April 29, 2008

Picking Up the Pieces -- Part Two

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for your comments, emails and phone calls. As my friend put it, I was definitely in a “toxic loop.” Even though I know that my faith is strong, it still surprises me how quickly I can lose my way on the path of love and grace and follow the lies of the enemy. I am so thankful that God has put some amazing people in my life who help guide me back.

Yes, I did get back to sleep the other night (morning). But, when I woke up I immediately thought, “Oh, no! What have I done? I think I ‘put it out there’ a little too much this time!” Since I figured no one would have read my blog by 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday, I planned to delete the post and just pretend it never happened.

Unfortunately, I discovered it was too late. It turns out that there are alot of women awake early in the morning—women who had read my blog. Women who understood what I wrote and shared their own struggles. When I read your comments (you know who you are) tears streamed down my face. “Thank you, Lord!” I cried.

I think we need a virtual Bible study for those of us who find ourselves awake in the wee hours of the morning? I tell you, of all the times that we need encouragement it’s then. But since we seem to be awake at various times, scheduling might be a problem. (I believe there’s a germ of an idea here so don’t be surprised if it resurfaces in the future! )

Some people have asked why I would expose myself the way I did. Here's what I think: Since I believe that God has placed it on my heart to write in a public way, to share my experiences with and insights of Him, I need to be honest. To sugarcoat the tough times and end every story with a smiley face is hypocritical and misleading. Yes, God has done an amazing work in my life but I am a work in progress. I continually struggle with my selfish desires and independence. Forget a thorn. Sometimes it feels like I have a cactus in my side! If you’re looking for an even-keeled ride, you’re not going to get one here!

My hope is that by being open about the messiness in my life, maybe it will give you courage to confront the messiness in your own—and give it to the Lord. Because God can’t work with, “Me? I’m fine. It’s all good here.” Jesus didn’t die on the cross because we’re fine. He died because we desperately need a savior. But we’ve got to open the door, offer up our brokenness and let Him fix us.

In the past 48 hours I have seen God in some amazing ways. (Why do I need to bottom out before I “see?”) I’ve seen him in my unbelievable husband and children, in my friends and family, in Sunday's worship service and even in an amazing email I received from a stranger who stumbled upon my blog.

But one incident really stands out.

As I was eating lunch on Sunday, I glanced hopefully out the kitchen window at our bird feeders. I just bought new feeders two weeks ago and haven’t seen any birds on them yet. Not one stinking bird!

Then, my eye caught sight of a cardinal in the small tree next to the feeder. I watched him with anticipation. He flew to the feeder! Hooray! Our first visitor. Then, out of nowhere, a couple of SCBs (small chirpy birds) landed on the other feeders. Unbelievable!

Even though I'd like a menagerie of colorful winged visitors, I knew that if only these few birds appeared I would gladly fill the feeders for them. It would be enough.

And then I realized that God was using this scene to tell me something. As a writer I have been so anxious to reach a wide audience, to get published, to move to the next step. But, He impressed upon me, “Be patient with your writing. If you only feed a few, that is enough. Just feed them well.”

"Lord, with your help, I will do my best."

April 26, 2008

Picking Up the Pieces

“You’re too hard on yourself.” That’s a familiar refrain others tell me.

“Too hard?” I wonder, “What else am I supposed to be?” People make the comment like I have a choice. Like there’s some setting inside I can switch. “Hmmm. Let’s see, there it, right behind the gall bladder, the ‘give yourself a break’ switch.” Try as I might, I haven’t found it.

And as a result, disheartenment can creep in. Today it stormed the gates.

So now at 3:00 in the morning, I am sorting through the pieces trying to find some sense in it all. Because a lot of the time life really doesn’t make sense to me. It’s confusing. It’s discouraging. And it’s hard.

“Yeah, but you seem so confident. You seem like you ‘get it.’”

Really? You must not see what I see.

You must not have seen me on the tennis court today playing the game that I love, with a partner that I love, like a deer in the headlights and losing miserably. All while the cackling hens watching clucked over our defeat. “See, they’re not such a great team…It’s obvious who the better player is…They’re not going to make it at this level.” Did I actually hear them? No, but I’ve heard enough of those conversations to know how it goes.

You must not see the friendship that I pushed away or the one I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to pull closer.

Or the family relationship that is broken.

Or the God that I love who seems so far away right now.

You must not see the discouragement that I experience with writing. And how the deafening silence that accompanies it causes me to question, “Why do I write?...Am I reaching others?…Do I have the ability?”

You must not see the insecurity that prowls the perimeter looking for cracks to sneak in.

And you must not have seen me driving through the countryside this afternoon. Running away, running toward. Searching for answers and coming home empty-handed.

Where does this leave me? I suppose as a lost sheep desperately needing a savior. Because one thing I am sure of: without faith in Jesus, life REALLY doesn’t make sense.

I wish I could write some clever prose and cue the music for a happily ever after to this drama. For now, I’ll cling to tonight’s happy ending: My incredible husband who “gets me” and loves me anyway. And who is always there to help me pick up the pieces.

As I attempt to recapture sleep tonight (actually this morning), I will try to rest in the hope that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not bad performance or harsh criticism. Not broken relationships or fractured faith. Not inadequacy or insecurity.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

April 18, 2008

A Passover Celebration

Last night the women from my Bible study and I attended a Passover seder hosted by a local Bible college. It was an incredible evening not just because of the fellowship and education, but also for the insight into how relevant Passover is to us as Christians.

The more I study the Bible, the clearer it becomes that understanding Judaism is critical for a fuller knowledge of God. And while our tendency is to skip past the Old Testament and go straight to the New, we can’t have one without the other. From the Garden of Eden to the prophecies of Malachi, the Old Testament points to the One who is to come—the messiah.

God chose the Jewish people to be a holy nation, set apart. He made covenants with them. He gave them the Law. He chose kings to lead and prophets to reveal. But God didn’t intend to give them “ownership rights” to Him forever. He selected the Jews to be a faithful people to receive the greatest part of His plan for creation—His son Jesus.

Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than at Passover.

For more than 3400 years, the Jews have commemorated Pesach (Hebrew for Passover) to joyously remember how God spared the lives of firstborn Hebrew sons when He saw the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts and how He miraculously liberated them from slavery by the Egyptians.

The key elements of the seder table—bitter herbs, a shank bone and matzohs—symbolize the bitterness of bondage, the redeeming blood of the perfect lamb and the hope for salvation. (Since I’m a novice on this topic you may want to explore it further on your own.)

As the ladies and I listened to our seder host explain the history and symbolism of the seder elements, we were fascinated by the story and led to one amazing conclusion. Jesus was present. Because, who is the perfect, blemish-free Passover lamb but Jesus?

John the Baptist knew. Upon seeing Jesus he called out, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29)

It’s Jesus’ shed blood painted on the thresholds of our hearts that redeem us from eternal death. (Ep 1:7) It is by His blood that we are miraculously liberated from the slavery of sin. (Jn 8:36) And it is by Jesus’ sacrifice that we have not just hope, but a promise for salvation. (Ro 5-6)

The night before He was crucified, Jesus celebrated Passover (the first communion) with His disciples. But He didn't look to the past deliverance by God, He looked to the future one. For when He offered the bread, He said, “Take it; this is my body.” And of the wine he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mk 14:22, 24) With these seder elements Jesus introduced a new Passover—and a new convenant.

The last piece of matzoh eaten at the seder is called the afikomen. It’s a substitute for the Passover lamb. This Greek word can mean “that which is coming”, i.e. dessert, yet it may also mean “he who is coming.”

Our seder host told us to observe our piece of afikomen as he explained its significance. As I held the matzoh between my thumb and forefinger I considered Jesus—our redeemer—and I imagined him saying, “Take. Eat. This is my body broken for you.”

Then I realized at the point where the matzoh was held between my fingers I felt my heart beating. It was as if the afikomen itself had life and I felt it pulsating. I even looked to see if it was moving. You may think this was nothing more than a normal physiological response, but I think it was Jesus saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” (Jn 6:51)

Jesus is our Passover. He is our afikomen. He is the one who came—and is coming again.

He is our bread of life.

“Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor 5:7-8)

April 14, 2008

Live to Ride. Ride to Live.

Spring is officially here. You want to know how I know? The blooming forsythias? The goldfinches at the birdfeeder? The first grass cutting of the year? Nope. It’s the arrival of the motorcycles. Just yesterday, while on a 15-minute drive, I saw eight of them.

I’ll share a tidbit about me that few people know. I love motorcycles—Harleys to be exact. I love the way Harleys look. And I LOVE the way they sound—that distinctive throaty roar. I can’t explain the source of this admiration, I just know that whenever a Harley passes I pause to admire the view and savor the moment. (Sometimes I even dream about joining my “fellow” riders on the streets of Sturgis.)

I know my family is baffled and a bit concerned by all of this. Luckily for them I will probably never own a motorcycle of any kind, let alone a Harley. But, what a thrill it would be to drive one on the open road—once!

Suppose I actually bought one. (Pretend for the moment that I actually know how to ride a motorcycle!) Even if I got an awesome bike, the coolest clothes and the latest accessories, without gas in the tank I wouldn’t be able to get very far. Let’s see, I could sit on it in the driveway. I could push it while I walked. Or I could lug it to the top of a hill, hop on and ride to the bottom.

It seems pretty ridiculous to try to power a motorcycle by one’s own efforts. Doesn’t it?

Well, this describes a lot of our lives as Christians. Maybe yours.

Maybe you have the “accessories” of the Christian life (like volunteer positions, church friends and Bible knowledge) but feel empty inside. Maybe despite your best efforts to “get it,” God seems far away. Or maybe it feels like you’re pushing your faith up a hill—and you’re tired and discouraged.

You want the “Vroom!” that other believers seem to have. Why does it have to be so hard?

It doesn’t. This Christian life was never meant to “go” by our own efforts. Just like a Harley, we need gas. What’s the gas in our tank? The Holy Spirit.

Look at the disciples. While Jesus ministered to them, try as they might to understand his teachings, they just didn’t “get it.” When I first started reading the Bible I thought, “C’mon, dummies! The water into wine, the walking on water, the casting out demons and STILL you don’t understand! Are you blind?!”

In a sense they were.

Because the Holy Spirit was not yet available, they had to rely on their own efforts to fuel their faith. It was frustrating if not impossible for them to get very far.

Then, Jesus pointed them to the gas: “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26) “…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” (Acts 1:5,8)

This power came on Pentecost when God poured out his Spirit on all present and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Finally the disciples could “see” and understand. Their faith was turbocharged. They had their “Vroom!”

And the Good News spread like wildfire.

Thankfully, this wasn’t an isolated incident. God sent this “spiritual fill-up” to all believers. He “set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Cor. 1:22)

The Holy Spirit is God in us. He leads, guides, teaches, gives wisdom and spiritual gifts, compels, protects, renews, gives life, intercedes in prayer, sanctifies, knows God’s thoughts, empowers, gives righteousness, reveals the mystery of Christ and more!

It is powerful fuel indeed. Best of all, it doesn’t cost $3.85 a gallon. It’s free—you just have to ask…and receive.

Is your faith running on empty? Does God seem distant? Are you tired of working so hard? Stop trying to do it on your own. Fill up with the Holy Spirit—and feel the power.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Ro. 15:13)

See you on the road. “Vroom!”

April 8, 2008

A Mother's Pain. A Father's Love.

I had planned to write about something else today, but I just got back from running errands and it’s on my heart to share this.

As I walked into Target this afternoon, a woman ahead of me caught my attention. She was dressed for tennis and looked like a good player (she was actually built kind of like me—tall, strong and athletic ;-) Since I play tennis often, I thought I might know her, but at a distance I couldn’t tell.

Luckily, she had paused inside the store and I was able to get a good look at her. Nope, I had never seen her before. Oh, well. I treated myself to a Starbucks and went about my shopping.

As I shopped for hair care products, I heard someone talking on their phone in the aisle next to me. Because the caller was speaking rather loudly and emphatically the conversation caught my attention. But, this wasn’t one of those rude cell phone users who blabs on and on because they think their life is too important to deal with in private.

This was a woman in anguish.

She told whoever she was talking to that she lived in a constant state of fear, not knowing when she’d get a call to confirm the worst. It became apparent that the person she was talking to was the cause of this fear.

It was her 18-year old daughter (as I later found out), in the midst of an addiction, living somewhere far away and making very bad choices. The woman was patiently, but desperately, trying to communicate with her daughter and get her to recognize the devastating consequences of her behavior. And to show her she loved her. My heart broke for this mother and I silently said a prayer for both of them.

Because it felt like I was trespassing on something so private I tried to quickly finish and move on. As I passed the aisle where the caller stood, I was surprised to see the tennis woman I had spotted earlier. The last thing I heard her say as I walked away was, “No. I’m not mad at you.”

The pain in that woman’s voice is still with me. Any of us could be in her place. Drug and alcohol addiction is such a powerful, evil force. And it’s all around us. Brothers, sisters, spouses, parents, sons, daughters. Addiction does not discriminate by age, gender or economic background. It welcomes all.

For so many of you, this woman’s world is your reality. You are consumed with fear as you helplessly watch your loved one struggle with addiction. You try to help them find a way out, but the fierce grip of addiction pulls them back again and again.

I pray for each of you. I pray for the addicts in your lives. I pray for this woman and her daughter. I pray that in the midst of this darkness, God’s love will shine bringing hope and peace and healing.

I pray for those struggling with recovery.

And I pray that God’s protection surrounds our children, whether they are still young and innocent or at an age where drugs and alcohol are common choices.

As it turns out, I stood right behind this woman in the check-out line. It seemed too coincidental and I felt compelled to speak to her. To break the ice, I chatted about tennis (which she does play). But there was more I needed to say. After confessing that I had heard her on the phone, I told her that I would pray for her. It didn’t seem like much, but it was the best I could offer. I wanted her to know there is hope and love in the midst of it all.

Because, really that is the best we have to offer—hope. Hope in the One who is stronger than any evil, even addiction—Jesus. How do we know? Because Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

April 1, 2008

Insights at Three O'Clock in the Morning

Occasionally I find myself awake at three o’clock in the morning—not on purpose, just because. (Maybe it’s a by-product of getting older.)

I think that 3:00 a.m. is the worst time of the day. Falling right in the middle of sleep, it’s an abyss between the day past and the day to come. It’s dark and still—and it's easy to fall in.

Lying in bed, awake yet delirious with sleep, sensibility is in short supply and irrationality takes over. The concern(s) of the previous day rush to the forefront of my thoughts and even minor worries become overwhelming anxieties. And major worries become crushing. The “voices” that can’t get a foothold in the light of day, stake a claim in the darkness. Life seems hopeless and problems insurmountable. I don’t know why this dark time happens. I just know that it does.

Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. …But maybe you do.

And maybe your overwhelming desolation doesn’t just come as a thief in the night, but makes a home in the light of day as well.

Bible writers are no stranger to anguish. Perhaps no book is more sorrowful than Lamentations. The writer, probably the prophet Jeremiah, is in his own dark place. Overwrought by God’s judgment and destruction of the temple, he grieves—and for the first 64 verses of Lamentations he does nothing but that. Of God he says, “He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.” (3:5-6) Indeed, Jeremiah’s spirit is crushed.

And then something amazing happens—in the midst of his darkness, he remembers the light. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:21-23)

Even in the midst of desperation, he clung to the truth that God is a god of hope, of love, of faithfulness and of deliverance. His compassion never ends.

In our times of darkness it’s easy to forget the light. But whether our troubles last a night or a season, we can do as Jeremiah did. We can “call to mind” and have hope in God’s great love and faithfulness. As the rising sun often settles our minds, the light of God’s mercies—new every morning—quiets our spirits.

Based on those verses in Lamentations, the beloved hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” was written by Thomas Chisholm, a Methodist life insurance agent. This ordinary man was inspired, not by a dramatic experience, but by his daily experience of the constancy of our awesome God. His poem beautifully calls to our minds the hope we have even in our shadows.

For great is His faithfulness, no matter what time of day.