Rainy days and Wednesdays…

Today is Wednesday and it’s raining. Sitting on the covered back porchimg_9198 watching the rain and hearing the distant thunder, I found myself humming a familiar old pop song from the 70s: hummm, hummm hummm… rainy days and Mondays always get me down…

Although I was fully present, watching the birds splash around in the birdbath and then search for worms in the freshly wet soil, I was magically two places at the same time: my safe, dry, covered porch and the tumultuous stormy time when rainy days were not so safe and peaceful.

I had recently been scrolling through Instagram and found a post that had the old Carpenters song Rainy Days and Mondays embedded in her story. Maybe that’s why it was fresh in my mind. Smooth and melodic, it flowed beautifully from an angelic voice but a troubled heart and mind. It was my “go to” song back in college whenever I needed a good cry. Today I pulled it up on my phone and let the old melodies and memories wash over me like the rumble of the distant thunder and the cleansing of the pouring rain.

Then I came to a subtle, yet stunning, revelation: the song wasn’t making me sad as I listened to it today. Was it because it was a Wednesday and it changed the whole song context? Or was there a deeper work and awareness of a long ago place that had quietly, almost imperceivably, healed?

It made me realize and appreciate that I’m in a very different place now.

It also made me reflect on mental health…the reality, crisis, the concerns, the misunderstandings, and all the unknowns. Sadness, depression, anxiety, and all the diagnoses that get placed on troubled hearts, disturbed spirits, and confused minds.

img_9200It also reminded me of beautiful, young, troubled Karen Carpenter and the life and breath and talent that literally wasted away in front of cameras and producers and specialists and fame and the eyes of all who heard, watched, and loved her. She is still my favorite.

I had never heard of anorexia before Karen. Millions hadn’t. How might things have ended differently with an earlier diagnosis? Quicker, more specific intervention, more education, more counsel, the right medicine…? I have no answers. I understand they did the best the could with the information and resources they had at the time. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Where the brain, spirit, heart, and hurt collide is a pool too deep for most to navigate with clear understanding.

Then I ask myself the same questions…for myself, my friends, my family, people I see at work: How might life be different with the right intervention, the right friend, the right diagnosis, the right chemical balance, the right word at the right time, the right removal of the cloud that follows our minds and confuses our hearts and our thinking?

img_9160My first encounter with suicide was in high school. My friend wasn’t at the bus stop one morning and I just assumed he had slept in. No…he had put a gun to his chest and pulled the trigger. Gone. In a moment, I knew he was troubled. He was angry. He smoked too much and drank too much. I didn’t know at the time that he was medicating hurt and confusion. Years later my cousin did the exact thing. He was my favorite but I never told him. Maybe I should have. Questions without answers. Should I have? What if? Why?

I suspect that we have all been in dark cloudy places of varying degrees…just “hanging around, nothing to do but frown…”  Not to minimize serious mental illness…I have seen it destroy minds and lives and dreams and families. Just to say that some feelings and experiences are universal. Sadness is universal and timeless. Anger is something we all experience. Discouragement weighs heavy in many seasons. Fear, confusion, comparison, self-defeat. Too many to name. I have wept. Jesus wept. I suspect you have wept too.

But out of angst, sadness, and near-defeat often come life-changing strength, encouragement, and inspiration. Some of the best poetry, songs, plays, stories, art, ministries, and outreaches have been birthed out of soulful desperation and darkness. And have also created platforms for awareness, for help, for hope.

Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.  – Morgan Harper Nichols

But there is no black and white. No magic formula that works in every season and situation. We can’t say to an anorexic, just eat. To the bulimic, just stop it. To someone depressed, just snap out of it. To someone in a bipolar rage, just calm down. There are a myriad other ways we unintentionally downplay or say it inappropriately: just do it, img_9197don’t do it, cheer up, get over it, just have more faith, pray more, get more sunshine….

Is there an answer? A cure? Hope? I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Mental and emotional health are complex. Relationships are complex and are often at the root of serious wounding.

But where we are wounded is often where we are healed, how we are healed, and how we eventually are able to offer help to another. For myself, it was a long hard journey. It continues to be a journey. But healing has been found in safe, healthy relationships and through seeking and believing the truth of the Word of God.

The world is seeking to know and be known. img_9161To have purpose and meaning. To belong. To be seen and heard.

“Nothing is really wrong…feeling like I don’t belong…” I’m not sure I really believe that line. I believe there is always something to be heard in that feeling. Something really is wrong. That sadness, that emptiness, that anger, that frustration, that _____. You fill in the blank. It is just sometimes so very hard to identify. To name. But it’s so important to attempt to name it. It says that it matters. It hurt. Is it sadness, anger, unmet need, unresolved grief, unrealized expectation or dream? It often takes two or more to look and see and pray and hope. It is so easy to lose heart when the battle rages from within and without. Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble…but He also encouraged us to take heart, believing He has overcome. Take heart. ❤

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.  -C.S. Lewis

Sozo is a Greek work translated many ways: safe, sound, healed, delivered, set free. I believe there is healing to be found: through faith, through time, through relationships, through counseling, through medications, through seeking truth.  I believe there is a God who creates and knows all the intricacies of his creation. Body. mind, and spirit. I believe He can heal completely. In this world or the next. But in the present, He can also use every pain and affliction for our and others’ ultimate good and his glory. He used Jacob’s limp, Joseph’s bondage, Moses’ lisp, Naaman’s leprosy, David’s adultery, the blind man’s blindness, the lame’s affliction, the demoniac’s possession, Peter’s denial, and so many more. He can use our darkness, depression, and what every affliction we find ourselves bearing. In due time and in the right season and situation. But for now we can offer hope and love. And we can strive to learn and reach out and hold close and hang on to those we love and value.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13

img_9212Nowadays I love the rain. Love a good IMG_7255thunderstorm. I still get down sometimes. Sad, angry, frustrated, confused. We are fearfully and wonderfully made to experience a full realm and range of emotions and reactions. But it’s never as dark and lonely as it used to be. Now there is hope, I pray you hold onto hope as well.

 

I Didn’t Go to the Beach…

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.  Psalm 29:3-4

I didn’t go to the beach to find answers, but there I was…on the beach, the wind urgently clamoring and the waves pressing in: What are you afraid of? img_9429Is that what I was really hearing? With every roar and crash of the tumultuous tide, my mind felt the same turbulence. It felt as if the waves were talking to me, calling me out…and in. Why are you running? Was that question for me or for the nervous little sandpiper that darted and dashed both toward and then away from the searching waves? Did it doubt its ability to fly? To swim? To navigate the rushing, unpredictable waters? I am that sandpiper, I thought. I get excited, I rush in, I get overwhelmed or consider the cost, I pull back or run away. I doubt my strength, my identity, my ability to navigate the deep unknown. Was I afraid? Was I running?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  Psalm 42:7

I didn’t go to the beach to forgive, but there I was…on the beach, studying the footprints of so img_9424many who had walked before, near, or over my own prints in the sand. As the waves gently washed over the prints, many disappeared, leaving fresh, untouched sand. A clean slate. Yet others remained visible until they were washed again, and again, and again. Like the sometimes long journey to forgiveness. The waves were rough, it was hard, but it was cleansing. The remaining beautiful sand shone and sparkled with the radiance of the sun and the power of the cleansing waves. Still others remained long after our paths had crossed and I had moved far along the shore, not looking back. People leave footprints in our lives…tracks that are often deeply imprinted on our hearts and souls. Some are good and encourage us to follow. img_9425-1Some tread heavily with no regard to damage caused and deep tracks left behind. Are there imprints that I still guard with regret and defense? What tracks have I left behind?

Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love freely and openly…You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.    -Wm Paul Young, The Shack

I didn’t go to the beach to explore or question myself. But when the volume of the world is turned down, the responsibilities are left at home, and books and quiet reflection become the duties of the day…words speak. They speak from the wind and the waves and they leap from the pages you read while lounging by the shore.

You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours.   -Ann Wilson Schaef

Sounds oversimplified. drseussDr. Seuss also said it with simple eloquence. As thunderstorms rumbled in over the beach, I settled in for a simple teaching video, Becoming Myself. That’s where I was reminded of the wisdom of Dr. Seuss. Childlike and simple, not tangled in the lies, deceit, and false facades the world offers and encourages. What does it mean to become myself? How does it happen and when will I know it is complete? Is it ever complete? And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor 3:18

I didn’t go to the beach to search, to forgive, or to learn. I went to enjoy sand, sun, seafood, and friendship. To relax. But the first day on the beach I read Psalm 29, and the voice of the Lord really was over the waters. (Ps 29:3)

img_9422

 

Broken Pieces

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Cor 4:8-9

The sound of glass shattering broke the silence of a very still, quiet morning alone at home. I somehow knew what it was the moment I heard it from the other room. There in the floor lay the pieces of a small decorative plate that had been propped precariously on a bathroom shelf. It wasn’t an IMG_6233expensive relic and it didn’t hold any special sentimental value, but I cringed when I heard it hit the floor. A small thing really, but I had bought it as a little token of encouragement and remembrance: What sets your heart free? As I held the broken pieces, contemplating whether to glue it back together or to discard it, it mysteriously seemed both strong and fragile at the same time. Encouraging and inquisitive, yet humble and broken. There was one clean, well-defined break where it could have shattered into a hundred pieces. For a brief moment that humble little plate reflected the lives, circumstances, and expressions etched on a dozen different faces and places in my mind. My own heart included.

My mind flashed back to a circle of a dozen godly women who introduced themselves and then proceeded to lay their hearts and their hurts open and vulnerable within the confines and security of the huddled group. Each described various losses she had recently experienced. IMG_6238It had been months since I had heard their words and seen their faces but it felt brand new as I remembered how through tears, sighs, clinched fists, shallow breaths, and faithful prayers came testimonies of devastating losses: loss of home, loss of spouse, loss of security, dream, or direction, loss of job…and then what I initially thought was the ultimate loss: the loss of a child. They were each walking through various stages of loss, grief, healing, and restoration.  Today as my hands held the broken pieces of plate and my mind rehearsed the broken pieces and echoes of so many lives, I realized none of my precious friends had really suffered the ultimate loss: the loss of hope. Even through pain, lack of understanding, or brokenness, each faithful friend expressed faith in a God who sees and the hope of complete healing, restoration, and purpose in all the pain..

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.     -Lamentations 3:21-23

Looking back over the broken pieces held in my img_8598open hand…I almost missed it. One word  wedged rather nondescriptly between little ink blobs that appear to be butterfly wings: “surrender”

Surrender. Why do we make that seem like such a bad word? Like it means weakness or giving up? Surrender = cease resistance.

Cease resistance. Quit fighting. Be still. Maybe brokenness and surrender go hand in hand? Surrender = the action of yielding one’s person or giving up the possession of something especially into the power of another.(Merriam-Webster)

But choose wisely what and who you surrender to. Surrendering to hate, fear, anxiety, worry, addiction, discouragement, or denial will cement your heart in darkness and bondage. Surrendering to faith, hope, love, and the God who sees and cares and loves brings truth, hope, and freedom. Maybe what sets your heart free is to recognize there is beauty in brokenness, power in surrender, light in the darkness, healing in affliction, hope in despair.

A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.
       In faithfulness He will bring forth justice..  Is 42:3

Well…It’s still just a small broken plate which many would have discarded; but it has found its new home on my foyer table: a reminder that we all have broken pieces and broken places, but also strength, beauty, and purpose. Even if it is simply to remind others that there is beauty and hope in each day. So today I am thankful that my life has intersected with others and, in our losses and brokenness, we have found common ground, connection, faith, and hope.  Let me ask this: What sets your heart free?

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.   – Jesus, John 8:32

IMG_5426My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.  Ps 51:17

A Mother’s Heart

“Her children rise up and call her blessed…”  Proverbs 31:28

“Whenever I held my newborn baby in my arms, I used to think that what I said and did to him could have an influence not only on him but on all whom he met, not only for a day or a month or a year, but for all eternity — a very challenging and exciting thought for a mother.”  Rose Kennedy


Mother. What a complex picture that short two syllable word is able to paint. Both a noun and a verb, it’s a longing, a calling, a privilege, an honor, a blessing, a duty, and a lifelong walking out and responsibility. It is able to create myriad emotions in both the speaker and the hearer of the word.

Happy Mother’s Day!   img_9635

Several months ago, a precious friend of mine shared a tender, heartfelt message she had written. Whether simply an emotional outlet or a deeper, more complex expression of her grief, it immediately flooded me with so many conflicting emotions as I read it. I have her permission to share it. Meg lost her mom at an early age to a devastating battle with Alzheimer’s disease. On what would have been her mother’s 64th birthday, she wrote these pained yet poignant words:

“Some days I just can’t encapsulate my emotions in words. I just love her. I miss her. I want her back. I still have questions. She needs to teach me more stuff. I don’t feel equipped to be a mom without being able to call her and talk through it. I need her. I know…I am selfish. She’s whole and happy and fulfilled…I sure do miss her. Today hurts.”   (Meg Luttrell)

My heart hurt for her. I couldn’t begin to explain the burden and the heaviness that washed over me when I first read that. Even now, I expect the responses are as varied and personal as the number of eyes reading these words. Although very painful, what a tremendous tribute! What a beautiful picture of love, motherhood, and relationship Meg penned from the depths of her loss and hurt: a relationship that embodied love and need and nurture as God must have intended it; even though the time was limited, cut short by sickness and human frailty.

If you are a mother, you’re probably accustomed to wearing many hats: cook, coach, img_9638teacher, nurse, chauffeur, counselor, confidante, role-model, and so many others. Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as being like the apostle Paul: a missionary to teach the gospel and share the love of Christ and to equip the saints, no matter how small the saints may be. 🙂 Then again, maybe you have, and it seems overwhelming at times. It’s a high and holy calling. It really is a privilege. Some days, in the busyness of life, you wonder if you make a difference. Does all this really matter?  The lists, laundry, the wiping, the cleaning, the carpooling, the waiting, the repeating… It all matters.

Love, miss, want, teach, equip… Those were a few of the words Meg used. Perhaps your mother modeled that well and did effectively love, teach, and equip you with all the tools and abilities to love and learn and do and receive. Maybe she was beautifully representative of Jesus and you have been gifted with the faith and capacity to love God, others, and yourself and to see beauty and value in life and relationships. If so, rejoice! Be thankful. Know that you were loved and blessed. Even if she is no longer with you and you feel the pain of loss, her fingerprints still show on all you touch and teach and love.

But… we live in a fallen world and have strayed so far away from God’s original design. Maybe your mother didn’t or wasn’t able to love, to teach, or to effectively equip you to love, relate, and receive well. Maybe there is pain caused by sin, separation, poor choices..intentional or unintentional. It still hurts. Maybe, like Paul, there is a thorn of hurt that has wedged itself into your side and you still wince and feel the pain of emotional or physical injury..or lack and loss.  If so, grieve.  Just as we grieve the loss of love, support, and companionship through death, we may need to grieve the lack, as well as the loss. When God said He would be father to the fatherless, many are quick to embrace it. Do we limit him? Can he not be like a mother to the motherless? What about Zeph 3:17 when He rejoices over you with singing? Like a lullaby? Nurturing? Comforting?  Consider the encouraging words of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

From grief, mourning, and despair to comfort, joy, and restoration.

IMG_5902Rejoice in your great blessings. Grieve the losses and allow God to heal and restore, then believe. Believe, not only that the body of Christ is perfectly equipped to step in and provide for your needs, but that you are also part of that body and you are called to be his hands, his feet, his heart. Believe that God has a purpose in the pain of losing, the pain of not having, or the strain of imperfect, contentious relationships. Not that He authored the loss or the struggle, but that He sees and is able to create beauty from the ashes of a fallen world. Believe that you have been crafted and gifted with a mother’s heart. If you have children, you have experienced it first-hand. If you don’t have children, consider your other relationships. Have you ever had a shoulder to cry on? Been a shoulder to cry on? Had another woman ask for advice, need direction, just want a cup of coffee and a few words of wisdom or encouragement? Prayed for a friend? Been concerned for a friend’s well-being? Just sat quietly, no words needed, and been present? That is a mother’s heart and you have been gifted. Believe that you are that vessel, that tool, nick-fewings-ka7REB1AJl4-unsplashthat platform, that word of encouragement, bit of sustaining manna, drink of water, or light in the darkness that God will use to bring light, life, and hope to someone else.

Thank you, Meg, for sharing your hurt and your heart. Even in that, your mother’s legacy continues. ❤

Words are important. The work of your hands and your heart is important and leaves an indelible imprint on the lives of others. I encourage you to consider your work, consider your words, consider your sphere of influence. Consider that the Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon you and He has anointed you to proclaim the good news, to assist the brokenhearted, to provide light and relief, and to comfort. You will be called oaks of righteousness and a planting of the Lord. Believe it. What’s the quirky old cliché: Bloom where you’re planted.    plant

                   *Happy Mother’s Day*

Grateful, Thankful…Sad

There…I said it. Sad. I am sad.

I actually said those three little words out loud to no one else’s ears this week: “I am sad.” That’s when I thought about the little sign that hangs over the window in my breakfast area that has three other popular, Pinterest-worthy words scripted out in fancy lettering: Grateful, Thankful, Blessed.

Then in the quiet stillness of my room I said aloud: “I am grateful. I am thankful, I am 1a98afed-1ae6-46fa-902c-13c9257cac59blessed. But I’m still sad.” And, speaking aloud, I realized it was okay, Okay to be sad. Okay to cry. I wasn’t ungrateful. It didn’t minimize my thankfulness or rob me of blessing.

I didn’t start out my day sad. It started with a simple video someone had shared. Not even a sad video. An informative, supposedly encouraging video, but it nudged a tender spot and magnified an unmet need that I hadn’t given attention to in a very long time. I had no choice but to put everything else on hold and attend to it at that moment.

There are so many cliches about growing and blooming and thriving in the midst of the mundane and ordinary moments of life: “Loves grows best img_5536in little houses” and “Bloom where you’re planted.” How about a few more specific phrases to apply to the places where I found myself this week: “Bloom where you’re quarantined” or “Weeds grow deepest when they’re ignored and not attended.” The details buried in my messy little garden of sadness aren’t important right now; but the overwhelming, unexpected response to sifting and weeding through the dense, tangled growth caught me off guard at the moment.

I really am grateful, thankful, and blessed! So very blessed. But sometimes I am sad and it has taken me a long time to understand that that is okay. Even longer to admit and name the sadness.

Approximate day 5000 of the quarantine, hiding from the threatened effects of an enemy so small we can’t even see it…is when I realized there was a bigger threat looming. There was a deep sadness knocking at my door. Should I put on mask and gloves and let it in? No, that would just be sanitizing and cautiously mishandling it. Maybe I needed to be totally exposed to whatever was knocking. A friend recently asked me if I thought vulnerability was a bad thing. Is it? Or does “safe vulnerability” build up healing antibodies to make you stronger and healthier? Who or what defines safe? That sounds like a post for later.

Truthfully,  that morning’s sadness had absolutely nothing to do with the virus, threat of illness, being hunkered down at home, or every moment of my usual habits and existence being stripped away. It had everything to do with being still and all the to-do lists and pressures of daily life being halted and silenced for a fleeting, yet revealing, moment in my personal emotional history.

Be still and know that I am God.     -Psalm 46:10    img_5523

Yes, I was being still…a forced stillness; and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. The morning that the great sadness came pouring in had nothing to do with being home, out of work, potential financial problems, worry about the pandemic, or any relational struggles. It had everything to do with the quiet stillness of a brief respite away from distractions and external voices. My ears were open and my heart was vulnerable.

There’s that word again: vulnerable. What was this great sadness? It doesn’t really matter right now. It could be a thousand things that have happened or a single thing that hasn’t. But at that moment it was a doorway I had to choose to cross over, gently close and pretend no one was there, or slam tightly shut.

Sadness is the feeling that speaks to how much you value what is missed, what is gone, and what is lost.     

 -Chip Dodd, The Voice of the Heart

So…sadness can be a good thing? A hard feeling, a gut-wrenching pain…but a catalyst to open your eyes to value and worth and loss and lack? I would ask these questions cautiously but intentionally: Are you grateful? Are you thankful? Are you blessed? Are you sad? Are you feeling a loss? A lack or an absence?

img_5522I certainly can’t answer for you. Being grateful is an external response to your internal feelings of thankfulness. It is an ongoing practice. It takes work and realization and choosing to see; but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Are you blessed? If you are alive and breathing and have access to be reading and understanding information at all, then, yes, you are blessed! Are you sad? I am sorry if you are sad; but sadness isn’t all bad. It tells you something matters. It tells you something is missing, misgiven, mistaken, or misunderstood. It matters. It tells you your heart is still beating and feeling and sensing and yearning.

Chip Dodd also writes “Either we value life and deal with the losses we have experienced, or they will eventually burst open and deal with us as consequences that occur due to denial of grief. If we dare listen to our sadness and value the losses it declares, we will awaken to the restoring power of grief. Grief, in turn, leads us to acceptance.”

Acceptance fosters peace and understanding. But maybe your fill-in-the-blank word isn’t sad. Maybe you are grateful, thankful, ______. Afraid. Lonely. Confused. Angry. Hurting.

Maybe they all could be plugged into that equation. Maybe we need to deal with our afraid, our lonely, our confusion, our angry, our losses, our hurting.

img_5524The more I looked around my home, the more reminders I found of blessing. Choosing to be present and to see blessing in the here and now didn’t disguise or minimize the sadness. But a little sadness looks even smaller in a room filled with life and light and laughter and love. Sometimes I look up and read the sign to remember: Grateful, thankful, blessed. I have two other signs around my window, both hand-lettered scripture verses.

Acts 2:46 They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. And a simple catchword from Colossians 3:23 Whatever:img_5521

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. 

 

Yesterday I was very sad. And it’s okay.

I even cried, The prophets cried out. Job was saddened unto desiring death. King David poured out his sadness into Psalms and laments. Even Jesus wept. So I guess it’s okay for me to cry too.

His mercies are new every morning

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning

img_5532Today is a new day. Have hope, have love, have a heart and eyes to seek and see blessing. And have permission to feel your sadness. Feel your pain. Feel your joy. Even feel your anger. You can still be grateful, thankful, and blessed in the midst of the mess. You can even be a little sad.

 

(And when you are sad and the quarantine is over, come to my table and we can truly break bread and eat together with glad and sincere hearts. Blessings.)

And someday: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.   Rev 21:4

2020: Seeing Clearly

I was in high school when Prince’s blockbuster song 1999 hit the charts. At that time, the year 1999 seemed like an imaginary, far-off possibility. As my friends and I calculated how old we would be when 1999 was finally ushered in, I discovered that I would be in my early 30’s! It sounded so old at the time.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 1999 and I wasn’t “partying like it’s 1999,” as the song suggested. Instead, I was sitting home with a 4 year old and a 3 month old…and loving it! King Solomon said There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… It was a great season. What’s the old saying? The days go slow but the years go fast… 

At the start of a new year, many people find themselves reflecting on the memories,  challenges, changes, and blessings from the previous year. img_1863Others project ahead and resolve to change a pattern, a habit, a belief, or other situation. Let’s do both!

20/20! We’ve all heard the term denoting visual acuity…sharpness, clarity. So is it any wonder that much of the hype and excitement surrounding this particular new year focuses on seeing and projecting ahead? It’s a milestone! Not only a new year…but a brand new decade!

In 1972, Johnny Nash released a song titled I Can See Clearly Now:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

9a356e0b-95a8-4f20-8bed-2c7ef0ad0277As the new year approaches, a primary question I offer is: What will it take for me to see clearly in the new year? In relation to the song, other questions to consider: what obstacles are blinding my true vision or causing distortion in what I perceive? Also…what are some things I can leave behind in this decade as I forge ahead into the next? Please stick with me and we’ll look at 10 things to leave behind and 10 things to embrace and bring with us into 2020.  Let’s leave behind:

1. Comparison: Oh…I’m so guilty. I remember first reading a small laminated copy of the poem Desiderata (Latin, meaning “things desired”) in high school: If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. As an awkward teenager, I really needed to hear that! But peer pressure and the desire to perform, or conform, doesn’t stop once the diploma is in hand and you walk off the stage. With the rise of social media, to some extent we’re all living on a stage! I’ve lived it, I’ve raised two children, I’ve walked side by side with other women, and I’ve seen and talked with hundreds of other people who have fallen into the trap of comparison. Teddy Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The apostle Paul said:

…let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. -Romans 12:6 (MSG)

No one is immune, but I believe woman are especially vulnerable to comparison. Am I good enough, thin enough, smart enough, talented enough, mom enough, Pinterest-worthy…you get the idea. I challenge you…and me…to stop the comparison and to be mindful of each blessing, opportunity, and person we have in our lives. Celebrate each breath and the ways our bodies live and breathe and move and function. Comparison? Leave it behind.

2. Negative self-talk: It so often goes along with comparison. Again, I’m guilty. It may seem so innocent…unless you really listen: I’m so stupid. I’ll never get better. Nothing good ever happens to me… But listen again to the apostle Paul:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. -Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

If you believe in the inerrancy of scripture, shouldn’t this verse apply to how we talk about ourselves as well as others? How about the wise words of motivational speaker Christine Arylo: “Be nice to yourself… It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time.” I often ask people I counsel if they would speak to a small, impressionable child the way they talk to themselves. Or speak the same words to their best friend. Speak kindly to yourself. Truth…but in love.

3. Discontentment: Part of the terrible triad mix & match equation! Comparison + negative self-talk = discontentment. Pretty sure we could interchange the variables in multiple ways and still end up with similar responses: (discontentment + negative self-talk = comparison, etc…) How quickly and easily we forget that we img_1870are often currently living the life we once wished for or prayed about. Count Your Blessings is an old hymn written in the late 1800s:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

In no way do I intend to minimize pain, suffering, and other difficulties. Life is hard and the world is broken. But there can still be beauty in the midst of the brokenness. Jesus told us that “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)  Is thankfulness the opposite of discontent? Probably not…but it at least offers to loosen the heavy cloak and lighten the burden of discontentment. Be thankful for one thing today. And then another…and another. And you will find that discontent becomes smaller and more quiet in the coming year.

4. Worry: It has many different names and expressions…anxiety, panic, nervousness, apprehension, fear, dread…  The entire verse from John 16:33 says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? -Jesus  (Mt 6:27)

I don’t intend to minimize serious mental health concerns. Bad things happen. Terrible, fear-creating events that are totally out of our control. Anxiety is an ever-growing, increasingly serious, pervasive condition in our society. Thankfully, it is also very treatable with professional help, time, and ongoing commitment. But day-by-day worry is a choice often hidden behind habit and personal experience. Let’s commit to look clearly ahead at 2020 with intentional vision to see our daily concerns and struggles as they are…not minimized and not magnified. Also, pray about and seek to identify the triggers that threaten to steal your peace and create fear and worry. Turn off the news, silence the phone, limit social media. Put boundaries up between you and those people and situations that create anxiety and strife. Then you will be able to see more clearly.

5. Bitterness: As I typed that word, I thought another terrible trio: bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. (more about forgiveness later…)  Where does one start and the other begin? Possible ways to identify these dangerous feelings: bitterness leaves a bad taste in your mouth or a scowl on your face. Resent = resend. Are you replaying/re-sending the same words, events, and injustices over and over in your mind and heart and attaching chain2faces to the feelings? That’s resentment. Unforgiveness = unforgiving = unwilling or unable to forgive. It’s the inability to let it go and to move forward unshackled from an offense.  Where there is one there are usually the others; and they weigh heavy on your journey. Leave them behind…like unloading rocks from a heavy backpack or taking pebbles off a scale until it’s perfectly balanced. You do it one hard thing at a time. What do you need to take off the scale and leave behind this year?

6. Misplaced anger: Anger gets a bad rap. Appropriate, well-played anger motivates people to rise up to defend their families, their countries, or their causes. To pursue a better life. It fuels passion and creativity. But misplaced or unrestrained anger has the ability to destroy relationships, families, and individuals. It seems to be a common go-to emotion. But it’s really a temperature gauge. A check engine light. It may need a skilled mechanic to diagnose it and shut it down while it’s still just a warning. What, or who, is pushing your button or flipping your switch? Just as a compass points north, misplaced anger points back to something or someone. Often a grave injustice… but sometimes just a drastic misunderstanding. It’s 2020…inspect it, repair it. Put anger in its proper place and use it wisely.

7. Apathy: Shake off the dusty cobwebs of apathy. Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, concern, or passion. It’s the whatever or who cares attitude that has become so prevalent in recent years. It is desensitization to the injustice and cares of the world. To suffering and loss…or to growth and achievement. It is neither hot nor cold…simply  lukewarm. Pray for a heart to see and a passion to care about what’s going on around you. Seek motivation to move out of your comfort zone and be aware and engaged.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  *

8. Overindulgence:  There’s an old saying: Too much of a good thing… It can be finished in multiple ways: is a bad thing, leads to obsession or addiction, makes you miserable, etc… Think for a moment. Consider when something that has brought you temporary pleasure eventually caused you pain, guilt, loss, or other negative consequence. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.  Food, medication, alcohol, television, or even excessive cell phone use can lead us into distraction and escape…away from quality time to invest in relationships and our own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Seek balance. 20/20.

9. Busyness: Our society is busier than ever. Our days and hours are full of appointments, activities. and various must-do-and-be-at activities. Our schedules are full but many times our hearts and our spirits are empty. And…we are tired, we are stressed, and we often feel disconnected even in the middle of the crowds and busyness.  A few questions to consider: What is essential? What is life-giving? What promotes emotional and spiritual growth or a tangible reward? Check your schedule. I’m not advocating hitting eject on every nonessential activity; nor is it good for you to be  secluded or uninvolved. Just consider ordering and prioritizing your time in 2020. What will really matter at the end of this year…and the next?

10. A bad habit:  Just one! You may have a list of a dozen, but consider one simple habit, quirk, or pattern that plagues you and has likely followed you for years. Too many times we reach the end of the year (or the end of ourselves!) and make unrealistic goals and commitments. Then we become discouraged or self-critical. Let’s forge ahead with 20/20 vision. Set a clear, realistic goal. Don’t set yourself up for failure or disappointment by planning a complete overhaul. Focus on one small change. One bad habit you can drop at the back door of 2019 and enter 2020 with better focus, clarity, and direction. Envision one step, and then another. Be realistic and optimistic. 


Don’t give up now! We’ve talked about what to leave behind in the old decade. Now let’s look at 10 things we should bring with us into 2020 to have a brand new start! Let’s commit to:

1. Reach out to a friend! Someone you haven’t seen since high school, someone you’ve noticed at church, that quiet person at work… You may already have a hundred friends…you may only have one. The number that you have is not the important factor. Quality > quantity. Explore the new and cherish the old! Be real, be honest, be you. And let them be real, be honest, and be themselves.  Laugh, cry, hug, have fun. Be serious, be silly, just be. You may not think you need a new friend, but a brand new friend may need you! 🙂

2. Talk to somebody. A friend, a pastor, a counselor, a stranger… Many people are starving for connection and conversation. Make small talk in elevators and grocery check out lines. Reconnect with high school friends. Talk about the weather and the flowers blooming. Talk about hopes and dreams. Talk about disappointments, pains, and things you wish you could do over. Tell somebody something that makes you happy, sad, expectant, or maybe even a little fearful. Talk about the hard things. Talk about the secrets. Tell your story to someone you trust…even the most painful things. See a counselor if you need to. Everyone needs to be heard.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
    but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.  -Proverbs 11:14

3. Read a book! Read fiction. Image result for dr seuss the more that you readRead nonfiction. Read children’s books through your adult eyes and experiences. Read magazines and cereal boxes. Studies consistently show that the majority of people quit reading once they are out of school. But reading stimulates creativity, improves memory and imagination, and enlarges your borders. Oh, the places you will go! Visit a library or bookstore. Look and touch and smell and let the words leap off the pages and into your mind and imagination. Even better…into your heart and soul.

4. Read the Bible. Even if you aren’t a believer… Give it a shot!  It is full of history, wisdom, scandal, poetry, romance, music, and revelation. Challenge it. Open it and enter in questioning, doubting, wondering…   2 Timothy 3:16-17 says All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  Seek and you just might find what you’re looking for.

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5. Write! A pen, a pencil, a keyboard…it doesn’t matter. Write your story, write a poem, write a prayer, write a letter to an old friend. Writing is like holding a key that unlocks feelings and memories and ideas. Keep a notepad or a space on your phone to jot down quick ideas but later find a designated time to write…let it pour out freely and unedited until your thoughts find their home on paper. “Stay faithful to the stories in your head.” -Paula Hawkins

6. Pray. Prayer is simply talking with God. The apostle Paul’s mandate in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is Pray without ceasing. Spend hours on your knees in a designated space, pray as you’re going to sleep, pray in the car between errands…but make this year a time to seek God in prayer. Meditate, reflect, sit in silence, and listen. It will improve both your vision and your hearing. 🙂

Prayer is the helpless and needy child crying to the compassion of the Father’s heart and the bounty and power of a Father’s hand. -E.M. Bounds

7. Forgive. I wrote a post a few months ago titled Forgiveness Is Cake. No, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Forgive anyway. Very intentionally. Very specifically remember the person who shamed you, mocked you, bullied you, or outright abused you; and cut the chains that bind you to all the bad feelings, the anger, and the hurtful memories.

Colossians 3:13 says: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins say: Your health depends on it…Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not.

I challenge you, and me, to walk into 2020 unshackled and free. Even if your walk is merely a limp. Don’t do it for them. Do it for yourself and for those you love…for your peace and your freedom.

img_18838. Go! Somewhere you’ve never been! Just go! Fly, ride, hike…travel. Visit somewhere new and different and scary and off the beaten path and out of the box. The mountains, the beach, the quaint little hometown square. The local restaurants, the hidden trails, the cozy coffee shops, the loud lounges, the quiet gardens. Explore and live and laugh! And take lots of pictures!

9. Go! Yes I know I’ve already said that…but go back to a familiar place. Where your memories are warm and cozy or where they need to find peace and healing. Where you met Jesus, where you met your spouse, your best friend’s old house. Your first church, your high school, your first date. The cemetery. Go and remember and see with new eyes. Better acuity. 20/20.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it…this brokenness inside me might start healing.   -Miranda Lambert, The House That Built Me

10. Move! No, don’t call the realtor just yet! But move your body…stretch your arms, twist your hips, bend your knees and elbows! Walk, dance, tumble, climb… Celebrate your mobility, your flexibility, your strength, your stamina. Someone once said the best exercise is the one you’ll do…so just do it!

Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you are or what you ate.  –unknown/paraphrased

Well…It’s just another 10-things list to consider for the new year: ten to embrace and ten to leave behind. As I neared the end of the list, I realized there were so many more I could have included. There really is no perfect 10. But I think the additional four I would have included to embrace in the coming year could act like a big bow-and-ribbon to wrap around the others as you read back through them: faith, hope, love, and compassion. Wrap yourself in those last four and it will make an all-encompassing beautiful gift to give to yourself and to others. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:14)

No…it’s not an all-inclusive list of how to make 2020 the best year ever…but it’s a start!

Paul said in Philippians 3:13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on… Consider one thing you can do.

Welcome to 2020…not only a promising new year, but a brand new decade! Press on. With clarity and acuity…20/20

 

*quoted by JFK, ? per Edmund Burke

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends in Low Places

I was in my early twenties when Garth Brooks’ smash hit Friends in Low Places debuted. There was something about the earthy guttural growl andselective focus photography of man playing electric guitar on stage sweet southern twang of the song, along with that little bite of sweet poetic justice, that felt right at home in my life as an early twenties single woman living in Nashville.  Although I still find myself occasionally indulging in the nostalgia of the newer oldies, the song had a very different meaning to me then than the phrase does now…Because I indeed really do have friends in low places.

Very low places. Hard places. Tragic places. Not  “where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away” places glorified in the old country song. Years of living, learning, losing, and letting go removed all the glitter and gloss from the drama of broken relationships, revenge, half-hearted commitments, and unhealthy patterns of dealing with life and loss.

I have friends in much lower places than that. Dark, lonely places of loss, abandonment, rejection, abuse, addiction, confusion, sickness, disability, job loss, financial ruin, and difficult diagnosis.

In this world you will have trouble. -Jesus

Well-rehearsed preachers, prosperity gospel, Pollyanna promises, and the proverbial rose-colored glasses can all try to deny the reality of pain, suffering, and loss that everyone will eventually face; but Jesus himself warned us. Prepared us. But He also said:

But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Take heart. What does that even mean? Other nick-fewings-ka7REB1AJl4-unsplashtranslations say: take courage, be of good cheer, be brave, be courageous, have confidence…

I like “take heart.” It sounds active and involved. It lets me choose. It’s almost tangible. I can picture myself reaching out, or reaching in, and taking my heart. Speaking words of hope and encouragement. Be strong. Be brave. Be careful. Be kind. But be alive. Be teachable and be available for strengthening, encouraging, and reassuring…then for offering up as a humble sacrifice.

While we may not choose sickness, cancer, divorce, addiction, abuse, mistreatment, injustice. We can choose to take heart, take courage, be of good cheer, be brave, be courageous, and have confidence.

Proverbs 4:23 says Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

heart brass-colored padlockGuard it. Above all else. It must be extremely valuable. I picture it like an ancient city. With walls and towers to protect against enemy onslaught and invasion…but with gates to swing open to welcome friends, provision, protectors, allies, healers. A fortress, not a prison. Guard it as one would diligently, methodically guard a storehouse of plenty and provision during famine, war, and threats of enemy plunder.

Because isn’t that really what we are up against: famine, lack, loss, wars, and threats of enemy plunder? Not merely threats to overtake peace, joy, and hope…but heart-sickening, soul-crushing blows to us and those we love.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

But what does that have to do with friends in low places?

In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens.” Other translations say: carry, share, help, practice carrying, offer a helping hand.

img_8817Loving one another is sometimes hard. Bearing burdens is hard. When they hurt, you hurt, but…Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. 

Being present and available can be scary when you don’t know what to say or do…For if one falls down, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to help him up! 

The world can be amazing and beautiful, but confusing and scary and cold…Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 

But we are so prone to isolation and secrecy and self-protection…And though one may be overpowered, two can resist.

But we are called to be present to  share the love and hope of Jesus…Moreover, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  (Ecc 4:9-12)

img_8872Not one in isolation. Not two struggling to get by. But three strands! While often symbolic of a wedding ceremony, what does that look like in our day to day relationships and interactions? Especially with our friends in low places? You, your friend, God Almighty…

I haven’t always done it well. Honestly…I have probably failed more than I succeeded at  the face-to-face ministry of presence. But how I have wanted to be the faithful friend who sits in the ashes in the midst of another’s deepest pain and grief. How I have loved and prayed and lamented! I feel it in my very heart and soul sometimes. Real tangible pain and sadness. My friends in low places have walked hard roads recently. An unexpected loss of a young husband, the death of a child, a distant husband, an unwanted divorce, a congenital heart defect, prodigal children, addiction, tragic financial loss, betrayal, old wounds surfacing, a suicide attempt, a botched surgery, a bad mammogram, a pending biopsy… And more, so much more. Evidence that…yes, in this world we will have trouble.

Courage, dear heart.  -C.S. Lewis

Luke 5 recounts the story of a man in a very low place: Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

This  man was unable to take care of his very basic needs. He couldn’t stand, walk, or get to Jesus. His companions lifted him and bore his stretcher, shouldered his load, and brought him, weak and helpless, to Jesus. The man may have had good intentions. He may have had great self-discipline and solid determination, but in his own power he was simply unable to bear his own weight, make his own path, see above the crowd and confusion, and find his healing. He was in a very low place…but he had friends.

Maybe sometimes the best we can do is to carry our friends on a stretcher to the feet of Jesus.

Consider this: Maybe praying for their physical well-being and peace, as well as img_7254being present and attentive to their physical and emotional needs is a type of guarding their heart…

Take heart. Can you picture yourself reaching out, or reaching in, and taking their heart… Speaking words of hope and encouragement: Be strong. Be brave. Be careful. Be kind. Be alive. Be teachable and be available for strengthening, encouraging, and reassuring… Then helping them offer it up as a humble sacrifice…to a God who sees, cares, heals, and redeems. And what an honor to sit, walk, stand, or simply just be with the hurting and the broken. Shoulder to shoulder or face-to-face, but definitely heart to heart and spirit to spirit.

A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

Low places…we’ve all been there, are there, or will be there at some point. But what a blessing to be able to cry out, “I’ve got friends!”

 

Forgiveness Is Cake…

“It’s a piece of cake.” How many times have we said that about simple math, riding a bicycle, or learning a new task? How could I even suggest that such an important, often monumental, usually painful, task as forgiveness simply be a piece of cake?

I’ve heard forgiveness, or lack of, compared to various tangible items and situations: drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, chain2carrying heavy rocks around in a backpack, being chained to another, laying down a heavy load, cleansing your hands, burying a hatchet…and so many more.  But this week I heard a whole new spin on forgiving…it’s like cake!

I like cake.. but a good cake can be really complicated. The right ingredients and measurements, containers and preparation, altitude and preciseness all factor in to the final outcome… the appearance, the taste, and the satisfaction. And if you want it to look really good and appealing…that’s a whole other story!

As I sat with a trusted friend discussing the intricacies and fallacies of forgiveness, she said it:

Forgiveness is like cake. We can say we have forgiven and cover it up and push it to the side saying ‘there, that’s done’; but it’s better to cut into each piece and see what’s in it…deal with and really be done with it.

Colossians 3:13 says: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins say: Your health depends on it…Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not.

My friend says: Cut the cake.

c5b7b73f-72e1-4e8e-ab79-14c28703affeI like word pictures. To me that was an incredibly practical piece of advice. How many times have I forgiven someone…just like throwing a blanket over a virtual plate, or crate, of offenses and shoving it off to the side. Out of sight, checked off my spiritual to-do list, a temporary respite from the heaviness, and presumed guilt and shame? Or felt like a good girl, doing the right thing and forgiving as Jesus commanded… Until something rose up in me again…a face, a memory, another offense.

Cutting cake can be messy…scattered crumbs and icing clumps can be annoying, sticky, and hard to clean.

Relationships can be messy too. Just like cake…the result of improper ingredients, faulty measurements, broken containers, poor preparation, attitudes, expectations, and simply being broken humans in a broken world.

Cutting it open means exposing it. What’s really inside and behind 76b26c41-036b-4ea0-b62f-9e787045eb9bimg_8611and under? It can be messy, painful, hard…but freeing. It means naming it: the offense, the hurt, the pain, the injustice, the whys, the why nots, the what-ifs, the never-going-to-be. It also means uncovering truths, lies, fears, expectations, hopes. It doesn’t mean we will get all the answers. It simply means we will really be able to see the full scope of our hurt and know that we  are intentionally, specifically forgiving the offense and all that it has meant to us. It is emptying our plate and starting fresh, expectant.

Three of the biggest challenges I have heard about the difficulty of forgiving are:

  1. It’s letting the offender off the hook
  2. It’s not recognizing the depth of the hurt /or saying it really didn’t matter.
  3. It’s too painful to remember.

Oh, but it matters. It deeply matters. You matter. And you will remember…consciously, subconsciously, in your patterns of behaviors and responses…you remember. And you can live out of that place of woundedness, pain, and unforgiveness; or you can be healed to remember and live from a place of deliverance and freedom.

Mark 9:42 says Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.

Romans 12:17-19 says Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

I love the Old Testament story of Joseph. Hated, rejected, betrayed, sold into slavery, misused, falsely accused, forgotten. He knew exactly what had been done, what he was forgiving, and most importantly how God had given him the resiliency and faithfulness to be able to proclaim in Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”  He cut the cake. He recognized the evil intent, the mistreatment, the unfairness… but also recognized that God had used all the mistreatment, all the detours, all the pain and suffering to bring him to a place of growth and purpose. A place of freedom. I believe He still does that in our lives today.

So if you’re reading this, maybe you’re just curious or maybe you have a need. A hurt, an unhealed tender spot, a nagging dark shadow, an offense to forgive. 56629803-26a9-4966-a3d4-ea47fe65f090So pull up your cake plate, a knife, and your willingness. Find a trusted friend or counselor  and cut the cake. Inspect it. See what’s inside, what it’s made of…piece by piece. You’ll be glad you did. Then frequently consider, what’s on your plate?

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.         Proverbs 11:14 NASB

Another Prayer For My Hometown

In 2017 I wrote a post titled “A Prayer For My Hometown.” img_5200At the time, it was to address a specific situation happening locally. There was an outside hate group that threatened to come in to stir up division and discord…right here at our little town square. It was trouble threatening us from outside our boundaries…uninvited, unwanted, unsupported.

While that was addressing a specific time and event, I’ve noticed something interesting about the post: it has been viewed by people from 35 different countries in the past year. Thirty five!  It is by far my most widely read post. South Africa, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Kuwait…just a few. Queue Walt Disney’s melodious musical tones of “It’s a Small World After All…”

I traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip in college. Since then, I haven’t really traveled very far. I don’t speak another language. I don’t really engage in varied cultures. But as I thought about people from all over the world sitting at their computers or on their phones doing a search for words and prayers for their hometown, the world suddenly became very familiar and very small to me. bd7936c9-c694-477f-a3b3-8c2473696a27It became my hometown, my familiar space, the place where I live and work and worship and love. I saw so much more than colors on a map.

As I have thought about the needs that would drive people to seek and to pray, I don’t believe it’s simply a black and white issue, a right or wrong issue, a peace or chaos issue, or an us and them issue… I believe there is an underlying common theme of human frailty, hurt, and need…and hope. People are hurting, people are searching, but so many people still cling to hope. And sometimes that is enough.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come…

I don’t really understand war. But parts of the world are always at war. Always. I don’t understand merciless killing or torture or captivity or terrorism. I don’t understand deceit and hatred based simply on appearance or social stature. The band Nickelback imagined it well:

If everyone cared and nobody cried,                                                                                                  If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
 Then we’d see the day when nobody died.

But that’s just a song. Of course people die. And people do cry. Some deaths are mere echoes and celebrations of a lives well-lived. Some church1tears are joyous and cleansing and freeing. Some tears come from depth of pain and need. King David cried. Jesus wept. I have cried. I imagine you have too. Tears of sorrow, pain, loneliness, helplessness, anger, injustice, and hope. Tears for ourselves and tears for others. My heart hurts for people who are lost, displaced, discouraged, hopeless, or in fear. For people who feel cast aside and forgotten. Unwanted. I see it in the news and pages of magazines. I see it in people’s faces that I encounter daily. Some are in physical wars, others in emotional and spiritual battles. But many are searching for solutions, for remedies, for a moment of peace and hope in a sin-ravaged, war-torn world.

While I don’t really understand actual war,  I know that there are things and people and ideas that are worth fighting for. When I think of all the people in countries where their own government suppresses or sabotages them, where their children go hungry or die from treatable diseases, where the poor are treated as less-than or disposable…What can I do? Are they the ones who are searching for prayers for their own hometowns?

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places…

When I see the devastation and loss and incredible tragedy as natural disasters are unleashed with destructive, uncontrollable, unpredictable power destroying everything in their paths…  When people lose their homes, their hopes, their communities…What can I do? Who is praying for their hometowns?

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…

I have recently traveled to several cities close to home where terrible tragedies have brokenchurchhappened. Two church shootings, other public shootings, serious widespread fires, racial unrest, tornadoes, unexpected violent deaths… When people are intentionally wounding others: abusing, exploiting, rejecting, abandoning, killing…What can I do? When people are overwhelmed with crippling fear, crushing anxiety, and debilitating depression…trapped inside their own heads, battling torment, mental health, or addictions….what can I do?

…but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved…

Yes, there are some tangible ways I can intervene. I can spend money and time and effort and kind words…but sometimes the bigger battle is fought on a different battlefield. When I can speak, I will speak. When I can give, I will give. When I can go, I will go. But sometimes… I can pray. I will pray. So this is my prayer for my hometown, for me, my family, my friends, my neighbors…and for you and your hometown too:

img_5729Lord, I pray that you will give me an abundance of faith, hope, and love…A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over… (Luke 6:38) I pray for: faith to seek and to believe, hope to want and to know, love to care and to intercede.

In addition, I pray for hunger. Not for satisfaction of an earthly longing, but for an insatiable desire…a hunger for truth, for action, for kindness, for mercy, for justice. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Lord, could I pray for world peace and brotherly love, with an end to war and strife? An end to abuse, addiction, murder, and disease? Yes, but you told b5d10f36-f91d-4d3e-906d-b4d2cce03689us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  So I pray for God-given peace regardless of circumstances.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7) I pray that we will not lose heart but will look to you.

I pray that each member of the church body will arise to the full function you have designed. Lord give us eyes that see worth, value, purpose, and God’s design. Eyes that see your way where there was previously no way. Eyes that see your image on each face we encounter and your hand on each unexpected miracle.

Give us ears that not only hear the cries of the lonely, the destitute, the needy….but also the gifted, those designed for service, the divine ideas whispered to our spirits in the quiet times.

Give us hearts open enough to love deeply but strong enough to be solid in conviction and truth. Sensitive to you and your leading but guarded enough to be aware of the enemy’s schemes.

Give us hands that reach the unreachable, that hold onto truth and hope, and that hold our families, our friends, our brothers and sisters, close and point them to you.

547275cc-c827-4d14-83e0-c081ec2a20a9Give us feet that stand firm on your word, your truth, your promises. Feet that go where you lead and create a path for those who are lost or searching to follow.

So while these may sound like simple personal prayers for the individual, healing begins with one. Encouragement begins with one. Discipleship begins with one. For as I am overflowing with faith, hope, love, and truth…I will be changed, my neighbors will be changed, my world will be changed. I will be praying for you and your hometown.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:8-9)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.   (Mt 24:6-14)

 

On Guilt and Grace…

I’m not a theologian and this isn’t exactly a deep theological post. I am merely a bearer of guilt and a recipient of grace more often times than I can recount. And I’m a firm believer that God uses simple, tangible things to teach our simple minds.


guilt
/ɡilt/
noun
verb
grace
/ɡrās/
noun
2. the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
verb

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about the hard decision my family had to make about choosing life or death for our old dog. While ultimately everyone said it was the merciful decision, it still caused me to wrestle with guilt and all the “buts and what-ifs.” Was I betraying my dog? Was I being irresponsible or taking the “easy way out”? Was she really ready to go, as many people suggested?

Guilt is heavy. It makes you question, judge, and condemn thoughts, motives, and actions. Sometimes guilt is appropriate and helpful to convict, correct, and even clarify beliefs, patterns, and purposes. It can be saving and transformative…providing you use it as a stepping stone to get safely to the other side of the raging sea and not a millstone tied around your neck, dragging you down to drown with it.

But grace. If you believe there’s a God and He is really concerned and deeply involved in people’s lives, you see things differently. Not perfectly, not always 20/20, but differently.

Now to the totally non-theological part. Two days after the difficult decision, I received a text from a friend who knew I had struggled with the loss of my dog.img_1822 Good news! A friend of a friend had six week old puppies she needed homes for. Free puppies! I would like to say I wrestled with the decision. I prayed about it. I sought all the veterinary or psychiatric advice about trying to fill old paw prints too soon. But I didn’t. With a resounding “yes!”, we committed to a little bundle of puppy joy. We contacted the owner and she confirmed she had a little black and white, blue-eyed puppy she would save for us until I returned from a trip the following week.

img_1821While on the trip I wrestled again. Was it too soon? We hadn’t even seen or met this puppy. What if the owner gave her away before next week? It’s so easy to rehearse unnecessary worries and fears. And this was just a puppy! How often and easily can we get consumed by day to day whys and what ifs! Was it coincidence or a God-inspired reassurance that everything was going to be okay when I found a little token of reassurance in gift shop 200 miles away from home?

Welcome, Maggie Grace…img_1823

My daughter calls it “Jesus-juking” when someone overspiritualizes or credits everything to divine intervention. Let me Jesus-juke for a moment:

  • My friend’s nephew’s friend (complicated) had puppies available at just the right time. Free!
  • We were first told they were all taken (tragedy) but someone wasn’t fully committed and backed out.
  • I went in a store in Gatlinburg to find a small garden flag and found one with the close likeness of the pup’s pic on it. (In the colors and flag theme we were wanting!) It even said “Welcome” on it.  🙂
  • While we were waiting to meet the pup, we visited an old antique store that had an old red truck like the one on the flag.
  • She was even more beautiful and cuddly in img_1824person than in the pic.
  • She snuggled in and fit perfectly in our home and hearts right away.
  • She gets along great with the cat and all the other dogs that come and go.

So ultimately…it’s just a puppy. But healing and happiness can be found in small gifts of the ordinary and everyday sights, sounds, and presences in your life. It’s grace.

There’s a song I really like by Matthew West, “Grace Wins”

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time
No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing, hallelujah
Grace wins every time

Words can’t describe the way it feels
When mercy floods a thirsty soul
The broke inside begins to heal
And grace returns what guilty stole

And in the shadow of that shame
Beat down by all the blame
I hear You call my name saying it’s not over
And my heart starts to beat so loud now
Drowning out the doubt
I’m down, but I’m not out

Maybe that seems like a stretch when I’m just talking about a puppy. But it’s really all grace. All a gift. All unearned.

img_1839
My friend, Sharon, who found Maggie for me.

Today is Maggie’s birthday. She is three months old. Since we brought her home, she has been lavished with love and attention. She has been taken for walks on the Greenway. to PetSmart, to Petco, to Dunkin, to Sonic. She has received treats and toys, beds and blankets, snacks and snuggles. What has she done to deserve it? Nothing. We love and accept her…chewed blankets, house accidents and all.

img_1840
She brought new life and hope to my son.

Loving a puppy isn’t difficult. Training, disciplining, watching, protecting, going outside in the rain and early morning hours… Well, it’s grace. We all stumble, mess up, and need a little extra care now and then.

She is growing so fast…not as fluffy; long, lanky legs, a little awkward… She’s still growing and learning to trust and to become her real self. But aren’t we all: awkward, changing, imperfect. But hopefully we can rest in the knowledge that we are loved, we are learning, and we are growing in grace. Happy birthday, Maggie Grace.  🙂

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Phil 1:2-3