‘Tis The Gift: Unpeeling Judgmentalism, Freeing Me

tis the gift of love and delight person walking in Yosemite Park Valley by mountains

Maybe this one beautiful life is a grand unpeeling, humbling, coming down. Maybe this is the gift.

Onion-Peeled Me

The layers keep coming off. Parenting peels. I can’t count the judgmental, “My child would never do…never say…never those grades,” layers that have been stripped away.

Three years ago I couldn’t have imagined. Time froze the first time the attendance office called. It froze again last Monday the moment I realized that for the first time in months, the call office had not called. I couldn’t have imagined the hard choices we’d be forced to make, the big plans we’d have to change, the full reframing of how family life would look.

I couldn’t have imagined so many layers peeling.

It’s more than parenting. It’s seeing my part in what is, like King David saw his part in his lot. And in trusting that God is always working, freeing, peeling for good in his children’s fraught days.

Always. Which is why, if you’ve run into me lately, you might have heard me hum.

If you did, it was probably this. ‘Tis the gift.

‘Tis The Gift

It’s an old Shaker song, but I’m appropriating it. Because the lyrics perfectly express the gift God is giving me.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where I ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed;
To turn, turn, will be my delight.
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Joseph Brackett, a Shaker in Maine, 1848

Simple Gifts performed by Yo-Yo Ma & Allison Krause

But it’s not just epic events. It’s seeing the spot on your shirt and spinach in your teeth after you were out. It’s realizing your skills aren’t as all-that as you thought and that you really do need help.

He that is down fears no fall.

John Bunyan

But more, it’s feeling what comes with all that—all that humbling, peeling, coming down—as a gift. It’s bowing and bending and turning without resenting. It’s seeing the ruins fall as freeing not devastating.

Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Because, he that is down fears no fall.

‘Tis the gift.

Un-Dragoned Me

In C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—the book that opens with the best line, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”— I see me. And I see the gift.

Eustace is a proud, selfish boy at the start of the story. On one of the islands, he steals away to a dragon’s lair. On goes a golden bracelet and off Eustace goes off to sleep. Lewis writes, “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” The bracelet digs into his large dragon leg, and his dragon claws can’t get it off.

After lonely, agonizing dragon days, Aslan leads him to a large well. Eustace figures that if he could get in and bathe it would ease the pain. But Aslan tells him to undress first.

He tries. But no matter how many layers of dragon skins Eustace manages to peel off, he was still a dragon.

The Pleasure of Feeling the Stuff Peel Off

Here Eastace explains what happened next.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off … And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…

C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 

Perfectly delicious, swimming and splashing—doesn’t that sound freeing?

Oh sure, it hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

‘Tis the gift.

‘Tis the Gift to Come Down to Where We Ought to Be

Now if you see you see me around town and hear me humming, you’ll know my story.

It’s the unfolding, ongoing story about the simple gift that can feel as painful as the undragoning of Eustace and the multi-layered peeling of an onion, but is in fact as delightful and freeing as can be. You find it in the valley.

By now you know. The gift is humility. It’s being freed from the tyranny of me.

God in His wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly. Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humour, compassion, humility, or meekness by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under specially difficult conditions. Perhaps He has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Or perhaps He wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit.

Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to Himself...

—J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

Psalm 25:8-9 (ESV)

Not Mine To Hold: Lots, Portions & The Gift of Letting Go

Would you rather listen than read? Great! Here’s the link to the Keep On With Abigail Wallace podcast.

I’m not good at letting go. Sometimes I hold on to dreams that aren’t God’s plan for me. For better and for worse, I am the bee—the busy bee that won’t rest until it extracts sweet nectar from every flower. I look for the good.

But I am also the frantically, futilely buzzing bee,*

That booms against the window-pane for hours

Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.

Yes, for better and worse, I am that bee. I hold on to dreams that aren’t God’s plan for me. I’m not good at letting go.

Triggers and Portions

This May everything triggers me. Because this spring more of my long-term, sweet parenting dreams have been dashed. Which means every graduation picture, academic award, and smiling family is a trigger. God’s good gifts to others are not guaranteed to me. They’re not my portion.

But what is a “portion” anyway?

In the Bible the term was sometimes translated “inheritance,” as in the allotment of land God gave to Israel when they entered the Promised Land. All the tribes received a physical space, land to call their own—all except one.

In Deuteronomy 10:9, we read about the priestly tribe whose portion was not land, but the LORD. “Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him.”

The Bible has a lot to say about the Lord who is our portion.

  • The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. Psalm 16:5
  • You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words. Psalm 119:57
  • I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Psalm 142:5
  • My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
  • “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:24

I want to count it joy that the LORD—not successful sons, or a famous husband or a thriving ministry— is my portion. My chosen portion. I want to believe, I do believe, what Elisabeth Elliot said, that what God does to me, he does for me.

Which means I must stop buzzing at the window and choose to hope in him to receive the lot for me.

How to Reframe Pain Points to Trigger Your Joy

This blog is for softer, stronger saints who embrace—not just survive, but embrace; not just go through, but grow through—God’s sometimes uncomfortable grace. It’s about a faith that can reframe trials as joy. It’s about using our pain points—like upbeat posts of what is not our lot—to prompt us to take joy in what is our assigned portion.

This is just another way we count loss as gain. We do feel the loss, and can grieve what is not. But then we do the 90-second reset, and reframe the pain with a truth script. It might sound something like this:

The Lord is my portion. I will sit at Jesus’ feet. I choose the good portion that can never be taken (Luke 10:42).

By grace and with effort, we can use the triggers to push us to the One who is wisely working all things (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 8:28) and who will perfect that which concerns me (Psalm 138:8). We can choose to renew our minds with truth.

Can we use our “triggers” not to set-off envy, self-pity or grief in our lot, but to push us to the perfect portion we’ve got?

Self-Inflicted Pain

I used to think letting go was weak and grasping dreams was strong.

To be sure, sometimes clinging is strong—like when Abraham “hoped against hope” that he and Sarah would bear a promised child. But Abraham had a sure and personal promise from God. These sort of dreams we must never release.

But I’m talking about my personal dreams, the ones that become nightmares as they crumble.

Mary Lowman explored the “the gift of letting go” in her podcast this month. She says letting go of these five things—our past, the small stuff, the desire for revenge or have control, and, yes, our dreams—is both freeing and peace-giving. I agree.

But there’s one more thing she said keeps looping through my head. It did when, in my garage, I heard that buzzing bee. When I let go of a dream, I realized how much of my pain was self-inflicted. Which reminds me of what Jonah prayed in the fish’s belly, Those who cling to worthless idols [read: my mama dreams] forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

This month I feel that. And I don’t want to forfeit God’s grace.

The Strength Of Letting Go

Now I see strength of character revealed in those who let go of personal dreams. They don’t cling.

These friends have freedom and peace. They refuse to allow a dream hold their joy captive. They refuse to let “the givens” and “the not givens” steal their peace. These people live like the Lord is their portion—not will be their portion, but is, right now, today.

Whether or not a husband, wife, or children, health, wealth, or house, graduation or award are given, these meek people have chosen their lot and in it, they find peace.

These quiet, strong saints know how to let go.

Not Mine To Hold

Elizabeth Elliott wrote,

I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned. Does the intellect balk at that? Can we say that there are things which happened to us which do not belong to our lovingly assigned portion? Are some things then, out of the control of the Almighty?

Keep A Quiet Heart

Heaven is not here, it’s there. If all my dreams were fulfilled this side of heaven, I might settle for this world rather than the next. I forfeit God’s grace if I keep buzzing at the windowpane, if I don’t let go of my dreams.

I don’t hold my lot. The Lord holds my lot. He is my portion. In him, not in my accomplishment or my sons’ success, is my portion.

The portion he gives is best. So I will let go, trust God and rest.

The Bee I Shall Be

I write a lot about bees—bees elegantly working and critically stinging, futilely buzzing and unfairly stinging. But today it was about bees who stop buzzing.

So can you guess what happened after this last, wing-weary bee video I filmed in my garage?

I gently took the bee off in a tissue and shook him out into his lot, which happens to be a yard full of thousands of blooming daisies.

* * * * *

I was the triggered, buzzing bee and, so help my God, I shall be the quiet, free bee.

Because left to my own will—clinging to my dreams, ignoring my portion, and outside my lot—I would have died upon the windowsill.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Isaiah 30:15

*‘If we could speak to her,’ my doctor said,

‘And tell her, “Not that way! All, all in vain

You weary out wings and bruise your head,”

Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,

“Let queens and mystics and religious bees

Talk of such inconceivables as glass;

the blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,

Look there – ahead, ahead – the flowers, the grass!

”We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows

What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)

And shake her out – and gaily out she goes

Where quivering flowers and thick in summer air,

To drink their hearts. But left to her own will

She would have died upon the window-sill.

– C.S. Lewis, Poems

Bee letting go and sipping nectar from daisy
Released & Free

Thirsty and Satisfied and Thirstier Still

Water bottle being handed to a desperate hand


When was the last time you were thirsty? I mean lips-parched, throat-ablaze, tongue-stuck-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth thirsty. I mean all- consuming, dyingfor-a-drink thirsty?

Have you ever been that thirsty?

Thirsty For Water

One day last July I came close.

I had a good podcast to feed my mind and green fields my eyes. I pedaled away as was my custom on hot summer days. A few miles out, I grabbed my water bottle. Groped, actually. Because I had no water bottle.

How could I forget? I chided myself. Should I head back? But the glutton for punishment part of me said, Finish the 18-mile course. How bad it be? I kept on.

When I felt the thirst, I’d swallow hard and lick my lips. That worked for a few miles- until cottonmouth hit and my tongue got stuck to the roof of my mouth.

Strange, I thought, how fierce thirst and sheer force of habit have me groping again and again for a water bottle that’s not here.

Before long I grew deaf to podcast and blind to the scenery. All I could think of was water, maybe a lick from that trickle in the ditch. I was consumed with thirst. The last kick up the driveway was more glorious an ending for me than ever a Tour de France win could be.

But in this CamelBak-Contigo-HydroFlask crazed culture, that kind of thirst is unfamiliar to most of us. My thirst was partly self-imposed. I could have turned around and been thirsty for the 3 miles rather than 15.

But I’m glad for that thirst. Because it taught me a lot about thirst.

Thirsty For God

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

Everybody’s got a hungry heart, and thirsty soul too. Every single one of us is thirsty for love and searching for significance. Each soul longs to feel its worth. But the thirst for God himself is a thirst is peculiar to Christians.

The 19th-century English minister Alexander MacLaren wrote,

Blessed are they who know where the fountain is…and can go on to say, ‘My soul thirsts for God!’ That is religion. There is a great deal more in Christianity than longing, but there is no Christianity worth the name without it...

Dear friends! if you have found out that God is your supreme good, see to it that you live in the good, see to it that you live in the constant attitude of longing for more of that good which alone will slake [satisfy] your appetite.

See to it. Long for that good. Quench your thirst and thirst again.

Cultivate The Thirst

We can cultivate the thirst. In fact, to stay thirsty, we must cultivate the thirst for God and suppress lesser desires. If we don’t, MacLaren says, the desire will break off into a thousand little channels. We won’t feel thirsty.

But, dear friends! let us not forget that these higher aspirations after the uncreated and personal good which is God have to be cultivated… with great persistence, throughout all our changing lives, or they will soon die out, and leave us…

A man who lets all his longings go unchecked and untamed after earthly good has none left towards heaven. If you break up a river into a multitude of channels, and lead off much of it to irrigate many little gardens, there will be no force in its current…and it will never reach the great ocean…

So, if we fritter away and divide up our desires among all the.. partial blessings of earth, then we shall but feebly long, and feebly longing, shall but faintly enjoy, the cool, clear, exhaustless gush from the fountain of life-’My soul thirsts for God!’

The soul who thirst for God and his righteousness will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Then that self-same soul immediately renews its quest.

At once he is thirsty for God and satisfied in Him.

Thirsty and Satisfied…

I’m at Day 25 of a 40-day sugar fast. It’s helped me see how sugar is like a drug. A brownie sliver from the edge of the pan can become a slab and then a whole pan. A little is not enough. For better and worse, we crave more.

MacLaren again, on how a thirsting for God is like that, but different:

You have to increase the dose of the narcotic, and as you increase the dose, it loses its power, and the less you can do without it the less it does for you. But to drink into the one God slakes all thirsts, and because He is infinite, and our capacity for receiving Him may be indefinitely expanded; therefore…the more we have of God, the more we long for Him, and the more we long for Him the more we possess Him.

That helps me understand Psalm 63. It helps me wrap my mind around the thirsty soul in verse 1 which is the satisfied soul in verse 5. My soul thirsts for you. My soul is satisfied with you, the Psalmist cries to God.

The more we have of him, the more we long for Him. But really, isn’t this how it is with the best of lovers and friends?

…And Thirstier Still

Can’t we can spend time with loved ones and both be satisfied and have be “thirstier” for more sweet times together? To be with best of friends both quenches and kindles, satisfies and makes us thirst for more.

When will we get together again? is how time with my best friends ends. That helps me “get” what David felt for God on the run in the wilderness. He thirsted for God and God quenched his thirst so that his soul was more satisfied than even the most lavish feast. What then?

David grew thirstier still. Beg your pardon for quoting MacLaren one last time,

The two things come together, longing and fruition [satisfaction] … Fruition begets longing, and there is swift and blessed alternation, or rather co-existence of the two.

This is a blessed back and forth of thirst and satisfaction, a co-existence of the two.

God Intends To Keep You Thirsting

I love how Eric Alexander ends his message, “Thirsting For God,”

God in his great mercy by every conceivable means is going to set to work in our souls to set us thirsting after him. Sometimes that may mean…depriving you of the comforts and blessings of life sometimes even a conscious awareness of his blessing upon you, as with David. You might find yourself brought into a desert place, barren, wilderness.

But you know the one thing you can keep hold on and be absolutely certain of is that God intends to keep you thirsting for his glory.

David wrote Psalm 63 when he was in the wilderness fleeing for his life from a rebellious son who would take his life and steal his kingdom. And it was there that David’s soul thirsted so.

This is why barren places are blessed. Jon Bloom says,

They teach us both to want most and to seek most what we need most. This is a painful gift of priceless worth, because it drives us like nothing else to the only fountain that will quench our soul-thirst.

Water and water only could satisfy my thirst that July day. Our loving Lord wants us desperate and thirsty for him. For him alone.

But he might take us into a wilderness to get us thirsty for him.

Are You In The Wilderness?

For months, a dear friend has had some serious sleep trouble. She sleeps for 2 or 3 hours and then she’s awake the rest of the night. She’s tried all the secrets. But still- 2 or 3 hours. She told me how hard it is to be a good mom and a good wife and wondered, Why wouldn’t God grant me sleep for them?

I don’t know why.

But we prayed and after Amen, with wet eyes and head bowed low, she said, Maybe better than a rested mom, God wants me here. Dependent and desperate for him.

The wilderness is not comfortable. But God sends his dear children to the dry, barren place. His Beloved Son with whom he was well pleased? Off to the wilderness (Mark 1:11-12).

Adulterous Israel? Off to the wilderness. Hosea 2:14: “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.”

Judah, his people, the apple of his eye? Exiled in Babylon. But, they found grace in the wilderness (Jeremiah 31:2). I think he also means for us to feel his goodness in the dry, sleepless wilderness.

Being thirsty isn’t comfortable. My hot summer ride drove that home. It’s a desperate place. But comfort is overrated, so that’s good. Because God wants us thirsty. Desperately thirsty for Him.

Once upon a time Jesus said, “I thirst.” And he was in excruciating pain when he did. But he drank the cup of God’s wrath that we can have eternal, thirst quenching relationship with him. As Isaiah wrote, Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.

That is our Suffering Servant. Because he thirsted and was satisfied, we too thirst and are satisfied. And grow thirstier still.

Yes, pine for thy God, fainting soul! ever pine;
Oh, languish mid all that life brings thee of mirth;
Famished, thirsty, and restless — let such life be thine —
For what sight is to heaven, desire is to earth. 

Frederick Faber

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

John 7:37


Guest Post: Should Christians Practice Self-Care?

My friend Hannah is completing a Master’s Degree in Christian Counseling. It’s been my treat to taste of her coursework as she confides in me, and to learn in her wake. Recently we spoke on the sometimes sticky subject of self-care. I trust you’ll appreciate her thoughtful take on this timely and timeless topic.


Ten days before spring break I was burned out and dangerous. That morning I prayed, “God, we’re done for if I show up today. I don’t want to see what comes out of me if a student provokes me.” Two days later I took a “mental health day.” The day of “self-care”—including exercise, housework, reading, and savoring good food—helped me endure until spring break.


Practicing self-care is a trendy and attractive. There’s something about it that resonates with our souls. But I am cautious of jumping on board with an idea that the world loves so much. Jesus commands that I deny myself and follow Him.

So how does self-care fit into that reality?

As a follower of Jesus, should self-care be part of my life?


Yes.

The idea of taking care of yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fits in God’s reality. Neglecting self-care hurts you and other people. We all too easily run ourselves ragged with busy schedules. We are stressed and neglecting care in different areas of life. Everyone needs relief. We all need to rest. We need to live within the human limits that God has placed on us.


No.


At least not in the way the world does self-care. If we are not cautious, self-care can turn into self-worship (“It’s all about me”) and creation-worship (rather than Creator-worship). Good desires become a demand for what I perceive as my needs and wants, what serves me, who I want to be around, how I want life to look, and how I want to feel. These could be a cup of coffee, a quiet afternoon, a vacation, or avoiding conflict.

Another problem with worldly self-care is it functions in a “self-referential” universe. God does not exist. The world encourages us to be hopeful, but its definition is largely wishful thinking. It lacks a firm foundation or guarantee. The world encourages thankfulness, but to whom? It often misses the Source, the One who gives every good and perfect gift.

Putting Self-Care In Its Place

Christians must view self-care in light of God and His word. “Union with Christ” and “stewardship” are two biblical categories that reframe self-care so that we can “practice self-care” in a Creator-worshipping, God-referential way.

Union with Christ

Being united with Christ makes self-care an empowered, life-giving, purposeful practice. Here’s a starter list of what God uses to restore our souls, strengthen us to soar on wings like eagles and to press on and bear up under the hard things of life:

1. Pray – Look to God at set times and throughout the day.

2. Confess your sins – Confess to God and to close, trusted people around you. (1 John 1:9; James 5:16)

3. “Practice the presence of God”— Seek to be alert to God’s presence with you. Calm your heart and be satisfied in His presence (Ps 63; 131).

4. “Set your mind on things above” (Col 3:2)—Study and read the Bible, memorize it, listen to music that encourages you to worship God, look at nature. It reveals God, His nature and glory. Pause, even for just a few seconds to breathe, pray, and refocus your heart and mind on God.

5. Consider eternal glory (Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:16-18)— Our problems become less weighty. The pains and strains of this life won’t go away until you die or Jesus returns, but putting them in perspective gives endurance and hope.

6. Be in Christian community—God created us to live in community, to walk through life with one another, building up, admonishing, strengthening one another.

Stewardship

Stewardship puts things in a rich, purposeful framework under God as our Master. Stewards take care of what has been given to them. We are not owners but caretakers. Here are some ideas for being good stewards:

1. Take care of your body (1 Tim 4:7-8). There is “Some Value” in physical exercise.

2. Live within creaturely limits. This includes freedom to say “no” to good things we have not been called to do. In other words, “Stay in your lane,” like Jesus told Peter in John 21:22.

3. Enjoy sabbath rest. Set aside hours or days to rest and remember God’s work and provision in the past and trust Him to continue working and providing both in earthly and spiritual ways.

There are seasons of life that require more “yeses” and feeling stretched to the max and some seasons that require more rest. These seasons are a natural part of life (See Ecclesiastes 3). To have more “yeses” in a full season of life is not necessarily to work against self-care.

A Warning & A Caveat

Warning: We must beware of the temptation to turn stewardship into self-serving, comfortable living. Aspects of stewardship can be used as an excuse for placing self before loving God and loving neighbor.

Caveat: As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Christians are called to suffer for the cause of Jesus and to rejoice in that suffering and know the suffering is producing an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). We are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1) and to love sacrificially— looking to others’ interests, laying down our lives for others as our Savior laid down His life for us. We need wisdom from above to discern when to push beyond what we think possible for the sake of Christ, and when to pull back to honor God in the present and the future.

He Restores My Soul

So what actually refreshed me enough to get me to spring break? How did God restore my soul?

Yes, God used exercise, housework, reading, and good food to refresh and refocus. But on a deeper and more powerful level, the conscious reminder of God’s presence throughout those activities and my time spent interacting with God and His word restored my soul.

What does Creator-worshipping, God-referential self-care look like in your life?

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3

These resources helped me process “self-care” biblically:

  1. Alasdair Groves – “Rest” —Where Life and Scripture Meet(podcast), August 6, 2020, https://www.ccef.org/podcast/rest/
  2. Marshall Segal, “The Insanity of Self-Care,” Desiring God, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-insanity-of-self-care