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Unused Treasure

Our family is headed on a mission trip this summer and in order to raise some funds, we decided to have a garage sale. It’s a daunting task. I find the preparation exhausting, and if I’m honest, somewhat angering. I am unsettled by the amount of material possessions we have but no longer have use for. Electronics that still work but have been replaced by the latest and greatest. Clothes that are perfectly good, albeit a little out of fashion. Furniture that simply doesn’t suit my taste anymore.

But perhaps the thing that gets me fired up the most is the things that never, ever got used. Primarily these things belong to my children, but I am certainly guilty of a few items myself. Games that were not only never played, but actually still have the cellophane wrapping. Books that were never read. Picture frames that never held a single photograph of my loved ones. Most of them gifts that were received but never put to use.

While obviously scripture doesn’t have anything to say directly pertaining to garage sale fodder, a verse I recently rediscovered certainly applies to the idea of being unused. Last week I delved into John chapter 17 and the glorious prayer Christ offers up for us. Buried in the middle of that prayer is a verse that struck me as both beautiful and convicting.

“For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”

John 17:8

It seems awfully straight forward. Christ came to give the disciples, and us by extension, the words of truth and they received them. He handed them over and the disciples took them. But is it really that simple? If we look a little closer, we find something extraordinary hidden in what seems ordinary.

The Greek word for receive in this verse is “lambano”:  to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing in order to use it. Did you catch that? To lay hold of in order to use it. When Christ gave the disciples the profound truth from the Father and the absolute reality of who He was, they took hold of it and used it. They didn’t set it to the side. They didn’t admire it only to stash it on a shelf. And they certainly didn’t store it away in a closet and sell it at a garage sale years later. They took the truth and they wielded it. They woke up each morning and strove to apply that truth to their relationships, their actions and their decisions. They filtered life through the truth they had been given. They took hold of what their Savior offered and found every way imaginable to put it to divine use.

I wonder, do we do the same? We have been given the same truth, the same glorious gift as the disciples but do we really use it? We sit in our kitchen reading our daily devotional and embrace the scripture before us. We assemble in church and marvel at the verses taught there. We drink coffee with fellow believers and nod in agreement over the profound truth we’ve found in the word of God. But often we leave that truth right where we found it. We leave scripture’s revelations on the kitchen counter. We forget to carry the lessons out of the church sanctuary. We abandon those profound truths next to our discarded coffee cup.

It’s not that we don’t believe it. It’s just that we don’t carry it. We get busy or distracted. We get angry or disillusioned and we leave it behind. Perhaps we worry about what others will think. Perhaps the truth that was so light when we first discovered it has become heavy with our own baggage and shame.

We offer excuses regarding why we can’t love. We justify withholding forgiveness. We dismiss our lack of boldness under the umbrella of tolerance. And while we are all certainly weak in these areas, we accept our weakness with resolve and satisfaction. Instead of claiming God’s truth, instead of accessing the power we’ve been given, we give up. And before you know it, the truth we have been given is collecting dust in the garage sale pile.

I want to be like the disciples. I want Peter’s fire and John’s devotion. I long for Paul’s determination and Stephen’s fearlessness. I want to take the treasure I’ve been given and use it to the fullest. I want my employment of it to be so constant, so consistent that it begins to resemble an old book with torn pages and a missing cover. I want it to live in me, to breathe and grow in me. All we could ever need is before us for the taking. Every bit of strength and power, every ounce of love and grace is ours. Let us lay hold of and use that which Christ died to place in our hands.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

2 Cor 4:7

 

 

 

 

 

All Access Pass

Easter is right around the corner. Judging by the shelves in local stores, it’s been right around the corner for two months now. It seems every store is reminding us to prepare, prepare, prepare. And when it comes to the material aspect, I’ve done my part. I have a banner over my fireplace and bunnies on my dining room buffet. A few small gifts have been purchased for my children and the buckets are wiped down and ready to hold their bounty.

But have I really prepared? Have I prepared in the ways that count? My house may be ready but what about my heart? I’ve acquired what I need to fill the baskets, but do I have what I need to fill my soul?

The truth is probably not. In typical fashion I’ve focused on what’s before me rather than what’s within me. Thankfully, it’s never too late. So today I am brought to the gorgeous passage of John chapter 17 and asking God to do his thing and move me closer to the cross.

To give a little background, John 17 holds great significance in the Easter story. Christ had just finished the last Passover meal he would share with the disciples, his closest followers. Over the course of the meal he did His best to explain infinite truths to finite men. He instructed and encouraged them. He warned and comforted them. And then, he prayed for them. He begins by lifting his head to heaven and addressing the Father.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” John 17:1-5

Reading these verses, they strike me a little like a letter of resignation. There is a sense of no regret. An impression that Christ has done what he came to do. “The stage is set. The actors are in position and the lights are focused. It’s time to open the curtain.”

Or in this case, rip the curtain. Right in two.

“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Mark 15:37-38

The innermost sanctuary of the Jewish temple was called the Holy of Holies and it was the housing for the very presence of God. It was separated from the rest of the space by a large curtain. Once a year, the high priest alone was permitted to enter in order to make atonement for the sins of Israel. It was a big deal. There was washing and anointing. There were garments and traditions. Passing through the curtain was no small thing as it gave access to God and that kind of access was reserved for a very select few.

But here was Jesus blowing the whole thing wide open. Not just pulling back the curtain a la Wizard of Oz, but tearing the very fabric itself thereby giving the entire audience direct access to the author and director of it all, God himself. It’s as if Christ is saying, “There is no going back. This curtain cannot be mended so don’t even think about it.”

Oh how this must have infuriated the religious leaders. After months of gathering ammunition and false evidence of blasphemy and heresy, the very one they thought they had silenced made the most daring and politically incorrect declaration of all: “The curtain is no more. Come and meet your God.”

Suddenly everyone had admittance into God’s presence. Every daughter, every son could now come boldly with their petitions, their pain, their repentance. There was nothing standing in the way between God and his children. No curtain, no priest, no law and no sin.

It’s difficult for us to comprehend the impact of this. But two thousand years ago this was radical and even scandalous. It’s just not how things were done. There were rules, thou shalts and thou shalt nots. And while the religious leaders could not stomach the shift, those who loved their Lord must’ve wept at the sound of that torn fabric.

I have to admit that I take the extinction of the curtain for granted. The idea of approaching God directly is comfortable and familiar. Perhaps a bit too familiar. On my knees every morning do I fully grasp who I am speaking with? I’m not sure I can. My human mind is incapable of realizing the fullness of God’s power and glory. And I believe that’s just where the beauty of Christ’s death and resurrection is found. Despite our veiled understanding and human limitations, Christ’s sacrifice allows us to know God in an intimate and profound way that had never before been possible.

As I move closer to the cross and the empty tomb in the next several days, I understand that preparedness is not a one-time process. Real preparation occurs every day, 365 days a year. Each time I unknowingly acknowledge the torn curtain, I am preparing. Each time I whisper a prayer to the Father I am honoring the sacrifice of the Son. Each cry to my Creator is a product of unhindered access. Each moment, each breath, each word I utter in need or thanksgiving is possible because of Christ.

So as we approach Easter, let us look towards the Son. Let us gaze towards the cross and behold the unimaginable sacrifice mixed with divine glory. And let us not forget what is no longer there. The curtain is torn. The veil is lifted. The invitation is ours for the taking.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

 

 

Collateral Healing

One of my favorite things about scripture is the way it all connects like threads of a tapestry. While many verses and passages hold power all on their own, often times when they are read and considered in the light of a larger story, the insight and effect are remarkable.

In all but one of the gospels, there is a story that exemplifies this perfectly. It’s found in Matthew and Luke, however, the most comprehensive account is in Mark 5:25-34.

“And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

To understand the extraordinary impact and significance of this exchange between the woman and Jesus, we need some background information. First of all, by reading previous chapters, we can conclude that the healing takes place in Capernaum, a small city on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was a Hebrew fishing village with a population of about 1500. Given this information, it’s safe to say that the woman in the story was Jewish.

Next, let’s jump over to Leviticus 15. That particular chapter outlines a long list of rules and regulations regarding bodily discharge. The second half of the chapter is specific to women with a discharge of blood.

In a nutshell, anything she sat on was unclean. Anything she laid on was unclean.  Anyone who touched her bed or anything she sat on was unclean. Anyone who touched her was unclean.

Unclean.

Unclean.

Unclean.

Since she lived in a Jewish community, those rules would have been strictly followed. That means that anyone that touched this woman over the previous 12 years was unclean. I imagine at first those around her, her friends and family, were willing to jump through the hoops of washing clothes and bathing. But I wonder if that got old quickly. After months and years, did they tire of the work necessary to live with her, eat with her, sit with her, and touch her. I have to believe she spent much of her time alone.

Twelve years of sleeping alone. Twelve years of eating alone. Twelve years with little to no community. Twelve years with little to no human touch. I can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine the stigma, the isolation, the loneliness that her ailment must have caused. Quite honestly, the physical component of her illness was probably the least of her pain.

Now, let’s jump back to her encounter with Jesus. For starters, it’s impossible for us to comprehend the enormous risk she took in being out in public. Mark 5:31 tells us that the crowd was pressing around Jesus, so it seems highly unlikely that this woman remained untouched among the throngs. And everyone that touched her would’ve been unclean. In a town as small as Capernaum it must’ve been difficult to remain undetected.

And what about Jesus? Did she realize that she risked making him unclean as well? Did she comprehend what she might be causing?

I’m not sure she cared. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Those measures are miraculously rewarded. They are, in fact, rewarded tenfold. In his mercy and compassion, Jesus heals her.

Except that’s only the beginning. A quick read of the story leaves us relieved and satisfied that the woman has been cured. That her bleeding has stopped. But if we’re not careful, we’ll miss the beautiful collateral healing that occurred.

With five simple words, “…be healed of your disease”, Jesus not only restored her body but he redeemed her dignity as well. The bleeding stopped and so did the isolation. Her illness retreated and along with it went the shame, the loneliness, the taboo. Suddenly, she could be touched. Instantly, she could be held. Finally, she could be loved.

If we could talk to her, and someday we will, I’d like to ask her which was more powerful: the physical healing or the emotional one? If she’s anything like me it would be the latter. After 12 years of being relationally and communally ostracized, the elation must have been palpable.

I wish I could’ve been in Capernaum that day. I wish I could have seen the woman’s face as the reality set in. I would’ve liked to see her eyes fill with joyful tears as she realized the full impact of what Jesus did for her. And I would have relished the opportunity to celebrate the collateral healing she so desperately needed but perhaps never expected.

This, my dear friends, is one of the most wondrous and remarkable things about surrendering to Jesus. The collateral healing. The healing beyond the immediate. The restoration of our hearts. In desperation we bring him our sickness, our brokenness, our very worst. We beg him to heal us. But divinely, Jesus wants so much more for us. He may heal the physical. He may heal our marriages or restore broken relationships. He may relieve us of pain. However, if we let him, he will do exponentially more. He will heal our deepest wounds and satisfy our greatest needs. Our need for rest. Our need for peace. Our need for love. Our need for him.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

 

 

Monsoon Season

About a year ago I spent a long weekend in Arizona with two close friends. While there, our hostess informed us that it was monsoon season. We listened to the warning and headed out on our adventures. Once gone, we snickered about what seemed like an unnecessarily dramatic mislabeling of a few thunderstorms.

A few days later we were visiting some local shops and I stepped out onto a nearby balcony to view the incredible scenery around me. Gazing into the distance I began to wrap my head around exactly what we had been warned about. Off on the horizon, dark, ominous clouds gathered. It was literally a wall of blackness. A thick, heavy veil stretching from the heavens all the way down to the parched ground. You could actually see the approaching rain descending in dense, weighty sheets.

I realized our levity was horribly misplaced. We were wrong. Monsoon season. It’s a serious thing. It’s known to wash out roads, fell trees, flood homes and cars, even take lives.

The last several months have felt like my own personal monsoon season. Today we are dropping our oldest off at college and it is wrecking me. For weeks I’ve stood on a virtual balcony watching this moment come with no hope of avoidance. And I am barely holding it together. I am fragile and frail and easily nicked by the smallest thing. The last time I’ll see his backpack on the floor. The last time I’ll wake at 2am to see the downstairs light still on. The last time I’ll get a notification on my phone that he’s arrived home. So many lasts. And each one feels like a sharp, stabbing drop of rain.

In Genesis 3, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God discloses the consequences of their sin. To the serpent, He gives a curse that sentences him to a life of enmity with humanity. Adam’s consequence undermines the success he might experience in his work.

But to Eve, He reveals a consequence that strikes at the very core of womanhood.

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing, in pain you shall bring forth children”

Gen 3:16

I have always taken that verse at face value. Whenever I read it, my mind immediately went back to the hospital rooms where I gave birth to my three children. I remembered the intense physical pain that accompanied those days.

Recently, however, I heard this verse with fresh ears and it made me wonder. And weep. As the mother of an 18, 16 and 12 year old, I can tell you that childbearing did not end in the hospital. The process of “bringing forth” a child continues long after the physical pain is gone. In fact, I would argue that the emotional pains of childbearing continue for years and far surpass the discomfort of the physical event. My heart strains under the weight as I help my children navigate all the highs and lows of life. The job of anticipating pitfalls and diligently scanning the horizon for potential snares leaves me weary and worried.

But today, the greatest pain is in the letting go. I have spent the last two decades preparing my children to leave me. I have protected and nurtured, directed and disciplined, all in an effort to get them ready to live and thrive without me. Since they entered my world, a door has been slowly opening. A door that inevitably leads them away from me in many ways. And in a ridiculous twist, I am supposed to usher them through. While one hand clings to them, the other must hold the door. What cruel irony. I have become a victim of forced retirement and I’m just not ready to turn in my employee ID.

All this said, however, I am convinced that for every supposed curse, there is a proportionate blessing. Just as towering peaks juxtapose lowly valleys, somewhere in all this hard there must be redemption and hope.

So where is the hope in monsoon season? Interestingly, there isn’t much in the immediate aftermath. Once the rains recede, what’s left is a muddy mess. Roads are indiscernible, paths are unclear, the landscape is nearly impossible to travel. This is where I currently am. It’s muddy. And oh so messy. I can’t find my path and I am ill-equipped to navigate this new terrain. Backwards isn’t an option but forward is blurry. And exceedingly difficult.

But…

Weeks after monsoon season has passed what remains is breathtaking. Over time, the desert soaks up the nourishing water and converts it to glorious green. The rain that appeared so devastating and destructive brings life and lushness beyond compare. The dry, brittle ground springs anew with magnificence and vitality.

And this is my hope.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?        I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:19

 I couldn’t love this verse more. I like to think Isaiah wrote it during monsoon season and I love to think he wrote it for me. For this time. To remind me, though difficult to perceive, that God is doing a new thing. That the rivers in my desert will give way to abundance I can’t imagine. That even though some trees may fall, they will fall to reveal a fresh path.

Change is afoot. It’s coming in heavy waves and there’s nowhere to hide. It will drench me and scare me. I may feel lost and alone. But thankfully, I have a good pair of boots and a secure rock to cling to. I am not lost because God knows exactly where I am. And I am definitely not alone. He is in my desert. He is in my wilderness. He is in my monsoon. And He is most certainly in the new thing that’s yet to come.

Dessert for Dinner: Encouraging the Passion in Our Kids

My son had a victory last night. A pie in the sky, write home about it, shout it from the rooftops victory. He is in an advanced film class at school and the film he helped write and created special effects for took first place in a county wide film festival. You’d have thought he won the Academy Award. He was beaming like the sun and as I watched, I quietly stored the memory in my heart.

You see, this is a kid that hasn’t had a lot of victories. In fact, for many long years we watched him struggle, unable to find his place and passion. He is not an academic. He is not an athlete. He is neither the teacher’s favorite nor the popular kid among his peers. But man is he creative. And artistic. And musical. And brilliant in ways that are often missed and difficult to measure.

With my first born we receive emails with accolades for his academic achievement. Every teacher loves him. They absolutely love him. He performs and excels in the academic box of the school system thereby garnering loads of acclaim and recognition.

With my second born, the emails are quite different. Out of 4 academic classes last semester, he was legitimately failing 3 of them. That’s not a stellar success rate.

However, he was absolutely killing it in band and film.

I hear about a lot of parents who tend to take away extracurricular or non-scholastic activities when their child isn’t meeting their academic expectations. The condition for participating in the arts, band, clubs or sports is academic performance. Get the grades so you can do what you want. Perform in what you don’t love and then we’ll allow you to participate in what you do love. It’s the advanced version of telling kids to eat their meat and vegetables so they can have dessert.

But what if for some kids the non-academic is their meat and vegetables? I can say with certainty it is for my son. Band and film are what sustain my kid. They are his lifeline. They feed him and grow him in ways the three R’s never will. And quite honestly, they will be the ticket to his success. He will never sit behind a desk crunching numbers. I doubt he will ever sit in a meeting wearing a three-piece suit and watching a PowerPoint presentation. If he sits, it will be at a piano or a laptop loaded with After Effects. His meetings will most likely be with other creative types wearing wacky t-shirts and colorful Converse. And the very air will be thick with artistic and imaginative brilliance.

I think there is a whole giant group of kids that we are doing a massive disservice too. When we dangle our kids’ passions like a carrot and then make them jump through the necessary hoops to get it, we stunt their growth. We reduce what compels and ignites them to a mere hobby and place it on the shelf next to the Legos and video games. We silently tell them that their passions aren’t worthy.

In our drive for goals and a future that our society says they should have, I believe we have lost the ability to see who our children really are. Somewhere along the way, the artists, the musicians, the athletes have been sacrificed to a system that rewards the traditional. We are completely missing unconventional genius because we are wrapped up in a subpar math grade or a weak lit paper. Furthermore, our tendency as parents is to punish by taking away our children’s passions. When the report card shows up and the numbers don’t meet our hopes or expectations we hastily strip our children of “the extras”. The interests that don’t get graded or perhaps don’t seem to count towards their future are a quick casualty in our push to deliver successful, contributing young people.

I will admit that we tried this approach early on. We threatened taking away marching band from my son if he didn’t bring his grades up. And it worked. His grades came up. While his heart went down. He lost passion. He lost joy. The very thought of losing what he loved created angst and resentment. It wasn’t long before we saw the overall ineffectiveness of what we had done and promised him we would never again make his passions part of the equation. We will never again use his creative appetites as leverage.

Now there is a new deal. Just graduate. Please. Get the diploma so you can take the next step and do what you were created to do. Is he capable of A’s and B’s? Heck yeah. He is smart as a whip and if he put his mind and energy into it we are convinced he could ace any class he wanted. But he is too busy putting his mind and efforts into learning his sixth instrument. He is too busy putting his energy into mastering killer special effects and producing unique and amazing short films.

The world needs all types and I absolutely love that I get to offer up this magnificent young man who refuses to fit neatly in a box. I am giddy as I watch his story unfold and see the colors of his life and passion spill off the traditional page. He has emphatically thrown the book out the window and traded it for a trombone and a camera and I couldn’t be prouder.

It’s time we flip the equation. It’s time we stop using our children’s passions as kindling in our attempt to lite a fire and get them to perform. It’s time we reward that zeal and enthusiasm. Rather than use their fervor as leverage, we should be working tirelessly to remove any and every obstacle that stands in the way of them succeeding at what they truly love.  It’s time we let the dessert lovers have their cake and eat it too.

Getting Schooled in Molasses Swamp

A few years back, a study determined that achieving expert status required 10,000 hours of practice. If this is true, then I am an expert in Candyland. Between the hours spent as a child playing on our rust-colored shag carpet and the hours logged with my three children, I have not only hit the 10,000 hour mark but certainly lapped it.

Being an expert, I am well versed in the intricacies of the game. I’m well acquainted with Queen Frostine and Gramma Nut. I’ve floated on the Ice Cream Sea and longed wistfully to land strategically at the entrance to the Gumdrop Path.

I am also familiar with the Molasses Swamp and the frustration that ensues after drawing the card that sticks you like glue to that darn black dot while your colorful gingerbread friends blaze past you on their way to the coveted Candy Castle. You wait, drawing card after card, hoping for the card that will free you. You wait for permission to advance. You wait to move.

Lately, I have been stuck spiritually. Just like my time spent in Molasses Swamp, I simply cannot move forward. It seems no amount of prayer or petition allows me beyond this spot. And while I’m so desperate to move, longing and ready for the next location, there are lessons to be learned in the swamp. The black dot that holds us back has some wisdom to share if we have ears to hear. After some thought and digging, It occurred to me that there are generally three reasons we find ourselves stuck.

Our Sin

When it comes to being stuck because of sin, the Israelites are the quintessential example. After being divinely freed from the Egyptians, they had God’s promise, protection, and provision, but none of it was enough. In an effort to control their situation and ensure success, they authored the book on unfaithfulness and doubt. When things got difficult, they grumbled about empty stomachs. When things got dicey they blamed their leaders. When things got uncertain they bowed to every god but the One that had saved them. Eventually, God had enough and He threw down the card that would stick them in the dessert for 40 years (Numbers 14:34). Stuck with manna and quail, with sand and heat, with nowhere to call home. All because of sin. All because they wanted what they wanted and weren’t willing to trust.

All too often, we do the same thing. While God may be calling us forward, our disobedience keeps us from advancing. Surrounded by all God’s goodness, we dig in our heels and shake our fists because it’s not enough. Just like the Israelites, we want what we want. We want more when God calls us to contentment. We want revenge when God calls us to peace. We want to fight when God calls us to love. And in our desire, we sin. And in our sin, we get stuck.

Our Fear

I’m not sure when Moses figured it out. An Israelite raised under an Egyptian Pharaoh’s roof, at some point he fully realized who he was and it didn’t take long for him to snap. His anger got the best of him when he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite and in a moment of rage he killed the Egyptian. Confronted with his actions, he did what most red-blooded humans would do – he ran. He ran fast and he ran far. Terrified of likely execution, he ran 285 miles to Midian and stayed there for 50 years (Exodus 2:15). Moses was stuck. He was paralyzed by fear of the future and halted by doubt that he could ever come back from this.

Fear and doubt are dangerous bed partners and unfortunately, they frequently pair up to freeze us in our tracks. We get trapped in the unknowns and uncertainty. We question our value and wonder if we’re even worthy of moving forward. Fear tells us we aren’t good enough. It whispers lies about our purpose and potential, often convincing us we have neither. And before we know it, we’ve let the voices in. We fret, we doubt, we crumble. We stand helpless as the enemy throws the card that leaves us stuck.

God’s Plan

In Acts 1, after Jesus’s resurrection, the disciples enjoyed 40 days of living and learning with the risen Lord. I imagine just about the time they settled into their new reality, Jesus dropped the bomb that He was leaving – for good. Furthermore, just before He ascended He instructed them not to leave Jerusalem but instead to wait for what the Father had promised (Acts 1:4). As they left Mount Sinai to return to the city, I expect they anticipated a relatively short waiting period. A few hours perhaps. Certainly no more than a couple days. So they waited. And waited. In the end, they waited ten long days, stuck in uncertainty and hopeful expectation.

Being stuck by design is perhaps the hardest of all. We are ready to move and ready to act. We hear the call, lace up our sneakers and strain our ears for the signal that will release us in all our passion and intention. But sometimes the signal takes a while and we are left kneeling at the starting line far longer than we expected. Maybe because we’re not quite as ready as we thought we were. We might need more equipping, more growth.  Or perhaps we are ready but something else isn’t. The timing isn’t right or the people we need on our journey aren’t yet in place. For whatever reason and for as long as it takes, God tells us to wait. And we are stuck.

So we’re stuck. Neck deep in molasses, we just can’t move forward. Now what?

Look Up

The tendency when we’re stuck is to keep our heads down and try and figure a way out of our predicament. The problem is that when we look down, we wind up with more fear. Focused on our predicament, we easily fall prey to panic and worry. As we look down, so goes our heart.

We are also tempted to look around when we’re stuck. But looking around sends us quickly into the trap of comparison. We see others moving when we cannot and the sins of jealousy, judgment and anger creep silently in. Questions and accusations seep in that are neither helpful nor healthy. Our eyes wander and so does our heart.

So where do we look? We look up. We look towards the castle and our King. Fixing our gaze on Him makes it impossible to focus on whatever is keeping us stuck. And when we look, we also listen. Looking up to our Lord makes us more receptive to receiving what He’s speaking to us. When we look up we see who He is rather than where we are.

Lean In

While we’re looking up, we also need to lean in and cling to God’s truths. Rather than focusing on what our “stuckness” seems to say about us, if we seek and soak up God’s promises and provision, we are able to rest even in the mire. When we surround ourselves with the truths emanating from the castle we begin to surrender and we begin to trust.

What truths do you need to hear today? What’s keeping you stuck?

Is it sin? Confess, turn and cling to the timeless promises your Father whispers over you.

“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’”  Isaiah 30:15

“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…”  Acts 3:19-20

What about fear? Are fear and doubt holding you fast? Take courage in the Lord’s strength and presence.

 “…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

 “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  2 Timothy 1:7

Are you stuck by design? Is God’s plan requiring you to wait just a bit longer? Be patient dear heart and trust that He is working.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  Psalms 27:14

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  Romans 8:25

Being stuck is hard. Our sin sinks us, our fear freezes us and divinity delays us. But there is great hope. In His perfect time we will move with swiftness, grace and power. Until then, beloved, look up to your Creator. Lean in to the truth He sings over you. The castle calls and it will be but an instant before we are there!

 

 

 

Settling for Cabinet Pudding

If our house was on fire, once the kids and pets were safe, there are exactly 3 things I would rush into the flames to try and salvage. One of those is my grandmother’s cookbook written in 1943. Not just any old cookbook, it is beyond sentimental for me. The pages are stained and worn from years of being laid open in my grandmother’s kitchen. There are permanent flour clumps embedded on the page with my favorite cookie recipe. There are recipes scrawled on the inside cover and doodles on the title page. Her hands and heart are evident on every page of that book – etched in recipe notes and adjustments, visible in newspaper clippings littered throughout the pages.

A few years ago, however, I discovered another reason to love it. I was perusing the book and came across a page I hadn’t noticed before. Nestled between the introduction and the table of contents, there is a 2-paragraph page titled “Wartime Postscript.”

When I first read this I nearly burst out laughing. It struck me as dated, provincial, and honestly a bit insulting. The idea that a woman’s best contribution to the war effort is through meal planning is more than a little belittling and patronizing in our day and age.

But after a few reads, there is also something endearing about it and today, the day after yet another mass school shooting, I find a truth in the words that I didn’t see before. In between the lines about Cabinet Pudding and yeast-raised orange bread, there is wisdom, awareness and self-sacrifice that is hard to find these days.

The message that seems to come across loud and clear in this little postscript is one of self-sacrifice and a commitment to the greater good. While you might really be longing for Fruit Torte, the larger circumstances of the world won’t allow that. So you adjust. You compromise. You settle. You die to what you really want because there is so much more at stake. It’s not about sirloin versus T-bone. It’s about what’s right. It’s about recognizing that there is more beyond your small corner of the world and acknowledging that life is not about what you want.

Yesterday’s incident in Florida, along with nearly every other gun crime in this country, flies horrifically in the face of this belief. Even more tragically, the gun lobby also rejects this belief with vigor and fervor. Somehow, the NRA has successfully duped the masses into adopting the warped conviction that your need to own any and every gun you choose is far superior to the needs of anyone else.

I simply cannot wrap my brain around this kind of thinking. I beg a rational, reasonable person to explain to me how someone’s right or freedom to own multiple semi-automatic rifles, capable of killing in mass, trumps my children’s right to feel safe in their own school? I just cannot see the justification and, sadly, the defense of that right is becoming deadlier by the day. So far, unless I’m missing something, I haven’t heard a single story about how someone with an AR-15 saved dozens of people in a school or mall on American soil. I haven’t seen emotional parents gushing on television about how grateful they are that a gunman, armed to the teeth with countless rounds of ammunition, rushed in and saved their child. Instead, our news is rife with broken parents, spouses and children who have witnessed from the front row the casualties of this ridiculous and unchecked “freedom”.

In Mark 12, Jesus is asked the question “Which commandment is the most important of all?”. His response, while well-known and oft repeated, never loses its impact.

“ ’And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

 Then in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul tells us the following:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way…”

“It does not insist on its own way”. I love that phrase and I find it awfully relevant today. If we are to love our neighbor as commanded, we need to put aside what we want, what we feel we are entitled to. We must not insist on our own way but instead look around us and evaluate honestly and thoughtfully what our agenda is costing. Currently, the gun agenda is costing far more than anyone should ever have to give. We are racking up losses by the dozens because we are unwilling to compromise what we believe is our right. Regardless of the cost, we really, really, really want a sirloin steak (or in this case, an unrestricted firearm) and no-one is going to tell us we can’t have one damnit!

In most areas we’ve come a long way since my grandmother’s cookbook was written 75 years ago and our progress has improved our lives exponentially. But there have been some steps backwards along the way and the gun culture in our country is a massive leap in the wrong direction.

I certainly don’t want to go back to 1943. However, when I read the Wartime Postscript it’s clear they were doing some things right back then. They knew how to adjust. They knew how to compromise and even settle for less, if necessary. Somewhere along the way we lost that ability and it is, quite literally, killing us. If we could take a page from their playbook perhaps we could affect real change. If we could love without our own agendas and realize that sometimes loving well means giving up what we want, then we might have a fighting chance. If we can find a way to love our neighbor more than our guns there just may be hope for us.

I am convinced that somewhere down the line future generations will look back in horror at what we’ve done. They will wonder how we could’ve ever let it get so out of hand. How we could justify and excuse the senseless loss of lives under the banner of our “rights”. And I imagine they will grieve that it took so damn long for us to learn the lesson.

Change isn’t a hope, it’s a necessity. We simply can’t move forward without it. We need to lay down our guns, both literally and figuratively and work to figure this out. We have to be willing to adjust and compromise and, in some cases, settle for less than what we want. And just like settling for Cabinet Pudding when you really want Fruit Torte, there needs to be a deliberate and intentional decision to forego your needs for the needs of those around you. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, despite what it may require us to sacrifice, only then will everyone win.

 

 

Invisible: Words of Apology to Older Moms

Ruth 1:1-18

The older my kids get, the more invisible I feel. With two high schoolers and a 5th grader, my days of diapers, naps and preschool are well behind me. Generally speaking, this season is welcome after years of little kid crazy. However, when surrounded by my younger counterparts, the fact that I’m further along in motherhood leaves a slight sting. You see, other moms simply don’t ask about my older children. In conversations about family life or activities, my 17 and 15 year old are glossed over and dismissed. Truth be told, many of them are so busy looking down at the little ones circling their skirts that they just can’t break away to look up and ahead.

The irony is that I am where they are going. While it seems far and unreachable now, they are right around the corner from being me. In the blink of an eye, their 8 year olds will be considering colleges and their preschoolers will be wrestling with relationships and heartbreak.

The Bible tells the beautiful story of Naomi and Ruth. After losing her husband and two sons, Naomi journeyed with her two young daughter-in-laws, Orpah and Ruth, in an attempt to find a new life. But as she walked, flanked by women half her age, did she feel known? Did she feel seen? Or did she feel obsolete and irrelevant? Did she, perhaps, feel invisible?

Eventually, with Naomi’s prodding, Orpah would leave to pursue a life of her own. This was not the case with Ruth.

“But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.’”

Ruth 1: 16-17

As a younger woman, I always related much more to Ruth. Although certainly heartbroken and grieving, she was still young and had possibility and opportunity before her. Her life was largely unwritten and every experience offered fresh, new ink to add to her story. Lately, however, I am drawn to Naomi. There’s a good chance she was just about my age and wrestling with some of the same feelings I am.

Furthermore, after years of believing that Naomi was the lucky one for having a daughter-in-law so generous and loyal, my opinion has flipped. I now see that Ruth had the better end of the deal. On a pilgrimage to a new life, she had an unmatched opportunity to walk hand in hand with wisdom and experience. Naomi was an ocean of insight and a treasure chest of truth. She knew love and loss intimately and had decades of perspective. She had weathered the ups and downs of marriage and persevered through the ins and outs of child rearing. I imagine that over the miles, Ruth was an eager audience and I envision her listening intently, hanging on every word uttered by her mother-in-law.

I wish I had listened better. You see, now that I am a Naomi, I wish I had been a far better Ruth. I wish I had stopped when older moms came in the room and valued them for what they could offer. I wish I had recognized all the knowledge, discernment and understanding they held. But I missed it. Day after day, like many of the moms currently around me, I rarely bothered to look up at them. I didn’t ask and I didn’t listen.

So I’d like to say I’m sorry to the moms of older kids. To the women who didn’t sleep as they wore the fears and worries of their middle schoolers like a heavy woolen coat. To the ones who fought with unreserved ferocity to maintain their teenagers’ dignity and reputation. To the mothers who wept as their sons and daughters left for college. You had so much to teach me and I am certain that, had I paid attention years ago, I may have avoided some heartache.

But I want you to know that I see you now and I long for what you can give. I understand that because you had bigger kids, you had bigger other things too.

For one thing, your worry and fear were bigger. As my kids get older, I hold my breath over such larger problems. Fitting into the crowd. Not fitting into the crowd. Saying yes to the right things. Saying no to the wrong things. Letting them find their own path. Watching over that very path and hoping they don’t fall too hard. Being ready to catch them when they do. Holding them accountable. Not burdening them with unrealistic expectations. Giving them wings. Praying they use those wings wisely. As my children grow, so do the enemies. The pitfalls are deeper and the consequences more damaging. Wrong decisions aren’t fixed by time outs anymore. The stakes are higher and therefore, so is the potential for fear and worry.

Your loyalty was bigger. Being a mom of a teenager means carrying weapons I never thought I needed. It is being ready to defend and protect at a moment’s notice. After all, who better than us knows our children’s history? We know every weak point, every stress fracture, every vulnerability. When we see a threat, we rush in and refuse to leave. We fight the good fights and the ugly ones too. We remain steadfast in the darkness, holding a torch until the light of day no matter how long that takes.

Your love was bigger. As a young mom, I remember thinking that there was no possible way that you loved your pimply-faced, awkward, rebellious, back-talking teenager as much as I loved my adorable Facebook-worthy toddler. And I was right. You didn’t love them as much; you loved them more. Because every battle you fought for them, against them or with them deepened your love for them. Every heartbreak strengthened the tether between your hearts. Every success swelled your love and every disappointment cemented it. Each year that passed delivered thousands of new moments that you carefully collected and stockpiled into a virtual mountain of dedication and love. And you never stopped collecting. Not when they got on the middle school bus. Not when they drove away in your car. Not when they left for college. Not when they married. Not when they started a family of their own. You kept collecting and building.

One day I will know that kind of love. I’m getting there for sure but it takes a lifetime. A lifetime I haven’t lived yet. In the meantime, can I be your Ruth? Can I follow alongside and glean all you know? Because I want to know. I want to gather the wisdom you have and tuck it away for a time I will most certainly need it.

And I want to remind you that I see you and that you are not invisible. You are beautiful in your tireless commitment to your children. Everything about you is simply stunning. Your laugh lines point to years of joint delight. Your tear stains are testament to decades of shared grief. The softness in your voice when you talk about your children betrays a loyalty beyond circumstance. No, sweet mothers, you are not invisible at all. You are radiant and I only hope someday someone will say the same about me.

Like a Thief in the Day

It started with banana bread.

I woke up to a busy and margin-less day of errands and lists. I read my bible, joyfully gave my day over and hit the ground running. Spying some browning bananas in the refrigerator, I decided homemade banana bread was just what this day needed to get off to the right start. So I mixed and baked the recipe I’ve made a hundred times and exactly 55 minutes later I opened the oven to discover my lovely banana bread completely burned. And a tiny, nearly unnoticeable piece of my joy slipped away.

Shrugging it off, I proceeded with my morning and gave my sons a one-hour notice of our departure for haircuts and shoe shopping. Sixty minutes later, I find my second born sitting on the couch still in pajamas, arguing that he never heard my announcement. Frustrated, I snapped that we were leaving without him unless he was ready in 10 minutes. Another sliver of joy flew out the window without so much as a wave goodbye.

Walking to the car I ducked to avoid something and hit my head. Hard. Hard enough to give me an instant headache and fill my eyes with watery pain. Walking back into the house, a small bubble of joy left and floated silently into the blue.

I grabbed some Advil and my water bottle, but as I tipped the bottle back to take a drink, I realized too late that the lid wasn’t screwed on correctly. Water spilled everywhere, taking with it drops of my joy.

By noon, I was fighting tears and longing to crawl back into bed and start over. Somehow, over the course of just a few hours, small thieves had broken into my day and stolen my joy a piece at a time. And the irony was that it wasn’t anything big. There weren’t any major hits, trials or disappointments. Instead, I was robbed little by little without my even noticing. A vase here, a lamp there. Some silverware, a rug, an armchair. Until I’m standing lost and helpless in a ransacked house wondering what happened.

Joy is a tricky thing and can be so very difficult to grasp. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it slips through your fingers like sand. But quite honestly there are a lot of misconceptions about joy. We tend to equate joy with outward happiness. We wrongly tether it to a cheery disposition regardless of external circumstances. Truth be told, there are simply days this is impossible. There are seasons when the storms come fast and furious and despite our best efforts, we simply can’t rally.

If we shift our idea of joy, however, if we turn it inside out and ourselves with it, we get something quite different. In fact, scripture’s definition of joy is entirely unlike the counterfeit this world tries to sell us.

There are 63 verses in the New Testament that contain the word joy. All but 4 of these have the same Greek word for joy, chara. I absolutely love the translation for this little word. It means, quite literally, “calm delight or gladness.” Not over the moon exuberance. Not cartwheels and squealing. Not leaping and jumping in happiness. Calm delight. Tranquil gladness.

When I think about the things I delight in, the first to come to mind is my children. When thoughts of them flash through my day, there is an intangible feeling that quickly follows. It is not a loud or flamboyant happiness. There are no deafening shouts or cartwheels. Instead, it is deep and quiet. It rises above their behavior or performance and outflanks all of life’s circumstances. It is constant and tranquil. It is calm delight.

On the flipside, when I think of things that bring joy according to the world’s definition, which is “great pleasure or happiness”, entirely different things swirl in my thoughts. Vacations, experiences, stuff. All things temporal and fleeting. Quite honestly, this isn’t what I need. I don’t need more pleasure and happy. I need more calm delight. I need the consistent and serene gladness that comes despite torrents outside. I am desperate for the peaceful satisfaction that pushes and persists through even the most unsightly tapestries.

So where do we find this joy? Paul answers that question in Romans.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope.”

Romans 15:13

Joy comes from the Father. In His inherent goodness, the God who not only meets, but exceeds all our expectation and hope fills us with calm delight. Our belief in His goodness, in His love, in His faithfulness brings about a gladness that surpasses our daily trip ups.

It almost seems too simple. Such transcendent delight seems like it would require so much more effort. Fortunately, it doesn’t. The inexplicable reality is that joy beyond imagination and circumstance is hanging in the very air we breathe. But we have to seize it. Instead of surveying and lamenting all the things that appear taken from us, we have to choose joy. While the thieves loiter and linger waiting to steal our joy piece by piece, we must recognize that they are powerless. That the joy our Father promises comes from a well that never runs dry.

Life can be hard and the days longer than we wish. We are confronted regularly with disappointments and loss. But the God of hope has a trick up his sleeve. The joy He offers us goes beyond our mishaps, beyond our failures, beyond our pain. And graciously, beyond burned banana bread.

 

Lessons with Hezekiah

In 13 days I will have read the Bible cover to cover. I was supposed to be done on December 31, mind you, but some days I just wasn’t as disciplined as others. And some days, quite honestly, it was difficult to get my mind in the game. Trudging through Lamentations was straight up boring. Wading through Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, was heavy and depressing. And Numbers. So many names and so many minutiae. It was slow going. Very slow going.

But most days, if I had ears to hear and eyes to see, I could easily find a nugget or two to take away and turn over for the day. The other day, the nugget was found in Isaiah 37.

To give a little background, Hezekiah was the thirteenth king of Judah and he did a great deal to restore Judah after a lengthy rule by a very evil king. He reintroduced religious reform into the land, restored the temple and destroyed false idols. Things were going pretty well until King Sennacherib of Assyria entered the scene. Assyria had successfully swept through neighboring lands and conquered every nation in their path. Judah was next on their list and Sennacherib sent Hezekiah a letter saying exactly that.

Hezekiah was understandably afraid and distraught. Facing certain annihilation, he did the only thing he could think of. With a threatening and blasphemous letter in hand…

“…Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord.”

Isaiah 37:14

I love that phrase. “…spread it before the Lord.” After reading it, I sat on that phrase for a couple days, allowing it to soak in and marinate. It didn’t take long for something to occur to me.

I imagined Hezekiah. I imagined him on his knees spreading papers out on the floor of the Lord’s house. I visualized the posture and process that would require. Then I thought of what I would need to do to spread out or unroll my fears, my worries, my pain before the Lord. And I came to the conclusion that such petition necessitates three very distinct and very important things.

1. Get Low

When I picture myself spreading something out, whether it’s papers on a desk or a quilt on my bed, there’s one thing that’s consistent. My posture is never upright. In fact, it isn’t possible to lay something out and remain upright. It requires bending and lowering yourself to reach the farthest edges. In order to spread something out, you have to get low.

This is even more important when what we’re laying out is our needs, our petitions and our hearts before our Heavenly Father. The very act of bringing our fears and worries before God in prayer requires a humble heart. A heart that recognizes its own frailty and weakness. With heads bowed, prayer is the admission that what we want and need is out of our reach and beyond our own ability to attain. When we approach God with meekness and humility, we acknowledge that only He is capable of assuaging our fears and providing what we need most.

2. Get Slow

We live in a fast world. Just last week, the phone company in our area installed cable that would allow even faster Internet access. Cars are made faster every year. Ads boast about faster delivery, faster service, faster everything. In a culture that craves speed, slowing down is challenging.

When it comes to prayer, slow isn’t just a suggestion, it’s a necessity. Conversations with our Father should be long and detailed. They should be thorough with nothing left unsaid. Far too often, we treat our prayers like outgoing mail or an office memo. We jot down our requests and slip them through the mail slot as we’re walking by. But instead, our Father invites us to enter in and sit with Him. He implores us to be fully present, taking time and thought to spread out our needs and desires. And such thoughtful, intentional petition only happens when we slow down.

3. Get Real

I imagine that when Hezekiah spread out that letter before the Lord, he didn’t strategically cover some of the paper. He didn’t scatter rocks over particular words or phrases. He made sure every inch of it was exposed. Every page, every sentence, every word. He hid nothing.

I wish the same could always be said of us. What if, when we laid out our needs before God, we held nothing back? What if we stripped our requests of pride and selfish ambition? What if we owned our jealousy and confessed impure motives? What if we were honest and raw? Far too often, I approach God with one hand behind my back, concealing the ugliest parts of me, hoping He won’t see. For some reason, we buy into the lie that if God saw all of it, if we presented the bad with the good, our requests would fall on deaf ears. That somehow God will be less inclined to listen if our needs are wrapped in filth. In fact, it is just the opposite. God loves and God listens because of our filth, not despite it. Our inferiority allows God’s grace and mercy to shine even brighter. As Paul so eloquently put it in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “…for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Spreading out our fears and worries before the Lord requires us to disclose everything. It requires us to show it all, no matter how unsightly or broken. It requires us to be real before our Father.

Life this side of heaven is hard. Every day we break and bruise. And every day we need God. We need His help, His grace, His mercy. It’s all there, all available to us. All we need to do is ask.

Hezekiah, in the face of his greatest threat and in the moment of his greatest need, spread out his petition before the Lord. He carried his fears straight to the temple and unloaded every single one of them, humbly, slowly and thoughtfully, in the presence of his Father. It’s an incredible lesson for all of us. When we are in the presence of what most threatens or scares us, we need to remember to get low, get slow and get real as we appeal to the one who knows us, loves us and is waiting to help us.