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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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.

Breaking All The Rules – Living Like Grandma

This past week was John and I’s first week back from a two week holiday break. The amount of grumbling and whining opportunities we had were tenfold. No more sleeping in ’til we felt like waking up! No more mid-day naps or spontaneous walks on the beach or hours spent reading whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. Now it was back to the daily grind. With all of it’s waking-upness and schedules and deadlines. John didn’t technically go “back to work” this week but there are about a thousand projects to do around the house that had him plenty occupied all week.

I’ll admit that at times I was pretty worn out and pining for some time to relax and unplug. Yet I also admit, the path paved with bitterness and discontentment, though comfortably wide and welcoming, always left me feeling more exhausted than I was before. So I decided to break all the rules of a post-vacation experience and actually enjoy myself. I began almost every day reading the Bible while munching on my Eggo waffles. I kissed my husband goodbye on the days I went into the office and harassed him mercilessly enjoyed his company when I worked from home.

Sometimes I would take a brief break from work just to pet the cat or look out the window and thank God for a beautiful new home. I even tried a new recipe this week and for those of you who know how I am in the kitchen, that’s basically the equivalent of skydiving for me. I am unstoppable.

This week I lived out what millions of other people before me have already discovered — the healing phenomenon of gratitude. Gratitude for your ordinary life takes work, until it stops being work and simply becomes a life you’re thankful for. Contentment isn’t found in the entitlements of the world. In the predictable patterns of comfort, self-centeredness, control, never-ending vacations, and apathy. Contentment is refined in the grind. It turns heads and raises eyebrows when it’s found in an ordinary someone living a life on purpose, with no bells or whistles attached.

Holding me in her arms and prayers for as long as I can remember. :)

Holding me in her arms and prayers for as long as I can remember. 🙂

My grandma has it. She lost her best friend  and life partner over 40 years ago, yet faithfully shows up to play organ at her church, visit friends and have Bible study. She has watched loved ones die year after year and has told me that it doesn’t get easier “just because you’re old.” But my grandma is close to the heart of God. She spends her time in prayer and asleep in front of the 5 o’clock news. 😉 She is ruthless and unwavering in her convictions about the grace of God and I will never fully know how much her prayers have shaped and protected and held me during difficult times.

I talked to grandma on Christmas Day and when asking her for advice about life she told me “be on your knees, Rachel. Every season of life you will always find help from Your Maker.” I cried because she made it seem so simple because for her it IS that simple. That’s exactly what I want. Whatever happens in my life, in whatever season, I know that contentment is most easily found in surrender to a good and perfect God. 

I am not perfect at this and I have had my fair share of grumblings and mumblings. Nobody does this flawlessly but I believe that it’s possible to be content where you are when you stop trying to control all the things you don’t like or understand about your life. This is easier said than done on every level, I get that. But this past week I learned it’s worth it. It’s worth waking up and making the most of the day as you can.

Sandy Bottoms

IMG_4615I look out and I see who you are, God. Vast and powerful and unchanging and unyielding.

I am fearful for the future. What if I lose my job again? What if I miss a window to serve and love because I’m so scared of being misunderstood? What if I do it wrong? What if I settle for mediocre?

I have excuses where you have promises.

I cup my fears and worries in my hand, desperately trying to convince myself that I can control it all. You pour your grace into my thirsty spirit and before I know it, my cup is running over with grace upon grace.

You do not leave room for fear of man. 

While the world hands me lukewarm, unfinished warm-fuzzy sentiments about love, You consume me with unrelenting, holy and pure love. Love for me. Just me. Not me plus a dozen unwritten obligations and standards I have to meet. Just. Me.

Jesus sits with me on the sand as the pounding surf harmonizes with distant thunder.

“Oh you of little faith, Rachel. I will not ever go away. I am not watching you for mistakes, I’m walking with you through them. I am not waiting to rescue you from your folly, I’m waiting for you to realize you have already been rescued. I am not ashamed of your fear, I am here to turn it into faith. Don’t you see? 2015 will be new to you but I have already seen to the end of time. You will experience new heights of joy, depths of sorrow and lengths of wilderness. I will love you the same through all of it. I did not come and die for you to wait to live. It is for freedom that I have set you free! You are free to be you! You will mess up this year, Rachel. Let’s just stop trying to beat around the bush about it. And yet I have chosen to use you for my purposes and my kingdom and you don’t get to tell me not to. I am God. Do you get that? Sitting on this damp, cold beach with tears running down your face and joy lighting up your heart, I think you get it. But I’m going to have to remind you tomorrow and the next day and the next week,month and year. That’s ok. My faithfulness outruns your forgetfulness every time. Trust me. Trust me. Trust me.”

It’s getting darker and colder so I will gather myself up out of the sand, walk into our warm small condo and I will remember. I will remember the kind of God who pounds the surf against the shore and, without missing a beat, sits down in the sand next to His child and watches the ocean with her.

Your 2015 is new to you too, reader. A new year is a gift though for many it feels like a burden. I want you to remember that your year matters to the God who has created eternity. This year, sit down at your kitchen table, your bedside, your cubicle, or your car and make time for the God who has all the time in the world to teach you, challenge you, love you, and value you.

We all need more sandy bottom moments with Jesus. IMG_4619

I need them to remind myself that I am known by God in all my mess. I need them to remember my life is no small matter if it is lived out for and with the God of my salvation.

I need them to remember I know a God who is never too busy to sit with me in the sand.

 

My Song of the Sea

IMG_7559My women’s small group is currently going through the book of Exodus. Last week we talked about Exodus 15 – The Israelites sang their “Song of the Sea” after watching God destroy the Egyptian army in the waters of the Red Sea. It’s a beautiful, poignant picture of a people who are so ready to worship and revere their God. As a takeaway idea, I suggested we try and write our own “Song of the Sea” to declare God’s goodness and faithfulness to us during our own lives. Since I’m a leader of the group I figured maybe I should follow through on my own idea (which happens probably about 30% of the time), and I’m really glad I did! This was a great exercise in worship and reflection.

Rachel’s Song of the Sea

Lord, Your ways are unsearchable to me. Your grace is unavoidable.
You stand on my behalf in the presence of the Father.
You have claimed me for Yourself and I am irreversibly Yours.

Your hands have formed galaxies even as Your mind imagined the human race.
You are altogether good and trustworthy in Your design. You do not make mistakes or have second thoughts.

With You, there is no plan B.
In You there is no condemnation for all who worship You.

You patiently deliberate with me in my doubt.
In truth You respond to my anger and uncertainty.
In love You rebuke my arrogance and conceit.

When I hated Your plan for me, You heard and knew and felt that pain.
And You comforted me.
You lifted my chin and turned my eyes to a tomorrow that I can only dimly comprehend.

Great is Your faithfulness!

When I shake my fist in Your face, You put me in my place.
You destroy my wobbly attempts at being someone I’m not, simply by reminding me that I am Yours.

You free me to risk and to try because everyday I wake up in Your mercies.
Where can I go from You?

I chase after the wind as You chase my wayward heart.
You sing over me even as I reach for other gods.

I don’t understand You, God. You don’t fit into my boxes.

At times I’m silent before You, seething and lonely and scared.
At times You are silent before me, present and listening and leading.

Your Spirit is an anchor in the fickle seas of my flesh.
I am caught and pulled and tempted and fail.
You are steadfast, available, and ready to redeem.

The Enemy sits in my comfort zone, I have made him a friend as I seek and search for how to be god.
He prompts me and urges me towards forbidden fruit, towards the empty, glittery promises of lust, pride, greed, and hate.

When I do not trust You, I am trusting him instead.
Forgive me, Lord. Teach me to trust Truth.

You overturn his lies in righteous anger. You pull me from the depths of the pit and place me on high ground.
You are my high ground.

Your Kingdom is marked by truth and righteousness.
You opened Paradise to the ungrateful beggar.

Your mystery dwells in the hearts of everyone who calls upon Your name.
You are deep in the DNA of Your people.

No one can know what You know and still love like You love.
No one saves like You.

You are both my hiding place and my courage.
You are my Savior and my Maker.

Great is Your faithfulness!

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.

Good and Faithful

IMG_0635Every person I know who follows Jesus, longs to hear Him say the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” when their time on Earth is done.

But somewhere along the way we’ve convinced ourselves that a good and faithful life takes shape in some extravagant display of radical living.  We start thinking, “If I really take Jesus seriously I need to move to a nation hostile to Christianity, adopt a child from overseas, choose a life of celibacy, write a best-selling book etc.” None of those choices/circumstances are wrong, they just aren’t ultimate. They aren’t the standard to which we, as people who love Jesus, ought to hold our lives up to.

Instead, we hold our lives up next to Jesus — imitating him, listening to his words, letting him direct us towards the life he has purposed for us. So many of us are going to lead lives that will receive no standing ovation from the world. And that’s a great thing.

Faithful living is not elaborate or fancy, it’s by nature — quite the opposite. It’s stubbornly moving towards the same goal, day after day, hour to hour. Every person I have talked with whose walk with God I desire to emulate, teach me that faith is a million little decisions you make every moment of every day that are influenced by a common belief: God is real and trustworthy and bigger.

God is real — His existence ought to change the way we see our own.

God is trustworthy — All the promises He says in the Bible, will be fulfilled. Regardless of what the current state of the world leads us to believe.

God is bigger — Nothing is too difficult for Him, but not everything He does or does not do will make sense to us. He is always bigger than the boxes we make for Him. 

IMG_0633 A few months ago I sat on the couch with a woman who is so familiar with faith playing out in  the ordinary. She lives a normal life, raising her kids and loving her husband and spending her  days basically up to her ears in the nitty-gritty of life – laundry, bills, soccer games, all while battling a sickness that has pushed her into new depths of dependence on God.

As we tucked our slippered feet under the couch cushions and cradled our mugs of steaming hot coffee, I asked her a million things. We talked about marriage, careers, sex, parenting,  vacations. We just talked about life. And I realized as I sat across from this woman that she was a difference-maker and a world-changer in her sphere of influence. She was not looking for fame or applause or approval from a sea of faceless people she’s never met. She was consistently looking to Jesus and it filled me just up to be near her.

Her faithfulness to show up and do it all again and believe it all again, even when no one was watching — THAT is the stuff that changes people and communities and churches. 

It all starts with surrender. Every good and faithful life is born out of a genuine desire to submit to the will of God. In my experience, whenever I do this I almost inevitably end up connecting with people.  In fact, whenever I give Him free reign over my day or week or season of life — He runs with it. He runs straight to people and says, “This. This is where I want you.”

It’s almost like he meant what he said when he tells us to love our neighbors. Imagine that.

When you lay your life at the feet of Jesus, the most difficult thing He’s going to ask you to do is trust Him with it. Wherever you are, in whatever season or storm, you cannot lose by surrendering to Jesus.

Instead of trying to make your life measure up alongside of anybody else’s, live your own. Give it a rest. Put down the measuring stick and run with endurance the race that was set before you. Cheer on those whom you see doing the same thing. Let’s arrive together at the throne of grace and just dump all of our wild misconceptions about what a good and faithful life “should” be and  start trusting that the Author of our faith knows what that looks like way better than we ever will.