Monday, October 20, 2014

He Is Found

I have an oddly visceral reaction to "coffee cup" Bible verses. You know the ones that everybody knows, even if they've never stepped in church, because people can't help themselves from knitting them on things and painting them on things and wearing them. I react to them the same way I do to Christian radio and Christian bookstores and inspirational messages on church signs. I feel vaguely nauseous and make my "stank face". These things aren't all bad; I've just been beaten by those Bibles and it was none too pleasant.

On Friday, I sat down to read the Bible for the first time in a month. I've been struggling lately, foggy, and while the issues I'm battling are drawing me into prayer, somewhere along the way, I left my Bible in the dust. Anyway, I opened up some brain space and took the opportunity to sit down and read. I've been reading in a One Year Bible, one of those handy ones that breaks the whole Bible down into daily readings for you to make it through the whole thing in a year. I told myself that if I skipped more than just one or two days that I would pick back up on the current date so I wouldn't feel defeated and not read at all. So I flipped to October 17th and started to read.

About a page in, what do I find but one of those tired, old verses, one that has been inscribed on more Hallmark cards than Jeremiah ever anticipated. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'" Jeremiah 29:11 Immediately, I felt my stomach turn and I rolled my eyes so far back up into my head, I could practically see my babysitter from my childhood throwing me a disapproving glance. It's just, ugh. How annoying! (Yes, I just called the Bible annoying. Bear with me. I'm laying it all out there for you.)

"I know the plans I have for you." Well, that's great, God. I'm so super glad you have a plan. If you could, I don't know, shoot a little whisper my way about WHAT ON EARTH is going on, that'd be awesome. You know, just whenever. "Plans to prosper you and not harm you." Okay, so see, this is where the train derails further. Because, really, God? There's been a WHOLE lot of harm in this past year and a half. A whole lot of pain and medication and uprooting and harm. Physical harm, mental harm, emotional harm, spiritual harm -- it's been one giant ball of harm, and I don't see how this stupid phrase could possibly be true. "Plans to give you a hope and a future." Well, God, you have a seriously funny way of showing that.

As I stewed in my sarcasm and emotional response, I thought about how I could try to give this verse a fair shot. It is certainly no coincidence that this verse pops up on the precise day I sit down with my Bible after letting it collect dust for a month. Maybe, if instead of pulling this verse out of thin air like I'm drawing my pistol for a duel, I could read it in context. It comes after some stuff and before some other stuff, and like anything written down and especially like in the Word of the Living God, it certainly is connected to both what comes before it and what comes after it. So, okay, so let's give it a fair shot and see.

Before: Okay, so this little passage is being written to exiles, people God sent out from Jerusalem to Babylon. And here's what He says to them: "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." Jeremiah 29:5-7 Basically, God is saying, even though you are out here in this strange land and you feel separated from me, go on living your lives. Do your thing. Do your human thing, and invest in the place where you are because you will benefit from what benefits your place. Don't let go of yourself, don't let go of Me, just because things don't look like you expected they would.

And you can do this, this is possible, BECAUSE... "I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:10-11) Okay, so this is a little less annoying here because we know that these people need encouraging because they're in exile and all this stuff. BUT. But what about when after 60 years and God's still not back or whatever and things have ALL BEEN SHOT TO HELL? What about when things look 100% totally crappy? What about when there's an absence of "welfare" and a seeming abundance of "evil" and a gaping hole in what should be the "future" and put all together, that means "hope" is about as unlikely as tap-dancing unicorns? WHAT ABOUT WHEN LIFE??

And then I read after. And what came after made me cry. What came after was not at all what I expected for the after, and what came after made everything that came before make so, so, so, so, SO much more sense. Because, you see, what I realized, was that my definition of "welfare" and "future" and "hope" were totally wrong. I defined the terms totally wrong and so when I went to look for them, when I went to look for evidence of them, I couldn't find them anywhere. I couldn't see them because I didn't know what I was looking for. I was looking for physical health. I was looking for mental stability. I was looking for a thriving, pulsing, beating spiritual heart. And with all these things lacking, I logically concluded -- I have no welfare. I do not see God in this place "prospering" things. I see evil and wrong and confusion and difficulty and pain. So what comes after?

After: "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lordand I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile." (Jeremiah 29:12-14) And I'm crying again. I'm sorry, but DID YOU READ THAT????? "I will be found by you." After the exile, after being sent out and separated and broken apart, when we seek for God, WE WILL FIND HIM.

I've been spinning around "looking" for God and waiting for Him to pop up like my genie. I've been taking all the troubling circumstances as signs that we're being "taught" something or "tested by fire" or something sadistic and terrible. I've been looking around to the physical things to see the spiritual meaning and I've been completely missing it. "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord." This "welfare" and "future" and "hope" that God promises in His plan, He's not dangling the promise in front of our noses to get us to just keep going one more step with Him. He's not holding our futures out in front of us like some prize that we have to run the race to earn. He's not keeping us in limbo to see how we will act or react or whether we will toe the line. HE IS THE PRIZE. He is the welfare. He is the future. He is the hope. HE IS THE PROMISE. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord... You will seek me and find me."

The "plans" God has for us are for us to find Him. To seek Him, to find Him, to be restored to Him. "I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile." The plan isn't, "No bad thing will ever happen." The plan isn't, "You will always feel entirely emotionally and mentally stable." The plan isn't, "You will know exactly what is going to come tomorrow and it will be all entirely good things." The plan is... we are apart now. We are exiles. But we won't always be. And when we go seeking God, He WILL be found. It's a promise. We get God. That's the whole plan. Everything is all down the crapper, but who even cares, because WE GET GOD.

Y'all, the tears I have cried, you don't even know. This is not a life preserver to a drowning woman; this is a freaking rocket to the stars. I am an exile, trudging through a weary land, and while I sincerely hope the fog lifts, the panic subsides, the darkness is swiftly blown away, in the end, it doesn't really matter. Even in my fog and panic and darkness, God is with me. Even in my clarity and peace and joy, God is with me. Even while in exile, I can seek God and He promises He will be found and let me tell you my friend, He is found. He is found. Praise the Lord, the Lord is found.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Broken Offering

Well... it's back. The heart-pounding, the heavy chest, the surge of adrenaline for seemingly no reason. The weighty sense of doom and lack of oxygen. I've been waiting all through the last 14 months, anticipating the return, watching with nervous eyes. Of all the times in all the lives, this would be the time. This would be the life. But it's stayed at bay, I think possibly because my body knew I couldn't handle one more thing. And now that life has slowed, the crises have passed, the mountains have been scaled... now the panic comes. Now the anxiety returns. Now the attacks hit and wash over me rapid-fire.

Yes, I am seeing my doctor. Yes, I have told my people and they are both praying and reaching out, arms wide and welcoming, familiar, both with my struggles and with their own. You'd be amazed once you open your mouth to say, "This is where I am," how many people respond with, "Me too." Yes, I rest fully assured in the provision that God will provide for my family and how fiercely He will protect us. But the power of the mind? It isn't logical. The fears? They don't make sense. My triggers? The things that can send me into gasping fits? They don't add up. You can't talk yourself out of it. You can't reassure yourself through it. You just have to let it pass. You have to hold on, feel it, and let it move through you.

You might find this awkwardly personal, weird to share, to fling out into the ether for anyone to read. But this is my healing, my therapy, and I have neglected it lately. I talk it out and think it out and share it (albeit from the safety of my computer screen). But somehow that process heals me. It walks me through and teaches me and puts pieces back into place. So I'll tell you about where I am. And you have either been there and you will nod your head -- yes, yes -- or you have not and you will shake your head -- wow, gosh. But along the way, I hope you all see one thing shining very brightly in the distance: hope.

It feels like that moment when you realize you have made an incredible mistake. You have screwed up, and not just a little bit, but majorly. So majorly that you might actually lose everything. Every. Last. Thing. That sense of doom so powerful that you see no way past it, no way around it, no way to fix it. The only solution is to raise your hand and say, "Yes, I did mess every last thing up, and no, there is nothing I can do to fix it." That feeling, that sinking in the pit of your stomach -- that is what it feels like.

Or imagine you are trekking along a path in the woods, enjoying the light breezes wafting pine scent your way and the sweet songs of finches and sparrows. And you have your eyes fixed on the bend up ahead, fairly certain it is the last turn in the trail before you hit the summit. And as you come around that bend, instead of a bright open scape of mountain views, you come body-to-body with a grizzly bear. You cannot hide, and you cannot run. There he is and he has seen you. Your body smashes you with adrenaline and you know you will either fight or flee. Your heart speeds up and your stomach drops and you instantly feel sick and trapped and afraid -- that is what it feels like.

Except I haven't screwed up majorly and I haven't encountered a hungry bear on a remote trail. Instead, these feelings, these thoughts hit me while I'm, say, washing some dishes at my kitchen sink. Or sitting down to eat lunch. Or getting ready to leave for an appointment. It's not even anything specific, like being afraid of large groups or traffic or rainbows. It just hits and racks. It's chemical and hormonal and in no way based on my trust (or lack thereof) in God or my faith or how powerful or good I think He is. It is my body fighting an enemy that does not exist. And in so doing, creating a new enemy for me.

But it also creates a lot of cause of prayer and reflection. Appeals to God and appeals to others and I found myself in bed the other night thinking about being broken. And I thought to myself, Brokenness is not a barrier to the kingdom of heaven. Reassuring, I know my place before God is secure and cannot be knocked over by waves of anxiety and my inability to breathe. And I sat with that for a while. And it came to me. Brokenness is not a barrier to the kingdom of heaven. In fact, it is the only requirement.

"[Jesus] said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (Mark 2:17) The Pharisees had wondered aloud why Jesus was hanging out with "sinful" people and this was His response to them. The added layer here is this: none of us are healthy. "No one is righteous, no, not one." (Romans 3:10) No a one of us in all the land or who has ever been in all the land is righteous. Not a single one. The Pharisees wonder why Jesus is hanging out with the "sick" (read: unrighteous) people when He could be hanging out with them (the healthy, righteous ones). Where they miss the mark is in not realizing that they too are sick. They've got it all together. They don't "need no doctor."

But Jesus said He came for the sick. He came for the "weary and heavy laden." He came to heal sores and stop bleeding and repair vision and make men walk. And every single time He performed a miracle like this, it was to draw attention to the power of God to heal the broken. The physical healing provided a platform to display the spiritual healing, the true reason for Jesus' ministry. And the only requirement to be healed by the Lord was to say, "Lord, I am sick." Several even had sick loved ones far away and asked the Lord to heal them and He did. Their faith was in His power to heal brokenness and their faith was well-placed.

So I raise my hand to the Lord, and I don't say, "Just hang in there with me God. I'll get this all sorted out soon." I don't say, "I know I was weak again, but next time I'll be strong." I say, "Lord, I am broken. I am broken and I cannot fix it. Have mercy on me, Lord." And not a one of us can know how the Lord will respond, whether He will chase away the fears and anxiety or whether they will accompany me until the end of my days. But I do know that the Doctor is in. I do know that my brokenness does not bar me entrance into His presence. I do know that all He requires of me is faith in Him.

And so here I am, frantic and panicked and scared and broken, but kneeling before the King. And the line that keeps ringing in my head is one I sang nearly weekly while in college and one that blew my little mind the first time I sang it and one that I will never, ever, not as long as I live, forget: "If you tarry til you're better, you will never come at all." If you wait until you get it all in line, until you get it figured out, until you feel like you are "fixed", you will never come. You will never approach the throne. You will never feel worthy to come before the King. "Not the righteous, not the righteous, sinners Jesus came to call."

And so I do not let my brokenness bar me. I do not let my brokenness hold me away. I do not let my brokenness come between me and the King. Instead, I hold my brokenness out in my hands like an offering, like an offering of praise, as a way of saying, "Heal me, Healer." And when I offer it to Him, when I trust Him with it, when I lay down what would be my way and instead walk His, I find life. I find peace that stands secure. I find a hold in the storm. And I don't, not for one second, let go.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Build Your House

Soloman had to build the house of God. Not "a" house of God. Not a new church building in a town with seventeen other churches. THE house of God. The physical, material building that would hold the spirit of the living God. With men falling to their knees at the sight of an angel of the Lord, imagine the weight Solomon must have felt. With men falling dead for daring to touch the ark, even as it was falling to the ground, imagine the terror Solomon must have felt.

And so his dad encouraged him. And he says again and again, "Do not be afraid." It's hard to wrap our brains around because very little in our culture is sacred, but Solomon was being charged to provide a home for the Most Sacred of all sacred and his dad knew he needed to hear those words. So this is what David says to his son: "Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished." (1 Chronicles 28:20) He didn't say, "You can do it, son! I believe in you!" He didn't say, "Everyone will help you out. No worries!" He didn't say, "I'm sure you'll figure it out somehow. You're a smart kid." He said, "Do not fear, for God is with you, and He will build this house."

And David wasn't just throwing his confidence around, willy-nilly. He wasn't just saying happy, nice things to make his son not feel terrified at the prospect of doing one of the most important things for his people that had ever been done in the history of ever. David had a confidence in who God is that supported his faith in what God would do. "Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name." (1 Chronicles 29:10-13) David could say to his son, "Do not be afraid", not because he knew he would be around to help or because he had some glimpse of the future or because he wanted to sound encouraging. He said it because he knew God. He knew the greatness and the power and the glory. He knew that whatever God said He would do, He would do. He knew God's power and His might and His reign. His faith in God was secure and He could tell his son, honestly, truthfully, "You can trust this God."

Now, God has never asked me to build a temple. He has never given me an army. He has never commanded me to war. He has never supplied me with stone tablets of His words to share with the people. But He has given me work. He has given me a husband, whom I am called to love and respect. He has given me children, whom I am called to train up in His ways. He has given me a church, a body that I am called to serve with and to serve. He has given me a community, that I am called to bless and to share the hope of Christ with.

And there is more, but even just stop there and the weight of all that responsibility can feel crushing. At the end of any given day, I mean, really, call me around 8 pm any night, and I will be the world's nastiest. I am tired. I am peopled out. I am D-O-N-E, done. I have washed dishes and wiped bottoms and given kisses and told stories and listened to stories and puzzled over money and prayed over hearts and listened to dreams and tried to care for the souls in my path. It takes it all from me, every last bit. It is not in me. It is not in me to build this house, and I simply cannot do it.

And so I wake up this morning, before the rest of my people, and I read David's words: "Do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you." And I kinda start to cry. Okay, David, if you can say that, maybe I can say that too. And that's comforting and all, but it's really the next part. "He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished." (my emphasis added) He will not leave you until all the work is done. You know your work. You see it piled high. He will not leave you until the work is done. All that God has given your hands to do, He will do. And David would tell you, hand cupping your cheeks, eyes honest, "Be strong and courageous and do it." And through a teary smile, you will nod, Okay, yes. Yes, Lord, I will do it.

This work does not end with our hands. It doesn't end with the child-rearing and the homeless-feeding and the church-nursery-working. This work digs deep down into our hearts. Because unless we are transformed by God, our work will fall to shambles all around us. And again, this work is not our own, but the Lord's. "As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:18-19) Our souls have cement galoshes, and they've been thrown into the lake. We're sunk, and we're stuck. We can thrash all over. We can try to scream. But we won't move an inch and not a soul will hear us.

But the same God who built His temple can make you a temple. The same God who gave Solomon every last piece to build His house has every last piece to repair your heart. And it's not about all the many things you can do for God, just like it wasn't about Solomon raising a building with the sheer force of his will. It is about trust. Solomon heard David's words and he trusted God. And maybe you don't have a dad who encouraged you in the Lord, but you do have a Father who speaks His word. And at the end of the day, at the 8 pm of your night, when you are tired and self-ed out and D-O-N-E, done, when you think it isn't possible for you to get any lower, for your soul to be any more tarnished, for you to screw it up any more than it already is, or when you are ministering to souls who look this dim and dark and dirtied... you need to hear David: "Do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you." And you need to hear Paul: "For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."

Your heart is the work of the Lord. And He will not leave you until the house is built.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Raining Gifts

I went a whole week without counting gifts. I made it into July, faithfully naming  God's graces daily, all the way to #813. And I kinda fell off the wagon... I got busy and way distracted and some days it didn't even cross my mind.

The smell of rain always reminds me, though. And today, we got a summer rainstorm. I heard the fat drops smacking our metal AC window units and ran to let the dogs in before they got soaked. My son immediately asked for his rain coat and boots because when God gives us puddles, we splash in them. I dressed him and as I opened the door, I breathed in that damp earth smell. The smell of life. Immediately, I grabbed my book, my little book of gifts, scratched out and scrawled, day-by-day.

And I wrote:
  • Rain -- J in it, puddles, the sound and smell
  • Sliding down the wet slide -- "Clean shorts?"
  • The smell of coffee and rain that reminds me of honeymooning in Scotland
The first gifts I'd written in a whole week. I could hardly believe it. We played and cleaned up and as I finished my coffee, I thought: in one single moment, God gifts us immeasurably. I picked out the gifts from one moment and they could not be contained, not even in my mind.
  • The rain. God sends literal life-water over all the earth, growing crops, nourishing the creation. Rain is provision. It is our survival, our continuing. Today, it cooled and watered and allowed for growth.
  • My son. He sends out joy like rays of sunlight. He lives right in the moment, fully present and aware and so curious. He ushered me into motherhood which God has used as a mighty tool of sanctification in my life.
  • Our home. A summer rain is fun for us, an escape, a place to play. We come inside, dripping and muddy, and we have our shelter. The storm is not an inconvenience, not something to be hidden from, and it is not lost on me how very blessed we are.
  • Cleansing. No other water drenches quite like a downpour. The fat drops smack you and make even your bones feel wet. This is the closest we'll ever get to the physical feeling of redemption.
  • Play. Play requires time and freedom and space. It requires a clearing, and we have the luxury of that place. We have margin in our days and we spend it on joy.
This hardly scratches the surface. The more I think, the more I see. And I know, every moment I breathe is filled like this. Every moment my heart beats is bursting open with gifts from God.

I missed a whole week of moments, a whole week of gifts. And it's not that I didn't live them; I did! I was there. I drank joy. But I didn't take the time to slow and see. I didn't open my eyes to the presence of God in those moments. Mostly, I didn't take the time to say, "Thank you, Lord." The longer I go without remembering God in my moments, the more I start to think the moments are mine, of my own making and for my own design. But they aren't. They aren't when I remember and they aren't when I forget. All the moments are God's moments and all the gifts are God's gifts and they are all meant to point our eyes to the Giver, to remember and give thanks.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Parenting with Love

A friend shared this article recently, The important thing about yelling, and it was the next thing in a long line of conversations about yelling I've had recently. I'm not exactly sure why it keeps coming up, but I can't help but pay attention to those things that do, those issues life offers up again and again for your attention. Today gave me a little glimpse as to why.

My two-year-old straight out smacked me in the face earlier today. Yes, smacked me. Yes, right in the face. And yes, if you know him, my sweet little boy. In the split second before I reacted, I saw about ten different scenarios play out in my mind, several of them involving retaliation. What would your reaction be if someone smacked you in the face? Yeah, that. This is not the first time it has happened, and I doubt it will be the last, and I am thankful for the many conversations about parenting I've had recently and the few minutes I spent in prayer this morning because I know they shaped my response.

I felt my blood pressure spike, and I took a deep breath. As I picked up my son, I caught my husband's eye and his wide-open mouth, his face saying exactly what I was thinking. Did that just happen? And now what? I carried my son upstairs to his room, and as I sat down with him in the rocking chair where I spent many a night nursing him as a baby, I almost started to cry. Why? Because this was sin. His anger, the frustration that pent up and shot out of him before he could even think, it was sin, and in that moment, I knew we were both getting a very early glimpse at the burden that he would (that all of us do) carry for life.

I could have yelled at him. I could have smacked him across the face. Instead, I explained to him what was happening in his heart. "You were mad at mommy, and instead of acting in love, you acted in anger. You hit mommy because you were angry." As I said those words, I could hear the words of my prayer from just a few hours earlier: "Lord, help me, equip me to forgive those who sin against me, remembering the great debt of mine that you have already forgiven." Straight out of the Lord's prayer and here I was, needing to heed it. I could have responded in turn, dumped my anger at what he did right back on him, but instead, Jesus called me to show love to my son, to turn and let him smack my other cheek.

"This is called sin, son. We all have this in our hearts. We all sin, every day." I'm crying just to write this. It is so hard. He is only two and he doesn't know. He doesn't know that he will fight this battle every day, and it really never gets easier to choose the narrow path, to choose the way of love, to hear Jesus's words ringing loud, drowning out our own shouts. "God sent Jesus to us for this very thing. He sent Jesus to us because in our sin, we are separate from God. He sent Jesus to us to become sin for us so that we could become righteous and be with God." I know he's only two and he doesn't understand, but I don't ever want him to remember a time when I didn't tell him this truth.

"God requires love. He tells us to act in love and that love is patient and kind. And son, that is so hard. It is so hard for us because we are broken. But you know what? Jesus heals us. He heals even our most wicked hearts." By this point, my son had rested his head on my chest, doing that pitiful little residual sob that kids do to make you melt. I rubbed his back and told him how much I loved him, how much God loves him, how much love hung on that cross.

I don't share this to shame my child. I'm sure many of you could tell far "worse" stories, and that's not what I'm after. I don't share this to have you praise my superb parenting skills or grace under pressure. I've conveniently neglected to share all the times I've totally failed as a parent. (Or, well, I did share about my anger in this post...). I share this for two reasons.

Reason 1: Think about your goals. What is the point of your parenting? What do you want for your kids? Do you want them to be wickedly smart? Do you want them to obey you at the glare of an eye? Do you want them to fear you? The Word pushes us as parents to teach our children the way of the Lord. That's what the Bible says is our job. It tells kids to listen to their parents, to glean from their wisdom. The assumption behind this is that the parent is doling out wisdom, is pointing to Jesus, is clearing the path for their children to walk that narrow road. And every parenting decision you ever make requires that focus. It's not about you. It's not about righting some perceived wrong against you. It's not about establishing your tiny kingdom. It's about teaching your kids the love of Christ. And if we don't keep that narrow focus, if we don't keep our eyes fixed on the cross, we will parent in all sorts of crazy ways, ways that do not honor God or bless our children.

Reason 2: You can always be a better parent. Maybe every single day for the last year, you have yelled at your kid. You have yelled and screamed, not as a form of discipline (because, as my husband says, yelling isn't a punishment), but just to vent your anger or frustration or disappointment or whatever else. Maybe it's the single, solitary way you know how to communicate to your children. Well, guess what? Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow is a new day and if you place your faith in Jesus, the Word tells us that He gives us new hearts. You catch that? Maybe your old heart is an angry, yelling heart, but in Christ, you already have a new one. You don't have to wait for it. You don't have to ask God for it. It's already there. You just have to use it.

It may seem impossible, but I'll tell you, if God can fix me, He sure can fix you. If God can change my heart -- from one that would desire to retaliate or punish or "teach that kid a lesson" -- to one that truly desires to see my child come to know Christ, to one that knows that is the only way my child's actions will ever please God, He surely can change your heart. Maybe yelling isn't your thing. Maybe it's the silent treatment or verbal belittling or shaming. I'm sure there are any number of ways we can reduce our children to their behaviors instead of seeing their souls, but whatever they are, the love of Christ can overpower. The love of God can overflow out of you and wash your children in the water of forgiveness.

Your child, your children, they are sinners. And you should expect them to act accordingly. It shouldn't surprise you (though it will). It shouldn't shock you (though it might). Most of all, it shouldn't cause you to lose hope. Jesus is "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) Your kid falls into the "no one is righteous, no, not one" but he falls into the "whole world" too, the "whole world" that Jesus came to save. And guess what? So do you.

Monday, June 23, 2014

For Tomorrow

To my daughter on the eve of surgery:

Hey, Bitty.

We're standing right on the edge here, looking down the rock face, eyes wide and wholly unsure. Nothing about this is easy, but I'm pretty sure it's right. Before we take this plunge... before we start a whole new phase of your life, of our lives... there are a few things I want you to know.

1) We are not doing this to fix you, to make you whole.

Life with hearing loss looks different for every person, every family. I truly, honestly, 100% believe there is no "right" path with this, no way to go that is "the" way. It is personal and subjective. Every individual and family should weigh the decision carefully.

That said, your dad and I have weighed this. We have thought and read and prayed and sought counsel. We have examined our own hearts and plumbed our minds. We are doing the best with what we have. It feels so presumptuous of me to make this decision for you. You can communicate to me when you are tired or hungry or want to be held. But beyond that? How can I possibly know what you would want? What decision you would ask us to make? I can't. I'm stepping out here. We're making this call for you, and on some level, it feels wrong. It feels like a violation of you, a strike at you, at the way God made you.

It is so clear to me that God brought us you. Just-the-way-you-are you. Congenital-CMV you. Feisty-powerful-full-of-personality you. Deaf you. And no part of me is trying to change you. I love you! This is not about that. This choice isn't a way for us to make you into our own image. It isn't about wanting you to hear us tell you we love you. It isn't about wanting you to share our love of music. It isn't about wanting you to speak at your high school graduation. I will treasure all those things, should they be in our future, but that is not our motivation. That is not our "why".

We truly believe this is the best for you. We're your parents, and for some crazy reason, God has entrusted us with this big decision. We don't make it on our behalf; we make it on yours. And no matter how this goes, whether it works or not, whether you hate me in ten years for this or not, at the very least, I want you to know that this is for you. We want to equip you. We want to give you the best shot. We want to ease a small part of the burden life has put on you.

Please don't ever think this is about making you someone you aren't. Please don't ever think that you aren't enough for us just the way you are. Please don't ever think that we wouldn't love you if you never once heard our voices or spoke to us. I know how life can twist you up and make you doubt things you thought you knew. This is one thing I never, ever, EVER want you to doubt. You are you, and God gave us you, and we love you. Just you. All your ups and all your downs, we are right here, holding your hand, smiling through tears. Our love, our relationship, has no conditions, not one. We are bound forever, and nothing can change that, not even death (and certainly not deafness).

2) I'm afraid.

It's not natural to send your child into pain. And at least when offset with the benefit of saving your kid's life, choosing surgery can seem easy. Of course you'd allow your child to feel pain if it means they get to live. But this? Elective surgery? It scares me. We're choosing this for you when it's not something you need to live. You could live a full and happy life without this.

I also don't know how it will play out. Truly that is what frightens me most. I don't know how the surgery will go. I don't know how much pain you will be in. I don't know what recovery will look like. I don't even know if the stupid thing will work. It's so much not knowing that I can't think of it all at once or I start to hurt.

3) I trust the Lord.

But despite this fear, when balanced out with all the reasons in the "pro" column, with all the possible benefits, with how - if this works - it could completely change your life, we are taking the plunge. And when I weed through all my anxieties and fears, when I push them back and fix my eyes on the incredible world this will open you up to, a world of singing birds and your brother's infectious giggle and Pentatonix and the hum of a house full of friends, I get so excited and cannot wait for you, for what waits for you.

I could spend all day bouncing between my fears and my excitements, living in that horrid suspension of anticipation that makes my stomach knot. Instead, I want to picture God. "The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard." (Isaiah 52:12) Instead of all the what-ifs, good or bad, I have in my mind this picture of God, stepping out before you, before us, and making the way, then circling back to come behind and ensure our safety. I see it almost like the tender watchfulness of a preschool teacher, leading her charges across the street and keeping them as they move, her arms directing them and moving with assurance, cupping around behind them to protect them, a gentle hand on the smalls of their backs as they pass.

It is love that fills our God, love for you whose days He has numbered and whose hairs He has counted. And whatever comes of this, I trust. I trust that He seeks our good and His glory. I trust that He wants desperately for us to share in the love He has for us. I trust that He continually seeks to make Himself known to us, showing His grace and mercy and love at every turn. I trust that for all the joy that fills my heart at the thought of you hearing my voice, your dad's voice, your brother, God's road for you is best, better than anything I could contrive.

Once again, your extreme circumstances have shown me a truth that is at the heart of all our days. Your life is like a magnifying glass, and the assumptions that might have just passed me by get blown up in full relief. We all could spend our days bouncing between fear and excitement. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow and none of us know how that tomorrow will play out, not even with the "best-laid plans."

We all enjoy the provision and protection of a God who goes before us and who comes behind us. And when we move into His story, when we seek to see Him in our lives, we don't gain some magical understanding or come to know the future. We don't cash in on some promise to have all the money we'd ever need and health for eighty years. When we move into His story, we get God. And instead of fear and worry and anxiety and stress, we get rest and peace and joy and goodness. And I can hold my fear out on the palm of my hand and offer it to God. I don't have to bear it. It's not mine to hold.

So tomorrow, when they wheel you back and put you to sleep, when they implant a device into your head, when they dose you and send you back home, I want you to know most of all that God is with you. He has gone before you, and He will come behind you. And accompanying Him will be the prayers of His people. Your family, your church, your family's churches, your church's families - you have no idea how many people will be whispering your name, bringing you before God and asking Him to care for you. Honestly, there is no place here for fear. Love has taken up all the room.

Monday, June 2, 2014


Occasionally, I meet a mess that takes me wholly by surprise.

We've been carrying on with life around these parts, and unbeknownst to us, the cords behind the TV were multiplying. Now there are easily two dozen, and what all do they even do? Besides make a giant tangled mess that makes me want to throw things and kick the wall.

I breathe deep and begin the slow, mind-numbing, finger-stubbing work of demystifying these wires, and my mind wanders to entropy.

"Nature tends from order to disorder in isolated systems."

Unless acted upon, all things in this universe start out organized and spiral into chaos, spinning out.

These cords obey this law of nature, spinning themselves out and seemingly spawning. They hide behind the bookcase and I never tend to them because I can't see them, don't interact with them. They do their job, I do mine, and we all go on our merry, spinning ways.

Until something goes wrong. And the magical internet man on the other end of the line says, "Ma'am, your modem was manufactured in 2005. I'd recommend getting a new one." And so here I sit, with this new modem made in this decade, and I meet my spun out wires and it's an awful mess. I unplug each one, pull them out straight, make mental notes of which goes where.

My mind wanders to my spiritual state as I pull each thread and I think, This is the why of daily maintenance. My soul, like these wires, tends from order to disorder, spins out unless acted upon. And it's why Jesus said, "Give us this day our daily bread" and not, "Provide for me my bread for the week." It's why each day's trouble is enough and why God's mercies come new every morning.

We require daily maintenance.

We cannot hide our souls behind the bookcase and expect everything to turn out fine.

We can't go about our daily doing, neverminding our hearts, and expect them to flourish as if they'd been pruned by hand, lovingly, carefully, steadily.

We abide by the law of entropy, and unless acted upon, we spin out.

I lay each wire carefully along its path, and I think how neglectful I am of my own soul, how stingy I am to feed it, how lazy I am to care for it. And the jumbled mess I started with? It is a reminder of how my heart looks when I ignore it, all confused and twisted and stuck.

I begin the task of plugging the cords back in and placing them carefully in order. They are neat and organized and simple. Ordered. They look fine... for now. But unless I act upon them, unless I tend to them, I will meet this mess again one day.

I'm not a neat freak when it comes to hidden wires, but I can't afford not to be a neat freak with my heart. I can't afford to leave it and let it be. I require the daily pruning of the Word. I require the daily love-shower of prayer. I require the daily still moment of God's clear presence because unless He acts upon me, I will slowly unravel, tangle, stall. I may not shrivel up or break, but I will stunt and cease to flower and fruit.

God made it this way for us. He knew the state of the universe, and He knows the state of our hearts. He knows we need Him and so He makes the way. He gives us the Word, and He gives us Jesus, the one who intercedes for us. And so He acts upon us, and so we flower, and so... and so we bring Him glory, daily, lovingly, carefully, steadily.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Communion with God

This is my eleventh and final post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 11: The Joy of Intimacy

People think it's about the rules. That it's about the doing. That to join the "club", you have to agree to the dress code: no alcohol, no sex, and certainly no fun. Strap your Bible to a stick and thwack people on the head with it, or consider yourself shunned.

But it's not about the rules. It's about Love. All our carts are before our horses and we are all confused. It's not about the rules; it is about loving to the uttermost. But to understand that Love, we first have to see where we went wrong.

Chapter eleven is about communion with God.

"Communion with God, what was broken in the Garden, this is wholly restored when I want the God-communion more than I want the world-consumption. What that first and catastrophic sin of ingratitude ruptured, what that one bite of the forbidden fruit stole from those fully alive -- union -- can be repaired by the exact inverse of the Garden: lifestyle gratitude and a willingness to eat of the bread He gives in this moment. How badly do I want to return to perfect Paradise, walk with God in the cool of the evening, be fully alive?"

We think it is about the rules when really, the course of history plays out like a love song. It started with perfection and right relationship, and then something went wrong. The relationship was broken; union was damaged. And ever since, God has been weaving the brokenness to bring the relationship back together, to restore a right relationship between us. After the initial ingratitude of doubting God's provision, He has been seeking to show us Himself, to prove Himself to us, that we might trust Him and come back together, united, one with Him.

"Is there a greater way to love the Giver than to delight wildly in His gifts?"

We think it is about the rules, that we must do this or that for God to love us. We must stop our wicked ways to come into His presence. But the only thing that God requires of us is trust in Him. We get it backwards thinking that we must do all the right things for Him to love us, but really it is our love for Him that compels us to act. Trust God first, love God first, and you will seek to see Him, know Him, learn how to love Him. Counting His gifts? Seeing all the ways He has given to you? It opens your eyes to all the awesome in your life, but better than that, it opens your eyes to everywhere God is and all the ways He is seeking you.

"God makes love with grace upon grace, every moment a making of His love for us. And He invites the turning over of the hand, the opening and saying the Yes with thanks... Love bestows upon the Beloved gifts, the Beloved gives thanks for those gifts and enters into the mystical love union."

The rules kept me from God, annoyed me, frustrated me. I didn't want to paint myself up all pretty for some judgmental Man to look down His nose at me and nod His approval while I shuffled past. And then God showed Himself to me in radical, sacrificial love, a love that I knew no person would be capable of on their own, a Love that flowed through them from God. And I could see.

The rules were a roadblock for me, but God was pursuing me and they were no roadblock for Him. He knew my heart and showed Himself to me and I saw that He could not begin to care what broken, dirty road I had been on. He only cared... for me.

The parable of the prodigal son is so famous and so overused but only because it is so true. It is true of every believer who ever sat at God's feet. The son is pig-filthy and hopes for very little from his father, but his father could not begin to care how his son smelled, only that they could restore their relationship. This is you and God. And He is lavish in His coming-home celebrations.

"He chose me -- us! To be His bride! True, that's the intellectual premise of the Christian life, but only as the gifts are attended, not as ends but as means to gaze into the heart of God, does the premise become personal, God's choosing so utterly passionate. So utterly fulfilling."

All of us deeply desire communion with God, even if we are not immediately aware of it. It is that empty spot, that itch that nothing will quite scratch. And God is ever seeking to bring us that communion. Gift upon gift, they are meant to open our eyes to Him. We see the gifts and through them, see the Giver. And as you begin counting and find that you will never stop because the gifts keep flowing and raining down, then you know: this Giver loves. This Giver loves lavishly. This Giver loves beyond the rules and the regulations. This Giver desires our hearts, desires our trust, desires our love. That is what He wants from us; everything else follows from there.

Romans tells us we can know God loves us because "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) That gift-beyond-all-gifts shows (note: present tense -- actively, right now, acts as evidence of) God's deep love for us. And this sacrifice was so monumental, why? "We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." (Romans 5:11) Reconciliation. Reunited. Back together.

We know God loves us because He sacrificed His son to be with us. He didn't sacrifice His son on the condition that we get ourselves together. He didn't sacrifice His son to back us into the corner of obedience. He sacrificed His son to restore our relationship, to bring us back together, to show us His love and make it possible for us to see that Love, to come back into the union of love with Him. It's not about the rules; it's about God's Love for us, His great Love. All He requires of us is to open our eyes to that Love and trust Him.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Receiving to Give

This is my tenth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 10: Empty to Fill

I suppose you could think of this counting gifts thing as a type of hoarding. Gathering up all the moments and scooping them in close to keep -- mine, mine, mine. But God didn't make it that way. The incredible thing about gifts from Him is that they are never only for you. The money He blesses you with, the joy He fills you with, the patience and gratitude and love and gentleness -- even the blessing of the sacrifice of Christ, it is yours, it is for you -- "This is my body, which is given for you" -- but it is not yours alone. Treasuring it, reflecting on it, keeping it close, it is a kind of joy hoarding, but it is also the kind of gift that fills you to overflowing. It is the kind of gift that will undo you so far that you cannot help but share. And suddenly the burden of your joy is to bring joy to others, to share the joy you know.

Chapter 10 is about giving.

"Eucharisteo is giving thanks for grace. But in the breaking and giving of bread, in the washing of feet, Jesus makes it clear that eucharisteo is, yes, more: it is giving grace away. Eucharisteo is the hand that opens to receive grace, then, with thanks, breaks the bread; that moves out into the larger circle of life and washes the feet of the world with that grace."

We started off here seeing the sermon of our lives. Who you are, what you do, it preaches everything about you. It tells the world what you truly believe. And in this searching for life, searching to live the message we want to preach, we named the mysteries and we redeemed time and we learned about the true grace that God gives in all things (yes, really, all things). We started to learn how to see God around us, to focus  on Him, and to learn how to trust Him. We changed our positions from one of worthy demanders to one of humble receivers. It makes us different. We cannot be the same.

If all is grace, then all is gift, and all we have is not ours. Our stuff, our money: God's. Our children, our loved ones: God's. Anything good in us -- love, patience, peace, joy: God's. And He has graciously given, lavishly bestowed. But these are things that cannot be fist-clenched into security. You cannot lock them in a closet and throw away the key, sure to have them forever and always. Every moment of your time with them is continuing grace from God. And the reason for the giving is, what? To bring glory to God. God gives to you that you might give to Him. And we give to Him through our praise, but we also give to Him by giving to others. "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40) When we feed and clothe and visit those who need us, we are serving Jesus, and it is no coincidence that this passage comes right after the Parable of the Talents, after words considering what you will do with what you have been given. 

"Passionately serving Christ alone makes us the loving servant to all. When the eyes of the heart focus on God, and the hands always on washing the feet of Jesus alone -- the bones, they sing joy, and the work returns to its purest state: eucharisteo. The work becomes worship, a liturgy of thankfulness... Spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives, and God simply will not be outdone. God extravagantly pays back everything we give away and exactly in the currency that is not of this world but the one we yearn for: Joy in Him."

When you look into the eyes of any person and say, "You are gift to me from God Himself," you cannot help but love them. And that love compels you. This person is more than a mouth to feed or a body to clothe; this person is a soul and a spirit and a flame to nurture. They are not a someone in and of themselves, but rather a vessel, an image of God. And even in the most difficult situations any one person could find themselves in, they can be blessed by God... through you.

How do we do this? How do we make this real and move it beyond words and thoughts and heart-tuggings? Well, good question. This living to give, this reflection of the gift-giver, will look different for all of us. My momma life forces me to confront this every day. Every day, I give my time and my love and my patience and my joy to two sweet little people. And in the tantrums and the giant messes and the frustrations, I remind myself to see through the tears and attitudes and see Jesus there. As I rock and wipe and wash and mend, I remember: all is grace, even this. All is gift, even this. And I remind myself...

"Jesus Christ still lives with a towel around His waist, bent in service to His people... in service to me, as I serve, that I need never serve in my own strength."

I'm not alone. I'm not fighting for joy by myself. I'm not mustering up gifts to give from the pits of my heart. I am serving Christ. And as I serve, I am being served and the cycle just keeps on turning, giving and giving and giving, emptying myself to be filled again. And every time I think that I can't possibly give one more moment, one more grace, one more drop of anything, Jesus turns my water into wine and there I am again, receiving and, in turn, giving. And the deeper beauty of this reliance on Jesus is that then, my children, the ones I serve, do not see me in all my strength, but rather Christ. My very service to them points their eyes to the One I serve.

"I reach out and touch the reflection in the splattered mirror over the sink and whisper into those eyes: Yes, today, again, yes, you can bless! Here you can enact euchariesteo; here you can become a current in a river of grace that redeems the world! ... God can enter into me, even me, and use these hands, these feet, to be His love, a love that goes on and on forever, endless cycle of grace."

We have to be reminded. Just as we have to be reminded of all the gifts we have been given, we have to be reminded of all the gifts we can give. We have to return to God daily, preaching to ourselves these truths. And God, the God who gave us life in Christ, is faithful. He is faithful to use even the hardest days to bring glory to Himself. "You received without paying; give without pay." (Matthew 10:8) We have been so richly given, and now we give, not from the energies of our own hearts and bodies, but from the sustenance of God through Christ.

My own words keep ringing in my head: "Whatever life you lived today? It was from God." And I think, Really? This? Sometimes it feels so small, so insignificant. No one sees half (or way more) of the things I do; how can this be from God? How can this be important enough for Him to see, to care about? Maybe all you accomplished today was not yelling at your friend. Maybe all you accomplished was finishing that one little thing at work. Maybe every last thing you did today has already been undone. (All the parents of littles are raising their hands.)

Here's the thing: The life you lived today was from God, whatever it held, however it felt, whatever you did. Whatever that day brings, it holds people you can bless, no matter whether the world says they are unworthy, whether the world says you are unworthy. Newsflash: we are all unworthy and yet God gives and gives and gives... and so should we.

Tune back in on Thursday, 5/29, for my post on Chapter 11: The Joy of Intimacy

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Learning from Disappointment

This is my ninth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 9: Go Lower

My husband and I dated for five years before we got married. You'd think that time would have allowed us a seamless entry into married life, but as it turns out, we had (have) a lot of learning still to do. Thankfully, both of us are avid learners and in the nearly-six years since our wedding day, we have done a lot of studying, growing, changing.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned through my marriage has to do with disappointment. I have learned that for the health of my marriage, it is best if I don't view my husband as a magical mind-reader, but rather, that I practice honesty, laying out my expectations clearly. This might have to do with who takes out the trash and where to put dirty socks; it might have to do with my deepest emotional needs or some way he has hurt me. I have learned that the magnitude of my disappointment is the distance between reality and my expectations. I am brought as far down as the space between what I want and what I have or what I got. If I expected a diamond necklace for my birthday and instead got a $0.99 Walmart greeting card, I would be sorely disappointed. If I expected a sweet note and instead got that same greeting card, I would be mildly disappointed. If I am honest about my expectations ("Honey, I'd love flowers for my birthday," which is exactly what I said to my husband a month ago), then, provided those expectations are reasonable, I suffer no disappointment. My honesty prevents strife between us.

Sometimes, my expectations are unreasonable. Sometimes, my expectations would require my husband to be someone other than who he is. Those times require a healthy conversation and a strong dose of compromise. If I cannot change the situation, I can change my expectations. If we, say, can't afford that diamond necklace, I can work on my heart to change my desires. I can accept our financial limitations and be fully satisfied with a sweet card. I can change the desires of my heart, not by willing myself into a new want, but by focusing outward, not on myself and my desires, but on my marriage, on my family, on my spouse.

Chapter 9 is about humility.

When we confront the wall of our own hearts and minds, we have these two options: make our desires possible or create new desires. Either we can attain what we want -- and we will if it is possible -- or we change what we want to make it something we can have. This is the only way. Otherwise, we end up stewing and hating and coveting and pining and all of it fruitlessly so. It's that worn out serenity prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Ann says it this way...

"The quiet song of gratitude, eucharisteo, lures humility out of the shadows because to receive a gift the knees must bend humble and the hand must lie vulnerably open and the will must bow to accept whatever the Giver chooses to give."

This dance is all about humility. When I approach my husband and demand something that cannot be given, I have a choice: I can beat my chest in pride and force his hand. Or I can bow my head in humility and accept him. In my seeking God, I can either beat Him into the God I want Him to be... or I can bow before Him and graciously accept His gifts.

"Joy is a flame that glimmers only in the palm of the open and humble hand. In an open and humble palm, released and surrendered to receive, light dances, flickers happy. The moment the hand is clenched tight, fingers all pointing toward self and rights and demands, joy is snuffed out. Anger is the lid that suffocates joy until she lies limp and lifeless... The demanding of my own will is the singular force that smothers out joy -- nothing else."

This disappointment/expectation thing doesn't apply only to my marriage. It applies to my connection with God. When I lay my cards out on the table before God and show Him exactly how I want things to be, I am drawing a line in the sand. I am putting conditions on our relationship and I am asserting my will above His. The amazing thing about God is that He always seeks our good and His glory. By submitting to His will, I am actually doing myself the most good.

"Instead of filling with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing -- and are filled!'

God has made promise after promise after promise to us. He has promised to love us, to care for us, to seek justice for us, to treasure us, to deliver to us the inheritance due His Son. Somehow, we have distorted this to mean that He promises us health and wealth and a pretty, perfect life. We expect these things. We expect our lives to look a certain way and when they don't, we blame God. We bring Him down with our expectations and we only find disappointment. With a heart of gratitude, we can change that. With a heart of joyful, patient waiting, we can find God instead of frustration and anger.

"All these years, these angers, these hardenings, this desire to control, I had thought I had to snap the hand closed to shield joy's fragile flame from the blasts. In a storm of struggles, I had tried to control the elements, clasp the fist tight so as to protect self and happiness. But palms curled into protective fists fill with darkness. I feel that sharply, even in this... And this realization in all its full emptiness: My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs in the exact force that kills my joy."

It strikes me, the vast pride I display when I indulge in the demanding of my way or a hearty bout of worrying. I can fret and worry over what I think will happen, but how could I possibly presume to know? How could I possibly conceive of what will be? I worry about such-and-such happening (or not happening) when in truth, God could play it out millions of different ways and I can stretch to think of two or three. My pride clutches on to those and becomes sure of the destruction that will come my way, when my reality, a fundamental part of my creation, dictates that I cannot see, cannot dictate. I must... receive.

Because we think we know, because we think we have this thing under control, we lay out the demands and we fall hard. All this shows that we have not learned how to trust. We scramble fast for what we think will fill us, what we think will bring us joy, and we fall hard in disappointment when we are not delivered, are not given what we want to build ourselves up. We have not learned to trust the God who promises us all good things and that through those things, He will gain glory. We don't see this. We turn our eyes inward and we see everything we lack. But a life of gratitude, a life of thanksgiving, a life of open receiving: that is a life that begins to build trust and, thus, begins to build joy.

"Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust. I can let go."

God brings us to places where this is so clear. Sitting by my daughter's bedside, watching her breathe because I could not hold her, I knew I could not fix her. I could not make it better. I could not will her to live. So I prayed. "God, please protect her, but in all things, Your will be done." I never would have chosen that road; it was hard and it hurts (still hurts), especially her. But I have counted His graces. I know that He is in this place. And even then, I knew that whatever way He had this go was the best way, even if it didn't feel like it.

We can never meet joy if we continue to beat on the wall of our own desires. We cannot force God's hand. We cannot make Him into our image. But we can change our desires. God promises us this. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." (2 Corinthians 5:17) "Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life." (Romans 6:22) We are new creations, set free from our desires and the bondage of sin. We can have new wants, a new perspective. We can adopt the attitude of grace and receive God's gifts in humility, all of them, even the ones our flesh tells us we do not want. We can accept rather than demand. We can embrace rather than fight. We can be reconciled rather than alienated. We can be brought into the arms of love instead of left cold and lonely.

"If the heights of our joy are measured by the depths of our gratitude, and gratitude is but a way of seeing, a spiritual perspective of smallness might offer a vital way of seeing especially conducive to gratitude."

A spiritual perspective of smallness. A spirit that says, "Not my will but Thy will." The humble spirit of Jesus. Jesus who says those humble, those meek, they will inherit the earth. Not the proud and the loud and the chest-beating demanders. Not the control-freaks and the power-hungry and the big, mighty strongest. The humble. The meek. They will have the earth. They will open their hands to receive -- and God will give.

Tune back in on Saturday, 5/24, for my post on Chapter 10: Empty to Fill

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Building Trust

This is my eighth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 8: How Will He Not Also?

Chapter 8 is about trust.
I read this chapter on a Saturday evening and the words were still ringing in my head the next morning as I drove my kids to church. Trust. Hard fought for among people and so easily lost, but I couldn't help think about all the things we trust implicitly. How we trust the world. I became keenly aware of the 3000+ pound vehicle I strapped my precious blessings into, this metal, plastic, rubber structure that I press the pedal to 70 miles an hour and there they are behind me, just sitting and smiling. And I take us in that metal box under a concrete overpass, rock hanging above us in the sky. How much trust does that require? I'm willingly, knowingly bringing my children under a weight that would break any vehicle it fell on. I'm trusting that our van drives smooth, that the doors don't fly off, that the tires don't explode, that the overpass hangs up there in the sky like it was meant to do and always has, but I'm trusting that it will keep on keeping on.

Have you ever gone to sit in a chair and thought, I wonder if this thing will hold me. Maybe once or twice on your grandmother's 70 year old dining room chair, but I'd hazard a guess that 99% of the time, you don't give it a second thought. It's the classic Philosophy 101 thought exercise, but I don't care; it has implications. I trust that the chair will hold me because of all the times I've ever sat in a chair, it held me. My experience tells me that chairs hold. My lifetime of chair sitting has preached to me that chairs are reliable and I don't have to think before I sit in them because they will do what they always do: hold.

"Without an active, moment-by-moment trust in the good news of an all-sovereign, all-good God, how can we claim to fully believe? ... Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism."

I may trust chairs. I'd guess most of the world does (except for perhaps the two people I know who have broken a chair they sat in... imagine their trust issues!). I may trust chairs, but I'm far less trusting of God. And when you think about it, my implicit trust in the function of my chair should be way less automatic than my implicit trust of God. But I have fuzzy vision. I lack focus.
When I tune the eyes of my heart in, I can list you thousands of ways that God has protected me, some of them from before I ever acknowledged Him with my lips. Thousands. Maybe more, but I wouldn't have the time or memory to count. This is certainly a track record worth trusting, a lifetime of gift and provision and protection and love. Why is it so hard for me to trust God when it is so easy for me to trust a chair?

"If trust must be earned, hasn't God unequivocally earned our trust with the bark on the raw wounds, the thorns pressed into the brow, your name on the cracked lips? How will He not also graciously give us all things He deems best and right? He's already given the incomprehensible."

It's so easy to see when you look into the face of Christ. Of course God will give us all things. He already gave us Jesus. Even if that was it, the only gift, the only blessing, it shatters any doubt we could ever have about how much God loves us. And if we truly do not doubt His love, we can have the greatest, most fabulous, most wonderful trust in Him. He has far and beyond earned our trust, but we have to work to build it in our own hearts. 

"Thanks is what builds up trust... Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays out the planks of trust. I can walk the planks - from known to unknown - and know: He holds."

We build up our trust of God when we thank Him. We extend the hand of gratitude and we learn to appreciate, to see God around us, and slowly, slowly we start to believe in Him. And we build a belief that we can stand on, a belief like the one I have in the chair I'm sitting in, one that is automatic and implicit.  

"This is the crux of Christianity: to remember and give thanks, eucharisteo. Why? Why is remembering and giving thanks the core of the Christ-faith? Because remembering with thanks is what causes us to trust - to really believe."

We look back on all the times God has cared for us, loved us, showered us with grace, and we grow our trust. We grow our trust and we strengthen our belief. This is our whole being; this is our whole life. Seeing and remembering begets gratitude. Gratitude begets trust. Trust begets belief. When we hone in our vision, see God, and thank Him, we build a relationship of trust that will stand firm.

"The God whom we thank for fulfilling the promises of the past will fulfill His promises again. In Christ, the answer to the questions of every moment is always Yes."

I have built a relationship with chairs. I have spent a lifetime sitting in them, and they have always held for me. I don't have to wonder or think or fear that the chair will suddenly abandon me, desert me, not work for me. My answer to the chair is always Yes! I trust you.The same goes for the cars I drive and the roads I drive them on and the house I live in and the houses of friends and family that I visit and the stores I shop in and the trees and boulders I drive by. I trust that they will all hold because they've always held. They have fulfilled their functions for me time and again and by that, we have a relationship of trust. I do not fear while I drive or sleep in my house. I know. The answer is Yes.

We get hung up on God because we can't see Him and we feel like we can't know. It's confusing; is this God or is this something else? How do I know God meant this and not for something else to happen? Is this gift from God or is it from a great decision I made? Is this pain from God or from my sin? Here's the thing: it's all from God. Whatever life you lived today? It was from God. And all those gifts and all that pain, they are all being made into good for you and glory for God. Always. Always. Every moment. YES! God is always good and you are always loved and that means that you can trust Him.

"All fear is but the notion that God's love ends. Do you think I end, that My bread warehouses are limited, that I will not be enough? But I am infinite, child. What can end in Me? Can life end in Me? Can happiness? Or peace? Or anything you need? Doesn't your Father always give you what you need? I am the Bread of Life and My bread for you will never end. Fear thinks God is finite and fear believes that there is not going to be enough and hasn't counting one thousand gifts, endlessly counting gifts, exposed the lie at the heart of all fear? In Me, blessings never end because My love for you never ends. If My goodnesses toward you end, I will cease to exist, child. As long as there is a God in heaven, there is grace on earth and I am the spilling God of the uncontainable, forever-overflowing-love-grace."

Do you hear that? That... is a song of Love. "All fear is but the notion that God's love ends." And God's love can't end so we can't fear. But our sight is fuzzy and our eyes need help; our hearts need focus. So we build the bridge, plank by plank, thanks by thanks, and yesterday carries us to tomorrow and into the forever infinite love of God, and before long, we have built a road of trust, a trust that we can count on in all things.

Tune back in on Thursday, 5/22, for my post on Chapter 9: Go Lower

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Thursday, May 15, 2014


This is my seventh post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 7: Seeing Through the Glass

My day started with a frustrating phone call. The doctor who needs to review my daughter's scans to tell us if she is a candidate for a cochlear implant is out of town this week, won't be able to meet with us until the end of next week. We have a two week window from the time she is old enough for the surgery until he goes on his yearly month-long vacation across the world. Time is running out and we keep getting pushed back and pushed back.

I hung up the phone and immediately launched into a barrage of how-it-could-have-been-differents. I chided myself for not getting on their case sooner, calling and following up to push them. I lamented the ploddingly slow medical process. Then I flung myself forward and started worrying about how this will impact events to come. Will we get pushed back to after her surgeon's vacation and have to wait until August to get this done instead of doing it in mid-June? What will that mean if she requires two surgeries instead of just one? Will it be September, October even, before she is activated and we can finally start working on her hearing instead of July like we've been hoping? Three months could make an immense difference and what will it mean if we have to wait that long?

Suddenly, in the middle of all that mind-spinning, my thoughts stopped and to the surface of my mind came a text message from a friend who, struggling with anxiety herself, has been texting back and forth with me, each of us sharing our struggles and our hope in Christ. She said,

"Thought I'd encourage you with a friend's thoughts re: staying focused on the present. [Today is the best day to live in. The past always holds some kind of regret, and the future always a worry. It's not worth it. Jesus is here now. That's worth everything!]"

I marveled as I thought... that's exactly what I was doing! I was stewing in the regrets from the past, things I can learn from, sure, but things I can't possibly do anything about, have no power to change. And then I flew into the future, worrying about whatever will come. Again, this can do me no good. I can think carefully and plan, but I cannot dictate what will come. I don't hold tomorrow in my hand.

Immediately after this, a Facebook post (of all things) popped into my head. It wasn't even one I meant to read; I haven't been checking my news feed, just following the folks I love most. But in checking a message, my cursor flicked over to the little ticker in the side bar and hovered over this status, one God clearly meant for me to read:

"I must go into each day with the single expectation that You will go *with* me. All things beyond that blessed fact are beyond the scope of my vision. I should not seek to gaze upon the future--because, in gazing, I often forget that You are there, too. A Godless glance into what-ifs is the very threshold of anxiety. But eyes shut in faith, clinging to Your Hand, heeding to Your whisper, is the very essence of faith. I do not need to *see* what lies ahead; I only need to *know* Who leads me.

"Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses & infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over & dwell) upon me!" (2 Cor. 12:9, AMP)

Pitch Your tent over me this day, Lord. Help me leave my anxieties at the Door."

It doesn't take much to realize what God wants from me. He wants my eyes closed, my hand open. He wants me waiting for Him and watching for Him. He wants me peaceful in Him, not regretful or fretting in myself. This is the heartbeat of counting gifts, the patient expectation of what God has for us. But how quickly I can forget; apparently, it only takes one phone call.

Chapter seven is about focus.

"[Jesus] looked up to heaven, to see where this moment comes from. Always first the eyes, the focus... Contemplative simplicity isn't a matter of circumstance; it's a matter of focus."

My focus had been on myself, on my daughter's medical team. They messed it up, making it take longer. I didn't do everything I could have to push this forward. Together, we have failed my daughter, holding up something she needs. But as I thought about it, as I searched my own heart, I acknowledged God's timing. The scans coming from a different doctor? We needed that done, but it held things up. Her doctor being out of town this very week? It meant we had to push back the appointment. His vacation in July? He takes it every year; it's not a surprise. God is in all these "circumstances", these things I wish to change. These events are His movements, His doings.

"Why do I reduce The Greatest to the lesser instead of seeing the lesser, this mess, as reflecting The Greatest? I have to learn how to see, to look through to the Largeness behind all the smallness. Isn't He here?"

My eyes always immediately fall to my circumstances, how all this is messed up and wrong. What I fail to see is God in this place. All around me, these babies and this home and our family and everything we have been given, they are all reflections of Him. And instead of seeing how these things are broken, I need to fix my eyes on how they reveal Him. Instead of a wait for surgery, I can marvel at the miracle of bringing hearing to deaf ears, be it in June or July or August or ever. Instead of an inconvenience, I can trust in the wait, knowing that God has gone before me and is laying these stepping stones in exactly the way that brings Him most glory and does His children most good. This is a God I can trust and I know that... But I must remember.

"Oh, son. So hard. To see all this material world as transparent, glass to God. To practice migrating one thousand gifts on paper to one thousand all eyes to one thousand smiles on lips. To transfigure the principle to the skin."

I have seen the glory of God and forgotten it. I return daily to His Word and disremember. I seek the holy and get caught in the earthly. This is our life on earth. It is why we long for heaven, to the day when we will no longer get bogged down in ourselves and our things and the mess and will instead have eternal peace with God, a right relationship, all healed. The only way, while we're here, to make it through the mess without shunning God, without casting Him off, is to seek -- constantly -- for Him. To search out the holiness is all this earthliness. 

"Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)" We can only see this part-way. It's like we're looking into a mirror with the light so low we can barely make out the image. Manna-style, what is it? And in light of this, Paul goes on to say, "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)" So now... Because we only know in part right now (though we will one day know in full), because we don't have the full picture, we must walk... how? In faith. With hope. In love. These abide. Not our knowledge, not even the prophecies or gifts.

Faith -- a belief that God will keep His promises, even though we cannot see it at this moment. 
Hope -- an expectation of the great joy that will be ours in Christ.
Love -- the highest expression of gratitude, of thankfulness, of eucharisteo, that we can offer to God, to our fellow man. The highest expression of sacrifice that God showed in Christ reflected by us in our obedience to God and our seeking good for fellow man.

These are the pillars that hold up our lives. Not our ability to understand it all or dictate it all, to command the future and redeem the past. But rather our eyes-closed, hand open faith, waiting, with all trust in that great hope that has been proven to us in a majestic display of love in Christ.

"Like Jacob, we ask, breathless and heaving, where He is, who He is, for His name here, the only real blessing. 'Please tell me your name.' We have named the graces and there found His name, Glory, and in the face of man we have seen the face of God. Then Him, the blessing, God, joy-water in the desert.

But wells don't come without first begging to see the wells; wells don't come without first splitting open hard earth, cracking back the lids... It takes practice, wrenching practice, to break open the lids. But the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is."

We first have to beg to see the wells. And everyone's life offers opportunities for this. We all have moments of dire thirst, moments in the wilderness when we desperately need relief. Those moments require of us only one thing: to cry out, in faith, with hope, toward Love.

"I'm blind to joy's well every time I really don't want it. The well is always there. And I choose not to see it... If I am rejecting the joy that is hidden somewhere deep in this moment - am I not ultimately rejecting God?"

We must seek to see. We must have faith that God is here, even here. We must walk out in hope that we will find Him. We must trust in the love that God has proven for us. God is here, even in the mess of doctor schedules and flub ups and missed opportunities. We have a choice -- we can see the well. Or we can focus on the dirt on the mirror. We can ask for God; show Yourself! Or we can point fingers and blame and worry. God wants for us the peace of trusting Him. He wants for our hearts to dwell in the moment with Him. And He waits for us in love, an ever-present well, deep and cool and quenching.

Tune back in on Saturday, 5/17, for my post on Chapter 8: How Will He Not Also?

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