ARTICLES BY COLLEEN CHAO

Category: Community

Category: Community

Community

Dear Younger Self

Dear Younger Self—I know it’s cliché,But I would go back if I couldTo say: Make yourself small,Don’t resent being weak—Humility before GodWill set you free. Practice his presence:Listen and rest—A quieted heartHears his voice best. Don’t go it alone.Seek wisdom to knowWho to keep closeAnd who to let go. Gratitude strengthens.Counseling helps.Measure your beauty,Measure your wealth In joy,In friendshipIn laughterIn pain.In lossesIn crossesIn wakingAgain. Love as he loves you,Don’t fear what folks think.Forgive (you’re forgiven!),See what he sees. Don’t be surprised—More suffering’s to come.Grief will undo youAnd seem to have won…. But his Word will grow sweeter,His nearness will beYour joy and your good—Your everything. And when Death comes knockingYou’ll look back and seeLife had more purpose thanAll your first dreams. For each pain invitedYou into his LoveFurther and deeper And more than enough. (Written between March 2020 and Fall 2022)

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man sitting in front of window
anxiety

When Depression comes knocking

He could find his way to my doorstep blindfolded. He always takes the same route—by way of prolonged physical illness, sustained stress, or painful loss. Without fail, he shows up at the most inconvenient times and walks in as if he owns the place. He is that dreaded and unwelcome visitor, Depression. You don’t have to share my 25-year history with Depression to have found him on your own doorstep this year. There have been enough oppressive realities in our 2020 world to bring him knocking on anyone’s door. So if you or a loved one have felt the darkness of his presence settling in on you, I would love to speak a bit of encouragement into your heart today. Below I share a few of the ways I’ve managed Depression’s disruptive presence—and found God’s breathtaking goodness in the process. (Of course, these aren’t meant as a cure-all or substitute for professional care and medication; they are simply my own testimony of a broken but beautiful journey.) ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ When Depression comes knocking, I tell myself these four things: Be gentle with your weakness. In the past, I’ve felt fear at the onset of depression, shame for being prone to it in the first place, and even guilt for not being able to “snap out of it.” But over time I’ve experienced the gentleness of Jesus’ heart toward me in my weakness, and this has taught me to wrap my arms around my human frailty and say, “Okay, here we are again. This depression makes sense considering my circumstances. I know Jesus is with me, and I know this darkness won’t last.” The psalmist David models this acceptance-of-weakness in many of his psalms, such as this one: Although my spirit is weak within me, you know my way. (142:3) And Thomas Watson put it this way: How is a weak Christian able, not only to endure affliction, but to rejoice in it? He is upheld by the arms of the Almighty. ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9) Whatever reveals our need for God and strips us of our arrogant self-reliance is a mercy. We experience more of Christ’s power in us when we are weak, and that is an indescribable gift. These days, instead of bracing myself at the first sign of depression, I gently welcome my frailty as one of the surest ways to experience more of Jesus. Keep a grateful heart. During a bout of depression, I’m prone to dark and gloomy thoughts. The difficult circumstances that summoned depression in the first place, now tempt me to drink deeply of their bitterness—and before I know it, everything about my life looks abysmal. Again, the Psalms beautifully model for me how to move from a place of toxic negativity back to a place of peace and joy. The psalmists were incredibly raw and real about their bitterness, their pain, but they knew how to not get stuck there: they thanked God in the midst of the darkness, and their Godward praise changed their hearts. Look at how this works in Psalm 71— Deliver me, my God, from the power of the wicked,from the grasp of the unjust and oppressive.For you are my hope, Lord God… As my strength fails, do not abandon me.For my enemies talk about me,and those who spy on me plot together…But I will hope continuallyand will praise you more and more. Your righteousness reaches the heights, God,you who have done great things;God, who is like you?You caused me to experiencemany troubles and misfortunes,but you will revive me again.You will bring me up again,even from the depths of the earth. My lips will shout for joywhen I sing praise to youbecause you have redeemed me.Therefore, my tongue will proclaimyour righteousness all day long. The psalmist was oppressed by enemies, his strength was failing, and he had experienced “many troubles and misfortunes,”—but he hoped in God, he praised him (“more and more”!), he recalled the great things God had done for him. His heart was full of gratitude, so instead of nursing a grudge or griping, his lips shouted for joy. Stay connected to your people. During depression, it’s easy for me to withdraw from the people I need the most. I’m mentally and emotionally tapped out, so the thought of making room for meaningful relationships is exhausting. But it’s precisely what I need, so I’ve learned to keep a few friends and family close no matter how I’m feeling—and to stay engaged with my son and husband who are such a source of strength to me. I don’t always do this well (some days of depression find me “checked out” or withdrawn), but my goal is to remain relational with a close circle of friends and family through the duration of my darkness. And let me quickly add the obvious—that in the midst of quarantines and social distancing this year, staying connected has been more difficult than ever. Zoom and Marco Polo apps are poor substitutes for the real thing. It takes far more work to be in relationship and feels far less fulfilling than pre-quarantine. But the dangers of isolation are real, so the effort is always worthwhile. As both King David and the Apostle Paul testified, the people of God are our joy and we need them! “Indeed you are our glory and joy!” (1 Thessalonians 2:20) “As for the holy people who are in the land, they are the excellent ones. All my delight is in them.” (Psalm 16:3) My capacity to remain joyfully resilient during depression is largely dependent upon my connection to the very ones who bring me great joy! Keep going to God. Depression tends to snuff out my desire for prayer and Scripture. Passages of the Bible that typically would make my heart sing, fall flat—and my prayers sound hollow. I don’t have the same experience of God’s presence. At times he feels a million miles away. In the past I’ve

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man sitting in front of window
anxiety

God is with me in my panic attack

I was 25 years old when I scored my dream job—working as an editor on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. After growing up in California, I fell head-over-heels in love with the East Coast and decided I’d stay put. Until I landed in the ER at 3:00 a.m. one morning with what I thought was a heart attack. I hadn’t slept in three days and my heart was racing, burning, palpitating. Even when I lay motionless in bed, I felt like I was running a marathon. I gasped for breath. I was exhausted. Docs ran multiple tests and X-rays, but in the absence of anything conclusive they sent me on my way: “This can happen to people with long-and-thin frames like yours.” I left the ER that day with no idea how to slow my body long enough to get a few hours of sleep. Soon I had to quit my job and fly home to California. That was a dark season of my life, to be sure. And it was the beginning of a new reality for me. Eventually my “heart-attack–insomnia” bouts were diagnosed as panic attacks, and for the past sixteen years they have dotted the landscape of my life. Panic attacks have been a source of both grief and grace. Grief, because they are terrifying and painful and disorienting and exhausting. Grace, because through them God has humbled my proud heart and taught me to trust less in myself and more in Him. When Asaph says, “My flesh and my heart may fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,” I get it. Boy, do I get it. I’ve learned a lot along this broken way. I’ve been able to identify the biggest triggers for my panic attacks. I’ve come to understand the great need I have for healthy life habits. I’ve passionately pursued emotional and relational maturity in areas of my life where I’ve long been deficient. And I’ve learned that we are wholistic creatures—God made us both body and soul. Imagine sharing the gospel with a starving person without first meeting their physical needs. It would be unkind and ineffectual, to say the least. In a similar way, if you’re in the midst of panic and I tell you “Don’t be anxious for anything” before I address your physical symptoms—I ultimately fail to care for you. First let’s deal with the panic, then your heart will be calm enough to hear life-giving truth. Perhaps the most beautiful thing I’ve learned is that God is happy to be with me, even in the most terrifying moments of anxiety. He is here. He has everything I need for this. Some helpful handles God hasn’t given me a shortcut through panic. He cares more for my long-term growth than for quick-fixes that bring momentary relief but leave me unchanged. Along the way He has graciously equipped me with some very helpful handles—that minimize the frequency and severity of my panic attacks. I want to share some of these with you. I’m not a doctor, so I’ll leave issues of medication, exercise, and diet in the hands of the professionals. But these are simple means of turning to God (physically and emotionally) in order to not just survive anxiety, but to also know and love Him better through it. God is bringing much beauty out of my ashes, and if some of that beauty can spill over onto you, this 16-year journey would be well worth it. Life-giving friends Typically when I’m in the throes of panic there are layers of stressful people and circumstances in my life. Avoiding those circumstances and people may not be possible (nor even wise), but I can counterbalance them by spending extra time with joyful, life-giving friends. These are dear ones who are tender to my weaknesses and love me in all my mess. They lower their expectations. They light up when they see me. Time with them reminds me of who I am, who God is, and that there’s life beyond this panic. I notice that my heart rate slows, my shoulders relax, and my obsessive thoughts lose momentum. God has made us for joyful relationship, and the worst thing I can do when I’m navigating extreme anxiety is to isolate myself from those who love me. A thankful heart One of the greatest helps in dealing with panic has been practicing appreciation in three specific ways. I stole these from two must-read books: Joy Starts Here by Jim Wilder, and Transforming Fellowship by Chris Coursey. Appreciation memories.  When I’m riddled with anxiety, I recall two specific memories of when I experienced amazing peace and joy (I’ve named them “Panera Bread” and “D.C. Trip”) and I relive them in as much detail as I can: where I was; what I smelled, heard, saw, tasted; who I was with, and so on. Doing this reminds me (1) what it feels like to be calm, (2) that God has been so good to me before, and (3) that this momentary panic is not the end of the story. List of 10.  I keep a list of 10 things I’m grateful for. It includes my morning cup of coffee, the beautiful view from my bedroom window, the daily routines I enjoy with my family, and the grace I receive from my husband every day. I rehearse it when my thoughts feel panicky. The goal is to practice gratitude with such frequency (some suggest 5 minutes, 3 times a day) that my brain learns a new normal, and my body can begin to return to an appreciative and calm state more quickly over time, with practice. 3X3X3.  When I’m ramped up and just can’t seem to slow down (and I’m dreading a sleepless, anxious night), just before bed I recall aloud 3 things I’m thankful for about that day, 3 things I’m thankful for about my husband, and 3 things I’m thankful for about God. This sounds ridiculously simple, but it has an immediate effect on me. A relaxed body Sometimes a full-body massage can work wonders in the midst of panic. (On a side note, Chinese reflexology offers much more affordable versions of fancy spa

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beach daylight motion ocean
Community

“The sacred art and mystery of forgiving”

Forgiveness may just be the hardest thing we do in life. At times it can be downright agonizing, amen? But agony meets ecstasy, and forgiveness is an enviable invitation into the very heart of Christ. When we forgive at great expense, dying to ourselves and our desire for self-justification, we know Him better. We experience the miracle of His life in us. We wade deeper into the ocean of His love. And what does His love look like? C.H. Spurgeon put it beautifully in his sermon on Ephesians 4:32: All our transgressions are swept away at once, carried off as by a flood, and so completely removed from us that no guilty trace of them remains. They are all gone! O ye believers, think of this, for the ALL is no little thing: sins against a holy God, sins against his loving Son, sins against gospel as well as against law, sins against man as well as against God, sins of the body as well as sins of the mind, sins as numerous as the sands on the sea shore, and as great as the sea itself: all, all are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. All this evil was rolled into one great mass, and laid upon Jesus, and having borne it all he has made an end of it for ever. When the Lord forgave us he forgave us the whole debt. He did not take the bill and say, ‘I strike out this item and that,’ but the pen went through it all—PAID. It was a receipt in full of all demands, Jesus took the handwriting which was against us and nailed it to his cross, to show before the entire universe that its power to condemn us had ceased for ever. We have in him a full forgiveness. Dear one, I have too often been the hypocrite—the one who was freely pardoned $1,000,000,000 only to be caught violently demanding repayment of a $5 debt. To put it another way, if my sins were all the sand of the world’s seashores, your offense against me would be a solitary grain of sand. When I withhold forgiveness from you, I betray the fact that I don’t understand calvary love at all. But what of the times I’m obediently forgiving—yet tempted to make much of it in my heart? Do I secretly believe I’m the only one being wronged, the only one perpetually pardoning others? Again, Spurgeon says it so well: [Ephesians 4:32 says] ‘forgiving, one another.’ One another! Ah, then that means that if you have to forgive to-day, it is very likely that you will yourself need to be forgiven to-morrow for it is “forgiving one another.” It is turn and turn about, a mutual operation, a co-operative service. In fact, it is a joint-stock business of mutual forgiveness, and members of Christian churches should take large shares in this concern. You forgive me, and I forgive you, and we forgive them, and they forgive us, and so a circle of unlimited forbearance and love goes round the world. There is something wrong about me that needs to be forgiven by my brother, but there is also something wrong about my brother which needs to be forgiven by me, and this is what the apostle means—that we are all of us mutually to be exercising the sacred art and mystery of forgiving one another. Let us begin our Christian career with the full assurance that we shall have a great deal to forgive in other people, but that there will be a great deal more to be forgiven in ourselves, and let us set our account upon having to exercise gentleness, and needing its exercise from others, ‘Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ Who have we received forgiveness from today? Who do we need to forgive today—in such a way that “no guilty trace remains”?    For more thoughts on forgiveness, read 5 Ways to Pursue Peace in a Difficult Relationship. 

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anonymous woman walking in refugee camp
Community

In a world of refugees….

Today I sat with a friend from Romania whose family has suffered upheaval and persecution as far back as she can remember. Her heritage is heroic. Her Jewish grandmother fled to Romania to escape the Germans. Her German grandfather escaped a Siberian concentration camp and endured an arduous 14-month journey home. Her Romanian aunt and uncle—Christians under Communist rule—fled to the United States for religious freedom. Listening to my friend’s stories, passed down from generation to generation, reminded me that I am incurably American in my way of thinking. Security and comfort, that is what we know and prize here. How can I even begin to imagine a world where I must run for my life or tyrants will take it from me? I don’t get this refugee reality at all.  I cringe to admit that sometimes the nonstop needs in my own little corner of this world can overwhelm me, and it’s hard to find time to cultivate compassion for people I may never meet. If I can’t keep up with the people and tasks within arm’s reach, how can I ever care for those a world away? It’s one of the reasons why I need to “abide in Christ”—so I have His heart for both my reality here in California and realities worldwide. I need Him to teach me what He wants me to do with the time and resources He gives me each day. When to give myself to what is right in front of me—and when to educate myself on what’s going on in the larger world. When to make time for mercy that reaches across the miles. Truth is, my heart gets bigger when I remember that I serve the God of nations. He is not a 21st Century American God. And I’m a better friend, neighbor, wife, and mom when my heart beats beyond this country’s borders. My son especially needs to see me pursuing the physically and spiritually impoverished. He needs me to live in the uncomfortable question, “How can we give and sacrifice to love suffering peoples for Christ?” History proves that a refugee crisis is nothing new, and it guarantees we will always have refugees among us. So what will we, the Body of Christ, do to care for them? I’m not saying I’ve got this figured out. Far from it. But God’s working on me, and I love Him for it. So here’s a small way I’m attempting to enlarge my heart this month. I’m having my son join me in: Collecting coins and bills in a jar, the sum of which we’ll send to Samaritan’s Purse in March. Their relief efforts are some of the best on this planet. Watching videos like this one together. And this one. Learning more about the refugees traumatized by ISIS, war, and other forms of persecution. Praying for God to bring the gospel and physical relief to refugees around the globe. (This article!) Chances are, our impact will be infintesimally small. (That’s okay: impact is the Lord’s work, not mine.) But perhaps the simple acts of dropping coins in a jar, of praying while I wash dishes, of talking to my son about people groups like the Yazidi—maybe these are the small faithfulnesses that will grow my love large. In a world shouting loud its opinions of this crisis, would you consider joining us in your own small, quiet way? What if we were all praying and giving as we went about our days’ work, asking God to give us His heart for these who have lost so much—and who need Him so desperately? Photo credit: Vadim Ghirda.

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person holding a green plant
Community

Kindness

This past year has been one of the hardest of my life. My hubby will say the same. We watched the bottom drop out from underneath us, and at times fear and fatigue overwhelmed our faith. It’s been one thing after another, but it hasn’t been bloggable stuff. How do you write about the darkest days that threaten to undo you? How do you make sense of what feels like “too much”? No, it’s been for a small circle of dear ones—with the hope that the “comfort we have received” from our Abba during this time, we would soon be able to share freely with many others who are hurting (2 Corinthians 1:4). Last month we began to feel the edges of relief. I think I’d been holding my breath for the larger part of a year, but I started breathing again. Thinking more clearly. Hoping more boldly. I’ve always loved asking friends, after they’ve come through a season of suffering, “What held you through that time? What kept you going?” I’ve asked myself the same thing, and I would have to say that among the many tender mercies along the way, more than anything it has been the kindness of God that has carried us along. He has shown us kindness in a thousand ways, manifested in dozens of people. From complete strangers to dear family members, we have received one kindness after another: bags of groceries, prayers, cards of encouragement, gifts of money, listening ears, flowers left on our front porch, favorite drinks delivered to our front door. The list could go on…. Kindness is so powerful, isn’t it? When I’m in a vulnerable place of suffering, it’s easy for me to forget what is true: that God is kind. He is not mean. Our circumstances may be mean, but in the hand of a kind God, they are transformed for our good. Are you in a tender, suffering place, dear one? Then let this Scripture wash over your soul tonight. Hear the heart of your Abba in His words… “I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.” Hosea 11:4 Fellow pilgrim and wounded soul, we entrust our lives to a kind God. A God who is for us and with us and in us, forever expressing the riches of His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Romans 2:4, Ephesians 2:7, Galatians 5:22).

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a person using braille
Bible study

Bartimaeus

He was a blind man. A beggar. He lived long before Braille and social welfare, so he was probably far more desperate than the homeless man who holds a cardboard sign outside your car window today. He begged in order to eat. He scrounged to survive. But then one day there was a stir on the street, and the blind man inquired as to the cause. “Jesus is passing by” came the answer. And the man knew that after a lifetime of helplessness, this was his one chance at hope. His was a cry that came from the marrow of his soul: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And because the crowd could not understand what it was like to live in darkness and destitution, they harshly hushed him. But a rebuke could not silence his desperate hope. So he called out more loudly, Son of David, have mercy on me! And to the astonishment of the hushers, Jesus invited the blind man to come near. Not only that, but he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Blind man, begging man, what do you want the God of the universe to do for you? He dared to ask for a miracle. He wanted to see. Sight would mean he could live, really truly live. No more begging. No more groping about in the dark. And at the word of Him who first said, “Let there be light,” the man’s eyes were illumined and the first thing he must have seen was Jesus. And he praised Him and the crowd praised Him and the story of Bartimaeus has been told for 2,000 years now. ~.~ ~.~ ~.~ I have been Bartimaeus. You too, dear one? Do you recognize his desperation, his cry for mercy, the insensitive crowd? Do you also have limitations that make you feel like an outsider? I don’t have a permanent handicap and have never experienced true poverty. But I have known what it is to have socially awkward limitations. Due to years of insomnia, panic attacks, and depression, I have to guard my evenings, sleeping habits, and schedule. And because of a variety of chronic illnesses my son and I struggle with, even catching a simple cold can mean weeks (or months) of health complications for us. I’ve had to fight shame over admitting, “Evenings are difficult for me so we’ll need to leave early,” and “We’re sick…again.” Sometimes it can feel like a handicap of sorts, a relationship-buster, a crowd-upsetter. Not everyone can understand, and I don’t blame them. (I wouldn’t get it either if I weren’t walking in these shoes.) But these weaknesses have positioned me to cry out to Jesus. He is not ashamed of or impatient with my frailties. Weakness is where He meets me. Weakness is where He changes me. If I had no needs, no disabilities, I would miss out on His miracles. I would miss out on Him. There He stands, ready to show Himself to me, to act on behalf of me as I wait for Him (Isaiah 64:4). Where I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually needy—where I cry out for His mercy—that’s where I see Him working most powerfully in me. At times I am almost breathless at His goodness to me, a beggar. But before I sound even remotely like a victim, let me quickly confess…. I have been the crowd too. Resentful of another’s weakness. Short on grace for their shortcomings. Eager to hush their hurts. Here we go again…. Get over it already! Why can’t you trust God with this? Truth is, sometimes we don’t like each other in our desperation. Not many of us are the best versions of ourselves when we are needy. Our infirmities can keep us from fulfilling each other’s wishes and wants, leading to hurt and frustration. But look at Jesus’ tender response to a man of frailty, and let it be our model. The impatient ones who cannot accept your limitations? Be tender toward them. The loved one who isn’t handling her sufferings well? Be tender toward her. Perhaps your tenderness to their weakness will be the healing touch of Jesus in their life. So don’t take their reactions personally. This is, after all, not about us. This is about Him. He is doing something breathtaking behind the scenes and we are blind to it till He shines His light and says, “See! Look what I have been doing all along!” Are you longing to be married, dear one? Are you barren? Sick? In a bad marriage? Burdened till you feel you might break? Does this holiday season cause you to feel like a social misfit? Wait for God, dear one. Bartimaeus was blind and begging for years before Jesus walked by, but God had a miracle in mind all along—a miracle that would cause both the blind and the begrudging to praise Him. ~.~ ~.~ ~.~ Read the biblical account here and here.

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Community

Keep the relationship bigger than the problem

I was deeply encouraged by this today! Hope you are too…. “Our normal way of living in our human nature is to value results and to look at people as those who can help us achieve what we want or look at people who are ‘getting in the way’ of achieving those results. This can result in manipulation and/or rejection. “But, when the Holy Spirit enters in and grows our new nature, when we grow to be more like God, we realize our relationships with others are more important than the problems we have with them. This changes the way we look at life and the people we connect with on a regular basis. Whether it is our business, the way we act in our families, the way we deal with our friends and neighbors, relationships have priority over results.” For Dana Hanson’s full article, visit the Joy Starts Here blog.

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selective focus half face closeup photography of female s green eyes
Beauty

I don’t love you like I should

I can pick you out in a crowd—the light in your eyes, the warmth of your spirit, the kindness of your actions. You are His, and I see Him in you. Even though we may not know each other, we are part of the most beautiful, authentic, contagious community in all the world. We’re called by strange but cherished names: Bride, Body, Church. Some communities are formed around perceived rights and shared indignation. Their fever-pitched cries are their bond. But we realize there is nothing good nor “rightful” in us apart from the God who loves us. So we do not yell. Rather, in quietness and trust is our strength. And while we’re forgiven and freed from the power of sin, we’re still a broken bunch. We’ve misunderstood each other, been paralyzed by our anger toward one another, and wronged each other a thousand times. Our deepest wounds have come from within our own community, not from without. Maybe because we expect more of each other. Maybe because we’re just that broken still. But like rocks in a tumbler, it’s our constant colliding into each other that smooths out our rough edges. And because of Whose we are, we know how to forgive—and how to be forgiven. How to move past our differences and into unity. So I’m not ashamed to say, “I need you.” As the psalmist wrote, you are “the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” And in the apostle Paul’s words: “You are my glory and joy.” I’m no good without you. With you, I experience more of Him and the fullness of His life in me. Jim Wilder said, “Some of our best characteristics can be harmful when applied too strongly.” You, dear ones, keep me from being too much Colleen. We are a diverse people with very different perspectives on how to navigate the tumultuous waters of life. But isn’t that the beauty of our bond? We agree on Christ but we still need our differences so that we become “less of us” and “more of Him.” Beloved, we are His and He has given us each other. And He has sent us out to be His hands and feet to a world that needs Him desperately. We are Life-givers, Joy-starters, Peace-makers. To the spiritually illiterate all around us, we are His picture book of love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness, and self-control. I write this for my own sake because my heart beats selfish and I don’t love you like I should. You are the stunning Bride of Christ, the apple of your Father’s eye, a work of impeccable art—yet too often I treat you as a hindrance to my happiness. (When, in fact, you are my happiness.) In C.S. Lewis’ words: It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. You, dear children of God, are anything but ordinary. You are blood-bought and beautiful, and the world’s loudest and strongest pale in comparison to you. So I keep asking God to help me see you in light of your everlasting splendor and how to love you out of a deep-and-wide experience of His love. Because without love, I’m nothing but a loud annoying noise. So-what if I’m wrong about the small stuff (even if that small stuff feels really big at the moment)? When the dust settles on my grave someday, I hope the commentary on my life is not “She was right,” but rather, “She loved lavishly.”

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Community

Stories are light (in a dark world)

As summer draws to an end and school beckons us into our fall routine, I’m catching my breath a bit. The past few months have been all manner of strange and surprising. Not much has gone as we’d planned it would (shout-out to James 4:14-16). But the one consistent thing that has seemed to weave together these odd, disjointed days has been a littering of books all over our house, and the ritualistic reading of them. Old books, new books, big ones, little ones, audio books, library-smelly loans, Costco-cheap editions, hand-me-down freebies—books! And while our calendars and our health and the world in general have felt all topsy turvy, we’ve read and read and read…. What is it about a good book? A good story? Kate DiCamillo puts it beautifully in The Tale of Despereaux: “Why would you save me?” Despereaux asked. “Have you saved any of the other mice?” “Never,” said Gregory, “not one.” “Why would you save me, then?” “Because you, mouse, can tell Gregory a story. Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.” We don’t always need a physical book in our hands to feel the light of a story. This summer my son asked me to retell him the biblical account of Samson again and again. (And again.) He asked for stories from my childhood and he wanted to re-enact scenes from his audiobooks. He told endless tales himself, as if our days were the very pages of a book. I asked him to dictate one of his stories to me (odd as it was) and I typed it into my computer with all the gravity of an editor. Because stories are light. And light is precious in a world so dark. Especially one story. A story with all the elements of intrigue and romance and rescue. A story that is so epic it makes life worth living. Before the beginning of time, there was God. And He spoke us into being, into a perfect world of happiness. But we questioned His love and goodness and chose a serpent’s lie over our Creator’s truth. And sin had its way with us. Shame and despair and deceit and death replaced pure unadulterated freedom and pleasure. But God loved us so much that He stepped into our despair and rescued us, made us His again. Now death doesn’t master us, but Life does—and an eternity of ever-increasing happiness in His presence awaits us.  Does my son see me light up to tell the Story of All Stories? Does it shape my heart in such a way that I don’t even need to speak words for him to see its light? The gospel story illuminates all of life, not just at the moment we believe it, but also every moment thereafter. It is indescribably precious in our dark world. Every good story is an echo of this one. And our own smaller stories find their place within this larger one. When my son has questioned God’s goodness in not giving him a sibling, I tell him the story of my longing years, when I prayed and waited for his daddy and for him (and his eyes sparkle as I tell it). My anguishing wait gave me a story to tell—light to give—to a little boy who already wrestles with “Does He really love me?” What’s your story, dear one? You have one worth telling, you know. Some of its chapters are long, some sad, some happy, some magical, some mundane, some yet unfinished. All the best stories include suffering and waiting, hope and redemption. Yours has all those elements, doesn’t it? Are you telling your story in light of His? Are you illuminating your corner of this dark world? Am I? A couple of years ago, in the thick of a difficult season, I sat with a dear old man who told me the story of his life. I was transported. I was reminded of beauty and faithfulness and kindness and perseverance. I was humbled and strengthened. His words shined light into my darkness. Let’s tell stories, shall we? HIS story and our stories and grandparents’ stories. Let’s read heroes’ biographies and classics and books that tell tall tales, enlarging our hearts for the unseen and the “not-yet.” Let’s remember what God has done and recount it to each other again and again. Because stories are light. And light is precious in a world so dark. This article also appears on ERLC.com.

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Bartimaeus

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