Sweet Life

sweet life

I love honey.  My “pantry” (which also happens to be a medicine cabinet) may lack a lot of seemingly essential items, but it never lacks honey.  After all, what kind of self-respecting-hot-tea-drinker would neglect her honey supply?

There’s just something about this sticky substance that makes any item it’s paired with that much sweeter.  Sometimes sugar just doesn’t do the trick.

But even this honey lover wouldn’t deny that honey can sometimes be a pain.  If I forget the end goal of extra yummy tea, bread, etc., I can easily get caught up in its stickiness.  On days I’m running late or tired, it just doesn’t seem worth it to have to clean my sticky spoon or cup.  The sacrifice seems too big (especially when I leave my sticky to-go cup in the sink for a few days).  I get too caught up in the cost, not the reward.

Life is sweet too, isn’t it?

Yet, I just as easily get caught up in the cost, not the reward there too.  Like work, parenthood, or any other sometimes daunting task, school does a great job helping me get caught up in the cost.  When I look at my bank statement, paychecks, syllabi, or planner, I can pretty easily get stuck in the stickiness.  It doesn’t quite seem worth the tasty reward at the end.  In fact, I can’t even see the tasty reward because I’m too focused on cleaning up the messy dishes I have to tackle.  It’s not until I zoom-out that I can see how sweet life really is.  Then, and only then, can I taste the honey.

Bad Soil

bad soil

I love fruit and vegetables.  Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza, cake, chips, and just about any kind of junk food imaginable.  (I’d be ashamed to share some of the creative junk food I’ve come up with while in seminary, but most involve an obscene amount of butter, sugar, or salt.) But I really do love fruit and vegetables too.

In fact, one of my favorite lunches recently has been vegetables, hummus, and fruit.

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While my classmates make fun of me when I eat this (much like my co-workers used to when I ate an entire zucchini for lunch), I just love the fresh taste of this meal.

Fruit has also become a routine gift I receive.   Pineapples are my absolute favorite fruit, and one of my neighbors regularly surprises me with one in front of my door.  My boss also has a satsuma tree in his backyard, and has taken to leaving fresh-picked satsumas on my desk each morning.

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I never get tired of these gifts because there’s just something about fruit that elates me.  As adults, my grandmother still prepares for my sister and me by stocking her fridge with fruit, knowing that nothing will go to waste while we’re there.

Unfortunately, fresh produce is kind of high maintenance.  Some items (like pineapple) requires quite a bit of prep.  Others (like bananas) go bad quickly.  All of it has specific season when it’s ripe.  It can also be expensive (or at least more expensive than a lot of the junk food I also enjoy).  Growing fruit and vegetables is also a pain.  I’m no gardener, but I know there’s a lot of work in this kind of endeavor.  Everything has to be just right to yield any sort of reward.

My grandparents used to grow different kinds of produce.  My dad often tells me about my grandfather trucking in piles of manure to help the soil for their garden.  At the time, they had a young black lab.  This dog loved the manure.  He regularly rolled in it and came back to the house covered in it.  Despite this tremendous hassle, my grandfather continued to truck in the manure.  He knew good soil was the key to good fruit and vegetables.

Jesus also talked a lot about soil.

The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a familiar one.  In this nine-verse passage, Jesus presents a powerful representation of us hearing the word of the kingdom.  His explanation later in the chapter shows that the path (v. 4) represents a person that hears and doesn’t understand the word of the kingdom (v. 19).  The rocky ground (v. 5-6) represents the person that hears the word joyfully, but renounces it when persecution and trouble times come because of the word (v. 21).  The last type of bad soil Jesus explains is the thorny soil (v. 7), which represents “the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and proves unfruitful” (v. 22, ESV).

The thorny soil is the one that truly stabs me in the gut each time I read it.  I am so often unfruitful because the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches (which I think could also include success, selfish ambition, and just overall worldly desires) choke the word of the kingdom.  Somehow, I let these things squelch God’s truth in my heart.  In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan astutely cautioned his readers, “Do not assume you are good soil,” remarking that he thinks “most American churchgoers are the soil that chokes the seed because of all the thorns.”  This assertion is bold, but reeks of truth.  How can we possibly expect to be good soil when we are consumed by the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches? When we have to use the margins of our planners just to squeeze in another appointment, activity, or job…convinced that if we don’t do more, our worst fears may come true (whatever those may be).  Not only does this counter the gospel of grace, it robs us of the joy of the harvest.  Being in the context of salvation, this parable is a harsh awakening to any American reader professing Christ.

Of course, let’s not forget the good soil (v. 8).  Though grossly outnumbered, this soil represents “the one who hears the word and understands it.  He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (v. 23).  This good soil includes a sacrifice and endurance.  It has withstood the test of time.  It resembles the thorn in Paul’s side or the crown of thorns more than thorny soil of which I can too often relate.

Exposed

Exposed

Though somewhat of a lost art, film fascinates me.  I’ve never developed film or even watched someone develop it, but the whole process is intriguing.  Like most people, the first time I saw a glimpse of this process was with a Polaroid camera as a child.  I remember shaking the photo until familiar figures started to emerge.  My sister and I were always excited to see what our faces looked like or if our eyes were open.

The way film develops is what makes it interesting.  It’s the gradual exposure to light that allows the photo to actually mean something.  This exposure is so essential to a photo that it is one of the minimal requirements to any digital editing program—be it on a computer or an app.  A photo is useless if we can’t see what’s in it.

The word “exposed” carries a very negative connotation in our society today.  It could just be my weird counseling mind, but I immediately think of exhibitionism.  Even a more mild association of exposure is synonymous with vulnerability.  The likelihood of jeopardizing one’s safety is huge.  No one wants to be exposed.

God is all about light.  He’s called “the light of the world” for a reason (John 8:12).  He’s the One that can always see the truth behind the film.  His truth is consistent and unyielding.  He knows how the whole picture is going to develop, and He’s the One that exposes it to the light.

God is in the business of exposure.

Hebrews 4:13 says, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (ESV).  Living in a fallen world, the thought of being naked and exposed to a holy God is terrifying.  Like film, “when anything is exposed to the light, it becomes visible” (Ephesians 5:13 ESV).  That means everything becomes visible to the holy eyes of the King of the Universe.

…but what eyes to see that nakedness, that exposure.

Our Holy God thus looks on us with eyes of compassion, eyes of mercy.  Eyes that we cannot even imagine.  True, we all carry sins we’re ashamed of, that we don’t want Him to see.  In that sense, I suppose this exposure is bad news.  But we who have accepted His gift of salvation have been covered by the One capable of fully covering our shame.

Psalm 3:3 says it better than I ever could, “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (ESV).

God not only covers our shame, protecting us like a shield, He lifts our heads.  He restores our glory.  He does not leave us naked an exposed like the world.  He exposes us like film, creating beauty from our darkness.

The Proof

the proof

Working for a professor this semester has been enlightening.  I’m convinced I work for the nicest professor imaginable, but one of the tasks he gives can be grueling: proofing dissertations.

Thankfully, I do not proof the entire dissertation, just the table of contents, footnotes, and bibliography.  Trust me, that’s enough.

The cover page reveals a lot about how bad the task is going to be.  I usually know before I begin how many minuscule mistakes I’ll have to circle or correct.  It is always tedious to check each detail, but it is much worse when there are many mistakes.  Page numbers, the Achilles tendon of dissertation-writing, quickly snowball after one correction.

Handing in this proof is such an odd phenomenon: students experience relief and professors burden.  It is a daunting assignment on both ends.

It reminds me of confession and asking for prayer.  One of my greatest struggles with both of these aspects of accountability is the fact that it burdens the person on the receiving end.  True, good boundaries expect the receiver to be able protect themselves from being too burdened, giving those burdens to God.  But regardless the receiver still feels some of the giver’s pain, be it the weight of sin or the  weight of need.

That’s hard for me to wrap my mind around.  Why hurt someone for my own benefit? Doesn’t that counter the call of Christ? But my pastor recently explained that the Lord shows us grace by giving and receiving.  It is easy for me to understand how God shows grace to me when I receive something like a gift: it is often difficult to accept, it represents Christ’s gift to us, it meets a need, etc.  It is also easy for me to understand how God shows grace to me when I give something: it is only by God’s grace that I have something to give.  Even when I’m giving a burden, not a gift, I can see God teaching me about humility and how He provides.  But how does God show His grace to the person receiving someone else’s burden?

That one stumped me.

I still don’t think I quite get it.  The more I thought about it, the more it encouraged me though.  God’s always working in the lives of both parties.  He doesn’t neglect one for the sake of the other.  He doesn’t have favorites.  He’s big enough to care for both.  Somehow He works for the one casting and the one caring.