WHEN YOU RUN OUT OF PETALS

In reading Brennan Manning’s The Furious Longing of God, I had to stop and meditate on a section, much as you would stop at a solitary painting in a gallery. Not because it’s the most spectacular painting in the show, but because it touches you – and perhaps only you on this particular day – in an imperceptible but undeniable way. This section of the book spoke to me of the incredibly fierce, passionate potential of love; rather than the simple sweetness of a valentine card we mandatorily distributed in grade school and often enough didn’t receive in complete reciprocity in grade school.

IMG_6773

This kind of love is hard for me to understand when it comes to my children, much less for the rest of world. I struggle to love someone very close to me when the “love” I grew up with was conditional, with strings attached, at a price that I could never hope to repay. And repayment would be expected, although I never knew when or how.

What I’m coming to understand about loving others as my Father loves me is this: God loves me always and anyway. If I were to hold a daisy and play “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not,” it would have but one single petal. Because he loves me!

But what about my sin? Surely each sin should add another link in the a shackle for the world to see, a reminder of my human failings, an ever-growing statement of my shame, a testament of God’s exhaustive mercy. Yet it’s not only forgiven, it’s undeservingly forgotten, and I doubt very much that God’s glory would be as evident if his children walked around with the chains of their failures dragging behind them. No. We are set free!

Several years ago, about a week before Christmas, I told my husband I was going to Kmart to pick up a few stocking stuffers. Everything I got was less than $3.00, more often under $2.00. Imagine my surprise when the cashier informed me that I owed her over $200.00! As I drove home, I considered every plan I might use to return at least half of the items. Would I return a few things at a time, or should I just bite the bullet and return half of my haul at once?

Neither option allowed for me to hold onto my dignity. And I gave up any hope of simply not telling John, because I’m a lousy liar! He was naturally taken aback by my abundance of small stocking stuffers. Two hundred dollars was way more than we could afford! He said, “Just keep it all. It will be fine.” I’ve always remembered his quiet mercy. But here’s the thing – when I told this story to some friends a few years later, he said, “I’d forgotten all about that!”

Actionable Steps to Create Body LoveI can’t imagine how! I’d spent years keeping that mistake on my list of “Things to be Ashamed Of”, and he had stopped thinking of it entirely! I began to wonder what other things he may have forgotten, how many other things should I be cautious about reminding him of – just in case he’d forgotten them as well. (Wink, wink, nod, nod, know what I mean?)

To make the comment all the sweeter, he wasn’t aware of how very many times I’d heard my mother say, “I’ll remember that.” And she did, bringing up a slight on my part every time I did something wrong and she wanted to make sure I, as well as my step-father and brother all knew how very horrible I was. Yet here was someone who had not only chosen to not keep a $200 mistake in his arsenal, but had managed to forget it. And he loved me.

Now, if my husband could not only forgive but forget one of my wrongs, what God promises is mind-blowing! But this is exactly what our Abba promises. Imagine what we could do without the weight of remembered faults. Imagine the freedom of being able to not only forgive others for being just what they are – people capable of disappointing us, failing us, hurting us, ignoring us, or just plain getting on our last nerve – but to actually treat them as if they hadn’t slighted us at all. What if our mercies could be new every morning, too?

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

What if, before I even open my eyes in the morning, instead of getting irritated because I know that I know that I know a certain empty can of Pepsi is not in the recycling bin, but rather right where my husband left it – so close to falling off the counter next to the recycling bin that a faint breeze would be enough to push it off the edge, I thank God for the man he gave me? (I have a more adhesive memory than my husband does, which is inconvenient for him. ;D) What if, instead of expecting my co-worker to misfile something because she “always does”, I look for the woman God sees; a woman who loves her family dearly and has immeasurable potential?

Don’t expect a sermon or a Power Point presentation on how I learned to forgive and forget. I stink at both! (Although forgetting seems to get easier each year that I grow older.) Sadly, I simply cannot grasp how anyone can forgive and forget. I can’t imagine there are many of us who can. Remembering where our pain has come from can be as much a means of survival for us as remembering where the nuts are hidden is for a squirrel. And part of becoming a good, upstanding citizen depends upon our behavior being rated on a scale from selfless to horrendous. Our parents, teachers and other authorities are there to nudge us back to mid-scale so we don’t hurt others, to prevent anarchy. Unfortunately, those “nudges” are sometimes tainted with shame along the lines of “Naughty boy!” Some of us have had those lessons reinforced with the more effective use of punishment and fear, from being disregarded and unloved to being beaten and malnourished.

Have you ever thought that if people knew more about you, they’d be amazed that you can function at all? I have. Often. But then I realize that there are a lot of us out here who are functioning the best we can, in spite of so many things. If only we could extend to them the same compassion and patience we crave.

_I think it’s just that kind of love that Jesus was here to share and demonstrate. When he healed the crowds, I very much doubt that he stopped to decide if someone was worthy or not. I would imagine there were those who were cruel and abusive to their families, those who had stolen from their neighbor, betrayed their spouse. Perhaps they were among the very ones who needed Christ’s touch the most. The kind of healing they required had the potential to create healings far beyond a broken hand or restored hearing; this was the kind of healing that impacted everything and everyone the hand ever touched thereafter. To think that Jesus knew the hearts of everyone he touched and still loved them enough to heal them. He had to have known there were people for whom a healing touch may not change anything, but such is his love for us. His healing provided hope that things could be different!

Today Christ doesn’t see just what is, but what should have been when we were formed in our mother’s womb, and what still could be because of the future he has spoken over us.

It’s not too late until we draw our last breath, because our Father loves each of us always and anyway. Imagine…He loves us as much as he loves his own son.

Buh-Bye!

Saturday Night Live had a skit back in 2010 that left most people hating a single phrase: the oh-so-irritating “buh-bye”. And no one made those two syllables sound more obnoxious than David Spade. It’s almost as if this was the line he was born to say. As passengers disembarked the plane, each received the same insincere, just-keep-moving “buh-bye.” And that, my friends, is exactly what I have to say to 2019. I can’t wait for it to be over! I’m worn, overwhelmed, exhausted, broke, and so completely ready to be done with this year.

I’ve been ready for 2019 to be over since January 4th, when I totaled our car in an against-all-odds single-car accident – on an in-town, two-lane highway 20 minutes before 8:00 am on a work day. By the time Maggie got her driver’s license in October, I was more than happy to surrender my license.

I was ready for it to be over in February when we had to replace our furnace. 

I was ready for it to be over since the end of March when I fractured the glenoid fossa in my shoulder and it dislocated about 4 days later. For a couple of reasons, the specialist I saw said it really can’t be fixed, which means it is permanently dislocated.

But just as I was beginning to think some very mean person had signed us up for some twisted version of the Fruit of the Month Club, we stopped having big monthly issues. All that was left were the “regular” financial, medical, vocational and emotional things. I’d like to say things got better, but that’s not quite the same as things not getting worse. Here in Minnesota, they like to say, “It could be worse.” I don’t recall accepting that as a challenge.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, you have a year I can’t wait to say “buh-bye” to.

It’s probably too late to warn you that this isn’t a warm, fuzzy holiday post. However, it’s an honest post. It’s really not my intention to whine. (Trust me! If I wanted to whine, this would be a much longer post.) I’m writing this because I’ve had the nagging sense that I failed or have been foolish.

I’d felt so bold and certain when I wrote that I am no longer the child of my mother, but rather the child of my heavenly Father. Since that post, I’ve been wondering who I think I am to say anything encouraging. I’ve felt especially powerless and hopeless about my chronic pain, which is honestly pretty exhausting because it never goes away. And yet I keep trying to do the things I did before the chronic pain. Like Job, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering WHY? Haven’t I had enough to deal with? Why can’t I get a damn break?! Or am I really as undeserving of mercy, grace, and goodness like I’d believed I was most of my life?

It would be so easy to think I’ve been foolish and pathetic to believe I could have a happy life. Was I that stupid school girl who was so gullible as to believe that the cute guy really wanted to take her to the dance, while his friends laughed and she sat alone at home in the dress she’d begged her mother to buy?

Or had I failed? Had I done something wrong? I’m not always the most sensitive person. I can be judgemental. And I know I can have an ugly heart sometimes. But am I really that bad? I try! I try to make sure everything gets done, that the bills get paid, that every customer I help gets good service. I try so hard to be good, but it never seems to matter or make a difference.

I’m beginning to think that my deepest wound, my greatest fear, is learning – not thinking, but discovering – that I’m insignificant, unworthy of anything good and definitively unlovable. 

This scares me because it leaves me with two possibilities:

  1. This is true and there’s nothing different for me to expect.
  2. This is not true and I’m lowering my standards to make things more palatable for my sense of self.

Neither is very exciting.

Yet, as I sat pouting and kicking at the collateral damage of this year, I wondered what I could possibly have to say that could encourage someone else. Then last night after ripping out some paragraphs better suited for other posts, I found this:

Please don’t let it overwhelm you. I promise God is with you. You don’t see him working. You do not get how a loving God could allow you to be where you are, but you’re alive because he loves you. You will come out blessed, stronger and able to help others.

Don’t quit. Pick your head up. God is with you.

How about that? God is with me. As in Immanuel – “God with us.” Hmmm.

So maybe it isn’t about all the problems I have, or even how they seem to pile up. Maybe it has more to do with what I do when they pile up. Do I sit there in a mess that could show up on, frankly, anyone’s front step? Or do I continue to hope against all hope that God is real, that he does love me and he does want to hold me close to him as a child? Do I just sit where I am, or do I hold my hand out in the faith that someone will reach out to take my hand in theirs and pull me into their arms – but not in a creepy way that tells you that it’s too late to worry if you left the door unlocked.

Some, including myself, will think I’m a whiner. Others, also including myself, may recognize the childlike fear of being unwanted. And it really is an all-or-nothing, this-or-that deal, isn’t it? Either God is who his word says he is and there is hope and love to be had, or God is just another Wizard of Oz. That’s the choice I have to make next year. Which still gives me a few hours to wallow in self-pity.

I want so desperately to be loved by a God about whom things like this are said:

KnowGod_Facebook_BlogPostIf I can be convicted of my justification with a God who loves me enough to sacrifice his only son in order for me to be made righteous through his blood, then I will do all I can to convince every other aching person out there that they are not unlovable, that there is a good Father who loves them the way they were always intended to be loved, but weren’t.

That would be nice way to end 2020.

 

 

 

SPILLING YOUR GUTS 101

Houses are often used as analogies to lives. I think if my life, my personality, were personified as a house, that house would be similar to the famous Winchester house.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Isn’t this a lovely home?

w h outside

Oh! It’s a bit bigger than it looks, isn’t it?

w h from top

OK. Now, that’s just wrong!

w h inside

See what I mean?

Since I started blogging over a year ago, I’ve thought a lot about what I want to accomplish through my writing. I have offered to put any talent I may have into the hands of the God who can make donkeys talk. But even before that, God’s been in the process of stripping away all those things I don’t need and all the clutter I was never supposed to have, all to reveal me to myself the way my Father intended me to be when he formed me in my mother’s womb.

And you know what? The debris crew has a lot of work to do!

I have felt defective for many of my 50+ years – anywhere from ‘not quite good enough’ to ‘how do you even function?!‘ But I always maintained that a fresh coat of cheerful paint, an attractive wreath on the front door and some bright flowers along the front walk would be good enough to keep up the facade. The KEEP OUT signs managed to keep most people on the sidewalk. Sure, sometimes that fresh coat of paint covered some rust that should have been removed, but I was always afraid that the rust was the only thing holding things together.

A few years ago, our water main broke and we had water slowly and steadily seeping into the basement. The repair was as extensive as it was expensive, and in the end our little half-lot had a section measuring approximately 6′ wide by 8′ long by 8′ deep gouged out of its soil and we had a $4,200 bill. A large lilac bush was also removed in the process, leaving our small deck to sink a few inches on the right side. What was left was an ugly scar through our front yard. To make things worse, we live on a street favored by walkers and joggers. The huge pumpkin vine we’d had growing out of the middle of our yard a few years earlier was at least intriguing, but that’s a whole other story! This was just plain ugly! And absolutely everyone could see it.

A couple of years before that, something very similar happened. This time, though, it was physical. I’d had an emergency open-heart surgery to repair my ascending aorta. Long story, short, I blew a hole in my ascending aorta and could have/should have died. Trust me, it was kind of a big deal, and I’m excited to tell you about it – maybe even in the next post – because it was pretty amazing and key to my current restoration project.

scars tatoosAnyway, I now have a long jagged scar down the middle of my chest. There’s about one inch in the middle of the scar that is now thin and nearly invisible. Below that, the scar is stretched to nearly a half-inch wide and very, very light in color. But at the top – the part that shows above the neckline of all my clothes – is a two-inch long, half-inch wide red scar. It, too, is just plain ugly. And everyone can see it!

So why are these two things so significant to me? Why do they embarrass me? Because for the first time in my life, I couldn’t keep the surface of the water still. I was unable to control and manage the damage. More important, I couldn’t hide it.

MAD HATTER 2-17Now, most people would look at a surgery like mine and be glad they’d survived it. And they’d look at the lawn and deck and know it’s just a part of being a homeowner. But not me. All I could think was that now everyone could see how “defective” I was. It was almost as if my ‘ick’ has pressed the seams, busted the stitching and poured out for everyone to gawk at in disgust. And I was embarrassed and ashamed.

That is what you’d call pathological thinking. Or just plain mad!

You’d be right.

The night of my open-heart surgery, God did something amazing and transformational. And it seems he’s been working over-time since then to apply enough pressure to my seams to push out and bring to light all the crap I’ve protected and tried to keep hidden from view. Every time something new oozes out and I’m frantically trying to shove it all back in, my loving Father invites me to look at it – really look at it – in the light and decide if I honestly want to keep it…or if it might be time to let it go.

It hasn’t been easy to watch parts of me being removed. These are things by which I can no longer define myself. My signature was once beautiful and flowing. I enjoyed public speaking and community theater. I walked sharply and confidently. I went where I wanted, when I wanted. I could push myself just a little bit further if I had to.

Since my surgery, I’ve had poor balance and waddle to adjust for it. I’ve fallen quite a few times; the most recent resulting in a permanently dislocated shoulder. I can’t even Google that! My speech isn’t as clear as it once was, and when I’m excited or tired I slur more noticeably. I know for a fact that some people have thought I was drunk. I’ve had up driving. My handwriting that was once confident and legible is now carefully written, sometimes illegible, and no longer resembles my previously smooth handwriting. I miss my signature the most. I tire very easily and have a poorer memory.

And yet, I still put in a full week as an insurance agent!

I’ve been clipped, stripped and limited. But God’s not stopping there because he knows I’d feel completely broken, defeated and hopeless, which is where I already was the night of my surgery.

When I chip a front tooth, God tells me, “Shush. That tooth doesn’t define you.”

When my husband – the poor man – doesn’t seem to appreciate me the way I want him to, I hear God admonish, “Don’t look to him for your value. He may love you, but I’m the one who gives you value.”

When our bank account doesn’t line up with our bills, he reminds me, “Money isn’t a problem for me.”

When I feel flawed and ashamed, he says, “Lift your head, Child.”

And when I feel hopeless and don’t know who I am, he whispers, “Come here. You’re mine, and I will never leave you. You are so loved!

The world, and especially he who is in the world, have had over 50 years to do their worst to bring me to condemnation, but I am in the middle of a restoration! And I simply can’t bring home this point better than C. S. Lewis:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

“Yet as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:15 (MEV)

Now, excuse me. I think I just saw Miley talking to the demolition team and I’m a little concerned!

CAREFUL! THAT’S STILL TENDER.

I know I haven’t posted anything for awhile. I’ve been busy and a bit under the weather, but the greater fact is that I’ve been hovering around a thought and can’t seem to find a place to grab hold of and land with. It’s not so much that I can’t find anything to write about. I have too much! And entire posts are beautifully composed in my head between one o’clock and three o’clock in the morning; by sunrise, it’s nothing but wisps of disconnected words. So it’s time to put something on paper and start…something…anything.

I’ll start here, because it’s where I seem to keep returning to:

A few months ago, I read Lysa TerKeurst’s post, “What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do,” and found a single sentence that I’ve meditated on every day since:

“We have to stop the bleeding from the deepest wound.”

Every. Single. Day! I’ve held this thought in my hand, turning it over, feeling it’s texture, weight and shape with my fingers. I’ve carried it in my pocket so I could just touch it once in a while. I’ve sat it on my desk at work so I could glance at it between emails. I’ve laid it on a shelf at home so I can look at it in a different light during the day. Sometimes, I think I’m looking for something that really isn’t there. Other times, I am certain I’ll find treasure in it.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I saw something! I was struggling with something in my marriage that has come up often enough in the past 22 years to really get on my last nerve. (No naming, no shaming, no details. You can fill in your own blanks!) The important things to know are:

  1. My husband did “his thing.”
  2. I reacted doing “my thing.” (Maybe it was the other way around or simultaneous, I don’t know!)
  3. We survived it.

But somewhere in the middle of it, I had some insight into Lysa’s charge. I realized I was ferociously protecting what may be my deepest wound. Alarms were being triggered and my greatest fears were at full attention, ready to protect that wound:

  1. I am terrified of not having control, especially if it means my only hope is in someone I’m not sure I can trust to be as strong as I need them to be. (This actually includes everyone I know. Because I have some serious trust issues!)
  2. I am terrified of asking for help because it would hurt too much to be denied or it might cost too much to accept help.
  3. I am terrified of finding out that I am, after all, truly alone and insignificant. Even worse, feeling the shame of daring to believe I could be loved.

Now, understand that these fears are always there, just under the surface, ready at a moment’s notice. So they’re nothing new. And any wound I have – from the most superficial scratch to the deepest gaping wound – is always there. But most of the time, I’m so busy trying to stand still  and steady as every feeling, every anxiety storms around me that I simply allow it and wait until it’s over.

I passively let it happen and wait for it to be over. I always have.

I’ve been in therapy off and on since I was 21, and I’m pretty well aware of what my “issues” are. The fact remains that I have felt powerless to do anything about it because at the very core, I have always and only seen myself as inherently unlovable. It’s like having a shirt that is so infused with a stench that no amount of Febreeze, vinegar, tomato juice or harsh chemicals can remove the smell.

you can't go backWhich brings me to today. I’m in my 50’s and have lived my life as a defective mother, wife, employee, friend. Not that I’ve been especially bad at these roles. I just haven’t been as good at them as I’d like to have been. I feel like I’ve cheated those I’ve lived with and myself. So therapy seemed like the appropriate action plan because, you see, I was defective. I was damaged. I didn’t work right. I needed to be fixed.

How did I know? Because shame was the sweater I wore to keep me warm. I spent most of the first 21 years of my life being reminded that I was optional. The person on whom I depended for food, clothes and shelter reminded me regularly that if I didn’t like it, I could leave.

I knew she was mentally “off”. And as I grew older, I came to see just how crazy it was to live in agreement with a woman who was mentally ill. Even crazier was that ultimately I was agreeing with a mentally ill woman who was dead!

What I’m unraveling now is the fact that I thought I had only two options:

  1. Be the person my mentally ill mother said I was, or
  2. Don’t be the person my mentally ill mother said I was, although I had no idea what that looked like.

But now I know that I was missing an option:

3. Be the person God created me to be.

And this option comes with an instruction manual and a love letter!

1df2fa83d020d50c90e390b7d79e1d68Believe me when I say that I do not want to write in the blood from my deepest wound. I want you to know that if you’ve been misused or abused, I know it hurts. But I want more than anything to write from the other side of pain. I desperately want to turn to you and say, “It is possible! You can get here from there. And it’s so much better here where grace abounds and mercy is freely given!”

But here’s the thing: I’m not on the other side yet. I’m writing this journey in “real time.” After all these years, I’m ready to be healthy. I want to be whole. And I don’t care if I have scars…as long as I can stop the bleeding from my deepest wound.

 

LINE!

I don’t know how professional stage actors do things, but when I was in high school and community theater, there was one day we feared the most of all rehearsal days. We knew from the very first day of rehearsal that the day would come when we would be “off book”. This was the day our scripts were taken from our sweaty, tight fists and we were no longer allowed their comfort. It was usually a true wake-up call for me.

Too often, I’d be right there in the center of the stage, my fellow actors around me, everyone where they were supposed to be when a horrid silence fell over the auditorium. Someone had forgotten their line. I’d look to see who it was. All the eyes and tired faces looking at me hinted that it was probably me. And it was. So I scrambled for my next line, standing there like Winnie the Pooh with “Think. Think. Think.” running through my mind. Nothing! So I faced my embarrassment and did the only thing I could do.

“Line!” I called out. That was my white flag of surrender to whomever was in charge of prompting me. And I was always prompted and carried on a bit longer.

Lately, I feel as if I could call “Line!” as often as I want and there would be no answer.

I don’t know if I can’t hear the prompt, if it’s my turn to simply improvise for a bit, or if the next part of the script isn’t available yet, although it has been written. In any case, I don’t know what to say or do next. In fact, I feel much like I did when I only had a small walk-on part and waited long stretches of time backstage, waiting for my entrance and quick exit. Just waiting. Killing time. Not especially paying attention.

Psalm 81:10 (NIV) says: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I write longer posts than others. Just imagine how much more I relish the ease and immediacy of talking! I never thought I’d not know what to say. The thing is, I have a lot to say, but I’m learning that not everything needs to be said, or even said by me.

I’m certain I have a story to tell, but the trick now is to tell God’s story in which I am but a character, rather than to simply tell my story. God is doing a great work in me, and sometimes it’s more painful than other times. Currently, I feel like I’m being stripped down to what I am at my core, with God removing all the things he never intended to cover me. It’s a bit scary, this unveiling.

So I wait for my next line. I wait for God’s direction. I wait for him to fill my mouth with his story.

 

 

THE THING ABOUT FAITH

This is morning, I listened to our guest pastor discuss Hebrews 11. This is that nice chapter that starts out with: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” That’s a beautifully worded verse, isn’t it? It’s so encouraging! Then there’s the second verse: “This is what the ancients were commended for.” And a list of who “the ancients” were follows in a really poetic fashion, with the mention of each ancient beginning with “By faith….” And a sense of righteous reverence rises up in me. I think, ‘Wow! These ancients were amazing. Their faith was so strong.’

It really is an impressive list of faith. Even sprinkled by moments of mistakes and doubts, these folks finished as God intended for them to. It’s a good reminder that we will very likely make mistakes, but by our maturing faith we will be found righteous as long as we trust that God is truly a good God.

I also listened to what each of the ancients endured and came out on the other side of, even closer to God. They and all the other men and women we read about in the Bible went through some heavy, burdensome things. It makes you look back at beginning of the chapter and reconsider what is really meant by “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” We’re not talking about the hope a child has that they’re going to get a pony for Christmas, or that God’s going to bless you with winning lottery numbers so you can pay off all your debt. These people did the hard things! They did things that exemplify what God means when he says his thoughts are higher than our thoughts, his ways are higher than our ways and that he’s about to do a new thing. 

08ef2004deac5eb4c1a19b7ceacc0107The Red Sea, sacrificing a son who was inconceivably conceived, a single man telling a pharaoh (himself considered a god) that his God said to let his people go, packing up a huge household, including livestock, and going “over there” because God said to, taking 120 years to build and ark while being mocked by an entire community. No one could fault any of them for saying to God, “You’re kidding, right?” Because we don’t think that way, but God does.

God has never asked me to do the unimaginable or anything as reality-defying as the men and women of the Bible, but in my small world I have had occasions to trust him more than has been comfortable. And it was while I was pondering this fact that our guest preacher moved on to Hebrews 12 which begins, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses….” As I said, I’ve never had to ask God to part the Red Sea for me and thousands of others while an army is at our heels. But I have been overwhelmed by a season of “stuff” that required more money, more energy, or more strength than I had, and stood at the edge of my next step wondering how it was going to be okay, when it was going to be okay, knowing I really had no reasonable option but to go “by faith.”

I listened to this sermon from a pew at the back of the church. I looked out at the smattering of heads covered by gray hair or no hair among the younger looking heads. And I realized that I was surrounded by my own, personal cloud of witnesses. I attend a Methodist church and you can’t accuse them of being Pentecostal in any modern sense, but I know our older members have a deeply rooted, anchored faith that came from doing hard things “by faith.” They’ve been married to the same person longer than I’ve been alive. They’ve buried husbands, wives and children long before they wanted to. They’ve done without and gotten through it anyway. They’ve gotten through things I hope to never have to go through, and things I’ll likely still go through because I’m married, have children, work and, quite simply, because I’m alive.

These beautiful people aren’t wiser simply because they’re older. They are wiser because they’ve learned hard lessons by faith. They’ve got battle scars that others can’t see. Their armor is certainly worse for wear. They’ve fought battles on their knees. They may walk slower than they did when they were younger, but I know they walk together; and in them is still the heart of a child who knows they are loved by their Father.

I have come to love them in a way I never thought I could love anyone, and I thank God for them. This is my cloud of witnesses. What have they witnessed? God’s faithfulness, provision, strength, love to name a few things. I can read about the ancients, but I didn’t know them the way I know these people. But I know I can trust in the God of Shirley, the God of Floyd, the God of Kevin, the God of Sue, the God of Cherry, the God of Gigi, the God of Phil. And I hope that my children and grandchildren can someday find hope and confidence in the God of LaRonda – because he is – and always will be – a good God who loves them.

I JUST DON’T KNOW!

You know that feeling you get when you you open the refrigerator door, hoping to find something…anything…that might taste good? And nothing sounds good.

How about this: Nothing sounds good, so you go to the grocery store. After walking aimlessly around for about 15 minutes, you stop in the middle of an aisle and have a total melt-down because you’re surrounded on every side by plenty of things to consume, but none of it appeals to you at all.

Or how about this: Back home is one husband and three or four kids. (Who knows? They start to look like tiny gang members at some point. And you’re beginning to suspect what’s-his-name is not one of your tax deductions, but his actual parents aren’t looking for him – and you understand why.) Regardless of the body count, everyone wants to know what’s for dinner.

And you don’t know!!

There’s just this overwhelming sense of too much and not enough at the same time. You know that there should be an answer, there usually is an answer, but you couldn’t even pick one out from a multiple choice question right now.

It’s a little like the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb:

Relax
I’ll need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?

And the answer is NO. No, you can’t show where it hurts. You don’t know where it hurts.

All you know for certain is that you don’t know how you got here. It’s dark and cold. You hear soft but unfamiliar sounds. You sob silently because you want someone to hear you, to come help you find your way out, but you don’t want to feel the vulnerability of needing help. In fact, you’re not even sure of what ‘help’ would look like.

That’s when the God of suddenlies reaches down to touch his child and you’re flooded with assurance, peace and hope. Your Father heard your quiet cry and found you. He knows you. He sees you. He loves you.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

Psalm 40:1-3 New International Version (NIV)

 

We don’t always wait patiently. OK…we seldom wait patiently, do we? But we should wait patiently, shouldn’t we? We make a list of all the ways God can help us, even though experience tells us the he’s been there for us before.  He’s never left us in the slimy pit, the mud or the mire, has he?

6884915f0952ef38160ee791a080dd18He’s even there in the grocery store, where you’re standing, virtually paralyzed in Aisle 3 and you’re holding back the tears. He’s there every time we cry, “I don’t know…I just don’t know.” In fact, it’s in those moments that we give up that you can almost hear a relieved sigh right before you hear God say, “Finally! Now we can get to work. Follow me. I know a way out.”

No matter where you are or what you’ve done, never forget that you are so loved by the very God who created you!

 

 

REALLY, GOD? REALLY?!

In 1989, Tom Hanks was still 5 years away from playing Forrest Gump. He was still in his early comedic element what he starred in The Burbs, in which “an over-stressed suburbanite and his fellow neighbors are convinced that the new family on the block are part of a murderous Satanic cult.” (Stay with me here!)

It was a scene from the end of this movie that came to mind as I listened to 1 Kings 19:1-19 (NIV). (You’re about to learn a lot about how my brain works!)

Long story, short, Ahab told Jezabel about all the trouble Elijah had been stirring up. Jezabel sends a scathing message to Elijah, informing him that he’s as good as dead. So Elijah runs to Beersheba in Judah, where he drops off his servant and sets out for the wilderness another day’s distance away.

It’s here in the wilderness that Elijah plops himself under a broom bush and begs God to take his life. He’s tired! He’s fed up! He’s had enough!

So had Tom Hanks’ character, Ray Peterson. All Ray wanted was a few days of quiet, relaxing restoration at home. In no time at all, his neighbors have pulled him into an unbelievable story. In just under 1 hour and 40 minutes, Ray – like Elijah – has been pushed to the edge of reasonable limits and was fast approaching his breaking point.

No, Elijah is not an over-stressed suburbanite living next to some satanists, but I know a tired man when I see one. I also know a hissy fit when I see one. Elijah had been faithful to God. He squared off against 450 prophets of Baal, demonstrating that there were no other gods than Yahweh. And what does he get for his faithfulness? A death threat from an unstable woman.

What about him?!

Now we get to the source of his troubles. His victory has been rooted in the strength and power of God. His fear is rooted in his focus on himself. To be fair, Elijah needs a break. He needs some care and encouragement. He doesn’t really want to give up or die; he just wants some time for restoration. He is human, after all. His body needs sleep and food. His spirit needs encouragement. And God is gracious enough to meet him where he is. He even sends warm bread for Elijah.

After Elijah had fallen asleep, an angel touched him saying, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank.” (Personally, I would have been tempted to ask God if he hadn’t heard me – I’m done!) But not Elijah. “Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.” (1 Kings 19:6-9 NIV)

And now God has Elijah truly alone. Elijah has had 40 days and 40 nights in which to contemplate God’s question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

There’s so much more to Elijah’s story, but that’s for another post. Today, just be encouraged that even the mightiest of God’s chosen can grow weary. And even when we beg for it to all come to an end, our gracious Father will meet us where we are and give us what we need to keep going.

 

BUT WHY?

Very little is more frustrating than doing something simply for the sake of doing it. Many years ago, I attended a friend’s baby shower. I took my gift to the gift table and handed it to the gift table manager. She was quick to point out that the accompanying card didn’t have my friend’s name on it and suggest that I do that. Since there was only one mother-to-be at the shower, I hadn’t expected this social construct to be important. But in order for the gift table manager to have a fulfilling purpose beyond receiving and strategically stacking gifts, checking envelopes for names to add some value to an otherwise so-so responsibility. Or maybe she just really, really believed names should be on envelopes!

Sometimes, traditions get passed from one generation to the next. You know the story of the young mother asking her mother why she was always sure to cut off each end of the ham for dinner. Her mother didn’t really know why, so she asked her grandmother, who settled the matter saying, “Because none of my pans were big enough to hold a full ham.”

Simon Sinek examines this kind of thinking in this 5-minute short-cut version of Start With Why. And, yes, he focuses on business training, but when he says:

SINEK - WHY

When we look at it this way, our church families are challenged to determine why we do what we do.

It’s so tempting to look at mega churches and feel a twinge of jealousy when our own small parking lot and pew seats remain sparsely filled. What do we do when popular churches offer spectacles more electrifying than Hamilton and all the members are on their feet in a deafening praise, while we have a generation of grandparents and great-grandparents, a smattering of young families, and teens with a very short attention span?

The harvest Jesus talked about is still out there, always out there, until God gives the nod to Jesus that it’s end-game time. So…

whay-church-should-be-e1561400496199.jpgWhy do we have church? Why do we open the doors, call for volunteers and pay for building maintenance? Why do we have coffee and doughnuts available? Why do we congregate and sing together? Why do our pastors prepare a new sermon every week and our boards get together to plan?

Why? We aren’t a business. The offering isn’t a cover charge.

Why did the field workers who got hired late in the day get paid as much as the workers who put in a full, grueling day? Because there was still work to be done. It absolutely must be done because we’re running out of time!

People are finding comfort from the wrong things. People are living one day after another without knowing how very loved they are by the one Father that will never leave them or forsake them. People are dying without salvation.

Certainly, there is plenty of work to be done before the sun sets. There are people who need to be loved into salvation.

WHAT IF CHURCH

What if all we ever have are the members of our small church to be the hands and feet of God? Here’s what I see in my church family:

  • A generation with years of faith-building trials, heartache, blessings and wisdom that can only come from a long life. A generation that will not be here forever. Their hearts are soft enough to be pierced by the word of God; but their confidence in a good God is heard in their fervent prayers and felt by their gentle hands.
  • A generation of young parents who have chosen to raise their children to trust God, appreciate Jesus, listen to the Holy Spirit, and love others. Their young ones won’t be young as long as we think they’ll be. Soon, they’ll be…
  • Our youth, the ones who will elect the people who will determine the legislation that affect all of us. They’ll create and run business that will set standards of trust and transparency. They will be the thermostat for their community, their state, their country. They are the ones to whom we will entrust the harvest we don’t have the time to finish.

I think we need to know why we do church. I think we need to determine if we need to keep putting a name on a card when it can only go to one person. Maybe we need to figure out why we keep cutting the ends off our hams. There are far too many souls out there waiting to be loved into the kingdom of God for us to be wasting our resources on anything that doesn’t help get them there.

COME HOME

I ended my last post with “You are so loved!” I tell my family that often. They give me so much joy that I could never not love them. But this morning, after I’d texted my teenage daughter that she was ‘so loved’, Holy Spirit nudged me and said, “So are you. You and the rest of the world are so loved that God gave his only son, that whoever believes in the son will not perish but will have everlasting life. We are all so loved by our Father. He wants everyone to just come home where they belong! He already has a place at the table with our name on it.

That’s a pretty decent WHY!

Let’s pray that as fishers of men, we are as able to pull in a net bulging to the point of breaking as we are to trust Christ to tell us where to throw the net out and that we’re willing to throw it out at his word no matter how many times we’ve already tried or how tired we are.

And remember…you are so loved!

 

 

 

 

 

OK…FALSE ALARM!

OK. You know what? I think I just needed a nap, a hug, and some good friends!

norman rockwellOnce again, God gave me a crash course in assurance. Most of my lessons are like this because I think God has this tiny window of opportunity before I change my mind. Seriously, I’m like that kid – you know the one – who gets to the edge of the diving board and is too scared to jump but they can’t really go back to the stairs either so they just stand there hoping the world will open up and swallow them whole but it doesn’t so they go ahead and jump with the conviction that they’re about to drown to death but when they don’t die they figure death would have been better than being embarrassed. Yeah, I’m like that kid.

Shortly after I called the wahh-mbulance the other day, I opened an email from Morgan Harper Nichols. Unlike most of the subscriptions I get emails from, she’s gone to the trouble of personalizing her emails with the recipient’s first name. And that means I saw this as the subject line before I even opened the email: You’re not alone LaRonda.

I know. Right?

Of course, as nice as it was, all I could think was, ‘Maybe you’re not alone, but I’m pretty sure I am.’

I was wrong. So very wrong. Because I’m lazy, I’ve cut  and pasted the rest of Morgan’s message:

When you find yourself in a new place, and you are trying find your footing, may you never feel that you have to navigate it alone. Consider it a blessing that there are other people in this world that you can learn from, even if you are not able to speak to them directly.

You may not be able to be as open to your boss or a colleague as you would like to, or you may not be able to seek wise counsel from family members like you wish you could, but that does not mean you have reached the limit on who you can look to or reach out to.

And it’s okay if “reaching out” takes you out of comfort zone. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. The moment you take the step to ask a question or express a need that you have is a bold rejection of the lie that you were meant to do this alone. It does not make you needy. It does not make you weak.

So don’t be so hard on yourself. If you feel that reaching out makes you vulnerable, it does…and it has also made you strong. You were never meant to be in this alone. And the more you begin taking steps to live out this truth, the more you will begin to see just how much it makes a difference in you.

May this be the week you begin to practice stepping out of your comfort zone just a little bit more. May you begin to open your heart to possibility that vulnerability takes courage and the willingness to accept that you have no idea what is going to happen. Be honest about what you are thinking and feeling this week. Be honest with yourself. Be mindful of the moments where you feel tempted to shut down or withdraw or give up. And it’s okay to have these moments and being able to acknowledge them is a huge step in working through them.

Sincerely,
Morgan Harper Nichols

Yesterday, I went to church and was surrounded by amazing people who had not only had their faith tested and strengthened, but are in the midst of a trial right now. It’s foolishness to think your problems are more insurmountable than someone else’s. I don’t think I’m struggling with how bad I think things are. I know there are painful things that I can’t imagine having to go through, and my heart breaks for anyone carrying such a load.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about painful things that can never change until we’re Home. Two people in our church family have lost their spouse this year. Another woman had her leg amputated. A young woman I once worked with lost her five-month old boy to SIDS. People don’t return to life. A limb isn’t going to grow back. I can eventually pay off debt or purchase another car. I can even arrange things to compensate for the changes in me since my open-heart surgery. And I’ll eventually learn how to work with one good arm and one permanently dislocated arm. It won’t always be easy, but it can be done.

However, some things do not change. There are some things that I can’t fix, and that makes me feel powerless and vulnerable. (That was harder to say than you might think.)

I’ve spent most of my life garnering as much control as I could because I was the only person I could count on to not hurt me. (And, honestly, I’ve probably been crueler to myself than anyone else has ever been.)

So right now, I need help to carry things, to cook, to do my job. I have to ask for help when I need it. Here’s what can happen:

  • Someone will gladly help me.
  • Someone will help me but not exactly the way I would have done it – which, of course, is the right way.
  • Someone will help me and then hold it over me when they need to leverage it for guilt.
  • Someone will say ‘No.’

That gives me a 50% chance be being hurt. And a 100% chance that I won’t ask for help until I’m desperate.

Fortunately, God has put people in my life who are as persistent as they are kind. Fortunately, God has infinite patience with me as he teaches me that it’s okay to ask for and accept help. And that I can be secure that if I reach out my hand, there will be someone there to hold it.

ec5383b9db4af15f6f4fd41c22f70b80

Sometimes, I just have to be brave enough to jump and trust that there are lifeguards who won’t let me drown. Yeah…pretty sure.