A Dwelling Place for Eternal Beings: Learning About Contentment in a Season of Searching

They say moving is one of the most stressful life events you can experience. I always thought that was because of the effort of physically dragging all your belongings from one place to another, and then finding yourself in a place where you may not have the same social circle you are used to and feel out of place and disorganized. Having actually moved several times since then,, though, I personally think the hardest thing about moving is all the stuff that happens before you actually start packing, that is, the house hunt. 

We’ve been on the house hunt for half a year now. I’ve found it incredibly challenging for a couple of reasons. I suppose there are the obvious difficulties, of identifying houses that fit your criteria, establishing that they are available and within your budget, visiting them, and potentially making an offer, but then there is the emotional element.

Every house we visit that seems viable, I start imagining. I envision our baby growing up there. I think about the things we might change, the furniture or decorations we might use, what we might do with the garden or shed, the opportunities we might have there to be a blessing to our church family or neighbors through hospitality. With each house, a new set of dreams is born, and each time we have to move on from that house, for one reason or another, those dreams have to die. 

As those dreams come and go, I find that I struggle more and more with contentment in our current situation. I visit a house and see that we could have a kitchen table, a bathtub, a garden, a sitting room big enough to have company, room for our daughter to crawl and toddle safely, storage (blessed, blessed storage space), etc, and naturally I am reminded that we don’t have those things right now, and it could be a while until we do. The emotions rise then, frustration, fear, doubt, and I have to reevaluate. What is really important here? Is it the convenience of a kitchen table, or the luxury of a bathtub, or is it something else? 

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Phil 4:11-12).

My husband works weekdays from our sitting room, which means my dog, my daughter, and I spend our days in our bedroom and postage stamp kitchen. Baby plays with her toys on the bed, or, if I have cooking or cleaning to do, she sits in her bouncer or plays on her mat (which covers pretty much our entire kitchen floor hahaha), and I scoot awkwardly around her to do my chores. It’s times like these that I think, man, it would be great to not have to trip over my baby in order to do my laundry.”

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16, ESV)

It was in one of these moments that the Lord stopped me in my tracks. I listened to my baby cooing as I stepped carefully around her on her mat, and was tempted as usual to dwell resentfully on the lack of space, but instead all I could think about was her. Suddenly I saw her, not just as my sweet little baby, but as an eternal soul. Her days were already laid out for her by the all-powerful God that made her, days that I was living with her even now. God planned that she should be playing on her mat in our tiny old apartment, and that I should be singing to her while I shuffled around her to do dishes and fold clothes. God planned that I should be her mother, and my husband her father, and my dog her canine pal. God planned that we should raise her up to know and love him, to teach her his ways, and God willing to prepare her for an eternity spent worshipping him in glorious daily activity in the new Heaven and new Earth. 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

Joy filled my heart at that thought. I didn’t have to have a kitchen table to teach my little girl about Jesus, or to model his love to her every day. I didn’t need a bath tub to tell her what it means to be a sinner in need of forgiveness, or to share the Good News that Jesus took the wrath that we deserved and that we may have everlasting life in him.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)

When I think about our apartment in the context of worldly standards, it is just a drafty, old matchbox, but when viewed in the context of eternity, it becomes a sanctum of holy joys, a place where God can be served and praised and delighted in, a place that may not be suited to comfortable dining, or entertaining any number of guests, but that is perfectly suited to entertaining the Holy Spirit, and all the work he has for us here and now as he intended from eternity past. I still look forward to moving, and I think we will still struggle from time to time with contentment regarding our housing, but I pray that every time my thoughts stray toward dissatisfaction, God would remind me once again of the incredible blessing it is to have his sovereign hand at work in our lives. Now is not a wasted season spent searching for a home while we are trapped in a cold and inconvenient living space. Now is a season that God has planned to prepare myself, my husband, and my baby for an eternity spent in the house of our Father. There is no house hunt more important than the one that ends there.

A Sinner Lies Beside Me

I have written about forgiveness before on this blog. It’s one of those things we always want for ourselves, but not something we find easy to extend to others. This is true in even the most superficial relationships, but perhaps particularly true in our most intimate ones. Around this time last year, my husband and I were working through a conflict. We knew that we had promised to love one another, and even in absence of such a promise, we had a Christian calling to forgive others, no matter how difficult it was to do. I wrote this as I was reflecting on that calling, and praying for the Holy Spirit to soften my heart and make me gracious beyond my own ability. I wanted to share it here in case one of you is struggling to extend grace to someone in your life.. Perhaps someone has wronged you, and perhaps very gravely. You do not have to pretend that the person’s actions were justified in order to release them of any debt to you. Instead, trust in Christ, who extended you forgiveness in dying for your sins, who can empower you to love when you have no love, and who has an answer for every injustice ever done, either through His saving work on the cross, or in the work of judgement at the end of the age.

A Sinner Lies Beside Me 

A sinner lies beside me. A sinner in my womb, 

A sinner at the grocery. A sinner in the waiting room.

A sinner on the TV talking, a sinner in the uniform,

A sinner with the law book, writing, a sinner dead, a sinner born.

A sinner in the jail cell, a sinner in the court,

A sinner who is laughing, and a sinner who mourns.

A sinner in the window, a sinner on the street,

A sinner every man, woman, child that I meet.

A sinner lies beside me, a sinner in my womb,

A sinner in the mirror, He bled for me and you.

While I was yet a sinner, 

He humbled himself to die,

To save the souls of rebels, 

And them to justify.

And will I now forget it,

The grace I have received?

Deny to give it freely to,

A sinner just like me?

I must extend as he did,

The crimson love he poured,

To rescue me from trouble,

That I might be restored.

A sinner is beside me,

And to him must be given,

The blessing of forgiveness,

For I have been forgiven.

Today, all well and good. Tomorrow? Next week? Five years? Ten? Sixty? Only by God’s grace, and oh Lord, that you would grip my soul so powerfully with your gracious hand, that I might never be released from its holy power. Forgiveness is in and through your spirit. Seventy times seven, you said. Oh let it be so in my life.

Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 2

This is the continuation of Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 1. For full context, I recommend giving that a read first.

My husband and I on our wedding day with black lab Prim. I am wearing a fifties style white, cap-sleeve dress with sweetheart neckline and puffy skirt. My husband is in his navy suit. Prim is wearing a burlap vest trimmed with blue ribbon, strings of pearls, and pink flowers.

I know we weren’t the only 2020 couple that got our wedding plans totally derailed by Covid restrictions. Fortunately, our August date fell at a time when we were allowed to have 20 some people in person at the ceremony. We had to let go of our hotel wedding with over a hundred guests, including all of my family and friends from America. I wouldn’t be able to wear my grandmother and mother’s wedding dress, as I had hoped. My mom wouldn’t be there to help me get ready. My brothers would not be groomsmen. My best friends from the States wouldn’t be standing with me. My Dad wouldn’t be walking me down the aisle, and the toasts and dancing I had imagined for our reception wouldn’t happen either.

But praise God we could still get married! I ordered my 27 euro white dress on Amazon. I set to making wedding vests for our flower girl and ring bearer, that is, Prim and my nephew puppy. Several of my sweet friends from church helped me put together decorations and set up the church hall for ceremony and reception. My dear friend’s mother-in-law gathered beautiful arrangements of wild flowers and greenery for the tables and window sills. Our family gifted us the money for our reception meal, and friends offered us white table cloths and silverware to dress up the dinner. 

Here again was the good and the hard. I didn’t forget everyone and everything I was missing that day. My heart ached for the presence of my loved ones far away, and for the traditions we wouldn’t get to take part in because of the lockdowns. All of that is true, and yet also true was the anticipation I felt as I waited, dressed and ready in my friend’s car, with my flowers and Grandmother’s Bible clutched in my arms. Prim was excited too, sweet in her burlap vest covered in pink hyacinths and pearls. I was breathless as my maid of honor helped me into the church and hovered with me at the door of the sanctuary. My stomach lurched at hearing the harp begin to play. It was almost time!

“Are you nervous?” my friend asked in a whisper.

“I’m so excited!” I whispered back, feeling like I might actually choke with the thrill of it all.

It took seconds for my friend and I to walk down the aisle, and then I was beside him, and all there was was joy. His hand found mine, and I held on. We smiled and laughed and sang our way through the ceremony, and walked out into the August sunshine, officially husband and wife.

God seems to have made the human heart with the capacity to enjoy blessing and endure trial at the same time, to live through hard things, and know that they can still be good, or at least, that good still exists because the God of goodness remains. I don’t understand how our wedding day could be as blessed and sweet as it was with all the hard that was attached to it, but by God’s grace it was, and I smile every time I think of the day I became my husband’s bride. 

God makes the same commitment to his church as my love and I made to one another on that August afternoon. 

“I take thee”, Jesus says to his bride, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”, though our Lord, in his sovereign kindness need not finish, “until death do us part”. Instead, he can truly say, “And death shall never part us.” because of what Christ did at Calvary.

As my friend pointed out, the Gospel is our greatest example of the good and the simultaneous hard. Jesus, though blameless, lived a life of difficulty, “A man of sorrows acquainted with grief”. Though innocent, he died the death of the worst criminal, and suffered the wrath of his father. And yet, he rose again on the third day, and it is because of all of these things that the Christian can be declared righteous before God. The “Good News” of the Gospel is wrapped up in the most difficult experience a human has ever endured. While there may be times where blessing and trial come in tandem, as it did on our wedding day, it is ultimately this good news that gives us hope even when it seems blessing is altogether absent, so that even then we can say, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Thankful for Imperfect Art

Art is an earthly representation of the creative power of God, dim and weak in comparison, but undoubtedly so.  We are made in his image, and being made in his image we display, like him, the ability to create and to breath life into our creations.  As an artist, I often find that my creations die too early, or, at least, do not reach full maturity because I forsake them, citing their imperfections as my excuse.

And then it struck me.  What if God had done that with his imperfect art?

All things were good when he made them—perfectly good—but they did not stay that way.  God gave his creatures a will, a will which could choose to follow him or turn from him.  In turning from him, we turned from perfection, and thus into imperfection.

Still, God did not do as I would have done.  He did not forsake his art.  Rather, he pursued it, even became a part of it when he saw fit to take the form of a babe, born amongst peasants, suffer the lowly, hungry life of a working man, and was denied and crucified by the very imperfect creations he had come to pursue and perfect.

How many songs have I left unsung?  How many stories and poems and articles have I left undeveloped and unfinished due to my petty frustration over their iniquities?  Undoubtedly hundreds, but I am thankful that God shows me a different way.  Even now I am tempted to leave this bit of writing undone.  I am tempted to quit the document and never look back at it, too unsatisfied with this sentence, or that word, or the whole concept in general… but I, too, am an imperfect creation, and my creator did not abandon me to non-existence due to my defects.  As an artist, I have a responsibility to my art to develop it, to give it at least a chance at life, even considering its deficiencies.

Thus, as an expression of my thanks in this regard, I hope to be a more responsible creator in the coming year.  In my quest to become more like Jesus, I hope that I will pursue my art, like he did, and gift it existence even when I feel it doesn’t deserve it. Here begins my fight against perfectionism, which has long been the, often victorious, enemy of my work.  It will be a long-fought battle, of that I am certain, but if it was worth it to God, it is worth it to me.