The Air We Breathe.

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Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21, 22)

For as long as I can remember we have played this ridiculous game on road trips that involves dark, long tunnels. Whenever we approach a tunnel, someone in the car announces, “Tunnel! Hold your breath!” Immediately a contest ensues to see who, the driver included, can hold his or her breath throughout the entire length of the tunnel. A shared, deep inhale leads to giant cheeks and shaking hands as we all attempt to endure until we hit the light of day, and exhale relief in one fell swoop.

Every time we play this game, I think it’s a crazy game. It’s ludicrous, foolhardy, and just plain dumb. Until I realize that this game is very similar to how I live my life.

Recently I went for a hike in the wilderness trails that wind through the San Gabriel Mountains just above my neighborhood. As I readied myself to head up, I came across this sign at the foot of the trail. “Breathe.” Nothing else. Just, “Breathe.”

And it got me thinking. Who needs a reminder to breathe? It’s involuntary. Don’t we do it without a second thought?  Unless we’re taking a deep breath or regulating our breathing during a tough run or a moment of fear, most of our breathing is done without deciding to breathe at all.

But that’s just the thing. In some of the toughest, most busy, most demanding seasons of my life, when I’m hard pressed on every side, I tend to hold my breath.  I wonder if you’re anything like me?

In the darkest times of my life, I often cope like I’m in that tunnel. I put my head down, stick my nose to the grindstone, and push through. It’s like I’m holding my breath until the darkness passes. I’m hanging in there until the light shines through, not realizing my God stands ready to breathe peace and light and hope into the darkest corners of my life.

He invites me to…

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

He invites me to breathe. He invites me to release. He invites me to cast all my cares upon Him.

When things get tough, the tough don’t get going. When things get tough, we strengthen ourselves in the Lord. We know that we don’t have the strength, the grit, the endurance to endure without His help. We acknowledge that Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

And so we breathe. We stop. We confess our helplessness and look to the One who stands ready to help. We cry out. We slow down. We rest. We request. And He breathes peace that surpasses all understanding to sustain us until the light shines through, and we can see where we’re going again.

When Jesus breathed peace and the power of the Holy Spirit onto His disciples, they were in the darkest of places. Their Lord and Savior had just been crucified, the Light of the World snuffed out, the Hope of the World vanquished. And so they huddled in this little room, in this dark place, doors locked for fear of the very leaders that had taken their Savior away. The were holding their breath until the darkness subsided, not really knowing how it would.

And then the Light shown through. He approached them in this darkest corner of their lives and spoke peace, and strength, and hope, and life in His name. Sorrow turned to joy. Despair turned to hope. Light shown in the darkness. And they could breathe again.

I don’t know what’s stealing your breath right now. I don’t know what darkness you find yourself in. Whatever it is, I’m sure it showed up un-welcomed. I’m guessing it feels hard and dark and desolate. I’d bet you feel worn out, paper-thin, and just plain done.

In many ways, I feel like the whole world is in this dark tunnel, holding our collective breath, waiting for this moment to pass and better days to come. I know that I am.

But then I remember the disciples huddled in that tiny room, doors locked, eyes closed, feeling utterly abandoned. And then Jesus showed up. He breathed life. He spoke hope. He strengthened their weary hearts and declared the truth of who He is, a living, compassionate friend of sinners who has overcome anything this world can dish out.

He’s with us in the same way today. He’s still the Light of this world. The hope we have in Him has not changed.

Don’t give up. Cast your cares on Him. Breathe in His peace, His life, His rest, His presence. Be still for a moment. He’s still God. And He loves you immensely.

Breath of Life, breathe on this hurting world. Breathe on me. Breathe on us. You are the air we breathe. Apart from you we can do nothing. But with you, we will make it through this tunnel–however long it takes–and out to the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Extra.

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You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (John 5:14-16)

My kids were playing in the pool for hours, jumping off inflatables, laughing, choking out water, and having a blast. These are the wonderful times as a mom, watching your kids actually enjoy one another, while you get to…rest. Beautiful, wonderful rest!

But all the while, as I supervised and enjoyed and rested, something was not resting. In fact, it seemed quite restless.

“The Northern Mockingbird enjoys making its presence known. It usually sits conspicuously on high vegetation, fences, eaves, or telephone wires, or runs and hops along the ground.” (allaboutbirds.org)

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This bird was relentless. It had placed itself high up on a telephone pole for all to see, chirping incessantly for hours as it also jumped up and down over and over again. The thing just wouldn’t quit. On and on it went. And once you paid attention to it, you couldn’t ignore it. It was oddly fascinating, weirdly intoxicating. Initially kind of annoying.

“They sing almost endlessly, even sometimes at night, and they flagrantly harass birds that intrude on their territories, flying slowly around them or prancing toward them, legs extended, flaunting their bright white wing patches.”

I could not take my eyes or my attention off of this bird. It was…what’s the word…extra. Everything it did was “extra.” Extra energy. Extra chirping. Extra jumping and fluttering. And after a little while, all this non-stop “extra” became extra-inspiring. I suddenly felt reminded that I’m to live “extra” too.

I’m to let me light shine. I’m like a city on a hill. I have the love of Jesus Christ inside of me, the hope of glory, the Light of the World! I don’t want to be salt that is no longer salty. I don’t want to be a mockingbird that won’t sing or a diamond that won’t shine. I have been given the gift of hope through the good news of Jesus Christ, and my job is to be “extra” in letting that light shine.

Don’t we all need a little “extra?” Extra hope. Extra patience. Extra peace. Extra strength. Extra love and acceptance. Extra goodness and kindness. Extra self-control. We all need “extra” measures of grace.

And then I noticed something. Yes, mockingbirds perch themselves where they can be easily seen, but this mockingbird’s perch was unique. This perch looked very much like a cross. And an old melody came to mind…

Jesus is the answer for the world today. Above Him there’s no other. Jesus is the way.

No matter what may come, Jesus is still the answer. He’s the “extra.” We talk about going the extra mile for one another. Jesus went all the way, all the way to the cross. There is no greater “extra” than that. God so loved this broken, beat-up, hurting world, that He sent Jesus. That was His answer.

There is no sin, no sorrow, no suffering, no circumstance that can separate us from the love, grace, forgiveness, healing, and hope given to us through the extra mile that Jesus took to the cross. Jesus is still the answer.

If you know that love, if you know that grace, if you’ve received that forgiveness, live “extra” today. Perch yourself upon the hope of the cross; make it your foundation for living. And then let your light shine. Be that city on a hill pointing to the hope, joy, life, and peace available in Jesus Christ.

Pray for a hurting neighbor. Give to a person in need. Forgive someone. Overlook an offense. Be a peacemaker. Encourage a family member. Share the gospel with someone who has never heard it. Look to Jesus.

Be salty. Be shiny. Be a mockingbird that sings. Be extra.

 

 

 

 

 

New Morning Mercies!

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Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning. (Lamentations 3:22,23)

I love the morning. I love the quiet and the freshness of a new day. I love hot coffee and peaceful porches, and early morning walks with my lab. I love the clean slate that each morning brings, and the fresh hope that can come on each new awakening of each new day.

Morning is a time of hope. Morning is a time of expectancy. Morning is a fresh start, a new beginning, a renewed strength. Morning is a second, third, fourth, or fifteen-millionth chance. Morning is a gift.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to bed at night thinking this…

I’m done. I’ve had enough. Stick a fork in me.

Not even knowing exactly what that means or where I would go or how I would quit, I can put my head down at night and declare myself finished. But somehow, by the grace of God, the next day comes. I have strength renewed, grace received, and the ability to keep going.

So where do I find this fresh hope? How do I receive this new grace? From where does this ability to keep pressing on, keep going, keep hoping, keep believing come?

Well, I can tell you one thing. It doesn’t come from me. When I turned 26, I decided to run my first race ever. Believe me I am a runner who never should have been a runner. I tried out for the track team in seventh grade and didn’t make it. On my middle school basketball team, our coach once said, “Allison is the fastest one on this team, and she’s not fast at all!”

So, for some inexplicable reason, I decided at 26 that I would run a marathon. 26 miles for 26 years. The idea seemed idyllic and meaningful and beautifully lofty. Until we trained for 5 months straight, and I almost quit the training 5 times. It is only by the grace of God that I finished that race, my first race, 26 miles, and carried by God every step of the way.

I get overwhelmed. I often feel done. I often want to give up, and this is why I know these new morning mercies are not from me. They just can’t be. I’m just too much of a quitter.

By my God is not a quitter. He’s a giver. He’s a giver of new mercies that carry us day after day after day, with the grace to put our feet on the ground and keep going and keep breathing and keep believing no matter what. His grace is what carries us over that finish line.

He’s the joy that comes in the morning. The new morning mercies. Because we know we don’t do this thing alone. As we believe on Jesus, in Jesus, and set our hopes upon Jesus, we make our way day after day after day.

And why? Because our faith rests on a Friday night when Jesus was done. He said in effect, it’s over. It’s finished. And for those few friends that followed Him to the end, they believed it was true. It was all over. He was dead on the cross. Hope was lost, and might never be found again.

Until…

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. (John 20:1)

Morning came. Hope was restored. Life in His name was forever established and available to all who believe. Everyone. From every tongue, tribe, and nation. This whole great big earth has hope because of that single early morning.

When death was defeated. When new life sprang forth. When Satan’s head was crushed, and evil saw its final demise coming. That single early morning when Jesus rose from that grave is the morning that keeps being gifted to us each and every day. It’s the morning that gives us strength for all of our mornings.

Because He finished the work on the cross, this is not the end. With each new day we have new hope that we are getting closer to life as it should be–the finish line. The day when all who put their trust in Him will spend eternity in His name, and there is no dying, or disease, or sin, or evil, or Coronavirus, or racism, or sorrow, or suffering, or pain. Because of that morning, there is a new day dawning.

And that’s where my grace comes from. And that’s why I love early mornings, and you can too. Because this isn’t the end of the story. It’s only the beginning of a much better ending. An ending that exceeds our every expectation, too great to imagine. A finish line that will make every wall you break through along the way so worth it in the end.

So keep getting up. Keep going. Receive new morning mercies each day to keep pressing on. A new day is dawning. Light is breaking through. Have that cup of coffee, and treasure those early morning moments. For they are just a foretaste of what is to come. Weeping may last for the night, but joy will come in the morning!

 

 

Time After Time.

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My times are in your hands. (Psalm 31:15)

Lately do you find yourself drawn to old tunes? Listening to music from my childhood seems to transport me to a time that somehow feels better, more ideal, less traumatic. I’m sure it’s nostalgia tricking me. I’m sure it’s just a way to cope, but it brings me joy. It’s a comfort anyway. I wonder if you’re the same?

Driving home from a walk around the Rose Bowl, my radio fell upon Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Before I knew it, I was parked and belting out the lyrics, hoping my neighbors couldn’t hear me. And that did it…I was back like Michael J. Fox, back to 1983. A better time, at least it seemed that way.

If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time…

A friend mentioned to me today how unsettling it is not knowing what the future will hold. The uncertainty of how and when our nation will fully “open,” coupled with the daily headlines that seem to indicate more injustice and unrest for our nation’s people only add to a feeling of being lost. Where do we find our bearings in times like these? Times that have been so oft-dubbed “unprecedented?”

If you fall, I will catch you, I’ll be waiting
Time after time…

Last summer my son Caleb and I watched every single available episode of Stranger Things. Again, somehow the 1980’s seemed idyllic with its days of endless bike riding until sundown. No cell phones with immediate access to every awful event occurring across the globe. Just Walkmen, Members Only jackets, and Trapper Keepers. Oh, and creatures breaking through walls, but somehow these days of Covid-19 seem “stranger” just the same.

When I feel lost and I can’t find my bearings, there’s wisdom in looking back. There’s wisdom in remembering, not just for nostalgia’s sake or for the comfort of what feels like easier times, but also to remember that all those times weren’t so easy. And yet my God got me through.

It’s helpful to review my life like a movie, each scene fading into the next, and see how a faithful God was present in each moment, even in the moments when I couldn’t sense His presence. He was faithful. He got me through. Nothing separated me from His love. He was always, always at work.

And that’s why I can say with the Psalmist, “My times are in his hands.” At this point of my life I have known enough “times” to see that One single thing is consistent. No matter the circumstances. No matter the difficulties. No matter what. My times were in His hands.

When I was a little girl, new to church, new to faith, new to Jesus, I was struck by this oft-quoted poem called “Footprints in the Sand.” It talked about a man having a dream where he looks back over his life. Scene after scene of the movie of his life flashes before his eyes. And in each scene, he sees two sets of footprints, one belonging to the Lord, the other to himself. Except, in the sadder times, in the harder times, there is only one set of footprints in the sand.

When he asks the Lord about this, he’s feeling like God has abandoned him in his hardest and saddest times. But the Lord responds very simply that during times of trial and suffering, “It was then that I carried you.”

As I look back over my life, in every decade that I have lived, God has carried me. Time after time after time. And so when I feel lost in this particular time in which I’m living, it helps me to look back. Because God doesn’t change like shifting shadows. He stays the same. He was faithful to me then. He will be faithful to me now.

And so as I sang that song all by myself in my car in the dead of night, I could hear Jesus reminding me that…

If I’m lost I can look and I will always find him, time after time. If I fall, He will catch me, He will be waiting, time after time.

Yes, it’s unsettling not knowing what’s ahead, but it’s also helpful to look back. Because in looking back there’s faith to move ahead. There’s trust to transport myself back into my current life believing it’s all going to be okay. Because the Lord has me, the Lord has us, time after time.

These are strange times we’re in. These are strange things we’re experiencing. But they are not strange to God; at least, they aren’t surprising to Him. Whatever kind of time you find yourself having today, be encouraged. Look back over your life and look for those footprints. Remember how He has carried you. Our God is a carrier, and your times are in His hands. He will carry you through. Time after time.

 

 

 

When You Feel Like Running Away.

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Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

Many of us have a memory of a time when we were kids and we got so frustrated, so angry, so fed up that we packed a bag, grabbed a snack or two, emptied our piggy banks, and ran away. (Or at least made it to the end of the block.) But we weren’t kidding. We were dead serious. We’d show ’em. We’d had it.

I have memories like those, but I was never actually brave enough to run away. Instead, I would climb up in the huge maple tree in my backyard. But when my mom would call for me, I wouldn’t answer. I would show her. I would hide myself away until I was ready to come out. There was something so satisfying about hearing her call my name, and choosing to NOT respond.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:11-12)

The trouble is that even as adults we have days when we feel like running away. We feel like hiding out. We want to blend in with the scenery; we want to escape. It’s all too much, and we feel like giving up. We’re worn thin. Thread bare. Done and done.

Only we’re grown ups now. We don’t get to be done. We can’t flee; we can’t hide. Besides, where would we go? Where would we hide?

Jesus’ closest friends felt like this once. In the book of John, Chapter 6, Jesus feeds five thousand hungry followers with five loaves of bread and two small fish. Shocking.

Then, his friends are amazed when they set out across the lake, and a storm kicks up on the sea, and Jesus appears, walking on water, and then climbs aboard, at which point they immediately reached the shore. Mind-boggling.

Finally, they are met with a crowd to whom Jesus soon proclaims…

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

Jesus is bread. Like the bread he used to feed the five thousand? Utterly confusing.

And suddenly the crowd disperses. Many leave him. They have had enough; this is more than what they bargained for. As they so eloquently put it, “This is a hard teaching.” In effect, they run away.

I’m guessing a lot of us are feeling like we’re living under a “hard teaching” right now. Or as 2 Corinthians 4:8 puts it, we are “hard pressed on every side.” It’s all too much. It’s been too long. And it seems to only be getting harder. And we want to run away. Like those crowds who once followed Jesus, we want to turn another direction. Any other direction.  But to whom or to what can we run?

And in this moment,  I feel like Jesus is asking us a question…at least I feel like He’s asking it of me. It’s the same question He asked his closest friends, the twelve, on that fateful day.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67)

Do you still trust me? Will you still follow me? Will you hang in there with me, believing I am hanging in there with you, because never do I leave you, never do I forsake you?

Do you still know I’m on my throne? Do you still believe I’m in control? Do you still find yourself in me, believing and knowing that I gave myself for you? Will you still trust that your times are in my hands and I know the plans I have for you?

Even now. Even in this. For however long it goes. Will you trust and believe that I am working for your good?

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

And so Peter answers Him.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68)

On days like these, maybe the best we can come up with is this, “To whom else would we go?” And so we fall back on what we know to be true. We lean into the One who holds the words of life, even when our lives seem utterly confusing.

He sees us. He knows us. He has us. Even in the hard-pressed times.

He saw you in the beginning. In that secret place in your mother’s womb. He’s seen you your whole life. He sees you now. Surely your times are in His hands. To whom else can we go?

Even as I write this I’m sitting in my side yard in the dark, with only the sound of my dog snoring next to me. My family doesn’t know where I am. I guess I’m hiding out. I guess it’s been one of those days.

But I know He sees me even now. He knows me even in this secret place. He’s meeting me here in the hard-pressed moments.

So I’ll head in soon. No running away for me. Just hiding out for a few moments. I guess some habits die hard. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Our Feet in Shifting Sand.

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“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

When my kids were little, we often played this game in the ocean called “slippers.” We stood tall in the surf and dug our toes deep down into the mud-like, goopy sand, trying to stay sure-footed with each wave that came our way. The ocean was shifting. The sand beneath us was shifting. Everything was shifting. But this was the fun. This was the challenge. The goal was to keep your footing when everything around you was working against you.

These days it feels like we’re playing “slippers” even when standing on solid ground. The news and orders for the day are changing as quickly as the tides. There is no normalcy. Everything around us is constantly shifting. What isn’t shifting is utterly disturbing or completely unsettling. And suddenly it’s not just my footing that feels unsettled, but my very self, my very world. In times like these all this finding my feet doesn’t seem so fun anymore.

And I wonder, how do we find our footing when it seems like everything is working against it? On what do we plant our feet? Where do we find our assurance? And this verse comes to mind…

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

When everything is shifting. He remains the same. When all around is faltering. His love is unfailing. When the future is uncertain, we can be certain of this. Nothing will separate us from His love. No weapon formed against us will prosper. And our times are in His hands.

When the waves keep crashing down upon us, one upon another, we dig down deeper. We dig down deeper into the promises of God. When all seems uncertain, we dig into what we’re certain of. When we need wisdom and help and hope to know how to respond in these uncertain times, we let our toes go down deeper and deeper into the truth of who Jesus is and the assurance of his unchanging character.

“May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love…” (Ephesians 3:17)

So, my encouragement today is to dig in. Dig in to His love for you. Dig in to His purposes and His call on your life. Dig in to His call to be a light in the darkness, to share His hope with the hopeless, to dig down deep into His unlimited resources, even when the resources around us feel so increasingly limited. And be strengthened to stand tall in Him.

I fall down on my knees and pray to the Father of all the great family of God…that out of his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you the mighty inner strengthening of his Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 3:15,16)

A few days ago my kids and I headed back to the beach for the first day of swimming since the beginning of all this staying at home. The ocean was the same. The joy my kids experienced as the tides brought in wave after glorious wave was just the same. Even the dolphins that came to frolic and play were the same. And with each time they appeared to dance upon the surface of the sea, they seemed to be saying…

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

And so we say today, come, Lord Jesus. We dig in to your unfailing love. We trust that your justice is at work for this hurting world. We believe in your peace that surpasses understanding. And let us be an instrument, a conduit, and a mouthpiece for your good purposes in this ever-changing world.

Because you remain the same. You are the constant. You are the assurance on which we place our feet. And we will keep digging in until…

“[we are] able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself.” (Ephesians 3:18,19)

This is the love that never changes for this world, even as the world seems to be ever-changing. This is the love that has the whole world in His hands. Dig in, my friends. And you will find your footing in Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus, Move Into the Neighborhood.

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But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24)

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. (John 1:14)

Saturday night our city went under curfew in response to four days of protests on behalf of George Floyd. When the text came over my phone, I was getting ready to go out for a run. My oldest son was getting ready to head out for a bike ride. Uncertain of whether the curfew applied to only the city of LA or to all of LA proper, we debated whether it was best to stay home. But in the end we headed out.

As my feet hit the ground, I felt convicted with these questions. What made me head out? What made me allow my son to head out? What assumption was I living under that allowed me to go for a run when I’m uncertain if my neighborhood is part of a city-wide curfew? I felt a little unsettled; I felt a little unsure. But here’s what I didn’t feel. I didn’t feel afraid.

You see, I was under the assumption that if I made a mistake, headed out when I should’ve stay home, people would assume the best about me. I was under the assumption that people would assume the best about my son.

I didn’t feel afraid that either one of us would be pre-judged, misunderstood, or mistreated. I didn’t fear the worst; instead, I expected the best. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have headed out. I certainly wouldn’t have allowed my son to head out.

But this is not the experience of many of my sisters in Christ who have African American sons and daughters. Some tell me they don’t live with the same ease. Some tell me they don’t live under the same assumptions. And every new story that comes across the headlines only stands to further the divide between their experiences and mine.

To my black sisters in Christ, I don’t pretend to understand your struggle, your pain, or your heartache. But I do recognize it, and the great disparity between what your assumptions may be and what mine are.

And I want to learn. I want to hear your stories. I want to stand by your side. I want to advocate for Biblical justice and peace for all people. I want all moms to know the ease that I know. I want to do my small part to lessen the gap, the disparity, the disproportion that can lie between our two experiences.

As a Christ-follower I have asked myself, how do I respond to the unrest, the heartache, and the pain of this past week? How would Jesus respond? What would he do?

Here’s what I know He would not do. He would not turn a deaf ear or close His eyes. He would not stand to the side or disengage or say this is too sensitive of an issue to address. He would not stand far off. Because He is the word made flesh. He comes close. He stands near. He looks down on this world in trouble, and He moves into the neighborhood.

He comes close to the broken-hearted. But He does more. He binds up their wounds.

How can I, in my small sphere of influence–as a teacher, a mom, a neighbor, a friend–come close as Jesus would? How can I let my life be a balm of healing and my voice stand for Biblical justice? How can I refuse to allow the feeling that I can make little difference cause me to make no difference at all?

How can I move into the neighborhood as Jesus does? How can I come close? How can I engage? These are the questions I am asking myself in the midst of prayers for healing, reconciliation, and Biblical justice for every person the Lord made in His very own image.

I am grieving today for the state of our city, our nation, and our world. I am grieving for the loss of a man’s life who should not have died. As a mom, I am grieving for this loss of this son. I don’t know his mom’s story. I don’t know how many times she kept her son home instead of sending him out, because the brokenness of this sinful world made it so that she couldn’t assume the best, but instead had to fear the worst.

And I am praying. I am praying until “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) Come, Lord Jesus. Come turn hearts toward you, toward one another, toward what is right and good and fair and true. Protect every person made in your image, regardless of his or her station, regardless of the color of his or her skin.

Come bring unity. Come bring peace for all people. Come help us to assume the best about one another. Come move into our neighborhoods.

 

 

 

 

Counting on A Quilt of Love.

IMG_1269“Hatred stirs up fights, but love pulls a quilt over the bickering.” (Proverbs 10:12)

The other night I fell asleep on the couch while binge-watching a funny TV show to take my mind off of the events challenging our city, our country, and our world. Truly home has become a place of solace and a real refuge for hunkering down.

My oldest son, in some random act of tenderness, pulled a throw blanket out and covered me with it before heading up to bed. This is not the typical behavior of a sixteen year old boy, and it touched me deeply. I felt peaceful. I felt cared for. I felt appreciated. I felt loved.

These are the moments we cling to as parents, those times when we see that much of our laboring, our persevering, our training, and our consistent care really do matter and make a difference.

In and of itself, this act of kindness mattered to me, but then a few days later I came across this verse in The Message translation of the Bible. Pulled from the Proverbs, which is chock-full of snippets of wisdom, this verse is something I’m holding onto in these hunkering down times.

Because although home is a refuge, home can also be a challenge. It is not normal for five people to do all of their working, playing, staying, and praying in a single piece of square footage. All sharing the same wifi, all sharing the same entertainment options, all sharing the same space, the same place, on and on and into what feels like forever.

And so the bickering this verse refers to is real and present at times in our home. I keep telling my kids it’s normal to get sick of one another, and that’s why the Bible says we must…

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)

If it were easy, we wouldn’t have to bear with. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have to hang on. If it were easy, we wouldn’t need to apply love.

And that’s why I love this idea of covering over like a quilt. Because as a mom, a wife, a neighbor, a friend, sometimes I am not so good at bearing with. Sometimes I’m the worst version of myself and love does not seem to win the day.

Although I am perfectly loved by a perfectly loving, accepting, unconditional God, my love does not always look the same.

I remember when I first brought each of my babies home, I had this thought that for now–for just this one moment–I haven’t done anything wrong yet. I have it just right, for a moment. But then that moment passes, and I’m just a person doing my best with God’s help, and often falling short.

But here’s the hope. Love pulls a quilt over the bickering. A quilt is thick. A quilt is patches of much love stitched together over many years. A quilt is a masterpiece created by all of those times I chose well. And the quilt of love that I’m stitching together in my home is not based or grounded on my ability to love, but in the love of God expressed in Christ Jesus. This love is the love that is a cord of three strands not easily broken. It is stronger. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

I love my children, but God loves them more. I love my husband, but the Father loves Him more. I love my neighbors and my friends, but God’s love is greater. And it’s His love that covers over, that blankets it all in grace, that forgives every offense and keeps us knitted together as we look to Him.

It’s His love for us that helps us bear with, hold tight, and hang on.

And so I’m counting on that quilt. Through all the bickering, all the disagreements, and all of the agonizing putting up with one another that happens within these walls, I am trusting that the love we have for one another–rooted in Christ Jesus–is greater.

He pulls a quilt over all the bickering. He covers us in grace. He redeems our lives, our mistakes, our mishaps. He loves perfectly, and so we are being made perfect in His love.

And every once in a while a sixteen year old boy does something like pulling a blanket over his mom. And I realize that–all by grace–love is winning the day after all.

Joy Completed.

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“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11)

My husband loves the outdoors. Put him in a wilderness area with trees, rock formations, a flowing stream, or a fresh water lake, and you’ve put him in paradise. Standing next to a waterfall with a swimming hole below, he becomes a giddy boy. Silly even. Completely full of joy.

What brings you joy? What makes you giddy? What causes you to transcend into an alternative existence, an existence of joy? One day, for Micah and me, it was a cucumber. Just a simple cucumber that became a cigar, a mustache, a long, pointy nose. Truth be told, it’s Micah that’s my joy. He’s my joy bringer.

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Jesus wants joy for us, but not just any joy, complete joy. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.” But what is complete joy? Does anyone really know joy like this? Or does joy fade?

We come down from the mountain top. We’re sitting in traffic again. And children who laugh over cucumbers also need time outs and get the stomach flu. Surely Jesus can’t mean that our joy never, ever ends. How could we possibly remain in a perpetual state of joy?

I recently read that our lives are like train tracks with parallel truths running right alongside one another. On one rail, we have the joyful things, the blessings, all of the good that causes our cup to overflow with gratitude. But simultaneously, co-existing with all this good, there runs another rail. It’s the rail of the bad. It’s the things that bring us sadness, sorrow, pain, and frustration.

Even if we aren’t currently experiencing these things, someone around us is. You don’t have to wander far to bump into someone’s hurt. In a broken world, hurt screams all around us. And so we find these two truths running parallel throughout our lives. While there’s much reason for joy, there’s much reason for sorrow.

So, again I ask, how can our joy be made complete?

Pondering this question, I look back at the preceding words of Jesus, “Remain in my love.” We remain in His love so that, we may know His joy, His complete joy. And so I deduce, I will know full joy when I know full love. Uninhibited, complete love. As Paul says…

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (2 Corinthians 13:12)

It seems that Jesus is giving us somewhat of a formula. The more we experience His love, the more we’ll experience His joy. The more we track with His love, the more we’ll track with His joy.

But the problem is the other track, the one with all the bad. That darn thing keeps running alongside the good track, the joyful track. And so we know in part. We experience in part. But the whole of this love, this joy, is not fully known to us. Not while we still sit with the bad.

The bad in this world. The bad in us.

But wait. Hang on. Because there’s hope. There’s hope for a follower of Jesus  living life on both rails. Because these rails aren’t for nothing. We’re on rails for a reason. We’re on rails because we’re headed somewhere.

These tracks lead to a completely different destination. In this life, we yearn  to experience the pure, unadulterated love of Christ and all of the good that flows from His heart.

Blessings like mountain hikes and belly laughs and silly cucumbers that become a goofy mustache. But running right alongside these are the days of frustration, the nights of tears, the pain that’s no further than the front page of the newspaper. Both co-exist…for now. But we’re headed somewhere else.

And when we get there, what now seems like the exception will one day be the rule. Those moments that are few and far between, when you are most fully yourself, experiencing uninhibited joy, becoming a giddy little kid again. Those will be the rule. These train tracks we’re riding will one day lead to complete joy. When we’ll really, truly, fully know His love.

Without insecurities. Without doubts. Without moodiness or shame or regret. Without battling the sin within or the onslaught of trials from without. Everything that seems so normal to us now will no longer be. Can we even fathom such an existence? Can we even ponder such complete joy? Well, it will look something like this…

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And exactly like this…

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

No more double rails. One rail. One way. One existence where we will forever remain in his uninhibited love. And the exception becomes the rule. We’ll never come down from the mountain. Our cup will always overflow.

We’re headed there. That’s the hope that doesn’t disappoint. These double rails aren’t for nothing. They will one day take us home. Home to complete joy.

What about you?

Do you think much about where we’re headed, the hope of a day of complete joy?

How can you be a joy bringer in the life of someone today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clues to Trust.

 

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Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” (Romans 11:33-35)

As a child, I relished the opportunity to play the game of Clue. From a very young age, I remember my mom and sister playing, so I wanted to learn the moment I was old enough. Colonel Mustard and Professor Peacock were intriguing to say the least. And Miss Scarlet, with her lead pipe, was utterly scandalous.

I loved the idea of being a detective, writing my secret notes, all the while determining the exact culprit, location, and weapon hidden in that tiny manila envelope that read “Top Secret.” And the best part, making an accusation, declaring before all those present my brilliant ability to crack the case.

Sometimes I think I live my life with God kind of like a game of clue. I so long to understand this God, what He’s doing in my life, what His plans are. I attempt to determine His work in my little world and pin it all down to a conclusion that makes sense to my finite understanding.

I assign God motives and tell Him what He’s up to. I get my hopes up and let my expectations sky-rocket, assuming He’s given me certain promises that maybe He never gave me at all.

I come up with plans for my future, guessing they’re probably His plans too. I try to figure out His paths, and when His plans don’t fit into the blueprints I’ve laid out, I’m ultimately disappointed.

A.W. Tower says it like this…

Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control.

And that’s me. Trying to fit God into that little manila envelope I’ve crafted in my mind. Jumping to conclusions and summing His work in my life down to a great accusation, until He doesn’t do what I told Him He was doing. And this God I’ve created…I realize He’s no God at all. He’s the product of my own deductions.

I think it’s so natural and normal for us to want to understand God. I think it’s right and good that we should pay attention to what He’s doing in our lives, prayerfully consider how He may be speaking to us, step into the plans He has for us. For me, the problem arises when I jump the gun.

I’ve been around the board of my life a few times, searching for clues. I’ve rolled the dice, paid attention, and made some “suggestions” to God about what He may be doing. I’ve checked different boxes in the notepad of my mind, attempting to discern how God may be at work, all the while telling myself I’m fully surrendered to His will.

Until His will doesn’t seem to match mine. I’ve made an accusation that doesn’t match what He’s actually doing. And all the detective work of my life comes up wrong. So, I’m disappointed. Sometimes I’m devastated.

And yet, I know this about God. I know the old hymn declares…

Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes…

Or as the Romans passage states, He is deep and unsearchable. His paths beyond tracing out. In many ways, He is incomprehensible to a mind like mine.

Or as the Apostle Paul writes…

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I know in part, and yet I so long to know the whole. The whole of who He is. The revelation of the mysteries around me and all that doesn’t make sense. The whole of His plans for me, the whole of what lies ahead. And so I go about my detective work, only to realize again…

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Certainly not me.

So, why the mystery? Why the confusion? Why the need to discern, only to find that so often my discerning is altogether wrong?

Until it dawns on me. Were it possible for me to fully comprehend Him, He would cease to be God at all. And one thing more. Were I to fully comprehend Him, were I to understand it all, were He to reveal the “whole” that I long for to me…there would be no need to trust.

And so I’m told…

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5,6)

So much of the detective work of my life is summed up in this. I lean on my own understanding.  I want to figure it all out. Because trusting feels scary. Unknowing is uncomfortable. And I want to know where I’m headed.

But He wants more for us. He wants our trust.

Because when we trust Him, we can rest. We can put our thinking, our figuring, our searching to rest. Instead of leaning on our own understanding, we can lean on Him. Let Him lead the way, believing our best life is found in Him and all He has for us. Not in some tiny manila envelope that holds our own conclusions.

I don’t want to serve a God that fits neatly into my detective book and can easily be comprehended by a finite mind like mine. I want a bigger God. I want a God who gives me clues to who He is, attributes that I can hang onto when I need to trust.

Things like knowing He is good. That He is faithful. That He has my best at heart. That He loves me, receives me, knows me better than I know myself.

That He is infinite, yet ever-present, and all-knowing. That He is mighty, merciful, compassionate and so full of grace. That He is always, always at work for good.

These are the things I’ll write in the detective book of my life, the things that I know to be true of my God. And then, I’ll trust. Trust that He can make my paths straight, if I’ll only lean on Him.

And I’ll save my detective work for Colonel Mustard, in the Lounge, with the Candlestick. Because that tiny manila envelope on that little board, that I can handle. My life, well, it’s better off in His hands.

What about you?

What has your experience of discerning God’s ways been like?

What helps you to trust in times of unknowing?