Always?


One of the best parts of teaching at the school where I work is that our students regularly lead us in worship. And our praise band is “if they cut a record I’d buy it” good. 

They are talented, but they are also so honest in their walks with the Lord. I spend enough time with them each week to know their hearts. I see them worship with abandon and then get snippy with a friend or parent. I know they’re fallen and fallible. And they know it, too, which is one reason I love them so much.

Tonight was Awards Night, and our praise band and chorale led us in a time of worship. We sang Chris Tomlin’s song “I Lay Me Down,” and when we got to the bridge, the student leading closed her eyes, raised her hands, and proclaimed, “This is my favorite part of the song,” before singing the statement, “It will be my joy to say Your will, Your way, always.”

Immediately my heart responded, “Always?” I realized that so much of my silence, my frustration of the last two years has been that it has not been my joy to say, “Your will, your way.” Not at all.

This time six years ago, I was working at the YMCA in Wake Forest, NC, interviewing to teach history at an English speaking international school in Kabul, Afghanistan. I was chasing my dream: Bekah Mason, world traveler for Jesus.

Four weeks later I was living with my parents, back home in Chattanooga. No job, no degree, no globetrotting.

It was not my joy to say, “Your will, your way, always.”

It was not my joy when a counseling position I was developing for a ministry with a local office didn’t receive needed funding and was eliminated.

It was my joy to receive a phone call about a long term sub position to finish the school year at a local Christian school. 

It was my joy because I had always wanted to teach there, AND it was for the remainder of the 2009-2010 school year, after which I intended to move to Louisville, KY, and begin my PhD. My plan, my joy.

Six years later, through changes in departments, internships, starting and failing that PhD, coaching, learning, and loving, it has become my joy to be here still. Not my plan, but still my joy.

I am reminded of the man in Mark 5 whom Jesus delivered from the legion of demons. The text says that the man was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

Go home to your people. For those of us with a wanderlust that is often unquenchable, there is no joy in Jesus telling us to go home. 

I love the travel, the short term, the excitement of new places and people and challenges. But my life is not about me, and in these last six years, I have learned one valuable thing about myself: to stay is to be known, and being known is a hard part of sanctification. Being known means tears and vulnerability, it means people knowing your weaknesses. Being known can be terrifying, but to be useful in community, we must be known.

The girl who moved to seminary nine years ago with plans of never coming home has ended up back in the same zip code her family has lived in for 21 years. I live in my grandmother’s house, teach at the school my sister attended, have the children of my friends in my clasess, and it is my joy. 

So is it my joy to say, “Your will, your way, always” in my heart? I’m still not there. But He is. Through the urges to run away, to self-destruct, to doubt and question and second guess. HE is always, and He is enough to bridge that gap on the days that I haven’t quite found my joy.

Because, you see, He is my joy, and He always finds me.

On Sharing Life and Death


The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9, KJV

IMG_0647.JPG

I sleep just like my grandmother. Curled up on my side, one leg stretched out, the other pulled into my chest. A pillow between my arms. I didn’t know that she slept that way until last night, as I watched her curled up in a hospital bed, finally sleeping peacefully. For a little while, she is not consumed with pain.

I share her feisty nature, which is still obvious in spite of the fact that she has wasted away to skin, bones, and the cancer that fills them. That peacefulness was disrupted briefly when Robby the CNA rolled her over and she let him know that he had “messed up the bed.”

I wonder as I wander, just like the gentleman next door, who also paces in his pajamas between his room and the kitchen.

Shared bathrooms between suites. Pajama clad people shuffling, half awake through the halls, in search of coffee. Other people sleeping, oblivious to what’s going on around them. It’s like my college residence hall, only it’s the Hospice unit where my Nana has come for her final days.

One thing that unites all of us who are living is that, one day, we will be living no longer. For all the differences that we think separate us as people, life and death unite us like nothing else.

There is nothing new under the sun. The older I get, the more I see in the now, and the more I learn of the then, the more I recognize that we all have a deep yearning to be different, be unique. We want to be seen and be known.

And we are. Unique. One of a kind. Fearfully and wonderfully made. We are Imago Dei.

The struggle comes, I think, in the fallen desire for our uniqueness to be recognized as better, as right. And so diversity is not celebrated, but scorned. We fail to be unified in our diversity because we fear what we do not know.

As I sit in the quiet, at that moment when the sky is gray and pink with all the anticipation of the coming day, all I can think is, “What am I anticipating today?”

The last day of classes before Thanksgiving break.

The birth of babies.

News of a former coach receiving a life saving transplant.

The day my Nana steps into eternity.

War overseas and rioting at home.

Christmas being provided for mamas and their kids by generous people.

Glimpses of grace.

Words of encouragement.

Hugs. Prayers. Laughter. Family.

There is nothing new under the sun.

But if the best is only possible with the possibility of the worst, bring it on, whatever the day may bring, because each day confirms that we share so much more than we will ever know.

What about the Isaiah 54 Woman?


1 “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. 2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. 4 “Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. 5 For your Maker is your husband– the LORD Almighty is his name– the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. ~Isaiah 54

Christmas Eve 2012 was about as perfect as a Christmas Eve could be.

I spent the morning doing homework at a coffeehouse I have frequented since high school.

I went to Go Fish and had a blast at work chatting with and wrapping for a host of delightful last minute holiday shoppers.

I attended the Christmas Eve service of Lessons and Carols at Covenant Presbyterian Church and was so proud of my dad as he participated in the service for the first time. I saw my high school basketball coach and his daughter, a precious former teammate and old friend, and met her husband and two little girls and marveled at how time has flown.

My parents and sisters and I continued our Christmas Eve tradition of fine dining at a local Waffle House. Nothing beats the conversation and the people watching at a Waffle House on Christmas Eve.

After hanging out with them for a while longer, Val and I went to Midnight Mass at St. Paul’s Episcopal downtown. For this Southern Baptist girl who grew up in a country church at which farmers often had to leave the service because their pigs had escaped and followed them to church, there is a richness and unity in the liturgical service that I am drawn to every year. I saw two more of my dearest old friends from high school and spent a few precious moments catching up with them.

When I arrived home around 1:30 Christmas morning, I had a full and worshipful heart. I had spent the evening singing praises and hymns of deep and rich theology (Have you ever actually read the words of most Christmas carols?), and I could not wait for the next morning, to hear my dad read the Christmas story from Luke 2, to watch my niece and nephew open their gifts and then to enjoy one my favorite Mason family traditions– the Christmas Seafood Feast.

I made an unscheduled stop at my grandmother’s house that morning, and while she couldn’t remember our names, she remembered that my cousin and I were her oldest and youngest “grands” and, according to my standards, that meant she was having a good enough day to get her out of the house, so, after a bit of protesting from her and convincing from us, we brought her to Christmas at our house

Things occurred just as expected, with the exception of my dad cutting lunch short so the grandkids could start opening presents. That was amusing.

Life was as Americana perfect as a Norman Rockwell painting. Until about 4:00 pm. That was when my brothers, their very pregnant wives, and their precocious precious toddlers left, headed out to other families and other activities.

And I was standing alone in my parents’ front yard.

And that’s when the dark cloud of mental assault hit me. What was I going to do the rest of the evening? Read? Research? Further my education and theological training? Rebel against looming due dates and go see a movie? Go home and continue the unexpected and rushed packing job I am doing?

I tried fighting the impending feeling of loneliness and loserness by throwing myself into Isaiah 54 mode. The Proverbs 31 women had left with their families, but the barren woman was going to sing for joy while I furthered the work of enlarging my tent and raising my spiritual children.

But there was no joyous song in my heart.

So many things have been written in the last couple of years about liberating women from the unrealistic expectation of being the Proverbs 31 woman, about releasing wives and moms everywhere from the unattainable standard of this perfect wife.

But as I stood in my parents’ yard, forcing a smile and silly waves and throwing and catching kisses with my babies, I was pitching a toddler sized fit in my head, with myself and with God. The grass is always greener on the other side, and at that moment, I would have traded my Isaiah 54 for some Proverbs 31 a thousand times over.

The deceptive, depressing thoughts came flooding:

“Must be nice to go with your own family to celebrate more. Too bad you’ll never have a family of your own.”

“Keep doing that research and earning those degrees and publishing your work. It’ll keep you busy, but it’ll never be anyone’s pride and joy like those grandbabies your brothers keep producing.”
I chided myself: “How dare you not be content in your singleness! Spiritual offspring is an eternal matter and counts much more than biological offspring. The love of Christ is better than the love of man. It’s better to be single and serve the Lord. Is being in the ideal position to do what you’ve been called to do not good enough for you?”

As I fought back tears and the physical feeling of being kicked in the stomach, I thought, “No, I don’t want to be the Isaiah 54 woman. Right now I want a husband to help and love and minister alongside, and I want kids to love and train and disciple. I don’t want to read 5,000 pages of school work or finish an overdue thesis proposal, or raise money to save families in Uganda, or prepare lesson plans for units coming up at school. I don’t want to ‘enlarge the place of my tent’ or ‘stretch my tent curtains wide.’ I’ve opened myself up to the vulnerability of ministry, and it’s a pain I don’t want anymore.

I don’t want to be the Isaiah 54 woman right now.”

As I pitched my hissy fit, I decided to go for a run to clear my head and adjust my attitude, to keep my body busy while my heart and mind had it out with God.

While I was running, three Scriptures were impressed upon my heart: one was a prayer for an old friend, but two were for me. The first was the “dare” God first placed in my heart when I completely surrendered my life to Him:

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Psalm 34:8

It’s a passage God brings to mind every time I doubt His direction or ask myself what in the world I am doing with my life. He reminds me, “Just try me. Trust me again and I will not fail you again.”

The third passage has become a life verse of sorts for me. When God dared me to try Him and I did, this verse became my response to His faithfulness.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will praise you. Psalm 63:3

I have tasted the world, and it was bitter.

I have tasted the Lord and His way is better. Better than life. Better than anything in this life.

I had forgotten, ever so briefly, those two truths: God offers Himself to us fully, because He knows there’s nothing in this world that will satisfy us like Him.

So what of the Isaiah 54 woman?

Does she need to be liberated?

Only from the deception that we are to be the dutiful Stepford wife of Christ.

I share this not as a pitch for sympathy or encouragement (because the thoughts were taken captive, made obedient and the moment has passed), but because I know I can’t the only single girl out that there that sometimes has this moment and just needs to know it’s ok to have those times when you’re not ok with being single.

Be like the Psalmists; cry out in desperation. Express your frustrations and your selfish desires. Have a spiritual hissy fit.

But keep being like the Psalmist and renew your mind with the Truth of his Word and faithfulness.

Being an Isaiah 54 woman is reason to sing for joy, and sing I will, even on the days my heart deceives me, even for a moment, into thinking there is anything, at least in this season of my life, that is better for me in this life.

God, All-Sufficient


From The Valley of Vision, pg. 214:
King of Glory, Divine Majesty,

Every perfection adorns thy nature and sustains thy throne;

The heavens and earth are thine,

The world is thine and thy fullness.

Thy power created the universe from nothing;

Thy wisdom has managed all its multiple concerns, presiding over nations, families, individuals.

Thy goodness is boundless; all creatures wait on thee

                                                                         are supplied by thee,

                                                                         are satisfied in thee.

How precious are the thoughts of thy mercy and grace!

How excellent thy lovingkindness that draws men to thee!

Teach us to place our happiness in thee, the blessed God, never seeking life among the dead things of earth,

or asking for that which satifies the deluded;

But may we prize the light of thy salvation,

                       implore the joy of thy salvation,

                       find our heaven in thee.

Thou hast attended to our happiness more than we can do;

Though we are fallen creatures thou hast not neglected us.

In love and pity thou hast provided us a Saviour;

Apply His redemption to our hearts,

by justifying our persons,

and sanctifying our natures.

We confess our transgressions, have mercy on us.

We are weary, give us rest,

              ignorant, make us wise unto salvation,

             helpless, let thy strength be made perfect in our weakness,

             poor and needy, bless us with Christ’s unsearchable riches,

             perplexed and tempted, let us travel on, unchecked, undismayed,

             knowing thou hast said,

“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Blessed be thy name!

20121016-065610.jpg

Sex to the Glory of God?


(This post is the first in a series of three addressing specific ideas and principles found in the following passage of Scripture.They will post on three consecutive days.)

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:15-20

People spend hours each week engrossed in television shows whose story lines center around the illicit relationships of the main characters. Teen girls are now intentionally getting pregnant, hoping they’ll be selected as the next “star” of a teen mom reality show. More and more church members are involved in immoral sexual activity or cohabiting, all while the church has historically kept silent on the issue of sex, rarely teaching a godly, biblical theology of sex. Unbiblical sexual activity has become an acceptable sin in the body of Christ. It’s been so normalized in culture that the church has surrendered and thrown up her hands in defeat. The attitude seems to be that we can’t stop people from having sex, so we’ll just hope they use protection and we’ll be here to help them pick up the pieces when their lives explode.

The church ignores the topic of sex as if it has nothing to do with the church or the God we worship. Here’s where the problem comes occurs. Sex was God’s idea, not something he wants to limit, control, or destroy. Here is God’s view of sex. Sex is good. Very good, in fact, according to Genesis 2. But, much like a fine luxury car, sex is best when it functions within the manufacturer’s suggested guidelines.

And, whether we like it or not, God gives very specific guidelines for how sex is best enjoyed and most fully experienced in its original purpose.

God is perfect. He’s the perfect teacher. He not only tells us what not to do, he tells us what to do. He gives us the one right, best way to do things and then gives illustrations of consequences of what will happen when we don’t follow His guidelines.

One of my favorite examples of this type of teaching is the inclusion of polygamy in Scripture. Christians of a more liberal or emerging mindset think along this line of logic: polygamy is in the Bible, so God must be ok with it. Polygamy is oppressive to women, therefore, this must also mean God hates women.

OR maybe he included stories of polygamy in Scripture to show us the consequences of engaging in sexual relationships in ways other than His one, best way. One of my favorite defenses of the Bible and Christianity coming from a Being greater than humanity is that the Bible graphically displays the greatest failures of its “greatest” human characters. Humans tend to cover our faults and deify our leaders. Not the Bible. God ensures we know that it is He who does the miraculous work, not any man.

In my area of counseling, I spend a lot of time pondering relationships and gender and sex, and what God has to say about these issues in the Bible. I also ponder them because I spent so many years struggling with my own understanding of those very issues. Many people go into counseling because they’re trying to figure themselves out, and I guess I’m no exception. But during my time in seminary, I spent more time studying the nature of God than I spent talking about mankind and relationships.

And the more I learned about God, the more I learned about myself and people in general. This is the conclusion that I came to concerning sex and my stance on sex as I learned more and more about God and his purposes for creating humanity and sexuality.

1. God designed sex with a good purpose.
2. God created sex to produce good results– trust, pleasure, intimacy, connection, procreation…
3. God determined sex was so precious and powerful that it was best reserved for only one person.
4. To accurately show God’s image and nature in procreation and diverse unity, sex should be expressed only between a man and a woman.
5. To be a faithful picture of God’s covenant with His people, sex should only only take place within the confines of a covenant relationship, specifically marriage.

These are the guidelines for God’s good gift of sex. Seems pretty simple and straightforward. It gets complicated when we start making exceptions for our own “happiness”. But notice that “it makes me happy” is not included in that short list above.

As believers, we need to remember the statement my mom repeats often: quit expecting people who aren’t Christians to behave like Christians. They aren’t. Our “rules” don’t apply to unbelievers. If unbelievers follow God’s guidelines, their lives will be better, more peaceful, healthier simply because God’s way is best. But it makes sense that unbelievers are concerned foremost with their own happiness; their lives revolve around themselves and their own fulfillment.

I don’t want lost homosexuals to just stop being homosexuals; I want them to meet the only fulfilling Lover of their soul and completer of their heart.

I don’t want heterosexual sinners to just stop having sex outside of marriage, or to break their addictions to porn or self-pleasure; I want them to discover that the pleasure and fulfillment they are seeking in sex or relationships will only be found by fulfilling their souls’ deepest desires in Christ instead hopelessly trying to fulfill their bodies’ most intense urges.

I don’t want lost drug addicts to just get clean; I want them to meet the Most High.

I don’t want lost people struggling with depression to just figure out how to be happy and self-fulfilled, and I want them to discover eternal joy in Christ.
And I don’t want saved homosexuals, sex addicts, drug addicts, or those suffering from depression to just stop their behavior, either. I desire the same thing God desires for them. To stop being so easily pleased with mere happiness and and begin seeking true and lasting joy, found only in seeking after His glory.

So what happens, as believers, to our relationship with God when, through sex (or any other thing), we seek our own happiness instead of His glory? We’ll see the answer to that tomorrow in Paul’s graphic illustration in 1 Corinthians 6.

Encouragement for the Weary Soul


The two disciples who walked to Emmaus and conversed together, and were sad, were true believers. We may not judge men by their occasional feelings. The possession of gladness is no clear evidence of grace; and the existence of depression is no sure sign of insincerity. The brightest eyes that look for heaven have sometimes been holden so that they could not see their heart’s true joy. Be not cast down, my brethren and sisters, if occasionally the tears of sadness bathe your cheeks. Jesus may be drawing near to you, and yet you may be troubled by mysteries of grief.

The Lord Jesus Christ came to the two disciples, and took a walk of some seven miles with them to remove their sadness; for it is not the will of our Lord that his people should be cast down. The Savior does himself that which he commanded the ancient prophet to do. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem.” Thus he spake and thus he acts. He was pleased when he went away to send us another Comforter, because he wishes us to abound in comfort; but that promise proves that he was, and is, himself a Comforter. Do not dream, when in sadness, that your Lord has deserted you; rather reckon that for this very reason he will come to you. As her babe’s cry quickens the mother’s footsteps to come to it more speedily, So shall your griefs hasten the visits of your Lord. He hears your groanings; he sees your tears—are they not in his bottle? He will come to you as the God of all consolation.

Observe that, when the Savior did come to these mourning ones, he acted very wisely towards them. He did not at once begin by saying, “I know why you are sad.” No; he waited for them to speak, and in his patience drew forth from them the items and particulars of their trouble. You that deal with mourners, learn hence the way of wisdom. Do not talk too much yourselves. Let the swelling heart relieve itself. Jeremiah derives a measure of help from his own lamentations: even Job feels a little the better from pouring out his complaint. Those griefs which are silent run very deep, and drown the soul in misery. It is good to let sorrow have a tongue where sympathy hath an ear. Allow those who are seeking the Lord to tell you their difficulties: do not discourse much with them till they have done so. You will be the better able to deal with them, and they will be the better prepared to receive your words of cheer. Often, by facing the disease of sorrow the cure is half effected; for many doubts and fears vanish when described. Mystery gives a tooth to misery, and when that mystery is extracted by a clear description, the sharpness of the woe is over. Learn, then, ye who would be comforters, to let mourners hold forth their wound before you pour in the oil and wine.
                                                                                                                –Charles Spurgeon, “Folly of Unbelief”, August 28, 1887

The entire sermon is well worth reading, both for those who need encouragement and for those love to encourage.

Of Joy and Desire, Part 1


But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire…
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us—to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
Matthew Arnold, “The Buried Life”

So much in the lives of men—our literature, drama, dance, painting, photography, our solitary midnight musings—deals with this mystery which is ingrained so deeply into the hearts of every pilgrim on this planet. Noted author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis defined this part of the human experience as “the stab, the pain, the inconsolable longing…;” and he called it Joy. Books have been written, debates have raged; the Romantic Period of art and literature was essentially dedicated to the questions, “Why are we here and what are we seeking?” Debates have continued for centuries concerning the source of and the solution to the indefinable longing present in each person, but it was only when Lewis began his life’s work that a suitable definition (though still not a source) was discovered.

To be human… is to have a divinely ingrained hunger… for transcendent joy…. Lewis gave such experience the name sehnsucht, a German term rooted in sehnen (to long for, to yearn after), and sucht (homesickness, passion, rage). Sehnsucht thus means a passionate longing, a lifelong homesickness for another world. Sehnsucht is the experience of “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”

In his spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis says that his first memory of this type of longing occurred the day his brother Warren brought a toy garden into their nursery. This garden, “the first beauty I ever knew,” combined with the Castlereagh Hills he could see from his nursery window, “taught me longing—Sehnsucht; made me for good or ill, and before I was six years old, a votary of the Blue Flower.” From this moment, he says, his life became a quest to recapture that fleeting moment of joy and beauty.

C.S. Lewis was not the only prolific writer to contemplate the source and meaning of desire. In the work “Writing the Long Desire: The Function of Sehnsucht in The Great Gatsby and Look Homeward, Angel,” D.G. Kehl gives numerous examples of authors focusing entire books around the desires of a specific character. Entire chapters of books are dedicated to the protagonist thinking aloud about “whence our lives come and where they go.” When trying to grasp a more concrete definition of this longing, “Carson McCullers writes, ‘It is no simple longing for the home town or the country of our birth…. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” How is it possible to long for a place to which we have never been? If we have never had an experience, if we have never seen a place, how can one truly miss it? Many great works have been created pondering just those questions. “In ‘The Message in a Bottle,’ Walker Percy depicts every person as a castaway on an island, longing and searching for messages in bottles washed up by the waves. Something is wrong; something is missing, but he does not know what (emphasis mine).”

If so much time has gone into searching for the meaning of this longing, why has no one found the source? Are we truly made with an insatiable desire for an unknown entity? Is man destined to spend our time on this planet searching for something that we can never attain, something that may not even exist? “Lewis agued often that any human longing points to a genuine human need which in turn points to a corresponding, real object to fill that need.” There is no denial from Lewis that such a longing exists. As has been previously shown, Lewis first felt this desire himself as a young boy, but he goes on to further discuss this desire in the following manner: “It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?… Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased.” Lewis had experienced desire, and when he realized the desire was a fleeting sensation, the longing to experience that desire again is what spurred him on to discover that beauty again in other objects.