(Lov) // The Lady In Pink

This past Sunday was the day of our Vlass Family tradition of taking Lydia to the Pumpkin Patch! Last year she was a Rag Doll and the year before that, she was a cute little Lady Bug. She has known EXACTLY what she wanted to be this year... all year long. As most parents of little ones know all too well, favorite TV shows change daily. The Backyardigans (my personal favorite) has always remained at the top of her list. One episode in particular called "International Super Spy" is indeed her absolute favorite. The Lady in Pink is a secret agent played by Uniqua who is a sort of a James Bond type villain. She's very Mod, very pink, and has a killer menacing laugh that Lydia perfected in the car on the way there. She had kind of a sad moment when she realized that we had forgotten her white gloves... so I didn't even tell her I forgot to make the ears for her hat (pregnancy brain)!  Alas, I assured her that this wasn't ACTUALLY Halloween and that we would have another chance to get it just perfect. She had a great time...sans pink curly ears and white gloves. 

Once back home, Lydia painted pumpkins (one for her and one for the new baby) while I made a pie! 

Happy Halloween Everybody!


(Ed) // The problem of (my) pain.

"The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His."  
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons-First Series

This the preface to "The Problem of Pain" by C.S. Lewis from "The Complete Signature Collection" that I have owned about ten years; bought shortly after I was saved when I was 25. At the same time I bought this book, I also purchased "The virtue of selfishness" by Ayn Rand. Those two books and the Bible were all I read for 2 years, after finally surrendering my life to God. This was a humbling time, I  truly had nothing left of me but the love of a saviour who gave his life for me and the love of my my family who had great hope for me and what God was trying to do with my life.

So these three books - a book written by God Himself (to learn about God), another book written by a intellectual former atheist who was saved by that God and the Bible he wrote (to learn about my new believing self), and yet another book written by a woman who thought that man was an “abysmal bastard,” a “monstrosity,” a “cheap, awful, miserable" idiot whose ideas were nothing short of "bullshit" (in order to learn about the world). 

The C.S.Lewis book from which this George MacDonald quote came is actually seven of his books in one.  I have read most, but have never seriously read, "The Problem of Pain"... preferring  "Mere Christianity" and "The Screwtape Letters".

I have experienced my share of pain (self inflicted, circumstantial, emotional, physical) in my life....seeking comfort in the world and my selfish pursuits; trying to turn pain in to pleasure or devising ways to avoid it all together - reviving the natural/old man); the Ayn Rand approach. And I have done little in the ways of letting it bring me closer to understanding and loving God; the Jesus/C.S. Lewis approach. 

I am thoroughly convinced that how a person deals with pain reveals if they are living as a natural man (old man) or a spiritual man (new man). Walking in the newness of life or being conformed to the image of the world.

On day three of being sick (yet again), I do not believe it was a coincidence that I picked up this book today.

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world....No doubt pain as God's megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. it removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Rand believed that pain was a - warning signal of danger, indicating that the organism is pursuing the wrong course of action, that something is impairing the proper function of its body, which requires action to correct it. - that action being rebellion against the pain. 

Lewis saw that it's our reaction to pain that can either lead to an act of sin (rebellion) or repentance. He saw virtue in surrender and repentance. She saw virtue in rebellion. 

It is high time I learn to accept pain for what it truly is in this "earthly life" and let it transform me (new man behavior) rather than try to "make it stop" with comfort or knowledge (old man survival behavior) prolonging the life of the natural man. So I'm giving this book a whirl. I expect to find this:

The problem is not pain; but it is in letting our natural man responed to the pain rather than the spiritual man. We must surrender. Accept. Partake in the suffering of Christ. Die to self. Be ye transformed... ((be the new spiritual man)).




(Ed) // THE GRACE LIFE >> f a i t h.

I vividly remember going to an AA meeting when I was 19 or 20 and listening to an "old timer" talk about his first meeting when he was just about my age. He said:
"I was hopeless and broken and wanted so much to be better. I didn't think I could talk, so I just listened. Everyone kept talking about needing to have faith in a higher power and I remember looking at a giant Oak tree outside the window. That tree seems to be doing better than me so I'm going to place my faith in it. I'm going to think about how big and old it is.  I'm going to think about how strong and deep it's roots go.  I'm going to have faith that I can be like that tree. I was feeling pretty damn good about my tree all week and was excited to attend another meeting.  When I got there, everyone was talking about the awful storm that had rolled through the night before and all the damage that it had caused. I sat down in the same spot as last time next to the window. And I'll be damned if I didn't see a work crew out there cutting down what remained of my tree. A women leaned over and said, 'Isn't it a shame?  It got struck by lightning and destroyed the roof of the building next door.'  'I'll say it's a shame... I chose that tree to be my higher power last week!' I groaned. 'Oh honey,' she laughed 'you should only put your faith in things that can't be destroyed. Only faith in God will get you through.' She was right.  And I've been sober for 32 years because I put my faith in The One who died on a tree... The One who rose from the dead to never be destroyed."
As powerful as that story was, it still took ME about five more years before I personally placed my faith in Jesus Christ. After years of trying to find my own way I had to realize that the road of self discovery (faith in myself) was only taking me to places I never wanted to go. The day I realized I was lost was the day I recognized my sinfulness, my need for a Savior, and accept God's gift of Christ as my only means of redemption. The day I changed the object of my faith from me to HIM was the day that I got saved. Over time, I began to trust the Bible as my authority and guide and my faith in God began to grow and mature, for Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). I began to walk with confidence that Jesus Christ (the WORD of GOD) was the only reliable thing in which I could place my faith. 
Faith is defined for us in the book of Hebrews:
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." ~ Hebrews 11:1

This particular chapter is known as "The Hall of Faith" as it proceeds to give accounts of the most faithful men and women of the Bible. For example, God told Noah to build an ark because He was going to bring a massive flood. Noah took God at His word and built the ark. God told Abraham to go out to a place that he would receive as an inheritance. Abraham took God at His word, left his familiar surroundings, and he went to where he was told to go. God indicated to Sarah, who was long past the age of childbearing, that she would conceive a son. The Scripture states: “She considered Him faithful who had promised.” She took God at His word. Regardless of circumstances, despite arguments of logic and reason, and regardless of how he or she felt, each person mentioned in Hebrews 11 believed God and His word and chose to be obedient.

In regards to equanimity, it is faith (believing God's word) that allows a person to WALK with wisdom, conviction and confidence when we encounter challenges, crisis or conflict. 

Like the story I shared above, placing our faith in the wrong things is useless and vain (Corinthians 15:17). The right thing in which we should place our faith is always what God provides as the object of faith. So if faith is a matter of taking God at His word, it is upon that word that our faith is to be established.   

What God says about His Word:
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” ~ Matthew 24:35
"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." ~ 1 Peter 1:23
"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever."~ Isaiah 40:8
These verses indicate that life is perpetual change, and yet God’s Word remains constant. His truth never changes and it is by that truth we walk into eternal life. Even though heaven and earth will pass away, God’s Word will remain. This means that no matter how we may feel or what we experience, we can confidently choose to depend on the Word of God as the unchanging reality of our lives.
God’s Word is:
  • truer than anything I feel 
  • truer than anything I experience 
  • truer than any circumstance I will ever face
  • truer than anything in the world
I have shared with you many times how deeply I struggle with my feelings. It is only by stepping outside of myself and putting my faith in God that I am able to overcome the destructive nature of negative emotions. With each 'leap of faith" I find I am moving closer to equanimity.  
An illustration of Faith:

"One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters." The boy jumped, because he trusted his father."  ~  Donner Atwood.

Mind renewing truth: "Faith in Christ enables us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known by The One who does."




(Ed) // THE GRACE LIFE >> i n t e g r i t y.

The word integrity comes from the same Latin root as integer and implies a wholeness. Like a "whole number", so is a person of integrity... intact, complete, integrated, and authentic. A person of integrity is living rightly (acting honestly and consistently with their morals and beliefs) not divided (with corruption, hypocrisy, or compromise).   Integrity is what allows for confidence of word and action… knowing that you are “doing the right thing” even in spite of what you may ”feel”. 

This verse in particular stood out to me as a beautiful picture of integrity:

"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, 
that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." ~ James 1:2-3

Christ like Integrity: being patient and joyfully faithful to what God values in the face of temptation which makes one perfect (mature), entire (whole), and wanting nothing (at peace). 

As a person who has chosen to trust Christ for my salvation, simply put:  I believe God.  I believe that the moment I trusted on Him, an exchange took place and I am no longer my own:   for "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:" ~ Galatians 2:20a. By seeing myself through this perspective, how I am to live my life becomes very clear:  I am to believe God, value what he values, and live a life that is an expression of those values. 

A believer with integrity knows that God's standards of virtue (life-giving and life-sustaining values) are exhibited in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Virtues that, if understood though study and prayer, are acted upon in complete trust and are continually developed through discipline, will produce a life that is a reflection of Godly righteousness. For the Christian, this is integrity:  "Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." ~ Romans 6:13  

Those with integrity have taken the time to understand through God's word what exactly they are to value as a "new creation in Christ" and choose, again and again, to live a life in accordance with those values. Over time, they become skilled and strong in "doing that which is right": internal conflicts between the spirit and the flesh become less frequent as they become more practiced at recognizing and acting consistently with their belief.  They are grounded and rooted in truth and are thus spared the consequences of mental corruption : guilt, pain, shame, fear, anxiety and depression. 

The Bible describes a believer that is lacking in integrity as "double minded": only hearers of the word but not does...deceiving themselves. Those who are double minded are different people according to their circumstances or they maybe not be the same person in private (at home/online) that he or she is in public (in the world/offline). A person lacking integrity lives a life of duplicity and inconsistency in attitudes and actions... They talk about their faith IN God and yet they do not walk by the faith OF God. As written in the book of James: "A double minded man [is] unstable in all his ways" : driven by their selfish desires with shifting values and beliefs that change according to their emotions and circumstances.

How integrity relates to equanimity is easy to see : it is the stabilizer of the mind and spirit.  

Almost a month has gone by since publishing my last post on equanimity. It didn't occur to me at the time of writing it, that by laying down the qualities of equanimity in the order that I did (integrityfaithmindfulnesswell-beingwisdominsight, and freedom), that I would need to write the subsequent posts on that topic in order. Why oh WHY did I put integrity first?!?!  Why did I do this to myself one week before going on vacation? I even tweeted : "Having integrity means blogging about integrity even when you don't want to...because you previously blogged that you would. Uhhhh." I was obviously not looking forward to writing this post and decided to put it off after I returned from vacation.

Once I was free from my self imposed deadline, my experience began to be less about blog content and more about living. And as it turns out, having the concept of integrity roll around in one's mind for a month (especially when a good deal of that time was spent in different circumstances surrounded by different people) is a pretty wonderful thing. 

Meditating on integrity:

*inspired me to clarify my values: truth, love, family, community, work, prayer, clarity, nessecity, etc.

*constrained me to reconcile those values with my actions: like choosing to show compassion and love to someone for whom I have little personal respect

*encouraged vulnerably which lead to deeper conversations and connections : such as sharing my struggles with submission and obedience.

*began changing my perspective : paying less attention to "what I want" and more attention to "what is right".  

*enlightened me to opportunities that would allow me to exercise (in action) that which I proclaim to value (in word) : looking for ways to be of service, to encourage, to share truth, to be love.

What God says about living a life of integrity:

*it preserves us: "O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee." ~ Psalm 25:20-21

*it guides us: "The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them." ~ Proverbs 11:3

*it results in blamelessness and enables us to shine the light of God:  "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;" ~ Philippians2 :15

Mind renewing truth: "In Christ I am the righteousness of God...now act like it!" 




(Ed) // THE GRACE LIFE >> E q u a n i m i t y.

Equanimity has been described as “the emotional ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love.” It is the ability to see your surroundings without getting caught and held by what we see: the power of observation conquering the desire for sensation. It is the ability to approach our circumstances with patience, compassion, balance, composure, and stability. It is esteemed as a virtue in all of the major faiths and it is what I have been seeking most of my life. 

In the Buddhist practice, equanimity is seen as the protector against the “eight worldly winds”: praise, blame, success, failure, pleasure, pain, fame, and disrepute. Without equanimity, these experiences (or winds of life) can blow a person off course.  An example most fitting to give here would be for blogging/social media: without equanimity, becoming “popular” or influential can lead to arrogance and a personal investment in praise and compliments can lead to conceit. On the other side of the coin, remaining unnoticed or receiving criticism may lead to feelings of incompetence and inadequacy.

It was my lack of equanimity that has kept me away from my blog for so long… and made me want to, at times, scrap the whole thing and call it a day.  I would swing back and forth between feeling above blogging and beneath it… getting caught and held by the two extremes of my pendulous emotions. I have lacked the inner balance that enables a person to remain centered and focused a during times of stress. I have been attached to my health problems, pain, spiritual struggles, and have been far too “of the world” over the last 5 months. I was wanting to write about it, but I was not able to do so because (in my emotional turmoil) I lacked objectivity, clarity, and, rational thought. No good can come from such a place and so I remained silent.

Of course Blogging was not REALLY the issue but more a reflection of the bigger picture: I lacked the strength and stability that it takes to find balance in my approach with the world (both virtual and real). In physical terms: If the core is weak, pain will abound.  It’s as true for the body as it is for the soul and heart.

I came upon the word “equanimity” a few weeks ago while reading an article online.  It struck me in such a way that I went on a tear learning as much as I could about it . “People who are masters of equanimity remain even-tempered and unaffected by outside influences. They have learned not to give in to their likes and dislikes nor to react to situations according to their desires and aversions.”  

After reading this, I instantly thought of the hymn It Is Well With my Soul by Horatio G. Spafford:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

This man lived his life in equanimity. You can read his remarkable story here.

Over the past few days, I have concluded that equanimity is very much a Biblical concept and is the result of  “renewing one’s mind” or having “the mind of Christ” combined with “walking after the spirit”.  It is a DISCIPLINE attained through developing the mental qualities that bring about “the peace that surpasseth understanding”.  Those qualities being integrity, faithmindfulnesswell-beingwisdominsight, and freedom.  

Over the next few weeks, I plan on sharing my journey as I continue to develop these individual qualities in my daily life.  I will explore each concept, share my struggles, and show Biblically  how I am to approach and develop each of these parts of my character. The mind-body connection will be my main focus... the why (mind) and the how (body)...resulting in a change of action. 

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being blown about by the winds of life and my feelings. If you are too, then come... let us learn to confidently step out of the boat into the storm together... keeping our eyes focused on the one who calms the seas and gives us peace. For all good things are found in Jesus Christ alone.




(Lov) // Lydia's "Tea-f" Party

On Tuesday afternoon I thought it high time that Lydia experience her first real Tea Party!  When she was just about 6 months old, her Essie bought her this lovely porcelain tea set during a trip to Fredericksburg that we made while she and Brendan's Father were visiting us in Austin. It has sat high upon a shelf waiting for Lydia to grow old enough to partake in this little girl ritual.  

If there is anything that Lydia loves... it's a party. I asked her if she wanted to have a tea party and she said "Teaf Party? Let's do it!" I told her she needed to pick 3 friends to invite to her party and she immediately gathered Big-Eyed Kitty (favorite), Bear (protector and confidant) and Rudolph (newest). She carefully chose where everyone would sit and then watched as I unpacked all the elements.  "Oh Mama, SO pretty! Uh oh! Only two cups. What do Mama?" I showed her how we could use the sugar and cream holders as cups for Kitty and Bear. "Oh yes Mama, Bear needs a BIG cup."  

She loved pouring the tea and we had a few spills. Usually she is quite the clean freak and would have demanded that we "clean up" right away... but she was having so much fun she just asked for a towel to keep in her lap. The party was in full swing when Daddy came home. When she saw him, she immediately kicked Rudolph to the curb and asked if he would join. Cuteset thing I ever did see. 



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