom still calls:  

Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
    Walk up the street to a life with meaning.

This wisdom, that is more precious than rubies, better than the finest gold, is available to all who seek.  As we celebrate the Thanksgiving feast this weekend, may each of us remember the wisdom with which God so limitlessly gives to those who ask of it.     

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Lessons From Moving: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

ImageAs I posted some months ago, this year has been a year of transition for my family and I.  We’ve recently moved from being in the center of suburbia to the edge of it.  And while my proximity to the woods and mountains of southern California is a definite plus (why, yes, that is an AWESOME view out of my bedroom window–thanks for noticing), I don’t think I completely realized all that a move entailed.  Sure, there was the reservation for our U-Haul, collecting boxes to start packing, getting rid of old stuff in our old place, change of address forms with the Postal Service and then getting amazing friends to help us move on the big day (you know who you are and how rockstarish you really are!).   

But the settling in afterwards has been a bit more of a surprise.  Boxes are all gone now.  The new routine is basically set.  But what I’m realizing is how much to a town one learns over time.  In our previous home, we’d lived in the area for about fourteen years.  The nuances of our town and the surrounding towns—known.  The time it takes to go from home to a certain place—known (more or less given southern California traffic).  In this new place, all of these things—and others—are still being learned, and will continue to be so.  And my Type A is showing in that now that we have been here for six weeks, I should have it altogether and figured out, and tied nicely with a bow.  No, friends, the reality of it is that I’m still learning, and even though the surroundings in the previous home were more known, I was in that state of learning even there.

It’s been a reminder to me that all of us are on a journey—one that provides things to see and learn and adapt to along the way.  God’s desire for us is to press into these places of learning, not cower in fear, utilizing all He gives us to our fullest potential. 

The Apostle Paul put it this way to Timothy: “God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible” (2 Timothy 1:7, The Message).  Boldness that helps us push forward with bravery into the unknown, love that brings patience and margin, and sensibility that gives us reason in making the right decisions. 

Rome wasn’t built in a day.  It took eons, reliance on one’s fellow man and courage.  And moves don’t have to be either.  Wherever your journey has you in transition as of late, take heart, be malleable in your learning and rely on all God provides in the process.  

Parenting in the Digital Age

Readers! It’s been a long time.  Sorry for the absence.  In the midst of this summer, there’s been a lot on my mind.  Here’s the latest….

Not so long ago, I was in elementary school, where watching TV in the summer was a luxury.  My parents were cautious enough to limit our television watching to 5 hours per week (this is today’s equivalent of 1 day of television consumption, while I do realize there is much more internet consumption today as well).  TV was limited even further with a little monetary incentive.  Ten “TV coupons” were issued each week, each good for one-half hour of television watching, which could be redeemed at the end of the week for 50 cents (you could buy a lot more in the late 80s and early 90s for 50 cents than you can now).  Given that an extra $3 per week could be added to my wallet by rationing my television to two Gilligan’s Island reruns and a wonderful episode of The Price is Right with Bob Barker, I was quite frugal in my use of TV coupons, using the extra funds for an ice cream at the lake, a pack of gum, whatever.

Fast forward twenty to twenty five years and I am now raising a little munchkin myself.  My two-and-a-half year old watches streaming video on our computers, will never understand that her parents had to watch a show the afternoon or night it was on or miss it for years to come.  Yes, there was a time that Costco, Amazon or Hulu did not sell multiple series of episodes of Friends, Madmen, or Grey’s Anatomy to name some shows for adults, or Curious George or Dora the Explorer, for more age-appropriate shows related to this blog post.

No, Ellie will not understand those things because the world she is growing up in has multimedia at our fingertips, either wired to the TV or wireless through her parents’ laptops or cell phones.  Recently, as I’ve pondered this topic, I’ve observed kids with their own iPads or Kindles and they are absorbed in them, playing games or drawing virtual pictures.  While I don’t consider myself a techie, I know a thing or two about technology and still I wonder what the long-lasting effect, if any, is on our culture where we readily turn on the boob tube, fire up the laptop to check up with our “friends” on Facebook or watch hours on the television.

And still, the information available to us is amazing in what it lets us see.  Wikipedia is my constant friend for learning about things that would have taken much more effort to learn previously.  Youtube brings about humor like sneezing pandas, and recordings of Mister Rogers and vintage Sesame Street.

I think that as a parent, finding the balance for my child is what is needed.  She needs active, live play with others.  She needs rest from a busy day.  This with learning via the occasional TV program, while learning about the available technology that will be so much more common in her life than mine, is a way to do that alongside other things that stimulate her brain.

In closing, I would love to hear your comments on this topic, dear reader.  How do you see the access to nearly everything via our digital fingertips to be a positive influence in your family?  A negative influence?  And, mostly, how do they impact our ability to connect with one another and with God?  I’d be grateful for your insight.

I have greatly desired to share this Passover meal with you

We just came home from our church’s Passover Seder.  Wow–what a treat to celebrate the Passover meal this evening with our friends and church family, the same meal that has been celebrated now for many millenia to usher in the Holy Week!

A few weeks ago, Ellie and I were off to Disneyland for a quick morning trip in the park.  As passholders, it’s a privilege to go to the park for just a quick trip and then back out before naptime.  We set off for Fantasyland, that part of the Magic Kingdom where height restrictions don’t exist and where we can easily find a ride or two for my little two-year-old.  During our last few visits, the Peter Pan ride had either been closed for repairs, had an extremely long line, or as it was one time we waited, the ride malfunctioned just as we were about to get on it.

This ride is one of my favorites.  You’re in a suspended-from-the-ceiling pirate ship that appears to be floating, just as in the movie, allowing you to see the sights below—a miniature London complete with Big Ben, Neverland and a few scenes from Barrie’s story Peter and Wendy.

Needless to say, I was excited to share this ride with my baby girl when we visited.  And so we waited.  As I explained what we would see on the ride, I could see my own excitement and desire in sharing these things with her, in passing on the fun of what awaited us.  There was a fleeting thought of Jesus’ words to His disciples at the Passover meal celebrated tonight:  “I have greatly desired to share this Passover meal with you” (Luke 22).  I have greatly desired to share with you, this.  And this is the picture I had as I waited for the line to go forward, thinking thoughts of “Dear one, it’s almost here.  This ride that I’ve wanted us to go on for some time now.”  So it was similarly for Jesus with His disciples.

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible says that these words of Jesus best translate as “with desire I have desired.” He writes that it is as if “our Lord’s meaning seems to be, that, having purposed to redeem a lost world by his blood, he ardently longed for the time in which he was to offer himself up. Such love did the holy Jesus bear to the human race.”

And so as we love and yearn and desire great things for others, may we have this perspective in mind.  As we enter this Easter season, may we remember that our Lord Jesus willingly—no, longingly—went to the Cross so that He could convey to us something we couldn’t have otherwise.  That is a “wonderful thought” that would lift anyone off the ground.

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

And the Government Shall Be Upon His Shoulders: A Blog for Advent

In recent weeks, conversation in our home has included words and phrases like “second term,” “fiscal cliff” and “unrepresented.”  And as we’ve entered this time of Advent, it’s been wonderful to focus on something more stable and less unsound than the raising of a debt ceiling, party lines that are supposed to be crossed instead of bickered over, and that uneasy feeling inside that Washington and Sacramento just don’t nor probably can figure it out.

Lest I make my first politically motivated blogpost on Enjoying the Surface, let me share with you this past Sunday’s church service, where the familiar passage in Isaiah 9 was read.  This is the prophet’s passage about the Messiah that would one day come to Israel and save it from evil attacks and raise up a new era of hope and restoration where “the government shall be upon His shoulders.”

What a minute. . . .  Did that passage say “the government?”  Referring to those same ones that can’t ever seem to figure it out in their own wisdom (my southern friends would say insert a “bless their hearts” here)?  “Shall be upon His shoulders”?  What did Isaiah mean here?  Would the coming-soon Messiah be a political leader that would finally end Israel’s political restlessness and restore it to what had been under King David, and then some?  Whoever this Messiah was to be, they were to be radically different than anything Israel, or the nations of the day—or the nations of our day—had ever seen.

There is new life in these words.  Words of hope.  Of longing.  Of a desire for settledness within.  Of a conviction that the desire for wholeness that each of us hold so dear was to be brought to Israel by that long-awaited Messiah.

I find as well that these words of Isaiah are also words of caution—caution about not looking to my fellow man to fix the issues of the day.  For Isaiah, the words were a call to a recently liberated people to not look to their surroundings for their long-term hope.  For us some millennia later, the message is the same.  One’s fellow man cannot provide any sense of security for the long-haul.  Rather, that security can only come from the One for Whom this Advent is all about.

And this is what is so amazing about Advent, about that first Coming of the Messiah.  For that long-term security and hope is found in that helpless Babe born in a manger.  So profound and paradoxical of a birth—the hopes and fears of all the years were met in Him that one night, says the Christmas carol.  Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the “Light of the World” and it is in Him whom we can find a hope that doesn’t go away.  May each of us seek Him in this season.

Look, Dad! The plane! The plane!

The year was 1978. The location was a mysterious island in the Pacific where visitors came to live out all sorts of fantasies at a sort of hotel. The proprietor of this hotel was a Mr. Roarke, whose assistant, Tattoo, would shout, “The plane! The plane!” upon the arrival of these guests by air. And it was here that the episode began. Visitors began to live out things they had only dreamed of—reconnecting with lost friendships, finding large hidden treasures, discovering new parts of themselves they had never realized, and the like.

Fast forward twenty-two years. The year was 2000 and I was in southern California studying at a private Christian university. My summer plans involved a mission trip to Romania and our team of eleven needed our last bit to purchase plane tickets, yet another chunk to cover our costs in-country. As a college student, I’d seen God’s provision before—tuition payments were a regular opportunity for Him to show that He was truly the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills. But this trip was important (didn’t He know that?) and an airfare purchase to Europe for roughly a dozen of us was a bit larger of a purchase than this kid had seen, or made, before. Our travel agent had found us a great deal, lower than we had budgeted for, on KLM, that wonderful Dutch airline with its Smurf-blue planes. Tickets were purchased. Sure enough, that daily Smurf-blue flight was easily spotted from the skies of my school, which happened to be right under the LAX landing path. As we prepared for our trip, the appearance of KLM Flight 601 into Los Angeles was a regular reminder of God’s provision, the fact that I was under His care and that worry was not needed as I lived in His plan.

Fast forward to 2012. This week actually. Living in the same area still, that Smurf-blue flight still makes itself known on a daily basis. And I happen to see it just when I need it most—at a time when I begin to once more doubt God’s goodness, His presence in my life, His protection over me and my family. Then, out of the blue (pun unintended), there it comes. And it’s a reminder just the same as it was before—that God is present, that He is with me, and that He is calling me to things I’ve never dreamed of. For many of the last few years, the appearance of that flight comes just when it’s needed. So, as I wondered this week about what lay ahead for my family as we approach the holidays, property tax bills, a fiscal cliff and the like, I hear my baby girl say to me, “A plane!” as we’re by the window. Could it be? Sure enough, I look up and it’s my Smurf-blue reminder of the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God, from His care for His children and from the knowledge that I am His.

Now, the fun begins in translating this to my little one, of God’s provision for us, and how He reminds us of it in the most inconspicuous of ways.