Jane Johnson Struck

Jane Johnson Struck
The percolations of a coffee-guzzling wife, mom, grandma, writer, and editor

Drink This In

"Coffee, according to the women of Denmark, is to the body what the Word of the Lord is to the soul."
Isak Dinesen
"Coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical."
Jonathan Swift

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

True Somebodies

Today I sit in the generic-looking lobby of an orthopedic physicians' practice, scanning a paperback while I wait for my church friend Gerry. Gerry was in an auto accident last week, totaled his car, and broke his wrist. When he needed a ride to the doctor, I was available.

Gerry reemerges through the automatic sliding doors nearly an hour later, waving a neon-green cast. I flash Gerry a thumbs up. “Yea!” I say brightly. “Gerry, you did it! You got your Irish-green cast!” We'd joked on the trip over to the medical complex that if he was given the opportunity, he should opt for a wild plaster color so nobody at church could ignore his cast. Gerry definitely accomplished this objective.

Then we head to the parking lot. I retrieve my car and swing around to pick up Gerry. Once we're buckled in, we head toward the next destination—a medical office on the other side of town where Gerry will have a blood draw.

Before I know it, my day is over. Tomorrow or the next, I plan on visiting a few other church friends, too: Alice at one convalescent home, John at another.

These days my “calling” differs dramatically from what it was only 16 months ago. Then I managed a successful Christian women's magazine that motivated spiritual growth in thousands of readers; I enjoyed being a “somebody” in the publishing world. Today my profile's definitely lower, off the radar, even. Ironically, this season feels like a kingdom promotion. Now I'm available to provide rides to nursing homes and physician appointments, to visit people recovering from surgery, or to bring flowers and cards to those in rehab. Through my attempts to comfort and encourage those in physical or emotional distress (or both) often seem bumbling, I know I'm tangibly, personally offering the gift of God's presence. I feel so blessed!

For years I allowed my perspective on spiritual significance to be skewed by a Christian subculture consumed by the same things as our culture at large: the current, the clever, the cutting edge, the sexy. For Christian industries and ministries, “sexy” doesn't mean scantily clad women or suggestive content. Our sexy is an ephemeral blend of intellect, physical appeal, and spiritual sizzle mixed with timeliness and pathos that enhances a person or product's marketability.

But there's nothing sexy about bed pans and wheelchairs and walkers. Or about measuring out life in an assisted living facility or a hospital room, or facing disease or depression or disability while clinging tooth and nail to faith in a good God. Pain and loneliness, desperate need or discouragement, become living sacrifices to a holy God.

Thankfully, God doesn't need "sexy" when it comes to me--or you. This past year, he's reminded me that even when I'm tempted to be impressed by Christian thought leaders, cultural hipsters, or the theological elite, he's not. The popular, the accomplished, the sophisticated, and the articulate don't woo him, even when they do me. No, God's Spirit cuts through the trappings of charm and intellect, strength and beauty, curriculum vitae and resume, popularity and marketability, sinew and marrow, straight to our hearts. God strips them bare before him. And only hearts truly devoted to him can stand his piercing gaze.

I'm beginning to suspect that one day those I encounter in convalescent homes or rehab hospitals may be far greater in God's kingdom than I or the many big-name Christian personalities with whom I've brushed shoulders. In the grand scheme of kingdom things, the nobodies of this world—the unrecognized yet quietly faithful; the ridiculed yet righteous; the physically frail yet spiritually strong--will be revealed as the true somebodies. The faithful prayer warriors. The secret givers. The desperate clingers to God. The quiet, invisible servants who never graced a magazine cover or spoke before an audience or wrote a book or sung to the acclaim of adoring fans, yet who lived sacrificial lives that pleased God mightily.

Certainly God's Spirit changes and challenges many through Christian products, authors, speakers, and recording artists because nothing stops him when he elects to move. “'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). I'm grateful for the two decades I spent watching God work through the pages of a magazine--because he chose to. But I'm also grateful for this season of ministry where I can see and touch and comfort those the world may consider nothing special.

To those who feel invisible in their toil for the kingdom—and to those who feel their existence is invisible—I say, no part of the Body is more important than another (1 Corinthians 12:21-26 ). Those who clean bed pans—and those who have to use them—are as valuable to God as those whose marketable gifts provide them platform visibility. I sense the time spent with Alice, who's in rehab for almost two months, or Gerry, who's recovering from his accident, has as much significance—perhaps even more—in their lives and mine as whatever I may have accomplished in a higher-visibility ministry role.

No matter how invisible we feel in this world, we are never invisible to God. God sees, God knows, and God extends both judgment and grace according to his good will. Jesus tells us, “'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'” (Matthew 25:40).

So in this season of life, instead of plotting out content or determining which cover personality might impact readers and boost subscription rates, I sit in waiting rooms and pray or chat with friends who need someone who cares. I walk down sterile hospital halls and knock timidly on closed doors, waiting for that faint invitation to enter. And enter I do, into a different experience and a different kind of ministry. As I bring Jesus into these places with me, I know that when I look into the faces of my fellow "nobodies," I'll see Jesus looking back at me as well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

God's Economy

Twelve hundred miles away in Florida, my 91-year-old father-in-law is still hospitalized after falling and breaking his pelvis two weeks ago. My husband, Rich, and I have been on the phone often, waiting for updates, listening as Rich's mom expresses her fears for her husband's future.

Rich had just visited his parents for five days before his dad took his unfortunate tumble. While his mom and dad still live in their house (to our consternation), they've been struggling with the burdens of aging and ill health, so our visits to Florida have been increasing incrementally. Just two days after Rich's latest trip there, this debilitating spill happened—and again we agonize over the distance between us, second-guess why we live so far away, and wonder how to make some changes.

But it's not as simple as it may seem. As much as we'd like to live closer to Florida, we're torn; one of our daughters lives four hours from us, and my folks live a day's drive away. Rich and I can't just pull up roots and transplant ourselves into his parents' town—at least, not yet. And we know they couldn't handle the shock of being moved away from the Florida heat into our frigid Chicago winters. So the what-if's and should-we's drive my husband and me to prayer—and to many restless nights.

Yet, amazingly, some wonderful Christian neighbors have come alongside my in-laws in times of need. This family met Rich's father when their young son assisted my father-in-law with the heavy bags of chlorine required for their swimming pool. Two weeks ago the mom, Lisa, called us from the ER to inform us she was with Rich's mom after his dad's ambulance ride to the hospital.

I silently offer a prayer of thanks for this family who acts as Christ's hands and feet to our extended family, who have soothed our worries and filled the gap when we haven't been able to. And then I think about my church friend Carol.

In the last two years, Carol's husband, John, has been in and out of the hospital and in rehab. I've offered Carol moral support through my friendship, my prayers, my phone calls, my rides. What began as a part of our church's visitation team has become a wonderful friendship.

Carol calls me one of her "angels," but she's blessed me more than I've blessed her. This ministry-turned-friendship makes my heart sing; I sense God's pleasure as I spend time with Carol and John, seeking to demonstrate Christ's love to them in a variety of tangible ways.

I suspect that Lisa and her family, my in-laws' Florida neighbors, feel the same way. Although we live twelve hundred miles apart, we're discovering the joy of becoming venture capital for the Kingdom, investing our time and talents in God's economy. It excites me to realize what my husband and I can't do for my elderly in-laws, God moves others to do. And what church friends' family members can't do for their loved ones, I can.

How wonderfully God's Spirit moves to meet needs, fill in gaps, or send encouragement. I'm learning to see more clearly that if we're willing to be spent, we can take part in this heavenly exchange of goods and services in God's kingdom, used to bless his dearly loved ones—wherever they are.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ashes, Ashes

It is worse than I imagined.

Outwardly the house looks the same—a homey colonial flanked by maples bedecked with bird feeders, surrounded by gardens spilling over with blooms. Inside, the house is acrid and cavernous; footfall echoes uncomfortably off bare floors and walls. Distraught, I wander through each room with my father, surveying the smoke damage, capturing with my digital camera its images of stained paneling, sooty wallpaper, filthy flooring, smudged ceramic, and blackened ceiling tiles.

This is home—or rather, my parents' home, the place where they've lived for 31 years. A week ago, fire ravaged Mom and Dad's basement while they attended their church's midweek service. When my parents arrived at their house, they heard blaring alarms and discovered billowing black smoke. Five firetrucks heeded their panicky 911 call; by midnight, they'd booked a room at a nearby hotel with only the clothes on their backs and a few items hastily stuffed into a couple of suitcases.

It is still difficult for me to comprehend. Maybe that's because just three weeks earlier, I visited them here after making the six-hour drive from my home. I sat in their kitchen, laughing with them over coffee, reading the comics, and working on crossword puzzles. I slept in the front bedroom filled with handmade quilts, framed samplers, and childhood memorabilia. I checked e-mail from the computer that rested on the beautiful oak desk built by my dad, in a room brimming with family heirlooms and precious collectibles.

Now all my parents' belongings—the everyday mixed with the irreplaceable--sit in storage, waiting to be cleaned, while construction people and insurance agents hash out how many months it will take to remediate the damage.

As I take all this in, for some strange reason "Ring Around the Rosie" runs through my mind: Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!

My parents' house could have been completely incinerated; they could even have lost their lives. Thankfully these things didn't happen. But my mother and father have been tested by this fire. Their sense of security, of rootedness, of place, has fallen down around them in figurative, if not literal, ashes.

I'm sobered by how easily the things we bank on for comfort and connection can be “here today, gone tomorrow.” I'm convicted by the awareness of how much I live for and love my stuff. This house fire is an unwelcome reality check, a stunning reminder that we live in a world where every earthly treasure we cling to eventually ends up consumed by moth and rust, smoke and dust, flood and fire. Even our very flesh inescapably becomes ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

I look at the damage to my parents' house and remember how Jesus told us only Kingdom treasures survive the test. This is what I need to be storing up.

And I reflect on how God alone can pick up those whose lives have fallen down around them. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down succinctly sums up our sorry human condition. Yet God can take these ruins, these ashes of ours, and replace them one day with the incorruptible, the eternal, the everlasting.

Thank God my parents know their true home is in Christ. And while it will take them some time to shake off their shock over this unexpected loss, they know they still own what is of utmost value—what no flames can destroy. And, gratefully, so do I.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Outwardly I appear to be a mild-mannered, matronly housewife who cooks, cleans, gardens, volunteers for her church, and spends way too much time in front of a laptop blogging and playing PathWords. But there's a hidden side to me that's secretly desired to be a dashing private investigator or police detective.

I'd always chalked this interest up to my steady childhood diet of Nancy Drew mysteries and popular '60s television series such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or The Avengers. I imagined being a glamorous Cold War spy or crack sleuth who solved cases with her stunning intuitive abilities. Reality, however, turned out nothing like my childhood fantasies!

But then, a few years ago, I received a surprising insight into my fascination with the world of intrigue. My mom and dad had driven out to visit our family for a few days. As we sat on the couch, chatting comfortably over diet colas and catching up on life, our conversation turned to the latest political controversy at the time--the mishandling of some FBI files.

"You know," my mom said suddenly, "I always wanted to be a spy when I was growing up."

Say what?

"I even took a bus to the FBI headquarters in Chicago and filled out an application, but they never called me for an interview," she continued. "So there's probably an FBI file on me somewhere."

My mom--a secret agent wanna-be? Never before had I heard this tantalizing tidbit of intelligence about my mom's adolescence. If such a thing as a detective gene exists, I realized, I inherited it from my mom!

Sleuthing aside, I've always known I inherited many of my mom's emotional traits. We both skew toward the melodramatic at times; we're verbal, creative, and sensitive. I've inherited many of Mom's physical traits as well--youthful-looking skin, generous hips, and a zesty appetite (especially for sweets). In fact, when I was a teen and my mom and I were together--at church, the grocery store, the mall--people often remarked that we looked like sisters. At the time I wasn't sure how I felt about those comments; they often irked me. But now, from my vantage point as a mom of two grown daughters, I completely understand how those compliments must have made my mother's day!

But it's Mom's passion for family--caring about what each one's going through--that has shaped me most. Whatever knack I may have for encouraging others, whatever common courtesies I try to express, I owe to my mom's example.

In addition, Mom's pursuit of our family's roots has enriched my life by providing me with a sense of belonging to family in a larger, grander sense. Mom's genealogical detective work (she became a spy after all!) unearthed a wealth of information on family members long gone. She took the time and made the effort to bring clarity to a puzzling jumble of names and dates. The end result? She gifted me with a strong sense of connection to a community of ancestors long gone. Two years ago, I felt God lead me to honor my mom by joining an organization she's held membership in for several years--the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). While I'm not active in it, my membership is a small gesture back to my mom of how much I love and appreciate her.

As I grow older, I continually recognize and appreciate more aspects of my mother's influence: her generosity of spirit, her love of nature, her commitment to Christ and to my dad in a marriage that's spanned nearly six decades. Many of these gifts became clear only as I falteringly and prayerfully mothered my daughters through adolescence. Now, as I stand afar and watch them wrestle with the choices and circumstances of adulthood, I hope and pray I've passed these characteristics on as well.

When I was in my teens, I sometimes told myself that when I married and had kids, I would be different from my mom: less of this, more of that. Yet somehow, through the years, my relationship with Mom has evolved from one of stubborn desire for independence to one of great espect, incredible admiration, and continued gratitude to God that she's still in my life. I love her--and I treasure each moment we enjoy together.

Now, when someone tells me I'm just like my mom, I take it as the highest compliment!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Playing Our Hand

Why it's not what we're dealt but how we use it

I normally don't agree with Susan Estrich's politics. So I typically bypass her op-ed columns in our local daily newspaper. But this morning Susan's column, "Imperfect Moments," caught my eye. Her opening line, "I have hated graduations most of my life," hooked me in.

Susan shared how her college graduation was bookended by the trauma of rape and the heartbreak of absent family. Later, when she graduated from law school, she didn't even bother to attend her own ceremony. Susan admitted that for years her unhappy experiences so skewed her perspective on this rite of passage that even as a Harvard law professor she skipped her students' ceremonies.

Then Susan had an "aha" moment. She began accepting requests to speak at graduations and soon realized that as hope-filled and happy a graduation can be, it's also populated by imperfect people tempted to assume everyone else has it so much better than they do . . . just as Susan did for many years. She says,
"Here is my message to graduates . . . learned the hard way. Life is not about the hand you're dealt, but how you play it. . . . Life isn't fair, but you can be. The world isn't just, but you can still live a life of honor. The happiest people are not the ones with the best cards (emphasis mine), but those who play theirs best--and best doesn't necessarily mean for the greatest financial reward."
While I know nothing about Susan's faith, I think she's nailed some solid spiritual truth here. Jesus bluntly told us that we'll have trouble in this world. Life isn't fair. Bad things, evil things, heartbreaking things--rape, divorce, estrangement, rejection--happen to good folks who don't deserve a bum deal.

Jesus followers are called to live full-tilt in the center of God's grace, no matter what cards life deals us. And we're meant to do it with gratitude. So problems come when we start comparing our "cards" with those of others, thinking the hand we've been dealt isn't what we deserve. We end up ignoring the fact that God alone knows his reasons for circumstances over which we have no control--chronic illness, abuse, estrangement, unemployment, financial woes, broken hearts. But frankly, sometimes his reasons are simply none of our business.

Recently I encountered some pointed verses in John's gospel. The resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples and cooked them fish. Then Jesus turned to Simon Peter and briefed him on the type of death he’d suffer for his faith (John 21:18-19). Peter, ever the tactless one, saw John and blurted out, “What about him, Lord?” And Jesus quickly rebuked him: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:21-22, italics mine).

In other words, Jesus says, Stop comparing. Use the hand you've been dealt for my glory, and stop worrying about the other guy--the one who seems to have everything going his way.

So, Susan, you and I agree, for once: Life isn't fair, but you can be. The world isn't just, but you can still live a life of honor.

Let's not miss out on what we do have. And let's never forget that life's raw deals ultimately can be redeemed--and that we play our cards best when we allow God into the game.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Family Stories

How they can unleash transformative power

At the sound of his first word, my throat tightened and my eyes smarted with tears. I hadn’t heard my Norwegian grandfather speak since he’d passed away 31 years ago at the age of 89.

Yet Grandpa Johnson’s voice—and the bittersweet memories it evoked—flooded my life recently during a visit to my parents. As we sat together in their sunroom, Dad revealed he’d “interviewed” his father before his death to preserve precious family stories.

“Would you like to hear our conversation?” my father asked tentatively. “Sure, Dad,” I replied. So he dug out the old audiotape, plopped it into a tape recorder, then pressed “play.”

Suddenly, Grandpa Johnson seemed to return from the grave to share his tales. Over the tape’s rattle and hum, I listened to my father’s questions and noted his skill at guiding my grandfather’s rambling. So Dad’s the one who gave me the interviewing gene, the editor in me thought proudly.

With his familiar accent, Grandpa Johnson recounted his childhood in the village of Kvalsvik on Norway’s rocky western coast. In stoic Scandinavian style, he recalled how as a 16-year-old cod fisherman he’d sailed Iceland’s coastal seas and survived a dramatic ocean storm that sounded straight out of the Discovery Channel's mega-popular series, Deadliest Catch.

Soon after, my grandfather survived a life-threatening bout with pneumonia too. He described how he slowly recuperated by hiking mountain trails to regain his stamina, lying down often to rest and stare up at the cloud-filled, Nordic blue sky. Perhaps my deep love for mountains is part of my Norwegian DNA.

His stories progressed; he spoke of immigration, of love, of the constant quest for work, then of the Great Depression’s devastating losses. As I listened, I felt both embarrassment for my life’s ease, and inspiration from my grandfather’s strength. His stories, steeped with reminders of his faith in God, began changing my attitude toward my comparatively insignificant trials. Grandpa Johnson’s words gave me hope that I, too, could meet adversity with courage and perseverance.

Then, all too soon, the spinning tape stopped; my grandfather’s voice receded into memory. And suddenly I realized how often I’ve let slip opportunities to preserve family stories for future generations.

Several years ago, my husband’s Aunt Maria regaled him and me with tales of her Sicilian childhood and strict Italian mother, the grandmother my husband hadn’t really known. He’d never heard those stories before—and may never again. If only I could go back to record them! And countless times my mother has reconstructed the colorful, happy details of her youth. I’m familiar with her stories now; but someday, when carrying on this oral tradition, will my memory fall short?

I understand my dad’s reasons for preserving his father’s stories. Capturing the personality and history of loved ones holds such poignancy. But sharing family stories also unleashes transformative power. As a middle-aged wife and mom, I’m only now discovering how the story lines running through my family members’ lives—past and present—contribute to mine. I wouldn’t have certain insights or inspiration if I hadn’t paid attention to those accounts.

Family will always form who we are—even if we’d rather disown than embrace our histories. But thankfully, once God enters a family’s story, he courses through the plot lines, colors the details, and transforms our identities.

I’ll be watching for such evidence of God's presence in our family history whenever my husband and I are able to visit our relatives. Then I'll hold these treasures close to my heart, because they underscore God's grace throughout the generations.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Your State or Mine

I miss my friend Sue, and she hasn't even moved away yet.

In a few weeks, Sue and her husband will transplant themselves to a new state for a new job and a new home. And while it's all terribly exciting, it's terribly wrenching as well. Sue and I have been friends for more than a decade, and through those years, we've talked through the tough issues of job and marriage and parenting. We've prayed for ill loved ones and struggling children. But oh, the laughter! That has always been the best part of our friendship. Sue and I certainly have gotten serious over the serious stuff, but we really know how to get silly over the silly stuff.

Thinking of Sue makes me smile about our Purple Boa tradition. Sue and I arrived at this little ritual about seven birthdays ago, when we were both skirting a dreaded milestone birthday and feeling drained emotionally and spiritually. We needed a splash of color in our lives, something that reminded us that age is just a number. So that first year, when Sue and I met up at a local restaurant to celebrate her birthday, I brought out this slinky feathery boa and insisted Sue wear it--despite strange stares from other patrons and questioning looks from waiters. Then on my birthday, I had to don the boa. This started a yearly exchange of flamboyant fun that persists to this day.

The good thing about the Purple Boa is that no matter how busy our lives became, Sue and I somehow made time to celebrate our birthdays (give or take a week or two or even three) with that vibrant reminder of the joy of friendship, the joy of life, and even the joy of the Lord in good times and bad.

Writing about this makes me miss Sue, and she hasn't even moved away yet. But that's because true friendships are often hard to come by, and celebrations don’t happen nearly often enough. Sue's leaving is showing me I mustn't take treasured friendships for granted, or allow busyness or benign neglect to atrophy them. I need to realize how much my friends mean to me before they leave, so I'll teasure them even more while they're still here.

I miss my friend Sue, and she hasn't even moved away yet. But when she does, I'm sure we'll stay connected through e-mail and Facebook. Yet "social networking" can never really replicate the closeness that comes from face time, or the giggles that come from a Purple Boa gathering.

So Sue, the Purple Boa is yours for the keeping--until my birthday. I'm counting on the fact that somehow, some way, and some time soon, we'll be able to celebrate together, your state or mine.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Severe Mercies

The casual way I use some words could lead to troubling implications.

Like “grace,” “mercy” is a word I use too lightly.

I do this unintentionally because “mercy” seems synonymous with “compassion” or “blessings.” In fact, Webster's Dictionary defines mercy as implied compassion that forbears punishing, even when justice demands it.

So when I say “God was merciful,” as I tell others about my husband's healing from cancer, I'm right: God spared our family from this life-threatening disease.

Or when I tell a friend “God's merciful,” as she relays the good things happening in her life, I'm right again. None of us deserves the health we enjoy, the home we live in, the family we love, the gifts and talents we've been given, even our ability to move and speak and see and serve others in the many ways we take for granted.

But then my words falter when I speak of my brother-in-law, whose life was snuffed out too early—despite prayers and pleadings and fervent faith. Or when I think of several other godly friends locked in combat with cancer, waging war with everything within them against this insidious enemy. Has God withheld his mercy from them?

I'm afraid the casual way I use “mercy” leads to some troubling implications: God is merciful—when he heals someone I love. God is merciful—when I enjoy an abundance of blessings. If I or someone I've prayed for appears to dodge a “cosmic bullet” or win some “divine lottery," God is merciful. But what if things don't go my way? What about all the good people decimated by bad things?

Several years ago I read A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, an autobiographical account of his courtship and marriage to Jean Davis, known as “Davy.” Before coming to Christ, Sheldon and Davy's highest good—their god, even—was their love, which they called the “Shining Barrier.” Then they met Christ. As Davy's faith deepened, Sheldon's flat-lined. He struggled with jealousy over this new Lover, Jesus, who had breached their Shining Barrier. And then Davy, only in her thirties, was diagnosed with terminal liver disease. With the help of his friend and contemporary C. S. Lewis, Sheldon ultimately concluded that his beloved wife's untimely death was a “mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love . . . [Her death] brought me as nothing else could do to know and end my jealousy of God.”

There's a praise song by Matt Redman we sing regularly in church. Called "Blessed Be Your Name," it goes like this:

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's all as it should be
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

We sang this song at my friend Bill's funeral, and its bridge especially hit me hard: You give and take away/You give and take away/My heart will choose to say/Lord, blessed be Your name.

Bill walked on the road of suffering for several years before his death, passing through betrayal and unwanted divorce to a prolonged final illness. Yet even to the end Bill and his second wife, Beth, held fast to their belief in God's goodness and mercy.

Scripture told Bill—as it tells you and me—these things about God: God is good; God is merciful; God is filled with loving-kindness and compassion; God does not hold our sins against us once we've accepted his grace extended to us through Jesus.

But—and this is just as important--God's ways are not our ways. And as he told suffering Old Testament patriarch Job, he alone is God—and we are not. Case closed.

God is merciful not only when he gives, but also when he takes. Even when things don't turn out as we wish. Or when the people we love suffer and die, or our prayers go unanswered, or we lose a job or a marriage or a home. And even when this world's evil seems to win over righteousness.

In The Four Quartets, twentieth-century British poet T. S. Eliot penned this thought: being a Christian is ”A condition of complete simplicity/(Costing not less than everything).” According to Webster, to be “at the mercy” of something is to be wholly in the power of; with no way to protect oneself against it.

As a believer, I surrender myself to God's power. I live wholly in his mercy, with his mercy, and at his mercy. So whether I see the good in his actions or not; whether I receive what I want in this life or not; whether I win the divine lottery or lose everything but my soul, God is merciful. He is the One who gives and takes away.

Blessed be his name.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Signs of Spring

Can I shake off the lethargy that holds me sway?

Lately, God and I have been estranged. For the last month or so, my quiet times have been haphazard, my prayer life paltry. My worship? Verging on fake. But I have excuses. Eight weeks ago, we brought a puppy into our lives, and the ensuing chaos of sleep deprivation and house training has curtailed my early-morning routine of reading the Bible, praying, and writing in my gratitude journal.

And then there’s the seasonal depression I battle that has died as slowly as winter. I face my days with a lethargic resoluteness, longing for spring to return to my soul. I drag myself out of bed, searching for my coffee instead of my Bible. And when the frenetic morning pace subsides, I seek not God’s face but Facebook.

But I miss God. I miss talking to him through furiously penned words in my journal, where I spill out angst or joy or requests in a tumble of raw, unrestrained emotions. I miss sipping steaming coffee as I survey my backyard from a sunny window and ponder Scripture passages. I miss offering up prayers for my friends—so many to pray for, so many in need. Even if during those moments I experience no lightning bolts, no voice from heaven granting me grand revelations, I know the cumulative effect of this intimacy deepens my relationship with God.

So today I decide to find my way back, to slough off the excuses I’ve allowed to hold me sway. While the washer spins and the puppy snores, I shut down Facebook and repent of being lazy and lukewarm.

Then I open my Bible and read, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

An enormous wave of relief washes over me, reassuring me that even though I distance myself from God, he never distances himself from me. Because I’m his child, nothing can ever separate me from his love. Nothing, including . . .
*depression, lethargy, addictions of any kind (including Facebook)
*sadness and pain
*loneliness and rejection
*wounds that gnaw at the soul
*feeling lost in the shuffle or marginalized by society
*doubts and questions
*broken hearts and hurt feelings
*financial anxiety and worry about the future
*disappointment over dashed dreams or aborted hope
*low self-esteem or timidity
God says these principalities of the heart, these demons of the mind, these depths and powers cannot, will not, separate me from his love.

Depression might immobilize me, addiction might distract me, disappointment might demotivate me, anxiety might cripple me. These things and others I too often permit to take me captive. But Jesus came, died, and rose again to set this captive free.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says:
“ . . . Strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish."
So I surrender my excuses and refocus on him. And I rediscover what’s always true: He’s here, now, close as my breath, waiting to overwhelm me with his love. “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (John 4:8).

The tumbling laundry quiets; the load finishes. The puppy whimpers in her crate. Moments I normally relinquish to Facebook have become redeemed. And as I think about God’s great love, which spans the distance to reach even a wretch like me, I sense spring rising in my soul.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What's Brewing?

Now that I've actually set up a blog, it dawns on me I actually have to write posts for it. Regularly. But I worry, Who's really going to be interested in what I have to say?

I hope the answer to that question is you. Because I'd like to share the many ways God shows up to demonstrate his grace and his goodness in the mundane, caffeinated routines of everyday life. I want to pay better attention to his presence--and then pass along what I learn.

So fill up your mug and join me on this journey!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Welcome to Jane's Java

I'm a coffee-loving kind of gal. There's nothing like a well-brewed mug of java to jump start my mornings or warm me during quiet, cozy moments. But coffee's best when it's shared with friends over sparkling conversation.

So welcome to Jane's Java. I hope my posts will warm your heart, jump start your thoughts, and energize your spirit!