Learning To Count Right: Loss As Gain

Hot air balloon tethered with one rope to ground
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Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Philippians 3:8a

If I’d Have Known

If you would have told me 10 years ago that this is where I’d be, I think I would have collapsed in a heap.

If you would have told me, as I gazed down at the beautiful rosy-cheeked, long-lashed baby feeding from me, that this child would be the first and last from my womb, I’d have wept.

If I had known how the sought-out son who came from God on a plane and wowed us with his memory and wit and thrilled us with his skillful hands would have this years-long fallow season, I’d have cried.

If I had known that the speaking gigs with the book deal, the bright, sunny home on the prairie, and the Sunday dinners with missionaries were mostly fantasy, I’d have crumbled.

I would have. But I’m not. Because my non-coddling, loves-me-to-the-end God is with me and in me and for me. So please know that I’m not looking for sympathy, nor, at least as I write, in a funk of self-pity.

I’m actually rejoicing.

I know that sounds a little crazy. But it’s not.

At least not once we start to count right.

Re-Learning To Count Loss

How can you possibly count the loss of a child, the death of a dream, the loss of wealth as gain?

Great question. That is why I’m writing. I want to show you the right way for a Christian to count. Let me hasten to add, I am learning to count. Learning. Sometimes I still count the old way. I count loss as loss, not as gain.

But Apostle Paul is teaching me. The syllabus is his life, condensed into a few verses in Philippians, chapter 3:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know him…

I bolded so you would notice how Paul is counting. He just finished recounting the things in his life that had given him purpose and meaning—his Jewish heritage, moral excellence and religious upper-crustness, for three. Then comes verse 7, quoted above, “But whatever things were gain to me…”

So what exactly is this new, right way to count?

Count, Consider, Think

First, we’ve got to know that in the Bible, counting means much more than simply numbering. It means considering and reckoning. Turns out, it’s an accountant’s term for balancing the books.

When James wrote, Count it all joy when you face trials of all kinds (James 1:2), Peter wrote, Count the patience of our Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:15), and when Paul wrote, I count all things as loss (Philippians 3:8), they all used the same Greek word, hēgeomai.

The word can mean to deem or consider—to account, suppose, or think. To think. Christian growth demands we think rightly. We must train ourselves to frame the circumstances we face biblically. We must discipline our minds to think, to consider and count certain things as loss and a certain thing as gain.

In other words, we need to build new associations in our minds. Here’s a fitness example.

Retrain Your Brain to Reframe the Pain

We need to know that there is good pain and there is bad pain. To grow strong in our faith we must be able to differentiate between the two.

After decades of regular exercise, I have trained my brain to actually crave a certain kind of pain. After I do a squat and lunge workout, I want to feel sore. When I lift weights, I want my muscles to quiver. After 40 real push-ups, I want my biceps to sting.

When I train for a marathon, I want to feel the sore legs and lung burn that come from a fast(-ish) 10 mile run. If I get a cramp in my side, I don’t panic—I run through. In fact, if I don’t hurt, I’m not getting my money’s worth.

Over the years, I have trained my brain to know that these are good pains. They are pains I associate with endurance, speed and strength. You could say I’ve learned to connect this sort of “suffering” with growth.

Therefore, I welcome the pain. I don’t count it loss, but gain.

Build Up Useful Associations

Now let’s go beyond the realm of exercise. I love this bit from Oswald Chambers about making associations.

We have to build up useful associations in our minds, to learn to associate things for ourselves, and it can only be done by determination. For instance, learn to associate the chair you sit on with nothing else but study: associate a selected secret place with nothing but prayer […] If we learn to associate ideas that are worthy of God with all that happens […] our imagination will never be at the mercy of our impulses.

When we become accustomed to connecting things, every ordinary occurrence will serve to fructify our minds in godly thinking because we have developed our minds along the lines laid down by the Spirit of God. It is not done once for always; it is only done always. Never imagine that the difficulty of doing these things belongs peculiarly to you, it belongs to everyone. The character of a person is nothing more than the habitual form of his associations 

The Moral Foundations for Life

Don’t you love that? Even more than the word fructify, I love the idea that Chambers normalizes this mental training. It’s done always, for all believers who want to count right. When we learn to build useful associations, “our imagination will never be at the mercy of our impulses.” In the context of Philippians 3, that means that rather than wallow in self-pity’s mire when our life isn’t the life of our dreams, we press on to know Christ.

We look to him for comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) and healing for our broken hearts (Psalm 147:3). In other words, we learn to associate our losses with deeper intimacy with Christ.

And that is gain.

The Intimacy Factor Prepares Us For Loss

In a message on Philippians 3, Pastor John Piper calls this “the intimacy factor.” When the saints suffer in faith, their relationship with God becomes less formal and distant, and more personal and deep. At least if they count right.

Becoming a Christian means discovering that Christ is a Treasure Chest of holy joy and writing “LOSS” over everything else in the world in order to gain him. “He sold all that he had to buy that field.”  (Matthew 13:44).

Then Piper asks, Why is writing “LOSS” across everything in your life but Christ a way of preparing to suffer?

His answer? “Suffering is nothing more than the taking away of bad things or good things that the world offers for our enjoyment—reputation, esteem among peers, job, money, spouse, sexual life, children, friends, health, strength, sight, hearing, success, etc. When these things are taken away (by force or by circumstance or by choice), we suffer.”

But if we’ve been learning from Paul, we are already counting our losses as gaining fellowship with Christ. This prepares us for life’s inevitable suffering and loss.

4 Ways to Count Loss as Gain

These four guidelines from Pastor John have been so helpful to me.

  1. It means that whenever I am called upon to choose between anything in this world and Christ, I choose Christ.
  2. It means that I will deal with the things of this world in ways that draw me nearer to Christ so that I gain more of Christ and enjoy more of him by the way I use the world.
  3. It means that I will always deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not my treasure, but rather show that Christ is my treasure.
  4. It means that if I lose any or all the things this world can offer, I will not lose my joy or my treasure or my life, because Christ is all.

That is what it means in practical terms to count all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. When my mama dreams, and wifely hopes, when my author aspirations and fall away, or are delayed, I’m learning to rejoice.

Because in their void Jesus Christ, the treasure that will never rust, fail or fall away. But that doesn’t mean we don’t grieve. Jesus wept. He sweated blood in Gethsemane.

But we grieve with a measure of hope. We cry with a twinge of joy. Jesus rose from the grave and he meets us in our loss and pain.

What’s Up With The Balloon?

We’ve seen that suffering is losing what gives us pleasure. Losing these things, even these relationships and people, is a very real loss. But when we learn to count them right, we gain. We gain freedom to be content whatever the circumstances.

Now, about that balloon up top. What in the world does a hot air balloon have to do with counting right?

It’s my visual for loss and gain. The ropes that tether the balloon represent earthly enjoyments my heart gets set on. Each rope released is a loss of a pleasure—a child, a spouse, my health or a dream.

But the ropes released are also gain. Because their release frees me to soar heaven-high.

I’m starting to make helpful, “fructifying” associations, to reframe the pain of loss, and to taste the sweetness of knowing Jesus Christ better as the ruins fall.

In sum, I’m learning how to count loss right.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:2-3

Graphic of counting loss as gain

Dinah Departed: Remembering A Flop-eared Bunny

On Losing A Pet

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Who knew that the sight of purple clover could, reflexively, cause my knees to bend so my fingers can pluck? That three years would be enough to create in me a clover-picking reflex? Or that, these last three years, for a walk to be good it must be capped by gathering fresh greens for Dinah?

Who knew, in bed at night, we’d find ourselves listening for her leggy, lagomorphic thump from an empty crate in the basement? Or wishing I could watch her kick up those big heels again and leap- I always thought- like a calf released from a stall. Seeing her hop like that when I came down to exercise in the morning always made me happy.

Losing a pet means we can’t push death out to the margins. We can’t ignore the fact that all flesh is like grass, and our lives our like a mist. Pets shorter lives force us to measure  our short lives. Losing a pet forces us to think about these things.

Who knew that a glance at a purple clover would make me think on heaven?

Remembering Dinah

Men spend their time in following a ball or a hare; it is the pleasure even of kings. -Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Somehow a lumpy little flop-eared bunny named Dinah did all that. The boys followed her for three years and now she helps our family measure our own days. Five years ago, losing a pet named Zippy, did the same. In fact, remembering our good dog Zippy sort of kicked off this blog. 

But this week, we remember Dinah. 

We’d just moved to our new dwelling place, after 17 years in the old schoolhouse on the corner, when our friend Rosie mentioned her nephew might have a bunny for sale. 

We remember how Dinah made us laugh. Like when she pounced on a friend’s yippy little puppy. We remember how our timid cousin Anna finally worked up the courage to feed Dinah a carrot. Then Dinah crunched, and Anna laughed. We laughed as she hopped figure eight’s around our feet and under our knees. She enjoyed those routes.

We laugh about how she swallowed that balloon and hopped right along. We smile now wondering if she may possibly have enjoyed being hopped along by Gabe with his much-desired, 9th birthday, rabbit-hopping leash. But we know for certain how Dinah enjoyed all the loving rubs she got from the guys. Those rubs are when we learned that cats aren’t the only critters that purr.

Our three years and a month with Dinah ended Tuesday.

A Yardstick for our Days

Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days;  let me know how fleeting I am! …For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers.Psalm 39:4, 12b

Easter Morning with Dinah, 2015

Granted- Rabbits aren’t man’s best friend, and cats might have more personality. But Dinah had a place in our hearts. She was a measure for our days.

Dinah munched less and nested more the last few weeks. We saw this coming. So when Tuesday came, I filled her box with Dad’s fresh, alfalfa hay;  her bowl with sweet orange Gator-Aide. Then I carried Dinah from crate and place her gently down on a towel beside my desk.

Hey guys, Dinah doesn’t have long to live. You might want to say good-bye now, I told them when they marched in after school. And Sam said his in his matter-of-fact way. And Gabe said in his emotive way. Then hope broke through and Gabe announced, “Look Mom, she’s grooming. You said that means she must feel good.” 

But a few minutes later Dinah lay down. Soon her breathing changed. Then Dinah thumped one last time and lay still on her side. Death is not right, Gabe. It hurts. It’s not how God made it to be. That’s why we need a Savior. 

Tears flowed as we stroked a velveteen ear. But if we know Jesus, Gabe, death will be swallowed up in victory. 

That was last week. Since then, I’ve heard a few phantom thumps in the night and bent down once or twice to pick a purple clover.

And I’ve thought a lot about how living with a pet anchors our memories and gears up our hope for Resurrection Morn. How losing a pet, oddly enough, can even help us.  Dinah’s departure reminds me how short this life is, and makes me want to number these fleeting days right. 

So  if you need any help measuring your days, you might get a pet.

Even a lumpy little flop-eared bunny will do.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 
Relent, LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. 
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 
Psalm 90:12-14

 

 

Ki-Bum: Joy Doubled And Hearts Wrung

I would give anything to have Ki-Bum just one more night. I miss him so much.

Granted, that’s from Gabe and Gabe’s our emotional one. But we both wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we both sob uncontrolled sobs. We all miss Ki-Bum.

I  can’t think of a single unkind thing he did. Even when he broke his fishing line and I got so mad at him, he forgave me right away. Or when Dad beat him at Slapjack every single time and he still wanted to keep playing. Or like when I offered him soggy Swiss Chard for lunch on his third day and he turned to the boys and asked, “You like?” They shook their heads and Ki-Bum smiled at me, then shook his head too.

He wasn’t fluent in English, but Ki-Bum understood. When I was feeling some heat for how I was enticing the boys to do summer school work, I asked if his Mom gave rewards to help him study, Ki-Bum shook his head again. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But I not study.”

Ki-Bum was humble too. Most afternoons we were home, like a model son, he’d settle with his math at the dining room table. And break to serenade us at the piano with Summer.

But, Mom, if you had brothers and cousins in WI would you want to still live in Korea?  Gabe wondered, when we’d caught our sobbing breaths.

How Much Love Can You Pack Into One Month?

Short answer: Way more than the 48.6 pounds of luggage- and Pringles and Nerd ropes and Nutella- Ki-Bum stuffed into his suitcase Friday. So much love his leaving hurts.

Long answer: So much that a passing glance at the rice (“bahp”) or Ramen (“Lah-myun”) in the cupboards and the chopsticks (“jeotgalak”) in the drawer chokes me up a bit. We all took a stab at our sticky rice and real Ramen-not soup- with those.

So much that the kings and pawns and a bishop and knight stand hallowed in state, days after the last checkmate. Series total: 18-2, Ki-Bum over Sam.

So much that Gabe won’t shoot HORSE or PIG with his friends because it reminds him too much of fun at the hoop with  Ki-Bum. It makes me too sad. 

That much love.

Joy Shared Is Joy Doubled

I’ve been so slow to learn this JOY lesson.  Still, I slip back into thinking I’ll be happier if I keep my happy little joys private and Leave well enough alone.Then, by grace, the other side of my mind steps up and replies, Remember, love seeks not its own. Joy shared isn’t halved, it’s doubled!

Seeing our daily lives through Ki-Bum’s new eyes proved it again. Joy shared is joy doubled. Ki-Bum helped us enjoy common things more: meals together and “family-sized” ice cream, straw bales and fishing and even flat tires.

In four weeks we played more Sequence and chess, more rummy and ping-pong and spoons, took more bike rides than in the whole year before. There was more just-for-fun plunking at the piano and more lingering around the dinner table with more home-cooked dishes and more meals with friends and cousins and uncles and aunts.

To be sure, there was also more junk food in the bedroom over three-handed wars, more midnight games of slapjack and more waking up at ten AM than ever before.

But I think we grew a little more kind and courteous last month too. Maybe a little more Korean?

Regardless, Ki-Bum brought out our best and smoothed out our worst.

Only Some Other Friend Can Bring Out

We miss Ki-Bum and we miss the joy we shared with him. But there’s one more thing I miss:

Ki-Bum brought out something in each of us that wasn’t expressed fully without him.  I miss what we were when he was with us.

C.S. Lewis writes about that in the “Friendship” chapter of The Four Loves. He describes how he missed his good friend Charles Williams, and the way Williams changed what we’d call ” the dynamics” of the group of friends called the  “Inklings.

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth,…They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves.” For in this love “to divide is not to take away.” *

That’s what happened last month. Ki-Bum brought out sides of Sam and Gabe sides- that only a big brother like Ki-Bum could bring out. Gabe plunking Summer, and Sam turned Chessmate. And fun sides of Jim I don’t see much, and I suppose more domestic sides of me.

Ki-Bum, to borrow from Lewis, “augmented our loves.” That’s the third reason our hearts were wrung.

Wrung

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we say. We ventured, we gained. We opened our hearts and home, and- you’ve loved- you know what comes.C.S. Lewis again, from The Four Loves, 

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

“I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness… We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him;…

If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

So be it. Ki-Bum was a hand-picked gift from God. Sure, the International 4H Exchange Team officially made the match, but God’s hand was in it. I wouldn’t have picked him on paper. But I’m so grateful we were matched.

When Ki-Bum’s profile came a month before we met, I remember what I thought. when I saw his age- 15 (16 Korean)- and thought, So much older than the boys. And when I saw his hobby list; shopping, comeputer [sic] games, webtoon, eating, listening music- Oh dear. I thought. A teenager who likes shopping and video games and webtoon- whatever that is. 

Oh, well- a month goes by fast.

Kamsahamnida- 감사합니다 -Thank you, Ki-Bum.

So fast. The days went slow but the month went fast. But I won’t let myself say, Too fast. God’s timing is perfect and our times are in His hands. But it’s so hard to sit loose, to keep open hands. But if our hearts need to be broken and He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it. 

So kamsahamnida,  Ki-Bum. Thank you. Thank you for leaving such a big hole in our hearts that we’re looking to only One who can fill it. Thank you for bringing out our best and doubling our joy as our son and brother and friend. Thank you for opening your kind, patient, courteous Korean heart to us wild Wallaces.

Kamsahamnida, Lord, for Ki-Bum.

So teach us to number our days  that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!
 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Psalm 90:12-14

Remainder of *paragraph reads: “Of course the scarcity of kindred souls – not to mention practical considerations about the size of rooms and the audibility of voices – set limits to the enlargement of the circle; but within those limits we possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah VI, 3) The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”