The Lost Art of Humility—Part 1

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I’ll be honest. My life hasn’t been pretty lately, which may explain my absence here.

Presently, I’m sitting among a stand of fir trees and taking in beautiful Dickey Lake in northwestern Montana. The setting is perfect for woolgathering.

When life and relationships get messy, I tend to pull back and pull inside myself. My voice shrivels up along with any permission I feel I need in order to speak or to be seen or to belong. I hear and respond to the accusing voice in my head that condemns. Why should anyone listen to anything you have to say; you’re life is shaky at best?

My (sometimes) wonky, dilapidated life and perspective have driven me into hiding. Again. Pride and fear send me there. Again, the voice: After all, Miss Messy Pants, shouldn’t you be a little further along by now—shouldn’t you have this licked?

I’ve been here countless times before and thankfully, by God’s grace, I do manage to drag myself—or does He pick me up?–back to the simple truth that often drives the seemingly beat-up truck of my life–and of this blog.

The Lord’s words spoken to an infirmity-beleaguered, conflict-riddled Paul give me courage. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

I lean heavily upon this promise as I return to the page and allow God to use my vulnerability and my transparency–some would say foolish, indiscreet openness–to invite others to look at their lives as well. Hopefully to become more inspired or encouraged.

I don’t think it’s too bombastic to say that we live in a time where isolation has never been more culturally prevalent. It may be a generalization but don’t we hide our stage 4-shame-ridden selves behind religious mantras and our social media updates while we attempt to buy time to tidy up our real lives enough to actually engage in real time, with real people.

We’re afraid of being judged, uninvited, or rejected because our realities don’t quite measure up to the ideals we’ve adopted for ourselves, borrowed from the glossy pages of the picture-perfect examples plastered all around us.

We hide. We don’t connect. We don’t engage. And this incubates and spreads the virus of neglect in the body of Christ. Have we become so introspective that we can’t see past our own navels to the lives and needs of others? Ouch!

In the rare glimpses I am given into someone’s real-time life I often hear the don’t-judge-me-but… preface to their hesitant transparency and self-disclosures.

We desperately want to connect, we want to be in loving and nurturing community but we feel inadequate. Our messy cars, the unfolded laundry piled on our couches, the pastries we swear off and then order with our skinny lattes, our failures, our excesses, and our perceived deficiencies keep us confined to our privacy–and to our pain.

We say, I’ll crack the door open to my life but you have to promise not to judge or reject me because my life isn’t the way I want it to be and it sure doesn’t look anything like what I think everyone else’s life looks like.

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All the naval gazing I’ve been doing lately has led me to think about humility. I guess you could say Jesus has teamed up with life and they’ve graciously handed me a not-so-free scholarship for another term in the school of Grace and Truth.

My human nature and some gray matter issues medical science has assigned a stigmatized label keep me in perpetual supply of humility-inducing opportunities. I don’t like it. In fact, I hate it! I often mount Self-sufficiency and try to outrun my own life and my reality. I try to overcome in my own power. I fail. Every time.

“When you think you stand, take heed lest ye fall.” (Doesn’t that sound more impactful in the King’s English?)

“God resists the proud (self-reliance and hubris) but gives grace to those humble in heart.”

When I get caught up in trying to please man or achieve man’s standards for acceptance, favor or approval, I know that I’m walking in pride. I know that humility has become a missing spoke on my wagon wheel. And I know I’m flirting with a religious spirit. And I’m terribly close to a face plant.

There’s a line in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes that describes this propensity toward pride:

“The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up.”

Pride is going to come up in our lives for as long as we breathe earth’s air. Only humility can displace it. Only humility allows us to see rightly.

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We need grace.

I’ve determined that I cannot live in grace if I don’t walk in humility.

Two things are necessary for this sojourn we call our lives:

Grace-reliance and Humility-dependence.

  • Humility gives us the receptors for grace—it allows us to receive the grace our insufficiency requires.
  • Humility quiets our perfectionism and releases us from approval seeking.
  • Humility opens the door to let others see into us.
  • Humility keeps us from promoting ourselves and our purposes; it enables us to serve.
  • Humility stifles our tendency to judge and our propensity toward cynicism.

Humility positions us rightly before God—it keeps us looking to Him as the Awe-inspiring recipient of our lives rather than the resource for our agendas.

On that note, I’ll break here for part 2 of The Lost Art of Humility and post it next week.

The Grace of Emptiness

Empty

Dare to live empty. 

It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It runs against the grain of our cultural fabric. We like full–we strive for it: full cupboards, full bank accounts, full schedules and full social calendars. We’re full of information and knowledge, of resources and tools. Full is good, right? Full means comfort and protection and insurance and sometimes power. Full indicates that we’re prepared. It suggests that we’re competent, ready for anything, geared to go.

But what if empty is better?

Sometimes we can get so full of ourselves, so weighted down with our own ideas and game plans that navigating life on God’s terms can feel like an uphill race. Sometimes in all our fullness we can find ourselves bloated.  When we feast on trend or fill on consensus, we leave no room for God or for what matters most.

When I look at the way Jesus did life, I see Him empty of Himself and empty of this world—empty of it’s trappings and clutter. That emptiness precipitated the infilling of His father. Jesus said, I don’t say anything that I don’t first hear my Father speaking. I don’t do anything that I have not first seen my Father doing. Jesus lived surrendered and Jesus lived light: no home, no headquarters, no apps or clubs or communities—not even a backpack to carry a few essentials.

He filled himself with the Father and then emptied himself giving heaven’s bread away. Like the mana in the wilderness, Jesus filled daily and He emptied daily.   When he was empty, He sought out a place of solitude with his Father to be filled again.

Of the various ways I seek to fill my life, the area of fullness that most weighs me down is being full of myself. When I am full of myself, there is little room for God—and frankly, it’s like junk food that fools me into thinking I’m not hungry. I am full of my own words, my own opinions, my own agenda, my own solutions, my own initiative, my own sufficiency—my own need to be approved of and affirmed by others. I’m full of ideas about how things ought to be. When I fill my head and my day and my agenda with the goods I think will carry me, I am actually just weighing myself down and crowding out what I need most.

The prophet Micah tells us what God requires. Among living justly and loving mercy, we are to walk humbly with our God. It takes a certain kind of emptiness to walk with God in humility. And it takes a certain type of humility to walk in emptiness.

It was an empty womb, an empty manger, and an empty ego that brought Christ to humanity. It’s that same emptiness that will bring humanity to Christ, through us.

What does it look like to live empty? It might look differently to each of us. How do we respond when God asks us to give up something or someone so that He can fill us with the fullness of His life–so that when we are poured out, His life is given through us rather than a paltry collection of cute cliches and soft impacts?

There is nothing in this life that we can hold onto or that will sustain us.  There is nothing in this world worth crowding out God. As this year winds down and I prepare to step into a new one, I’m asking God to show me the grace of daring to live empty.

 

 

 

Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus

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Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus. 

The lines of that song came flooding into my head this morning, resurrected–I think–from a gray matter vault listed MEMORIES OF YOUTH GROUP circa 1974. I don’t think I’ve heard the song again since I sat in the Armory in Medford, Oregon with my gawky peers listening to Andre Crouch and the Disciples.

Last week I sat with puffy eyes and a pulverized heart, surrounded by a pile of wadded tissues in the corner of my bedroom. I repeated one prayer: “I can’t do this again, Lord!”

Let me lay down just enough background so that when I tell you what God did you will be encouraged in your heartache too. You will glimpse the nurturing heart of Father God like I did, and you will understand why my spirit regurgitated these lyrics:

Can’t nobody

    do me like Jesus

Can’t nobody

     do me like the Lord

Can’t nobody

     do me like Jesus

(Refrain) He’s my friend.

Six years ago I was dealt a heavy, life-altering blow by a loved one. I worked through it and worked hard to forgive and move on. Then last week I was blindsided with it’s sequel; the same gut-wrenching rejection and betrayal, the same heart-pulverizing crush that took over my thoughts and excavated the landfill of my life’s wounds. It triggered an avalanche of self-loathing and a running dialogue to run away–for good!

Perhaps you can understand that kind of hardwired pain with its large taproots that you’ve spent a lifetime hacking at. Sometimes current hurts can act like a key that opens the vault on terrible wounds. The pain of it can suck the breath–and rational thinking–right out of you.

I was pacing and praying and crying out in anguish and fear and confusion–cleaning and dusting when I stumbled upon a little piece of paper with a scripture reference I’d written. As I prepared to toss it, the Still Small Voice said, “Look it up.” I reached for my phone and looked up Psalm 46:10-11:

Be still and know that I am God…

I read it a couple times and let God’s voice settle into my thoughts and redirect my focus. As I was closing my Bible App, I received a Facebook notification. I clicked on the video  link. 

A newborn baby was crying and distressed, but when her daddy speaks her name and says, “I am here, it’s okay.” The baby immediately calms. A second time the baby is upset and crying her lungs out, once again she is soothed by her daddy’s voice. He repeats, “I am here…it’s okay, Daddy’s here…”—but this time the daddy adds, “…I love you.” The infant cranes her head in the direction of her daddy’s voice and then…

 …she opens her eyes 

Comedian Michael Jr. uses the video to illustrate an encouragement to those who are hurting:

“The key thing to do in the moment is to be still and listen to the Father’s voice….”

I became wrapped in the love and comfort of my Father. My prayer turned from “I can’t do this again, Lord! to “O Father….thank you for seeing me, for loving me.” I was so grateful that my Daddy heard my tears of pain and fear; that He stepped into the middle of it and spoke my name. I was calmed, ready to trust that same Love to lead me through wherever this will lead.

And then, as if on cue, the Andre Crouch throw back hymn played in my head. It was as if the Lord was saying, “Sherrie, I am the only one who understands your pain. I am the only one who sees you, truly sees you.

I’m you’re Father, let me soothe you—let me be your friend. 

Jesus knows the fiery burn of rejection. He knows what it feels like when your blessing is trampled underfoot. He sees the vulnerable efforts we make to love when our hearts want to run lock down. And he also sees how the enemy scoops up our pain and inflates it with lies and distortions and vivid remembrances of past hurts.

All of that, Jesus knows! He knows people will hurt us deeply…that we will hurt others.

But as He reached into my wailing room and spoke my name, calmed my fears and reminded me that He loves me, O, my friends He speaks your name as well.

Be still…your Father wants to soothe you with His love.

SPEAK IT OUT

SPEAK IT OUTWe sit propped on pillows in bed drinking our morning coffee. We grant ourselves the luxury of resting on the Sabbath and decide to skip church. He has injured his back and can’t move without feeling significant pain. I am fatigued by a week-long push through depression and I can’t speak without choking up.  My soul is exploding with a slew of thoughts that have no home. I need to articulate, to debrief, but I don’t want to indulge while he’s hurting.

“I think I need to clear my head–are you feeling up to it?” I test the waters. In past years I wouldn’t have recognized my need until it had reached the fevered pitch of angst. Urgency to find relief and a solution would have driven us both into fix-it mode. In the end we wouldn’t have solved anything and would likely have ended up misunderstanding each other—the whole laborious ordeal culminating in frustration and anger.  I no longer expect to find a solution and he doesn’t feel required to provide one. Like an infected boil, I’ve learned there’s great relief in just lancing through it and letting it drain. Giving words to my pent up emotions does that for me.

The opening line of my monologue reads like a comic strip: “I feel like Charlie Brown.” I peel the thoughts from my reluctant tongue and continue. “I keep trying and trying but I still feel like an unaccomplished outcast—like I will never complete the edits on my draft of a significant life.” My words sound self-pitying as they bounce around in my adult brain yet at the level of emotional honesty, they are on point. We had watched the Peanuts movie the previous day with our grandchildren. I couldn’t help identifying with Charlie Brown throughout the movie. “I feel like people just don’t get me, like I’ll never belong, like my contribution will always fall flat.” I wipe tears and blow my nose. “All I can see are my failed attempts caught in a tree, dangling like the kites Charlie never managed to fly?”

“Actually, I thought of you through the movie as well,” he says. “I thought about how hard you work to get through what you’re up against.” He goes on to tell me how he sees me as a good-hearted woman and that, like Charlie, my character is far better than my accomplishments. For the next thirty minutes I pour out the weeks’ encounters and the bottled-up feelings I had cloaked in BRAVERY and bravado. I tell him about all the areas I feel confused and directionless. I tell him how I just wish I knew where my lane was and could stay in it. I confess to him my fear of being an imposter—that while I’m pushing past my illness that I worry I’m fabricating a better self, feeding a performance. I talk about how inspired I get by what the confident women around me are pulling off—and how it also makes me feel inadequate. I blow my nose and wipe the smudges of mascara from my face. I tell him that I don’t know if I can manage both a significant impact in the world and have anything left to manage my own world.

“A friend is one before whom I may think aloud.” 

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

He listens with kindness and I can tell that he’s not just enduring one more gripe session or self-pity monologue. He sees my genuine desire to get it right. I tell him about the things that overwhelm me, scare me and break my heart. I offer that I’m confused about medication and diagnosis and shrink at what my faith community thinks about me and my struggles—of how I get tired of trying to please and appease. I tell him that I know God loves me, that I don’t doubt His nearness. I tell him about my gratitude for His faithfulness that no matter how hard things become, there is always, always, always something to rejoice about. I admit that I need to close my ears to all the voices around me and simply stand silent before God and listen to what HE has to say.

I pause for a while and soon I feel peace beginning to take shape inside me. Nothing has changed except that I have been given the gift of a safe, non-judgmental friend to sort out my conflicting thoughts with. I haven’t answered any of the usual questions. I haven’t devised a new life strategy. I have, however, dislodged the words, errant or true, from my crowded soul and made room to receive the grace I so desperately need. God’s grace and the grace of those with skin on. When I have spent my words, I turn to God’s word—an assigned scripture–and I smile at what I read and I think I can see Him smiling too.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!

His faithful love endures forever. 

Has the LORD redeemed you? 

Then speak it out!”

Psalms 107:1-2

And so I speak it out!

Amid the things I do not understand, I understand this: God is good and He faithfully showers grace upon brokenness, imperfection, illness, failure and loss. Perhaps the calling of my life is simply to model trust in this God we cannot see. Maybe the way I follow Jesus will be the publishing house for my story. I may or may not speak from a platform or from the printed page, but my life can be, and is, a living epistle of God’s grace and redemption.

Whether or not I am ever healed, whether my life is ever notable or significant, I know that I am redeemed and God is faithful. And I’m speaking out!

ADAIRVILLE, KY

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A big storm caused by hurricane Joaquin hit the east coast while we were in the city of Brotherly Love eating a Philly Cheese Steak. The skies darkened and dumped rain on all the places we were headed along Hwy 40.

We made Knoxville after dark and pulled into Wal-Mart for the night. Yes, people actually do this. There’s always a little neighborhood to welcome you after the sun goes down.

The Nashville skyline appeared the next afternoon but we drove straight through. Who gets to Nashville and doesn’t stop? We do. It was the rain. It was lack of planning. It was getting there late. It was tourist-weariness. But mostly it was just us. I phone-snapped a fuzzy pic of Music City from the freeway. With the Grand Ole Opry in our review mirror I began berating myself. What is wrong with you? You should have stopped! I swiped at watery eyes.

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We found a two-laner and headed northwest. Incredible scenery spilled out in all directions–think Kentucky Derby– but I learned my lesson in Lancaster and kept my camera out of arms reach.

Sometimes, most times, it’s just best to soak it all in unencumbered with devices.

Around 5:00 PM we crossed the border where Tennessee and Kentucky rub shoulders. A mile into Kentucky we came upon a sleepy little town. Giant red letters were splayed unprofessionally across the town’s retired grain elevators:

JESUS CHRIST IS LORD

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Adairville could have been Mayberry at one time but most of the Opie’s have moved to Nashville. Churches outnumbered businesses still in operation and from the looks of things the population was holding onto the remnants of the thin remnants of a once thriving town. Castello’s Cafe flashed an OPEN sign. We looked over at each other, shrugged our shoulders and made a wordless decision to step inside.

I would absolutely love to tell you all about this relic place that looked part cafe and part someone’s family kitchen. It had all the fodder for an entire book. I can only tell you that it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten in a restaurant where cigarette smoke curled up from amber ashtrays and I’ve never eaten fried green tomatoes made by a pregnant gal wearing Sponge Bob pajama bottoms and an animal print tank top.

The narrow room held a dozen tables, two were occupied. The wait staff –and their family–sat near the kitchen and cash register playing dominos, smoking cigarettes and watching the Tennessee Volunteers battle it out on the gridiron against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

An elderly trio sat near the entrance away from the smoke. We sat ourselves near them and puzzled over the menu, not wondering what to eat so much as if we should eat. The Saturday special was hamburger steak, slaw and green friend tomatoes. We ordered two.

It was clear we weren’t locals. The little lady whose chin disappeared into her neck asked if we had come from Nashville for the Gospel Tones. One meal and a bunch of small talk later we found ourselves seated in the Living Word Church just around the corner.

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The front door of the church could have been a time-travel portal. I was immediately transported into my past, among saintly old saints from my younger years in a dozen small churches. My nostrils filled with the scent of lemon polish, mothballs and vintage perfume. Sister this and brother that, hand shakes and howdys–the room buzzed with the warmth of fellowship and anticipation. A crooked old gentleman topped with a thin comb-over greeted us warmly. His thick southern accent dripped a honey smooth hello.

We took our seats among the country gathering of unadorned folks. I fought back tears of nostalgia, stung by how fast this ol’ globe spins our nows into yesterdays. Baritone-voiced Pastor Phil started the meeting off with a couple throw back worship songs that brought a thousand memories into view.

A grey-headed southern gospel quartet took the stage. Their drummer had recorded several songs with Elvis and had been inducted into the Musicians hall of fame. For decades they’d been singing southern gospel songs all through the Bible belt and were still raising goose flesh on their audiences. From the beginning their notes of close harmony rang rich through the air and immediately leveled my weak tear-levy. For two hours we stomped and clapped and laughed and cried. Lyrics about heaven and Jesus swaddled our news-ragged hearts.

And then it became clear. We weren’t just Bob and Sherrie from Washington State who didn’t know how to do Nashville, who were too early for the autumn colors and too late for the Delaware River tours. We weren’t just scenery hoarders with a cache of blurry pictures or unsophisticated tourists collecting brochures and trinkets.

We were members of God’s family sitting among family in a town called Adairville. We were enjoying the sweet presence of Jesus in a rural setting and being reminded that not only does He truly guide each step of the way, HE IS THE WAY!

It’s a great land we live in and whether or not you see giant red letters painted bold across your world,

JESUS CHRIST IS indeed LORD, and Soon and very soon we are going to see the King!

CALLING CARD

CallingI marvel at those who can confidently identify their calling and describe when and how they received it. I’m sure I gaze into their dazzling certainty like a deer in the headlights. I’m inching toward my sixth decade and have yet to Sherlock my way through the mysteries of my calling. It eludes me. My quest to unearth it has frustrated the liver out of me.

In my twenties I was convinced I was called to be a pastor’s wife. Apparently the call was a wrong number because the pastor no longer needed a wife nor wanted the pulpit.

After several years of single parenting I felt a call to missions so early into my third decade I followed that call. I quit my job with the two-hour commute, sold my home and its entire contents, packed up three mini-me missionaries and rode Anticipation all the way to Montana. After completing the prerequisite training for the proffered position that call was abruptly disconnected and I was left with a certificate, a dial tone and no Plan B.

Bless me, a new call began ringing off the hook! Remarriage. I decided my bungled mission quest was actually a God-orchestrated detour to my true calling–Mrs. Farmer. I threw myself into that calling: wife, mother, homemaker, grower of our food, baker of our bread and volunteer of every para-church opportunity that presented itself.

Years eased into decades. My forties brought an empty nest, grandchildren and an inability to answer the oft-asked question: So, what do you do?” I was busy but I couldn’t summarize what it was I did. I became discouraged by a sense of undefined purpose.

My call remained undefined in my fifth decade as well. While friends were reinventing themselves with post-childrearing calls my call was still undiagnosed. I began entertaining the notion that I was too flawed, too old, too a-lot-of-things for God to waste a call on me. I struggled with the fear of having wasted my life with nothing significant to show for His kingdom. Depression set in.

Through the years I had investigated, attended and participated in trainings, workshops, conferences and events trying to discern my calling. No heavenly marquees lit up—no tweets or IMs from God either. I decided, I must have squandered my call somewhere along the way.

If formal callings were steak and lobster, my calling, if I had one, was more like goulash and saltines.

Is anyone relating to this?

I’m not a calling basher and I’m definitely not debating the scriptural foundation for the way we endorse calling today. It’s no longer important to me to nail it down. I got off that hamster wheel and prayerfully began reframing my understanding of calling.

There had to be a simpler way to follow Jesus!

So here’s what I’ve concluded about my calling:

  • I wasted too many years looking and waiting for it.
  • I assumed calling came with a title and recognition—that it was measurable.
  • I thought calling needed a platform, a website, a following or a brand.
  • I believed calling would validate me as a worthy card-carrying follower/servant of Christ.
  • And sadly, I thought calling indicated God’s seal of approval.

Calling is simply an invitation to life by the Giver of unmerited and irrevocable grace. Calling means I live my each and every moment yielded and available to Him. Calling is a directive to lay down my life and agenda to pick up His.

Calling is my welcome into an intimate relationship with the lover of my soul.

For the majority of Jesus-followers, calling is simple, informal and title-less.

I now say with tongue in cheek, I’ve been called to the Ministry of Availability. I’m here when He needs me! My part is to know God and make Him known. It’s God’s job to determine how He wants to choreograph our dance. I might bring home a young woman involved in prostitution. I may take meals to a weary mommy. I may pay for the groceries of the disadvantaged person in front of me or I might scrub the dead skin off the feet of a woman confined to bed.

Whatever

The greatest fruit of my calling on any given day might simply be to pray for someone who not only won’t hear me but who will never know that I brought them before the throne of God.

Our lives beg to be acknowledged, our contribution recognized and our value affirmed.

We might rather be a prized flower in an vase displayed for others to appreciate than to be a wildflower whose blossom is seen and enjoyed only by God.

I’ve come to understand that those who have answered God’s call–the invitation to join His family and be part of His purpose–do indeed have a calling. Whether we’re in the mission field or in the laundry room, Jesus Christ himself acknowledges us, recognizes our contribution and affirms our purpose.

Weather you lead people through a Red Sea or through a crowded room, it matters to Jesus. Everything done in His name coalesces into His glorious will and grand purpose.

His call on our lives is not hidden in the middle of some congested set of vague hints or in a complex formula for success.

Calling is about Him, not about me!

Rock Harvest

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My family teases me about my proclivity for word pictures. Sometimes they’re useful in communication, other times I find I’ve applied a five-pound metaphor to an eight-ounce idea. When my youngest son was in high school I apparently used too many football metaphors to drive home my points because he’s a grown father now and he’ll still tease me. “Mom, it’s like you’re 3rd and 9 with 34 seconds left in the fourth quarter and….”

Well friends, today’s word picture is brought to you by the letter R.

I’m a city-girl who married a farmer. Like most farmers, my husband is outstanding in his field. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one!)  Farmers mark their anniversaries by harvests rather than years. Though we are the quintessential example of the attraction of opposites we have successfully marked off twenty-four harvests. For farming families, life revolves around the seasons and few people better understand the principles of sowing and reaping than farmers. Can you imagine the fodder for word pictures here?

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/49502994797@N01/2609223069/

A short drive around our large farm will reveal a number of rock piles. They represent years of cultivation, planting and harvesting.

Each spring, as soon as the ground is dry enough for tractors, the fields are worked in preparation for planting. Spring work involves a two-step process. The fields, which were disked after harvest the previous fall, are roller-packed and then harrowed in preparation for planting. Harrowing (no, it’s not scary) is like combing the clumps of dirt with rows of metal teeth. It’s like a giant earth comb. At first glance, the fields can appear nice and smooth after this process.

However, by the time the field has been planted the ground will have been worked over three separate times. This vigorous working of the soil brings large rocks to the surface, rocks which damage equipment and implements. You would think that after sixty years of working these same fields we’d have come to the end of rock harvesting. Not so.

No matter how smooth the ground appears prior to the growing season rocks are churned up every single year. It’s critical they be removed. No doubt, you’re already beginning to see where I’m going with this.

Whether we’ve been a Christian four weeks or four decades, the Holy Spirit’s cultivating process in our hearts will continue to uncover obstacles that are damaging to both ourselves and others. We can become discouraged when hidden things are continuously being revealed. I can. “Lord,” I lament, “where did that come from? I’ve worked so hard to overcome and here I am again, still dealing with the same old stuff.”

My rock pile consists primarily of shame and insecurity boulders. My heart intention is to live a cultivated, fruitful life to the glory of God but I still stumble over the same rocks–and their cousins. Two things can happen to me when those rocks crop up. One, I can get frustrated. And then, in my frustration, I can become vulnerable to deception and the temptation to throw up my hands. I’ll never be free of this. I give up!

When I’m working at something so strenuously and feeling frustration in the process it’s a good indication that I’ve moved over from grace-living into the dangerous territory of pride. I entertain the notion that I have what it takes to present a better version of myself. I think that by improving myself, even if it’s a pretentious show, then I will have the approval of people and therefore provide myself some security. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Self as the prefix to anything is dangerous ground!

The undeniable truth is that transformation is always a work of grace and divine power. The bible says that it is God who is at work in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It clearly states that God will complete the work He has begun in me. I am His workmanship. (Phil. 2:13; Phil. 1:6; Eph. 2:8)

I didn’t initiate this transformation process and it is certain that I will not accomplish it under my own power. My role in this process is not that unlike the ground on our farm. I yield. I yield to the initiation of God and His transforming power. When we step out on our porch at night, we don’t hear the ground grunting and groaning in an effort to bear fruit.

Humility yields to the work of Christ in our lives. It can be my only response to the transforming work of God in my life. Transformation requires humility; humility allows acceptance and surrender. Like the men in our fields, God wants to remove those rocks from us so that we aren’t encumbered by them but also so that we don’t become a stumbling stone for others.

King David earnestly prayed:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

My husband made peace long ago with rock harvesting. Rocks are part of the storyline in farming. And they’re part of the story God is writing of us. I have yet to hear him come in from the fields yelling, “You’re never going to believe the boulders I found out there!”

Friends, can we make peace with two things?

  • We need to regularly pray David’s prayer. We can be so easily deceived by our own hearts. “A man’s ways are right in his own eyes, but God weighs the heart.” (Pr. 21:2)
  • Secondly, let’s not be surprised (or frustrated or angered) by what is revealed in answer to that prayer!

My husband wants to find those rocks. He wants to know what is lurking beneath the surface so he can avoid a breakdown and prevent expensive repairs.

THE HOLE

shame“Every time I see you, you’re always crawling out of some hole.”

Her words sucked the air out of me. While the ragged syllables settled on my heart, my mind raced to understand what would have prompted her to speak them.

It has been some time now but that sentence will still loop in my head. And when it does, I’m still  tempted to defend myself. I decided then, and I keep re-deciding that Jesus can do a better job of that so I just keep giving her words and my shame back to Him.

But if I did find an opportunity to speak to her, I might say something like this…

Dear Sister,

I’m not sure what prompted your words–those hard words that made me feel judged and disqualified; those words that nailed my feet to the ground. I’m sure you had no idea the indictment they would become. I’d like to believe that they weren’t intended for my harm–that you simply had a lapse of grace.

You see, I am here, in the walls of this church today lifting my heart to Jesus and extending my hands to serve. I keep showing up. I don my greeter tag, put on my best smile and offer Jesus’ love. I lift up my face and worship the God who redeems and I declare through tears, You are Lord and I will trust You!

You see, my friend, I have chronic depression and PTSD and a racing mind that demands a lot from my faith. And then there’s the cloak of shame I throw off every day of my life, the one left by my molesters and neglecters. But I keep showing up.

My sister, what you may not know is that this has been a year of grief for me. I’ve watched helplessly as my daughter’s marriage disintegrated. I anguish as I observe my grandchildren’s lives and hearts be uprooted. In the process I have lost a son and our entire family limps with the loss of him as well. I have been leveled by the grief of it. But I keep showing up.

If I seem, dear friend, to be crawling out of a hole it’s because on some days I am doing just that. It’s the choice I’m given every day: will I stay in the darkness or will I move out in blind faith, in the Truth that supersedes my feeling?

Each day I put on my unseen prosthetics and maneuver life as gracefully and grace-filled as I can. And yes, some days all I can do is reach my hand up through the hole and let Jesus take a firm hold. Every day I get the privilege of living this miracle life, this life Jesus touched by grace for His glory. And I keep showing up.

More than you will ever know, I want Jesus to shine brightly through the shadowed side of my life. I want my witness to say: There is Hope–He never leaves and He never forsakes.

Let me speak for those of us battling mental illness, those of us carrying broken hearts, those of us sifting through loss, or those of us picking up the pieces of our shattered dreams; on the days we don’t make it out of the hole, Jesus shows up.

In the furnaces, in the caves, in the lion’s dens, in the storms, in the deserts, in the besieged cities, and in the broken lives JESUS KEEPS SHOWING UP!

He speaks life-words, “My grace is sufficient for you…my power is made perfect in your weakness.”

THE ARMORED TRUCK ROBBERY

CleanHeart

I spent the morning interviewing a sweet pastor’s wife and was still enjoying the glow of our time together when I walked into Ross to make a few random purchases. I replayed our conversation as I perused the isles and filled my cart. When I approached the check-out near the front of the store I noticed two muscular black men by the cologne and watches. They were casually eyeing the merchandise.

My first impression was that they resembled professional athletes. One had a long mane of dreadlocks, the other was sporting a sweet fade. Both had handsome faces with warm eyes. I wondered if they were friends or brothers. I regarded them further and found myself thinking that I hardly ever see black men in this store, especially in the middle of a weekday.

They ended up cart-less in line directly behind me. One of them held something small in his hand. We waited for the next available clerk. For some reason I was drawn to them and wanted to stare at them; to maybe walk over and tell them that I thought God made them very beautiful and, in some way, affirm them. We exchanged polite smiles instead.

As I waited to unload my shopping cart all the media on racial tension came to mind. I’d been watching the news; the white-hating, cop-killing ugliness retaliated by outraged blacks who feel targeted by a law enforcement who murders their young men. I thought about how the Black Lives Matter movement got ample media coverage but the 30,000 strong All Lives Matter experienced a media blackout.

What did these young men think about all this racial craziness? How do they feel living in a predominately white and Hispanic community? What is it like to walk into a store and be the only one like you? What does it feel like to be regarded suspiciously simply because of the color of your skin?

I felt a strong tug on the inside. In lieu of the maternal hug I wanted to give them, I prayed for them. And I prayed for my grandson, a young black man growing up in a racially divided culture rabid with prejudice.

I paid the clerk, pushed my cart to the door, and retrieved my bags and area rug—why in the world don’t they let you take their carts to your car? I tottered out the door like a fifty-something woman with a full bladder. Just as I reached the curb the armored truck service arrived to pick up money.

Boing!!! My brain sizzled an alert: Danger Will Robinson, danger!

All of a sudden these nice young men became villains. Their casual shopping was actually a calculated stalling maneuver. They were waiting for the armored truck. A robbery plan was being executed right here in the middle of my ordinary day!

I walked briskly to my car, as briskly as one trying to retain their urine can move. I pressed my key fob firmly but there was no beep signaling success at unlocking the door For some reason the key fob would not unlock my doors. I tried awkwardly to juggle five shopping bags, one area rug, my purse and my rebellious key fob.

Thoughts flashed through my mind with lightening speed and glaring clarity.

I was parked near the armored truck so I was extra anxious to get my things into the car and get away before the gunfire broke out. My heart pounded. My breath quickened. I was forced to disgorge my bags and set my purchases on the blacktop in order to extricate my key from the fob.

With shaking hands I ultimately unlocked the doors but in my nervous excitement I accidentally locked them again.

As I bent to gather the bags strewn at my feet I thought, This is how I’m going to die? Like this? Today?

When your life is about to end, I can guarantee that you won’t be thinking about how the area rug you just purchased is going to look under your kitchen table.

I nervously peeked over the SUV parked between my car and the armored truck. Did I still have time to peel out of the parking lot? Or should I just hunker down under the bags in my trunk and hide? Am I parked next to the getaway vehicle? Nobody was coming out of the store. NObody. How remarkable was it that I alone made it out of the store before mayhem and gunfire broke out?

But wait! They know I can identify them. I’ve got to get out of here NOW or I’m a dead woman for sure.

In what seemed a slow-motion race against time, and my demise, I fumbled the ignition and successfully started my car. As I looked out over the steering wheel in preparation to make my getaway, the two handsome men rolled slowly out of their parking spot and passed me. The passenger turned my direction. We made eye contact and he nodded. I smiled back, fighting the urge to run after them groveling– I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. Please forgive me. I’m so sorry!

But as David says in Psalm 51, “Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight….”

I sat humbly in that still moment of conviction graciously laid upon me. I sheepishly backed out of my parking spot broken by what was hidden in the folds of my heart.

The armored truck and I passed in the lane. The driver smiled at me and I maintain his expression said, “I know what you were thinking.”

WARNING: When you ask God to create in you a clean heart, be prepared for some painful house cleaning!

To those two beautiful men–those image-bearers of God, please don’t lose heart! Don’t give up on me and those like me—don’t give up on the dream of a world where love renders us race-blind.

CORRUPTING [self] TALK!

Conversation

I can be ruthless in the way I speak to and about myself. Flinchingly harsh self-directed comments roll around in my head unbidden and unattended. Sometimes those disparaging thoughts slip right out of my mouth and dribble down my chin. It isn’t until someone says, “Oooo, that’s brutal!” that I even realize just how rude my self-talk is.

From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks!

I recently sat with a multi-generational group of women who had gathered to talk about talk, specifically self talk. It comes as no surprise that the woman eighty decades strong struggled with slanderous self talk as much as the youngest member in our group.

It’s a fact. We talk to ourselves. The harsh conversations in our heads are not only unkind, they are usually oppositional to the Word of God and the Truth that refutes all lies. Much of what loops in my head is slanderous and downright brutal.

  • You don’t belong.
  • You’ll never be enough.
  • There’s something wrong with you.
  • You’ll never accomplish anything worthwhile.
  • Your too old and fat.
  • You’ll never get it right!
  • People are tired of you.
  • God’s annoyed with you.

My negative, disparaging self talk goes unnoticed most of the time and becomes the shrill background noise of my inner life. These inner conversations can completely undermine my day. They undermine my life.

If I spoke of others the way I speak of myself, I would be friendless and likely hated. I would be alienated and shunned.

What am I doing to myself then? Is it any wonder a girl can crumple under the weight of it?

Imagine everywhere you went, each encounter you had there was somebody verbally accosting you. It begins in the morning when you step out onto the porch to retrieve the newspaper. Your neighbor hollers out, “What a shabby bathrobe you’re wearing.”

You’ve finished your coffee when the phone rings and it’s a friend calling with a list of your flaws, “You laugh too loud and I hate the way you dress…besides that, you’re house is a wreck most of the time.” Her list lengthens and intensifies but you sit voiceless, taking it all in.

Later your husband texts you from work. “Make a decent dinner tonight. I’m tired of the bland meals you cook.”

You make a run to the store to grab ingredients for a more tantalizing dinner and as you push your cart down each isle people glare at you, call you names. Insult you.

The point is, if this happened in real life it wouldn’t be long before we would shrivel up and lose confidence to go after the life God intended us to live. We’d be insecure, incapacitated, and ineffective. We’d become unjustly incarcerated by lying words.

Corrupting Talk

The word corrupting in the above verse reminds me of a computer term. When a file or hard drive becomes corrupted, it cannot be retrieved or utilized. They can become corrupted for many reasons, including but not limited to faulty programming. In a corrupted file or hard drive the data is marred and sometimes unintentionally rewritten. The data is unstable. Unreliable.

Fortunately, we are not like faulty hard drives that end up in a recycle bin due to bad programming. BUT as a result of faulty programming we can become unstable, unreliable and shelved from the lives God purposed for us.

Image-1

As our Self Talk group prepared to leave, we decided to address first things first in the pursuit of transformed soul talk:

Awareness

Pray and ask God to increase your awareness of critical self-talk. (Then apologize to yourself!)

Repentance

Ask God to forgive you for disobedience–for believing your words over His Word, and for slandering His daughter!

Displacement

Displace those harsh, ugly, defeating lies with truth. Begin with one grace-filled truth about yourself and build a new vocabulary!

Let’s begin a life-affirming, grace-filled, hope-recharging, joy-renewing conversation with ourselves, shall we?