Saturday, February 25, 2012

On this rock

I was standing at a precipice.

It was 12:45 a.m. The hour of morbid introspection. I was worn out and numb from the day. Sleep was not yet near. A little nudge and I would have fallen into the cave of self-remorse. That dark place where I hear words of condemnation: "useless!" and "failure!" and "utter foolishness!"

By the grace and mercy of God, a dead man's words rescued me. His words held me captive, a strong grip. He gave me sight to see Christ, my Lord. I was a swimmer drowning , a runner fainting. Yet, before me, I saw an Olympian finishing the race with long, firm strides.

I am standing at the precipice. But the point is that
I am still standing --
on the Rock of Ages.

From Imitating the Incarnation, a sermon by B.B. Warfield (1851-1921).
It is not to this that Christ’s example calls us.

He did not cultivate self, even His divine self: He took no account of self.

He was not led by His divine impulse out of the world, driven back into the recesses of His own soul to brood morbidly over His own needs, until to gain His own seemed worth all sacrifice to Him.

He was led by His love for others into the world, to forget Himself in the needs of others, to sacrifice self once for all upon the altar of sympathy.

Self-sacrifice brought Christ into the world. And self-sacrifice will lead us, His followers, not away from but into the midst of men.

Wherever men suffer, there will we be to comfort.

Wherever men strive, there will we be to help.

Wherever men fail, there will be we to uplift. Wherever men succeed, there will we be to rejoice.

Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them.

It means forgetfulness of self in others.

It means entering into every man’s hopes and fears, longings and despairs: it means manysidedness of spirit, multiform activity, multiplicity of sympathies.

It means richness of development.

It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives,—binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours.

It means that all the experiences of men shall smite our souls and shall beat and batter these stubborn hearts of ours into fitness for their heavenly home.

It is, after all, then, the path to the highest possible development, by which alone we can be made truly men. Not that we shall undertake it with this end in view. This were to dry up its springs at their source. We cannot be self-consciously self-forgetful, selfishly unselfish.

Only, when we humbly walk this path, seeking truly in it not our own things but those of others, we shall find the promise true, that he who loses his life shall find it.

Only, when, like Christ, and in loving obedience to His call and example, we take no account of ourselves, but freely give ourselves to others, we shall find, each in his measure, the saying true of himself also: “Wherefore also God hath highly exalted him.”

The path of self-sacrifice is the path to glory.

Monday, February 20, 2012

grace for the delusional

I always have something to prove. It is a disease. A bad habit. I want people to think certain things about me, as though I can control their thoughts. It is a wearisome thing.

Even now, as I am typing, my words and intentions are infected by a need to prove something to you, dear reader. The picture you see at the top? That is what I want you to think of our family. It's not how we behave, not always. But it is what I want you to believe about us.

Last week, I was all stressed out. Some friends and their children were coming for dinner. There was so much to do, but the boys simply would not take their afternoon nap. For four hours, four hours, they were crying and laughing and bouncing in their cribs. But not sleeping. They can be horrid and fussy without their naps. And certainly, we would not want the guests to think I am a horrid mother.

In naps I trust.

Even to my husband, who entrusted himself to me, I still manage to find something I need to prove. Hans took me aside and reminded me that everything need not be perfect. I know, said I, but I want everything to be perfect. And perfection meant that everything must follow my wishes. Doesn't he know that people's eternal happiness depended on this dinner?

I was delusional, of course. And I didn't really think these things were true, but I behaved as though they were.

At 4:30 p.m., a dear friend, appeared at my door, bearing words of comfort and a large bowl of dark chocolate mousse. She knew that the boys were sick and I had company that night, so she thought she would help by making dessert.

What grace! This friend grew up in Germany and lived in France for a time. And, let me tell you, she had a way with chocolate mousse. Not only did the words roll off her tongue in the most sublime way, spoonful after spoonful of Mousse au Chocolat sang, twirled, and exploded like fireworks in our mouths.

The family arrived around 5:30 p.m. As it turned out, what was most wonderful, most memorable, about that evening had little to do my day's labor. I was conversing mostly with the wife, and Hans with the husband. At one point of our conversation, I realized that God had been preparing me for this conversation with this friend not in one afternoon, but over the span of years.

The circumstances of our lives flickered before my mind's eyes. Details and hassles that I had accepted as the way things were. Their purpose suddenly became clear. My effort and preparation was nothing in comparison to the weight of God's hand, molding me and breaking me, in order that I may learn to understand this woman, my new friend. In order that I may learn to care for her in a deeper, more meaningful way.

I have nothing; thus, nothing to prove.
But this.
For sinners, Lord, Thou cam’st to bleed,
And I’m a sinner vile, indeed.
Lord, I believe Thy grace is free.
O magnify that grace in me.
Joseph Hart, ca. 1757-1759
(free mp3 here)

The boys survived the night with no meltdown. They appeared to have enjoyed playing with the other children. Sick and napless, though they were. Lest their mother thinks she had anything to with their happiness.

Monday, February 13, 2012

On common, marvelous things

In our house, a house where there are two seminary students, Bibles are as common as bananas.

Years ago, I watched a video of Christians gathering in a rural village in China. Due to the persecution and the ban, they had no Bible. On that particular Sunday, some traveling evangelists were visiting and they had with them a copy of the Bible.

The little red book was passed from person to person in the gathering. People wept at the sight of it. Some cradled it next to their hearts. Some placed it against their cheeks, the way I placed my cheek against my child's right before I tucked him in last night.

God's Word was marvelous in their eyes.

Growing up in Malaysia, bananas (tiny pisang emas) grew beside the ditch in our backyard. Here in the US, bananas are in stores all year long. Completely taken for granted, like clean water. That is until two years ago when I introduced solid food to Emeth. I learned to appreciate this creamy, fragrant, soft (helpful for little people) and seedless (time-saving) fruit. Not to mention cheap (always a plus), versatile, and common.

Last week, inspired by my childhood friend Serene, we brought the humble fruit to another level: Banana ice-cream. Without the cream. And no added sugar. Just banana.

We had it three times a day, three days in a row. Craziness. And to think that in ages past, bananas sat there contently -- in the Garden of Eden, in the jungles, beside the ditch behind our old house. Completely delicious just as it is, but spectacular when frozen and blended.

Common things can be marvelous.

Creamy ice-banana
A most encouraging tip I learned about cooking was this: Yumminess is 50% technique, 30% recipe, and 20% ingredient. Or something like that. The point is that the right technique can do wonders to ordinary ingredients.

I did add two tablespoons of vanilla yogurt and a dash of milk to hasten the process (because little people are hungry in the mornings). But they are not necessary. We like it both ways. At first, its consistency will be like soft-serve ice-cream. After a few hours in the freezer, it will firm up.

Peel and slice four bananas.

Freeze over-night, or until frozen.

Blend, scrape, blend, scrape, blend.

Watch and wait.




Monday, February 6, 2012

on love and knitted souls

...the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David,
and Jonathan loved him as his own soul... (1 Samuel 18:1)

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell together. (Psalm 133:1)

By this we know love,
that he laid down his life for us,
and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
(1 John 3:16)