Longing to Belong.

IMG_0496

At the age of seven, I had the first taste of what it felt like to not belong, and it was a bitter pill to swallow. Because my biological dad had left when I was a year old, I prayed nightly for a dad, hoping my mom would meet someone wonderful to fill the role. Finally, it happened. My mom re-married, and I belonged in a new way. For the first time in my life, I had a dad. And he was wonderful.

But having a dad meant moving in the middle of the school year. It meant that my mom, my sister, and I relocated to a new home with three new brothers. It meant living in someone else’s house, going to someone else’s school, sleeping in someone else’s bedroom.

Having a dad meant facing a classroom of second graders, and being “the new girl,” with some really mean “old” girls. They were brutally unkind. For the first time in my life, I was called fat. “Too bad you aren’t a skinny-minny like us,” they would jeer. They were frenemies in the worst sense of the word. Pretending to be my friends, only to turn on me, as if for sport.

For some reason our second grade teacher would leave the room from time to time, and then appoint various students to serve as “room monitors.” No seven-year-old should be afforded such power.

The “room monitor” would observe the class, recording on the chalkboard the names of those who talked. Being a perfectionist, even at the age of seven, I remained utterly silent. But they put my name on the board anyway. Time after time, they put my name on the board.

Not only did I not belong, I was actively disliked. For the first time in my life, I felt self-conscious, insecure. Seeds of doubt about me had been planted. My prayers for a dad were answered, but a small bit of my innocence was lost. Desperate to fit in, I worked for people to like me. I was no longer the self-assured girl in the plaid coat and patchwork pants. I was something different.

IMG_0492

I’m aware that stories like mine are all too familiar. I’d guess that we all have a similar story, many far more extreme than mine. We each hold an innate desire to belong, and yet we’ve all tasted the bitter pill of not belonging. We long to fit in, and yet we’ve all felt left out.

We’ve been rejected. We’ve been overlooked or cast aside. We’ve been lonely. We’ve longed to belong. Only to have our longings unmet.

So, what are we to do when we stand in the gap, innately longing to belong, and yet finding that we don’t fit? Because times of loneliness will keep coming as sure as the seasons of life change. And what started for me as a seven-year-old, has revisited me, as I’m sure it has you.

So what holds us in the in-between places?

I’m not entirely sure, but one thing I know. I’m held by a Savior who’s intimately acquainted with what it means to not belong, who swallowed a pill incomparably more bitter than mine.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  (Isaiah 53:3)

When I stand in the gap between longing and belonging, I’m held by the knowledge that He understands. And so in my lonely times, I draw near to the rejected One, near to the despised One, near to the suffering One, and find a bit of comfort, knowing He gets it.

And not only does he get it, He promises me this. Though I may be rejected, He’ll never reject me. As the beloved Brennan Manning has so powerfully proclaimed, “God loves you as you are, not as you should be.” As so I believe…

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. (Psalm 27:10)

With Jesus, I always, always belong. You always, always belong.

And in my lonely places, I’m held by one thing more. Jesus grew comfortable with lonely places. He even sought them out.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

Jesus befriended lonely places because there He drew close to the Father. And though I hate the not belonging, it’s in those gap places, where my longings are yet unmet, that I often come closer to my God. Because I feel my need for Him. And He finds me there. Right in the middle of my need. He becomes my belonging.

I still hate not belonging. And second grade was definitely not one of my finer years, at least in school. But it was still good–good because I belonged to a new family, with a new dad, and a new set of brothers, all hilarious and fun.

IMG_0505 (2)

But most of all, swallowing that bitter pill taught me something. Tasting not belonging made me something of a monitor myself. It made me more keenly aware of the outcast, the outsider. Not belonging taught me to look for the one who’s left out, alone. Like Jesus did.

Jesus befriended the outcast, and gave grace to the sinner. And as we know Him more, drawing near to Him for our belonging, we long to be more like Him. We become the friend to the outcast and a conduit of His grace to those who don’t belong.

What made us feel left out causes us to include others. What made us feel rejected helps us to accept others. So that, though we still long to belong, we long for something more. We long to make others belong. We long to leave a sweet taste in their mouth, when they’ve tasted only bitter. Just like Jesus did for us.

Suddenly we’re less worried about belonging and more worried about making others belong. Because we already belong with this Jesus, and He holds all our longings. And with Him, we feel a bit more like ourselves again.

You’re a bit more like you. I’m a bit more like me. Seasons of loneliness still come, but I’m a bit more like the girl in the plaid coat and patchwork pants. Self-assured and settled, because I’m settled in Him. Longing to belong, yet always belonging. Because I belong in Him.

What about you?

Have you gone through seasons of feeling like you don’t belong?

What comforts you when you stand in the gap between longing and belonging?

I am doing a blog roll with some very talented writers and photographers. To read more about belonging, start with http://sarahdsstories.livejournal.com and roll through the circle from there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy Completed.

IMG_0409

“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.

IMG_0405

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…

IMG_0410

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.

 

DSCN0412

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?

Joining Up with God.

 

DSCN9438

“Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters…to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12)

One of the happiest summers of my life I spent with my grandparents, working on a horse farm. Each day was mapped out for me. Wake up at six, take a jog, a few moments of prayer and reading, breakfast with grandpa, along with the morning paper. Off to the barns on my bike for a day of mucking out stalls, putting up hay, or mending fences.

Simple. Quiet. Quite predictable, but I loved it.

I loved it for the horses. I loved it for time spent with my grandparents. But most of all, I loved it for the simplicity, the predictability. I loved it because it was quiet, because it was unhurried. It made sense.

In his book Soul Keeping, John Ortberg quotes Dallas Willard giving sage advice for a quiet life connected to an ever-present God.

Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

Those six simple words seem easy to grasp. Their wisdom makes perfect sense. Until I actually try to live my life. Until one of my kids has an unexpected meltdown over the demolition of her Lego constructions. Or another argues the finer points of why he shouldn’t have to practice his saxophone. Or my youngest doesn’t agree with the limitations on his Wii time.

And suddenly I’m hurried…on the inside. There’s no stillness left in me. I’m all churned up. There’s no room for remaining with this ever-present God. I’m off in survival mode. And, by the way, we’re late for soccer practice. Again. So, off we go…in a hurry.

I do really well eliminating hurry…when I’m all by myself. Without any obligations or responsibilities. Without the influence of other, well, people. On a day off, somewhere near a sandy beach, with a good book in my lap. But actually eliminating hurry on a regular day in my regular life, that’s altogether different.

And here’s the other problem. Part of me actually enjoys the hurry. In a weird sort of way it makes me feel important. I wonder if you’re anything like me? Give me a day with nothing–absolutely nothing–on the calendar, all by myself, and a bit of me starts to panic. I feel lonely. It seems empty. Actually too quiet.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Therein lies the predicament. We long for quiet lives; simplicity seems so appealing. And yet, for many of us, the quiet is altogether scary. So we commit ourselves to a life of hurry. When asked how we’re doing, we say, “Oh, so busy.” We’re busy, busy, busy. Because in the busyness, many of us find our value.

Isn’t it intriguing that Paul says, make it your ambition to live a quiet life? Because to me, ambition connotes noise. It means busyness. It means a life full of all kids of stuff. It denotes striving. Ambition and simplicity don’t seem to go together.

Until I think about just how hard it is to live simply, just what a challenge it is to live unhurried. In this culture, on this planet, in this life, if we want to live simply, we’re going to have to strive for it. We’ll have to make it our ambition.

Which is why I think Willard uses the word ruthlessly. Because it won’t be easy. More and more and more stuff will try to pile into our lives, and we’ll have to say no. We’ll have to leave margin. We’ll have to actively chose and work toward a quiet, simple life. We’ll even have to strive against our very nature.

The part of us that’s unsettled with things settling. The part of us that hates being still. The part of us that finds great value in what we do. The part of us that keeps going, like an Energizer bunny, until we collapse onto the couch for an hour to unwind before heading off to bed.

Yes, simplicity, requires effort. It requires intentionality. It means striving, choosing, working toward a quiet life, even when that means working against our very selves. It means following Someone else’s lead.

It makes me think of a training technique with young horses called the “join up.” The trainer urges the horse around the round pen until she notices that the horse follows her lead, much like a young foal to a mare. After a time, the trainer turns her back to the horse and walks away, only to find that the horse has followed her. He’s “joined up.”

If we want to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives, we have to join up with a God who knows better than us. We have to keep our eyes fixed upon Him, like that young horse to its trainer, looking for Him to set the pace of our days and the quiet in our heart. We have to heed these other sage words of advice…

Be still, and know that I am God…(Psalm 46:10)

Because when we know He’s God, our world is a safer place. It’s manageable. It’s in His capable hands. We don’t have to busy ourselves with all kinds of extra stuff, because He says we’re valuable, outside of anything we do. We don’t have to control our world, because ultimately He’s in control.

When we quiet ourselves and follow God’s lead, recognizing that He’s the One driving our lives forward, we join up with Him. We trust Him. We become still. We know He’s God.

We ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives, because there’s no need to rush. We follow His rhythm, keep in step with His Spirit, and allow Him to quiet us, on the inside.

Today, I want to join up with this God. Because left to myself, I’ll just hurry along, both on the outside and the inside. Oh, how I need His grace to still me. To whisper quiet into my life. Oh, Lord, teach me to join up with you. Because, ultimately, that’s the only kind of life that makes sense.

 

What about you?

Do you find yourself addicted to a life of hurry?

What would it take for you to join up with God today, to allow Him to set the pace and quiet you on the inside?

 

 

 

 

Upheld in Times of Shaking.

IMG_0039

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:1-3)

The first time this western-Pennsylvania girl felt an earthquake I didn’t even recognize it for what it was. I was sitting in the bedroom of our little apartment in student housing, which happened to be located right alongside the 210 freeway in Pasadena. So, I’d grown accustomed to the sound of cars flying by and helicopters whirling above.

Propped up, reading a book, I felt a small flutter as the bed shook from side to side. Just like that, it came and went. Here and gone in an instant. Weird, I thought. So, I called out to Tom, who was watching TV in the living room, “What the heck was that? I think a big semi just drove by!” That earthquake didn’t shake me. Not one little bit!

Now that I’ve lived in Southern California for thirteen years, I feel quite differently about earthquakes. I’ve grown accustomed to how they feel;  I know they’re all too real. No semis driving by. Real, honest-to-goodness destructive power. And I pray they never show their full force.

Each year at the beginning of school, I prepare emergency kits for my kids, complete with a change of underwear, a baseball cap, a deck of cards, and a note from Tom and me, reassuring them if they are separated from us in a disaster. When faced with the reality that a real shaking could occur, I’m petrified.

So, how is it that the Psalmist can say, “we will not fear?” Though the earth give way, we will not fear. Though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, we will not fear. Though the mountains quake with their surging, we will not fear.

If I were honest, when I sing songs that say things like, “We will not be shaken,” I feel like a big, fat liar. Because I know the truth about me. If the mountains fell into the heart of the sea, I’d be overcome with fear. I’d be in panic mode. Oh, yes, I’d be shaken.

So, what does the Psalmist mean? What do we mean when we sing the words, “We will not be shaken?” What are we declaring together?

I’ve never experienced a damaging, destructive earthquake. My sixth grader assures me one’s on the way. “Mom, we’re due for one,” he tells me. And it makes me think of old Laverne and Shirley episodes after they moved out to California. I remember as a kid wondering what that was all about. In many ways, I still don’t know what a real shaking is like.

But I’ve been shaken by other things, things that felt catastrophic at the time. Shaken by depression. Deep, life-sucking depression. Shaken by issues with my weight and an eating disorder. Shaken by infertility, and the gut-wrenching struggle that cries out for a baby. Shaken by a miscarriage, and the dark emptiness that comes from a  place that once was full.

The truth is, we’ve all been shaken, to one degree or another. By one thing or another. So, again, I ask, what do we mean when we say, “We will not be shaken,” when my guess is that we all know, in many ways, we have been, and we would be…

And then I find this verse, this little gem of hope that helps me piece it all together…

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 1:21-22)

When we feel shaken, when we’re sure we’ll crumple into pieces, it is God who makes us to stand. It’s Him who makes us firm. He’s the One who upholds us. Just look at this verse…

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

When I think about the biggest earthquakes of my life, the greatest times of shaking, I can say one thing for sure. I’ve not been the source of my own upholding. I’ve been upheld by a God who keeps me for Himself, upholds me in times of trouble, makes me to stand.

I’ve always been told that in the event of a real earthquake, the best thing to do is to stand in a door frame of the house, because–while the shaking goes on–that’s the safest place to be. It’s the strongest part of the house. This is a clearer picture of what I’ve experienced in times of shaking.

I’m not standing on my own strength. I’m not upheld by my own resolve or some kind of superstar faith. I stand because of the One who upholds me. I cling to Him, like a foolproof door frame, and I am upheld.

I weather the storm, in His strength. I make it through, by His faithfulness. Because He’s a refuge that covers me, an ever-present help in times of trouble. So that even when it feels as though my world is crumbling, He makes me to stand.

Psalm 40 says it like this…

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (Psalm 40:1,2)

While the quaking goes on, I hang on for dear life, clinging to the door frame of His strength, hiding in the refuge of His ever-present help. And as the dust settles, He lifts me up out of the mire, giving me a firm place to stand.

So, go on singing. Declare it in great faith. You will not be shaken. I will not be shaken. Because we will not. At least not in an ultimate kind of way. At the end of the day, as we trust in Him, our story will be this.

The earth gave way, but He made us to stand. The mountains quaked, but He upheld us with His hand. We didn’t stand in our own strength. We stood because He was the firm place, the refuge, the framework of our lives.

And we sing for one thing more. We sing because of a future hope, a future reality for all those who believe. A day when all this shaking will seem a distant memory.

Like my first earthquake experience. Just like that, it will have come and gone. And we’ll be looking at a future beyond our imagining. A future void of death, crying, sickness, or pain. Only peace. Only joy. Only celebration. An existence where truly, we will not be shaken.

Waves of Grace.

IMG_3008

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:15)

Have you ever had one of those days? One of those days when everything seems to go wrong? One of those days when you just want to say, “Really?!” “Seriously?!” “No, really!?” The bad stuff keeps coming like so many waves of frustration. And you’re just trying to stay afloat with each new set.

Well, this has been one of those days, one of those weeks, really. The trouble is…the trouble has nothing to do with my circumstances. There isn’t bad stuff pummeling me like so many waves. Instead, the bad stuff seems to be the stuff inside of me. And I want to say along with ever-so-wise Elf, “I’m just a cotton headed ninny muggins!”

I wonder if you ever feel like a cotton headed ninny muggins…

It seems that Paul did. I always return to this passage when I have a week like this. Because Paul so beautifully articulates how I feel. In my mind, there’s a version of me that I so long to be. It’s the version of me that builds up those around me. That loves selflessly. That wears patience like a garment and joy like a banner.

For in my inner being I delight in God’s law… (Romans 7:22,23)

Until I find myself complaining. Until I lose my temper. Until pride wells up and I’m battling self-concern and envy. Ugh. Just a cotton headed ninny muggins. That’s me.

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18,19)

In 1870, Quaker speaker and author Hannah Whitall Smith wrote an obscure little book called The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life. Within its pages, Smith calls the reader to a life of obedience and surrender, leading to great joy.

But she also defines just what Paul speaks of in Romans 7, just what it’s like to be a cotton headed ninny muggins, longing for one kind of life, yet often living another. It’s the life of the “unmanageable self.”

Can’t you just hear it in Paul’s words? I want to do this, and yet I do this. I delight in this, and yet I do this. I keep doing the things I don’t want to do! I am utterly unmanageable!

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:24)

Who will rescue us? From this “in between” place? Believing, delighting. So longing to live like Christ. And yet…we can’t. At least not entirely. We are stuck in the “in between.” Wanting to do good, and yet battling the bad.

So Smith entreats the believer, “Do you not long to hand over the management of your unmanageable self into the hands of One who is able to manage you?”

And everything in me cries, “YES!” I give up! I surrender! Take it all! All my heart! All my mind! All my life!

All my manipulating. All my longing for everything outside of you. All my controlling. All my perfectionism. All my pride. All my coveting. All my envy. Take it all. The good and the bad in me.

I wave the white flag. I fall to my knees. I lay myself flat. I don’t want control of this life anymore. I can’t do it. I can’t manage it. I am completely unmanageable! Oh, Lord, will you manage me?

I surrender. Once again, I surrender. This cotton headed ninny muggins surrenders, all over again.

Brennan Manning had another word for people like me…Ragamuffin. In his classic work The Ragamuffin Gospel, this former priest and author describes a Ragamuffin as…

“…the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together…inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker…poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents…earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay…the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God…smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.”

People like me. People like Paul. Perhaps people like you.

People who are unmanageable, desperately in need of a Savior. People who have bad days, weeks, maybe even years.

Now, this may seem like a bunch of self-deprecation, and you may be thinking, “Where is your self-esteem?” But, to me, especially on week’s like this, it’s just reality. Because until you admit who you are, you aren’t able to receive what you need.

The essence of the gospel begins like this. When we are brutally honest, we are all ragamuffins. We are all cotton headed ninny muggins. I may be a bit more than you, but we all are just the same. We are all unmanageable, desperately in need of deliverance…from ourselves.

So bad news, becomes good news–the good news of the gospel. What seems like self-deprecation is actually surrender. Surrender to the truth of who we are, accepting the reality of the sin that we battle daily. And hope. Such great hope

Because when we honestly admit our great need for grace, forgiveness, and surrender, we are freed up from striving, pretending, and earning. We lay ourselves flat and cry out with Paul…

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)

I may be a cotton headed ninny muggins. But I’m a loved one. I’m a forgiven one. I’m a redeemed, freed, and pardoned one. I’m an utterly unmanageable ragamuffin. But that’s not the end of my story.

At the end of a really bad week, I fall on the grace that catches me. Every single time. It’s there for you too. On good days, on bad days. Every day.

As Brennan Manning entitled his memoir, All is Grace. On our worst days, our worst weeks, all is grace. That’s really good news for a cotton headed ninny muggins like me. With news like this, suddenly my world seems manageable again. And what felt like waves of trouble, now feels like waves of grace.

What about you?

Do you find yourself disappointed, longing to be one way, and yet living another?

Can you fall on the Grace that stands ready to catch you today?

 

Flowing Free of Worry.

100_1628

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

With the recent drought in California, a day of rain calls for a hike to see just how much water has collected in our nearby waterfalls. Formally dry creek beds respond well to even the smallest watering, and what once ran dry flows freely again. It seems the lack of water makes one all the more grateful for the tiniest flow.

Sitting at the base of one such fall, I watched as sparkling droplets flowed over and into one another, following their destined course. And this thought crossed my mind…

These droplets have no concern for where they’ve been, no concern for where they’re going. They simply follow the flow of the river bed. They take the course set out for them, without worry, without concern. Happily they make their way along. Freely they flow, unhindered.

And my mind drifts to these words of Jesus…

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:26-27)

Or these words…

See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry… (Matthew 6:28-31)

It seems that water droplets, lilies of the field, and birds of the air have figured something out that I find all too difficult. Living at rest. Flowing in freedom. Growing in trust. Learning to simply be.

Because my body may be in one place, but my mind often wanders to another. Living under the illusion that I’m in control, my mind races to the past or concerns itself with the future. It’s so difficult just to exist right where I am.

My guess is I’m not the only one. Which may be why Jesus said, “Don’t worry.” Each day has enough challenge, trial, struggle, adventure, and trouble of its own. But each day has something else. It has Someone else. Because He’s the God of the present moment.

The One who was and is and is to come. (Revelation 4:8) He exists in each present moment that ever was or ever will be. And it’s in each present moment that we find Him.

We won’t find Him in our worries about tomorrow, or in our regrets about yesterday. We find Him as we give our yesterday, today, and tomorrow into His hands. In this exact present moment. Right where He is. Right with us.

But remaining in the present with Jesus is difficult. As Brennan Manning once said…

For me the most radical demand of Christian faith lies in summoning the courage to say yes to the present risenness of Jesus Christ.

I’ll never forget my high school physics teacher. He was a guy of the present moment. He wanted the full attention of his students each and every minute, boring as they were.

He’d hook one arm behind his back, writing on the chalkboard with his other hand, periodically wiping chalk dust on his shirt. As he lectured on and on in a monotone drone, all of us had a tendency to forget about the present moment.

Whether we were just day dreaming or enjoying a peaceful slumber, we certainly weren’t thinking about physics. He wouldn’t say a word, at least not about our dreaming. He’d just talk on about objects, forces, energy, and motion, while slyly making his way over to the windows that lined the far side of the classroom.

Did I mention that it was winter in western Pennsylvania? One by one he’d slide each window open. With the immediate chill that filled the air, we soon found our way back to the present moment. He had a funny way of keeping our attention.

Which brings me back to Jesus, the God of each present moment. In some ways He’s a lot like my physics teacher. He vies for our attention in the here and now. Because left to ourselves, we are sure to worry, wander, and concern ourselves with more than we can bear. We tend to take on more than the day’s allotment of worries.

But gazing upon Him, our worries are put in their proper place. Remember His words…

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

It’s not that our worries aren’t important to Him. Quite the contrary. It’s just that our worries must exist in light of Him. As we look first to Him, our worries are seen through the lens of who He is. The God who is, who was, who is to come.

He’s the One who holds it all together. Our capacity is quite small. We can handle just about what one day holds, on a good day. He holds it all.

All our yesterdays. All our todays. All our tomorrows. All in His capable hands. And so we seek Him first, keep our eyes fixed on Him, find Him in each present moment. Giving us grace for our past, making us brave for our future. All in the light of Him.

As I watched those droplets flow freely, I saw a picture of the words of Jesus. His heart that we need not worry. Because worry keeps us stuck. We’re utterly dammed up in anxiety. Anxieties that are often valid, but are too much to carry. So they anchor us in one place.

As we exist in each present moment with our Lord, we get unstuck. Our worries are cast upon Him. We’re freed up to flow. Surrendering our past to His covering grace, trusting our future to His good heart, we flow forward, following the path marked out for us.

Today, I’m grateful for recent rain that replenishes our waterfalls and fills the narrow pathways of our creek beds. And for tiny water droplets that invite me to flow freely as they do. Oh, for grace to join them.

Still, I can’t help but wonder at the velocity of their motion. There’s gotta be an equation for that. Maybe if I had stayed awake in Physics class…

What About You?

What are the worries and concerns that have you stuck today?

Can you offer them to the God who exists in each of your present moments, trusting Him with your past, present, and future?

Try this:

You may be familiar with a form of centering prayer practiced by the Quakers called, “Palms Up, Palms Down.” You start by turning your palms down, while praying about all of your concerns, worries, and anxieties, giving it all to God. Name every one, telling the Lord you are giving them to Him. After a bit, turn your palms up, receiving whatever you need from the Lord, such as love, patience, grace, peace. Tell the Lord, “I receive your peace, your love, etc.” about each and every situation you have named. Then, sit a bit in silence with God, allowing Him to meet with you.