Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Further Up and Further In

Learning lessons is a slow process for me. There are so many facets to a lesson that I often have to be taught the same thing from multiple angles. Perhaps this is why I never went to college; I was too busy re-learning lessons others learned the first time.

Christmastime has arrived in yet another year of my life; a perfect time revisit a lesson. If you are like me, you vacillate between hating the trappings of Christmas, yet loving the reason Christmas is celebrated. How does one explain this dichotomy?

Too often it comes out of my mouth as, “I hate Christmas.” Inaccurate. I hate ridiculous noise labeled “Christmas songs” (carols and hymns are fine, the Winter Wonderland and the Santa variety are not). I despise whiny children in retail stores and nasty grown-ups in the same (at any time of year this is true, in my experience it happens more at Christmas). I loathe the guilt and pressure to buy someone a gift because they are related to me, bought me a gift, or because I “have to.” Like most of my fellow Americans, I deplore the near-inevitable sugar rush and weight gain that takes place during the “holiday season.”

Do the above reasons really mean that I hate Christmas? Well, no. There are good things about Christmas: watching White Christmas with my sisters, making Mexican wedding cakes with my mom, building fires (as taught by my dad years ago), Christmas Eve midnight service with my dad and grandma, reading Christmas stories that make me cry, getting songs from The Muppet’s Christmas Carol stuck in my head, a plethora of good Christmas albums to listen to, spending time with family, etc.

Does this last list mean that I love Christmas? Again, no. Amy Grant’s Tender Tennessee Christmas and the smell of the woodstove burning while making Christmas decorations don’t make Christmas what it is. Reading Luke 2 with the family doesn’t either. Contrary to what many persons, even Christians, believe, Christmas is not about being with family. Christmas isn’t based on how I feel or if things are “like they were” when I was younger.

I’m not the first to say that what we call “nostalgia” is really a horrible imitation and corruption of one of God’s greatest gifts: Joy (as titled by C. S. Lewis) or Beauty (as described by Sheldon Vanauken). I probably won’t be the last to say such, either.

Often we long to go back or we wish that certain events were like they were when we were in our rosier days (what ever and when ever they might have been). We want what movies call “magical” moments. What we really want is not the experience, but the feeling that went with the experience. This is not magic or nostalgia. Inside we truly and desperately crave Joy or Beauty.

In Pilgrim’s Regress, Lewis captures well what happens when we revisit a place or memory, or attempt to recreate an experience: lust or idolatry. The two are really the same and neither are good or truly desirable. You might think that you are a “good person” who has not done such an atrocious thing, but tell me, do you ever desire to revisit special memories? Do you remember the excitement that went with many “firsts” in your life? Those were special things or times, but neither your nor I can live in our memories or go back to our “firsts.” When we miss out on the here and now for either something good in our memories or some hoped-for thing in our future, we make the past or future an idol. We lust after what we do not have rather than enjoying what we do. Lust and idolatry ensnare, whereas Joy and Beauty bring freedom.

How does one pursue Joy or Beauty when it come to Christmas? Should one abandon traditions? I’m not going to quit watching my favourite Christmas movies, or making cookies, or listening to Christmas carols. I may not send cards at Christmas (letters throughout the year are more preferable for me anyway), and I may not purchase gifts (even for the persons I am “supposed” to) unless someone is in need or I find something fitting. Of course, none of those things are particularly related to Christmas.

I can’t go backward seeking a feeling. I could just sit idly by as the whirlwind of Christmas passes me. Thankfully I am not limited to two options. I can do something rather different from what the majority (of Americans) does: I can move forward. I can go further up and further in to the life and world that God has created. But more than that, I must go further up and further in to the LORD Himself.

Even as I type I am moving further up and in. I wanted this essay to somehow capture a conversation about this very idea that I had in the Autumn. But that conversation was a one-time gift. I do wish it had been recorded so I could remember all of the neat things I was learning. Conversations are like much else in life, they are fluid. You can’t take a snapshot of a conversation. They live and breathe as-it-were, they move, they finish and die away. All of these things are natural.

Perhaps I am learning a little of what it means to go further up and in. I will miss new thoughts and feelings and vistas if I remain where I am or forever try to recreate something past. I must reach higher. I must look further. I must learn not to be afraid of losing what I had, rather, it is time to rejoice in what I am being given and what I will be given.

Come friends! Let us go further up and further in!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Somthing like a Fairytale

It is December. When did that happen?

I suppose it's time to refresh my blog to reflect all of the changes that are happening in my life. A map in the background is fitting. Until now my life has been charted; from here on out it will continue to be recorded in scribblings of ink. The jottings of words, the ink of photos - colours vibrant, some, shades of grey - will certainly be used to capture whatever is left of my time on this rolling sphere.

A map is apropos in other ways, as well. I'm about to make my first venture out of the country. I am glad that my first passport usage will be to England rather than some other part of the American continent.

Yes, the winds of change have blown away frustrating and confusing relationships, the routine of life, and have brought more favourable opportunities. Or perhaps I should say, the One behind the wind has done this. In the span of four days I went from, "This is my pretty chill Colorado life" to, "I'm going to Oxford!"

The story is one for fairytales or those books where you think, "Yeah, too bad that doesn't happen in real life." An anonymous donor offers to send the house-cleaning girl to Oxford. The folks in Oxford make an exception for the girl's lack of college credit. The girl is shocked (of course, who wouldn't be?). She buys a plane ticket to England. The mother of the girl has a friend who offers to purchase a computer for the girl. And then reality hits, the stacks of books grow and time shrinks. The girl has to learn how to manage time well (after many mishaps) and gets to know the Maker of the Story better in the process.

At least, that's the rough sketch. It really is a fantastic story. I wouldn't believe it... If it hadn't happened to me. The stack of books certainly is real. The plane ticket truly is purchased. The adventure has only just begun. I cannot wait to read this entry in 5 months knowing what I know then, rather than knowing what I know now.

Yet I'm glad to be here now... Glad to be in the state of awe and praise to the Author of a story so incredible it must be real life. My life. I think I shall muse on this and turn out the light on yet another wonderful day.

~ Johanna

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Yellow Cat

Some nights are made for ponderings under the stars. Most nights are made for drinking tea with cream and sugar. Few nights should be marked by tears. Fewer still seem to be given to great revelations. Tonight is a rare combination of all of the above.

While I was staring up into the heavenlies and slowly sipping my mug of English breakfast, something darted past me. It was a yellow cat. It skittered into the night, leaving me to my thoughts. After pulling the scattered leaves of my mind into a paragraph or two of thought, I decided to put my laundry in the dryer.

At the laundry room door, I saw the yellow cat. It looked frightened. I called softly to it. I waited. He waited. He mewed. I called to Him again. Instead of appearing terrified, he took a step toward me. As soon as he sniffed my hand and I scratched his head a shift happened. The apprehension disappeared. The yellow cat began to frantically rub against my legs and seek my hand to pet him.

At my ankles was a love-starved, attention-hungry cat. My view shifted. How many persons do I know who are love-starved and attention hungry? Once they realize that their Maker desires to be their Husband (Isaiah 54:5) they become frantic with excitement. Those who were once afar off, outcasts, windowed, unlovely, and unloved are now accepted, loved, part of the group - chosen.

How would you feel at that reversal of position? Wouldn't you be ecstatic? Wouldn't you put your paws on the Maker's shin to try to get closer to His hand like that yellow cat did to me?

Our Maker sees our loneliness. He sees our tear-streaked and frightened faces. He calls to us and waits. He is patient with our apprehension. He calls again. He accepts us, tames us, makes us like Him.

Tears burned in my eyes when I realized that in spite of my confidence in Christ, I too, feel like a rejected stray sometimes. Tonight not only did my heart ache for those who are love-starved, but I realized something more... I am the yellow cat.

~ Johanna

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chasing After Beauty


The more I get alone the more I see I need to get alone more, more. 'Cause just when I think that I'm alone Your Spirit calls out to me. And even silence has a song, 'cause that's when You come sing over me

Still, let me be still
Let me be okay
With the quiet in my heart
Still, I want to be still
I'm so quick to move
Instead of listening to You
Shut my mouth
Crush my pride
Give me the tears
Of a broken life,

Oh this world, it falls around me and flutters all it's Beauty in my eyes. But let me choose the solitude, Simplicity has always simply changed my life. 'Cause even stillness makes me move, 'cause that's when my heart, learns to dance with You

This song has been on my mind and heart recently. Partly because I have been chasing solitude a good deal in the midst of the craziness of Summit life. Partly because the LORD is teaching me to lay aside my flesh, its desires, my will, my longings, and my chasing of good things over the pursuit of the best things, etc.

All summer in small group I have been pulling out Jeremiah chapter 3 and Ephesians 5:22-32 discussing spiritual adultery and its direct violation of the marriage covenant picture God paints between His people and Himself. I have often called this a discussion of "personal idols" (you should also be able to find this lecture for free on iTunes). I'm finding that I have many. I shan't list them all, it would take all night and I need to sleep soon. Perhaps more will come to light in later posts, but for now, let me share one...

I have a love affair with Beauty. Now, Beauty is not bad. It is Beauty that leads us to the LORD. That is the purpose of the Beautiful. However, sometimes I get caught in the trap of loving Beauty, rather than letting it bring me into the presence of God.

Last week I spent about five days in Pagosa Springs, Colorado preparing the main lodge and guest lodge for 30 Summit Semester students. I drove down to Pagosa with my dear friend, Allison, who kept exclaiming at the majestic peaks we encountered along the way. I kept going on about how green everything was.

One evening I spent about 45 minutes laying under the vast sky and the Milky Way, thick with stars... It captivated my breath and imagination. Yet not the way if often had. There was a constant humming sound, my thoughts were too scattered to bring real conversation with the Creator, it wasn't quite perfect.

Friday morning, before we left for Manitou, I took a long walk up the forest access road into the National Forest. Things quickly became less perfect. Two tanker trucks rumbled past me. The constant sound of distant machinery grated against my ability to pray. I rounded a bend, expecting the noise and trucks to be related to eager hunters.

Wrong. Dead wrong. A bivouac of campers met my eyes. Pick-up trucks and tankers were clustered 'round. A deep gash in the earth made a massive ditch. Three huge silos jutted into the sky. Taller still was the biggest oil drill I have ever seen. A murky sludge was gushing into a holding area. The noise in the midst of pristine Beauty was unbearable. I couldn't decide weather to glare or burst into tears. Once I was safely passed I chose the latter.

"They are ruining my forest!" I fumed to myself. "Stripping the woods of their silence, some animals of their homes." You might see how silly it is that I would think a forest could be owned, and more ridiculous still that I might own it. But this is a particularly special section of land. I am familiar with it. In many ways I do feel some claim to it. Its Beauty has drawn my mind to the LORD so many times. Its stillness has given place to some grand thoughts, deep prayers, and hearty conversations.

What would not come before came. I began to pray. I realized that I was making Beauty an idol. The LORD opened my eyes to see that the fall broke Beauty. Yet brokenness is not the end. The Father began to show me that Beauty thrown into chaos could go three ways: it could be discarded, repaired, or remade.

Repairing Beauty would mean putting all the pieces back just the way it was at the beginning. Remade meant taking the pieces and making them into something even more Beautiful. Suddenly, redemption was everywhere I looked. The loud drilling was still there. The silos weren't swallowed by a crack in the earth. But redemption was possible, none-the-less.

The bush next to me was a picture of redemption: it had long thorns, red berries, and cheery green leaves. The thorns were an obvious reminder of the curse in Genesis 3, the berries of sacrificial blood, the leaves of new life. One day thorns and thistles will cease to infest the world. One day we will see the earth fully redeemed, no longer groaning under the curse. Last week that day hadn't arrived. Sadly, it hasn't come this week either. But the Day is coming. Redemption will make things more Beautiful than they were in the beginning.

Praise to You, O Christ!

~ Johanna

Monday, August 23, 2010

This and That

Oh me, oh life! That I exist... And that I exist at Summit.

So Whitman didn't say it quite that way. None-the-less, I feel it my duty to post a brief update on life.

After Summit TN I drove 25 hours total from TN to IN to KS to CO. It was a grand adventure. About 12 hours after I arrived in Colorado I flew to Wisconsin to staff at the first ever Summit North/Wisconsin session. It was beautiful. The students were great. I LOVED my small group!

After many hours in the Milwaukee airport, I finally landed in Denver. One of the guys that I staffed with in WI picked me up and we drove to Manitou. On our way we saw a magnificent sunset (a rarity in Colorado), listened to chill music, and watched the moon rise. It was nice and relaxing before jumping headlong in to session 8 here in Colorado.

I think the LORD has much to teach me this session and in the weeks to follow. You see, today I got crabby. I wanted to be by myself with a cup of tea and a letter. I wanted a shower. I wanted silence... Instead I worked nearly 7 hours straight; got SOAKED in freezing cold rain at Garden of the gods; missed lunch entirely... But did shower.

Oh to have asked the LORD to teach me humility and self-sacrifice! What was I thinking? He is faithful to answer. I don't like myself much when I'm put to the test.

Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve You with gladness and singleness of heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

~ Johanna

Post Script: Please send me mail!

Jody (Staff)
C/O The Summit
P. O. Box 207
Manitou Springs, CO 80829

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A man’s heart plans his way..

...but the LORD directs his steps."

So says Proverbs 16:9. I planned my steps before the summer began, but the LORD redirected them... And re-directed them again.

Since I didn't get hired at Summit East I ended up visiting friends in IN, OH, and MI. I began volunteering at the local Pregnancy Care Center. I offered my help for Bible school at church. I had time to read books. I had time to hear God.

Then I received a few re-directions in my steps. One call offered me a staff position at Summit's brand new session in WI (Aug 8-20), another was a last minute plea for help for Session II in TN.

As of today, most of the Summit prep homework is done; the laundry is in the dryer. The windshield wipers, headlight, oil, and spark plugs on my car have been changed, mostly by me, dad coached me through and had to change the back spark plugs. Volunteering for the Pregnancy Care Center wrapped up today, as did my time volunteering at Bible school. One more day to pack (for TN and my move back to Colorado - yikes!) and finish homework - then off I head to Tennessee early Thursday morning!

You know, if I had arrived in Indiana planning to work Summit East, I probably wouldn't have volunteered at the Pregnancy Care Center. I may not have visited some of the people that I did. I wouldn't have gotten involved with my Indiana church very much. My reading time would have been redirected, which would have been terrible - trust me, I needed to read all of those Elisabeth Elliot books! I would have finished my homework sooner (hm, that would have been good). God knew what it would take for me to accomplish those things and to go to Summit.

The LORD re-directed my way, then led me back to the path I originally thought I would be walking. Isn't He kind? He would still be just as kind if I hadn't been offered a position at Summit this summer. He is so Wonderful, I can hardly begin to describe it. His generosity, graciousness, tough love, and kindness to even me are all so overwhelming that I want to cry. He is so good to us. Let us not forget that.

~ Johanna

P. S. If you would like to send me mail before July 30th, my address is:

My Name
C/O the Summit at Bryan College
721 Bryan Drive
Box 7812
Dayton, TN 37321

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The best things in life...

...Are learned, not bought.

New spark plugs (1st change in 104,000 mi), new oil and filtre = less than $50.

Being able to change the spark plugs and oil = priceless. Thanks Dad!
New windshield wipers and a replacement headlight for the cracked one, then TN and CO here I come!

Friday, July 9, 2010

To be Redeemed from Fire by Fire


T. S. Eliot

The dove descending breaks the air

With flame of incandescent terror

Of which the tongues declare

The one discharge from sin and error.

The only hope, or else despair

Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—

To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.

Love is the unfamiliar Name

Behind the hands that wove

The intolerable shirt of flame

Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

*Suspire: to draw a long deep breath; to sigh.)

I have a confession: I have never liked T. S. Eliot. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock spoiled Eliot for me. C. S. Lewis's dislike for his work doomed him. Thus, I have never read what many consider some of Eliot's best works: the Four Quartets.

Tonight I was browsing books at Barnes and Nobel. How I managed to not buy at least three books is beyond me. I'm a cheapskate, I guess. The inscription page of one of the books had the above section of Little Gidding neatly typed there.

No, I didn't fall in love with Eliot. But something burned in my imagination. I saw a picture painted by those words. I saw a dove, tongues of fire, God's purifying fire saving one from hell fire. It occurred to me: God uses fire, satan uses fire. God uses the right amounts for testing, for burning off our impurities. Satan uses fire as torment, pain for the sake of pain. It is the same thing -fire- but wielded very differently based on the attitude of the one holding it.

Who then devised the torment? Love. Oooh, haven't I just written about this very thing? It is Love Who puts us in the fires of purification for our good and His glory. It is Love Who allows pain - if it makes us like His dear Son. It is Love Who cannot bear to leave us as we are, but prunes us, redeems us by His very blood.

Interestingly, I was out with two amazing ladies when I discovered this poem. Our conversation in the "Spirituality/Religion" section at Barnes and Nobel centered on, "This is where I am in life, but I don't like it." Sparks are flying, embers glowing. Mhmm, you are in the Master's furnace. He's making you better than you were. He's forging you into something you couldn't possibly be if you weren't hardened (strengthened) by the fire. Though it hurts will you let God's fire consume you?

We only live, only suspire

Consumed by either fire or fire.

~ Johanna

AND since it is of thy mercy, O gracious Father, that another day is added to our lives; We here dedicate both our souls and our bodies to thee and thy service, in a sober, righteous, and godly life: in which resolution, do thou, O merciful God, confirm and strengthen us; that, as we grow in age, we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

BUT, O God, who knowest the weakness and corruption of our nature, and the manifold temptations which we daily meet with; We humbly beseech thee to have compassion on our infirmities, and to give us the constant assistance of thy Holy Spirit; that we may be effectually restrained from sin, and incited to our duty. Imprint upon our hearts such a dread of thy judgments, and such a grateful sense of thy goodness to us, as may make us both afraid and ashamed to offend thee. And, above all, keep in our minds a lively remembrance of that great day, in which we must give a strict account of our thoughts, words, and actions to him whom thou hast appointed the Judge of quick and dead, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Owl City Album!

*Sigh* I really want the new (old) Owl City album: Sky Sailing. Anyone want to pre-buy it on iTunes for me? Please and thank you.

Friday, July 2, 2010


"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. "
~ C. S. Lewis

I quote Lewis on this particular point after yet another phone call with my best friend. She has been in on her fair share of phone calls from me in her lifetime. To count such calls would be like numbering the stars or the ever changing number of hairs on our red heads.

Brittany and I have known one another for at least 11 years. That means we've seen each other through our worst moments - also known as high school. We've seen the good, the bad, and the bed-head after sleepovers. (Oy, and those wretched plaid shirts I used to sport!)

Without Brittany my understanding of the LORD would be quite different. I might miss His grace and compassion. I might not understand what Scripture means when it says "A friend loveth at all times..." or "Forgive as God in Christ forgave you."

"Friendship is an obstetric art; it draws out our richest and deepest resources; it unfolds the wings of our dreams and hidden indeterminate thoughts; it serves as a check on our judgments, tries out our new ideas, keeps up our ardor, and inflames our enthusiasm."
~ A. G. Sertillanges

There have been graduations, commissionings, Summit days, Steak and Shake hats at midnight, fireworks, book conventions, awkward statements (those would be mine, oops), hysterical laughs, bitter tears, disappointments, hopes, fears, let downs, inspirations, on-line chats for hours, and of course, those aforementioned phone calls.

Sometimes it can be easy to forget what you have until it's gone. I have discovered that too many times in my life. This time I'm thankful for what I have: a best friend through thick and thin.

Today I praise the LORD for Brittany.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Why Does Love Feel Like Death?

Perhaps because it is sometimes.

Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in [our] protection from suffering.

The Love of God is of a different nature altogether. It does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands in the very teeth of suffering.

The Love of God did not protect His own Son...

...He will not necessarily protect us - not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.

~ Elisabeth Elliot
{Passion and Purity, Pg 84}

So God is love. He is the Love that many persons abuse, saying "If God is love then I should be happy." Or "I should have this or that." Oh no, because God is Love you shan't have this or that; you will live on caster oil, weekly baths, early bedtime, early rising, hours of prayer on your knees, and learning how to deal with annoying so-and-so.

Love does not protect us from everything, certainly not hardship and difficulty. Love allows trials in order to make us like Christ Jesus Himself. It is Love which desires our best, not what is easy. It is Love that calls for discipline when we sin, for discipleship as a way of life. It is Love that won't let us "get away with murder" - or gossip, or slander, or lust, or white lies, or anything else we pass off as "minor sin".

Oh God, why do You have to love me? It hurts so much!

No wait, He doesn't have to love me. He chooses to. And I choose to attempt loving Him back, though my efforts are feeble. My love for Him is not a correcting, consuming fire (how can the imperfect creation be the standard for the perfect Creator?). Instead, my love is humble gratitude for His patience with me, for His desire to not leave me as I am, for His willingness to redeem me with the blood of His own Son.

Oh Love, You feel like death because you prune wickedness out of my heart! Oh Love, Your sharp shears clip selfishness off at the root over and over again! Oh Love, You cannot leave me wild and overgrown like You found me. You carefully prune and tame me, cleaning dirty branches, clipping others, shearing some off completely. By helping me say "no" to the bondage of sin I am free to live righteously. In obedience there is freedom. In discipline and trimming there is order and life.

What feels like death is death, and yet it is life, too. What a paradox and great mystery. What painful kindness of Him called Love.

~ Johanna

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —

Christ — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His

To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"We were made not primarily that we may love God [though we were made for that too] but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest 'well pleased'.

To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable.

~ C. S. Lewis ~

The Problem of Pain, Chapter 3

Monday, May 31, 2010

"The reason most people fail instead of succeed, is that they trade what they want most for what they want at the moment."
~ Anonymous

Thursday, May 27, 2010

At Any Cost

AND since it is of Thy mercy,
O gracious Father, that another day is added to our lives;
We here dedicate both our souls and our bodies to Thee and Thy service,
in a sober, righteous, and Godly life:
in which resolution, do Thou, O merciful God, confirm and strengthen us;
that, as we grow in age, we may grow in grace,
and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. ~ Amen."
(1828 Book of Common Prayer, Morning Prayers)

"And since it is of Thy mercy...We here dedicate both our souls and our bodies to Thee and Thy service..."

Ever feel like God is repeating something to you no matter where you turn? In my life the past couple of weeks the theme has been sacrificing my thoughts, time, emotions, heart, desires, relationships, hopes, fears, my whole LIFE to Him. I copied the following prayer into my journal and the front cover of my Bible:

"LORD, I give up all my own plans and purposes,
all my own desires and hopes and accept Thy will for my life.
I give myself, my life, my all, utterly to Thee to be Thine forever.
Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit.
Use me as Thou wilt, send me where Thou wilt,
and work out Thy whole will in my life
at any cost now
and forever.

~Betty Scott Stam~

The line in bold has me troubled: at any cost. I began reading The Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer at the end of last year. He said a similar thing: if we are disciples of Christ Jesus it will cost us everything. Are we ready to pay the price? Am I ready to pay that price?

At any cost. Am I willing to root out sin in my life? Am I going to sacrifice friendships, family, even marriage? Will I offer up my hopes, dreams, and desires? Will I lay down my very life for the sake of Jesus Christ?

Well, how much do I love Jesus? Do I love Him more than my sin? Is He my desire above all others? Really? Would I give up my independence, Colorado, the familiar and the adventures in life? Do I love Him? Or do I want my own way more than His? Do I really think my choices, likes and dislikes, plans, and steps are better than His? Do I love Him enough to let go of them and find out? Do I love Him?

What price am I willing to pay? Something higher than most Christians offer? A very high price? Everything?


He doesn't ask us to follow Him at a high price. He didn't pay a high price for us. He paid the highest price. He demands the highest payment. Not because He is cruel or egocentric, but because He is just, He is worthy, He loves us. Do we love Him? Do I love Him?

Do I love Him enough to give Him everything? Enough to answer His call? Enough to be obedient to His commands? Enough to be called a disciple? Isn't it all or nothing? Why try to live somewhere between those options?

I admit, there are far too many rhetorical questions in the above lines. Far too much is assumed or open-ended.

There are many hard questions there.
I know what the answers should be.
I wonder how my life will actually answer them...

~ Johanna

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Good Ol' Summertime

Have you ever taken the time to listen to a chorus of tree frogs while watching the moon rise? Perhaps you don't live in a place that affords this luxury. In that case, you are probably missing another key element of the quintessential Summer evening: lightening bugs. Next you'll be clamoring that you don't have local outdoor ice cream stands, drive-in movies, cornfields, and you've never smelled the sweet scent of freshly mowed hay. You will tell me that the indispensable sights, sounds, and scents of summer are sunscreen, salt water, and grilling. I'll agree with the grilling one at least.

It's funny how our growing up experiences solidify in our minds what a season is or is not like. Thunder, lightening, and the fresh smell of rain are fundamental to late Spring and early Summer in the Midwest. But what if you grew up in the desert or by the sea? You would miss the wind blowing through the wheat fields illuminated by scores of fireflies. Yet what do I not know as familiar? The waves upon the shore, the moon trailing over the water, the sharp cry of gulls winging their way home at night. These are foreign to my understanding of "normal".

Isn't it wonderful that God created various landscapes? Isn't it marvelous that we have different perspectives based on how and where we were raised? Isn't it splendid that we are not all cast from the same mold? God is creative; ingenious, really. That, of course, is an understatement. God's ingenuity and imagination surpass the most vivid colours of the ocean and its inhabitants, or the wildflowers in a meadow, or persons on the streets of New York. Can you picture the grand adventure of Heaven? Perhaps there will be new sounds, tastes, colours, dimensions, and other things I cannot yet conceive.

Where are these thoughts going? Good question... I really just wanted to write about tree frogs and fireflies. I wanted to capture at least a snapshot of the Beauty I experienced on my walk this evening. Words can paint neat pictures in our minds at times, but they cannot beat being there. To be in that place in that lighting with that smell...

No, words cannot come close to touching reality. But Oh! Words can make our imaginations soar, cause our hearts to swell, and lead us to Beauty. They have a different power, another role and purpose. We need both the experience and the words to describe it. We need to communicate (even if only to ourselves) all of the things our senses perceive. One cannot replace the other, it is a necessary union.

~ Johanna

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Be All There

"Wherever you are be all there.
Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.
~ Jim Elliot

This quotation has been one that I refer back to often in life. Especially when I might not like exactly where I am...

Today finds me at my parent's house in Indiana under grey skies. I could feel miserable (and have, off and on, since arriving). I could throw a pity party. I could spiral into depression. But what will I gain from such things? What will those around me gain from that? Won't I be depleting them if I act that way? How does feeling sorry about my situation serve the LORD?
Isn't He worthy of praise in spite of my feelings? If this is where He has put me, shouldn't I choose to learn from this place?

Yesterday I began to re-read Let Me Be A Woman by Elisabeth Elliot. In chapter 10 she makes these profound statements:

"The stages of their [the Israelites] journey,
dull and eventless as most of them were,
were each a necessary part of the movement
toward the fulfillment of the promise.

Single life may be only a stage of a life's
journey, but even a stage is a gift.
God may replace it with another gift,
but the receiver accepts His gifts with
This gift for this day.

The life of faith is lived one day at a time,
and it has to be lived - not always looked
forward to as though the "real" living were
just around the corner.

It is today for which we are responsible.
God still owns tomorrow."
~ Elisabeth Elliot

Yes, God still owns tomorrow. He owns the rest of my summer. He knows why I am not working at Summit East this summer. He knows what He wants to teach me and tell me, today, and in the upcoming weeks. I need a hearing heart and listening ears. I need to remember that even if these weeks are seemingly eventless, they are still part of the journey.

My prayer comes from Psalm 37:4-5 --

"Delight yourself also in the LORD,
and He shall give you the desires [your heart should have].
Commit your way to the LORD,
trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass."

~ Johanna ~

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bread and Button-Holes...

Oh how I love practical thinking and simple living! I have been completely ensconced in Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins: Or Aunt Hill this week (click the link, you can read the whole book on-line for free!).

Reading of Rose's lessons in bread making, I was inspired to improve my domestic skills. All fall I had been planning to learn the art of bread making. A few tips here and there were given, I even made pretzels with some friends to start the process... Yet "real" bread had never been attempted. Deciding not to leave Colorado without at least one attempt, I tried my hand at the process yesterday.

Now let me tell you, my last attempt at yeast rolls resulted in little rock-solid things. They were kindly eaten, but they were a disastrous failure. Yesterday I threw out my first attempt with the yeast, feeling the water wasn't warm enough. After which, the Lord smiled upon my little domestic endeavours. The loaf of oat/whole wheat bread rose to a little round dome. The first rising of the yeast rolls happily doubled. I even remembered the tip I read about kneading the dough and pinching it off into rounds. Twelve puffy balls of dough rose gracefully in the pan. A dozen brown, warm, amazing-smelling rolls came out of the oven after 15 minutes.

I felt like a bread-making queen. Oh yes, I'm an expert now... Or not. But I certainly felt that way!

Next, I suppose I should learn how to sew button-holes (or in general; my hand-stitching is so slow and inconsistent) like Rose did in the book (see page 178 to read of her adventures). Hm, my lack of skill in button-holes is bringing me back down to reality after the bread success.

Today holds new adventures, I'm sure... I'd best get to them!

~ Johanna

Sunday, April 18, 2010

With the Rising of the Sun

From the rising of the sun to its going down
The LORD’s name is to be praised."

~ Psalm 113:3

My alarm chirped at 4:30am on Thursday. Yes, I told it to impede my slumber, to return me from the land of Nod to the land of reality. I donned jeans and a sweatshirt, and headed off to the airport with my neighbour. Above us, constellations shone brightly before their nightly dance was whisked away by the daystar. When we pulled up to the airport, the Eastern sky was turning a tell-tale grey.

The drive home went quickly, followed by a (nearly forgotten) jaunt to the post office box. I had left an English muffin in the toaster and an egg in the pan (the burner was off!) in order to beat the postman at 6:15. Chilly morning air beckoned me up a historic street to see the Spring flowers. Then I walked to an overlook to watch the sun crest the low-lying foothills.

Liquid gold spilled across the horizon, like ink toppled on a table. I turned to look West and my next breath caught in my throat. Pike's Peak was backed by the last of the night sky, its hoary head now gleaming as burnished copper. Ordinary red dirt on the foothills was transformed into fiery paths, coupled with glowing pines. My gaze swung back to the source of life-giving light. There he was, the sleepyhead sun blinking his great eye.

Freezing fingers compelled me to trot home, finish preparing my half-made breakfast, and move on with my day. But stiff hands could not quell swirling thoughts. "The sun shines on everything, giving it life." "No, no, Beauty." "Perhaps both." "God does that." Stop. Repeat? "God does that." Thoughts moving at light-speed began running down this track. To save you from wading through my scattered thoughts, I will corral them for you.

What if our lives are like mountains, red dirt, lilting flowers, shaggy pines, splashing streams, - all brought to life when the sun shines upon them? Sure, the analogy isn't perfect - some of those things had "life" or Beauty before the sun shined upon them. Our lives do not. We are a lump of clay, scattered rock, stagnant pools. When God shines His glory upon us, the reflection is Beautiful. Life and order are imparted. As sure as a life is illuminated, our gaze is drawn to the Source of light, the Origin of glory.
If we reflect the glory of God, those who see us will look for Him. How kind of the LORD to remind us of such lessons every day with the rising of the sun!

~ Johanna

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Clear Call for Me

"Sunset and Evening Star,

And one clear call for me..."

...To write. To cherish things past. To long for dusty pages of well bound tomes. To appreciate paper, ink, and the dripping wax of the candle on my desk.

Who am I? I am a keeper of things past. A guardian who will not allow ancient words to be forgotten. Tennyson and Wordsworth, Locke and Burke: their words and ideas have long shaped us. Saint Paul, the Creeds and Confessions: longer still have they chiseled our hearts and minds. Luther and Erasmus, too, gave the common man tools to analyze texts, and set the Scriptures in his own tongue.

Tongue. Language, words, expression, speech, thoughts... These are a beacon to arouse and alarm, to humble and bless, to bewilder and charm. Words express ideas, they must be carefully chosen, wrought into concise thought. Ideas must be worthy of being spoken, penned, or taught.

Eloquence and rhetoric have been pushed aside for the caustic inarticulation of postmodernism. Words have been uprooted, their meanings changed or stolen.

"Twilight and evening bell
And after that the dark!"

A twilight on words and Beauty? Does "Beauty" even make sense if meaning is given by the hearer? My head lifts in hope: yes. Words have objective meaning. Poetry and prose intend what the author seeks to convey.

Long after darkness falls, grey meets the East. Light streaks along the horizon, licking the clouds like a tongue of flame with vibrant oranges, reds, and dazzling golds. Yes! The sun rises after the dark.

I am a keeper of words, a teacher of language. They will LIVE. Another will rise up to take my place, to excel me when I have crossed the bar.

~ Johanna