Our pursuit of happiness

NEEDTOBREATHE recently came out with a song called “Happiness.” The story of the song is that everything the band has done, including all they have given up and continue to give up to write and make music, is done for the Lord. As the song goes, they have sacrificed and done so much for the Lord while pursuing their own happiness.

This song makes me crazy for a few reasons. For the first, it is absurd to think that we offer to God the work of our hands and lives haphazardly, as an afterthought or as a consequence of our own happiness. Second, God does not need us. The very idea that everything we do will be for the Lord while we pursue happiness assumes that God needs what we have to offer him in return for our happiness. This is simply not true. God needs no one. Finally, man’s chief end is to glorify God. Happiness is only our chief end when it is at the world’s insistence.

I have read some of Spurgeon’s “Faith’s Checkbook” while I have been in South Carolina. The reading from July 23 was from Hebrews 10:17, which says, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Spurgeon writes about what an amazing mercy this is (and it is!). At the end of the passage he writes this regarding God’s promise to forget our sin:”Believe it and be happy.”

One of my first thoughts was how sharply this contrasts with NEEDTOBREATHE’s song. Biblically we ought to be happy because of what God has done for us. He has removed our sins, he remembers them no more, and joy and happiness can be found and reached and attained now because of the work of Jesus on the cross.

We do not pursue any happiness we might find in the world and call it work for the Lord. NEEDTOBREATHE has it wrong. Dreadfully wrong. Happiness is not, and never has been or shall be, a prerequisite to serving the Lord. Our sins have been forgotten. God has removed them as far as the East is from the West. That is happiness.

Resolutions, promises, and lessons from South Carolina

Each new year people tend to make lists of resolutions. By February or March people might start to bemoan their inability to keep those resolutions: the holiday weight won’t come off, the bad habits haven’t been mortified, and the snooze button is still whacked too many times every morning. I have never been one for lifestyle resolutions. Instead, for several years now I have used the new year to pick one of Jonathan Edwards’ 70 Resolutions and commit it to practice. I have most frequently used Resolution 28: “Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.” For 2016 I wanted something a little more personal and opted for a Kait-original. I resolved to know and to cling to God’s promises. Something that has always been hard for me to do.

Right now I am visiting my friend Coie in South Carolina. She and her husband live in  beautiful wooded area that is green and quiet and peaceful. Their home inside affords the same measure of peace and tranquility. A few nights ago we sat around playing Monopoly Deal after dinner. Coie has a lovely calendar up in the dining room and it caught my eye.

While I was pondering Isaiah 41:10 from the calendar, I thought how comforting this verse must have been to those to whom it was originally written; and while I was thinking about that, it occured to me that although it is a comforting promise to others, it can be (should be) comforting to me. This is one of God’s promises to his people. I am one of his people.

Before that evening playing Monopoly Deal and catching sight of the calendar, fear and dismay were warring within me and my heart was anxious and unsure about a few things. The Lord used this verse to squash all of that. The Lord plainly commands me to not fear or be dismayed. Why? How can I do that? Because the Lord is with me. He is my God. Everything that I was worried about will be taken care of by my loving Father. He knows the desires of my heart and he loves me and he is good to me. He will take care of me.

I was in the middle of a Monopoly Deal round when the Lord reminded me of my resolution from January. The presence and help of God was the very type of thing I had resolved to remember, and there I was forgetting and fretting about other things. It is not sufficient to just think about this, though. The other part of a resolution is the doing. You have to do what you resolved to do. This is the harder part. This is the part where temptation creeps in. This is the part where I hear Satan whisper, “Did God really say that?” During the doing and remembering, I have to forge ahead. I have to purposefully and intentionally remember and cling to what God has promised. Sometimes that means I repeat God’s promises to myself over and over. Sometimes that means I fill up index cards with God’s promises and put them in my desk, in my car, in my purse. Sometimes that means I have to take bold steps forward, knowing that my God will catch me if I fall. But it is always an act of faith, and faith means I must trust without being able to see.

South Carolina is beautiful in the summer. The colors outside are so vivid, the air conditioning inside so cool. The peace and tranquility of what is around me is not limited to South Carolina. This peace is mine, not because I am on vacation or visiting with dear friends, but because the Lord is with me and he is my God.

My good Heavenly Father

Jesus told a lot of parables. Sometimes when I am reading through the gospels, I get lost in the analogies: Am I a coin? a sheep? a vineyard? the prodigal son? his begrudging brother? There is a lot to sort through with parables, figuring out what represents what, and that can make them hard to read. Recently, while I was reading through the Gospel of Luke, I was particularly struck by the parable of the persistent friend, a parable that has always puzzled me.

In Luke 11, following on the heels of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells the parable of a man knocking on his friend’s door in the middle of the night because he needs provisions. The friend isn’t interested in getting out of bed to help, not when he can wait a few hours until morning anyway. Eventually, because of the persistence of the knocking neighbor, not because of a willingness of heart, the friend gets up and gets what his neighbor needs.

If one stops reading at this point, it seems really muddled. Am I the friend or the neighbor? To assume that I am one of those characters means I have not finished reading the passage. The parable doesn’t make much sense when read in isolation, but if you continue to read, you will see that Jesus goes on to say that whoever asks will receive, whoever seeks will find, and whoever knocks to him it will be opened. The parallels to the persistent neighbor are quite clear. He asked, he sought, he knocked, and the friend finally answered, gave, and opened the door.

It is easy to draw conclusions here. I am the neighbor who must ask, seek, knock. But, and this is the part where the parallel ends, the Lord is not the bothered friend who doesn’t want to get out of bed. On the contrary, the Lord is the father who will not give his son a snake when he asks for a fish.

So we have confidence to ask, seek, and knock for two reasons. First, Jesus said to do so, and we must obey. Second, our good heavenly Father will not withhold good gifts from his children. Asking can be hard. Praying, much like reading the parables, is hard work to do it well, or at all sometimes. I must be persistent (faithful) like the neighbor. God is my good heavenly Father. He will not withhold and he will not slight me. He will not give me a scorpion when I ask for eggs.

Indelible Nudges

I first heard the word “indelible” years ago while I was watching the bonus features of The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews used it to describe some thing or another. It sounded so beautiful and I have loved it since. Then during college I wrote my column for the school newspaper and named it Indelible Traces. I hoped to bring that back for this blog but a tattoo artist in San Francisco beat me to the domain name.

Indelible Nudges, as I ended up with, may seem to some a random, meaningless name. But just as with Indelible Traces, Indelible Nudges says a lot in two little words.

Indelible means that marks have been made that cannot be removed, or it is used to describe something that can never be forgotten. This is an important word and concept for any Christian. When we are made new creations in Christ, that is forever. The work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s heart and life is indelible; God’s work can never be undone. And throughout all of this, God never will (never can) forget his children.

Nudges, on the other hand, is significantly less beautiful and was at first going to be smudges, just because I liked the way it sounded. I liked the idea behind a smudge of blurred paths and lines. Life often seems like that—blurry, smudgy, unclear—but I did not like the connotation of dirty, messy. Combine that with indelible and it sounded like I needed a decent stain remover.

So smudges was out. Nudges came compliments of my mom, who hugged me on blog-naming day and said something about an indelible nudge. (She had already heard all about smudge.) It stuck and it rhymed, much to my nerdy delight.

Nudge, unlike smudge, is a better illustration of what I want this blog to be about: a record of the leading and guiding of God in my life, the way God nudges me in certain directions to go and to do what he wills. From my perspective, the way God leads me sometimes does appear to be blurry, like smudges, but I can trust that God’s nudges will propel me in the direction he wants me to go.

When thinking about smudgy paths and nudges, I was reminded of Proverbs 3:5–6. These verses can really be seen as a three-step process that ends in straight paths: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, and acknowledge him in all your ways.Without implying that Proverbs 3:5–6 is a three-point, fix-all recipe for straight-path success, it is encouraging that total surrender to the Lord  will always bring straight paths, even if or when they don’t seem straight to me.

I know that God began a good work in my life. He is faithful to complete it. Anthis blog is my little attempt at sharing the indelible nudges that sweep across my life with you.

Wuthering Heights

For anyone who has read “Wuthering Heights,” by Emily Brontë,  you realize the layers of themes addressed throughout the book, the feelings evoked by injustices, and the depths of the characters explained by one housekeeper ought to preclude anyone from writing a CliffsNotes review or summary.

Brontë’s character development is some of the best I have read. The most astounding part, as mentioned above, is that she writes all of this through the housekeeper’s perspective; thereby, making Ellen Dean the best storyteller ever. This is no easy literary feat. When using one narrator to voice so many characters, you run the risk of them all adopting the same (or a similar) voice, and you have to blend the stories of the past with the narrative of the present. Brontë nails this. At least by halfway through, I would have been able to identify the character based entirely on the dialogue. Additionally, Brontë builds and grows her characters. We learn who they are. We learn how they think. We learn who we don’t want to emulate and how we don’t want to feel.

Brontë writes a difficult story. I don’t mean the writing style, time period, or at-times challenging vocabulary. “Wuthering Heights” hits you in the gut with hatred, heartbreak, destitution, manipulation, infidelity, and  abuse—physical, emotional, verbal. You reel after each incident, wondering how much worse it could get. It does get worse. You think you have steeled yourself for the next occasion only to realize all of your unspoken, worst fears have been realized in this story. Brontë includes it all. Brontë doesn’t mince words, either. There is no doubting what she means to say. By the end you seriously consider how much of her story is taken from her life or what she has been exposed to at one time or another. No one’s imagination is that good without prior experience, I’m sorry to say. This is surprising given her childhood home at Haworth Parsonage.

“Wuthering Heights” illustrates all the depravity akin to what you would find in a book by Dickens, though it is much easier to read, and by the end there are traces of romance and hope you would find in a book by Austen. Truth, however, is sorely lacking.

Although man’s depravity is thoroughly displayed by the characters, there is no solution offered for this corruption. The end brings some cheer to the reader: Heathcliff’s dominance ends; Hareton and Cathy are free and happy. But poor Brontë doesn’t seem to have a clue about the gospel and the hope of eternal life through Jesus’ death and resurrection. There is no literary scene that affords her or her characters hope for eternity.

This is the most heart-clenching realization about Brontë and “Wuthering Heights.” You work your way through the pages, endure the happenings of the story, and reach the end with no promise for something else, something better. So one should ask how this came to be considered a classic. It is worth reading because Brontë writes so well. But the story she tells is a sad one, and not the type I would like to imitate—in real life or in writing.

March on, my soul, with might!

Earlier this year I took up a challenging position at an elementary school here in town, while in the throes of graduate school. I learned very quickly that, while I loved what I did and was made for what I was doing, I was in over my head. I knew the job would be fraught with difficulties and hard situations, but I never knew there could be so many and in just one classroom. 

My kryptonite, my undoing, has always been children who are suffering and in need (be those needs physical or emotional), and I met plenty of them. The job was tough but the emotional pull was tougher. My heart could break several times in one day. What I saw, what I heard left me distraught. I would pray for these kids and I would cry for these kids. The smart thing to do and the easy way out would have been to quit. But I knew that the Lord placed me there, and because he placed me there, he would sustain me.

I clung to that truth as I prayed for strength, wisdom, and love. God, in his grace, mercy and faithfulness strengthened, gave wisdom, and helped me love. The tagline for this blog—March on, my soul, with might!—comes from Judges 5, which I read one Saturday morning during those difficult months. Judges 5 is the song of Deborah after Sisera’s crushing demise. Tucked at the end of verse 21, amid acclamations of praise and victory, Deborah’s words call us to action. Her six words cut right to my heart. I didn’t need to quit or try to suppress the myriad emotions. I needed to take all that God had given me and all that God had allowed me to feel and march on, with might. So this became my anthem. Etched into my heart was the hope that God would sustain me and deliver me as he had Deborah. There would be a time for Kait to sing after the turmoil ended. But until then, I needed to march on, with the strength God provided.

School has been out for over a month now and I finished my last graduate class one week ago. Summer has been full of peace and rest—refreshing for this wearied soul. Though my internship in the fall is at another school and will have different difficulties, my anthem remains. My anthem will always remain but not because the career I have chosen is hard and I am passionate. My anthem will remain because the Christian life is hard, because believing in Jesus puts me at odds with the world I live in. I am always fighting against the world, the flesh, and the devil. This requires might. This requires marching. I do not get to saunter or skip. I march with singleness of heart and purpose: God’s glory. As I traverse a world wrecked by sin, I go in the strength God provides. That is how I march. God is my might.

New beginnings

Some say blogs are just extended pages of a journal, visible for all the world to see. Some say blogs are attempts to promote self, attempts for one little voice to be heard. To me, though, my blog is a place to work on my craft, a craft I started years ago.

So I have started another blog: the third in the last decade. My other blogs have been removed over the years and I have vacillated many times over the years, before blogs and after blogs, whether I should actually bother blogging.

For now, the answer is “yes” because blogging is writing and writing is my love. I write  to make words do and say beautiful, honest things; I write because I love words; I write because words name feelings; and I want words (mine or others’) to affect you the same way.