Be Still…

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We had borrowed the van from our friends.

It was quite a lot to ask considering we took it round trip from Seattle to Los Angeles. It was our first real vacation and though it was an extremely tight-budgeted trip it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of my three little ones. I’m sure they still hold the record for number of times Disneyland was squealed in a twenty-four hour period.

To save money, I made our family matching clothes from a bolt of fabric I bought for 25¢ a yard. The Von Trapp Family likeness was not lost on me. The comical similarity stopped at the collars and hems of our blue and yellow plaid apparel– the hills were not alive with the sound of music and I definitely wasn’t singing.

I had pneumonia, strep throat and a kidney infection the week before our trip. I also had three ecstatic children I couldn’t let down so I kept pushing through, despite my husband’s repeated suggestion I stay home.

That should have been my first clue.

The short trip can only be described as emotionally cold and confusing. For me, our visit to The Happiest Place on Earth was more like Alice in Wonderland.

On our way home we stopped at a gas station somewhere in Oregon. My husband reached for the door and stated coolly, “When we get home I’m leaving you and the kids. It’s over.” He didn’t even look in my direction, nor did he acknowledge the weight of his words.

Those words sucked the air out of my lungs. Time stood still while our tumultuous marriage flashed before me. The previous nine years had included two separations but I had hoped Disneyland marked the turning of a new page in our lives.

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The opened van door felt like a portal into a black hole.

He used the men’s room while I sat frozen in the van with three little cherubs who didn’t have a clue. Had Thelma and Louise come out three years earlier I may have had the courage to get behind the wheel and in true country western song fashion I would have kicked up a plume of dust or lay squealing rubber or spray gravel like a Gatling gun–anything to mimic some control.

Instead I made a collect call to our pastor.

I stood in a dirty phone booth confronted with the surreal details of someone else’s nightmare. I couldn’t think straight. I can’t remember my exact words to him that afternoon because the intense emotions convulsing within were both unspeakable and deafening.

My pastor’s words were a branding iron on my cerebral cortex–not because of their comforting effect but because of their absolute absurdity.

“Be still and know that I am God.” He seemed to yawn the words.

Be still?

Are you kidding me? How does anyone even do that?

I was expecting something much more substantive–more directive. I was hoping the man of God would put the fear of God in my husband. I was hanging on  to spider silk with one hand and holding my kids’ future in the other–I needed something stronger than Hallmark sentiments.

There were a lot of s-words in my life then–not to mention the four-letter one–but the biggest s-word in my vocabulary was survival. There’s one thing I know about survival, it has no friendship with still. Survival takes hyper-vigilance. Survival requires water treading skills–there’s no room for kickin’ back in the gondola of life.

To me, the best picture of stillness is seen with Jesus in a storm-thrashed boat. It was dark. Loud. Wet. Cold. The crew and passengers were frantic.

But not Jesus.

He wasn’t just resting or chilling out, he was actually asleep! Sometimes our Sunday School version of this story keeps us from seeing the how to and what for of stillness.

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God has meticulously guided me through some soul-crushing terrain in the thirty years since I missed my scene in a Carrie Underwood music video. He has given me the opportunity to experience His exquisite grace. In the process I have learned something about the stillness Pastor Easterly spoke of in the phone booth that day.

My ability to come to stillness is found in the context of intimacy and identity.

Intimacy with God cultivates trust while identity fosters security.

This happens over time. It happens in the dark of night and in the countless ways God reveals His love and character through faithfulness and compassion.

My identity in Christ is unshakable. Intimacy with him develops my understanding of that identity and supports my willingness to trust that I am in his hands and he is good. The ability to come to stillness begins right here.

Knowing God’s word plays a big role in my coming to stillness but I can’t just know the scripture –I must know the God of scripture.

The ability to rest in the back of a sinking boat requires that I have already surrendered my life–in fact, that I have died to myself. Even daily. I can’t be still if I’m thrashing to save myself.

In closing, let me say that I think a big piece of Be still and know, is found in humility. Humility says, “Lord, I don’t need to inform you about this storm–this situation, this economy, this global humanity crisis, this political nightmare, the media-driven fear mongering and trauma triggering news feeds. You are my God and I trust you. My life is in your hands and it belongs to you. It’s yours not mine.”

We might not always be able to sleep soundly in the back of our sinking ships but we can always be stilled there in His embrace!

 

Trust & The Would You Rather Game

Sad Young Man

Would you rather die in a burning building or drown in the ocean?

They usually asked it form the back seat of a boring car ride.

Would you rather fall into a pit of snakes or have 10,000 spiders crawl all over you?

I cringed at their morbid questions but played along to keep a he touched me war from breaking out.

My answer, more often than not, would be a groan followed by, Neither one

“Gramma, you have to choose one,” they’d insist.

I have to choose one? I don’t want to accept that I have only two undesirable choices.

I’m grieved.

I’m heartsick.

I’m ashamed.

I’m grieved because the political front in America is disintegrating into a sophomoric competition of blame shifting and low blows. Where have decorum, respect and decency gone? Not to mention morals.

We’re being forced to play the Would You Rather Game and I hear myself groaning more than ever before. I honestly don’t know what my choice will be on the day my answered is required. A lot of us are groaning and getting ugly with each other as well.

I’m ashamed because our great nation, the land that I love, resembles a circus–a house of horrors if you will. This land of benevolence and generosity has become a showcase for all the ways power and greed corrupt. It has become a global spectacle. Lack of character, morality and integrity leave us all cringing and bewildered.

I’m heartsick because police officers are being murdered in record numbers. My son in law is a police officer with a wife and six children counting on him to come home at night after serving his community.

I’m heartsick because officer involved shootings of our citizens are now too common. It’s becoming harder and harder to identify the good guys from the bad guys. Heated lines are taken to the streets while hatred and fear draw lines on hearts.

Fear is being fostered in every corner of life. It pushes us inside–inside our walls and inside ourselves. An entire population resists connection so we lose the fiber of community and the strength in our camaraderie, both as a nation and as the body of Christ. Basic trust is whittled to dust and hope is scattered on the wind.

Where is trust found? Who can we trust?

We can’t trust man or man’s systems. We can’t trust what is being spoken, or promised or offered. We can’t. We never could actually.

The words I read in John remind me again that Jesus didn’t trust either. When he walked among us he always knew we couldn’t be trusted.

Because of the miraculous signs…many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.  (John 2:24-25 NLT)

Jesus placed his trust in his Father.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  (1 Pet. 2:23 ESV)

Because he trusted his Father he was able to enter into covenant with untrustworthy mankind. He knew full well that we’d never keep our end of the agreement.

Jesus entered into kingdom-partnership with us knowing absolutely that we would mess it up and get it wrong.

It wasn’t chivalry or heroics that compelled him. It wasn’t obligation that propelled him through the mire of humanity.

It was Love.

He chose to love, sacrifice for and redeem a people corrupted by sin in every possible way and  though grieved, he is never surprised at what he encounters living among us. He came knowing:

• • That his own would not recognize him. • •

• • That the forgiven would refuse to forgive. • •

• • That the healed would fail to return and give thanks. • •

He knew that his friends would betray him, religious leaders would kill him and that his bride would be an adulteress.

Jesus, Embodied-Love, commingled with sin-infected humanity offering our only hope for stability, freedom, peace and transformation. A future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

We can’t trust political parties or political candidates—our hope can’t be placed in that arena. We can’t trust justice systems or religious constructs—they fail to manage the scope of our sin and immorality and self-absorption.

Jesus entrusted himself to his Father and so must we.

We trust His will, His power and His plan. We trust the completeness of Holy Love to keep our hearts afloat in a sea of depravity.

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We entrust our grieving hearts and broken souls to the One who is love, the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The One who is all this world cannot (and will not) offer.

For those reasons, we can live among a crooked and depraved generation without losing our love for them–without losing hope for them. We can encounter failing systems, failing governments and failing religious systems without losing hope that He contains, sustains and transforms lives.

We can look at the storms and not be shaken.

Jesus said:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14:1-3 ESV)

He is our home, both in this world, and the one to come.

Don’t let your hearts be troubled! This is our choice, weary friends! We can choose this! And in our choosing we can propagate hope in a world infected with sin.

DON’T BE AFRAID, FOR I AM WITH YOU.

DON’T BE DISCOURAGED, I AM YOUR GOD.

I WILL STRENGTHEN YOU AND HELP YOU.

I WILL UPHOLD YOU WIHT MY VICTORIOUS RIGHT HAND. –Isa. 41:10

Grace and peace!

P.S. I’d like to warmly welcome my new visitors! I see you from Italy, Germany, Brazil, Norway, India, France, Mexico and the UK! Many thanks to all who visit and follow Grace Grips. In a world saturated with good blogging, I am honored that you would spend a few minutes with me. Thank you for your referrals and for passing Grace Grips along to your friends. A big shout-out as well to those who can take time to comment! It is incredibly encouraging to know if these words inspire you! Big cyber hugs from a timorous author! 

The Lost Art of Humility – Pt. 2

One Sunday he was just fine.

The following Sunday prayer was requested for an upset stomach.

The Sunday after that he arrived with a report of stage 4 cancer in his esophagus, his liver and his lymph nodes.

In the short span of time between his first scan and his second the spots on his liver had migrated into a single large one. Oncologists said it is advanced, aggressive, incurable, and untreatable. They advised against chemo and suggested a course of pain management and palliative care.

DSC_0325 (1)His response?

Glory. Glory. Glory. All glory belongs to our savior Jesus Christ! God can do whatever He chooses to bring glory to His name. I ask that God would give me strength to glorify Him in this and that I would not fail to praise Him in all things.

His wife sings harmony in this chorus, echoing those sentiments.

The report landed softly in the room where our Simple Church gathered. Our collective response was, O Lord, nothing is impossible for you. We ask you to heal our dear brother. We trust You with the outcome. 

Like a scalpel, the news sliced into our respective hearts confronting our faith, our theology and our unspoken fears.

As my fingers move over my keyboard just now, our brother is receiving, in faith, his first chemo treatment–against the advise of his doctors. There are days when pain and nausea thrash him like mortal enemies and still his lips speak praise for our Love-sovereign, gracious, merciful, omnipotent LORD who’s ways are perfect and worthy of all the glory.

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He’s no stranger to affliction.

  • He and and his wife worshiped while grieving the stillbirth of their twin sons and said, “We count it a privilege that God would consider us worthy to display Himself through our loss.”
  • When their wealth was vaporized by a Christian brother who had defrauded them they responded, “Nothing in this life compares to the riches of knowing the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And they forgave.
  • Presently, unless God intervenes, he is moving rapidly toward his heavenly home and great kingdom reward.

This unassuming couple is quietly speaking volumes in the way they are standing in this furnace of affliction. It’s a message about the incomparable worth of being a child of God with humility that is focused on bringing glory to Him.

You see, I’ve been giving this humility thing a lot of consideration lately. Early in chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul urges (actually entreats or begs) believers to walk in a manner worthy of Christ’s calling (or ordered steps) for our lives. He describes what that looks like, opening with humility:

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love…

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Right out of the gate I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who can walk into a room where 99% of its contents are in good order. Invariably my eye will fall on the crooked picture frame or the tilted lampshade. I’ve fought it my whole life. Flaw or gifting? I don’t know. Either way I try not to let it in the driver’s seat but I don’t  stuff it in the trunk.

As someone who has experienced childhood abuse, alcoholic family dysfunction and mental illness I can tell you that I’m no stranger to the world of self-help.

In my early twenties when I began my healing journey there was virtually nothing on childhood sexual abuse. PTSD hadn’t been coined. Adult children of Alcoholics was just gaining a voice. Melody Beattie’s spotlight on Codependency wasn’t mainstream. At that time most of the emerging self-help conversation was in secular arenas. The faith community eventually responded and has since contributed some amazing helps for wounded hearts and broken lives. But…

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I’ve noticed the pendulum swing wide since those early years when it was just me and Jesus gutting out my chaotic internal world. But now I think we have become obsessed with ourselves and with our wellbeing; with our passions, our purposes, our dreams, and our voices. We have personality assessments, gift assessments, love-language assessments, and ministry gift assessments. We have markers, labels, identifiers, and a whole vocabulary of newly coined terms–all intended to help us better understand ourselves and recognize each other.

We seek the deep mysteries in ourselves but in the process have we lost our appetite for the deep mysteries of God?

The result of this propensity for introspection, indicated in too many ways for me to list here, has been summed up in a Brennan Manning quote:

“God made man in His image and man returned the compliment.”

Have things gotten turned around in the relationship between the Creator and the created, the Redeemer and the redeemed, the worshipers and the only One deserving of worship?

I’ll never forget the impression made upon me by a book title that caught my eye in the 80’s: Write Your Own Ticket With God. Really? Not in my bible!

Entitlement has crept into our culture–not just in the secular arenas, but also the sacred. Sadly, I recognize it in my life as well. Ugh. I’ve noted how my conversation with God has shifted. It grieves me that:

  • I petition more than I worship. 
  • I too often scrutinize my life and world, determine what or who needs fixing and then petition God for remedy as though He were life’s Customer Service Agent.
  • I can be much more concerned with my petty agenda than I am of His kingdom purposes and of His redemptive story forged in and throughout my life. 

Ironically, the quiet humility of my friends has been God’s megaphone in my ear:

God is whispering to our preoccupied hearts. “Keep your eyes on me. Stay focused. Live to glorify me. Lose your life to find it. Be the least so you can be great in my kingdom. Trust my ways. Walk humbly before me.

The truth of the matter is that our lives really don’t belong to us, they’ve been purchased by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

An Organic Conversation – Pt. 2 of 2

Heal My Wounds

An Organic Conversation, Part 1

I ended my talk with these words:

We want to be offered solutions but He offers HOPE instead. Hope goes beyond the skin-depth nature of solutions. Hope does not disappoint, despite our continuously changing circumstances.

The vivacious woman who had strummed us into worship stepped into transparency and spoke first, “I’ve been hiding in plain site.” Her ministry call and various positions had left her feeling invisible and empty. Her love for children and her desire to be a mother had been met with an inexplicably barren womb. She sits with conflict and pain while Jesus holds onto her hands that may have lost some of their grip. Her heart hangs in the balance of a life transition and faith transformation that can’t be explained but can only be lived out.

A woman with beautiful eyes and an open heart said that she had experienced the hand of God lead her out of meth addiction, restore her career and her relationships but that the marriage and ministry she saw with the recovery package had yet to materialize. She sat in undefined limbo trying to find motivation for her life–in God and in loneliness. She vulnerably expressed her disillusionment and her dry faith. She feels reluctant to continue to till ground that has not yielded the harvest of her hopes and prophetic promises. And while she hasn’t turned her back on God, she sits with the unanswered and the unfulfilled.

My heart strings were being tugged toward the strong new-to-town military wife. Her zest for life seemed to show signs of weariness as she opened her heart and spoke in tones of frustration. She’s seen Jesus in big ways and collected, in faith, big plans but still she sits with a barren womb and a pile of God-directives that haven’t come to fruition. She’s weary of pushing upstream toward dead ends. She feels twinges of cynicism that she wishes weren’t there. She holds onto God while she handles the unanswered and the unknown. She speaks with candid kindness, “Please don’t tell me that God has something for me. I’ve heard it all before.”

The sweet young woman sitting nearest me sits wrapped in a beautiful scarf and a protective layer that hints of soul-fatigue but not despair. She lives a life quietly giving herself away but dares to admit that she feels empty. She wonders if her desire to be married and have children will get lost in the many places she busies her heart and hands to serve others. How does she get her cup filled in a culture that is so needy? How does she say yes to so many and still leave room for yes to herself? She sits with weariness, longing and unfulfilled dreams. How can she frame her life around the empty spaces?

The next to speak was a single gal with beautiful eyes and thick hair. With arms crossed over her chest she spoke out with confidence. “This message, it isn’t new to me…I hear Him speaking it all over.” She’s disillusioned about the culturally current church and the way it can leave attenders lonely and disconnected. She sits with a need for community and relationship but can absolutely no longer abide the “peganite” church practices that grieve her soul. She sits with questions. She sits with disconnection. She sits with wonder about what it is God is saying to us and how to live that out in a kingdom-serving way to a self-absorbed world.

I asked questions. Hearts were primed. We actively listened. A common thread emerged and outlined each woman’s exposed heart as they shared the vulnerable realities of their lives. There was a knowing that we would not leave that room, that night with a handout of formulas, recipes and pat answers rolled parchment-style in our clenched fists.

In the end we dared to exchange transient solutions for true Hope. 

Learning to sit with the mystery, with the unexplained, with the unmet longings, with the weariness, with the unfulfilled dreams and with the dissapointment sets us up for spiritual formation that cannot be achieved otherwise

It’s in this place of the “un” that we recognize resident potential for a more mature love for God. It’s here that deep spiritual formation germinates. It’s here that we sit in the presence of a God who cannot be manipulated, formulated or perpetuated in zealous ideals, ego-centric perspectives or religious boxes. He wants us to experience Him when all the dots connect but especially when they do not.

Habakkuk records in chapter 3, verse 17:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.

If God’s ways and means could be fully explained all of the time, would He not lose some of the mystery that surrounds Him?  Our willingness, and desire, to devote ourselves to Him cannot be contingent on our understanding of His ways. He is every bit God in the unanswered, in the unfulfilled, and in the not yet attained. In the disillusionment and in the silence He is the God of love and goodness, mercy and kindness just as much as when He steps into our lives in bold and dramatic ways that lift our arms and raise our voices in praise.

Is it possible to echo Habakkuk’s praise?

In pain?

In loss?

In loneliness?

In brokenness?

In the holding patterns that eclipse the view of our desired destinations?

JESUS said:

“I have told you these things so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrow. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jn.16:33

An Organic Conversation! Pt. 1 of 2

Mystery copy

We like answers. We need to make sense of things. We like tidy explanations, reasonable timelines and unlimited resources. We don’t like delays or inconvenience or disappointment. And if I can be candid, Western Christianity can be perceived as entitled, narcissistic and fickle.

That’s the hard bit.

The heart bit?

God longs for us!

He desires us–He desires our love.

He is saying to us what He was saying to Jerusalem as He wept over her:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

So when I was asked to share the things God had been placing on my heart, I felt a willing reluctance. What I had to say felt too much like a reprimand that I had no right to deliver. So I meandered for two weeks down rosier paths trying to collect a pleasing bouquet. In the end I agreed to let God use me, come what may.

We assembled that Friday night in a state of expectancy but without the burden of over-expectation or the knowledge of each other’s history, hurts or hangups. We gathered amid vulnerable greetings, jagged dreams and epic weariness. Five generations of sisterhood took seats and settled into the evening with smiles and unvoiced burdens resting in our laps like swollen wombs filled with the awkward combination of hope and disappointment.

The Holy Spirit was welcomed in prayer as the worship leader asked that the Presence of God would draw us into intimacy with Him and prepare our hearts to hear and finally, that He would be glorified in all that was said and done. Amen!

Holy Spirit.

Presence of God.

Intimacy.

My head tingled. Those were the only words I had in my mind when I arrived as their guest speaker. It wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared. The Lord knows how much I had prepared. And when two weeks of prep hadn’t yielded a satisfying package I had begun to wonder if my Yes, I’d love to! should have been an I’m sorry, I’m not available that night!

After a time of mingling we eased ourselves into the rich melodic chords that resonated from a lone acoustic guitar. We lent our unrehearsed voices to God in heartfelt worship. We lingered. There was no rush to get through the set, no digital numbers pushing us through to the next segment. There was no platform, no performer and no push to keep a tight schedule. As the last note settled into silence I felt breathless in The Presence. (That’s  what I’ve been calling the Holy Spirit lately!)

And then all eyes were on me.

Those who gathered waited for something worthwhile, I’m guessing, to come out of my mouth–something that might fuel hope. I had been praying for them, praying that each one would come away with just one something that they knew came from His heart to theirs. Yet I literally had no idea what was going to exit my mouth when my lips parted. I uttered another silent prayer of faith, fully trusting that God’s pre-emptive promise would not disappoint:

“Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and will teach you what you shall say.”

You see, things have been stirring in my heart. Unconventional things. Ideas that seem abstract and countercultural. I’ve spent much of my life orienting to the norm and the status quo because my lack of identity and my sense of wellbeing depended upon it. When these inklings and ideas began percolating in my soul, I batted them away in deference to insecure conformance. Who was I to speak for God?

I opened up with the Cliff Notes of my testimony. They deserved to know a little about the woman they had come to hear. I shared what brought me, after decades of self-assisted Christianity, to the absolute end of myself. I shared the arduous shame-journey that depleted me of all self and ushered in a revelation of His love.  The familiar I once was blind but now I see had become I once was caught in deceptive self-loathing but now I know His love. 

After I had talked about the person of the Holy Spirit and the role He desires to fill in our lives,

after I shared that there is absolutely no substitute for intimacy with God,

after I talked about the overlooked need for Jesus-modeled solitude in our daily lives,

after I shared some of the ways Jesus’ life demonstrated an organic relationship/ministry model to follow,

after I urged us to take a look at the idolatrous photo filters we have placed over our lacluster lives,

after I expressed the ways we embrace friendship with the world and enmity with God,

after I talked about spectatorship assembly and Church, Inc.

after I urged consideration of the many distractions that keep our attention divided and our devotion diminished,

after I had challenged an examination of our worship, and

after I observed how so many of us have unwittingly substituted time in the bible for a quick read in Jesus Calling–I closed me lips and looked into the penetrating eyes of the women who gathered to sit with God.

And then the conversation that I had come to begin had indeed begun.

To be continued in Part 2 of 2

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Thank you for reading today! Please take a moment to share your thoughts. And do, please, feel free to share Grace Grips with your friends! 

 

The Settling

God of All GraceWe sit in a misshapen circle of chairs in the prayer room at church. We’re an eclectically beautiful group of women with hearts hungry for more of God–needing to be known and connect.

We share the highs and lows of our faith-walk and our humanity. It’s a safe place that invites vulnerability and imparts validation. So we circle up and open up. We offer ourselves, the best of it and the worst of it.

The high points bring praise to our lips–the hard things suck the breath right out of us.

One of us admits that bitterness and anger are rooted in her heart, how she doesn’t want it there but how she feels powerless to remove it. A few of us offer tidbits of our forgiveness journeys and encourage her to keep moving toward it.

Another testifies of the phenomenal faithfulness of God to save her son from addiction and certain death–how he now serves in his church and boldly shares his faith. There is a collective voice of praise.

The joy is followed by the pain-laden words of a mother who recently discovered her son’s lifeless body. His accidental overdose followed on the heels of a hopeful run of clean recovery. Through her barely controlled anguish she reveals his overdose may have been the end punctuation to his life ravaged by the pain of addiction but it wasn’t the end of the story or the final commentary on her son.

With bravery born of desperate faith, she confesses that she doesn’t question God in any of it.

No words are offered–what can be spoken in the face of this loss? Yet, the deep sighing groans of motherhood escape our faces etched in empathy and they lay as validation of her pain.

Amid the collective needs of provision, healing, restoration of messy relationships and salve for broken hearts we turn our hearts to the gospels and revisit Jesus’ post-ressurrection encounter with his followers.

Nail CrossAnd then it hits me all over again and I want to get on my knees and weep in adoration of Him.

He didn’t have to come back after the resurrection.

The penalty of our sin was satisfied and Jesus could have remained in Heaven with His Father. After all he’d already suffered the indignities of our humanity, traversed the mocking unbelief, extreme suffering and vile hatred. He’d encountered the betrayal of friends, survived the flesh-tearing scourge, endured an excruciating crucifixion and descended to face Satan and take the keys of hell, death and the grave.

IT WAS FINISHED! From a contractual standpoint every was dotted and every t was crossed. He was off the hook–so to speak.

We revisit the account of Jesus’ post-resurrection encounters with his bewildered and bedraggled followers recorded in Luke 24.

Is anyone feeling this with me?

Yes. The words he spoke during that time are powerful and pivotal.

“Behold my hands, my feet…it is I Myself.”

But the thing that pulls me into the swoon of this passage is that his love for us compelled Him to return and search us out.

I just imagine that extra mile walk with his followers. He returns to prove, not only that he is the Risen Savior–as he promised–but that He will forever be the one who walks beside us.

The thing that really gets me?

He returns in the reassuring form of flesh, checks up on us, settles our hearts and boosts our lagging confidence with his unfailing promise before he sends us out.

It is, to me, the equivalent of him tucking us back in and kissing us goodnight after our fears have rattled our faith and robbed our peace.

He settles us.

His parting action, as recorded in Luke 24:50, is to raise his hands and bless them–to bless us.

We then gather ourselves and our belongings and we exit the prayer room infused with a fresh reminder of God’s nearness. It bolsters our faith as we walk out the hard places.

“Behold! It is I Myself. Trust me!”

Leave Her Alone!

Have you ever walked in the painful shoes of the reproached? Or stared down the barrel of rejection–the pointing fingers forcing you to the margins? Has your heart received the bruises of ridicule?

Of course it has!

At some point in life most of us have been the proverbial new girl sitting alone in the cafeteria, mocked for our uniqueness,  blamed for our genetics or shamed for our desire to belong.

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It was the first day of high school. The bus carried twenty-five of us loggers’ kids from our woodsy little community called Trail (no kidding) to the nearest high school 18 miles away. There was the usual mix of excitement and trepidation. I stared blankly out the window as I ticked off telephone poles and hoped I’d find my locker, master its combination and get to my classes on time.

Third period. I walked into the music room for choir, took a seat in the multi-rowed semicircle and hid behind an armload of books. I soon became aware of snickering coming from a group of boys sitting directly behind me. My face warmed. I held my breath, praying there wasn’t some wardrobe (such as it is when you’re wearing your mothers clothes) malfunction or a similarly mortifying faux pa.

“I smell bacon!” He blurted out. The words lodged in the back of my head where they were aimed. I froze. Again and louder he repeated, “I smell bacon!”  A rally of cruel laughter broke out and then a harsh nudge was delivered to my shoulder.

“Oink. Oink. Oink.”

I wasn’t overweight but I was well-developed. (I had once been mistaken for the substitute teacher in 7th grade.) But we girls, we newly emerging women–we can’t be thin enough or pretty enough or anything enough. I received those words as believable commentary on my body and vowed to alter myself.

You see, I had spent the entire 8th grade in my coat, refusing to take it off in class because of the naked shame of abuse. Though Mrs. Sawyer chided, reproached, rolled her eyes, clucked her tongue and even turned up the heat–her obsessive attempt to get me to shed my pea coat armor had failed.

I carried that “pig” indictment around with me the better part of that year as I cut carbs and applied more makeup. In the springtime one of those boys offered an apology–of sorts. “It was because your clothes smelled like woodsmoke.”

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She too had been chided. Ridiculed. Judged. The derision leveled at her didn’t come from a bully collective but from her own–her family, friends and faith community. Mary was an ardent follower known for her single focus and extravagant worship. Her devoted stay at the feet of Jesus once evoked the ire of her sister. The costly aromatic oil she poured on the crown of her King stole food from the mouths of the poor–or so the leaders in her faith community asserted.

But Jesus, on his way to ultimate betrayal, came to her defense and spoke words that reveal His posture toward all we who have ever been maligned, marginalized, maltreated and misunderstood.

“Leave her alone!”

Can you picture it? Though He keeps His love turned on, He doesn’t mince words in silencing her critics..

He speaks into the scene of those places in our lives as well, both past and present, where we are in need of defender, protector, and advocate. With the baritone of authority He similarly quiets the voice of our fault-finders–of whom we’re often numbered among.

Another translation says, “Let her be.” Can you hear it, dear friends? Can you hear the timeless words of the One who never lets you out of His sight or misses a single beat of your heart? He speaks up for you.

My prayer is that this truth sinks into your soul like healing balm; that it crowns your head with the fragrant and costly anointing that makes you His. That you remember His words when other voices threaten your peace…and your place.

 

The Road to Shur

The angel of the LORD found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?

Genesis 16 reveals an ancient scenario that stills plays out in our very modern and acutely human lives. You recall how it began? God promised Abraham and Sarah a son in their barren old age but because it wasn’t happening quickly enough, Sarah crafted an I’ll help you help me plan for God. (I still attempt this!) As with all our endeavors to interfere with God’s timing (usually a failure to trust), Sarah’s plan created a mess.

Hagar is destitute, her life has become unendurable, partly a result of her own actions and heart issues but largely due to events which were out of her control. (Most of my painful predicaments consist of both!) Hagar has run away. She’s gone as far as her strength would allow and then she collapses in a heap. She has no food, no water and no one to help.

But God…

I love this part–it’s such a beautiful image of our Father’s heart:

The angel of the LORD found ___________(fill in the blank.) God knows where we are at all times but to be found indicates that we were missing. He pursues. He chooses just the right time to reveal Himself–usually when we’re at the end of ourselves!

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:10

Hagar, Sarai’s servant…. God knows her name–He doesn’t say Hey woman, what’s your name? When He included Sarai’s servant in His address He reveals that He knows the details of her circumstances. Being Sarai’s servant was central to the destitution she felt. Please be encouraged that He knows all about us–each and every detail of our disheveled and complicated circumstances!

The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!” John 4:28

Where have you come from? God knows where we’ve been but there’s something very validating about being asked to tell our story. It places worth and value on us and it also allows us the opportunity to consider our past.

“Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance—all who seek the LORD! Consider the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were mined.” Isaiah 51:1

Where are you going? Sounds like a simple question doesn’t it? But I don’t always know where I’m headed, because when I’m running it’s usually from something and the destination is almost always secondary. It’s as though the Lord is inviting us to recognize that. His question allows us to see we’ve substituted our reactive plans for His purposeful one.

“You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.” Proverbs 19:21

The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count. Gen. 16:9-10

Return & Submit? Ouch! My chest burns just thinking about this! It’s difficult enough to return to the place from which we’ve fled or are avoiding–but to submit to it?  Impossible. In the first place, it’s likely our previous circumstances have not changed and secondly, we have our egos to contend with. (I’ve had to drag my tucked tail back many times in my life, wearing humility like an outdated prom dress.) Who wants to submit to something unfair, unjust, or simply unpleasant

But what if we looked at it from another angle? What if we stopped rehearsing all the nasty details of our unbearable circumstances–stopped describing the water we’re drowning in? Picture with me the throne of God fitted with a storage seat. Imagine lifting the lid and placing each specific element of our situation inside the compartment. Now, can we invite God back on His throne to rule and reign. He’s LORD after all!

“He (Jesus) did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” 1 Pet. 2:23″

This kind of surrender (submission) requires trust, right? But how do we trust someone we don’t know? It’s not enough to know about God we need to know Him for ourselves.

“”Be still, and know that I am God!” Ps. 46:10a

Among other things, Strong’s translates know here as to know experientially. There are no substitutes for this. We can’t know Him simply by hearing what others know about Him–we can’t experience him vicariously either.

I will give you… Here’s the part we all love, right? The promises, the gifts, the good stuff! God lavishes us with good stuff. The bible says that He knows how to give good gifts to His children. He’s been making and keeping promises from the beginning. There is always, always, always a reward for trust, repentance and submission. In this account God promises Hagar some monumental things but sometimes His promises are:

Peace — John 14:27

Grace–James 4:6

Strength–Hab. 3:19

Hope–1 Pet.1:21

So let me close this with a little reality bite. Our promises aren’t always manifested in this life. We may not get that healing. We may not restore that relationship. We may not realize those dreams. But, and here’s the really good stuff, this life we live with its heartaches and storms and torment is a vaporous moment–a temporary blip on an eternal timeline.

If, like me, you find yourself slumped along the road to Shur (ironic play on words) remember that He seeks you out, calls you by name, sets you on your feet again and reminds you of His promises. 

Our greatest promise is God Himself! And there is absolutely nothing that can pluck us from His hand or separate us from His love.

NOTHING!