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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“Yours also the night”

Iraqi refugees

Iraqi refugees

This morning my Bible reading included Psalm 74.  All of the “Why’s?” and “How longs?” jumped off the page and settled into my mind as if they came straight from the lips of the persecuted Iraqi people.

Psalm 74 isn’t a  praise-God-from-whom-all-blessings-flow-type Psalm. It begins with the Psalmist telling God what’s happening — the destruction of His holy temple, the persecution of His people, the scoffing of the enemy as he runs rampant. The Psalmist lays out the desperate situation and exhorts God to act and to move. However, in the center of this Psalm the Psalmist tucked in a few verses to acknowledge who God is.

The first verse of this section begins with the word, “Yet.” It grabbed my attention because as I was reading I was getting overwhelmed at the startling accuracy with which the Psalmist seemed to be describing the situation in present-day Iraq.  I thought to myself, “‘Yet’ what? There’s nothing to “yet” about this situation! It’s hopeless, shameful, and unimaginable. That’s all there is to it.” Ahhh but I’m always wrong about that. I always see one small piece of the chaos and assume the rest is impossible to restore, impossible to glean hope from. And Yet.

“Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.” (v.16-17)

It hits me, “The enemy lives in a world established by God. God did not establish sin and evil (see Genesis for how that mess came about), but everything is God’s. The air breathed by ISIS soldiers, the weather that causes them to wear more layers or less, the turning of each day, the inevitable settling of night. ISIS has no control over the God who controls all things.”

Granted, when I think about 9-year-old girls getting trafficked and women living in shipping containers, it sure seems like evil has total control. It seems reasonable not to hope. To give up and assume that God has too.But the Psalmist doesn’t stop at acknowledging the power of God, he moves to the promises God has made to His people — our only source of Hope. The end of the Psalm closes with phrases such as “Remember this, O LORD; Do not forget; Have regard for the covenant; Defend your cause.”

As I lifted up prayers for the persecuted people of Iraq this morning, I came like the Psalmist, with His promises in my heart and mind. “Lord, you have promised persecution to us but you have also promised us Yourself. Be near to my Iraqi brothers and sisters. Make your presence known. Remind them of your deliverance, not only from the hell they’re living on this earth, but a deliverance to a new earth where no man can steal their daughters, their dignity, or their very lives. You promise to restore, You promise to heal, You promise to save. Don’t forget those promises Lord. Remember your people who are suffering and remind your people who are not suffering of their responsibility and privilege to love, serve, and give.”

Beyond just the physical realities of night and day belonging to God, I’m reminded that He is just as present and 800px-Summit-lake-wv-night-sky-reflection_-_West_Virginia_-_ForestWanderreal in the joyous days of our lives as he is in the dark nights of pain and terror. God doesn’t reserve his everlasting love and hope of salvation for the days where our lives are humming along. He offers it in the stifling stillness of night, because He is acquainted with sorrow as much (if not more) as He is with joy. God has not forgotten Iraq. He has not turned a blind eye to the work of the Enemy. He is alive and working in ways the news  will rarely cover. Even in the darkest of nights, because the night belongs to Him.

Check out this website for how you can tangibly help the people of Iraq by partnering with an organization that has been effectively serving the Iraqi people for the past 10 years: Preemptive Love.

 

Soil and strollers and a God who makes it all work.

Its 6:40pm on Monday night and the mailman rings the doorbell. I open the door, expecting to see another Amazon box filled with cliff bars or theology books (welcome to my world) and instead I find a USPS box addressed by dear friends in New York.
I rip open the package and almost immediately find myself swallowing sobs and smiling like an elf on
Mustache pacifier, y'all. I LOVE IT!

Mustache pacifier, y’all. I LOVE IT!

Christmas: little boy onesies and a myriad of baby accessories spill onto the kitchen counter as I fish in the box for the little envelope knocking around. I read the words of our dear friends sharing in our excitement and I cry harder because these people are so precious to us. They’re cheering for us and praying for us and believing for us that God will make all of the unknowns of first-time parenthood, surmountable and doable. The timing of this package couldn’t be more perfect.

The day before, my pastor had preached on a parable that addressed how our hearts receive the Word of God (Luke 8:4-15). One response to the hearing of God’s Word is to accept and begin to grow in faith but then have your growth and maturity stunted by all the cares and riches and pleasures of the life happening all around you. Basically, life gets in the way of your faith. Or rather — life convinces you that your faith in God cannot possibly satisfy, provide, protect, or sustain you.  As I took notes, I heard a soft voice ask, “Do you care more that I am real and present?… Or about what you’re gonna put on your baby registry?”
I swallowed. Hard. Because He never asks questions to be vindictive or spiteful, He always asks questions to guide and direct (and re-direct) me to Himself. Lately, I’ve been pretty overwhelmed by all the millions of details that have to fall into place for baby’s arrival or oh my gosh he’ll be sleeping in a cardboard box and ALL OF THIS IS GONNA BE A TRAIN WRECK.
Also, hormones are a thing during pregnancy.
I confessed my anxiety and asked for a heart that was willing to be brave and believe. I want a faith that scorns the thorns and digs deep into the promises of God. A thorn-scornin’ faith. How’s THAT for a song title?
Anyways, I have a sneaking suspicion/affirmation from dozens of mothers that this worry over your child is one that needs to be constantly placed back at the feet of Jesus. If we’re not careful, we will be lured into the chokehold of worry or lust or greed or whatever idol Satan slides into the weak parts of our heart. 
I’m realizing if I continue to operate out of a place of fear, I’m gonna miss some pretty special fruit. I’m gonna fuss over all the this-and-thats of preparing for my son and forget to enjoy the fact that he’s been given to me and John as a gift.
My face says it all. This is how I feel about being halfway through my pregnancy. ;)

My face says it all. This is how I feel about being halfway through my pregnancy. 😉

My Heavenly Father longs to help me become an earthly mama. Imagine! The Creator of my little boy longs to commune with me, and guide me through this next chapter. And here I am, eyes glazed over as I scroll through endless websites filled with innumerable varieties of car seats and strollers and cribs etc. Missing it… missing HIM.

I’m still going to do my best to prepare well for this little rascal. I’ll still read articles and seek advice and by golly we WILL get a baby registry together! But I need to do some thorn-scornin’ work in my own heart first. Beginning with the lie that I have to figure all of this out on my own and I better do it perfectly OR ALL IS LOST.
Literally, 12 hours after realizing my need to surrender control over all of this STUFF I received texts from two different people offering a variety of helpful baby gear I could borrow/have and then BAM! a package of faith-building love lands on my doorstep. So I may be all weepy over a bunch of onesies (to be expected) but I’m also sowing new seeds into good soil for this season.
This isn’t to say I’ll never worry again, but rather by the grace of God, I will be quicker to remove myself from the chokehold of worry and slip into the open arms of a God who gives courage to the weak-kneed expectant mother and offers perspective in the face of an ever-growing to-do list.
What about you, reader? Are there thorns in your heart that are choking out your faith? How can you begin the process of breaking free from their grasp?
It’s time to get our hands dirty in some serious thorn-scornin’ work, y’all.

Following Wisdom

IMG_4890“When he established the heavens, I [wisdom] was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned the sea its limit so that the water might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” – Proverbs 8: 27-31

I get goosebumps when I read accounts in Scripture about the creation of the world. The wordsmith in me is in love with the pictures that are painted in this account. Circles drawn on the face of the deep, marked foundations, firm skies, fountains of the deep. Oh! To know this God better. To walk alongside of Him and marvel in all that He’s doing in my neighborhood and around the world.

May I choose to follow wisdom into deeper places with this powerful, holy God. May I reject the status quo of wandering in the wilderness and embrace the unknown of communing with the Holy of Holies. 

Who is it that gets to enter into His Presence? How can a young woman keep her way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (Psalm 119:9)

Reading the Bible is not a checklist item, even when it feels like it is  —  it protects my heart, guides my steps, and pulls me closer to the God who established the foundations of the world, and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Faith in this God is a humbling, challenging, beautiful reality.

Grace for the ball-droppers and rule-followers

IMG_0622Well, folks. I just got done reading the entire week’s worth of Bible reading this afternoon. That’s right. Monday through Saturday reading turned into an hour on the couch on Saturday. In case you were counting how far along we are into the New Year, we’ve yet to break open the second out of twelve months. So, when it comes to goal-achieving — let’s just say, I’m terrible at it.

Also, I had another goal set up for the New Year — write one blog post a week. Seems reasonable and achievable right? RIGHT! Not that anyone is tracking this but uhh, I didn’t write a post last week. So here I am, hands clammy and mind racing for something to write about when I realize, I need to write about what it’s like to need grace. All those little things that remind you for the umpteenth time: you aren’t perfect.

If I look deeper into why I didn’t meet my two simple goals this week and last, it boils down to one thing: priority. In short, I prioritized watching Friends on Netflix and sleeping in until the last possible second over making time for Bible reading or disciplining myself to sit down and write.

The truth about me is I’m a ball-dropper. I’m a “yes-girl” with good ideas and little follow-through. I’m lazy and I struggle to get motivated. I’m scared to write because I’m never satisfied with the end result. I want accolades without effort and pats on the back without putting my time in. I’m selfish and cruel, I think dark and ugly things about other people, I hurt people who mean the world to me. I choose comfort over service 9 times out of 10. I don’t like sharing all of this because it may give you a more realistic view of who I am and that’s always scary. I don’t like letting people in because I know what’s on the other side of small talk and it’s usually uncomfortable.

I’m married to a rule-follower. A disciplinarian like I have never seen. His demons run in the direction of perfectionism, nagging at him to prove to the world that he is  A-B-C or X-Y-Z. He struggles to hold plans loosely, worry can sometimes keep him up at night and he’s constantly haunted by the past. (His paragraph is shorter than mine, but I’m leaving stuff out ok?!)

Yet we’ve both been changed  by grace. Him in his desperate attempts to have it all figured out and mine in my haphazard attempts to please everybody while parading around in a false confidence that everything will sort itself out in the end. Grace reminds us that our sins are no longer counted under the sacrifice of Jesus, even if we like to keep score with each other (Which is so healthy, right? We should get an award for how petty we can be at times.)

But grace isn’t just a blanket to cover our sins, it’s manifested in a God who gets under our skin. He digs into our unhealthy habits and slowly removes the tar of fear and worry and apathy. He is faithful to acknowledge not only how miserably lost we are without Him, but to move us towards a life that is marked by faith-filled contentment, open hands, and a desire to serve rather than be served.

God brings grace to the ball-droppers and the rule-followers.

I think one of the greatest attributes of grace is that it moves us towards hope. God sees our days, each of them is numbered until we see Him face to face — He sees our beginning and end and in-between. He hears our thoughts and sees our intentions and He enters into it — not carrying a blank check for a “do whatever you want” life but ushering in a lifestyle marked by a desire to “do whatever I can for the good of people around me to the glory of a God who compels me with grace.”

Grace does not condone us to keep on sinning, it compels us into a life of righteous living.

So, next week if  when I find myself sitting at the couch cramming in my Bible reading or snapping at my husband, I will also find grace to get up the next day and walk with a God who never runs out of mercies, delights in having me in His family, and loves me even when I skim through all the lineage chapters of the Old Testament.

 

 

 

 

For the Broken Bells

hanging_jingle_bellsI love this time of year! All the feel-good jingles and the festive sleigh bell jangles. Christmas is magical in so many ways! As each year has passed, Christmas is still beautiful and fun but the world around me has sort of lost it’s soft innocence I had enjoyed as a little girl. Back in the day where my biggest concern was getting to the JCPenney gift catalog before my sister did so I could mark all the stuff I wanted before her, I didn’t know about things like loss or grief or pain or sorrow.

There are days where I miss that innocence. Where I wish I could close my eyes and see the world with all of the naiveté of a 6-year-old. Where people didn’t hurt people so badly or where hard decisions weren’t weighing on my mind or relationships weren’t shattering and depression wasn’t suffocating and grief wasn’t so ruthless and final.

This world and every (every) person in it are messed up on so many levels and for all of the Christmas caroling and jingle belling that swirls around us, we just can’t fix it. So I sit in my car and listen to the lyrics of “O Holy Night” and beg the Lord to return, to break visible chains of bondage because sometimes it’s hard to care about the invisible ones. To stop oppression in it’s tracks and display his power by silencing all the violence. I praise Him for thrilling our souls with a hope that stays and for entering a world that was pining in it’s own desperate, depraved chaos. I ask Him for wisdom for His church because while the world certainly needs His law of love and gospel of peace, His church needs it too.

I could probably name a dozen reasons off the top of my head why I should feel bitter, angry, and confused right now. Some of the reasons are personal, some national, and others global. I have my list of “How do you explain this” circumstances that I have wielded in anger as I marched up to the throne of grace, demanding explanations.

I know that believing is hard, friends. I know that if you’re hurting right now then you probably don’t feel like decking the halls and it’s probably hard to dream of a White Christmas when you aren’t sleeping at night. The palpable, frenzied happy feelings that pulse through the air and radio this time of year may be cutting you like a knife and nobody seems to really get it.

I just want to tell you — somebody gets it. In fact, He’s the reason all of this celebrating is happening. Buried beneath the white noise of holly, jolly, ho-ho-ho, 50% off, buy-more-save-more is a baby boy sleeping in a cow trough, his mother exhausted and in pain on the cold barn floor and his father with deep lines of fatigue and wonder tracing his face.

I know it seems so ridiculous that a baby would save the world. Even more ridiculous to believe that God would become a man. Christmas is absurd, really. But God has never done things the way we expect Him to, or even demand Him to. He is not in the business of catering to finite, individual understandings of who He ought to be and how He ought to act.

He is in the glory business. The kind of glory which displays a radiant hope that pierces through thickening hate. Glory that takes deep pain and massages it gently into restored wholeness. Glory that sees lost causes as second chances. Glory that points to a God we just can’t summarize.

Christmas is about a God who saw you hurting and scared and tired and angry and said, “I am coming to heal that. Forever. Once for all.”

The sin that plagues you internally and externally is waging war so ferociously because it has already lost. It is frantic to distract you from Christmas, desperate to keep you from Easter.

In case you thought that Christmas runs only as deep as the warm-fuzzy feelings, I wanted to tell you how wrong you are. It finds the lonely, isolated, angry, heartbroken, and torn and says, “Ahhh yes. This is where I belong. I love you. You matter to me. Will you hear me? Will you believe that I came for you?”

I’m praying that you hear it, this year. The real sound of Christmas ringing through the cold, dark winter of your pain — a thrill of hope, a new and glorious morn.

The Question That Curdled my Sabbath Day Pancakes

IMG_3807 I settled into my chair, belly full of Saturday morning pancakes, and opened my Bible. I read  one sentence and immediately wanted to shut it and unremember what I had just read. I don’t  know if you’re like me when it comes to walking with Jesus but I have all these really grandiose intentions and about a 30% follow-through rate.

I like when He tells me how cherished I am by Him, I don’t like when He challenges me to live differently because of it.

When Jesus talks in parables I love it because imagery is my favorite. I remember learning about similes and metaphors for the first time in middle school — I went home and couldn’t stop describing things with ‘like’ and ‘as’ – “My stomach is rumbling like thunder!” “Mom is as beautiful as the sunset!” etc. I was clearly a budding writer even at such a young age. And a brown-noser.

The parts of the gospels that I am least comfortable with are when Jesus asks straightforward, no-hidden-meaning, you- can’t- interpret- this- differently, kind of questions.

Like the one I encountered this morning (Luke 6:46): “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you?”

Crap.

I think He actually wants me to answer that.

The thing about God asking us questions is He always asks them for our advantage. He’s not awaiting our response with pen and paper, eagerly hoping to gain some hidden insight into our hearts. He already knows the answer, which is exactly why he asks the question.

So, here’s my reasons for not doing what He tells me to do:

1) Fear of Man – Always first on my list. “What will people think of me?” God asks you to do weird stuff sometimes so if you’re all in, you have to be prepared to be misunderstood and judged. That terrifies me.

2) Apathy – This is where I lean almost entirely into the “Jesus loves me this I know” side of my faith, where I am forever protected and secured in His grace, and I completely abandon the “Go, tell the world about me and be my witnesses even to the ends of the earth” command. This is when I abuse grace.

3) Mistrust – Deep, deep down I don’t know always believe that God really knows what He’s doing all the time. Like my great-great (etc etc) grandma Eve, I often listen to the slippery voice that says, “How do you know that God isn’t holding out on you? What if He’s not all He says He is?” Doubt paralyzes me from obedience.

There you have it. If you thought I was some shiny Christian Wonder Woman before this, I have certainly set the record straight.

I still struggle with these things and I think a part of me always will this side of heaven — but the big “G” Gospel of Jesus Christ is what reorients my priorities when I feel like I deserve to be sucked into the black hole of pity and shame.

His Grace is limitless even when our obedience is so limited. We simply miss out on more of God when we choose not to obey.

He is not held back by our excuses and insecurities, we are. 

What are your reasons, reader? If you are a follower of Jesus, why is it that you call HIm ‘Lord’ and yet choose not to listen to His voice?

I just wanna say: I’m right there with you. None of us do this faith thing perfectly, but we have a perfect and good Advocate who empowers us to get up and keep going. So, keep going! We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.