Distracted

Distraction has become a habit.

The world is a busy place. “Busy” is the new “fine.” How are you doing? How are things? How’s life? It’s fine. It’s busy. Busy but fine.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the most distracted one of all?

Huh, that’s funny. The reflection’s not changing.

I am a full-time high school student, scrambling to not just get college applications in but also to do interviews, apply for scholarships, fill out information for honors programs, and schedule visits. In addition, I work about 20 hours a week, volunteer twice a week, head the school newspaper, and try my best to have a social life.

Distracted.

It’s funny how even the busiest of us still find times for our phones, though, isn’t it? For the internet? Goodness, I love the internet. I think it’s a wonderful place. But it’s another

distraction

meant to ease our minds. But does it?

Listen, the reality of it is, I can’t really simplify my life all that much. I have to go to school, I have to navigate this college chaos, I have to work in order to save for said college. But I can change my outlook on it.

I’m a fairly anxious person. I don’t show it that much. I’ve gotten better in the last few years at dealing with it. There were some cool but not super fun ways God has made me more resilient. But I have this color-coded schedule glaring up at me as I type and it’s just so

distracting.

Most of my anxiety is future-oriented. I’m a pretty future-oriented person. I have a hard time relaxing now knowing I have work to do later. Even when I’m in the moment of something part of my brain is worrying about the other three things I have to get done that day and mentally calculating the time I’ll have to do them and when on earth will I have the chance to refuel and it’s completely crowded, drowning,

distracted.

Learning to live in the moment is less about not planning for the future and more about, as my dad says, “controlling the controllables.” When I’m in school, I can’t also be working or planning. When I’m with friends, I can’t also be writing an essay or doing an interview. So controlling the controllables means looking at where I am and saying, “What am I doing right now?” and doing that to the best of my ability, with my whole mind, rather than letting it splinter.

“For I have learned in whatever situation the secret of being content.” I was talking about this verse with my Pre-K Sunday school class this morning and I asked them why they thought Paul could be content, why he could be joyful and satisfied, even when crazy things were happening. The answer? “When I am afraid I will trust in God, I will trust in God, I will trust in God. When I am afraid I will trust in God, in God whose Word I pray.” I will trust in God, whose Word I pray.

(This is a quick side note, but the Word of God is the most incredible thing. The words wash over you in this way that is both refreshing and restorative and cleansing and yet also cuts straight to the heart.)

Lord, teach me the secret of being content! Let me trust you not just with my words or even actions but with my heart. I will go out on the limb, I will scale the mighty summit, I will step into the waves, just keep my eyes above. Thank you, Jesus!

“Lift up your eyes on high, and see! Who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power: not one is missing.

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”  (Isaiah 40)

It’s funny how when we remember who exactly our God is, everything else goes strangely dim.

May you not strive to control the uncontrollables, but remember who can.

Blessings,
Bre

Temples and Palaces

So in 1 Kings 8, there’s this fabulously beautiful speech Solomon makes to dedicate the temple. It definitely makes the most impact when read out loud, because then you can hear the rhythm and repetition: “When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, hear in heaven….When heaven is shut up and there is no rain, then hear your people….If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates…whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act.”

He goes on like this for eight paragraphs before he comes to his benediction, imploring the Lord to come and inhabit this house, be shrouded in darkness no longer but to hear his people when they cry, even when they make mistakes, even when all seems lost, if they even stretch out their hands in the direction of his temple–hear, O God.

And this is amazing to me because in the Old Testament they didn’t yet have a new covenant; they had to go through priests and rituals and sacrifices over and over and the priest had to wear a bell in case he be struck dead in the presence of God and yet they were confident in their prayer, God dwell among us, God hear us. And yet even though we do have the new covenant and we don’t have the constraints of the Old Testament, the curtain was torn and the sacrifice completed, sometimes we still feel like God doesn’t hear. That he’s still so far away. That he is distant and unknowable and unreachable and unaffected and unimplorable. Right?

But this is amazing to me, because when I read Solomon’s prayer it gives me chills because God has fulfilled the promise, he has heard his people’s cry. He has been faithful and he has never let us go. He told Isaiah, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right. Come, gather together, and draw near, you fugitives of the nations.” In Thessalonians Paul writes, “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

This passage is amazing to me, because it shows how the promise has been fulfilled. Look back at your own life–can you see it? Maybe not yet–but you will.

And remember, this is Solomon praying this. I remember growing up in Sunday School, learning about the first three kings of Israel, right? Saul was bad, David was good, Solomon was wise but he had too many wives. Boom, I just summarized I Samuel through the first half of I Kings for you right there, right?

We do this, don’t we? Make these men into legends, epitomizing them as good or evil? But we forget that these aren’t just characters in a story meant to teach us a lesson. They were real people, living real lives and so their choices and actions are just the fleshing out of a complex consciousness as real and full as yours.

There was a study once that found that people tended to describe others in terms of absolutes. “He’s really attractive,” “She’s hilarious,” “He’s a jerk,” as if that characteristic were a constant feature of their personhood. But when they described themselves, they tended to speak in relative terms: “I’m having a bad day today,” or “It’s a good hair day.

I feel like we do this with the Bible, too. Like when we read the story of how Solomon’s brother Adonijah was setting himself up as king (1 Kings 1). A lot of times, this is painted as a deceitful power grab. And yeah, Adonijah was jumping the gun a little. But he was the oldest, and he had good reason to expect the throne. It’s partly on David for not sorting this out until, like, the day he was about to die. But you can see how this would happen, too. It’s not exactly a fun conversation. And Adonijah might’ve suspected, based on who he left off the guest list. But maybe he was just playing his cards wisely.

It’s the same with Solomon. He’s the epitome of following God…some of the time. And we say that so judgmentally, like, of course he should have followed God all the time with his whole heart. But how many of us can say the same?

For instance, look at the time he spent building the temple (7 years) versus his own palace (13 years). In fact, he paused the temple once the construction was completed and didn’t furnish it until he was done building his palace, oh, and one for his Egyptian wife he wasn’t supposed to take. It’s easy to look at that and be like, Solomon! What are you doing, man? Get your priorities straight! But how many of us find it easy to put God on hold, just for a little while? How much time are you spending on your palaces, and how much in the temple?

Once these actions are written down and crystallized into factual Biblical text, it’s easy to not think about the internal thought process behind them. Did Solomon care about the temple? Of course! 1 Kings 8 is full of this incredible passion and humility for God’s house, and an awe of who God is. But sometimes, he let his palaces get in the way of his passion for the temple.

How often do you do the same?

For my daughter: love well

Love well, little girl.
Life is hard
but it is also sweet.
Learn to turn the other cheek.
Patience makes you ocean-strong
so shake the earth
climb a mountain
break a wall
write a song
cross a sea
tell a story
for words
are
powerful.
Little girl, listen to mine.
Be kind.
I daresay you’ll find that by taking the time,
you’ll stick in their minds.
Love well,
and put others before yourself.
But I know
it takes bravery and brings pain.
You never know quite what to say
and it takes you way beyond what’s safe.
All you want is a break,
an escape.
You’re tired of the chase
and you’re craving a haven.
Little sparrow, keep praying!
Love well,
for he won’t let you go.
He’ll see you through till the end.
Darling, there is no treasure so dear as a friend.
That love is a gift
So take time and enjoy each other
Laugh and cry with each other
Stand by each other
Beside each other
Like iron on iron you’ll set sparks alight
and as they rise in the sky
the night will turn bright
as together you fight the good fight
and fix your eyes on the light.
Little girl, love well.
And someday
when there comes a man who will blow you away,
who’s your anchor in the eye of a hurricane,
not afraid of a little rain–
a man who will stand by you,
laugh and cry with you,
live, love, and die for you
come dark times or bright, who will strive toward what’s right
who takes time and lightens your life,
faith-filled and faithful,
for richer or poorer,
better or worse,
will traverse the adverse, unswerving,
and take honor in serving–
who makes you better than yourself
and then makes you something more:
let no power in hell or on earth,
the hospital or the hearse,
the heights or the depths,
when you’ve got nothing left
when you’re blessed or you’re hurt–
none of these can separate
what God has put together
Remember
Two become one, and it cannot be undone
You have a soul like the sun
So love well
And together you’ll tell
the world
what the Lord has done
In your own little way
you’re a witness of faith
You know the Name
of the one who came:
the mountain-maker
heart-shaper
ground-shaker
stone-breaker
earth-creator.
So take heart,
be brave,
be wise and be kind.
Love well.

“What is that in your hand?”

in your hand

Is it a pencil? A paintbrush? A computer? A soccer ball? Is it a phone? A schedule? Your wallet? Your keys? Are you holding an instrument? A pair of shoes? A schoolbook?

For this man, it was a staff. He wasn’t sure why he was being asked this. It was pretty obvious, he thought. It wasn’t anything special. Just a roughly hewn, solid piece of wood, knotted with age. It had been with him for many long miles. Under his hand and weight, the grip had been worn smooth and the grain familiar. It wasn’t anything special; just a walking tool to balance him in the arid, rocky desert. He wondered why God wanted to know.

“Throw it on the ground.”

Shrugging,  he let the rod fall from his hands. Maybe it was meant as a symbol for leaving this intermittent time in the desert behind.

He could never have foreseen what would actually happen next.

As the staff began to writhe, he jumped back. For in the eyes of the snake, there was something more–there was the realization of the God to which he was committed. Though he couldn’t yet see it, in the eyes of the snake there was contained locusts and frogs and hail and darkness and blood, and the parting of a great, great sea. In those eyes, there was the coming knowledge of what God will do for his own.

At first, he ran. He’d lived in the desert for four decades; he knew not to mess with vipers. But God told him to pick it up.

Are you sure, God? Are you sure you know what you’re doing?

He picked it up.

God gave him two more signs, the leprosy and the Nile. Then he gave him a charge: “Go tell Pharoah to let my people go.” My people–a people of slaves who would be made free, and then bring freedom to the world.

Moses’ reaction was visceral and immediate. “Send someone else!” I am slow of speech and tongue. I am not ready. I am not enough. I can’t.

And God responds: “Is it not I, the Lord? Is it not I, the Lord, who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind?” Is it not I, the Lord?

I ask again: what is that in your hand? Is it a hoe, a needle, a broom? Is it a calculator or test tube? A pen or a sword?

“Whatever you do, do it with your whole heart as unto the Lord.” (Colossians 2:23)

Jesus himself was a carpenter. Do not make the mistake of the Nazarenes. Someone once said, “That Jesus was a carpenter was to them poor credentials of divinity, but it has been divine credentials to the poor ever since.”

Yes, yes, a carpenter, same trade as mine!
How it warms my heart as I read that line.
I can stand the hard work, I can stand the poor pay,
For I’ll see that Carpenter at no distant day.
–Maltbie D. Babcock

This is the carpenter of whom God said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

So what is that in your hand? Time is in his; he knows your beginning and your end. He was there at the start and he’ll see you through to the end. He knows where you’ll be on your final day, and where you’ll end up; he knows that it will all be okay, and you’ll see his face. He’s put you where you are for an exact and specific purpose. Maybe he wants you to use your staff, and maybe he wants you to pick up your snake.

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before you, may you be singing when they evening comes.

Blessings!
Bre

The Anglerfish

The anglerfish, aka Lophiiformes, are an order of bony fish that dwell in the deep, empty reaches of the ocean. Both prey and others of their own kind are few and far between.

Female Lophiiformes are characterized by their unique method of predation, in which a fleshy growth from the anglerfish’s head, called an esca, acts as a lure. The luminescence of the esca, which draws its prey from the dark and turbulent depths, comes from a bacteria that dwells in and around the esca and exists in a symbiotic relationship with the anglerfish. In addition to luring prey, the glow of the esca also serves to attract the attention of males during mating season.

Some deep-sea anglerfish also employ a unique (and slightly disturbing) method of reproduction. It was discovered when scientists first began capturing anglerfish of the ceratioid variety, and they found that all the specimens they received were female. They also noticed that almost all of them had what appeared to be smaller parasites attached to them. These “parasites” turned out to be the male anglerfish.

Ceratioids rely on parabiotic reproduction, meaning that free-living males never fully mature until they parasitize a female. Some species even experience stunted growth of certain glands, which prevents feeding, meaning that if they are slow to find a mate, they are quick to die.

The depths of the ocean are a battleground for these species, a constant struggle for survival. In the turbulent waters, life is rare, sustenance is hard to find, and the darkness is overwhelming.

Sounds like someplace else I know.

Psalm 82:5 says, “They wander about in darkness, while the whole world is shaken to the core.” Proverbs 2:13 says, “These men turn from the right way to walk down dark paths.” Finally, Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Our world is like the depths of the ocean–full of darkness with no way to see, a spiritual battleground, a struggle for survival, turbulent and chaotic.

But, that is not the end of the story. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; whoever knows me will never walk in darkness.” 2 Corinthians 10:4 says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” John 1:5 says more simply, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

More than that, “because of God’s tender mercies, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (Luke 1:78-79).” He gives this light to us, so that we are “more than conquerors” through Christ. Like the anglerfish, the light we hold is not our own. It comes from God. And like the anglerfish, others are drawn to this light. But this light is not one that leads to destruction, but to life.

Like the anglerfish, we may feel alone, adrift in a massive, impenetrable sea. But like the anglerfish, we, indeed, are not alone. “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (I John 4:4).” Much as the male anglerfish depends upon its mate for survival, we depend on God. John 15:5 says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” It is from God that we receive our light and our life; apart from him, we can do nothing.

One of my favorite moments of Jesus interacting with his disciples occurs shortly after Jesus feeds the five thousand. There were huge crowds following him after that event, hungry for more, but as time passes, they begin to disperse. They heard more of Jesus’ teaching, and realized that this teaching wasn’t a philosophy that just gave out free food, this was something much bigger. Much harder. And they begin to fall away. Even the disciples said, “This is a hard teaching; who can listen to it?” Eventually, the Twelve are the only ones left. And then Jesus says, “Do you want to go away as well?” And Peter–always the first to speak–asks the simple question: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” There is no one, nowhere else that provides what Christ provides: life.

If you get discouraged by the darkness around you, remember the anglerfish. She isn’t pretty (the image above is a cartoon representation, safe for children. This is the real deal) but she reminds us that we have a light that is not our own. Let it draw you in, deeper and deeper, into dependence on him.

Blessings!
Bre