“Amazing Grace!”

To you, it is an ordinary Rubix Cube. To me, it is spiritually and emotionally heart-warming. When your enterprising sister and father set about to transform the visual concept into a tactile one, the results are spectacular. You’ll note, my beloved reader, that the designers of the Rubix Cube forbid altering the pattern for commercial purposes–but I wouldn’t sell this treasure for all the world. Not with crosses affixed to one side, three buttons representing the Trinity decorating each block of another side, and red glass hearts representing the love of Jesus adorning a third. Not with durable, steadfast leather on a fourth side, mosaic tiles on a fifth, and round orange pieces on the final side–with each round piece feeling remarkably like a gentle rain if you place it against your cheek. No, I’m not soon selling this masterpiece. Not when I can spend hours beholding crosses, enjoying a gentle rain, and contemplating steadfast love and grace.

The old tape player we own may not have an automatic shut-off, and the recording quality may be scratchy when compared with my digital voice recorder, but the cassette inside is one of those treasures that merits being absorbed during those late-night devotional sessions between yourself and the Lord. First, there’s a rendering of the Red Letters in the Gospel of Mark. That’s read by Naomi, my precious sister in Christ and a beloved friend, prayer warrior, and Bible-study partner. Then, she and Jedediah intertwine their voices and individual reading styles on a collaborative effort involving the entire book of Romans. All the while, there are those comforting home noises in the background–the humming of appliances, the sound of a kitchen chair on the tile floor, all the pleasant murmurings of our well-run Bethesda (Aramaic–“House of Mercy”) that I will look back on with such fondness come 2023. Yes, I will save the recording that long–if the tape player breaks, I will have Audacity and iTunes to fall back on, for this recording is too precious not to be placed on my iPod. Album: “Free from the Law”. Playlists: “Spiritual Nourishment” and “Scripture Recordings”. Composer: “Family”.

To you, an iTunes card is a mere slinky in the scope of life–a slinky for those over the age of eight, but a fun plaything nevertheless. With it, you will probably buy a best-selling book for your new iPad, a movie, and a little popular music. Ah, but to me– The possibilities are endless! Not until 2010 did I realize that Integrity Hosanna!, Maranatha!, and Vineyard Music had released most of their albums from 1970-1997 for sale on iTunes. Then, of course, there are the independently-produced British, Dutch, German, Spanish, Afrikaans, Korean, Swahili, French, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese albums–all filled with the same anointing inherent in Don Moen’s music, only edifying in so many more ways because they represent the unity of the Body of Christ. And, from time to time, there are the children’s recordings that tend to slip under the Dignity RADAR, for how can one possibly resist a devoted chorus of seven-year-olds singing “His Name Is Jesus”? Then, of course, there’s always the instrumental music to be considered, the Messianic music to be thought over, the obscure pieces by some little church of two hundred–but how glorious is the music they produce! No movies, no books–audio, electronic, or otherwise–just note after dancing, kneeling, or praying note on harp, lyre, flute, and voice.

Frankly, I have never been terribly fond of dramatized audio books, or those set to music. Music, you see, provides narrative interpretation and is not as intellectually-challenging for the listener. “Here comes an exciting part!!!!!!!!!!!” it proclaims in crashing disharmony. “Get excited!!!!!!!!!” See how irritating that can be? No self-respecting exclamation mark should be placed next to another, but that’s what somehow manages to happen with most dramatized or musically-accompanied audiobooks. Including the Bible–but that’s another rant. The shining exception to this standard is Gloria Gaither’s memoir, SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL. Very, very few people can do what she does with any degree of success–certainly not splendour. In print, the book provides lyrics and stories behind seventy-four of Bill and Gloria Gaither’s best-loved songs including “Because He Lives” and “Family of God”. The seven-CD audio rendering, narrated by the author, takes this to even greater heights. Each song-writing account is sandwiched between recordings of the song’s chorus, and sometimes a verse as well. Piano interludes dot the landscape as Gloria reads, and in a few touching episodes I can hear tears in her voice, a little gentle interference as some part of her book or perhaps a finger travels too close to the recording equipment, the rustling of paper as she turns a page… Keep your professionalism and polish–this is absolutely one of the best recordings I have ever encountered. Move over, Oasis Audio!

The inward symbol and the outward symbol–you really can’t have one without the other. The outward symbol is a necklace with a cross inside a dove. The message is clear: Spirit-filled Christian! The cross I had worn for eight years has now been relegated to my jewelry box, there to wait until I can find an appropriate recipient. That’s the outward symbol. The inward symbol is a large glass bottle of Intuition perfume. Perhaps you know of it–a container with a teardrop engraved on it, representing the awe at being in God’s presence. The floral fragrance inside, reminiscent of both lightsome joy and intensive peace. Or is this just me? All I know is that, on 17 August 2002, Naomi and Hannah went shopping and returned with this perfume, ostensibly for Naomi. While they were gone, I was immersed in worship music and prayer. This was the day, the very hour, when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Every one of my loved-ones–and, for that matter, anyone else who will listen!–is acquainted with this association. So, when Naomi bestowed this perfume on me, she was making a crystal-clear statement about my life in the Lord and my love for the Holy Spirit especially. Yes, the inward and outward symbols are inextricably linked.

Four motifs take up residence in my writing space–two sets of chimes, whose music dances through my heart and always manages to put me in mind of Acts, somehow; the vaporizer, which serves both to warm this chilly room and to provide the same comfort found in a cup of peppermint tea; the silence itself, which blots out all vestiges of television, computer games, and other facets of family life; and the quiet ticking of a brand-new clock. A ticking clock has always been lovely, but this one is especially so. No ordinary timepiece plays “Amazing Grace” at the top of each hour. The instrument, which surely does not exist outside of this clock, combines the clarity of so many church bells with an ornate piano. If placed in a large environment–a long living room, for example–the hymn is quiet and soothing; if taken to a small bedroom or a crowded space, the hymn echoes and bounces off the furniture, resounding as a loud and celebratory anthem. The clock has its fragilities–a stand too small to support it properly, springs that don’t hold the batteries with the firmness expected of flawless manufacturing–but then again, so do I. The clock’s delicacy does not prevent its primary purpose in life, which is more to play that one magnificent hymn than even to keep time. Neither should my oft-fragile state prohibit me from singing–“Amazing Grace”, “Arise, My Soul, Arise”, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”, or “Sunshine in My Soul”. For, you see, my primary purpose is also in hymnody–or, more directly, in all forms of worship. The clock and I share another similarity–both of us can only be used for our intended purposes when exposed to light. The clock actually has a light sensor to prohibit the singing of songs to a sleepy heart–or a heavy body, or both! (See Proverbs 25:20 for the extent of the literary, but fully reverent, flair.) I, too, unless exposed to the Light of the World (see John 8:12), will not, cannot, sing or write or do anything else to serve my King. Yes, I must walk in the light, as He is in the light, and continually abide in Him. So much to read into a clock–but so very appropriate!

From January, 2012-June, 2012, I kept a sort of scattered Braille journal. While sitting in waiting rooms or getting ready to doze off for the evening, I often took out a slate and stylus (portable devices for producing Braille) and jotted down the day’s spiritual joys on index cards. At the end of the month, I would return to the cards and review the fruit that the Lord was gradually producing on this, His tree. For a variety of complex reasons, I ceased this practice following my sojourn at guide-dog school. Now, though, I am strong enough spiritually to begin again. But where to put the cards? What to do with the stacks of cards, wrapped with rubber bands and ordered chronologically? The solution lies in a metal box with an intricate little latch on the front. There’s something special about that box–it bespeaks glory rather than business, majesty far more than cooking or filing or any other concern. Really, it’s not that elaborate, but it still seems suited to only one purpose. At the moment, it waits on the bureau, filled with promise and potentiality–ready to be filled with all His promises, all His blessings and all those reminders of His provision, restoration, and healing. Naomi knew this, too. Just as Intuition perfume was an unspoken discussion of the Holy Spirit, Naomi’s unvoiced words to me upon presenting me with this box were, “Praise the Lord for restoring you–rest in His promises.” My silent reply: “Yes and amen.”

In a previous post, I remarked that the fragrance of new furniture in general and of my new velvet chair-and-a-half in particular was reminiscent of the worship chorus, “Father, I Adore You”. Well, now I have pillows whose fragrance matches precisely. They’re large, over-stuffed, suede-covered entities that effectively reduce my chair-and-a-half to three-fourths of a chair–the better to envelop the occupant. So, I guess the chair sings the first verse of “Father, I Adore You”, and the two pillows recall to mind the two remaining verses! The one on the right is the second verse, and the one on the left is the third verse.

Complementing the chair and the pillows is an exquisite blanket. Actually, the blanket is the successor to two others, both of which were designated Purity Blankets for their white, inexpressibly-soft appearance. This one is different–larger, and thus able to wrap around more efficiently, and a rich brown rather than a pure white. It is deep and unconventional–never before had I known that such short fibres could produce such unalloyed softness. For the information of every reader who passes this way, they can! This is not the Purity Blanket, but is no less special for needing a new designation. Its comforting features, depth of shade and fabric construction, etc., render it too complex to name at the moment, but–trust me!–it will happen.

The hot beverage mug that I hate to designate only for coffee is smooth, wonderful glass–the best quality I have ever encountered. It looks like a delicious cup for all hot beverages, and it is. Some mugs aren’t, you know–the wrong type of glass, clay, or glaze. Best of all, this is the sort of cup designed to keep your drink hot. It is wrapped in a cozy of sorts, made of deep blue yarn. The cup was purchased at a local coffee shop, but the cozy appears hand-made. Everything from the yarn pattern to the button fastener is symbolic; Naomi and I have our hearts wrapped around anything to do with yarn for reasons too lengthy and too personal to ever relate on this blog. It’s a matter of philostorge, but even more deeply, of agape. Again, a wordless conversation.

Combined, all of these things had the fragrance of John 1:47 honesty, of truth and righteousness and victory in the Lord Jesus, of triumph and restoration–but especially of that John 1:47 honesty. And somehow, the objects above described–to include the Gaither audiobook–were an orchestra of healing. The fabric of comfort, the flavour of peace, the image of joy. This was Christmas, 2013. Not the materials themselves–CDs and gift cards and plush blankets cannot produce that level of joy–but when so allegorically associated, the result is truth and righteousness. Absolutely beautiful!

And now, to answer your questions. Does not Acts 20:35 state emphatically that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”? Why, then, am I describing everything lavished upon me? Because to discuss what I gave would be unrighteous. I can boast of, or honor, others all I want, though! And, why the extensive gift-giving in the first place? It wasn’t just me… Everyone’s under-the-tree experience was like that this year–probably because the Lord has brought us through so much throughout 2013 and we wanted to display to one another tangibly as well as emotionally that we were thankful for the fruit we were seeing in each other’s lives. Besides, it was a joyful thing to do. So, there you have it–the juncture between life on earth and life lived in the Lord, between fabric and media and comfort and worship.

Will I now wrap it all up, so to speak, and say, “And that was our Christmas”? Never! I haven’t yet had the pleasure of relating the best part of all–our church service and the profound impact it had on each of us. Saved for a future post, if the Lord wills.

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The Ungame, Christian Version: A Mini-Review

NOTE: Perhaps Jedediah, Naomi, Hannah, and I have all been living under individual rocks in some distant boulder field, and we are the only ones who have never heard of the Ungame. Perhaps everyone, including people who don’t identify themselves as Christians, know that a Christian edition of the Ungame exists–and perhaps, brilliant people that you are, you all know everything there is to know about even the most spiritual questions. Or perhaps not. If literally everyone knows about this game, why have I never seen it mentioned in the detail-oriented memoirs I read? Besides, this game is so helpful–so spiritually intense, even–that it merits being reviewed here. Brief Reviews as posted on this blog feature a readily-available product or service that, for whatever reason, I have found spiritually helpful. Last time, I reviewed Cibolo Mountain Coffee Drinks as an alternative to Starbucks, since Starbucks has begun supporting practices I find unbiblical. The Ungame is a bit different in that I find it edifying on its own merits.

18 December was a positive flurry of activity. Together, Hannah and I traveled from the Christian bookstore to Wal-Mart to Panera Bread in search of the prefect gifts and wrappings. Well, we didn’t exactly find those at Panera Bread, but we did manage to gift ourselves with a delicious grilled fontina sandwich and a bowl of cheese-filled tortellini… Anyway, most of the afternoon was spent in reading carefully through the Christian bookstore’s entire shelf of devotionals. I ask you, executives at mass merchandisers, where are all those beautiful books by Catherine Marshall that no Christian library should be without?

In the midst of all this browsing, Hannah pointed out to me the Ungame, a board game whose main object is to connect friends and families on a more personal level. On impulse I bought it, despite my uncertainty. First of all, this box claimed to be “The Ungame: Christian Version”. What did that mean? Usually, attempting to make something more Christian-oriented results in a gimmick rather than a genuine exercise in anything remotely related to prayer, worship, or fellowship. For another thing, we had far too many games already. Was the Ungame going to be relegated to the shelves in our storage cupboards where Monopoly and Scrabble had languished for years? And then, of course, there was that small problem of relatability. Was this game going to turn out to be too juvenile, designed for “ALL AGES” to the extent that we would be answering questions about our favorite colours and Sesame Street characters? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the game itself advertised something a bit more mentally and emotionally engaging for ages five and up, and I wasn’t sure whether it could actually deliver. Even as I brought the game to the cash register, I wondered what I was doing with such a light purchase when I could be buying, say, an expensive coffee maker for Naomi, who needed a good cup of decaffeinated Givalia far more than she needed to answer questions about her hopes and dreams.

To my relief and utter astonishment, those fears were unfounded. Naomi saw right through that wrapping, through the box and game pieces and board and cards, and right into my heart where a longing to get to know my loved-ones had carved out a jagged, gaping hole. Perhaps your family is like mine. Perhaps you need an icebreaker that goes beyond the traditional getting-to-know-you stunts for a business or youth group meeting. And perhaps those you’re serving will be like my family–expecting a light-hearted experience and ending up with a worship-filled forty-five minutes, for some of the suggested ways of connecting are that intense. For purposes of this review, I will be reviewing the Christian version of this game, but a mainstream version is also on the market.

First, why the unique title? Because the Ungame is one of bonding rather than competition. The object is simply to get around the game board for a specified length of time or number of rounds, all the while getting to know one another. No one wins or loses, per se. Unless, of course, your turn involves singing a worship song. Then, if everyone joins in, and you stay on your knees for three hours, then I suppose we can say that God used you to bring about a glorious moment. But still, no winning or losing–just a redirected experience!

The Ungame features a game board with three different types of spaces–“Ungame”, “Comment/Question”, and If…”. Players roll a dice and move the designated number of spaces. Hint: If you consistently roll primarily even numbers, you have a higher chance of landing on Ungame spaces–just the way the board was designed.

If a player lands on an Ungame space, he takes a card from one of the decks and answers the question on it in a paragraph or so. The mainstream game includes two decks of cards–a lighter, more humourous deck and a deeper deck that features questions like, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” and, “If your best friend were to write a book about you, what do you think it would be called?” and, “What is one thing that you would never do?”. The Christian version has a third deck with stirring, thought-provoking spiritual questions. I’ll return to it momentarily.

If a player lands on a comment/question space, he is invited to remark on a previous player’s answers to Ungame questions, ask a question of his own, share insights about his life with the group, or simply say whatever comes to mind. I actually took this a bit too literally when we were playing today. After several turns without having gotten an Ungame card, I exclaimed, “I’m never going to get a question–and, yes, that’s my comment!” The Christian version suggests that this might be a good time to pray for another player. Next time we play, I think I’ll expand the idea and have everyone join me in a worship song. Perhaps I’ll try to teach everyone that old Paul Wilbur favourite of mine, “In Your Presence, O God”.

Then, there are the “If…” spaces. These are a good way to express emotion in a non-threatening environment. “If you are feeling worried about something,” one space might say, “the go to Worry Wharf.” And, indeed, there is a space so marked and decorated several spaces away from that particular “If…” space. If you are feeling worried and hence place your playing piece at Worry Wharf, there are points of re-entry at your next turn. If you’re not feeling particularly worried, you stay on the “If…” space and go on with the game. At this point, you have the option of expressing what concerns you may have, or keeping them close–but it’s a lovely way to allow for periodic expression of emotion with or without elaboration.

When we began playing, we started with the deeper set of cards, the ones that come in most versions of this game. You see, the instructions for the Christian version are exactly what are included in the mainstream version, and the deck of Christian-themed cards was not listed. I discovered them accidentally, at which point we switched simply because the Christian cards were so profound and intriguing. Sample questions–and, no, I’m really not spoiling anything because there were so many: “Do you believe God still heals today?” “What does [Resurrection Day] mean to you?” “Describe three reasons why you believe in the existence of God.” “If you were asked to preach a sermon or give a message, on what topic would you speak?” “What is your favorite hymn or inspirational song, and why?”

Oh, so very, very beautiful! I talk about the things of the Lord all the time, but I never know whether anyone is listening–not really. This game compelled us all to stop and listen, even if only for an hour or so. For the first time, I learned that Naomi used to participate in prayer meetings that her youth group held in the hayloft of a barn, but that there was far more profound, intensive prayer than there was play or “ice-breaker games” or anything else. Once again, I heard Jedediah’s heart when he quoted Hebrews and described the ways in which He sensed God’s presence as a child, long before he gave his heart to the Lord. Hannah’s words were among the most touching, for she described for the first time the day when she was fully, completely immersed in His presence, surrounded by His manifest glory in such a way that she could only bow before Him. HALLELUJAH!

That hour was one of the most precious times of fellowship I have experienced within the past year-and-a-half. We prayed for each other, sang “In the Garden” under Hannah’s direction, comforted one another regarding spiritual valleys through which we had traveled, and praised His name together as each of us recounted what the Lord had done in our lives. We all needed it–perhaps more than we knew. The game I feared might be a gimmick was anything but. True, we could lighten the mood one of these days by choosing from a different set of cards, and we might–but, knowing me, I will probably still find a way to transform a simple question into a serious spiritual one. “Describe an embarrassing middle-school moment,” someone will ask, to which I will reply, “Well, there was the time when I was offered an opportunity to approach an assignment from a Biblical perspective but didn’t take it. I mean, I know that’s shame rather than embarrassment, but…” But that’s just how my mind works–for everyone else, you can make this game as serious or as light-hearted as you want.

Then, too, I can see this game being helpful in conflict resolution. How on earth? Well, I don’t know about you, but conflicts tend to involve the simultaneous raising of at least two voices in the sometimes-frustrated circles in which I move. Suppose we took out some of these cards when one of us we saw an argument on the horizon–not exclusively, since we wouldn’t want to link something as lovely and thought-provoking as the Ungame with stressful situations, but on occasion. Then, since no one is permitted to speak during each person’s turn, suppose we connected each Ungame question with the problem at hand, using the first deck for small difficulties, the more profound deck for larger but still carnal difficulties, and the Christian deck for spiritual challenges. Most of the questions on the cards are worded in such a way as to permit association with anything you want. Besides, breaking up a difficult discussion about relocating to a new city with, say, a card inquiring about your favourite quote, might make it easier to return to the problem at hand by providing a five-minute break. Then, too, when players reached comment/question spaces on the board, this would provide an opportunity for calm, constructive discussion, without any of the dual- or triple-voiced arguing that so often ensues. The Ungame would be the proverbial talking stick. Or am I simply too unconventional for my own good when it comes to using common objects for something other than their intended purposes?

In any case, I know what the Ungame provided for me and my loved-ones–the chance for positive communication, an opportunity to discuss the things of the Lord, and the privilege of demonstrating our love to one another in ways we might not have thought of ourselves as we fought our way through the current of our impossible schedules. It caused us to re-evaluate some of our own priorities, beliefs about the things of God, and reasons for thinking and feeling the way we do in everyday life. My point is not really that every household needs the Ungame–I know I’ve made it sound like that. My point is that no household should be without communication. The Ungame is a light, or at least somewhat light, starting point is you’re like we were and don’t know where to begin.

And if you already have it? Then, my beloved reader, I leave you with three questions you can write on some of the blank cards provided

Fun Question: If you had to be confined for a year in one building without ever going outdoors, but had unlimited access to food, media, family and friends, etc., in which building would you choose to live?

Serious Question: What social convention or value do you follow or embrace, but wish you didn’t?

Christian Question: Which part of the armor of God means the most to you on a consistent basis?

And, since I thoroughly enjoy communication with my readers–despite the fact that my screen-reader doesn’t allow me to show it very often–I would love to read everyone’s answers in the comments…

“Garment of Praise”

Please note: This is not at all the post I meant to write today. Actually, I was going to entitle it, “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas Tree”, write something light and fluffy for the day after Christmas, and leave it at that. However, halfway through writing this, the Lord impressed upon my heart the lessons He wanted me to take from the intertwining experiences I’m about to relate. Especially if you happen to be sorrowful or suffering at the moment, I hope you can find the same encouragement I have.

For the past few weeks, I have vacillated between joy and dread. First, strongest, and most important was the joy–joy in Jesus, joy in the restoration He was beginning in our lives, joy in His Word and His presence, joy at His ability to heal that which was broken… joy, joy, joy! There were long evenings spent overwhelmed at His absolute glory. Moments riding in the car and listening to “Sunshine in My Soul”, entirely ignoring the fact that we were all about to stop for coffee and eschewing my loved-ones’ questions about whether I would like a peppermint mocha or a hot chocolate. Evenings of watching in wonder as the Lord restored a relationship I thought had been damaged indefinitely. Yes, there was joy.

Yet, lingering somewhere in the background, there was also that sense of dread. It reared its head when I was presented with a box of ornaments that we had purchased in 2006. Since that year marked the beginning of the worst six-month spiritual valley I had ever encountered, I could not bring myself to hang those ornaments because I did not want to be reminded of that time. Likewise, I refused to attend any church whose Christmas Eve service was designed to accommodate more than five hundred people–no PowerPoint sermon outlines or percussion carols for me, not since last year’s service encompassed those elements, and last year had been trying. Oh, the Lord has so much work to do with me! And, if you can believe it, I’m actually better than I used to be…

Worst of all, though, were all those secular Christmas songs. Now, before you begin thinking that I’m simply saying that out of false piety, you must understand that my first real exposure to “White Christmas”, “Suzy Snowflake”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and “Silver Bells” came at a time so traumatic that it was a five-year struggle to put most of the heartache behind me. Somehow, my anguish at hearing those songs extended to all Christmas songs that did not directly mention the birth, life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ while delivering a five-point salvation message. Of course, some of this is hyperbolic; I do believe that “O Come, O Come, Immanuel”, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, or “O Little Town of Bethlehem” were all written before five-point sermons came into being, but the bottom line is that all Christmas songs I listened to had to include the manger, shepherds, and angel of the Lord while entirely avoiding bells, holly, and trees.

My sister, whom I shall allegorically refer to as Hannah, saw it differently. Perhaps, she had seen videos featuring some of those greenery-oriented songs; perhaps, her mind simply works differently than mine. Whatever the reason, she was quite nonplused by many of the songs I took such pains to avoid. One of her favourites was “Holly, Jolly Christmas”. Now, not only had I heard that one during a difficult time, but the singer had been a professional musician-don’t ask me his name–who sang the song with a note of such profound despair in his voice that it made you depressed just to listen to him. So, no matter how upbeat future versions were, I always imagined weeping music notes surrounding the singer. Not a holly, jolly song.

No, no, I am not penning this post as a bitter rant. I have a point in all of this. Let’s return to the joy for a moment–the all-consuming exultation in the Lord Jesus that ruled most of my days and nights throughout December. With everything within me, I wanted to truly celebrate this year, to make it sparkle with meaning. Recalling how miserable I had been last year–another spiritual difficulty, which I could have prevented had I been a little more attentive while I was training to get my guide-dog–and remembering the way I had refused to do much of anything with the tree, people’s gifts, or random Christmas decorations, I resolved to make the most of this year as a thank offering to God. I spent hours traveling to the Christian bookstore and browsing through devotionals until I had found the perfect ones, tracking down gift wrap with crosses and doves on it, knitting ribbons for certain loved-ones’ gifts, working to provide a sister in Christ with heart-stirring worship music for her under-the-tree enjoyment, assembling gift baskets, etc. It was wonderful! Together, Jedediah and I went to the crawl space and unearthed the carousel that’s been a traditional part of Christmas past since 1994, but that had been missing since 2004 because–let’s face it–no one really wants to risk fibre glass exposure in an unfinished room under the basement stairs.

And the tree! We couldn’t get a real one this year, but we did get the friendliest artificial one we could find. Three varieties of “pine” branches made of different materials, pine cones attached to the branches, a rotating stand. Unlike the scraggly, stationary, uniform tree we had been living with since 1999, this one had personality. During previous years, the person who was closest at hand and who was in possession of the greatest mental fortitude decorated the tree–or I would decorate it, if I felt that too much time had elapsed without so much as a strand of garland on our poor, bare evergreen. This year, every last one of us participated. We decorated both the tree and the banister railing with garland–something we had not done since 2004–and festooned our tree with a cinnamon-scented freshener and snowflake ornaments. Then, it was time for my favorite part–all the mismatched, hand-made, or other highly-individualized ornaments. I don’t care how many display trees feature nothing but uniformity of Christmas bulbs and tinsel, and I’m not sure I’ll care if/when the Lord should choose to heal me–being visually-impaired has absolutely nothing to do with the sentimental cortex, corresponding sections of the heart and brain that I can’t get a single scientist to acknowledge but that I am convinced exist. Back to the ornaments. We hung my harp and Hannah’s cat; a train car; a Christmas bulb with four sunflowers on it; two candles on the same ornament; stained-glass ornaments depicting the Last Supper and the feeding of the five thousand and more stained-glass ornaments featuring Bible verses, much to Hannah’s dismay, since she made them in fourth-grade as part of a private-school project; ornaments cut from aluminum foil, much to my horror since I had made them out of desperation back in third grade; a bell shaped like society’s concept of an angel; a tiny doll that looked much like an antique spool doll; a cross Hannah had made in a high-school ceramics class; two doves in different flight positions and constructed of different materials…

Then, we adorned the top of that beautiful, valuable, love-filled tree by attaching a wire cross to the top of it. I had made the cross in my sophomore year of high school, and it was jagged and imperfect. So was the original, you know–it wasn’t an ornament or a decoration, but a true and beautiful gift of grace. Anyway, we wanted the cross to stand out this year, so there we were–my less-than-six-foot sister and my much-less-than-six-foot self, standing on chairs and finding additional wire and other mechanisms to use in affixing this cross. It was one of those hand-over-hand, cooperative, Body-of-Christ closeness moments that will not soon be forgotten. And, really, isn’t the cross the very best possible ornament to put at the top of a tree? Doesn’t it say so much about the real reason for Jesus’ coming, denoting a gift rather than simply speaking of a single event?

So, we had a lovely Christmas tree. But let us return to the holly and the ivy and everything in-between for a moment, shall we? About a week before Christmas, Hannah and I went to the local Hallmark store in search of a last-minute card. And what do you suppose was playing, incessantly, for the first five minutes of our shopping excursion? Hannah loved it. “Have a holly, jolly Christmas–it’s the best time of the year…” I grinned and bore it, relieved beyond all measure when the song finally ended. But then, it seemed to have gotten itself firmly implanted in Hannah’s mind, because she didn’t stop singing or humming it for the rest of our fifteen-minute card-hunt. Once, I ventured to speculate that perhaps Christmas, beautiful though it is, is not “the best time of the year”–but that that honorable designation belongs to Resurrection Day. The rest of the time, I gritted my teeth and continually admonished myself, “Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost… Forgetting those things which are behind, we press on… Behold, I do a new thing… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness… Love is patient and kind, does not seek its own, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not parade itself. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things… And now abide faith, hope, and love. The greatest is love…” In other words, “Ready Writer, control yourself and let God strengthen you!”

My breakthrough came when I was loading my guide-dog and her harness into the car. As I bent to make sure my dog’s tail was safely in the car, I could still hear Hannah singing, “Have a holly, jolly…” Then, getting side-tracked and perhaps a bit tired of the tune at hand, she added, “Christmas tree!” I’m not sure whether she had intentionally decided to altar the words, if she was bored and in search of a distraction, or if she had decided to begin on “O Christmas Tree”, but the effect was hilarious. A holly, jolly Christmas tree? Was our rotating tree, then, the best one of the year–from house to house and city to city? I mean, really! A jolly Christmas tree!

I burst out laughing. “Hannah, did you really say what I think you did?”

“Oh, did I?” But there was no use concealing the musical blunder. So, she did what any self-respecting singer would do–she began adding pieces to the composition as though the lurch had been intentional all along. Lines about crosses atop trees, about sunflower ornaments and garland and rotating stands and lights and pinecones perched on branches…

Now, my beloved readers, don’t try this at home. If this sounds like a beautifully-constructed rendering, please know that inserting the word “tree” in this song to begin with threw off the entire rhythm. The result was imperfect, hand-made, like the artificial subject that waited at home. But it made us laugh, don’t you know? And that broke away at some of the tension in my heart. A despondent-sounding man singing about unnecessary mistletoe was one thing, but a song about a lovingly-decorated tree was quite another. Will I ever come to embrace the original version with any degree of fondness? Likely not.

And yet, and yet… The Lord has shown me that He can restore even what I have long associated with crises–that He can turn my mourning to laughter and fill me with praise and rejoicing, that He can take something that had turned to jagged heartache and soften it little by little. He still has much work to do with me–that is why Scripture compares us to fruit trees–but I know what He can do. First, it’s an accidental song about a Christmas tree; then, perhaps someday, He will help me to listen to the original without shedding a tear; and a few more months or years down the road, perhaps I will find something beautiful in the 2006 ornaments I could not hang this year. And why stop with Christmas-themed items? The popcorn I can never bring myself to eat now because it tastes of loneliness may one day be sanctified through the giving of thanks. The hated, dreaded task of waking others up in the morning–a chore I avoid with a passion better spent on other pursuits because it puts me in mind of still more brokenness–may be used of the Lord one of these days; perhaps He will show me ways to have coffee brewing and worship music playing next time. Or the blanket I used in the hospital for two weeks during a series of simultaneous bleeds and clotting episodes, if you can imagine–may the day come when the Lord will bring to mind the careful weave of each fibre and remind me of how He forms us with even greater care?

My point is this: Jesus Christ is able to heal and restore absolutely anything–any memory, any trauma, any heartache, any pain or affliction in my life. And then there’s this: I may have an unconventional way of writing about it, but I know that I cannot possibly be the only Christian who suffers, to some extent, from PTSD (post-traumatic stress) or DESNOS (a disorder of extreme stress not otherwise specified). I used to believe I was all alone–that Jesus came to bring life and to give it more abundantly, and that if I were not constantly rejoicing then I was a flawed, sinful person. Guess what? That isn’t true. Note, if you will, that Jesus rebuked anger, that He even rebuked unbelief, but that He showed great compassion on those who were crushed in spirit. And if He can restore me, whether gradually as now or instantaneously as at some other times, then He can do the same for you. No matter how destructive the sorrow or grief, He is faithful, He is merciful, and He will cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him. And, what is more, He is able–able to either transform the trial so that it becomes less painful and glorifies Him, or to heal the wound left by any amount of damage, leaving behind either a painless scar or nothing at all. Do not lose heart; keep on praying, keep on seeking and worshiping and trusting. He is with you–He will provide the grace or the strength or the restoration or healing that is needed, and He is always, always a very present help in time of need. Hannah’s impromptu song was something the Lord used to begin to teach me that—that, no matter how frustrating the situation may appear, the garment of praise will eventually be mine again–given to all who trust in His ability to take away heaviness.

“I’m So Wonderfully Made”, Part II: The Challenge, and How He Surmounts It

I am an exceptional person.

In my previous post, I explained that this merely meant that I was a person with many idiosyncrasies–some of which have historically driven my friends and family to distraction. I mentioned that, while my detail-oriented personality is often a gift, it can also be a profound challenge.

Take yesterday and today, for instance. Everything was over-stimulating–the tiniest little thing. People cutting food from several feet away sounded like claps of thunder. When Naomi, Jedediah, and Hannah spoke in animated excitement about their days, their moderately-loud voices registered for me as shouting, and all I wanted to do was flee to the quietest environment I could find. I can no longer eat any Campbell’s soup products with any enjoyment because I can taste many of the chemical additives they use. The same goes for certain non-organic brands of chocolate milk. At this very moment, I’m listening to the muffled chatter and dulled instruments of a television that was never turned off, and wishing with all possible fervor that the sound perpetrator would eliminate all that noise. Quite involuntarily, I can smell the chlorine in our drinking water, and this often puts me off from hydrating properly.

All of this is workable–a nuisance, yes, but nothing I haven’t experienced before, and certainly nothing that need impact my spiritual life. But then there are the more profound challenges. The same mind that can pick out a single anointed singer in a congregation of hundreds or thousands also has such literal tendencies that, if I am told that we will be going somewhere in fifteen minutes, I eschew our departure at fourteen-and-a-half minutes. The same heart that cherishes the cold and snow because it brings people closer together trembles so much at the thought of encountering bees or other stinging creatures that I scarcely leave the house during the summer. If you stub your toe, you acknowledge that it hurt, but forget ten minutes later that you ever sustained an injury; for me, the same stubbed toe often hurts for over an hour. The same trait that causes me to associate a lilac-scented air freshener with a magnificent day of freedom has also caused me to refuse any analgesia save Tylenol and Motrin since 2005, due to a traumatic medical experience. The same mind that gets so readily focused on a precious worship song or something I have read in the Word is terrible at multi-tasking; if I’m asked to make coffee, reminded to call to schedule an appointment sometime, and asked requested to describe the armor of God–all things I am more than capable of doing individually–I may pause with a coffee filter in my hand, describe the armor of God in elaborate detail, and relegate the appointment call to the back of my mind, but not without first having to deliberately assign priorities to those things–and never, never would I make coffee WHILE describing the armor of God! I have always had a tendency to sled or ski down slippery slopes, going from Point A to Point K via Point W in a matter of seconds. Change, no matter how insignificant, can be very trying to accept. The same mind that wants to follow hard after the Lord sometimes construes very legalistic ideas in order to keep me on the straight and narrow. I once read a little book by Corrie ten Boom entitled NOT GOOD IF DETACHED, in which she mentioned that she carried all of her earthly possessions in one small duffel bag when she traveled. You, my beloved reader, would probably read that, conclude that it made perfect sense for Corrie’s needs and the places to which she traveled, and move on with your life. I, on the other hand, determined that I, too, must consolidate my luggage, no matter where I might be traveling or for how long I would be gone. Good Christians, I decided, only ever carried duffel bags. Consequently, permitting myself to carry only a few things and owning a Braille Bible that takes up six feet of shelving, I ended up without some of the New Testament and all of the Old during a three-month vacation out-of-state. You never know just how much you need the book of I Chronicles until you’re without it.

We can approach all of this from one of two standpoints–philosophical or psychological. From a philosophical perspective, it’s easiest to simply say that I have a heart of gold–which, again, is not to say that I’m perfect. Gold, you see, is beautiful to gaze upon, used for glorious endeavors, was once employed copiously in making the furnishings of the tabernacle. Yes, gold has its uses–but it isn’t perfect. It is beautiful, but impractical. It is far too malleable to be used in the fashioning of a shelf or door hinge or piece of electronic equipment. It bends too easily for anything heavier than worshipful or decorative purposes. And, if it has imperfections, they are much more visible than, say, the imperfections in aluminum. Aluminum must not be constantly refined if it wishes to be beautiful–indeed, aluminum’s purpose is not to be beautiful but to be used for more practical aims. Hearts of gold are filled with worship and praise, but have a tendency to be altogether too sensitive, too willing to bend under pressure, not quite strong enough by the world’s standards, and even the standards of some churches who want more aluminum and steel-hearted servants in their leadership positions.

Psychologically, I suppose you could say that I am over-analytical. That has always been a part of me. Coupled with post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and occasional depression, however–none of which was I created with–that analytical mindset can get me in trouble.

But do you know what has the potential to draw us all so very, very close to the Lord Jesus? Tempests of various kinds. Certainly, I do not believe that God causes our trials–but I do know that He uses them to glorify Himself, and to help us remain in Him. It’s a matter of choice and of perspective. When we are overworked, overwhelmed, and overwrought, we can flounder about in the storm, trying to steer our own small boat and keep it from capsizing. Or, we can approach the One Who has power over all storms. We can cry out with the disciples, “Save us, Lord, we are perishing!”–although we might then be rebuked for our lack of faith. But to be chastised by the Lord is a joy mixed with the sorrow, for He disciplines those whom He loves. And then, whether we have cried out in terror or simply come to Him with abiding trust, we can watch Him calm that storm in our lives–behold His power, His control over everything that shapes us. And when all becomes calm and that boat of ours is stable, we can fall to our knees and worship Him–because He is God, and because He has been so faithful to us. Do I enjoy the trials I put myself through by considering each situation a hundredfold? No, but I do love the way in which the Lord uses them to draw me to Himself and, in the process, to continue shaping my character.

Many, many times following an in-home infusion procedure, I have felt thoroughly overwhelmed. Perhaps the infusion did not go as well or as quickly as it could have, or perhaps someone in the adjoining room was watching an obnoxious television program. It has been in moments like these that the Lord has so clearly reminded me of my need for Himself. What if I were more resilient? If that obnoxious program did not combine with the medical procedure in the way it does, then I might not have the need to seek the Lord the way I do. As it is, I often find myself in the sanctuary of some quiet room, listening to the local Christian radio station and worshiping the Lord. If I had aluminum at my core, there would be no need–but gold needs reshaping and refining in order to be the best it can be in His service, and those moments spent in worship as a post-Protein C exercise are some of the most fulfilling in my life.

In this state, too, I find that I quite literally need the Lord day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. I am not given to cute little slogans because I feel that theology is almost always more complex than what a five-word thought can construe. However, if I were to plaster a saying on bumper stickers, bracelets, and T-shirts, it would be this: “Everything with Him; nothing without Him.” Back in high-school, I found myself feeling spiritually bereft. I was a young Christian at the time and was finding my faith tested by various circumstances. I think that most people would have left that part of their life in the Lord’s hands for a few weeks in order to concentrate on friends, family, schoolwork, and after-school activities. My response? I went to and from school, but that was about it. I spend the rest of that miniature valley cloistered in my room with the Bible, THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, and what little worship material we had at that time, trying to repair what had gone wrong in my daily following of the Savior. Even schoolwork got just enough attention to please instructors–not the thorough job I was accustomed to doing. I’m not proud of the latter admission, but I discuss this to illustrate the fact that the kind of over-analyzing I do facilitates a need that goes beyond anything in the world. Again, not something He causes or desires in my life, but something that He has used to keep me relying on Him every day, just as the people relied on Him to send manna during their desert wanderings.

And then, there’s the fact that the Lord often uses all of this to refine me, to make me more like Him if I will surrender all those frustrating quirks to Him. If the tiniest injury causes me more pain than the average person, all the more opportunity to sing and pray and give thanks until the throbbing passes. If the sound of animated conversation is filling me with dread and anger, what better opportunity to ask the Lord for patience, and to allow Him to develop in me the fruit of His Holy Spirit? On days when legalistic thoughts about the weight of luggage engulf me, it is then that I must cherish His grace more deeply than ever before, allowing Him to wash away every trace of those self-imposed regulations.

And you, my beloved reader? Chances are, you neither associate all types of furniture with moments in your spiritual life nor read people’s time-related approximations in literal terms. Quite probably, you are not guilty of slapping sincerity onto a conversation that merely required social small talk, nor do you find multi-tasking a grave impossibility. But you, too, have personality quirks–traits that are both a gift and a challenge. Mr. Businessman, you who are reading this while working on your fourth PowerPoint presentation this week, the assertive leadership qualities you have can be used to conduct a successful meeting, but can also be used to less of an advantage when your nine-year-old son accidentally throws a ball through the kitchen window. Devoted mother of three, the gentleness with which you shape your children’s lives is a gift almost exclusively, but take care that your soft-spoken ways don’t keep you from sharing vital information with someone in the church, if necessary. Highly-sensitive college student, empathy is one of God’s best gifts to us, so long as that empathy doesn’t lead to naiveté in whom you trust, what you are willing or able to give.

My point? We all have personality traits–whether conventional or not–that the Lord will use for His glory. Jesus proclaimed that He is the vine, and that we are all branches that must remain in His Word, in His grace and mercy, in order to accomplish anything for His kingdom (see John 15). Aside from direct gifts of the Holy Spirit, everything He gives us–from talents and skills to personality traits–can be used as a tool for His glory, or turned inward to be used for our own self-centered purposes. But with His help and by His grace, we can allow Him to refine those traits that are still rough around the edges–redirecting all that analyzing for the use of studying the Scriptures, for example, until there is none left over for legalism or literalism. As He gives the grace, I will continue to use even those things that create tempests in my life to get closer to Him, to glorify Him in all I can. We are fearfully and wonderfully made–a gift of our loving Creator, Who will use what He has given us to glorify Himself, if we let Him..

“I’m So Wonderfully Made”, Part I: The Gift

I am an exceptional person.

Now, my beloved readers, before you begin chastising me for being prideful, for claiming perfection where none exists, or for failing to recognize that I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, please note what I’m actually saying–not what modern man has determined my words mean. I am an exceptional person, meaning that I have so many exceptions in my life that it drives those around me crazy. Not a perfect person by any means, just an idiosyncratic one.

When I was a toddler young enough to have perhaps a fifty-word vocabulary, I remember begging my mother to find “The M&M Song”. Yes, I do actually remember this–just one more quirk of mine. And the memory isn’t one I must struggle through muddy mental waters to retrieve–it’s right up there with the article I read ten minutes ago, or the chocolate croissant I had for breakfast yesterday morning. But that is beside the point–back to The M&M Song. I did not then, nor have I ever since, owned a song about junk food. I was actually referring to a Christian children’s song that joyfully described the attributes of a life lived in Jesus. Why, then, the odd song title? Not out of irreverence–not by any means. It’s just that one of the instruments with which the song opened sounded, to my not-quite-developed ears, the way peanut M&Ms do when shaken in a small bag with just enough air in it to give it that little umph. But I didn’t have the words to explain all of this, so I requested The M&M Song, and my mother searched for it in vain for half an hour.

It was around that time that I discovered that no one would ever understand the M&M Songs that my mind happened to conjure up–the books in which I ignored the conflict but could focus for long durations upon that little crease at the top of page XVI, the need for Roman numerals, my ability to actually taste normal saline during the midst of medical procedures, my utter disregard for peer gossip in the eighth grade in favor of Jane Eyre, my Anglophilism that reached such heights that I began converting any dollar amount into pounds before contemplating the monetary value, my propensity to turn all dates since 17 August 2002 into anniversaries and remember those dates like precious jewels, my love as a new Christian for Leviticus and Revelation while others read Psalm XXIII and I Corinthians XIII. My nineteen-thousand-file audio collection has been organized using a systematic set of codes rather than according to song title–the better for actually finding those songs: Integrity Music with Integrity Music, Vineyard with Vineyard, sermons with sermons, etc. I’m the sort of person who moans and whimpers when she develops a migraine and who loathes all auditory, olfactory, and gustatory stimuli during said episode, but who still puts mind over matter enough to enjoy the glories of worship music and Communion and the fragrance of anointing oil even despite the throbbing headache. In Braille, Biblical references are contained at the bottom of each page of Scripture; sometimes, when reading mainstream Braille books, I catch myself looking at the bottom of the pages in hopes of finding “Ch. I, narrative section-Ch. II, description”. I flatly refuse to listen to any Christian songs that employ grammatical errors, since said miswordings affect the theology–be it ever so unintentional. If I hear someone make a reference to “rivalry”, I almost expect them to say “revival” and am disappointed when they don’t. And did you know that some people just about sing with joy–even if they’re speaking in a normal, conversational voice? A friend of mine once asked an intense question in the Lord, ending her query with a single-syllable adverb; now, any sentence that uses that structure reminds me of Sincere Sister’s question. Those of you who are familiar with French will understand when I say that I live my life in the passe simple and would almost certainly use it exclusively if I had grown up in a French-speaking country, passe compose being much too mundane for the beauty of the life God has given us. Last Sunday, I was in a new church when the person who had invited me apologized for interrupting a work session with my guide-dog, Natasha. All the situation required was a simple “that’s all right”. Was that my reaction? Never! Instead, I tried to grab hold of her heart, to make her understand: “Oh, you have no idea… I hadn’t had Christian contact in two months, don’t you know!? I don’t care how important that work session was–it can and did wait, because my prayers were answered and I finally found the companionship of someone who loved the Lord, if only for a few minutes. Thank you so much for so-called interrupting! …”

It all began, I believe, somewhere in infancy. I was born with a severe medical condition that shaped my life rather dramatically. While other young children had nice little checkups (read THE BERENSTAIN BEARS VISIT THE DOCTOR, take height and weight and temperature, all done!), I sustained countless blood draws, often involving multiple venapuncture sites since my veins were so difficult to find. Of course, other children just got a sticker, while my family and I always went out afterword to the local restaurant/gift shop/series of rides/hands-on museum. A wonderful, comprehensive place was that one eatery! Other kids complained about eating their vegetables; I couldn’t get enough of the broccoli I was served once in a blue moon. Others got colds, ate some chicken noodle soup, and got themselves sent right back to school in a day or two. I had many clotting episodes, which only plasma could fix and which chicken soup might have hindered if that soup had any parsley in it, and was sent back to school with much homework to catch up on in a week or two.

Note that I have not used the word “suffer” in the preceding paragraph. That’s because, truly, that’s not how I see things. I’m not “trying to be inspirational”–it’s just that, despite the horror of some of those medical crises, I saw the hand of God move so mightily that I could never question Him or my circumstances. Case in point: If I had been leading the typical teenage life rather than holding it all together in a hospital bed on Christmas Eve one year, I would never have met the lovely Christian nurse’s aide whose husband pastored a Pentecostal church in, of all places, Las Vegas. Or had the opportunity to pray for a young girl and her parents as that girl was taken to be with Jesus. Or been able to rejoice in good health when I finally had it restored to me. Or played Don Moen’s album THANK YOU, LORD during one of many MRIs. Or listened in rapt attention as one prayer warrior after another read the Scriptures on healing.

But medical conundrums were not the only exception in my life. There was that little difference of me being a Braille reader. And, for that matter, a cane user, a carrier of textbooks the thickness of your arm, a devotee of audio materials, and a loather of all things film-related. In short, blind. And by the time I was in first grade, I knew that this would simply be part of life–something that set me apart from my cartoon-loving, ball-playing classmates, who worked merrily away at cursive writing while I tried to master twenty, then thirty and forty words per minute using PCTyper–way off in a little corner with my own official-looking computer and office chair, you understand, and in an era in which not everyone owned a personal computer. Exceptions aplenty. Opportunities aplenty, too. For example, I was once asked what I was reading and, when I explained that I was reading the Bible, the questioner remarked condescendingly that my choice of reading material was “so cute”! What better opportunity, so long as she was letting me tell her about my “cute little life”, to proclaim the Gospel!?

Then, there was the other exception–the best, but least tangible or explainable difference between my life and that of the Joneses. In crowded public schools that often taught from an impersonal perspective, or expected us to learn evolutionary principles, or enforced reading material that I was not comfortable with, I was a five-year-old Christian with a pastor’s desire to delineate between right and wrong. Gently helped along by my parents, who had been influential in instilling this sense in me, I did not participate in the reading of any books involving magic, in certain art projects, etc. Now, before you tell me that I led a sheltered life with no fun and ask just what denomination I belonged to anyway, may I just say that this was the best parenting decision my mother or father ever made? As to your denominational question, I’m everything from Methodist to Church of God to Calvary Chapel to Charismatic–wherever people love Jesus, there I try to go to worship. Now, many of my teachers found this frustrating over the years, and several students wanted to know just what I was doing in lieu of some day’s uncomfortable story hour. Then, too, I would often be asked to do math review or other distasteful assignments if I didn’t participate in certain class activities. My reaction to this? “Holy is the Lord!” No matter what, and no matter how anyone around me felt about it, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was doing this for Him, not conforming to the things of the world, and that this assertion made everything all right. It was the least obvious exception, but the most wondrous, by far.

What is my point in telling you all of this? Simply that I have never given up the M&M songs of life. The exceptions that shaped my life as a child continue to influence how I see and experience things today–from dates and Roman numerals to grammatical errors in worship songs to the passe simple.

And–don’t you know? It’s all been such a gift. For me, the fact that wind chimes are inextricably linked with songs of praise is so special that I wouldn’t choose to see life “conventionally” for a day, even if granted that opportunity. In many ways, being so literal yet so poetic, so detail-oriented with a theological bent, simply enables me to see God’s glory more clearly. If I were a little more conventional, I would push aside my disinterest in sports long enough to enjoy a televised game or two with friends or family–but would I then have the time that I do now for listening repeatedly to eight-minute British worship songs? If I saw the larger picture rather than focusing on details, I might be more successful as far as social and business principles are concerned, but would I enjoy the richness that comes from having compared each offering made in Leviticus and examining what they meant in the scope of repentance, love for God, etc.?

Then, too, being very different has kept me in mind of the things of God from day to day. A typical morning’s thought processes go as follows: “13 December. On this day in 2004, Naomi and I sang “Holy, Holy, Holy”. He is holy! I must get up and feed Natasha. Think on His commands when I lie down and when I rise up. Evening and morning and at noon… “Natasha! Come in!” She’s been outside for the morning long enough–but the Lord has given us dominion over the creatures He has made, that we might love and care for them… Now for her food. Metal bowl–light and flimsy, like some of us if we don’t focus on more intellectual pursuits. One cup of food. How many ephahs would that have been in Biblical times?” And so it goes. That sort of mindset, trying to stay constantly in the love and knowledge of God, changes my outlook on life. It’s rewarding, joyful, enriching.

How about you? Do you have a personality trait that lingers just outside of convention? What about one that is conventional, but thus far unuseful to you–like extreme assertiveness? Whichever camp you fall into, try to find something about the way the Lord has created you to use for His glory. In my case, it’s using a series of little quirks to associate more of my day with the things of Him. In yours, it might be redirecting the assertiveness that has given you such success in your career, and using it for evangelism. Or using all the gentleness inherent in an introverted heart to demonstrate true longsuffering patience to everyone you see. Don’t misunderstand–there are things in all of us that aren’t personality traits, but temptations that we give into and that can become sinful. Those are not gifts. But what you were born with, what sets you apart from other people–use it! Use it, because He gave it to you, and because you are fearfully and wonderfully made! Use it to glorify Him. Be different. Be set apart. “Be holy, for I AM holy” (Leviticus 20:26, I Peter 1:16).

Addenda: In keeping with the sorts of unique things I tend to remember and even cherish, I’m entitling this two-part series “Wonderfully Made” after a children’s song that seems to have first appeared on a 1986 Maranatha! Kids recording. Not the M&M Song, for the record. If I’m being truly authentic, that’s the M and M Song; ampersands should not exist in our language. Also, this is only one perspective on the traits that make me the person I am today. True, I perceive who God has made me to be a gift, but that doesn’t stop certain of these same traits from being a thorn in the flesh at times. Perhaps some of my readers can relate. If the Lord wills, that will be the subject for the second part of this series.