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In my experience, those times don't reveal that God is mad or distant or withdrawn.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

Friday, March 31, 2017

To the Mom Who Is Anxious

Motherhood is tangled.

It twists. And turns. And takes issue. And lets go of that issue. And then puts a foot down. And then lets that foot remain filthy while washing another's. It is a life-giving exercise in humility by way of life-taking sacrifice.

And it's hard. 

Moms are walking contradictions. Christ-loving and cussaholics. Anger-filled and Spirit filled. Monsters and meek. Slamming things down and smiling at our precious gifts.

How can this be? Are we less than we should be? Are we not rising to our full potential? Are we not who God has called us to be? Are we, gasp, failing?

This verse in Matthew: "Be perfect, therefore as I am perfect," used to cause me great anxiety.

I spent years trying to impress the God of the universe with my hack-job at morality. I assumed that these words were a literal benchmark. The cliff face of legalism was needing to be scaled. Works were workable. This verse would echo my insecurity, "You are not doing enough. You are not enough. Do more. Be more."

This especially turned anxiety-vicious when I ignored God for awhile so that I could get on with my real life. 

Eventually, lodged in-between the perpetual tension of good and bad, I'd burn out and land at the bottom of that cliff with bloody fingernails and broken bones. 

One day my son came up to me with tears in his eyes and said, "Mom, I am so tired of not being perfect. I wish I was perfect like Jesus."

Knife in the heart.

I know that very same weariness.

But we aren't competitors with Jesus. We are co-heirs.

That's why I couldn't pendulum between morality and my messiness anymore. That's why I finally gave into Jesus.And let me be clear, I didn't go easily.

Jesus is God's answer to our cycles of soul destruction. Jesus is a purified entry point that can reshape our souls. Jesus smashes our false identifiers and reconstructs an entirely new reflection from the image of himself.

In Matthew 5:48 the calling towards being perfect isn't used in the same context as in English. It is used as a verb, a progressive action. In the Greek, téleios, translates into "fully grown." A process of maturing. Of going from broken to completion. He who began a good work in you will complete it. 

This type of perfect tells us that God is with us through it all until the end. This type of perfect applauds growth in small, slow root-bound ways.

If you dig a bit deeper, one concordance explains téleios, as "going through the necessary stages to reach the end-goal."

The necessary stages.

Motherhood is one of those necessary stages: it is the richest soil I've ever been buried under. 

That's why God calls children a blessing. It isn't beauty from the beginning, but damn, is it ever ripe for an eventual Eden.

The root word of téleios is tel, as in telescope. The idea being that our lives mimic something that is slowly being pulled out of itself to grow to a place that can magnify something far greater. We are beginning to scratch the surface of eternity here. But to get there we have to pass through the dimness; to withstand the grit of the grind. 

When we are depressed and beat up. Mad and alone. Hungry and tired. Burning with lust and emotionally wrung out. God is still committed to knitting us together by way of those exposed nerves that seem to wrap themselves around our souls. He wants to take those and practically reveal himself to you; to show you what He is up to when you are hurting.

But we have to go back to the dirt. To the place where God is cultivating something unseen from our tangled mess.

He is a roots-based God. He knows where to plant things that will flourish. He is a God that will not leave you to dry up. To waste away. To fail. That is not His plan for you. That is not His plan for me.
 
Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail...because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing." (Ezekiel 47:12)

Like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1:3)

And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:11)

Do you feel directionless? The Lord will continually guide you.

Do you feel dead on the inside? He will satisfy your desire in the scorched places. 

Do you feel bone-tired? He will give strength to your bones.

Do you feel like a failure? You will be like a watered garden whose waters DO NOT FAIL.

If anxiety is threatening to strangle you, take a sip of these refreshing truths. Read them over and over. Soberly consider where your roots are planted; where your worth is parked. Allow God to plant you next to the streams your standing alongside, but not drinking from. Trust that he knows the way.

If you believe in Jesus, then those life-draining days when you feel like you are being drilled into the ground by the constant fighting, crying, feeding, whining, tantrums, waking, discipline, yelling. Which I feel everyday, even in this minute.

You can also believe that you are being pushed down into the darkness to take root.

Those roots will grow, twist, push, prod, reach, barge, and break through in the dark.

In secret.

Where no one sees.

Where no one knows. Except for the One who says He knows the hairs on your head.

He knows the pain that is threatening to choke out His plan for you. He knows that failure. That flaw. That depression. That abuse. That disillusionment. That feeling of being trapped. That addiction. That emptiness. That drain. That anger. That unhappiness. That longing. That lie.

And even so He says, "Do not be afraid; you are worth more." (Luke 12:7) Will you still feel anxious? Yes. Afraid? Yes. Maybe for the rest of your life. But that doesn't change his plan for you. In Luke 12, the phrase you are worth more is diapheró, which literally means to "carry through".

God is committed to carry you through.

Through this. Through today. Through tomorrow.

Let Him.

We're in this together,
M

Saturday, March 18, 2017

To the Mom Who Feels Stuck in Her Faith

I love gas station sunglasses.

I love them for two reasons: they are cheap and they never let me down.

I have very low expectations of gas station sunglasses. When they break (which they inevitably do right before I need them) I just shrug, cradle their snapped pieces in my palm and whisper, "You did the best you could with your obvious flaws. Rest in peace."

You see, I tend to lose things. And my kids tend to break things. The combination of those two realities in my life leave no room for high expectations of anything.

Expectations tell us a lot about where we put our trust and what we appoint value to. And these very same expectations reveal what we truly believe about God when things fall apart. 

In the Bible, a fellow named Job had a lot of things fall apart for him.

Disease took his body. Death took his family. Devastation took his wealth. Destructive theology stole his friendships. But he never questioned God. He never shook his fist at the sky and denied God's plan. At the base of his soul, he seriously wanted to get right with God. He wanted to know what he had done wrong, so he could fix it.

"If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target?" (Job 7:20) When Job suffers he sounds a lot like Someone else I know. His words mirror the same type of questioning language that Jesus shrieked from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Job's longing is honorable. He wants God to reveal his sin. But sadly, there is no sin to be revealed. He is doing all the right things. He is confused, but coherent.

Let that settle in there. Let it work its way into any cracks there may be in your belief system. Let it reveal those expectations of what you think you deserve when doing all the right things. Or conversely, expectations of what you don't deserve because you can't do anything right.

Job was a sinner, because we all are. But in this particular season, Job's hardships were not because of sin. There was no direct cause and effect. This makes legalism-bound hearts really uneasy. This is why Job's friends were convinced he was doing something wrong.

One commentary on Job's life that I read said this, "Job suffers because he is among the best, not because he is the worst." 

Job isn't a story about sin. It is a story about trust.

God is relentless in sanctification. He longs for us to become better versions of ourselves. But in God's economy, our better selves aren't free from sin, they are free from self. Sometimes in our own stories we are doing all that we need to be doing. And it's still hard.

In seasons of suffering, sadness, depression or boredom God invites us to ask the hard questions. Job did. Jesus did. We should.

Asking questions isn't a sin. It infers that you don't have all the answers. That's humility. Asking questions with expectations of a specific answer. It infers you are God. That's pride.

When we come to God with more than lament, we are coming to Him with an addendum to his sovereign plan. We come to him with a marked up map explaining the need for a specific detour. And he just can't bless that.

He waits instead.

Waiting for the day we throw away the map and the helmet, and the knee pads and the elbow pads and the whole uniform that purports safety. (Apparently my journey with God looks a lot like an overcautious rollerblader.)

This last year, I've been craving a much deeper intimacy with Jesus. Maybe having my third child has something to do with that. And as result of meeting with him more often, I have had a season where he is speaking clearly in certain areas of my life. I'm not bragging, I'm warning you. Because in turn, my "map" has been torn in half only to be cut into a million pieces before being thrown into the fire and then sparked into oblivion.

Because the more you meet with God, the more your expectations implode. 

You begin to rely less on your own voice and start to hear His. Perhaps for the first time. And its terrifying. All of a sudden you don't see the road in front of you anymore. You are simply standing in His shadow, following His lead. Slowly the road changes; bends; twists; turns; narrows; and steepens.

And yet, you feel more alive than ever before. Because you are living like you were meant to: God-dependent.

Elihu, in the story of Job, is an unsung hero. He is one of those God-dependent guys.

Elihu finally calls Job's suffering what it is: grace in the hands of a God who has a plan. And in this small portion of what is the longest response to Job's plight in the entire book, we find Elihu revealing an epiphanous truth about God. He wraps up God's might and power inside the purpose of struggle.

"Whether for correction or for his land or for love, He causes it to happen." (Job 37:13) The New American Standard version says it this way:

"Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen."

You guys. God has three reasons He does things that force us to wade deeper in our faith:

-For correction
-For creation
-For love

Let's touch on each.

If you feel stuck in your faith, consider the need for correction:

God corrects. He doesn't do this in the way we see humans abuse power. He does it to guide, to nudge, to correct, to save, to pull, to point. Not to beat. Or berate. Or shame. Or to wound. The Hebrew word for correction here is shebet, which means scepter, rod, staff. We can not take away the corrector nature of God, he knows better than we do. He is our parent. He wants the best for us. He wants to take our yokes and snap them in half. This is His mission: to usher us into freedom.

If you suspect you're stuck because you need to be corrected. Ask the hard questions. Fast from things that you've become enslaved to. Check your sin out. Be an investigator of your own life and motives. Only good can come from proper correction.

If you feel stuck in your faith, consider the betterment of His creation:

Maybe God wants to create something new in you and around you, lean into that. God loves to plant honeysuckle in the cracks of city sidewalks. He loves to make beauty in unexpected places. He is always looking to further his creation. And he does that by the hands of his kids.

God may be physically calling you to leave, to move, to go, to plant deeper roots, to dig through the rocks. He may be doing this through struggle and testing. That is in His character. He uses disappointment and job loss and health deterioration and death to move us into new cities; new positions; new jobs. New heart postures. And He uses it to push us through the mundane and monotony to create matter.

It's His world to do with as He wishes, He is just generous enough to invite us into cultivating his creation. Ask him if the reason you feel stuck is because he is asking you to respond to the unwelcome change in your life with trust. Blind, shadow-following trust.

If you feel stuck in your faith, consider His love:

This one.

My friends. My sisters. My family.

This is where we must always land in seasons of stuck-ness and struggle. It is all for love. Easy answer right? It's actually the hardest answer to reconcile with reality. And yet, trusting his love for us is the only way to stare Struggle in the face and silence her lies.

An intimate God like ours refuses to let pain and sadness have the last word: instead He allows it so He can restore you to wholeness. His love for you can not be measured. And this is the same God that "has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand." (Isaiah 40:12)

If we have high expectations of struggle, demanding to know what it is producing in us and why it is taking from us, we will remain stuck. If we assume that hard stuff is either punishment or just plain mean, we will remain stuck. If we prefer to look good on the outside to uphold our image instead of aligning our hearts with the One whose image we bear, we will remain stuck. 

The truth is when it comes to struggle, we are poorly equipped. We complain and fuss. We fold under pressure. We are made to break. We are a lot like those gas station sunglasses.

But we are welcome pieces in the palm of our Savior. In the capable hands of a God who loves us immeasurably, our obliterated expectations can be used for good. You can trust him.

Hand over the broken bits and say, "I did the best I could with my obvious flaws. Now can I rest in peace?"

And you can.

We're in this together,
M

Friday, March 10, 2017

To the Mom Who's Sad

I keep waiting to write this blog until my own sadness has been lifted. I keep waiting to sit down so I can write, "Whew. Ok, I'm on the bright side of things, here's what I learned." But I can't fake it. I can't write that blog.

So instead of writing that one, which I would feel much better about, I will write this one.

It is still watery over here. It's still lapping at the nape of my neck; it is still rushing over my body every now and then in teeth-chattering waves. I am still a sinner. I am still off-center. I am still sometimes, simply sad. 

Let me clarify, I am not a sad person.

I have joy. I have clarity. I have strength-filled moments: moments where I see God's work in my heart on full display. I laugh with my kids. I joke with my husband. I send silly messages to my friends. But when I whisper to my husband how I'm truly feeling on the sad days, he is often surprised. I am not hiding the sad, I am just not surrendering to it. I am including it in the canon of my emotional context,  but not letting it define me.

I learned this from someone. Jesus.

Deep feelers, deep thinkers; they get assaulted by sad. Even Jesus did. And that's where I feel relief seep in. That's where I turn to the scripture and peel back the layers of the Hebrew to find something I never noticed before, something that doesn't encourage the sad, but that does explain it. And in turn, glorifies God.

Yes, your sadness can glorify God. Wait for it. Here we go.

I drove by an old house today. I saw two young guys cutting down a massive tree. They had messy hair. Unshaven faces. They were hard workers. Sawdust covered their shoulders. Their faded flannels were pelted by the cold rain. They carried large wood rounds to the truck and back. Cars were zooming by; no one cared to pay attention to the take down. There was no glamour in the work. There was simply a task; a blade; a haul; and a repeat.

This is what Jesus did until he began his service. He did menial tasks. He was not esteemed.

"He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief'." Isaiah 53:2-3.

In this passage of Isaiah, we read a foreshadowing of Jesus' life and death on the cross, but we also get a rare peek into Jesus' temperament. Jesus had a personality. Do you ever think about that? And here it says, that one of the things that marked his unique individuality was that he was "a man of sorrows".

Wait. He wasn't the life of the party? He wasn't the guy who was always good for a laugh? He wasn't Jesus the singing jumping bean?

Hmmm. Man of sorrows. What is there to learn here? That doesn't seem right.

When I cross-referenced the Hebrew word for sorrow, I found that it is makob, which translates into pain. This includes both emotional and physical pain. Jesus didn't just have a painful path to the cross. He lived a life in which he felt pain. His sorrow was in no way bigger than his joy or purpose–it just reverberated back and forth between the two. Like a wire. Like tension. Like us.

Little children loved coming to Jesus, and we know as parents that little kids don't like wet blankets. So we can be sure that Jesus was the most passionate and compassionate human in history. (John 15:11, Luke 10:21) But He had days of sadness too. 

However, with Jesus I'm beginning to see that it isn't his sadness that matters, it is why he was sad.

You have permission to feel sad. But you can not claim that sadness for yourself. Here's what I mean. 

In my own life, I've found that sadness can become a form of entertainment. It can become a velvet-cased jewelry box that adds preciousness to my plight. Life is so hard. I'm sad. If we follow Christ, we have to warn ourselves when this type of spotlight sadness threatens to overshadow our days. We don't want to be sad for sad's sake. We want to be women of purpose in it. We need to attach it to Reason, so it doesn't return to us void. (Isaiah 55:11)


So I went looking for another place for this type of pain. I found the Hebrew word makob again in Ecclesiastes 1:18, "For with great wisdom comes great frustration; whoever increases his knowledge merely increases his heartache." The word heartache here is the same as the word used for "sorrows" in Isaiah.

Jesus was a man of heartache. Of sorrows. Because he knew.

He knew what he would have to do. He knew he would be mutilated beyond recognition to give life to the lost. And he knew that the lost would continue to look for life in the wrong places. Even after he did the dying. 

But here is where shame has no place in our sadness. In Ecclesiastes 1:13 we read, "It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with."

The men who were working in the rain. The burdensome task. To keep them occupied. To keep them asking, "Is this all there is?"

It is an unhappy business

The constant crying. Feeding. Lifting. Bathing. Headaches. Stomach aches. Tiredness. The messiness. The clean up. The clutter. The burdensome tasks. The constant day in and day out work can grind us down. It can cut us up into heavy pieces that we lug back and forth.

Btu what it we lugged our pieces to the Bible? To the feet of Jesus? What if we loaded and unloaded our burdensome tasks into puddles of pain on our bedroom floors. In worship. In wondering. In asking. What if we confessed and recounted and cut down and rebuilt that sadness into something like sanctification?

That begins to look a lot like glory-giving grief. God's glory. 

If your sadness leads you to the deeper understanding of purpose–one that goes beyond scrubbing plates and gathering crumbs or getting promotions or winning competitions–then it is fruitful sadness. If your sadness echoes an ancient truth that this isn't what was made to fulfill you, then your sadness begins to make sense. If we begin to realize in deep somberness that all of our daily burdensome tasks only occupy our hands but don't fill our hearts, we are beginning to get it.

We are beginning to understand how God could be perfect and be a man of sorrows at the same time.

Jesus' pain was a byproduct of knowing that there was and is a parallel purpose here on earth that a lot of us miss. You see, sadness is a song. One that plays below the surface of some of our deep-feeling souls, beating out like a drum. One that sometimes scares us. But its a song that invites us to ask why. And in the search, be diligent in always saying, "your will be done." 

Life. It is hard. It is the greatest mirage in the history of mankind. It promises things it can't deliver. 

Don't allow sadness to swallow you. Instead, shake hands with it and then introduce it to a God who knows exactly what to do with it: wrap it in skin. And name it Jesus.

We're in this together,
M


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

To the Mom Who Feels Like a Horrible Friend

I'm eight years old and walking in the most beautiful garden I've ever been in. It's not our garden. It's our neighbor's garden. I honestly have more memories of our neighbor's white farmhouse with the wraparound porch than I do of my own childhood home.

I'm walking alongside the pond that the dad had built for the mom. Made of large boulders and lined with black plastic–I see the most romantic gift in the whole wide world. The gift of a garden and a fountain? May have as well been the gift of Eden.

I am running my fingers along petals of the brightly colored roses, drinking in their scandalous scent and carelessly popping tightly wound sugar snaps. I am singing a hymn.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry,
everything to God in prayer. 

This song still takes me back to that garden. To that small, chubby little girl body. To the dreams that were so alive. To the smells and sights and sounds of peace. There was peace in that garden. And Jesus was my friend. I never doubted it at that age.

But as I grew up and got braces and hips and attention, I waffled in this understanding and unlatched Jesus's hand from mine and inserted a scepter into his palm and pushed his eyebrows down into a furrowed look of disapproval.

I tore off his crown of thorns and replaced it with a sparkly crown of prestige–which forced me to cower in its reflection while I lied and cheated my way through adolescence.

But now, Jesus the friend is back. Only through the seeking of his hand again–of running my anxious worry-worn fingers along the dark hallway and waiting until I feel his wrist. His pulse. And his fingers catch mine.

Through the process of reintroducing myself to Him and of finding that old garden friend, I have learned something beautiful about friendship. Not about friends. Or about hanging out. Or about checking in. But about friendship. Sisterhood. Kinship. Family.

As women, I feel like friendship is something we fear. It's something we desperately want, but run from. We fear that we will be seen. That our flaws and cracks and masks will fall, that we will have to apologize and let people in. That someone may see that we are hot messes, and we can't possibly let our guard down that low.

I mean, what will they think of us? What will we think of ourselves?

Understanding the friend nature of God, seems strange. Maybe not even important in the shadow of headliners like almighty and sovereign. But it is essential if we are going to be doing life together, if we are going to be sisters and brothers in Christ, if we are going to learn anything about trust–we must embrace the fact that friendship isn't flawless.

Even Jesus showed up late to one of his closest friend's funeral. "Late" is generous. He simply didn't show up. And Lazarus died without him.

That's one of those friendship non-negotiables right? I'm dying. Get here. 

But no.

Instead, in the Gospel of John, we see the most beautiful picture of what it looks like to gracefully follow in the footsteps of essential friendship. To not always do what is expected of us, to the glory of God.

In John 11 we see the only time that Jesus is recorded crying. And not just crying, but weeping. What is often overlooked in this part of the story is a Gospel blueprint for friendship. I've often jumped too quickly to the truth that this is evidence that Jesus was emotional and fully human and felt as deeply as we do. That is beautiful. But there is more to be discovered here.

In verse 35, those two words, "Jesus wept"–also the shortest verse in he Bible–usher in the subtle intricacies of true friendship. Of loss. Of death. Of grief. Those don't seem like words that we associate with friendship, and yet these are the indicators you're walking the road of a gospel-centered relationship, not a self-focused one.

When the news reached Jesus that his friend Lazarus had gotten very sick, the Bible says, "he stayed two days longer in the place he was."

Can you imagine? If your close friend was dying and you could save their life would you choose to wait? Why would Jesus do that? What does this story reveal?

When Jesus arrives, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.

Lazarus's sister, Mary doesn't even leave the house to greet Jesus, swallowed up by her grief. But the other sister? The type-A sister Martha? Bless-her-heart, she rushes out to confront Jesus. To call him out; to give him a piece of her mind, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

And then she stops.

Martha looks into his eyes. She sees that this isn't a delayed visit. This isn't an accidental oversight. That there is purpose here. But what could it be? She realizes that her Jesus is still Jesus. Her anger quickly evaporates and she continues, "But even now, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you."

Faith. Mustard seed in size. It was enough.

"And Jesus said, where have you laid him?"

"Take away the stone."

"Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"

"Lazarus, come out."

And he did.

This is a miracle that proved Jesus had authority over the ultimate demise. Death. He had to perform this miracle to foreshadow his own victory over death on a cross. To fulfill the prophesy in Isaiah 25:8, that says, "He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces." 

But it also reveals that Lazarus's death served a purpose, even if it cost Jesus something personally. It cost him good standing in Mary and Martha's eyes. It caused him grief. It caused him to exercise intense self restraint in the midst of unfathomable sadness: the impending loss of a loved one.

Jesus wanted to be with his friends while they grieved and he wanted to be there while Lazarus passed, but instead he waited. In obedience, so that the Glory of God could be revealed. So that the miracle could happen. So that the impossible was possible.

Jesus was dedicated to God's will, even to the point of losing a friend. Literally. To the point of losing respect. To hurting people who had high expectations of his ability to perform. This is what we must understand about being friends to one another: sometimes we have to make God more important than friendship.

And when I say sometimes, I mean all the times.

God's glory is more important than me looking like a savior in someone else's eyes. We can not save someone's life. We cannot raise things from the dead. We can only point them to the Great Comfort. To take their hand and pry their fingers apart from fear and interlock them with timeless words; to press them into the presence of an Ancient Spirit that heals wounds we fumble even to splint.

To remind them, "The Lord comforts Zion, he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song." 

__________________________________________________________________________

I'm eight years old and walking in the most beautiful garden I've ever been in.

I am running my fingers along petals of the brightly colored roses. I am singing a hymn.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privelege to carry,
everything to God in prayer. 

Friendship is flawed. Jesus is not. Friendship starts and ends there.

We're in this together,
M