Sunday, December 02, 2012

WHY NOT YET?!

But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. -Romans 8:25

I do not do well with waiting.  Throughout my life, I've been the girl who gets it - or at least thinks she gets it - way before everyone else, and then I'm ready to move forward, like, right now, please.  C'mon, let's get this show on the road!  What are we waiting for?

I was raised in the United Methodist Church from the time I was a tiny, pre-redheaded group of cells in my mother's belly.  At the ripe old age of seven, after listening to our pastor talk about the saving love of Jesus Christ every Sunday, I asked Jesus into my heart as the Lord of my life.  I remember that Sunday, that I just got it, and that was it.  Holy Spirit, come on down!  I was His, He was mine, let's do this thing.  I've been serving the Lord ever since.

The next step, as far as I could see, was taking communion.  Now, the way my mother was raised, children don't usually take communion until they've been through Confirmation class around age 12.  Most parents aren't as strict with adhering to that rule anymore, but wouldn't you know it, my parents were.  The first Sunday of every month, I watched kids younger than I was, or kids that I knew hadn't asked Jesus into their hearts, go up and take communion with their parents.  It was totally not fair and I wanted to do it, too!  

My parents were unmoved.

In my own characteristically dramatic fashion, I pathetically begged them every month to let me take communion with them.  It went something like this:

Me: But Moooom!  Daaaad!  I asked Jesus in my heart!  I get it!  His body, His blood, I understand!  Why can't I take communion with you?
Mom & Dad:  You can take it after you've been through Confirmation class.
Me:  But that's SO LONG FROM NOW!
Mom & Dad:  You'll survive.
Me:  But all those other kids are allowed to take it!
Mom & Dad:  We can't control what their parents let them do, but you're not taking it until after Confirmation.
Me:  But that's FIVE YEARS AWAY!  
Mom & Dad:  We said no!  You might as well stop asking.

Every month, I swear, it was the same thing.  There may also have been some flinging of myself on the floor, weeping, wailing, whining, and pounding my fists on the ground.  But still, every month when everyone else went up to the altar and took communion, my parents got up and left me in the pew by myself with my arms crossed, glaring at the backs of the heads of my classmates who got to be up there when I didn't.

And then, one Sunday, it happened.

I was nine years old by this time, and had been throwing my Communion Plea Extravaganza for well nigh on two years.  My sister was a toddler.  I found myself alone in the pew one Sunday morning, the first Sunday of the month - communion Sunday.  My father was either serving as an usher or watching my sister, and my mother was in the choir loft.  

Up to this point, I had almost resigned myself to waiting until Confirmation, but I was not okay with it.  Three years might as well have been a lifetime.  I felt like it was never going to happen, and I had been a Real Christian for two whole years now, people.

It took me a few minutes to realize it, but suddenly it dawned on me:  I was alone.  I could go up for communion - there was no one to stop me!  What was my mother going to do, barrel down out of the choir loft and yank me away from the altar?  She'd never do that in the middle of the service.

My excitement grew as the service went on.  I was going to do it!  I was going to take communion!  I listened as the pastor explained the meaning of communion, the bread and the cup, the body and the blood and the sacrifice, and I nodded along emphatically.  I totally understood.  We went through the responsive readings and the hymns.  And then, when everyone else stood up and began to file up to the altar to kneel and take the sacrament, I did, too.

As I knelt down on the velvet pillow in front of the altar and bowed my head, I could feel my mother's saucer-like eyes burning into me.  My hair probably got redder from the effect.  Just like I knew she would, though, she stayed in the choir loft.

I prayed.  I ate.  I drank.  I took communion   Honestly, I'm pretty sure I asked God for forgiveness for disobeying my parents in taking it...that day, and every day thereafter for quite some time.  I don't remember if I was punished (who punishes their kid for wanting to get closer to the Lord?), but I didn't really need to be.  I had already experienced conviction from God Himself.  Little did I know, that was just the beginning.

My first communion is a funny story I tell now, and my friends think it's hilarious because they know how I am.  The way I tell it, I've had people crying with laughter a few times, which makes me pretty happy. In the last little while, though, I started thinking about it again...and I wonder what would've happened if I'd waited for Confirmation like my parents had wanted me to?  Would I have been even better prepared?  Would I have understood more?  Would it have been more meaningful?  God certainly used it to bring me closer to Himself, but I would've escaped quite a bit of conviction if I'd done it differently.

There's a boy in my Sunday School and Awana classes now that reminds me so much of myself at his age.  (That's right, parents, rebellious communion hooligans like me grow up to be Sunday School teachers to your impressionable children.  Don't say I didn't warn you!)  His older sister just got baptised by immersion in our Baptist church at age 12 last week.  He's nine, and he's been ready for several years to be baptised himself.  Part of me is so proud of him and wants to see him baptised really soon, but part of me remembers this story and thinks that maybe he'll be even more ready in a couple years' time.

Faith is such a personal journey, and all throughout my life I've felt more than ready for the big steps well before God called me to take them - pretty much every single one, in fact.  But then, there have been many times when I've looked back and thanked God for making me wait, because it made me so much more prepared, appreciative, and ready to use the blessings He gives me to glorify Him than I would've been if He'd given them to me right when I wanted them.

"Just trust Me," He whispers to me daily.  "Soon.  I promise."

Friday, November 23, 2012

My 29th Year

Well, this is it, folks.  Today’s the day.  I have officially now become a red-headed, Christian Bridget Jones, a single thirtysomething woman, and I'm expecting the proverbial scales to appear on my body any minute now.

I had all sorts of ideas on what to write about today, but ultimately, all my thoughts came back to one thing:   this past year.  So, instead of waxing philosophical about turning 30, I thought I’d take a minute and look back on year 29, because it was, indeed, one for the books.

This year, God brought me closer to Himself than I've ever been.

This year, God shoved me out of my comfort zone with regards to faith, theology, and knowledge of Himself.  He challenged me in the ways I thought about Him, His love, His grace, and His will.  He pointed me towards a new church and watched me sit in the parking lot after getting there early (I'm never early!), praying nervously before the service started.  He pried open my mind with a holy crowbar and dumped in ideas I’d never dreamed of in all my previous years serving Him.

This year, God forced me to face some of my deepest-seeded fears.  The fear that I'm not good enough.  The fear of trusting someone else with my heart.  The fear of sharing the most hidden parts of myself.  The fear of all my flaws, my shortcomings, and my secrets being laid bare.  The fear of saying, “This is me, faults and all” to someone who really mattered.  He even held me in my seat when, sitting in a huge auditorium in downtown Raleigh, I was so completely terrified that all I wanted to do was run to the parking lot and drive away.  (I'm so glad I didn't.)

This year, God trusted me with the beginnings of a significant, powerful, multi-denominational ministry.  He called me to step up in ways He never has before.  He pushed my introverted self into new situations, new challenges, and new moments where I had to step forward, shake a hand, introduce myself, and talk about my faith.  He put everything on the line and asked, “Will you?” – and, of course, I knew I had to say yes.  He gave me brand new responsibilities and accountabilities, put children with wide eyes in front of me to teach, and branched out my own personal ministry further than it’s ever reached.

This year, God showed me just a little bit of the future – of things He had promised me and spoken to me years ago during my time in the desert with Him in England.  When I first meet someone new, my question to them is “If you could be doing anything, what would it be?”  If I had to answer that myself, I’d say I’d be doing what I was doing this past year:  working in ministry, growing in closeness with God, entertaining, learning, teaching, sharing, and bringing people together, all in a mutually supportive, respectful, loving, laughter-filled, faith-challenging partnership.

This year, God blessed me with the knowledge of what it is to really be in love.  To love someone so deeply that I’d drive until I run out of gas because he’s asleep in the seat beside me.  To love someone so completely that it feels like a light has gone out in the room when he’s not here.  To love someone so spiritually that our personalities, ideas, world-views  and personal ministries lined up with each other’s like puzzle pieces I didn't even know I was missing until God snapped them together.  To know what it feels like to have found the person who brings me closest to God, and about whom I can confidently say that we can do more together than we can do apart.

And then this year, God spoke to me and molded me through overwhelming, heart wrenching, soul-confounding grief.  He watched me weep – angrily, bitterly, and then just sadly.  He let me vent; He listened silently as I questioned Him and yelled at Him.  His heart broke as mine did.  He waited months for me to lean in and actually try to hear Him, and when I finally did, He told me it’s not about me.  He answered my cry of “What do I do now?!” with four simple words that shouldn't have surprised me:“Let Me use you.”

I will do it, my dear child.  I will keep My promises.  But right now, it’s not about you.  You want to know what you should do?  Pray.  Get closer to Me.  Get stronger in your knowledge of the Word, your fruits of the Spirit, your understanding of My love and grace and forgiveness.  Let Me prepare you.  Let Me strengthen you.  And then, let Me use you.

So that is what I intend to do – continue, always, to let Him use me.

That was my 29th year.  Let’s see what my Lord does with my 30th.

Friday, November 02, 2012

As Political As Ever I'll Get

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. -1 Peter 2:13-17

A couple of years ago, I was in the habit of taking my writing notebook into Applebees in the evenings after choir or play practice at church and sit and penning a few paragraphs there while feasting on their half-price appetizers after 9pm.  One nondescript Thursday night, after spending my evening at church directing our latest skit, I was doing just that.  Usually the servers could tell that I wanted to be alone and would generally leave me as such; but tonight, I had been seated in the section of a young male waiter who was obviously not getting the hint.

After several minutes of him trying to engage me in conversation, to which I responded politely but succinctly, as I really had some Very Important Writing to get done, I happened to mention that I had just left church.  His interest was immediately piqued.  Standing by my table and totally abandoning his side-work  all he wanted to do was talk to me about faith.  He told me that he had been raised in a household where his father was Catholic and his mother was Pentecostal (or perhaps the reverse, I forget which), and they hadn't done a great job of making things clear for him.  He was understandably confused and seeking answers.  (I've since gained some rather strong opinions that children can most certainly be raised well in faith even if their parents are of two different denominations, given the right amount of openness, maturity, and mutual respect, but that's another thought for another time.)

When we started talking, I'm ashamed to admit, I secretly wanted him to just leave me alone.  I wanted to write!  I had things to do and I didn't have all night - I didn't want to bothered with talking to someone I didn't know.  It literally took God speaking to me in His still, small, yet very commanding way that this was more important than my writing and I needed to give him my full attention before I really got it.  Yes, I know how that sounds.  I'm not proud of it.

As soon as I really started engaging with him about God and faith, he actually slid into the booth opposite me and got very serious.  "I have to ask you a really important question," he said gravely.

Oh no.  I prepared myself for the worst.  The question of salvation?  Purgatory? The rapture?  What was he going to ask me for which I was probably by no means doctrinally or knowledgeably prepared?

He looked me right in the eyes and stared me down as he asked, "What do you think about abortion?"

I was honestly shocked.  I was taken aback, really.  Why did a 25 year old guy care about abortion?  It wasn't like he was ever going to have one.  I  barely thought about it, and I'm a woman!  For a minute or two I was silent, trying to make sure I even knew what I was going to say, and then make sure it came out right.  Eventually, I said something like this (though perhaps I've added a touch of elegance in the retelling):

That's a very tough question.  It's a very hard thing.  For me, I can say that I would never have an abortion.  I could never do it, ever.  If I had a friend who was considering abortion, I would be so heartbroken for her.  I can't even imagine.  I would pray with her, I would cry with her, and I would read the Bible with her.  Ultimately, I would counsel her to not have the abortion and instead give the baby up for adoption if she didn't want to keep it.  But I hope I never have to be in that situation. Also, I would never judge someone else if she told me she'd had one, and I would do my best to show God's love to her as I do with everyone.  I would just be so sorry she had to go through that.

He seemed satisfied.  I think he told me it was the most real answer he'd ever heard.  Praise God.

If you de-construct all that, what I said is that I'm anti-abortion, but pro-choice.

I believe the Bible.  I believe what God says, and I try the best that I can to live my life accordingly.  I believe unswervingly that accepting Christ as our Savior is the correct choice for every person's life and the way to Heaven, and ultimately that a relationship with God is what everyone in our country should seek with all their hearts.

But here's the thing:  not everyone believes what I do.

God gives us a choice.  In fact, He gives us the ultimate choice:  whether or not to follow Him.  To love Him.  To serve Him.  To accept Jesus Christ as our Savior.  He doesn't force us - He gave us free will.  

If God Himself gives us free will, it's not up to the government to force us to believe, or to institute governmental rights based on beliefs that not everyone in the United States holds.

I believe that when the decision in question comes down to something that separates us from God, then that decision should be between that person and God.  Not between that person and the government.

What political party do I affiliate myself with, you may ask?  Well, unfortunately, both sides are made up of people, and people are imperfect, so as a result, I really don't affiliate myself with one or the other with abject loyalty.  I vote for the candidate and the party whom I feel will be the most fair.  You're free to take that as you will.  Ultimately, though, politics don't really matter, because God's law is supreme.  Democrat, Republican, or otherwise, they've got nothing on the Creator of the Universe.

This election is important. But what's most important is who you elect to be the Lord of your life.  That choice goes way beyond the next four years:  it affects eternity.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Hearing the Music

I have very limited experience with death.  I've only really lost grandparents and an aunt, all of whom were quite sick for a long time and for whom it was almost a relief to see their suffering end.  All of those losses were sad, yes, but not at all sudden.  My family was pretty much prepared for all of them.

I wrote back in May that the future was up in the air for my relationship with the amazing young man God brought into my life last year.  At that time, well, I had no idea just how much things would change.

In the past week and a half, though, everything has changed.

First, he was offered a permanent job, which he'd been searching for for months, three hours away in the small town where his parents live.  His father was not well, suffering from an issue that came on very suddenly barely a month ago, so he accepted it to move back home and help his family.  The very next day - the night after his first day at work - his father passed away.

I have never experienced grief like this, and it wasn't even my own father.  Watching my friend, my spiritual partner, the man who, even now, holds so much of my heart, go through this terrible time has been more overwhelming than I could have ever imagined.

Two days ago, I travelled three hours west to that same small town for his father's memorial service.  Out of deference to my "inconvenience," he said I didn't have to come.  He seemed surprised that I would come, actually.  But how could I not?  This is his father.  He is...well, everything he is and will always be to me.

Even so, it was one of the scariest and hardest things I've ever had to do.

I realized in the days leading up to this past Friday that he and I had spent our time together in a bit of a bubble for almost a year.  He had met my family when they visited for Easter and spent four lovely days with them, but I had met none of his yet.  There just hadn't been opportunity.  I sent a card to his mother almost immediately after he called me on his lunch break at his second day of work and told me through halting words that his father had passed.  But I didn't know her.  I didn't know his sisters or his nieces and I was going to roll up in there, a relative stranger, telling them how sorry I was and oh, by the way, here I am, nice to meet you.

Plus, as I said, I have very little experience with death.  I had no idea what really to say, or do, or how to act, or what I should expect from my friend when I saw him.  I wanted to be the best support I could be, but I didn't know how.  Honestly, I still don't.  In one week, everything for us had changed and now he was going through more grief than I could even comprehend.  I wanted to do anything and everything I could, but I didn't know what that was.

I knew, though, that I was going to this memorial service to support him.

I have never been more nervous in my life.

Last week, in the days leading up to Friday, I laid it all out to God.  I cried every single day.  I asked God to give me strength, courage, and peace.  More than anything, I asked God to shine out through me.  Let my presence be a source of comfort and calm because of You, Lord, I begged.  More of You and less of me - all of You and none of me, more like.

Also, I asked God for a sign.  Something from Him to know I was doing the right thing.  I didn't know what I was asking for, really, but I just needed to hear from God somehow.  I read the story of Gideon and the fleece directly from the Bible for the first time.  I didn't really have a fleece, per se, but I wanted a sign that was unmistakable.  I needed one.

The memorial service was lovely.  Beautiful, touching, and I saw my precious friend's work all through it.  He had obviously orchestrated everything.  I watched this young man who is so dear to me be a steady, solid support for his grieving mother, taking care of every detail and stepping up now as the authority in his family.  I listened to people I didn't know praise his father's familial leadership, which, from knowing him, I already knew was based in faith, character, and God's love.

After the service, he hugged me several times and thanked me for coming before going home to be with his family who were spending the night. 

I went back to my hotel room, feeling even more overwhelmed.  I felt clumsy and inelegant, like I'd said all the wrong things after the service and wishing I could do it over.  I didn't know what I wish I would have said, but I wished it was something else.  All I could do was hope and pray that God had spoken through my clunky words and rather awkward presence.

I settled into the king bed in the hotel room, feeling very small and sad and alone.  I watched tv, talked to my little sister on the phone, prayed.  I was emotionally and mentally exhausted.  I tried to sleep, but couldn't.  Finally, I emailed my friend words that were just sort of falling out of me about the service, our relationship, and the future, and eventually fell into a heavy, uncomfortable slumber.  I hadn't heard from God in the way that I'd asked.

A few hours later, I was very gently woken up in the darkest part of the night.  At first, I couldn't figure out why I was awake when I was so unbelievably tired.  My head was fuzzy and everything was black and strange.

But then, ever so faintly, I heard it.

Coming from outside, somewhere I couldn't pinpoint, was the sound of a single violin playing.

The fuzziness in my head started to clear a little as I began to realize what I was hearing.  A violin.

Both my friend and I play the violin - it's one of the many things we have in common.  I've watched him play a few times now, and it's been something I absolutely treasure.  For nearly a year, every time I hear a violin, I think of him immediately.

The violin kept playing.  It was faint, but it was definitely there.

I don't know what I was expecting, but I got out of bed, slid into my slippers, and went to the window of the room and looked out.

No one was there, of course.  The violin kept playing.  It was somewhere around 4am.

I got back in bed and laid there, listening to the violin and slowly realizing that it was God giving me the sign I  had asked for.  In the dark stillness of the night, when I felt so alone and sad, here it was.  It didn't come when I expected, it wasn't big or loud or obvious to anyone else, but it was there.  The violin.  The confirmation from God that He was still there and I was in the right place.  The reminder of my precious friend, of how much I care for him, of all that we shared and that God had brought us together.

For the first time in more than a month, a peace washed over me like I had forgotten existed.

The violin only played for about five more minutes, and then it softly faded away.  I drifted back to sleep.

The grief isn't over.  The changes are still and will continue to be hard.  But God is here, and He is in all of it.  And someday, ever so softly at first, we'll hear the music playing again.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. -Psalm 30:5

Saturday, August 04, 2012

One Safe Place

Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find? -Proverbs 20:6

On the back of our bulletins every Sunday is a little blurb - a testimony - usually about the Bible verse we're reading in church that week.  A couple of weeks ago, it was about this idea of steadfast love.  The writer described his grandmother's love as "persistent and no-nonsense love," stating that she wasn't sentimental or sweet or over-the-top; instead, the love she gave was, simply, present.  Constant.  Unfailing.

That's how God loves us.  His love for us is persistent and no-nonsense.  It doesn't matter what we do.  We can push Him away, hate Him, curse Him, deny Him, loathe Him.  We can forget about Him for months on end.  We can exclude Him from our lives.  We can not answer Him and not seek Him and not care about Him at all.

But He will never stop loving us, never stop pursuing us, never stop patiently waiting for us to turn around and realize He's been right there with us all along.

As I read that testimony in church, I thought, I want to be like that.

I want to love people the way God loves me.  Isn't that the point?  Love people with a no-nonsense, persistent, unfailing love.  A love that is secure and in which they can be confident.  In which they can rest.  I want the people I love to know that I am there.  I love them, I always will, and that's it.  End of discussion.

It doesn't matter what they do.  They can push me away, ignore me, forget about me, exclude me.  I don't care.  Once I'm in your life, I'm in it, you're stuck with me, and there ain't nothin' you can do about it.  Sorry 'bout your luck.

I want to be that soft place to fall for the people I love.  I want them to know that no matter what they do, they can always come back and receive grace from me.  I want to be their resting place in their time of need, their encourager in their sorrows, their strength in their struggles, their lifeline in the darkest night.  When I go to be with the Lord, I want the people I leave behind to say "She was the most gracious and giving person I knew.  She was where I would turn for love and to feel close to God.  The light of the Holy Spirit just shone out through her."

Marc Cohn sings a song called "One Safe Place" which I think describes perfectly the kind of love I'm talking about.  Here are the lyrics:

How many roads you’ve travelled
How many dreams you’ve chased
Across sand and sky and gravel
Looking for one safe place?

Will you make a smoother landing
When you break your fall from grace?
Into the arms of understanding
Looking for one safe place.

Oh, life is trial by fire
And love’s the sweetest taste
And I pray it lifts us higher
To one safe place.

I get my love from my Lord.  His love is unfailing, so mine can be, too.  That is going to be my starting place from now on.

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you. -Isaiah 54:10



Monday, July 30, 2012

The Stretch


Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
He will never let
the righteous be shaken. -Psalm 55:22

My apartment is right next to a lake with a walking trail circling its two-mile circumference.  Nearly every day, I take my toy poodle and we traipse around it.  We're very blessed to live here.

Even though she's a little tyke at barely five pounds with tiny legs, my Lottie usually makes it most of the way around on her own.  However, there's one part - one stretch overlooking the lake right by the parking lot - where she absolutely refuses to walk.  Every single time, right before we approach the hill to get to the stretch, she stops and sits down.  It never fails.  She will not walk across that stretch for anything.

Now, when that happens, I have three choices:  I can leave her there (um, not going to happen); I can drag her (that would be dog abuse); or, I can pick her up and carry her across.  I know from experience that she'll walk once we get to the other side.

Tonight, as I carried her across the stretch, it made me think about how so very often we're like this with God.

So many seasons in our lives are like these long, scary stretches.  It's really just a part of the trail, but we don't want to walk across them.  We want to sit down, plant our butts on the ground, and be stubborn.

And then God has three choices:  He can leave us there (um, not going to happen); He can drag us (but He won't); or, He can pick us up and carry us across.

I'm Lottie's owner.  I'm her protector, her guardian, her mama.  I'm not going to abandon her or abuse her.  I'm going to carry her.

How much more does God do that for us?

I've been told I should be more firm with Lottie, that I should make her walk, that she's not the boss, but I am.  Maybe that's true.  Maybe I need to be more stern and forcible with her.  But in that moment, every time, when I'm given the choice to leave her, drag her, or carry her - I know which one I'm going to choose.

Sometimes we reach those long, scary stretches and we need God to carry us.  Praise Him that He doesn't even think twice about it.  Suddenly, just like that - we're in His loving, protective, comforting arms.

"It's okay, my dear child - I'll get you there," our Daddy assures us.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It Is Well

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. -1 Corinthians 15:53-58

Last night, someone whom I dearly love very suddenly lost someone whom he dearly loved.

It is in times like these when I wish I had more answers.

I would do anything I had to do if I could take away his grief.  Really, anything.  But I can't. 

I've never felt so helpless.  All I can really say is I'm so sorry.  I can't do anything else.

But God.

God is still God.  He is still all loving, all knowing, the Comforter, the Healer, the Beginning and the End.  He is the I AM.  He is the Creator, the Author and Finisher of our faith.  

God is Daddy.  He wants us to climb up into His lap and let Him put His loving arms around us and wipe the tears from our eyes and whisper, "It's going to be okay.  I love you.  You are my precious child."

I don't have the answers.  I don't know why we get sick.  I don't know why everything suddenly changes. I don't know why bad things happen and diagnoses are given and then nothing seems to make sense.

But what I do know is this:  God is love.  Three simple words - God is love.  That's it.

And what is love?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. -1 Corinthians 13:4-8

God is not judge, jury, and executioner.  He does not sit on His throne ruling that we're sick based on our sins or shortcomings or lack of faith.  God hates illness, disease, and suffering just as much as we do.  He wants us to live in the full abundance of His love, His blessings, His forgiveness, and His grace.  The Lord's prayer says "on Earth as it is in Heaven."  Is there any sickness in Heaven? 

No.

So until we get there, we just have to keep looking to God for grace in our time of need.

Sickness is not a divine punishment, and death is not the end.

It is well.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Show Up or Shut Up

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. -James 2:17

It was a Saturday in early December of last year, and I had a choice to make.

I could get dressed up, do the ridiculous wiggling-into-pantyhose-dance, slip into a sweater-dress, brush my teeth, do my makeup, curl my hair, get in my car, and drive well nigh on 45 minutes, in the rain, no less, to a place I'd never been before to support someone I cared about but who I wasn't sure cared about me. Or I could stay home with my dog, who I know cares about me, and watch TV in my pajamas.

Guess which one I wanted to do?

I thought about it all day. I was decided, I was undecided. I told the person I was coming, and then I wasn't, and then that I might. I left it up in the air, because I didn't know just how much, when it came right down to it, I'd be willing to give.

The time drew near for me to get ready. So I got ready, just in case I decided to go.

I walked my dog, just in case.

I put on my dress and my pantyhose and my makeup, just in case.

I looked up directions, just in case.

But then, minutes from when I needed to leave, I sat forlornly on the couch thinking, “I really don't want to go. What's in it for me? Will this person even care? Probably not.”

As if on cue (because, of course, it was His cue), God answered simply, “Show up or shut up.”

As usual, I'm ashamed to say, it took conviction from God to make me get it.

So many times, we want our lives to move forward but we're not willing to show up to make that happen. We want it to just happen on its own, even if we're not conscious of it. I told God I was willing to do whatever it took, but when it came right down to it, He had to speak to me to get me off the couch! I'm learning that life (and by life, I mean God) doesn't work by wishing. He wants to know that we're going to take that step. He wants to know we're committed. He's not going to hand us something when He doesn't know what we're going to do with it.

He wants me to stop saying “This should be!” and start saying “What can I do to make this happen?”

Stop saying, “This should change!” and start saying “I'm going to work to change this.”

Stop saying, “That's a great idea!” and start saying, “Here's the next step to that idea.”

Because if I'm not willing...how can I expect anyone else to be willing? How can I expect others to be giving when I'm stingy? Gracious when I'm angry? Forgiving when I'm hard-hearted? Committed when I'm waffly? Sacrificial when I'm selfish?

How can I expect more from others than what I'm willing to give myself?


More than that - how can I ask God to take His 99 steps if I'm not willing to take my one?

I stood up, strapped on my heels, picked up my purse, kissed my poodle goodbye, and left. I drove white-knuckled through the rain. I showed up that night, only slightly worse for wear, and I'll never forget how surprised the person I was there to support was a result.

If you ask me right now, I'm not sure how much of a difference it made. I'd like to think my going was significant, that my presence showed the person support and encouragement and respect and that I can be counted on. But I don't know if any of that is true. I'm not sure how much it mattered, and maybe I'll never know.

But what I do know is that I showed up. I did what I knew I had to do, if I'm being honest, to live with myself. I did everything I could do – what I knew God wanted me to do. Because, as I replied back to God that night, well, Heaven knows I'm not going to shut up.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The List


Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. -Hebrews 4:16

You might not know this about me, but I am a list-maker.  

I wasn't always one, but as I've gotten older, I've found list-making to be the best way to keep track of important things like time and money.  I used to go to the grocery store without a list, buy random things, and then get home without a full set of ingredients for anything.  Before I had a full time job, I would meander through my days without structure and end up settling down at 9pm to get done what I should have been doing all day long.

Now, though, I make lists for practically everything.  Lists of things to buy at the store, things that need to be done, people I need to reach out to - the list, ironically, goes on and on.  I plan my days off by listing what needs to be cleaned and errands that need to be run.  I manage my life by keeping a constant list in my head.

The past few weeks have been challenging ones for me.  Without going into detail, since the detail isn't really important, let's just say that my world has flipped on its axis a bit and everything is heightened, confusing, and unknown.  In the natural, at least, that's the way it appears.

God has been speaking to me a lot, though, especially in the past week or so.  Even when I don't even realize I'm praying, I'm praying.  He's spoken through everything possible - people, places, events, circumstances, road signs, and by literally stopping me mid-kerfluffled-mind-rant during church.  He's spoken audibly. He's lobbed cosmic cream pies at my face one right after the other.  And everything that He has been speaking to me has seemed just totally impossible.  My general response to what He's been saying has been, "Uh huh - I'll believe it when I see it."

Hypocrite much?  Anyway...

This past week, I've heard from two very different yet very strong, spiritual ladies about lists.  Twice, now, I listened to a woman I admired and trusted in faith tell me that during a similar time in her life, she put pen to paper and made a list of what she was believing for from God.  Both women said it felt a little silly, a little frivolous, but that they were believing for what God spoke to them and for the longings and desires He had put in their hearts.  And that, miraculously, every single thing on those lists came true.

After last night, when the second woman told me her story about her list, I couldn't get this idea off my mind. I'm a list-maker.  I make lists for literally everything else.  And so, this afternoon, I picked up my little notebook that I carry around everywhere, turned on a song that I've been listening to on repeat for six weeks now, clicked my purple pen and began to write.

First, I wrote at the top everything God had spoken to me.  And then under it, I made a list of what I wanted, what the deepest desires of my heart are, based on what He said.

Now, I'm a miracle-believing Christian.  Mark 10:27 is my life verse.  I have seen and witnessed miracles of every kind and I will be the first to tell you to believe for what God has spoken to you.  But writing these things down felt like the craziest, silliest, most frivolous, and most pie-in-the-sky fairy-dust thing I have ever done in my life.  (And oh, I've done some crazy stuff - just ask my mother!)

I'm ashamed to say it, but it just seems so ridiculous.  Writing all these things down feels like I'm a five year old making a list of what she'll do when she grows up to be a princess who lives on a cloud at the end of a rainbow with pixies.

And yet, here it is.

Earlier this week, I shared with my pastor some of the things God had spoken to me and that I was hesitant to believe it.  He looked at me and said, "Don't you believe God can do that?"

Well.  Um.  I didn't really have an answer.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” -Mark 10:27

It's right there.  I guess I don't really have a choice.  Which, to be honest, is actually kind of great.

I made my list.  Now it's up to God to begin checking things off.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Just Decide To

I've been watching Aaron Sorkin's brilliant new show "The Newsroom" and loving it.  (PS, it's a  2012 version of "Sports Night," but I digress.)  The show centers around Will McAvoy, news anchor, and MacKenzie McHale, his former love and now his executive producer.  Will and MacKenzie have it, that connection, that kismet, that spark.  They're partners.  They're a team. What they can do together is a hundred thousand times more than what they can do separately, and they both know it.  

Will is reluctant, at first, to work with MacKenzie - mainly because he's scared.  He wants to be liked by his audience.  He's worried about ratings.  He doesn't want to change or do things the way he knows MacKenzie expects him to do them.  He's analytical and prescriptive and basically he's let fear back him into a corner - the corner of being non-committal.  He's brilliant and charismatic and deep - he has what it takes  - but for years he's let fear keep him from really doing what he's meant to do.

MacKenzie is, well, pretty much fearless.  She jumps in with both feet and she believes in what she's doing with all she has.  She doesn't care about ratings or being unpopular. She wears her heart on her sleeve, often to her own embarrassment.  She gives people the benefit of the doubt - her team, the audience, everyone.  Most importantly, she gives Will the benefit of the doubt.  She sees what he's afraid to see in himself.  She believes in him and what he - what they, together - can do. She's fierce, and she won't give up on him.

They are being called to a higher order in the news show they create.  They want to do better.  They want to educate, inform, enlighten, and really to do what they do the best they can.

But they can't do it without each other.

At the end of the pilot episode, the president of the station shares a bourbon with Will.  He talks about a time when they did the news well.  How?  "We just decided to," he says.

Will almost doesn't.  He plays around.  He has silly arbitrations written into MacKenzie's contract to give him  a sense of control.  In the second episode, he goes behind her back and writes content into the show he knows she wouldn't approve.  After that show, MacKenzie confronts him and says one decisive line, "Are you in or are you out?"

I firmly believe God has a purpose, a calling, a specific plan for each of our lives.  I'll believe that as long as I live.  I've read theories and articles and Biblical interpretations that God doesn't really care what we do as long as we're serving Him, but try as I might, I can't buy it.  The God I know, by Heaven, knows what it is He wants me to be doing.  He's not shy about telling me, either.  He created me, He put in me what's in me, and He's put the people and opportunities in my life for a reason.  Sorry, but we're not all just wandering around in each other's paths by accident here, folks.

And guess what?  He's done the same for you.  He has a plan for you.  He has a purpose for you, things He wants you to do for His kingdom, ways in which He has gifted and equipped and enabled you to do His will.  People He's put in your path to work with and beside to make those things happen.  Will to your MacKenzie.  MacKenzie to your Will.

He's calling you to something higher than what you've been doing up until now.  He's calling you to do better.  He's calling you to use what He's given you for ministry.  Make no mistake - He definitely is!  It might not be easy.  Dare I say it, it might even be difficult or seem impossible.  It'll take you breaking out of your comfort zone, whatever that means for you.  If you're impulsive, it'll take patience.  If you're scrupulous and analytical, it'll take faith.  It'll take courage to step out, strength to be vulnerable, and - dare I say this, too - commitment to what God is putting in front of you.  You can't serve God halfway and expect it to work in any way.

MacKenzie asked Will, "Are you in or are you out?" and then left him alone to think about it.  A few hours later, he called her and simply said, "I'm in."

Just decide to.  

Because ultimately, as another line from "The Newsroom" says, "It's going to come down, as it always does, to who shows up."

Then I heard the Lord asking, "Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?" I said, "Here I am. Send me." -Isaiah 6:8


Monday, July 09, 2012

Under My Umbrella

"If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." -Jesus, Matthew 21:22

I gave the children's sermon in church this week.  It was all about faith - the idea that when we pray, we need to actually believe that God not only can but will do what we ask.  The illustration I gave to the children was the idea of praying for rain in the middle of a drought, as we are here in North Carolina, but then not carrying an umbrella around in expectation of the rain.  If we pray for rain, why aren't we preparing for it?

I was about halfway through studying the children's sermon on Saturday evening when I realized I was going to be preaching directly to myself.

How often do I pray for rain and then don't even carry my umbrella?

How often do I pray for a miracle but then I don't live with the expectation that God is going to do it?

I've often heard that old quote, "Expect nothing and you won't be disappointed" - and I hate it!  It's totally the opposite of faith.  The Bible says that God responds to our faith.  In fact, our lack of faith limits the power of God.  In the Gospel reading we read this week, Jesus is back in His home town, ready to preach and teach and heal, but no one believed He could perform miracles.  So He didn't.  "He could not do any miracles there [...] And He was amazed at their lack of faith." -Mark 6:5-6

It's when we actually believe that God can and will do it that miracles happen.  When Jesus performed miracles and healed people, what did He so often say?  "Your faith has made you well." (Mark 5:34, Luke 18:42).  Not "Oh, I felt like healing someone today, and lucky you, you're it!" or "Well, I guess I have nothing better to do, so here's some of God's power - enjoy!"  

Their faith brought about God's action.  Because of their belief, God responded in kind.

This evening, ironically, the sky threatened rain.  Even so, determined to get some exercise, I dragged my toy poodle around the two-mile hiking trail circling the lake where we live.  I usually have a walking buddy, but tonight I didn't, so God became my walking buddy. While we walked, I prayed.  My prayer came on gradually - so gradually that at first I wasn't even conscious of it - but three-quarters of the way around the lake, I was actually praying aloud.  (The people who heard me as they ran past either thought I was crazy or had a really small Bluetooth headset!)  In that moment, I prayed for a miracle.  I didn't beg, I didn't plead, I didn't cajole, I didn't say "if You feel like it, Lord."  No, I prayed.  I boldly approached the throne of grace, stood on the confidence of the name of Jesus granted to me in the Bible, and asked for a miracle because I believe it is God's will and I know what I am asking for is going to bring God an incredible amount of glory.

Now, I'm going to be living in expectation.  I asked for rain, so you'd better believe I'm going to be carrying my umbrella.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Not Just A Snuggly Genie

I was reading Bianca Olthoff's very inspirational blog the other day when I ran across a pearl of wisdom she had written about dating and marriage - to sum up, it went this way:  "The way a person loves God will be how he or she will love you."

I started really thinking about that...and it's made me sit back and take a long, hard look at my relationship with God.

I thought about how I interact with God in relation to how I approach my other relationships.  Some of the questions that came into my mind were:

-Do I set aside purposeful, dedicated time to spend with God, investing in being with just Him on a regular (as in, not just when I feel like it) basis?

-Do I seek out His heart?  Do I strive to learn what pleases Him, what He desires from me, and what I can do to serve Him better?

-Do I listen - really listen - to what He is trying to tell me about what He wants from and for me?

-Do I tell others with enthusiasm and adoration how much I love Him and how happy I am that He is my God?

Let's just say I was not comfortable nor happy with how I felt about the answers to these questions.

Lately, if I'm being honest, I've been treating God as little more than a Snuggie with magical powers.  Someone who can simultaneously hold me and stroke my hair while making everything all better.  A genie with a big lap and a James Earl Jones voice who has no qualms whatsoever about telling me how much He loves me.  Score!

Which...that's great.  God is that.  But He is so much more, too.

God wants more from me than just running to Him with my broken toy in a grubby outstretched hand to be fixed.  I'm not a toddler in the faith anymore.  He wants a relationship with me - a mutual, give and take, invested, reciprocal, adult relationship.  Except - score times infinity! - this is a relationship with the God who created me, loves me unconditionally, sent His Son to die for me, forgives all my sins, and knows every hair on my head and every step I should take to walk out His perfect plan for my life.

But in this relationship, I'm the one who needs to step up to the plate.

I need to learn how to listen to Him rather than just telling Him what needs fixing.  I need to spend time in worship rather than wailing.  I need to put the work that I so wilfully, selflessly, and persistently put into my other relationships into the Most Important One of all.

Good news is, the thing about me that anyone who knows me will tell you is that I will work at relationships.  When I invest in someone, by Heaven, I go all in.  I will clamp on with pit-bull faith and there is no shaking me.  That's because I learned from The Best.  Even with all of my taking Him for granted, my Abba, Daddy, Creator, and Lord is always here to be my Healer, my Guide, my Snuggie, and my Savior.  

And I'm taking myself to task to be better at reciprocating His investment in me from now on.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." -Deuteronomy 6:5