Waste vs. Grace

On the occasional Sunday afternoon I will decide to tackle an “around the house” project and one of the projects that has been haunting me over the past several months has been our pantry. That slim, little, out-of-the way closet which becomes a black hole of half-eaten chip bags and canned beans stacked to oblivion. I kept putting this project off because I was scared of what I would uncover during it. This afternoon I mustered up the courage to begin pulling every.single.thing out of the back of my tiny pantry and with shame flooding my neck and face, I collected a garbage bag FULL of wasted things. Corn and beans and untouched pretzels and all manner of waste. Waste. WASTE.

All of it reminds me of all the times I failed at cooking. I am not a grand master chef, friends. I have big dreams about all the healthy ways I

The results of sorting the expired from the non-expired goods.

The results of sorting the expired from the non-expired goods.

want to feed my family and, in an emotional rush to “do better” “be better” “eat better” I will frantically google healthy recipes, skip all the ones that involved anything minced (ain’t nobody got time), and happily fill my shopping cart with as many good intentions as I could muster. Then I bring those good intentions home, neatly stack them along the back wall of my pantry, and forget about them. Do you guys know how long your corn needs to be sitting in your pantry in order for it to expire? YEARS.

For me, this household chore symbolizes another embarrassing moment in a long history of failure in the kitchen. Emptying this pantry wasn’t about organizing my home as much as it was about coming to grips with my faults and my unfulfilled promises to myself.

As I lugged the horrifically heavy bag of untouched foods down to the dumpsters, I asked God to forgive this. All of this wasted goodness and provision. I literally had to limp to the dumpster as the bag sliced into my leg, pressing into my skin a painful reminder that I had not been a good steward. That I had failed. Again.

I heard that familiar nagging voice: ” Such waste! So many people are starving and you’re lining your pantry with food you’ll never eat because you know you won’t use them since YOU KNOW YOU ALWAYS FAIL AT COOKING?! WOW. So much for all of these great ideas you had huh? This is pathetic, Rachel. Why do you even try?”

I heaved the bag into the dumpster, ignoring the Deciever’s mocking voice and I prayed,

“God I cannot tell you this will never happen again. I want SO badly to promise you that I will change overnight. That starting TODAY things will be different. But how many times have you heard that from me, Lord? How many times have I started a plan to eat better or cook better? How many times have I hauled heavy trash bags to the dumpster? More times than I can count. And yet, You forgive me Lord. Sometimes You remind me to reflect on the progress of this battle, or You remind me of my husband who is willing to help me with this. You warn me of the poison of comparison and You always delight in my need for You because You know that sweet things are born in repentance.

Would You forgive me of this waste that symbolizes my laziness, my insecurity, and the desperate, wasteful measures I have taken to change myself apart from You? I ask that You help me buy only what I eat so that I might be a better steward of Your provision. Remind me of the privilege it is to be a citizen of a nation with supermarkets filled with food every day. I ask for help in learning new recipes that would help us take better care of the bodies you have given us. Help me not to be afraid of failure, help me be humble in this and willing to learn.

I can’t believe you actually care about this small, silly issue in my life but I know you do because you want all of me: all the bags of waste, all the battles with apathy, all the thoughtless spending, all the anxiety over money, all the recipes I didn’t get right, all the times I compared and I belittled and I hated and I coveted. I can’t believe you would want me but when I look at the Cross, I can’t believe that You don’t. You gave Your best so that when I gave mine and I failed, it wouldn’t be about my failure as much as it would be about Your victory.

What do you need to take to the dumpster, today? What is it that clings to your heart, sucks out your resolve, and leaves you feeling ashamed and worthless? Let me encourage you to stop procrastinating the difficult task of facing it. Don’t carry it with you, friend. Admit it. Confess it. Learn from it. Be free from it by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

God is in the business of redeeming the repentant, embracing the humble, and moving through the busted up parts of us. Don’t limit the way He will do it, either. Never underestimate the lengths He will take to reach you with His stubborn love — because clearly, kitchen pantries aren’t off – limits.

 

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An unedited confession

The whole church service today was absolutely beautiful. And compelling. And edifying. We, as a church, heard the earnest prayers from the lips of mothers and fathers to raise their children to follow hard after the Lord and we were able to lift up our own affirmations and promises to help these children seek the face of our good God. Then we were ushered into a time of worship that spoke so much healing and life into my soul, I had no idea how thirsty I really was until we sang the ancient hymn that charges our God to bid our anxious fears goodbye. Oh! How I long to rid myself of these anxious fears. To really believe that Jesus is one day returning and that my life is but a vapor, a minute, a drop into eternity. And yet, how careful God has been to bring me to Himself these past few years. How pressing, and purposeful, and painful my walk has been. I just sat on the living room floor, watching the clouds dance through our skylight and I was overcome with a deep need to confess. Everything. All of my fears and insecurities and all of my reasons for telling God that he can’t use me. I am prideful and cynical and self-centered and a slave to people’s approval and I have no idea how to really believe that I can get out of all of that.

I know that my true identity is found in the person of Christ. I know that I died with Christ’s sacrifice and it is no longer I, but Christ, who lives in me. But I can’t stop tripping over me. I can’t stop wrapping myself up into the same insecurities which convince me of how helpless and restricted I am in the Kingdom work. Even as I write this, my mind is thinking, do I share this? Would it be prideful to write a blog post about this and plaster it on the internet and expect some kind of kickback from it? Am I so scared of the approval (or lack thereof) of other people that I dare not post something that wouldn’t connect with all of them? Am I desperately longing to be influential for all of the wrong reasons?

But here is the honest to God truth about me, friends: I want people to know that Jesus is coming back and I want to see them celebrate, rejoice and weep with joy when that day arrives because they love their Maker, and they took Him at His word. I want to lead people to that place. That place where your ordinary life doesn’t stop being ordinary but it starts being hope-filled. Where nothing, no circumstance, no haves or have nots, can rob you of the secure and absolute assurance that Jesus Christ has wrapped you in righteousness. That when you stand before God He will have removed your sins as far as the east is from the west. Not because I was awesome or even faithful and certainly not perfect. But because Jesus was and is.

I can’t count the number of times I have backslidden in my walk with God. I’ve had my mountaintop moments, I’ve crawled through the valley, and I’ve wandered in the wilderness. I’m only 25 years old but my story is full of countless thousands of moments where I chose not to obey, not to listen, not to believe. I have left my Bible on the shelf because I was tired of reading it or didn’t give a lick about what was inside it. I fought the Spirit within me, I have grieved Him with my anger and apathy. I have gone weeks without praying for anything except that He might, “Bless this food to my body.” whatever the heck that means. I have entertained fantasies of a thousand sins, I have left room for bitterness, I have nurtured hurt into ugly, seething anger. And yet. YET! He remains. God has looked into the parts of my heart and mind that would taint my reputation with anyone who has ever known me. And yet! He will not stop. He knows when to wait for me and where. He knows how to pursue me and bring me back on my knees. He keeps reminding me that He wants to use me. All of me. He wants it. He’ll take it and He will ruin the parts that choke out my faith and softly massage those small kernels of hope that refuse to be uprooted in the center of my soul.

Even for all of my shortcomings, I am a daughter of the Almighty God. I will be singing when my Savior returns to make all things new and right and whole again. But what about right now? Am I faithful to my ‘right now’? Sometimes, y’all. Sometimes. But other days I am overcome with anxiety and bitterness and a rotten ego that fouls up every good intention. So I wake up and ask for grace the next day. Some days I am overcome with awe and find myself staring at the world I live in and loving the beautiful and hating the crippling evil. Some days I shake with grief at the millions who don’t know Jesus. Because even though it offends many, those who don’t know Jesus will not know eternal life. And it’s horrible. But it’s the truth. 

Some days I get the feeling that God wants to reach deeper into me and push me farther than I would go. And the only reason I don’t go, the only reason I try to run away from Him is because I’m scared about what other people will think of me. How would they feel if I told them they need Jesus? They would hate me! They would judge me! They would paint me in a corner and put me in a box labeled “Crazies” and I would have ruined any chance of the Holy Spirit intervening and opening up their hearts to a freedom I could never put into words. Because apparently the Spirit can’t work through the awkward conversations? I have this obsession to say it right. To say it perfectly. But sometimes God tells me to write out the aches and pains in my heart and resist the temptation to clean and polish all of those sentiments and insecurities. Because He desires a contrite and willing heart over sacrifices. He longs for obedience, not a State of the Union on my soul.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from having a relationship with Jesus for almost 20 years, it’s that He couldn’t care less about my accomplishments. He cares about my affections. Always. Always He will place Himself in the center, with a jealous love that surpasses any connotation our small minds can conjure up about that uncomfortable word “jealous.” God doesn’t pout and sulk, as we do in our finite and foolish jealousy, He makes it so that He no longer has need to be jealous. He wrecks our walls of stubbornness, He throws over the idols in our hearts with no gentleness or subtlety but with a love that refuses to be undermined by a lie. It hurts and it cuts and it heals. Walking with Jesus is not about a “Happily Ever After” it’s a “Be the light of the world” even when the darkness is deafening and everything around you mocks you for believing. You believe anyway. You shine anyway. Faith is a life surrendered to pleasing God in the here and now, without always knowing the how, when, who and hanging desperately onto the “Why.” Why do I believe all this? Because He first loved me. He first loved you.

Masquerade

I don’t usually get involved in celebrity “who did this/that/or the other” stuff. Quite frankly I just don’t have the time, energy, or cable TV. But I feel compelled to address a current popular topic that’s swirling through the entertainment industry: Miley Cyrus and her VMA performance. All I have seen are brief clips and images from her eyebrow-raising routine and that’s all I need to see.

I’ll admit, I was tempted to tell John to watch it so we could make fun of her together — what a MESS, right? I mean, really.

But then I heard a quiet, familiar voice tell me, “I love her.”

It’s the same voice that said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

And I was immediately ashamed. Humbled again by the grace that just won’t quit.

Here I am, dreaming of one day serving women and teaching God’s Word and I’m standing with the crowds, giddy to throw my stone into the face of this lost and broken young woman.

She deserves it! Ugh! Nobody should have had to watch that trash! What a disaster!

The Pharisees thought so too.

I don’t approve of what Miley did or how she behaved — but I have no right to point a self-righteous finger in her face and accuse her of being gross.

You guys wanna know what’s gross? Deception. Lies. Satan. Greed. Selfishness. Jealousy. Bitterness. Discontentment. Lust. Hopelessness. All of those things were at play Sunday night as Miley performed on stage.

Sure, what we saw was a display of overwhelming self-confidence and rebellion. Amidst all of the flashing lights and long legs we all got the message, “F*** the world! I do what I want!”

But what happens when the paparazzi goes home, the janitor shuts off the lights, closes the door and the stage is left empty? There are no cameras recording. No faces reacting. It’s just quiet.

What if you could talk one-on-one with Miley then? Sit down next to her on that empty stage, look out on those empty chairs and listen to her. You might get the same self-made, “I’m a bad-a** who does whatever the h*** I want.” attitude, but it would probably sound a little small, maybe even uncertain.

Words spoken from behind a mask always sound a little cracked and plastic. And we’ve all spoken them.

In the moments where we appear the most brazen, we’re usually just scared out of our minds.

Somewhere along the way, bit by bit, Miley began to construct this mask. Hannah Montana was too prudish, too quaint. If Miley wanted to make a name for herself she was going to let go of everything that was safe and throw herself into the arms of the world with reckless abandon.

Miley trusted the world to get her what she thought she wanted — fame, power, “a name”. So the world told the beautiful, talented young girl from Nashville the same thing it has told thousands of other young women — take off her clothes, lick her lips, and be unforgettable.

Ahhh, you see Miley? People will remember you now. Even if some people hate you, they’ll remember you. Keep surprising them, Miley. Keep stripping and smacking and singing and sexing and you will get it. That feeling. You’ll have power over people, Miley. Isn’t that what you wanted? A reputation? Take it and GRAB it Miley! Oops! Looks like you’re gonna have to go one more step further to get it… oops… one more Miley… just one more step…

She isn’t the first to be praised, worshiped, idolized, mutilated, and spat out by this world. One day a goddess, the next day a bad joke. One day a role model, the next day “an example.”

I have no idea what it’s like to be famous, but I am an expert at being insecure. Every time I place my self-worth into the hands of the crowd I just say what people want to hear and do what they want me to do. Even if a part of me disagrees or protests, I stuff it down to elicit their applause. I perform for them, in a way. When people don’t like me or make fun of me I just shrug it off as no big thing, and am left with an aching, searching heart as I close my eyes each night. In those moments, I don’t really like myself. Maybe you can relate? Maybe Miley can too.

I also know that taking off a mask is always painful. It peels away every false sense of security we’ve mustered up. Every facade created from pride, anxiety, and self-determination begins to crumble, all the lies begin to contradict and decompose. If Miley is anything like me, she’ll probably frantically scramble to put it all back together again — desperate to be known but terrified to be exposed.

So instead of name-calling and finger-pointing, I’m gonna pray. That Miley’s agenda of rebellion is rudely interrupted by the God she sang for only a few years earlier. That He would be ruthless in His pursuit of her, relentless in removing all the layers of insecurity, addiction, and feigned indifference. While I know that it’s painful, that she’ll fight it and hate it — I know that God is able. He is in the business of welcoming prodigal sons home, redeeming the depraved heart, and rescuing lost sheep from their own folly. I know firsthand about Amazing Grace and I’m going to pray that Miley finds it and sings about it again.

Miley — you won’t read this blog post. But if you do, I want you to know you can stop fighting the world. You won’t win on your own, but He’s already done that for you. You can find hope again. You might lose everything, but that’s when you actually gain everything.

Lastly: I’m sorry I mocked you, Miley. I’m sorry for the hurtful thoughts about you that flashed through my mind that did nothing but stroke my own holier-than-thou ego. I’m sorry for how quickly and casually I labeled you and threw you out as a hopeless cause. The God we know doesn’t believe in hopeless causes… and He sent his Son to prove it. Please forgive my arrogance and my self-righteousness.

Praying for you, girl.

miley-cyrus

Photo credit: thewatershed.com/blog

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

Choose to Laugh

John and I have a tagline for any ridiculous and/or awkward happenings that occur during our married life together:

“They don’t tell you about THIS in premarital counseling!”

It’s a great way of dissauding any threatening outbursts of frustration and it makes us laugh uncontrollably when we ought to be crying, which often does lead to tears of laughter (read:lunacy).

It’s in those moments where instead of griping or grumping about each other’s “uniqueness” we choose to laugh.

And you know what I’ve noticed?

Mutual laughter paves a natural road towards acceptance and, when necessary, forgiveness.

I wish I could say we do it EVERY time we encounter such circumstances, but we both know that isn’t true. 😉

Some snapshots into the marital madness:

– Me waking John up with my snoring (how’s that for breaking stereotypes? Oh, and did I mention he wears earplugs?)

– John’s OCD dishwasher loading technique (really, it’s impressive but not when YOU just spent 10 min loading the dishwasher… Know what I’m saying? 😉 )

– John setting the stove on fire  (yep.)

– Me purchasing and then promptly forgetting about, several pounds of ground beef. I, um, discovered it in the back of our fridge weeks later. ($13 worth of meat by the way. This is a favorite story of John’s)

– Dutch oven. (need I say more?)

– John running the washer without putting in any detergent. (this has happened more than once which makes it even better)

– Me scraping one of our car mirrors on a parking garage pole. (I thought it’d be nice to add a touch of red to the blue!…no?)

– And the most entertaining ones will forever remain between the two of us. (as it should be, trust me.)

John and I have both shaken our heads in bewilderment at the other’s quirks and mishaps on numerous occasions. We’re learning that becoming one means fully accepting the other. I can’t only have the parts of John that mesh smoothly and comfortably into my way of doing things and vice-versa.

We’ve also noticed a trend:

Quick and sincere forgiveness in little things makes it easier to accept and grant forgiveness in the bigger things.

“bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

– Colossians 3:13 – 

So, while John may cringe as I set a bowl in the dishwasher (RIGHT where the cups should go) and I walk by the washer a few times “just to check”, I’m thankful that (for the most part) we choose to laugh and, by God’s grace, forgive.