Monday, October 23, 2017

To the Mom Who's Barely Hanging On

It was midnight.

I was awake.

I do not like being awake at midnight.

I did not fall back asleep until 3 a.m.

What was I doing? I wasn't sure. I wasn't sleeping, I knew that. As a mom of three kids, ages seven and under, I haven't slept well for years. But only recently, I've been awoken by something other than crying babies and an unstoppable bladder.

I think God may be waking me up. 

I know.

Weird.

I told you. I'm going through something.

Some might just call this insomnia. Or anxiety. Or fear. And they may be right. I'm sure cutting out caffeine or gluten, or adding in chamomile or Vitamin D may help. Or maybe I should check for harsh chemicals in the fabric of my sweatpants. Who knows?

Well, I do. I know what it is. I've heard that voice before. 

I am not a special Christian who has VIP access to some kind of heavenly after party. Although, that would be cool. I think I keep being invited to these middle of the night sessions because I have great need. Like a soul thirst that is taking over everything else. Even what my physical body wants to do. 

God might be waking me up not because I'm holy, but because I'm hurting. Not because I'm hopeful, but because I'm scared. Not because I'm perfect, but because I'm polarized.

And in this season, he is asking me to reach out my hand and hand over my sleep. The very thing that gets me through the days when I am barely hanging on.

My most precious treasure? Are you crazy? Do you even know what you are asking?

And He does.

So I crawl out of bed. Head to the living room. Open the nearest Bible or book I'm reading. And I wait. I expect to hear from him. Because I am fearful. And he is faithful. (Psalm 92:2)

Some nights have become like my own personal church. 

Not every night, mind you, God isn't a cruel taskmaster. But some nights. And on those nights I've heard things like:

Nothing is a waste.

I am the Good Shepherd. 

Awake O Sleeper. 

Like a tree planted by streams of water. 

How much bread do you have?

And sometimes I hear just one wonky word like frontlets and I am left scrambling for my Bible or my phone to figure out what the heck is being said. Usually, he is just telling me to stay the course. Don't give up. Stop that thing you keep doing.

But its constant. This invitation. Once the Bible is in you, it won't shut up.

If you are known by your Bible, it speaks back to you. All day long.

If you aren't known by your Bible, it can seem like a lifeless textbook or a creepy animal sacrifice log (seriously there is so much blood...) or an outdated waste of time. In that place, God can feel distant. Cold. Unfeeling. Uncaring. Mean. Angry. Violent. Gone. Non existent. Silent.

Awake O Sleeper. 

I wish I could say that hearing from God makes me feel like I am not about to slip off the edge of a cliff; it doesn't. It only reminds me of what I'm falling into. 

Him. 

We are falling into the very place where God wrote himself into human history. Into a life giving well of words. Letters are the method he chose. That always blows my mind. So it would make sense that these words are more than words. That are alive. Like the author of life intended. He can only create life. He knows no other way. So every word of His, speaks. Comforts. Calls. Quiets. Holds. Helps. Lifts. Loves.

His words then become an exploration. 

There is this wildly adventurous side to God. He wants to take us offroad and into wastelands where no life should be and create a rain-soaked peninsula. (Isaiah 55, Ezekiel 36:33-36)

He enjoys using unexpected backdrops to unfold his plans. Like night. Like when the shepherds were watching by night and the star appeared or when an angel opened a locked prison door in the night with a snoring guard at the helm.

There's something magical about the midnight hours; those unexpected places when we are awakened to the drama of the story we've been written into.

So if the dead of night isn't off limits in hearing God speak, then nowhere is. Not the bathroom. Your desk. Your shower. Your bed. Your car. Your garage. Your yard. Your pantry. Your wallet. Your injury. Your addiction. Your anger. Your doubt. Your loss. Your much.

God knows what we need. He really does. What you need.

He knows you have need. He also knows your greatest need is to hear him.

He knows the exact words to say too. He knows the exact portion of Scripture that will chip away at our hard places. The exact word a friend can use to remind us how deeply we are loved. The exact podcast that will awaken us to our deadness if we are willing to open the coffin. The exact paragraph that we need to read when we are wordless.

The exact words to catch us when we can't hold on a single second longer. 

And my friend, that's what I've learned. I'm barely hanging on these days. My life is going. I'm going with it. I'm not in despair, I'm not depressed, I'm not discontent–even as I'm facing some of my own personal worst fears.

And that's where the letting go has to happen. 

He is saying, fall. I got you. I've always had you.

I almost feel like God is telling us that he not only wants to spend unexpected, adventurous time with his daughters, but that he also wants to rock us. To cradle us. To mother us. He wants to be for us what we don't think we can be today.

Come my daughter. Awake. Let's steal away. Let me catch your tears. Let me rock you to sleep.

I guess when something is really important we wake someone up.

So God, wake us up. We're listening.

We're in this together,
M



Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Day at the Sea

The train seat hummed. I flipped a page in my book and looked out the window. Then back to the page again.

My husband and I swayed. The low grade forward motion toggled between Southern Californian hill and brush. Another glance out the window and I saw that the bushes, once robust, were starting to give way to small streams of golden dirt. The empty streams snaked like veins where life used to flow. It made you wonder where and when the life left.

A slow in our sway announced a change of scenery.

We took a lean left and broke onto a portion of track that hugged the Pacific coastline.

Birds broke out. Grass danced. The waves crashed. The sea stretched. And I sat up. Entranced and in love.

The scene called to me. It serenaded me. It awoke me. 

And I quietly wondered, "Why can't everyday be like this? Why do I have to have such long lapses between what inspires me and what bogs me down? Why does this feel so different than every other day?"

So I fixed my gaze again. I needed to memorize the scope. The scale. The feeling. The freedom. I knew she would be gone soon; that the ocean would lap and laugh without me. So I studied her froth and fall without taking my eyes off her.

Then she disappeared around a curve in the track. And I didn't even get to say goodbye.

But the question circled back. "What am I doing wrong? Why doesn't life feel like a day at the sea?"

I felt another forward push and the sea wall gave way to graffiti walls. We were crossing city lines into Los Angeles.

I could feel it creep up on me. The grit, the grime, the greed and the lust. I've called this place home before, and it hurt me. It still pushes those places to the color red when I visit. The chain link fence wrapped itself around the train window. And I felt like a caged animal.

This spray painted city pumped out messages wall after wall; messages that it was made on. I just watched them swipe by feeling vandalized over and over.

But.

Then I saw a beautifully manicured hedge. A random, flourishing collection of leaves and twigs that stood at the back of an abandoned warehouse.

What was it doing here? Of all places. A hedge this beautiful belonged by the sea.

The care was noteworthy.

Someone had trimmed the lines of its leaves to perfection. Even the color was saturated bright green. The soil was dark and deep and watered and well loved. It was about 8-feet-long, sandwiched in-between trash and broken concrete. It stood out in the most beautiful and wasteful way.

This was the work of someone who understood the currency of secret devotion. 

This gardner was someone who didn't tend so that the masses could applaud him. The skyline was clearly hidden from the view of it. It was tended by someone who sweat and stooped and dug and pruned for the love of it. And maybe, somewhere in all of that hidden work, it was because he hoped that someday some deep feeler on a train would pass by and see God.

And I did.

We need more hedge men in our day.

Just like the Israelites, the most ancient of God lovers, did.

Moses was the original hedge man.

He introduced an entire generation of wilderness believers to a new hedge; a hedge of protection: the Torah.

The Torah, and namely the book of Dueteronomy, was a combination of speeches and covenants and laws and promises and blessings and curses that gave spray paint junkies a grid for understanding God. He handed lost folks a guidebook to get them out of the empty streams and into the ocean. He gave them reasons not to vandalize the temple over and over again with godless graffiti that looked like unholy grain.

So this verse stopped me in my tracks when I began to ask God why I didn't get more sea days in my ordinary life. 

"For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 

It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear and do it?'

But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it."

It isn't far off. It is very near. It is in my mouth; like a kiss. It is in my heart; like its beat.

God is speaking directly to me. To you. To all of us who think that someplace out there can fix what is in here.

It speaks to the Bible belters who believe that it requires a heaven stamp in our passport before we can live out the kingdom work here on earth. It speaks to the ones who worship their calendars assuming that obedience is a vacation they put off because they can't afford it. It speaks to the star-aligners who are waiting for the sea wind to blow the dust off their Bibles.

It is for those of us, like me, that long for the sea instead of the dirt. 

That want salt on their skin, but not in their tears.

Lately, by the grace of God's word, I can see where He really is. He is behind the broken down warehouse; without an audience; giving each of us 8-feet of faithfulness for the glory of God and, gasp, maybe the benefit of just one.

Obedience is the tending.

The hedge is the fruit.

The fruit is the reward.

The reward is not needing the sea to be satisfied.

The Word is very near to you. 

Jesus is close. He may be sitting on your bookshelf, curled up next to your bed, holding one of your hands, kicking back in your memory, tatted on your arm, the bread in your mouth, the art on your walls, the nap you're needing, the song on your radio, the bottle cap on your whiskey. But wherever He is, He is close. Very close.

Open your Bible. Read what it says. Do what it tells you to. Love the man who tells you to do it.

If so, you might just hear the roar of the sea in between diaper changes or data entry.

It's a least worth a try.

We're in this together,
M

Blog inspired by Emily P. Freeman's Simply Tuesday and Sara Hagerty's Unseen. If you'd like to read more on this topic I recommend both those books wholeheartedly. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Summer of Diving Deep

Summer.

I digress.

About now, in the peak of all her glory, one must slip off the shoe of summer and eye that big fat blister she's left behind.

It may also be a good time to have a mid-way reckoning with those mustard stains on the couch, or at the very least soberly consider wiping up the Popsicle residue out of the freezer. I swear, even the barbecue seems to be sagging in the middle from the never ending ritual of lighting her up just to burn her down.

It is just summer's way.

When August blooms, the hyper-glow of go begins to get a little frayed around the edges and we just keep opening and closing. Opening and closing. Opening and closing. To the point of sparking those rusty hinges into a blaze on our dead lawns. 

Which I get.

Summer is special.

She's the daisy crown atop tangled curls. The sun-kissed lips splashed with sweet wine. She is ice cold watermelon and stubbly legs that we just can't seem to keep smooth. But we don't mind. She is everything we dream about on the bitter gray days that force us into itchy sweaters.

And yet, this summer has me spellbound for a different reason.

I can't get comfortable. Which is very un-summery of me.

I clink the ice in my glass and watch the sun set and my heart aches. I don't like it. I am grateful and appreciate this life I enjoy, but for reasons I'm still sifting through, my chest burns with knowledge too heavy for me.

You see, I'm the type of gal that intentionally digs holes in her heart byway of bending over an ancient book. I keep looking for treasure that apparently a holy homeless man said I would find if I just kept at it. And what I've found reminds me of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark where he swaps the bag of sand for a golden idol without tripping the booby traps.

I feel like I've found out that my treasure is worthless. And the unimpressive bag of sand in the corner (that I don't want to pick up) is what's of real value.

I was applauded for chasing down dreams. Not Jesus.

Don't get me wrong, Jesus was the guy you wanted as your co-pilot for sure, that was always encouraged. Strap him in the front seat, so when you're about to crash you can call out "Jesus take the wheel!" But never ever, just let him sit in the driver's seat to begin with. That's just reckless.

So from a young age I believed that I was in charge of my destiny if I just worked hard enough, looked the part and never said no to an opportunity. And now, that I've said no to just about every opportunity for a smaller and smaller life (some of the opportunities said no to me, if I'm honest), I realized something life-flipping. 

Jesus isn't who I thought He was. 

And neither am I.

For someone who has been a church goer her whole life (except for those few years which I prefer to pretend didn't happen) and stayed on the straight and narrow (if it wasn't too narrow) and did the right thing (if it didn't hurt too much) is coming to terms with this: I've been dipping my toes in the most languid pool of truth for years, but never fully jumped in and stayed put.

Sure, I've been waist deep a couple of times. I've even put my head fully under. But I have this annoying habit of being so shocked by the dark, deep waters and the cold that cuts to the heart of me that I run full throttle towards the shore.

Square one.

Back to that square of beach towel underneath a striped umbrella with my list of to-do's and a much more shallow glass. My spiritual summer is always there waiting for me. Lighting me up, just to burn me down.

The back and forth hot-potato-handling of the Truth when I hear it, means that instead of gripping tight despite the pain, I place it back into the basket and ask someone to pass the butter.

I'm learning I need to be more irresponsible with my faith. Indefinitely.

I read a book by Shannan Martin this summer that broke a cistern in my heart that I can't fully recover from. It is leaking out all over the place. It is leaking onto my wallet. Onto my plans. Onto my family. Onto my actions. And it is calling me into a place of naming names. Of telling the truth. Of asking the hard questions.

Her book begins when her and her husband moved from their dream farmhouse and left their lucrative jobs in politics to move to a grittier side of town with the singular mission of simply paying attention. And showing up. A lot.

I already didn't like the book at this point. My heart was beating too fast. I was going to put it down. And then I read this:

"We were practicing our obedience, attaching training wheels to the unsteady idea that maybe we were useful to the kingdom in the midst of our everyday lives. For one of the first time's ever, a need presented itself, and we simply responded. Yes."

Ok, I could do that. I need to do that. I've been doing that. I need to do that more.

Because if Jesus isn't who I thought He was. Who does that make me?

Well, it makes me an excellent cheerleader. A wonderful sideline ribbon dancer. It makes me a great pamphlet to the BIG ride, except I've never really ridden it myself. It makes me a wonderful cleaning lady, who often doesn't deep clean the own mess in her heart. It makes me someone who keeps pulling the chain on the weed wacker while watering the weeds.

And yet.

Oh the big yet.

And yet, he has been faithful to make me hungry for more than what everyone tells me I should want. Not just to donate to causes. To participate in them. 

This makes me squirm. And it makes me alive.

And so I've started small. Because I am bad at this.

I've started giving up stuff secretly, sacrificially and quietly. I invited people into my life that I wouldn't of a few years ago. I denied myself certain things, not out of self-regulation, but out of the pursuit of joy.

 I started praying for ways I could be useful and helpful to the people right in front of me. And waited for God to answer me. I started wanting to know what Jesus actually says about my stuff and my talents and why I have those things and what I should do with them.

Like he demonstrated in the 15th book of Matthew:

"But Jesus wasn’t finished with them. He called his disciples and said, “I hurt for these people. For three days now they’ve been with me, and now they have nothing to eat. I can’t send them away without a meal—they’d probably collapse on the road. His disciples said, “But where in this deserted place are you going to dig up enough food for a meal?”

Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”

“Seven loaves,” they said, “plus a few fish.” At that, Jesus directed the people to sit down. He took the seven loaves and the fish. After giving thanks, he divided it up and gave it to the people. Everyone ate. They had all they wanted. It took seven large baskets to collect the leftovers."

My favorite parts of these verses are: "But Jesus wasn't finished with them." And, "How much bread do you have?"

I can not claim to be a Christian and not give away my life to this end. To the edge I creep, because I believe that he is never finished with us and that we need to hand over our lunch. Not so that we can sit in the dirt hungry and used up, but that he can fill us up in places we didn't even know were empty.

Shannan said it best when she wrote, "That there is always plenty in the economy of abundance when we take seriously our bit role in the rescue of his people. God looks at you and me and decides we are worthy allies. Each day brings the question: how much bread do you have?"

When we take seriously our bit role. 

That hits home for a former Hollywood resident who would have considered such a small insignificant part a huge failure at one point in her life. You should have seen my old head shot, I was going places let me tell you.

Failure is becoming my friend. That is progress in my book.

I'm still wading into the deeper waters. But I'm not running back to the shore yet, because He has already shown me something beautiful.

That first of all, he takes care of me. Secondly, that I can't only care about that. 

This is the Jesus I was talking about. The one who doesn't feel cozy. The one who is asking that I use my tiny, rusty reputation for the benefit of those who need it, and to stop making excuses for my dinner party guest list and start welcoming in the unexpected and the needy.

I do not want to do this.

But I don't have a choice at this point. I know my Bible too well.

The Great Hope is that I am loved. The Great Grace is that I am forgiven. These truths are the spurs on my boots that move the saddle. But it is not the ride. It can't be. That requires nothing of me.

He wants to see if we take Him at his word. If maybe, just maybe, this year we won't run for the shore. 

I have been moving in the direction of God for awhile. Jesus has been incredibly patient with me, but way too often I've been reading His Word with my editor's pen, giving my strike-through muscles a work out. Secretly, very sub-textually, I've been carving out a golden idol that looks a lot like an American Jesus in Santa's clothing, instead of the heavenly Jesus who is a bad ass warrior with a thigh tattoo of King of Kings and Lord of Lords on his thigh. (Rev. 19:16)

A thigh tattoo.

Seriously. I judge those people. (If you have a thigh tattoo, I ask your forgiveness.)

Here's what I'm saying. This summer has been a heavy one for me. Heavy in the way that my Christianity should have always felt. He has so much more for us. And it has nothing to do with getting more.  

We have enough. I have more than enough. You probably have enough. We're good, friends. We are.

How much bread do you have? Just think about it. And then hand it over. Because I'm beginning to believe it is so much better off-shore.

We're in this together,
M

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

To the Mom Who is Running on Empty

My back is pricked with sweat.

I toss my littlest up onto my shoulder while my eyes dart back and forth over the play structure.

Where is she?

My four-year-old has disappeared again from my sight. My oldest son? Well, I've just given up hope of being able to watch three at all times. I hear his laugh from the far corner—that'll have to do.

These days: they are the ones that tear at the very fibers of my ability. They are the ones that reveal my rusty hinges and my limitations and my anger and my affinity for cuss words. If I'm honest, it's been days now, maybe weeks, where I've felt literally carved out; scraped violently by a tool I can't name in places that I can't fill up.

And I stand with anger on my face, fear dripping down my back, and I am spent. Literally emptied out. This is not a pretty picture. I do not look joyful. I do not look approachable. And the truth is, I don't want to be either. I just want to crawl into bed and close the curtains.

And a thought comes to mind, "Be filled."

My one-year-old begins to cry. My daughter goes from adorable to angry in two seconds. My oldest informs me he needs a doughnut. Naturally.

So we stumble our way to the car, sweaty and hungry. And I stop for a moment staring at the steering wheel—the smell of stale milk and cheerios filling the air. Is this all there is God? This life of servant hood you've called me to—isn't it supposed to bring joy? How am I missing it? 

Again, "Be filled."

So when I get home I do all I know to do. Go looking for a verse that can lead me to some sort of response to this nudging. I go looking for the connections in scripture that bind joy and trial; to figure out what he's trying to say.

And I come across Luke 6.

In it, Jesus is ministering to a great crowd of folks. He has just come down from a mountain where he spent all night praying. That very next morning, he had a massive meeting with his followers to delegate his 12 disciples before heading back down the mountain to give more of himself.

Jesus was sleep deprived. And I'm sure he was hungry. It says he came down from the mountain and "stood on a level place". He didn't swing through Starbucks, or take a nap, or hide in the bathroom somewhere just to be alone; he came down from the mountain and got to level ground. Why?

So Jesus could be readily available to those who needed him.

In Western society we might call this crowd of people "takers". The type of people that we blame the empty for. These are those kind of folks who we assume are looking for something for nothing. Jesus didn't see that. He stood shoulder to shoulder with them; allowing them to reach for him, making himself like one of them. An equal. 

I always imagine Jesus' sermons being proclaimed from a Lion King-esque rock with a sunshine spotlight; his hipster hair blowing in the wind. But I'm relearning this part of his ministry.

He chose to preach in humble places that required deferring preference and applause.

And what's even more interesting to note about the character of Jesus is that right before he addresses the crowd the passage says, "he lifted up his eyes on his disciples".

So I pause.

Why did Luke, the author, even bother to include that Jesus lifted up his eyes?

You don't lift your eyes up to someone unless you are below them.

And I realize something. Jesus was in a posture I am most days. I am always bending down, crouching over my kids, putting on shoes, wiping up puke, cleaning up spills, washing kids in the tub, picking up toys, and sitting, kneeling, gathering, lifting: serving. 

Luke wants us to see Jesus' servant posture and that it is not below him to be below others. That he was most likely touching someone who was sick, healing them. Making the blind see. Making the unclean clean.

This slight directive sets the tone for the kick-in-the-teeth message he is about to drop.

And he drops it hard. 

"Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity." (Luke 6:35-38 - The MSG.)

And I utter a four letter word. Sorry. It's true. It's just that good. And that hard to hear.

Even when we are at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. 

And this is coming from a Man who's spent the last 24-hours in prayer and then in discipleship and healing meetings and has been climbing up and down mountains. His busyness hasn't crippled his care for people.

Be easy on people; you'll find life a lot easier. 

There it is. The secret. 

I'm always looking for a life of ease, but to find it I have to be easier on people. 

Simply profound. And it's an answer to an unspoken prayer that I'm too distracted by myself to ask. 

When I am empty and needing to be filled, I realize that no amount of time or bubble baths or glasses of wine can heal the gaping wound that is my heart. The Spirit is the only filling that affixes my soul to an immovable point.

My soul creaks and sputters when I focus on my self; when I encourage the empty by filling it with my own hot air. In truth, I don't want to look up like Jesus modeled, I want to be the one looking down. I have to die to this daily.

Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. 

Do you trust him when he says this? 

Do I?

Because in this, Jesus is speaking directly to our empty. 

Just like he did two thousand years ago with this crowd of people, he is doing this very same thing today with us. Because it is still true.

Something I also never noticed is that when Luke writes that Jesus came down to "a level place" this is more than just a metaphor for his love. It isn't just a detail to reveal his humble character, which it undeniably does. It also holds an incredible reality.

It is actually one of the many prophesies about Jesus being God fulfilled; an echo of an answer to prayer that came from a King named David, hundreds of years prior:

"Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground." (Psalm 143:10)

And Jesus did just that; proved that he was the embodiment of God and the good Spirit teaching us what the will of the Father was from a level place; the ground zero of these people's lives. And he still does this: makes himself available. While we are still sick. Still blind. Still angry. Still fearful. Still sad. Still total messes. 


And so I ask again: Is this all there is God? This life of servant hood you've called me to, isn't it supposed to bring joy? How am I missing it?

Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. 

Ah, ok. So the empty is right where I am supposed to be. Only then can I "be filled".

As always, thanks for meeting me right where I'm at.
 
We're in this together,
M




Monday, May 8, 2017

When a Whisper is Enough

The echo of empty. The hollow space. The hurt of being human.

Some mornings just feel like that.

John Piper puts it this way, "I feel like I have to get saved every morning. I wake up and the devil is sitting on my face."

I absolutely love that quote.

Because I often feel this way.

In my shame or self-criticism, I assume others don't ever feel this sort of weight when walking with Jesus. I tell myself that others wake up ready to be a Christian. They bound out of bed like juiced-up Jesus jocks ready to love, serve and walk with Him well. Some mornings, I pull myself from beneath the sheets and simply lie at his feet. Not a whole lot of bounding going on.

So if John Piper, the same guy who pastors and thoeologizes and writes books on the very topic of closeness with God, feels this same weight of a battle worn spirit–I can admit to it too. And I just know that Jesus must be in there somewhere; waking with us, helping us to peel the evil intentions right off our skin; holding our cheeks in his hands, kissing our sunken eyes.

One more day with me. I can hear him whisper. One more day. 

I've come to realize that the empty mornings: the ones that echo and reverberate and sting and recycle the same desperate prayers do not translate into spiritual abandonment.

In my experience, those times don't reveal that God is mad or distant or withdrawn. The Message version of the Bible says it this way in Psalm 34, If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there; if you're kicked in the gut, he'll help you catch your breath.

So I let those words sink into my imagination. I envision what this personal, intimate, interlocked-finger kind of God is doing when I'm feeling this way.

And what comes to mind is the process of teaching a child to ride a bike.

On the days I am feeling like I have to ride the road all alone, it is more likely that He is guiding the back of the seat with His hands. That He is simply in the process of letting me figure out how His spirit is intended to guide me, to whisper into my ears what it is I need to know next. Not the next turn I need to take, but the next truth about his nature that would be lifesaving for me to understand. 

I have been living in 1 Kings 19 right now. It stuck out to me a few months ago when I was driving beneath the ridges of the Cascades and it came up again a few days ago in a Dallas Willard book I'm into. So I'm paying attention.

The passage is incredible. So here it is, verses 2-18:

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 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.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14 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.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Two things stick out to me. 

One. Elijah talks with God. Like I would talk to you. This isn't a metaphor, this is a picture of those thin places, where the veil of heaven is lifted and mere man gets a peek into what God is up to. It really happened. And Elijah was one of those guys who didn't see the difference between earth and the kingdom of Heaven. To him, they were one in the same.

For context, in this part of the story we find that Elijah is in the wilderness trying to stay alive because he is being hunted. Then he goes up to Mount Horeb, which is also Mount Sinai, to hash out this problem. And it's a big one.

The first thing God asks is why he has come to chat. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Oh, God. Really?  

This is where I would sarcastically jump down God's throat. "WHY AM I HERE?!" Are you kidding?!" Which is probably why I was not asked to be in the Bible or to hike up Mount Horeb. Respectfully and faithfully, Elijah simply states the problem: they are seeking his life because he has been doing God's will.

And this is how God responds. Now this part is just beautiful:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

God is almighty. Powerful. To be feared. And to be worshiped. But that isn't all He is. He is also a whisper. A gentle whisper. 

A whisper is only used when there is something very intimate or private that someone wants to share. It could be important or it could just be silly. It is like when my daughter leans over and warms my ear with her breathy confession, "Mom, I love you so much." 

Whispering is a form of childlike communication wrapped up in whimsy and familiarity. You don't whisper into the ear of someone you don't know. That's the fastest way to get yourself a restraining order. 

We see that God chooses to reveal himself to Elijah in a whisper, simply because He knows Elijah and Elijah knows God. If you notice in the verse that follows it says, When Elijah heard it (the whisper), he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Waiting. It says that Elijah doesn't go to meet with God until he hears the whisper. Because Elijah knows the voice of God. 

He knows that our God is one who whispers. He is a God that uses one of the most intimate ways that one can speak to another. Because he is just that into us.

But it is a whisper all the same. Why?

Did Elijah need a whisper? No, he needed an army. Did he need a sweet affectionate reminder of God's gentle voice? No, he needed an escape route. But what God does instead is remind Elijah that when everything is falling apart-when mountains break in two, when earthquakes rattle, when fire consumes, that He is a gentle whisper among the chaos.

God is reminding Elijah who He is. He is reminding him that God is bigger than the beast. God is God. I am who I am. And this changes the landscape. It gives context to the terror and the trouble. It doesn't make it go away, it just colors it differently. 

The second thing that strikes me about this passage is what Elijah does after this whole whisper business goes down God. He repeats himself.

When God then asks him again, "What are you doing here Elijah?" 

14 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.”

The problem hasn't changed. Even as he is in an intimate conversation with the almighty Creator, the problem still remains. But he repeats himself because he is confident that if he keeps asking God will answer. And it is only now, in the shadow of the repeated problem and the presence of a heard whisper, God can give him the plan; the practical solution to the big issue.

Why didn't God do this the first time? 

It would have been a much more effective way of dealing with this conversation. But our God isn't interested in efficiency. He doesn't want to wrap up the conversation just so he can go back to the important business of being God. He heard Elijah the first time. He just wanted to give Elijah more than a fix, he wanted to re-frame his faith.

Here is what I am getting at. 

When there is a problem or when it feels like something is off, but you can't name it or the devil is sitting on your face, when your heart feels carved out, when we are stumbling and bumbling and swearing with sticky fingers and loose tongues; we can go to God. We should. Of course. 

But something happens between the first and second time that Elijah told God his problem. 

The first time Elijah went to God needing an answer, but instead he got a reminder. 

The second time he went to God with a problem, his heart already had the most important solution: God's voice. 

Now. Now he was ready to hear the solution. The game plan.

Our hearts matter more than our problem. Our willingness to hear God's whisper and say, OK, that's all I need to get through. One. More. Day.  In this place we are prepped for progress. It is here that we can actually carry out the plan. We can ride the wobbly bike with confidence that He is isn't gone, He is simply quieter than our problems and we need to turn down the volume.

Sometimes, when I am in seasons of sluggishness I need to be extra diligent to listen for the whisper. To silence the negative tapes in my head that are on repeat. I need to close my eyes when the cliff face is shattering and instead, cover myself with his Word. Only in obedience to the hunger my soul has for more of Jesus will I get the solution. Only then am I prepared to walk in the way that He may ask of me. 

When the problem is the same. The prayer is the same. The routine is the same. The pain is the same. The death is the same. The loss is the same. The bruise is the same. The darkness is the same. The longing is the same. The bills are the same. The addiction is the same. The sin is the same. The sadness is the same. Only then.

He can whisper. And we can hear.

We're in this together,
M

 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

When Your Heart is Broken

There is a little boy in the ICU right now. 

He had open heart surgery yesterday. He was four days old.

This beautiful little boy was born with a broken heart.

He is my nephew.

And even though I have not met him (his condition doesn't allow for many visitors) I love him with a fierceness I am surprised by. I surge with pride in his strength one minute and am in a puddle of tears the next. I keep my phone by me for the littlest update and am emotionally wrapped up in the unfolding of his life.

This little child: I have never held him. I have never heard him laugh. I have never looked him in the eyes.

And yet, I am a wreck over him.

Watching my brother and his wife wage this war against fear and physicality and progress and setbacks; I do not pretend I am a partner in their pain. I know nothing of their sleeplessness; of their all-consuming cries for help and unfolding horror. But as a bystander, I can say the overflow of utter frailty and unfairness consume my thoughts.

But there is hope.

Because for our family, "better" is more than a possible option. Better is coming. Better is on her way. Praise God. That is a gift that a lot of the parents who've been in the same rooms can't claim.

My nephew will go home whole. It may take time. But he will.

Close friends of mine have walked bleaker roads. Roads where the prognosis wasn't positive; where the hardest nights weren't the ones simply spent waiting for it to get better. The hardest nights were spent holding empty baby blankets and driving away alone. 

None of it sits well with me. Babies born sick. Children with cancer. Babies not born at all. It just isn't fair. 

None of it.

There are a few things that I remember my mom saying to us as kids growing up. Whenever we were fighting or whining over something not being fair, she would look us straight in the eyes and clip, "Well, life's not fair."

It stopped us in our tracks. I never liked her response, but even as a kid I knew I couldn't argue.

But if I stop there, fairness has the final say.

I can't just shrug and throw my hands up in the air and bite my nails in anxious anticipation of what will happen next. I want to be instrumental in what happens next.

And I believe I can.

Prayer is a partnership. It is a spirit led exchange between the God of the universe and our little, small, freckled, wrinkled, tired selves. God invites us to petition for the unfairness of it all. He encourages us to step up and be ambassadors for change. 

I don't claim to know how this works. But I have been doing some serious praying these last few days. And so have people in our small world.

I have not prayed the whimsical wafer prayers that you sweetly unpack and share. I've been getting gritty. Angry. I've been unloading the gutsy prayers. The ones where you call God out; where you beg Him to show up; to be the God he says He is; and you demand it with authority, because He tells you to.

He invites us to call upon Him in Romans 10:13. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

And again in Psalm 50:15. Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you. 

And then again, John 14:13-14. And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

And there are many more.

But I want to land in Psalm 91. Because it is here that we find refuge language. Fortress language. Protector language. The type of language we need to clothe ourselves in when the walls have fallen down.

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
Nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.

The terror of the night. 

The arrow that flies by day. 

The pestilence that stalks in darkness.  

What David, the author, is describing here are absolutes. Terrors of the night are inevitable's. Flying arrows are simply collateral damages that come from living in a fallen world. The pestilence that stalks in darkness includes the sickening reality that some beautifully perfect babies are born with imperfect hearts.

But what I see here in Psalm 91 is a love letter. A scared, yet worshipful man detailing all the beautiful ways that a not-distant God has shown up for him, and how He will continue to do so.

I see a confident petition for protection. I see someone slamming a snare shut while walking away unscathed. I see someone small and weak covered by muscle-bound wings that span as wide as heaven itself. I see the author hunched down in a dark corner, while shadows scratch at his back and there's a snake at his door.

I read something that can only matter to those "who know His name." Something that is life to those who believe He is protector, not a punisher. That He is a rescuer, not a grim reaper. Who believe he can satisfy us even in the middle of IVs and tubes and oxygen levels and swollen scars and blood tests and unanswered questions.

And those who do know his name slowly, but surely, graduate from unfair to inescapable. But even then, He meets us.

When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.

He answers us.

He's with us.

He rescues us.

He satisfies us. 

And here's the daring question, the one that breaking hearts must ask in the face of ugly realities: could this suffering be an inroads to beauty inescapable?

If we could bypass the pain, if we could skip it, what would we be missing? Or more accurately, who would we be missing?

The Bible talks a lot about bringing beauty from pain. The ancient language is rich with imagery like bringing flowers from thorns and sewing together gorgeous headdresses from ashes and turning sorrow into joy and mourning into song.

Is this just metaphor? Is this just some kind of heaven thing? Some kind of transformation that we won't get to experience until we stand at those pearly gates and empty our pockets and hand over any liquids over 3.4 ounces?

I say no.

Emphatically no.

This is for us. For today. For right now. For the hurting. For the broken. For the busted. For the blacked out. For the broken up. For the back of the bus-ers. For the bottom feeders. For the brand new. For the bingers. For the beautiful people. For the beggars. For us all.  

These verses about calling on His name don't include healing. They don't include a hall pass for pain. They don't guarantee a seamless life that doesn't throw your stomach into the blender. But He does promise us Himself. He does promise us that we can trust Him. That ugly isn't the end. That He is doing something beautiful.

So we must take him at His word. 

We must surrender and see Him stitching together something incredibly unexpected; a beauty that can only be revealed when it is filled with ache.

We must allow our eyes to see that a weak and tired soul is the only vehicle right now that can transport us into strength that is stronger than statistics.

Our God is a God of life, never death. A God of hope, never hate. And our God is a God who hears our gutsy prayers over broken little baby boys.

So please join me in praying gritty, petition filled prayers. Ambassador prayers. Prayers for change and progress and healing and wholeness.  

Because all of us just need to get through one more night, and then the next, and the next before better comes.

And believe that better is coming. Because He already has. His name is Jesus.

We're in this together,
M


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

To the Mom Who is in the Trenches

To step into the mental corner of my brain right now, you might see me strapping on a bullet proof vest and trying to asses the war zone that is my life.

The target: my kid's craziness. Their ages waterfall from 6 to 4 to 11 months. They are wild and wonderful all within an hour. Ok, within milliseconds.

And on the mornings after the wild days win, I wake up on a mission. I am battle weary and yet overly obsessive in recommitting to my consistency in training. Because in my mind, if I get this parenting thing right more often, my kids will be better. Life will be easier if I can just get them to fall in line.

And yet, I know. Deep down, I know. When the sinner is training the sinner, there's only one result: sin.

I am not a mathematician by any stretch. And even I know, that my doubled efforts won't result in a different outcome.

This verse popped into my mind when I went looking for help. But at first glance it didn't seem too encouraging. "Train a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old, he will not depart from it."

I've always read this verse in Proverbs with a militant undertone. Train a child. It seems straightforward. Training requires rules. Discipline. A strictness. A regimen. A battle plan. A firmness in execution. This type of tactic training will end in ultimate victory. Right?

Hmm. I'm not so sure.

In Hebrew, the word train is chanak. Which means dedicated.

Dedicated to what? To the way.

What is this way? In Hebrew, it is derek, which means distance. Or journey or course.

The verse in it's original context means to be dedicated to the distance.

"Be dedicated to your child's distance/journey, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

This verse is a long game verse. It actually has nothing to do with the bullet proof vest and the day ahead, and everything to do with the life course our kids will take, and the journey we have been asked to take with them as their parents. It isn't saying that if we train our kids right, they will never depart from our training. It's up to them ultimately to put on the tool belt, but if we show them how, it is far more likely that they will.

It is saying that if we are dedicated to going the distance with our kids, in grace and truth, despite the holes in our shoes and burdens on our backs, then they will have all the tools they need to be able to stay the course too.

They won't skirt the hard road. They saw mom walk it. 

They won't jump the median. They saw mom fight to stay within the borders. 

They won't crash. They saw mom slam on her brakes when she was barrelling towards the ditch.

We are called to be line leaders. Not drill sergeants.

Proverbs as a whole is a book written to help instill governing morals. It was intended to give guidance to some of the very first believers in the God of the Bible. These people had no clue. They were pre-cross. No Gospel. Not only that, but they didn't have parenting books either. My sweet Lord, they didn't even have that Facebook lady who "drops some serious truth bombs."

So imagine when they first heard this. We have to do what? Commit some of our precious time to these kids? Our property? Children were less than second class citizens. They were considered collateral. A man's total net worth would include how many children he could breed from his loins.

Lovely. 

So the fact that Solomon, who was king, even mentioned that these parents needed to come along their children and to be a dedicated guide was new. So no, there is no war zone when you peel back the Hebrew, there is no battle line, there is no subordinate and superior–instead it looks a lot more like a running track and we are the ones setting the pace with little monkeys on our back.

That's why pacing with Jesus is so important.

There is no urgency in the matters of this day to get it right, because in God's grace, this isn't a drill. It is the dedicated way of love.

You get do-overs when you go the distance.

I've heard Pete Carroll, the head coach of the Seahawks, repeatedly say that games are not won in the first quarter. Nor the second. Nor the third. If you are a mom to young kids, you are in the first quarter. Pace yourself. The road is long.

But no matter the age of your kiddos or what quarter you are in, this loop of love constantly folds back into itself. We wake to find another round of distance training that will increase our own strength and endurance, and ultimately our children's.

Too often, in young motherhood, I keep waiting for halftime, or when it is my turn to be tagged out. I daydream about sitting on the bench and catching my breath. But spending my active duty days on the bench isn't what is wise. That isn't what the Bible teaches.

So for those who are truly in the trenches, I know that we are looking for concrete answers. Real solutions. How do I make this switch practically? How do I get on board with this type of distance mentality?

Go read Hebrews 12. All of it. And then hang on some of the verses that pull at you. It is a powerful section. But a few highlights.

Hebrews was written for doubters. It was written for those who were either considering reverting back to Judaism and denying that Christ was the Messiah after all, or they were just trying to do both traditional legalism and wrap it up with a non-essential Jesus bow. Either way, they needed a gentle reminder of why they believed what they believed.

And so do we. 

Hebrews 12:1,"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross."

We've got a cloud of witnesses my friends, with sticky fingers and never ending needs. 

To run the race with endurance is to "lay aside every sin that clings so closely" and to "look to Jesus". Sin. It clings. It clutches. It digs its nails into our flesh. It wont let go. So we need a little help.

We need to ask God to point out the places that we're caught. Places where we are weak and bordering on injury. We need to ask for reproach. It is to ask for the very thing that we think our children need. Which they do. But again, we're the line leaders.

Even though Proverbs is talking about being dedicated to our children's journey, Hebrews injects Jesus into the mix explaining that dedication really begins with going the distance with God ourselves.

In verse 12 it says "Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather healed. " (NAS)

We have lame limbs.

Nice. 

We are not whole.

Truth.

We need him to straighten the path we keep trying to make crooked.   

In proper dedication and training for our kiddos, we have to admit that we are running the course with a lame limb. Maybe a whole bunch of them. We are perhaps doubled over with a side ache. Maybe we are lying face down in the trenches with a busted rib.

I read once, that the best athletes "play hurt". Isn't that the truth? The best moms play hurt too. But if we are Believers, we don't run it alone. We don't hurt alone. We don't hobble alone.

Play hurt. Don't pretend your not. The battle is already won.   
 
We're in this together,
M