The Unlikely Chauffeur

This is an excerpt from my journal today which, strangely enough turned into a reflection on Satan. It is scattered and unedited but I wanted to put it out to you because maybe someone out there needs to see it. I have too many drafts waiting for perfection, I didn’t want this to be one of them.

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Grace cannot be recycled. It is not a commodity to be sold and then re-sold over and over. Grace is not a pond that I dip a bucket into to wash away my sins. It is the ocean that drowns my sins until no one can dig them up or air them out or make them matter again. Yet that is exactly what Satan spends his time doing. He roams the earth seeking who he might devour, he targets Christians and their weak convictions, their shaky faith and imperfect understanding of grace. He deep-sea dives into the depths of my past and my present, he haunts me with horrors that could be. He dismantles my future simply by planting an idea that would assure me it will go horribly wrong for me if I continue to believe in Jesus. He fights grace. Every moment of every day, Satan swims against the current of God’s grace for any follower of Jesus and he takes our hand and convinces us to do the same.

“Not enough, Rachel. Do you remember? You’re not enough. You should have spent your time differently today. You wasted today. You could have done so much better today but you didn’t. You messed up. You will never be anything but what you habitually retreat to. God doesn’t care about this. He’s busy. He’s interested in people who take Him seriously. You don’t, obviously or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You should worry more about Samuel, he’s so small you know? So fragile and easy to break. You aren’t doing enough to keep him safe. What if something happens to him? You don’t take good care of John. You care more about yourself than you do him, you always have. You are selfish and hopeless. He could do so much better than you. It’s a shame he settled, isn’t it? You are so holy Rachel. You’re way holier than her. You read your bible more and you love talking to women about the Bible. You are so good at public speaking. So good at being in front of a crowd. You should have majored in theater, you should have been famous. You could still be famous you know? It’s easy. You just have to trust me. Fame is so great. It is SO much better than the dull life you’re leading now. People care about your every move! Imagine! To have people imitate you and look up to you all the time! To hang on your every word! Imagine the applause you would get with that great sense of humor. This is too easy. This whole making you dissatisfied in the life you’ve been given thing. Too easy.”

The trickiest thing about you Satan, is your adept use of reality. Not the reality about things of eternal significance because I know you’re already defeated there. But the reality that you know what’s happening in my life too. You know my fears and my unsettledness. So you use the reality of my life against what I profess to be true about Jesus. You pit them against each other as if they were meant to be at war with each other. When I take enough time to step back and watch how you work, I’m amazed at the gaping flaw in your approach. Yes, you know my heart and my fears and my sins. Yes, you have the ability to sway my mind or attention from the things of God and to create in me a festering obssession with the things of the world. I would be a fool to deny that. I experience it all constantly. You are constantly trying to pull my attention towards self-preservation and self-exaltation. But I died to myself, Satan. It is no longer I who live but Christ in  me. This means, enough time spent dwelling on my self and I grow restless and aching and searching until I fall again at the feet of Jesus and say, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Take my heart, take and seal it for your courts above.” Do you see it? YOU LEAD ME TO THE FEET OF JESUS. Sometimes it takes weeks, even months at a time for me to make it back to Him. To quietly collapse in surrender, to feel the cool tides of grace welcome me home – but I never realized that, on many occasions, you were my unlikely chauffeur.
chauffeur-labeled-for-reuse

You have won battles in my life, Satan. I know you will never stop trying to convince me of my unworthiness, my inabilty to matter or make a difference. You are desperate for my destruction and it makes me desperate for Jesus. The Holy Spirit within me convicts me of sin, He shows me where I am being lazy, foolish, selfish, and unrighteous and He always beckons me to open my Bible, get in community with other people who preach the gospel to me, and pray. I am responsible for my mistakes and I will continue to make them. But, in order for me to be defined by my mistakes, I have to give you that permission. I have to hand over to you everything I think that makes me special or worthy and you can help me obsess over them all. But instead, my specialness and worthiness comes alive in who I am in Christ. That’s why any pursuit for self is disappointing to me if it is not also the pursuit of Christ.

You are busy putting makeup on my corpse and convincing me to carry it around and show it off for people to applaud. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit fills my body – the one I have right now – and enables me to be poured out as an offering to the Lord. He enables me to serve, to love, to teach the Bible, to make people laugh, to hold people when they cry, to let myself be held when I cry.

Wow. What a relief for every person who is a disciple of Christ. Even in our shortcomings, when we were still sinners, Christ died for us! We were STILL SINNERS and He died for us. Because of love. A love that does not die of disappointment, is never weighed down by shame or vengeful anger, and a love that quite literally fills the body and mind of every one who believes that it exists. For everyone who believes that Christ’s life was not left to rot, and neither will mine be. No other act can so eloquently, succinctly, and unquestionably articulate the majestic, splendor of the glory of God than the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No love like this exists within man. No perfect love whose only agenda was to save and adopt the ones who spat in it’s face.

One day I will meet you, Satan. To the last moment before your damnation you will be clawing at my wounds, attempting to open dark and painful things that you used to use to cripple and shame me. But I will be wholly holy in Christ in that moment. Your ability to create tears and pain and hatred and violence within me will shrink in the presence of my God. My sin nature will have been shed, I will have finally tasted the life that I had proclaimed and I will lean back into the arms of my Maker and I will be home.

Speaking of home, I’m about to pack up my laptop and head home. To the life that I lead, the people I love, the mission I embrace – all of them given to me by a God who has numbered the hairs on my head and the days of my life on earth. I can’t wait to see them again. This conversation has helped me realize just how precious and important it is that I show up and love and serve by the power of the Spirit. Your chauffeur services will not be needed, however – I know how to go home. Today, I know Who my home is.
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How to Not Drown in Your Crappies

fall-1Samuel is napping while I fluff up our home with festive touches of fall and consider the season of Thanksgiving that’s approaching. I don’t know about you but I often fight gratitude with reasons. With cold hard facts and cruel reality. I have my reasons for being bitter and resentful and unhappy.. Don’t we all? Life can be a real beat down. But I’m learning that truly being grateful for my life isn’t just giving thanks that my “happies” outnumber my “crappies” – it’s often a fight for the right priorities. What things, of all the list of happies and crappies really matters? Long term. Big picture. Eternal perspective. That shift in focusing on priorities helps me so much when I’m struggling to be grateful. It also helps when I remember that I’m not supposed to endure crappies all by myself.

Listen to me – You will drown in your crappies if you’re trying to go it alone.

Here’s what you do to avoid drowning:

1. Get to know God. Study Jesus. – This sounds so “woo woo wacko” if you’re not someone who thinks about or cares much about who God is or isn’t. It also may sound like 2 steps but they’re one in the same. This is a crucial step. Why? Well, if for no other reason than you were made in His image. He put you together so if you have beef with Him or questions about stuff that’s true of you/been done to you/you’ve done to others – start the conversation by pursuing Him. *Spoiler alert – He’s already and always pursuing you. So, you’re about 15…20… FOREVER years behind. It’s OK though, totally worth jumping in and getting to it. I recommend picking up a Bible and reading the book of John – it’s in the New Testament, 4th book down if you’re looking at the Table of Contents.

The more you learn about God, the more you understand about yourself. I do this by reading the Bible on a regular basis, praying, and talking to other people about just about anything from God to parenting to careers to hobbies etc. Which leads me to my second tip to avoid drowning in your own crappies

2. Let yourself be known by other people. – Full disclosre: I’m bad at this. All of my closest friends (spouse included) will tell you I’m bad at this. I have a tendency to hide behind all of my happies, sweep the crappies under the rug until they explode and then it’s like a shitstorm. Pardon my french but it’s a quite accurate metaphor is it not? When you let other people know when you’re hurt, angry, lonely, scared, or confused you may be amazed to discover they still love you any way. EVEN ALL OF YOUR CRAPPIES. Use caution with who you let into your shitstorm though because it ain’t a pretty place and you need the real troopers who will wade in and pull you out without feeling the need to pinch their nose.

fall-2So if you’re like me and you’re so super excited about Fall and PSL and OMG CRUNCHY LEAVES but you’re kind of feeling a little (or a lot) like you’re drowning in crappies, it may behoove you to dive into the aforementioned steps and see what happens. Maybe by the time Thanksgiving rolls around you will be able to lift your glass at the obligatory “thankful toast” and experience in your heart – real and abiding gratitude for the life you’re living right now.

The posture of love

posture of loveSamuel had kind of a whiny fussy day today and quite honestly for the past few days. Moving is tough on everybody and while I wasn’t a perfectly patient mom with him today, God gave us a few minutes of dancing around the living room and giggling while I sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him as he giggled and threw his arms wide while we spun around.

 

We live in a scary world. That’s true. But let’s not forget that babies still dance in living room and people all over the world still get up every day and resolve to love each other and their neighbors.

We all get weary from the world and it’s gnawing agenda to keep on keepin’ on, while sharing space and time with people who are imperfect and difficult and demanding and all the things that we are too. We don’t have the soft luxury of a baby’s perspective about the world but we don’t need naïveté to love people, we just need to love people anyway.

Jesus told His followers that they will be recognized by the world because of their extraordinary love for each other and for others. Extraordinary love is not always huge, sweeping gestures of generosity or charity.

From what I can tell, The most extraordinary, life-changing, world-tilting love is born of faithfulness. It’s found in the person who wakes up every morning and says, “Every day I will do my part to heal hurts, give courage, share my time and resources, so that every person I come in contact with will remember they are loved by their Maker.”

I am not doing life right all the time you guys. But I know that Jesus is real. Hope is alive in Him. And His Joy is alive in me.

Go ahead and spin around in your living room and let yourself be loved, you goofball. Arms open, head up, smile wide. May that be our posture to the world and our invitation to every neighbor.

Uncomfortable

imageHave you ever been in a place in your life when you think, “Maybe one day I’ll look back on this and see God’s fingerprints all over it and it will be grand and I will encourage people and it will be so lovely and I will summarize all of God’s faithfulness over a cup of coffee and isn’t that nice ?” But as you wade through that season of life you’re just thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

That’s me right now!

So much of me longs to gird my loins, put on the armor of God and storm into this season with gusto and enough faith to drown out all of the anxieties and doubts. Oh but friend, I am tired. I am longing for respite. I feel stretched, weary and weak. I want to withdraw, to quietly pack up the armor of God, to pull out of every battle raging internally and around me and just wait for Jesus to clean it all up. (Try not to be too bedazzled by the tenacity of my faith.) If there’s anything you may learn from my spiritual journey it’s that trusting an invisible God does not come very easily to me. I guess the beauty is, it doesn’t have to.

My head knows the truths about God and His promises, but in times of adversity or confusion my heart swallows the truths with an obligatory gulp – and it often takes a while for it to be digested. Maybe you can relate?

Becoming more like Christ often means surrendering parts of your human nature that are familiar and easy – and crippling. I am a sucker for creature comforts, for happily ever afters, for “ignorance is bliss” and for the American dream. Every time any one of those things is gently rendered from my tight fists, I am left with open, empty hands. Which is (not surprisingly) exactly what enables me to connect with God and with others. How can I receive and enjoy the Good News that Jesus is who He says He is, when I am preoccupied with what other people think about me or how my life adds up compared to someone else’s (aka: things that don’t matter. ever.)?

My small piece of the world feels very unsteady and uncertain and I am uncomfortable in it. Yet it is my reality. Yet God has placed people in my life who remind me of His steadiness and certainty and the comfort of His Presence – even as all of those things seem tucked into a pretty sermon rather than winding through my story.

In addition to the uncertainties that plague my small corner of the world lately, my head has been spinning the last few weeks with questions about race, racism, and reconciliation. It all feels so big to me. Like too much. My pride bristles at ideas and perspectives that challenge my own, yet my spirit within me is restless for unity and peace and the mission of God. I have entered into conversations that require me to listen and reflect. I have walked into territory that is new and scary and humbling. This season of my life is uncomfortable, guys. Have I mentioned that? The issue of racism in America is uncomfortable. The searchings of my heart have led me to dialogues that have challenged and moved me to uncomfortable, refining places.

The firmness of my faith is being tested as I walk out, unwillingly, onto the waters of this season. moms flowersAgain I find myself looking at a future that doesn’t look like what I thought it would. Again I surrender to God and again I find it all difficult to do. Oh! To present to you the face of a woman who is so confident in her God and in her future. But honesty is too precious and saving face costs all of us too much.

Instead I am resolved to take a deep breath, one conversation at a time, one step at a time and wake up tomorrow knowing that the same God who sent His own Son to die a brutal death on my behalf, and live a resurrected life also sends me into my corner of the world with purposes He will fulfill through a life lived honestly, imperfectly and uncomfortably.

Life is hard. God is faithful.  Amen? Amen.

Be a Household that Remembers

I wrote a poem this morning while shoveling cheerios at my son and sipping my morning coffee because every year Memorial Day makes me stop – even when the world around me doesn’t. So much was given and so much was taken by the sacrifice of the men and women who died protecting the United States. Freedom and restoration was given, birthdays and anniversaries were taken. May you and yours be a household that remembers. And if you hold the ache of Memorial Day in your heart and home every day – Thank you. I am so sorry for your loss and cannot imagine your -pain. May you find in America a nation that cares about your sorrow.

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Memorial Day Candles
Be a household that remembers
take some time, brief or long.
Consider the blood of sons and daughters
dripping from our freedom song.
Tell your children about sacrifice,
teach your students about respect.
Light a candle, say a prayer,
close your eyes and just reflect.
War is hell, there is no doubt,
it tears and burns and kills.
It seeps into a quiet home,
and leaves an aching chill.
Take a moment to enter into the pain,
and allow yourself to feel.
Every bullet fired, every IED,
every shock that made bodies reel.
From open fields of massacre,
to jungles, huts, and trenches.
Men and women entered in,
as our nation’s brave defenses.
Carried home in boxes, greeted by moans and wails,
hands caress the smooth wooden beams
and words have and will continue to fail.
We cannot bear the burden that so many families do today,
but let’s just set aside politics and divisions and humbly say,
“His sacrifice mattered. She will never be forgotten. And we will take care of you.”
Be a household that remembers
take some time, brief or long.

Farewell, Fanny

John’s grandma died yesterday. She was 95 and managed to live like she never passed 50. I didn’t know her in the way a grandchild knows her grandma. We don’t share many memories together and our conversations, though sweet have always been brief. Yet, her faith and her hands have shaped someone who has become the most important person to me. Apart from his mom, John’s grandma was the most influential woman in his childhood. She lived with him for his first 12 years of life and raised him and his siblings. She disciplined him, loved him, and prayed for him.

I owe a great deal to Fanny Gialdo, a woman from Trinidad who had faith that burned ferociously. The ferocity of her faith did not leave people scathed and wounded however, but rather drew people towards her… towards Christ, with warmth and wisdom. She had her faults, like all of us. I don’t know them in particular so I have the happy job of remembering how her example changed me in profound and beautiful ways.

I met her on our wedding day. She wore a lovely blue dress, comfortable white shoes, and a warm smile. She was the one who made John break down in tears that day. Not his blushing bride, mind you. Looking as radiant as a thousand freaking suns while vowing her undyng devotion to him. (I am totally over it, by the way.)

There was a bet going among the groomsmen concerning when John would cry because (bless him) he’s a crier. I thought for sure he would break down at the vows. He was a little shaky but there were no tears. Enter: grandma. There we were in the recieving line right after being pronounced Mr. & Mrs. –  I saw John stoop down as her tiny, strong arms looped around his shoulders, speaking of her love and affection for him. He straightened up with a shining grin and tears streaming down his face. “Way to go, grandma!” I thought. It is only appropriate that a woman so deeply nestled in the heart of my new husband would open the floodgates. No hard feelings, Fanny. Nothing but love.

A little over a year into marriage, I saw her over Christmas. These are where some of my most favorite moments with her were unwrapped and tucked into my memory.

One day, I saw her sitting on the front porch, hands folded in her lap, looking out at the road. I was a little intimidated by her, I’ll admit. John told me stories of her voice carrying with it a thousand daggers when he would get in trouble as a boy.  She was a sweet woman, but not to be messed with. I approached her and commented on the weather because that’s what you do when you come into the presence of someone you want to be like, but you also want to be cool about it so they like you back. I’m certain she would have laughed if she knew my palms were kind of sweaty. Once we talked about the weather I just jumped right in with, “If you could give me any marriage advice, what would it be?” (I’m so good at transitions.)

She continued to look out at the road and while I can’t remember her exact words, here was the gist: “Forgive. Let it go. Know when to hold your tongue and keep your peace.” It sent all these red-hot flags flying in my brain, “I WILL SPEAK MY MIND SO HELP ME! I hope you tell JOHN to know when to hold his tongue too because he’s not perfect!” Instead I smiled and nodded and (God help me) dismissed her notions as maybe a bit dated or old-fashioned. Full disclosure: As it turns out, her advice comes straight from a heart that actually understands the gospel of Jesus so if you need me I’ll be eating crow until… forever.

The next morning, I walked into the kitchen and saw her at the small breakfast table, hands raised, face lifted, and thanksgiving spilling from her lips like the sun spilling across the kitchen floor. When she instructed me to “hold your tongue and keep your peace” she was most certainly not referring to my prayer life! Fanny did not hold her tongue when she was giving thanks to God. She had a relationship with Jesus that I could almost see emanating from her. She loved Jesus. Unapologetically.

She kept company with her Savior in such a peculiar and compelling way. As if he was there, eating breakfast with her – wrapped in all of the intimacy and familiarity we feel when sitting with a close friend and sharing a cup of coffee. Yet she was worshipping him. He was familiar to her and holy to her. She revered him and she trusted him like a bosom buddy. The two were inseparable. It was awkward for me because I sort of felt like I had stumbled into a moment that was supposed to be just between her and Jesus. But Fanny did not bend to her surroundings or the people around her, she bent her knees and her will only to Jesus. So if her praying out loud made you uncomfortable that certainly wasn’t her intention but she certainly wasn’t about to stop. Political correctness be damned, Christ be exalted.

Gosh I want to be like her.

The final memory I have of Fanny during that visit still makes me cry. We were all gathered, a bunch of family, in one of the large rooms in the house. People were sporadically sharing about what was going on in their lives when someone asked John about seminary. At this point we were about halfway through that journey. John answered honestly – seminary was hard. One of the most exhausting and draining seasons of John’s life. Fanny could sense it in his answer and responded to it with singing. Because, of course.

john at weddingIt started sort of soft and low, then grew stronger and louder. Fanny stopped all surrounding conversation, ushering everybody into a thick silence and we listened as this woman’s love swept over her grandson. Her john-boy. John and I’s tears poured out as our ears opened up all the way down to our hearts and one promise found it’s way in: God will take care of you.

“Be not dismayed whate’er betide,

God will take care of you;

Beneath His wings of love abide,

God will take care of you.

 

God will take care of you,

Through every day, o’er all the way;

He will take care of you,

God will take care of you.

 

All you may need He will provide,

God will take care of you;

Nothing you ask will be denied,

God will take care of you.

 

No matter what may be the test,

God will take care of you;

Lean, weary one, upon His breast,

God will take care of you.”

She ignored the squirming in the seats and the darting eyes that didn’t know what to do with this old woman filling up the room with notes that may not have found the right place but words that certainly did. She was about doing God’s work and she never asked for your permission to do it. Again – never from an aggressive posture but in a surrendered and obedient one.

She finished up and the room exploded in “Amens” and “Thank you Jesus” and I sat, her words covering me like a warm blanket, assured that God will take care of me.

Fanny meets SamuelOur paths would cross a handful of times after that. She “met” our darling Samuel thanks to the wonders of the internet. Oh! How she smiled and laughed as she said his name and told him how beautiful he was. I told him over and over, ‘That’s great-grandma Fanny, buddy! She helped raise your daddy and boy do we love her A LOT!’ He smiled and reached for the computer screen as she leaned in so close to the camera I thought she might fall right on through and land in our laps! (if only!) Many times I have talked with Fanny over the phone. Many times her words, steeped in a rich Trinidadian accent, wouldn’t be fully understood by me (essentially the most un-accented person on the planet. thank you, central Virginia) but her meaning would come ringing loud and clear: “I love you. God bless you. God bless your child. I pray for you, take care.”

FannyI will miss your prayers, Fanny. Your impromptu worship and your frank wisdom have left in it’s wake a legacy of faithfulness, service and joy. You changed this world. You did it gracefully, amidst adversity and trials I know nothing about. You did it imperfectly, with your own baggage and prejudices that tripped you up along your journey. I will never fully know, this side of heaven just how much your prayers changed the course of my life by changing the course of my husband’s. Thank you. Thank you for showing me that following Jesus means loving people even when it’s weird or (especially when) unreciprocated. Thank you for all of the times you approached the God of the universe and laid John, me and Samuel at His feet. Asking for His love, His wisdom and His protection over us. We are left to grieve you, but we look forward to seeing you again.

I picture you now at a breakfast table with Jesus. Talking as friends, learning more about Him than you could have ever imagined. You are happy, whole, vibrant… and home.

The Dark, Cold Waters of Depravity

On the day I should be humble, Lord

Stricken with grief and despair

I find myself looking up at You and

mocking you with my stare.

“If you are the son of God,” I yell

“then get off that cross. Do SOMEthing.

Save yourself. Call the angels. How foolish

that you do nothing!”

I watch you speak to the criminals as your lungs start to collapse,

offering a seat in Paradise? Please. You’re nothing but a man.

Eventually you die and as the sky and ground split in two,

I shrug off the scream of creation, my eyes are fixed only on you.

You are dead, Jesus. That’s what I see.

I feel nothing but disappointed.

What a joke I played on my heart, to think you were somehow anointed.

Now here I am, generations removed from the actual moment that you died

and I am so so angry Lord. I want to do nothing but scream and cry.

At You.

It alarms me because I have always been for you, with you, trusting every move you have made.

Now I find myself retreating from the wings that gave me shade.

Do you see what’s happening around here, God? Do you hear the bombs and screams?

As girls are ripped from their innocence and the heads of children fill the streets?

I’m back at the foot of the Cross and I am yelling at you again to move, to ACT

my voice catches in my throat because it’s actually desperation I feel. Not anger.

I am so tired of holding out nothing but hope. It seems so not enough for that mourning mother.

What of that child who watched themselves become an orphan? WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR THEM?

For years I have recited the rhetoric. I have looked at the cross with deep sorrow yet JOY.

But this year, God I am struggling SO HARD to believe this isn’t just a big ploy.

I have broken down for the broken down and feel entirely spent.

I know you offer eternal life, but does it matter when this life, for so many, is hell?

Yet, before your eyes close in death on the cross, before you surrender your life,

You look down into my hateful heart and am compelled, for me, to die.

You know that I will doubt you, that I will try and flee from your presence.

You have gone with me every place I am, You will continue into the next one.

God I weep at my unbelief, at the doubt I have nurtured, coddled and kept

But just as you saw me, clear as day on that cross, you saw billions and billions… and wept.

So even though sometimes it’s hard to swallow the truth lodged in my imperfect, wayward spirit,

I will proclaim to the nations, to neighbors, to friends, to anyone who will hear it:

God saw and He moved and He entered into our hate. He suffocated under our darkness.

Today, RIGHT NOW, the Enemy tears through flesh and nations to convince us that our God is absent.

Oh friend, skeptic, critic, and saint – do not be deceived any longer.

The glimpses of terror we have seen in our time, are a fraction of what laid on Christ’s shoulders.

We will not ever fully know the dark, cold waters of our depravity, as Christ has known them.

The Enemy likes to make us think those waters will drown us in despair and pain,

But Jesus’ death gives every soul the chance to come up for air, and remain.

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