What God has done

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But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and [the Jews] in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on the course of action in full view of the public – to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now – this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.

Romans 3:21-26, MSG

an unexpected gift

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As a graduate student I attended a large church where I knew only a handful of people.  My studies were so demanding that I could do little more than show up on Sunday mornings.  There were many weeks when that felt like a tremendous accomplishment as I sat mentally and emotionally exhausted and sleep deprived in my seat, desperate for something to nourish my starved soul.  God graciously met me there, giving me huge doses of encouragement and peace and spiritual nourishment.  I came and sang and learned and met with God and left, often without speaking a word to anyone else.

But.

But I knew, even in the midst of that season, that this was not the way God wanted things to be long-term.  When the preachers spoke on the importance of community, of being connected with a smaller group of people within this large church, of intimately and intentionally sharing life with them, it resonated deep within me as true.  I knew that it was easy to slip in and out of church without really being a part of the church.  That you could smile and shake hands and make friends without ever taking off the mask to reveal your broken, bleeding, messy life.  

Y’all, community is hard and I am no good at it.  It takes work and determination, grit and grace, and this introvert is often exhausted by the prospect before I even begin.  But there are true benefits that make all the sweat and tears worth it.  And when you let other people know your story, even the ugly and messy parts, it can reveal unexpected beauty.

I love to sing, and a typically Sunday morning will find me singing with abandon regardless of how on or off tune I might be.  Sometimes, though, I stop and listen to the chorus rising around me.  I hear the varied voices blending together and it is beautiful and stirs my heart in thanksgiving to God.  And then I am reminded of the stories behind the voices and I am humbled:

            a dad of two young boys who is battling a degenerative disease
 
            a teenage girl fighting Lyme disease and all the complications that come with it
 
            couples teetering on the edge of divorce
 
            parents whose grown kids have rejected the faith they hold so dear
 
            the mama who is finding wholeness and life on the other side of a crippling depression
 
            a family one bill away from financial disaster
 
            the parents who buried their young child

 

These people singing with passion and sincerity to God in the midst of their pain is a beautiful thing.  When I know their story their act of worship takes on greater meaning and power because I know what it means for them to surrender to God in the middle of their suffering.  That when they tell God He is good and loving and wise it comes from a heart that knows what it is to break into thousands of pieces.  This, this is a testimony far greater than any sermon.  And when we stay on the fringes, when we keep each other at arms length, when we hold the story God is weaving from our tattered lives close to our chest we miss out on this unexpected gift.

 

 

 

Five Minute Friday: Writer

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Lisa-Jo’s book , Surprised by Motherhood, came out on Friday, and I am so incredibly excited about it!!  I cannot wait to read it! In honor of her book, our prompt is…

WRITER

Fresh out of college and clueless as to what came next, I applied to graduate school in non-fiction writing. I enjoyed writing, I had a degree in it and so this seemed the logical next step. I applied to 5 or 6 schools and didn’t get in. To a single one. To say this was a shock for this academic achiever would be an understatement!
Funnily enough, by the time I received rejection letters from the schools my life was taking a different turn and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a professional writer any more. I was starting to understand that sometimes the things you love to do aren’t necessarily good career choices. I experienced something similar a few years later when I realized that working in outdoor education was taking away the joy I had in being outside. There are things we love to do, things we are good at, that we can most beautifully use in the margins of our life.
For me crafting sentences and stories is one of those things. Those rejection letters did a number to my confidence as a writer. But I can remember that, even in the midst of the confusion, there was a steady whisper from God: Not yet, my child. This is not how I want you to use this gift. Wait and trust me, and when the time is right I will show you how this piece fits into the puzzle picture of your life. And so I held it close and poured my heart into stacks of journals and drove my architecture professors crazy with five page papers turned twenty pages because I had too many words pent up in me- and brevity has never been my strong suit! Now, in this crazy season of life, I have found an outlet in this little space as I pound out the words swirling in my head.
STOP

( I am typing this on my phone so I’m not going to bother to include all the links and fancy buttons and such. And my son just crawled down the hall with a contraband pencil so I must hit publish if this is ever going to see the light of day!)
 

One Word for 2014

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Brave001

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know it’s the end of March and I am just picking my word for the year.  For those who don’t know, many people (including lots of bloggers I know) pick a word for the year in lieu of resolutions.  It may be a word that you need to focus or meditate on so that it becomes absorbed into your life.  Or perhaps it’s something that you lack or want to achieve.  Or it could be your battle cry, the word you shout to yourself and the world the whole year as you claim victory in your life.

My word has been chasing me since January.  I wanted a profound word, something that would make me seem intelligent and thoughtful and spiritual.  Or a pretty word that would make for nice, lovely meditations full of rainbows and butterflies.  But instead I was ambushed by a word from the canvas over our son’s bed.

Here is what I am commanding you to do.  Be strong and brave.  Do not be terrified.  Do not lose hope.  I am the Lord your God.  I will be with you everywhere you go.  Joshua 1:9, NIrV (emphasis mine)

Brave.

I am so not brave.  One of the reasons this verse means so much to me is because of the deep, suffocating fear that has hounded me my whole life.  I needed to be reminded that God would never leave me and would be with me in every battle.  But brave?  I never even imagined being brave.  It just didn’t register.

I refused to embrace this word.  I looked around for something prettier, something that fit better.  I wasn’t remotely brave, so how could I claim this word as my own?  And if I’m honest, I didn’t want “brave” to define my year because that seemed to imply the year would hold scary, difficult challenges where I would need to exercise bravery.  Um, no thanks! Can’t I have joy instead?

In Judges 6 there is the story of Gideon, an unlikely hero that God used to defeat an enemy in an unconventional way.  When Gideon first learns he is to lead his countrymen in battle, he is hiding from the enemy, threshing wheat for his family.  He is a frightened farmer, not a battle-trained soldier.

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” Judges 6:12

Mighty man of valor.  This was the way the angel addressed a timid man from an insignificant family in the weakest clan of a small tribe in Israel.  Gideon didn’t even acknowledge or notice this new title.  His first words expressed doubt and fear and uncertainty and despair.

Did the angel get it wrong?

Gideon’s new descriptor, mighty man of valor, did not describe who he was but who he would become.  God saw in him the seed for greatness and courage.  And as Gideon moved forward in obedience to the difficult and downright odd tasks God gave him, he became that mighty warrior.  Those words spoken over him bloomed into a truth Gideon could not have imagined.  God clothed Gideon with His very presence, empowering Gideon to do what he was not able on his own (Judges 6:34).

image from What Not to Wear, via TLC

You know those make-over shows?  The ones where they take a clueless, disheveled people with mismatched and worn out clothes and give them a new wardrobe and new haircuts?  The best of them (ahem, What Not to Wear) do more that just give a person a few new outfits.  As they begin to see themselves in a new light, they stand a little taller, smile a little bigger.  They are transformed because someone saw beyond what they were to what they could be.  I think that something similar happened with Gideon – and can happen with us.  God can take our timid, insecure, proud, fragile, angry, awkward, reluctant selves and transform us by His presence in our lives.

I am not brave.  I’m not even sure I want to be brave.  But this word has been spoken over me and so I trust that God will transform me.  I will clothe myself in His presence and believe that the process He has in place will change the way I see myself, the way I see the world.  And I wouldn’t be opposed to a new wardrobe for the journey – or at least a new pair of shoes.

because winter won’t go away

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image from wikimedia commons

Daffodils

– William Wordsworth, from Romanticism: An Anthology

 

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing daffodils;
Along a lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.
 
The waves beside them danced, but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay
In such a laughing company.
I gazed, and gazed, but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought-
 
For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

my story

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Once there was a little girl with curly brown hair and green, serious eyes.  This little girl had a mother and father who loved her completely, just as she was.  She had a sister and brother, grandparents on both sides, aunts, uncles, and cousins, friends and teachers who encouraged her, taught her, and loved her well.  There were dogs to play with, acres of woods to run in, and a lovely little home where she had a yellow (and later blue) room filled with toys and books and clothes.  And she was afraid.

For as long as she could remember, Fear hounded her.  She lay awake at night, afraid to sleep, convinced her house would burn down in the night or thieves would break in to hurt her family.  She was afraid to climb too high in the trees.  Afraid to meet new people.  Afraid to break the rules.  There were few areas of her life that weren’t defined by Fear.

As she grew into a young lady, her fears grew too.  Fear manifested itself in a need for control, in self-reliance, in perfectionism but in reality she was choking under Fear’s tight grasp.  It governed each decision she made, each adventure she refused, each friendship she avoided.  No matter what she tried or how hard she fought, she couldn’t defeat Fear.  Inside she was still that scared little girl cowering under the covers.

******

My friendship with Jesus began almost 30 years ago.  At seven years old I believed there was a good and loving God, and I wanted to know him.  My parents told me that God was holy and perfect and that our sins, the wrong things we do, keep us separated from Him.  No amount of good works can earn a place for us in heaven.  But God loved us so very much He made a way for us to be His friends and live with Him forever by sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins.  Jesus’ perfect, sinless life met the requirement I could never meet and His death paid the price for my sins.  Then He rose form the dead, making away for me to live with Him in heaven forever.  Over many conversations I began to understand this story of salvation.  One hot autumn night, after my parents tucked me into my big canopy bed, I asked God to forgive me for the wrong things I had done and to come live in my heart.

That simple prayer born from a simple faith started a long friendship with God.  There was no dramatic transformation, no stirring before and after story.  Instead I have grown to know and love this childhood Friend more and more.   The changes in me have been slow, shaped by Him over many years – but they have been no less profound.  He has walked with me through seasons of intense brokenness that I didn’t want and wasn’t sure I could endure and has consistently and faithfully woven something beautiful and lasting from those tattered threads.  I have stubbornly refused to obey Him, sure that what He asked was too much to give only to discover a breathtaking freedom on the other side of surrender.  He has challenged my pride, my control, my anger, my priorities, my identity- and my fears.

One Sunday in the winter of 2011 I stood singing with the rest of the church.  I don’t remember what precipitated this thought – some conversation or lyric or nudging of Go’d Spirit – but I realized that I was tired of living in fear.  I didn’t want it to control every decision and saturate every moment of my life, and asked God to help me.  What followed was two years of the most brutal, vicious attacks on my mind and heart that I have ever experienced.  I doubted my faith.  I doubted God’s existence.  I was literally choked by fear, panic rising from deep within me.  I felt like I was standing on the edge of a deep, dark chasm, about to fall and unable to stop myself.  I cried and cried from confusion and pain and fear.  Slowly, I began to realize that the way out of this awful mess was through complete, absolute surrender to God.  I cannot describe to you how much this terrified me.  Despite a lifetime of walking obediently with Him, of memorizing and studying the Bible, I knew I did not trust Him.  Could I trust Him, this God who could, who would ask me to surrender all the stuff – possessions, position, people – that gave me comfort and security?  This God who asks me to live a life of sacrifice and pouring-out and yielding of my needs? This God who let people, good people, die too young from cancer?  Did I want to surrender to Him?  I fought it hard.  And then, in the darkness of a hotel ballroom when I least expected it, God met me.  I saw a glimpse of His glory and I was undone.  I was a blubbering mess of surrender, but it was beautiful.  I confessed and He forgave.  He moved mightily in me – and so many other women – releasing me from the fear that held me captive.  Here are my thoughts from that night.

El Shaddai, I confess my sin of fear.  I have loved this world more than You.  The fear of losing family, status, comfort has kept me imprisoned.  I live controlled by worry and anxiety, struggling fruitlessly to gain control.  I surrender.  Tonight I have come face to face with You and You are worth it.  Wherever You lead, whatever the cost.  I tremble to write that, but I have nowhere else to go.  You have the words that bring eternal life.

I have experienced an amazing peace a freedom since that night.  Do I still struggle with fear?  Absolutely!  But it does not control me.  I am finding joy in surrender, in walking into those things that cause me fear.  This little space on the internet is proof of that.  I am learning to trust Him, perhaps for the first time.  I think I will fight fear my whole life.  Part personality, part personal weakness, it will be something that must be faced in every circumstance.  But I am also discovering it is not me that needs to do the fighting.  When I surrender to God, when I say “whatever,” then He sucker-punches fear and I take a step forward in freedom.  When I try to fight fear with control or self-reliance then I get pummeled.  Exodus 14:14 says “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.”  In the still of surrender is victory.

On writing my testimony

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Our pastor, Todd, is asking everyone at our church who is a Christian give him a written account of their testimony.  Simply put, your testimony is your story of how you met Jesus for the first time and how He has changed your life.  Todd isn’t asking for these stories to make some master list of “real” Christians or to grade our stories.  He knows that to write your story, to think through what Jesus has done for you and in you allows you to step back and see the threads of God’s presence in your story.  To document His love, His grace, His amazing gift of forgiveness of our messed up lives is a beautiful act of worship.  This reflection prepares you to share that story with others because, as we see over and over in the Bible, our testimony of what God has done in our life is the best evidence we can give of His real and active presence to those who don’t know Him.

And I have seriously been dragging my feet.  I have no dramatic story of meeting Jesus, no amazing transformation that occurred when He forgave my sins.  My testimony so often feels “less than” because I have been a follower of Jesus since I was seven and have pretty much stuck with Him ever since.  We have journeyed together – arduous uphill climbs, breathtaking mountaintop vistas, and slogs through the darkest of valleys – and I am slowly, slowly being transformed to be more like Him.  It seems such a boring story.  Why on earth would anyone be interested in it?  How could it possibly change anyone’s life?

Ah, there’s the catch.  I am relying on crafting a clever narrative to capture my audience.  I see it as my story and so all of the weight for it’s power and purpose lies squarely on my shoulders.  And that is entirely wrong.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.
              “Blessed Assurance“, Fanny Crosby 1873

These words, penned by Fanny Crosby over 100 years ago, remind me of what – of Who – my testimony is about.  That I or anyone else can call themselves Christian is a stunning miracle.  I have been purchased by God at a very costly price.  My sins have been washed away by Jesus’ blood.  In His grace and mercy He chose me to be His daughter, a fact that should astound me every day.  Why me?  Why did I get to grow up in a God-honoring home filled with love and safety?  Why has He protected me time and time again from my own bad choices and desires and the wickedness of others?  I do not know – but this should bring praise to my lips, not shame or dejection.  All who are Christians have a dramatic rescue story.  It is unequivocally not about me.  How arrogant of me to think that God can’t use me because of how I met Him!

And so I am writing my testimony.  It is a slice, a small glimpse into the numerous and amazing things God has done in me and for me.  And it is getting quite long – but when you start recounting God’s grace and goodness and power and holiness it’s hard to stop (my family will not be surprised that this writing assignment has turned into a small novel – ha!).  Stay tuned…