Come Up Higher!


“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The world we live in today is an angry world, not just a little miffed, but seething, boiling-over, raging ANGRY. It is, of course, perfectly natural to feel this way. Facebook, life’s microcosm, has seen many “Me Too” posts recently. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a movement to bring awareness to the threat of gender-based violence and intimidation faced by the women and girls of the world in general, and to remind us that all around us, every day, there are women who feel unsafe. There is a global epidemic of forced labor and sex trafficking, for adults and children. What else are we faced with socially and personally on a daily basis but domestic violence, rising healthcare costs, greedy corporations, unethical treatment of employees, thieves, liars, cheaters, swindlers, pretenders, violence, hatred, anger, anger, anger!

I was angry as well when I started writing this post. Some things, after all, are just WRONG. However, “Me Too” should be the beginning of a discussion, not just an angry, raised fist.

An old Newsboys song says, “Everybody needs somebody to rely on….are you gonna lend a hand and assist? Everybody needs somebody’s shoulder to cry on…..are you gonna lend a hand, or a fist?” 

The real struggle, after all, is not men against women, black against white, rich against poor, cat people against dog people, left against right, not really. We all have much more in common than we sometimes care to remember. The ultimate puppet master and behind-the-scenes enemy of all of us is evil incarnate, or the devil, Satan, whatever you call him. He is a master manipulator and gold-star pot-stirrer, and we all fall for his games from time to time. For instance, when I’m angry after reading of a family devastated, or a crime committed, I am usually angry with people. This encourages me to have an “us versus them” or even “me versus everybody else” mentality. That kind of thinking is what feeds the mafia, gang warfare, and a Hatfield’s vs. McCoy’s ideology. When both sides are bleeding and wounded, who really wins? When the smoke clears, you may find yourself looking, not at an enemy, but at a mirror instead. We all get hurt, but we do not have to be the ones doing the hurting.

So, me too, I have been hurt by others, AND I have hurt others. The only hands I can control are on the end of my own arms. The words I have come out of my own mouth. SO, I can be angry with “them” or you, but if I look at MYSELF, I can make the changes that the world needs to be a better place, for “them”, you, and me too.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:13-20 NIV
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Hot Coffee, and Meningitis


“Man could direct his ways by plain reason, and support his life by tasteless food, but God has given us wit, and flavor, and brightness, and laughter to enliven the days of man’s pilgrimage, and to charm his pained steps over the burning marble” ~ Sydney Smith

Today, my coffee is hot, strong, and soothing. Today, my husband told me there are 3 men out with meningitis at his work. Today, one of my daughters told me she is on the honor roll and getting props from the high school principal. Today, I am almost out of laundry detergent. Today, another daughter has an interview for a new job. Today, I need to write a letter of apology.

Life is a series of good and bad, joy and sadness, pleasure and pain. We all know this. In many ways, life may seem like a spinning roulette wheel. Where will the ball stop? What chance circumstance will come our way next? Better duck, the wheel is still spinning.

But are our lives’ experiences a matter of pure chance, or is there something more? Is there an unseen Hand behind it all, directing our steps, bringing us situations designed to shape our character, and above all else showing us, by and by, that even in the midst of our most dark and confusing seasons that we are LOVED?

“The poor and needy are seeking water when there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the wild olive; I will set the cypress in the desert, the plane [tree] and the pine [tree] together, That men may see and know and consider and understand together that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.” ~ Isaiah 41:17-20

So, after hearing more and more about our little rural area and the threat of meningitis getting closer and closer to my friends and loved ones, I warned my kids to be careful and not share food or drinks. I read that frankincense essential oil may help, and I decided to clean my house. (Little note for you, my readers, there are many nasty things going around, even without the threat of meningitis. Be safe, be careful, and love your loved ones.) I’m also going to be adding some frankincense oil to my homemade hand soap, just in case. 🙂

When Words Fail


“Success builds character, failure reveals it” ~ Dave Checkett

So, ok, maybe things didn’t quite go as planned. Maybe everyone knows it. Maybe no one knows it but you.

This past February I turned 40. Something I am learning over and over is that as we age, and hopefully mature, we tend to do more thinking and less reacting. Sure, I definitely still have more than my share of flying off the handle, knee-jerk reactions, and so forth, but I’m getting better….I think… I hope.

Naturally, when we think we’ve got one aspect of life under control, like being careful which friends you share your deep personal stuff with, or where to buy the good burgers, or which checker is efficient and friendly and won’t talk your ear off about their personal life drama…Just when you think Ok, I’ve got this, here comes a curve ball that shatters your world and makes you question what you thought you knew for sure, like the love of God and his plan for your life.

For me, a wrenching reminder came about seven weeks ago. You see, I was pregnant.

I had kept it a secret from nosy people with their opinions of how many children each couple should have. Like a treasure, I had hidden my secret away during difficult times my family has been going through. I mean, come on, opinions would be coming fast and furious. I’m 40? And I have HOW MANY KIDS ALREADY? Right. Well, this blessing in disguise was OUR blessing, a precious gift in the middle of trying times.

So, when I was finally ready I went to the doctor and had my pregnancy confirmed. I saw the ultrasound. The little coming attraction was bouncing around with a steady heartbeat. About 2 weeks later, a blood test came back telling us there were no chromosome defects, and we were having a little girl. My husband groaned. Another girl? Yet we were both relieved that the baby was fine.

One week later, something was wrong and I made a visit to the emergency room where another ultrasound showed no movement OR heartbeat. So, I returned to the semi-private, curtain partitioned room and cried my heart out. Alone. I was almost 4 months along. The man on the other side of the curtain who had pulled a muscle lifting weights was very, very quiet as I tried to make my unreal grief more socially acceptable.

A dear friend, who had left work, and my dad came to the hospital. They were two of the few people who knew I had been expecting. They shared my grief, but what can you say when there are no words?

When I was discharged and handed a pamphlet on miscarriage, I still had the long drive home and facing my husband with the news. He wasn’t aware that I had gone to the emergency room, or any of the things that had happened. Service is spotty in the hospital, and my husband works nights. What a horrible way to wake someone up.

Many parents have struggled with the pain that comes from losing a child, whether from death, custody battles, rebellion, or estrangement. Like me, they may feel confused, anxious, full of grief, and on the verge of giving up. This was a situation I didn’t understand. It felt so very unfair. God seemed far away when I needed his comfort. He seemed silent when I needed his advice. The pain was so great that I felt like I was being crushed physically. It’s a scary place to be when we see just how little control we actually have over our lives. It feels like there is nothing you can trust.

Time and time again, people would offer ridiculous “smiley-face” bits of advice like, “This too shall pass”. I didn’t want it to pass. I wanted it to disappear. The passing felt like being dragged behind a horse.

I have seldom felt anything to compare with the pain of a child being lost or struggling in some way. I became very bitter and shut people out. I hid from people. Why would anyone want to hear the same old complaints? Why bring people down? Our struggles can be embarrassing. We can feel ashamed.

It seems odd, but the thing that has been the most powerful and actually healing thing to me in my most gut-wrenching pain has been the Cross of Christ. His suffering didn’t just lead to death, and, poof– end of story. Jesus’ ticket to the grave was for a round trip.

His suffering and anguish were public and humiliating. His grief was made more difficult to bear because of his loneliness and being misunderstood. He was blamed although he was blameless!

BUT! The incomparable suffering of Christ was only a comma in a sentence that ended with death itself up-ended and turned on its ear in Jesus’ absolute victory! What this means for you and me in our times of suffering is that we can trust his competence and compassion as we face our most formidable challenges. Even death has lost its sting!

The Resurrection means more than I used to think. See, this is how we carry our hope: we realize that the shadow of the Cross actually covers everything like a big “Paid in Full” stamp. Even more amazing, however, than the fact of its being paid is what was purchased once and for all, and FOR US ALL! Amazing! (Ephesians 2:1-22)

So, if you are reading this post and have some heart breaking thing that you are currently facing in your life, I want to encourage you. It is difficult, but sharing our pain leads to sharing the joy that our victories bring. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before.

Without the Cross, Jesus being alive is just regular, business as usual. There’s no amazement. No miracle. No power. When you and I are able to humble ourselves and share the Goliath, the tiny stone becomes enormous. In a similar way, the light doesn’t mean as much without the tunnel. When we are willing to share our own struggles and pain, we can see the relief and hope it creates in other people. I have felt the same when others share with me.

This feeling that we are not alone is very comforting, even more so that there is hope and victory through Christ. Talk about JOY unspeakable! It will build your faith as you share with others, just as God intended.

“Therefore, believers, since we have confidence and full freedom to enter the Holy Place [the place where God dwells] by [means of] the blood of Jesus, by this new and living way which He initiated and opened for us through the veil [as in the Holy of Holies], that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great and wonderful Priest [Who rules] over the house of God, let us approach [God] with a true and sincere heart in unqualified assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word]…” Hebrews 10:19-23 AMP

 

King of All the Wild Things


“And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.”
― Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

WILD! He is a wild thing. God is King of all the Wild Things, King of Kings and Lord of Lords! This can be a little scary for some people. I have worried, in the past that this Wild God might make crazy demands on me, like sending me to Africa to starve as a missionary or into the depths of the deepest, darkest scariest places of the world, or asking that I forgive a friend or family member who’s hurt me…

“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope? Can you put a cord through its nose or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it keep begging you for mercy? Will it speak to you with gentle words? Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life? Can you make a pet of it like a bird or put it on a leash for the young women in your house? Will traders barter for it? Will they divide it up among the merchants? Can you fill its hide with harpoons or its head with fishing spears? If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse it. Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” ~ Job 41:1-11 NIV
He is WILD! How can mere humans stand before him? How can we even lift our eyes to Him who sits on the Throne of Thrones? How can anyone hope to have a “relationship” with such a fearsome and dreadful being as God? It’s easy to read parts of the Old Testament and see a vengeful, vindictive Zeus-like judge and not a Lover, Creator, or Savior. Where is the mercy? Where is the compassion? Where is the love? His demands are impossible! His being is unapproachable! Even the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful God is frightening and overwhelming!
“’When Israel was a child, I loved him,and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities. They will follow the Lordhe will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes,’ declares the Lord.” ~ Hosea 11:1-11 NIV
It seems that God, like the rest of us, is a complex, and unique personality, who needs time and dialog to get to know, as are each of us. 🙂 I have personally found that the more I learn, the more I see there is to learn, like reaching the elusive horizon in a ship, there is always further to go, more to explore. The majesty and grandeur of God should instill a sense of wonder and awe in us. However, he is not coldly majestic like an iceberg, or distant like the reaches of space, spangled and studded with the starry host. God is kindly and merciful to us, exemplified and condensed once and for all in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is the missing piece of the puzzle, the lens which makes the mystery of God become a bit clearer.
With our perspective updated, in the light of His greatness, our struggles and pain do not have to spell our doom. Likewise, through the lens of Christ, we can trust and depend on Him. The fearsome wildness of the Creator is tempered by the Gift of the Son. Through this Gift, we ALL have a Father. By this love, we have all become His children.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” ~ John 3:16-21 NIV

Come Undone


“Hey you, out there in the cold

Getting lonely, getting old

Can you feel me?

Hey you, standing in the aisles

With itchy feet and fading smiles

Can you feel me?

Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light

Don’t give in without a fight.” ~ Pink Floyd

Sometimes, after the pep talks end and the encouragement fades away, we are left alone in the dark; brittle, empty, and afraid. Sometimes we come to the end of ourselves and realize that our painful  situation is still going strong and we have nothing left to give. Sometimes, we find that we are not enough. What then? When reality smacks you in the face like a giant tidal wave, no amount of self-help, Oprah’s book club, pop-psychology will save you.

To borrow a quote from the movie Speed, “Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?” (Oh the irony of using a movie quote when I’m talking about facing reality, right? Seriously, sometimes you just have to poke a little fun at yourself.)

OK, so maybe not every situation is as life-and-death as that….but yours may be. Your situation could have you sweating bullets, or sweating because of literal bullets. We live in a very angry world. It seems no one can even state an opinion these days without bringing down a firestorm on their heads. You’d better not say something that someone else doesn’t like. You’d better never make a mistake. Further, you’d better never even suggest that there might be only ONE truth and that it is a Person named Jesus and that he died to save every one of us angry, opinionated, offended, fault-finding, hypocrites. I have realized as I go through life that it is the easiest thing in the world to say one thing and then do another when we come down to the sticking place. But I’m getting off track now talking about Jesus…..Oh wait, no I’m not.

So anyway, Jesus……because he is really what will help us all out here (as in our lives in this world), not more of our own opinions…… Jesus…Name above all names, beautiful Savior, glorious Lord, Emmanuel, God is with us, Blessed Redeemer, Living Word…….In the midst of very personal and painful trials with my own family, my loved-best-in-the-world, my children, my parents, my siblings, my spouse, my dearest of dear friends…I have had to camp out at the feet of Jesus and just weep on more than one occasion.

The funny thing is that from the outside, people have many opinions about the reasons we all hurt, the reasons someone else hurts, or you, or me (SOOO many opinions!!); but we’re all kind-of just winging it as we go. I mean, no offense to you planning, careful types. I know you’ve worked hard and you know where you want to go. Good for you! 🙂

But, let me just say, as a non careful-planning-type someone who knows, that plans unravel and stitches come out, threads holding you to other people fray and tear, buttons get lost and zippers break. Sometimes, many times, our best laid plans are just not enough. Sometimes we get the thing we’ve wanted, and sometimes we don’t. Quite often, in fact, we don’t get the things we want. Many times we get the thing(s) we never wanted instead. It quite honestly seems to be horribly, cruelly unfair.

So, there you are, sitting in front of the blank wall of disappointment, where all your hopes and dreams have been crushed by a giant, undeniable “NO”. And yet, failure teaches us. Pain molds us. Disappointment tests us. We cannot grow without it, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Without “NO”, there is no reason to change or improve. “No” hurts us deeply. However, “No” is not the final word written in our story.

“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’ For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  2 Corinthians 1:19-22 Amplified

In our own lives, it will take each of us a good deal of time and thought and study to learn about the promises of God. We all have our own dreams and plans. Since we can’t honestly say that the purposes and motivations behind those plans and dreams are 100% godly, it behooves each of us to find out what God’s plans are for our lives and how they differ from our own often-frustrated plans….and how much God’s plans surpass ours in every way. 

Of course, a lot of us will say our own “No” here. We don’t believe it, and we don’t trust it…..but since we’re chatting as friends here, let’s call it truthfully what it is, this big “No” of ours:

We don’t believe GOD; and we don’t trust GOD.

There. I typed it out. You read it. No lightning has struck us. It’s not like it was a big secret anyway. 😉 A big part of the reason why we don’t see the fulfillment to the many promises of God is that we give less credence to the power, integrity, and intentions of the Maker of the Promises than we do to Starbuck’s when we order a drink at the drive-thru. In order to get past this stuff (and move on up, to the east-side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky as it were….you were singing along too, weren’t you?)….In order to set foot on the Promised Land instead of only hearing about it or seeing it from very far off, you and I have to grow up. (This post is taking me literally months as I stop and think about each new thought and walk some things out in my own life.)

You and I have got to quit playing at being followers of Christ, and actually take HIS lead and follow. Long ago, before Twitter or Facebook or any other ironically-named “social” networking site, there was such a thing as being a follower of Christ. The men and women who followed Jesus Christ were just like you and I. They had their own plans and hopes and dreams and families and heartaches and jealousies and livelihoods, etc…etc… Yet, each and every one of them was told to lay down his or her cares, take up their cross, and follow Christ.

When I was little and I would hear those stories with a child’s understanding, I thought they were basically left with the clothes on their backs. In my mind I saw this odd group of people trailing along in the desert wearing different colors of tunics and some sort of head coverings, like the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Their families were left behind. Their responsibilities were left behind. Basically, I thought Jesus asked them to beggar themselves and become outcasts. In my mind all I could picture was the loneliness, sacrifice and going without and being in want. I’ve heard it preached this way many times. Usually the follow-up example would be the rich young ruler, then riches were labelled a bad thing we all had to give up, and the collection plate would be passed.

Of course this kind of reasoning flies in the face of verses (from the NIV) like:

Psalm 23:1 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”  

Matthew 11:28-30 ~ “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

John 16:33 ~ “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

OK, calm down. I’m not spouting heresy here. Just be patient with me. 🙂 Some people are called to leave everything behind and follow Christ into a deep jungle, or a burning desert, or the urban inner city, etc. Not everyone is called to do that, however. In the Bible, Jesus had 12 disciples and there were many others who followed along at different times. They eagerly listened to the challenging and beautiful words of the Carpenter from Nazareth and then brought those words back to their lives and families. They returned to their responsibilities and loved-ones and God-ordained places. They reached out to the people around them every day, their neighbors, friends, and family. They gave their possessions and time and talents and even wealth to the cause of Christ. Spiritually, we are ALL called to set as priority one: Jesus Christ.

No, Christ doesn’t need our money. Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1) The people we share the world with, on the other hand, have just as many physical needs as we do ourselves. Therefore, we are presented with a very practical, no nonsense way of showing the love of Christ to the people we encounter every day. People need bus fare, rides to work, babysitters, help around the house, a hand to hold, a meal, a few bags of groceries, a shoulder to cry on, our knowledge, our skills, our time. As indicated by the verses above, our recompense isn’t only waiting for us on the other side of the grave. How does all of this fit in with the concept of coming undone and trusting God to fill in where we’ve fallen apart? I’m glad you asked. 🙂

 

“And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth. [Isa. 40:5.]” ~ John 1:14 AMP

We, being so spiritually needy and helpless, needed someone to show us how we were supposed to put the laws and principles into living, breathing action. Much in the way a kindergarten teacher has to show their students how to hold a crayon or pencil, even to the point of physically molding the child’s fingers around the instrument, we all need to be shown how to do new things by someone who has already mastered them. Jesus came to show us the practical application of the Word of God, himself being the Word in the flesh.

Jesus came to walk it out for us. He came to show us what love actually looks like in human form. He became 1 Corinthians 13. He gave up everything to come down here in the mud where we live. He protected and taught. He served and healed. He befriended. He forgave. He took us by our sin-stained hands and raised us up. He gave us hope and a chance for a new beginning. Jesus invested himself in us. Now that is someone you can trust. Let’s look at a snippet from one of the verses above again.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. [Jer. 6:16.]” ~ Matthew 11:29 Amplified

When you’re feeling broken, you need someone to be gentle. When you’re grieving, you want tenderness, not a lecture. While I was figuring out how to say what I was figuring out for myself these past few months, I stumbled upon a Bible study about Jesus (which you can find here)In this study, a lot of emphasis was placed on Jesus’ character. The attribute I want to especially look at here is his gentleness.

“Behold, My Servant Whom I have chosen, My Beloved in and with Whom My soul is well pleased and has found its delight. I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim and show forth justice to the nations. He will not strive or wrangle or cry out loudly; nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets; A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering (dimly burning) wick He will not quench, till He brings justice and a just cause to victory. And in and on His name will the Gentiles (the peoples outside of Israel) set their hopes. [Isa. 42:1-4.] Then a blind and dumb man under the power of a demon was brought to Jesus, and He cured him, so that the blind and dumb man both spoke and saw.” ~ Matthew 12:18-22
In the previous chapter, Jesus bids us to learn from him and tells us that he is gentle. In the next chapter, we have the two pictures of the bruised reed and the smoldering wick. Then immediately after this there is an extremely bruised and smoldering individual who is brought to Jesus. So we can watch him. We can see if he will do what he says he will do. Jesus healed and restored him. Once again, Jesus shows us with his own actions all the things that God’s word has been telling us. He is his own proof.
So, maybe today you are feeling bruised, mistreated, and misunderstood. Maybe, like a smoldering wick, you feel that your own abilities, patience, strength, and importance are used up. Perhaps you feel forgotten. Perhaps you feel like the world has thrown you away. I want to tell you that God sees you. Jesus died for YOU. You are not an accident. You are not a mistake. God has not forgotten you! The breaths you take right now as you read this are no mistake, like someone somewhere just left the TV on and you happened to be in the room.
This life of yours has meaning; YOU HAVE MEANING.
If you are hurting, let me just tell you as someone who has hurt as well, deeply, and come out on the other side, the other side of hurt does come. In the meantime while you are still in the valley, still taking shallow breaths and gritting your teeth against the pain, taking one day at a time, hoping against hope..Remember there is a gentle Savior who walks right along with you. He will sustain you, and he will lead you eventually out on the other side. Keep your eyes on this gentle Jesus. He is our best hope and comfort in this life. He is true to his word. He is able to lead you through and out of any valley you may be facing. One day, Jesus will lead us gently out of the final valley, and we will be home.

“Then I heard a mighty voice from the throne and I perceived its distinct words, saying, See! The abode of God is with men, and He will live (encamp, tent) among them; and they shall be His people, and God shall personally be with them and be their God. [Ezek. 37:27.] God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away. [Isa. 25:8; 35:10.] And He Who is seated on the throne said, See! I make all things new. Also He said, Record this, for these sayings are faithful (accurate, incorruptible, and trustworthy) and true (genuine). [Isa. 43:19.] And He [further] said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I [Myself] will give water without price from the fountain (springs) of the water of Life. [Isa. 55:1.] He who is victorious shall inherit all these things, and I will be God to him and he shall be My son.” ~ Revelation 21:3-7

Run On Your Face


“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” – Inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City

Sometimes in a race, the glorious competitors have inglorious moments. Sometimes the supreme athletes trip and fall. Olympians have bad days too; but what sets a champion apart from every other athlete? Maybe those who win aren’t the most talented or the brightest stars in the sky (take that however you like and you will surely be right). Maybe a winner is simply the one who keeps going? Maybe the champion gets up again, even if he/she has to hobble the rest of the way? Maybe sometimes a race is won by crawling the last stretch. Possibly you can only win if you choose to crawl the last bit. Sometimes, all we can do is crawl, barely moving, injured, heartbroken, weeping, bleeding, shattered both physically and mentally. Help is near, and relief is in sight; but not just yet……not just yet… Right now, it seems too cruel that you would be expected to get up with your hurts so fresh, your humiliation so current, your failure so complete. I have faced this situation numerous times, naturally; we all do, and have, and will. One time, in particular, comes to mind, when I was 22.

I was in the middle of my marriage falling apart, outnumbered and out-gunned by my in-laws on every side. I was a confused, whimpering, cowardly, cringing, craven mess! I was used to someone else taking care of things. I had a toddler to think about; and I wanted someone to just FIX IT. My ex has mental issues that blew us all out of the water right around the time of my birthday. His poor family didn’t know what to do either. At one point our frequent marital spats were blamed, at another point, I was. However, writing truthfully about past hurts is difficult. Honesty doesn’t always allow us to remain solely the victim, good, well-intentioned, and put-upon. Looking back, I know that I was not to blame for the abuse or the mental breakdown. There was a history of “off-ness”. I didn’t always help with my own choices and attitude, though. One thing became apparent over the several years I dealt with my ex’s mental fluctuations: the mind is a mystery even in this day and age. How much of a person’s behavior is choice, or hormones, or mental imbalance? How much of our wits are a result of past choices and their consequences? This is not going to be a post about mental illness. (I am absolutely not qualified to write that post. I am absolutely qualified to tell you about what I went through, however, so I will.)

The particular incident I wanted to relate was a quite memorable encounter with my brother-in-law, whom I was staying with at the time. He and his wife took me and my toddler into their home. There is always a lot of friction when someone does this. The negative bits of everyone’s personalities often “outshine” the positives because of the inevitable stress of living with someone else who is unfamiliar and doesn’t have the same priorities or worries as everyone else. I recall sleeping a lot, which did not endear me to my in-laws, let me tell you. I was depressed (did I mention my toddler and I were newly released from a battered women’s shelter?), and I was also newly pregnant. I suspected at the time, but felt so overwhelmed already that I was avoiding actually dealing with the possibility. The queasiness coupled with the stress of the situation took 15 lbs off of my weight. I don’t recommend using that particular diet plan, to be honest. 🙂

One day, tired of my complaining and crying, and no doubt longing for his home to be his own again, he confronted me. He laid out some steps I should take to start picking up the pieces of my life and take care of my daughter. I continued to whine and cry and bemoan my fate, when finally he lost patience with me and threw away the paper he had been writing on for me. He basically said “Fine then, don’t listen to me! I’m done trying to help you!” Well, it hurt a lot, and for a moment I decided he was just a hateful person and didn’t understand why none of it was my fault, and the constantly rehearsed stream of why-mes started up in my head….BUT suddenly, I realized that I didn’t have to like what he was saying for it to be right. I realized I had no other options and that he WAS actually taking his time to try and help me. Even after I had this begin to dawn on me, it was actually physically painful for me to get up, go to the garbage, take out the paper, and walk back to him and ask me to help me. My shredded pride was a tough thing to choke back while I was still so hurt and angry. My wounded emotions screamed as I did it, BUT I DID IT ANYWAY.

No, of course, there were a lot of rocky patches as I used my own wobbly decision-making abilities and determination to struggle up the long hill toward self-sufficiency. Many nights I cried myself to sleep, and it was several years before I could finally break free from my rocky marriage; but it was a start. I faced down my own pride and hurt feelings more times than I care to remember, and still do, and will, gosh darn it, though I hate to even type that!

Sometimes, moving forward means we can’t just sit forever in one cushy hospital bed, or hidey hole, or friend’s house, or relative’s home and nurse your wounds forever. Sooner or later, we must all stand back up, even if we have to crawl for awhile first. Crawl, if you must. Weep if you must. Fear if you feel fear, but do not ever give in!

“You whom I [the Lord] have taken from the ends of the earth and have called from the corners of it, and said to you, You are My servant—I have chosen you and not cast you off [even though you are exiled].

Fear not [there is nothing to fear], for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice.

Behold, all they who are enraged and inflamed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; they who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.

You shall seek those who contend with you but shall not find them; they who war against you shall be as nothing, as nothing at all.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; I am the Lord, Who says to you, Fear not; I will help you!” ~ Isaiah 41:9-13 Amplified Version

It Is Well…


When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul. – It Is Well with My Soul, hymn written by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

 

I feel for you. Maybe your day is going a direction you didn’t plan for, or you are feeling the dull thud of disappointment inside right now. I feel for you. Let me give you a little background… Today started off quite well. It’s my husband’s birthday. He’s sleeping in because he works at night. The older kids are off to school. The 2 little ones and I are enjoying a peaceful morning…but then…

The 4 yr old started calling in that tattle-tale tone “Mooooooommyyyyyyyyy! Look what the baby did!” I look up from my coffee. It’s not pretty. The baby has thrown her breakfast over the floor. Did I mention I fed my kids sweet rice with cinnamon, sugar and milk? Yeah, it’s not pretty.(Did I seriously expect something different? Come on it’s a toddler with a bowl of potential nasty-mess.) We shall be referring to this in the future as Rice-Pocalypse. Then, after I am just getting over my pity party for that, I decide I would treat myself to a bathroom break and getting dressed in daytime clothes before the kids get home from school. I think indulgent thoughts sometimes. I get the occasional wild hair. Well, you can stop shaking your head because I was appropriately humbled and chastened. When I returned to the living room, feeling quite accomplished and ready for whatever the day might bring, my toddler one-upped me yet again. My desk, you see, is a staging area for all kinds of wonderful things. Usually, I will admit, it is a class action MESS! I recently cleaned it. BUT my precious notebook with tenderly scribbled notes for a pet children’s story lay open precariously close to my cup of warmed-over coffee, as did my keyboard, mouse, and speakers.

Sometimes, I like to take a little trip back in time to the moment before something truly terrible happened and live for a blissful moment in the ignorance and innocence of that moment. However, as I faced the sweet, brown puddle that was growing on my desk, seeping into every nook and cranny and POURING out of my keyboard when I turned it at an angle, I came to a hard realization. All the heel-clicking, no-place-like-home wishing, time travel to the time of Morlocks and Eloi, or plugging my ears and saying “lalalalalalala” would help me. I don’t know if it was the coffee in the keyboard or the growing stain of it soaking into my precious story, but something inside of me sprang a leak and it started to trickle out of the corners of my eyes as I tried to sop up the mess. Again, I felt sorry for myself. Again, I grudgingly admitted that this could have been prevented. The crush of disappointment for the day I hoped for was heavy on my chest. I did a stand-up impression of Eeyore for a few minutes. But then, words gradually came into my mind that I have heard a million times at church and funeral services: “It is well, with my soul.” 

It is often ridiculous to me when the “peace that passes all understanding” comes my way in insane situations. While I was cleaning up the soul-sucking coffee spill, my kids were fighting with the door of the movie cabinet and the toddler was asking for food, when her breakfast had only just been distributed across the floor, mind you. All of the above was done at high decibels, I might add. Still, I felt the words “It is well, with my soul.” God really has a quirky sense of humor sometimes I think. Naturally, I tried very hard to remember if I’ve prayed for any kind of personal character growth and maturity for myself lately. I always have a very fuzzy memory when it comes to things I decide to do that will be good for me.

So, in spite of the hurricane that blew through my morning, much of which I could have prevented myself, I find that it IS well with my soul. He’s got my whole mess in His hands. He will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6), even in the middle of a fit. He’s not going anywhere, and he can get me through anything I face, whether it is a serious tragedy or just the day to day million straws that break the camel’s back kind of days. In the words of one of my very favorite preachers, I had to get on with it already. I cleaned up the mess and shut down my computer because my keyboard may be headed for that ever-growing pile of electronics in the sky and wouldn’t work a lick. I also put My-Lady-mess-a-lot down for a blessed, blessed nap. Now I’m typing this on hubby’s computer and enjoying a bit of respite as I am reminded that God’s got this. The world continues to spin and my life with it. Time to put on the big girl panties and be thankful.

God is, nonetheless, very, very good.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.[a]

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

Phoenix Rising


“We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure.” –  Cesar Chavez

Death, despair, desolation…the defeat you have faced is so overwhelming, you wonder how you can go on. All hope lost, all dreams shattered, even your friends have gone, you are alone with your pain, and the smoking ruin of your life collapses around you. You have lost everything.

When we are faced with a loss so deep, a grief so great, that we can’t seem to make sense of the point to even draw breath, we have come to the end of ourselves; and we have found out that we are not enough to fix it, to heal, to cope, to survive. So many people are faced with these kinds of situations everyday. The doctor’s report is in, the police officer at your front door with hat in hand, the judge’s sentence, the letter of dismissal, the empty place at the dinner table, the Dear John note; and we think that we have come to the end of the sentence and the end of meaning, and there is no more to be written.

It is so tempting to lie down in our ocean of grief, feeling betrayed and abandoned, and make the oh-so-easy choice to close our hearts, not only to the people around us, but to the possibility of there ever again being a possibility. We let the waves of sorrow wash over us, and we sink into the sea of misery and drown. Hope seems foolish at this point. Joy mocks us. Happiness, too, we’d like to cover with earth and let it fade, mouldering in the ground where our dreams have gone. There are no words to speak to such grief. Even time is an enemy, as the clock’s ticking eventually brings each day to a close; and then night comes, when we lie in our beds and think, and think, and think. We stare at the ceiling, but all we see is black. Our days are spent, looking past the real world, to the realm of memory and what might have been, where we stare, transfixed at the source of our grief, and all else falls by the wayside. We can sometimes be this way for long periods of time; and those around us (often also grieving) are afraid for us, and love us still, and miss us while we walk like zombies in this half-life that has claimed us. We might as well be buried along with our hopes and dreams.

But life goes on, all the same.

It is important to remember that life goes on after grief. It seems wrong; it seems unfair, but life continues and we remain for a REASON. Of course, we can make the choice to sit in the ash heap and sift through the rubble for the rest of our lives. We can succumb to our feeling of hopelessness and make it a reality. OR….we can make a different choice, and have a different fate.

“Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent’s sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.”  Ovid, on the Phoenix Bird

The Phoenix does not only live on choice and expensive spices and resins, but it springs out of a nest of ruin. There is no re-birth for the Phoenix, until there has been a death. There is a time and place to deal with death, but that is not where the Phoenix lives.

“So when the new-born Phoenix first is seen,
Her feathered subjects all adore their queen,
And while she makes her progress through the East,
From every grove her numerous train’s increased;
Each poet of the air her glory sings,
And round him the pleased audience clap their wings.” Dryden 

Not only does the Phoenix rise from the ashes of desolation, but it is surrounded by scores of other birds because a Phoenix is a glorious conqueror, beautiful, remarkable, and rare. The Phoenix is an overcomer, and we are all encouraged by someone who overcomes. Against great, impossible odds, the Phoenix rises, strong, triumphant, and aflame!

Do not be drowned in your ashes. You can rise again to a brand new beginning! There is joy after grief, as surely as day follows night. You are alive for a PURPOSE. There is a PLAN. You can OVERCOME this sorrow, and be a light to encourage many people.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-31

The Velveteen Equation (Part 3): Return of the Gingerbread Man


“Never cease loving a person, and never give up hope for him, for even the prodigal son who had fallen most low, could still be saved; the bitterest enemy and also he who was your friend could again be your friend; love that has grown cold can kindle”  Soren Kierkegaard

Spoiled, rotten brat! You think you can get whatever you want, and when you don’t get your way you throw a fit, make a scene, and run away……..yes, Mr. Gingerbread Man, I’m talking about you! Not content to fulfill your purpose as a son, brother, and friend, you run off into the wide world, where everywhere you turn something is waiting to eat you alive. You taunt and mock and think that you’ll always be fastest, you’ll always be free to play your games. Back at home, your mother misses you; but you never think about her, do you? You never think about anyone BUT yourself, you sorry excuse for a cookie.

In a lot of ways, the story of the Runaway Gingerbread Man reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal Son. A young man with everything decides it’s just not enough for him and leaves, but not without first disrespecting his father with his very own version of the Gingerbread Man’s “neener neener neener”. Many of us have been a prodigal in one way or another. We may never know the pain and grief we’ve caused our loved ones when we set off on our journey to “find ourselves”, or whatever you want to call it. It’s not that all such journeys are entirely selfish or wrong, but many times it is easy for us to justify the wrong things for the wrong reasons at the wrong times. The prodigal in the parable would have eventually inherited his portion, in due time, as a beloved son and cherished member of the family; but, impatient for “his rights” and not recognizing the value of what he had already been given, he took what he could get, ran away, and then made a BIG mess!

He didn’t realize it at first. None of us realize it when we’re in the middle of  “making our own decisions”, decisions that would be better labelled “another fine mess”. It takes us all awhile to realize that the sound in our ears is not applause, but jeering; the smell in our nostrils is not the perfume of success, but the stench of something else. IT happens, but it does us no good to surround ourselves with heaping piles of it in the name of individuality, now does it? OK, moving right along…..

The Prodigal Son’s story had a happy, unexpected ending. He experiences completely undeserved open-armed, open-hearted forgiveness and acceptance from the father he had wronged (as well as a supremely jealous older brother, but that is a topic for another blog post). The father in the story represents the desire of God to fully reconcile us to himself, no matter how filthy, dirty, ick-poo our lives have been previously. The message of this story is: there is room on the cross for your past, present, and even future screw-ups. The Father loves you more than he is saddened by your sin. You will never smell too much like pig for him to reach out to you.

Mr. Gingerbread Man’s story, however, has a somewhat sadder ending, as do the stories of many prodigals who stubbornly stick to their guns. He ends up being the lunch of a crafty fox, who was all too willing to take advantage of such a tasty, gullible, and foolish morsel. Let their stories be a lesson to you. Don’t be consumed by the world and its users and abusers. Run into the arms of the Father. He has been waiting for you long enough already.

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”

Dreams Lost, Dreams Found


“Before beginning a Hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it.” Winnie the Pooh

I am currently in the process of hunting. What I’m looking for is old friends I have lost touch with, friends which I owe a debt of gratitude, news, or connection. Some friends were lost over time, through no fault of anyone; other connections were lost as a result of problems within the relationship. I hope to one day enjoy the experience of happy reunions with all of them, God willing. What I have come to understand, however, is that sometimes you have to confront in order for changes to be made. I have been faced with this task in the past, and on more than one occasion I have been the one confronted. Let me tell you that a truthful scolding from someone that loves you can really hurt, but it is absolutely necessary in order for us to grow.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Proverbs 27:6

I have seen many times in airports and bus terminal, the infectious joy of reunions. They are fairly similar across the board: the hugs, the kisses, the smiles, the tears. I love watching these happy scenes. I think there is something in all of us that longs for these kinds of experiences. We are not meant to live our lives alone and isolated. Even Adam, the very first man, eventually had his fill of solitude.

“We need others. We need others to love and we need to be loved by them. There is no doubt that without it, we too, like the infant left alone, would cease to grow, cease to develop, choose madness and even death.” Leo F. Buscaglia

Maybe there are those you long to see again. Maybe you have been parted by time, place, situation, or even confrontation. Might I urge you today to begin thinking about what it would be like to have a joyous reunion with this person? What if you could forget the old hurts, lay down the grudges, forgive, and look past the parts of them that make you unhappy?

Now, for any of you who have read past blog entries, you will know that I have some history with spousal abuse. I DO NOT advocate a reunion that would be unwise or unsafe in any way. Sometimes goodbye is the healthiest word we can say to someone.

BUT for those other people in your life that should be taking part in your joys and sorrows and life events, take a little time and consider if maybe it is time to start building some bridges again. The weight of unforgiveness is too heavy to drag around the rest of your life. Be free, and be reunited to people who will enrich your life as you once enriched theirs.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5 : 14-19