Category Archives: Devotionals

Judge Not. No Really.

Politics bug me. And right now, politics are everywhere. Unavoidable. They fill up my Facebook newsfeed. A nation entrenched behind party lines. And while the “sides” agree on nothing, they actually agree on one thing pretty much across the board. That they’re right. The Democrats are right. The Republicans are right. The independent revolutionaries are right. And they are right with no room for new ideas or opening their minds to new ways of thinking.

And being convinced of “rightness” is sadly not a limp that is limited to politics. I have observed a sad trend of the same nature within the Christian community. Now before anyone thinks I am advocating for some kind of New Age doctrine where there is no absolute truth, let me explain. I believe that the bible is the truth. I believe that there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. But where the tricky part comes in boils down to a word that is thrown about often within our circles and it means different things to different people: Judgment.

Merriam-Webster defines judgment as –

  • an opinion or decision that is based on careful thought

  • the act or process of forming an opinion or making a decision after careful thought : the act of judging something or someone

  • the ability to make good decisions about what should be done

I see a recent trend among my Christian brothers and sisters that can be summarized as a split among doctrines. And it resembles the split between political parties in both content and spirit. On the far left are the Christians who believe anything goes. They feel that their responsibility is to live their lives according to their interpretation of right and wrong and leave everyone else to live theirs in the same spirit. Their job is to have no opinions about what activities constitute sin and what behaviors fall into the categories of permissible or profitable (1 Corinthians 10:23). No one has the right to judge them either, because all things ARE permissible. And they often exercise their “rights” to the exclusion of anyone who might stumble over their lifestyle or choices. You do you, they’ll do them. They believe God tells us not to judge anyone, but have fallen into the trap that the admonition not to judge means that they should not HAVE judgment. Which is a far cry from the truth.

On the far right are the Christians who believe that we are to strive to be as close to perfect as is humanly possible. They believe the way to win unbelievers to Jesus is by being blunt about what sin is and what one must do about it. Speak boldly and powerfully about those who are in sin. Of course offer them a picture of grace, but make sure they have no doubt about the black and white of right and wrong found in the bible. They don’t go so far as to call it “judgment” but speaking out against sin is a big foundational principle in this camp. Many in this group still do talk about our responsibility to love one another and the unbeliever, but love the unbeliever from a distance. Do not associate yourself closely with them or invest your heart with the unbeliever lest you fall away into the same sin. Do not show the world your weaknesses and struggles because that is not a good example to the world. This camp is entrenched in “truth,” but like the far left, they have also missed a big section of truth.

I recently read an article written by Pastor Carey Nieuwhof entitled “5 Stupid Things The Church Needs to Stop Doing to Make Progress.” He talks about the concept of judgment as a part of the legal system, specifically referencing an interaction he had with his criminal law professor in law school. The picture painted is perhaps the most accurate scriptural portrait of biblical “judgment” I have ever seen. He asked, as a lawyer, what he was supposed to do if he was called upon to represent a client he knew was guilty, even though the client would deny his guilt. The answer? “You’re not the judge. You’re his lawyer. Your job is —ethically, morally and legally—to give him the best day he can possibly have in court. The judge will decide whether he’s guilty or not.”

Read that again. Let it really sink in. The truth about our stance on sin is somewhere in the middle. Somewhere in between the far left and the far right of Christian dogmas. Are we called to seek out truth? To understand what God calls sin in His word and to understand as much as possible what is okay and what is sin? Absolutely. Being familiar with the law is always a good idea. But are we called to pass judgment on whether or not a “sinner” is guilty or not guilty? Nope. No way. No how. Is it okay to have an opinion? Sure. Is it okay to shove that opinion of guilt or innocence into the face of the person we are loving to Jesus in hopes that it makes them “turn or burn?” NO.

So back to the definition of judgment. Judgment is an opinion. Formed after careful thought and consideration. The judgment of sin in others is frankly above my pay grade. I would not want the responsibility of deciding where another person will spend eternity. No way, no thanks. I have my hands full with my own willful heart. And therein lies our call in this hour of history.

Go deeper. Deeper into your heart to really investigate the things that are hiding there. Be honest in your pursuit of intimacy with God. Tell Him when you’re mad, even at Him. Pour out your grief and sadness at His feet. Ask for Him to show you His heart in the matters of sin and judgment and winning others for Jesus. Then listen, and check what you hear against the Scriptures He has given us to bring us to places of growth and discovery and depth.

Romans 2:4 (AMP) – “Or do you have no regard for the wealth of His kindness and tolerance and patience [in withholding His wrath]? Are you [actually] unaware or ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness leads you to repentance [that is, to change your inner self, your old way of thinking—seek His purpose for your life]?”

1 Peter 3:15 (NLT) – “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”

Points to consider:

-If it is HIS kindness that leads us to repentance, how much more should it be OUR kindness that leads others on the same path. HIS character is always good. Ours. . .not-so-much. So kindness is essential.

-I doubt someone is going to ask me about my Christian hope if I have no relationship with them because they are a “lowly sinner.” The only difference between me and them is that I have accepted a gift they may not even have an inkling about. My job is to show them love and kindness and humility. Allow them to see my struggle and then allow them to see my hope. If I don’t associate with the person who does not follow Jesus, how on earth will they know enough to WANT to ask?

-It’s all about balance. And balance is typically found at the center of God’s heart. So if I’m not pressing in and tuned in to His heart? I’m going to miss it. And I cannot know the heart of God outside of a constantly deepening relationship with Him. I honestly believe that if every Christian was so completely focused on building a deeper relationship with our Abba, our effectiveness would increase 10-fold, because we would exude HIS charisma and goodness and love. And people are drawn to His character. Read about the life of Christ. The man could never get away to be alone because people were drawn to Him. They didn’t completely understand why, but they were driven to be near Him in the hopes of finding out. And those who pressed in to Him with open hearts were changed.

So my admonition to us as a church is this: Be authentic in your struggle. Let those around you see the depth of your inner darkness so that they can see the light of the hope that you have. Associate with those who have not yet accepted the free gift of salvation, but press in to Him so that His character shows in you without the need to perform/act. Show more kindness than dogma, and never speak the truth without love and grace in equal measure.

God is calling us as a church to a new level of authenticity and transparency before the world. He is calling us to press in to know His heart as never before, so that His face can be seen through the way we love people. Broken people. Sad people. Angry people. Ugly people. People just like you and me. So let’s find the middle ground, you and I. Let’s trudge forward into the muck and the mire of suffering. Because I truly believe that only there will the depth of His love be known.

When The Struggle Is Real

Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed today, I see many people posting self-help things on how to xyz, or videos with the title “If this doesn’t make you put down your smartphone, nothing will.” I feel a rise of emotion as I often do when something touches on a nerve. Because I have been striving more and more to put down my phone and be present. And being moderately successful at winning the battle. And I begin to wonder why this stuff bugs me so much when I see it. And as I soul-searched for the answer, I think I found it.

I am MUCH more likely to accept input about how to navigate my struggle from a person that I KNOW has been there. And honestly, more often than not, a person who is still struggling, but perhaps having varied degrees of success in their struggle. When someone overcomes quickly, I doubt how much they were having trouble to begin with. When a person posts something or suggests what my “problem” is when that problem is something they have never personally dealt with or had difficulty being free from, all credibility with me is lost. And the suggestions get filed in my brain under the category of “judgmental” or “does not feel my true pain.”

In a similar vein, empathy is much more soothing to me than sympathy. I lost my dad a few weeks ago to a long struggle with addiction and all the physical ramifications of that struggle. As I navigate the grief and loss and complicated mourning process that comes with the loss of a parent in that way, I find others who have lost a parent they had a complicated relationship with to be those who bring me the most comfort. The “clean” grief I have dealt with before from the loss of a much-loved elderly grandparent does not compare with what I feel in the wake of his death. And only those who have been there can truly understand and offer the “I’ve been there” that makes me feel less alone and less crazy and less odd in my process of sadness.

And as it often does, this thought process has led me deeper, to a place in my soul that lives in resentment of pain and loss and sorrow. To that corner of my heart that feels like life is unfair, and that love should not have to mean sadness. That joy shouldn’t just come after the long night of grieving, but should be foremost and unfettered and gleeful all the time. I know that is not realistic, but I think each of us has that small corner of our inner space that holds out hope of that perfection. Depending on how fully our needs for love and affection and unconditional acceptance were met as children, that wish exists at different levels of intensity in every person.

As much as I would like to escape from pain, I realize that those who bring me the most comfort in my pain would not have that empathy to offer if they themselves had not felt such pain. Which means that *I* would not have empathy to offer the ones in my life that I long to comfort and offer support to if *I* had not suffered pain and loss. And I would not have a voice into the struggles of others if I, too, did not struggle. Notice I said struggle in the present tense. I NEED to struggle, now, in order to offer support to others. Moments of victory and freedom are joyous and to be greatly desired. But the process of struggling also has great value. And my emotional muscles are built best by fighting another day. Seasons of rest are wonderful and I love and treasure them when they come. But I grow best when the struggle is real. When I walk through my sorrow to a deeper joy. When I struggle through my fear to a deeper trust. When I swim through the sea of doubt and depression to a place of choosing to believe and keep moving forward. And so I find great revelation in a scripture that previously annoyed me in the extreme:

James 1:2-4 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

I’m pretty sure it takes years of practicing this to get to that place of being complete. And to find the mentality of quickly counting troubles as an opportunity for anything. But today I’m feeling like I’m off to a good start. And someday, the pain that I’m feeling today will come to fruition in the way it is spoken of here:

2 Corinthians 1:4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

I won’t pretend to fully understand why we suffer as we do. But I have felt His comfort firsthand. And it has often come through the empathy of others who have been where I am and survived. And so today, my struggle is very real. And I turn my face into the wind of sorrow with the hope in my heart that someday, I will be a comfort to someone who needs the insight, comfort and hope I gain from travelling this path of struggle. And today, that is enough.

You didn’t catch me.

Dear Romeo,

Sunday morning, you were hanging out with me in the bathroom while I applied a bit of makeup before church. You were happily standing on the step stool you often use to wash your hands when somehow you misstepped and fell. You slid down between toilet and sink, banging the back of your head on the toilet tank and getting your shirt hung on the toilet paper hook. As I struggled to free you and your shirt from being “stuck,” you fought me off. You cried and screamed and wanted Daddy. Confused, but wanting to comfort you, I handed you to Daddy and he hugged and calmed and checked you for injuries. I came alongside and patted your back, asking if you were okay and trying to offer comfort as well. You continued to cry for a few seconds, then turned your face to mine and in an angry, sad, betrayed voice screamed, “YOU DIDN’T CATCH ME!!” and buried your face back in Daddy’s shoulder sobbing. I acknowledged that I didn’t catch you and that I wished I had and was so sorry that I didn’t. Daddy tried to explain to you that I didn’t know you were going to fall. You finally calmed a bit and let me hold you, and after a few minutes wanted down to play. But try as you might, at least the next bit of your morning was ruined. Nothing was right. Your toys wouldn’t “play” right, no one gave you the answers you wanted and you were just generally unhappy.
As we drove to church, I could not help but draw a parallel between what had happened that morning and my own relationship with my Father, God. Your accusation that I should have caught you despite not causing your fall at all was a profound eye opener for me.
In this broken, sinful world we live in, so often we are hurt and feel deep pain. Sometimes my pain comes from bad decisions I made. Sometimes I fall because I get ahead of myself. But all too often, life just happens. While God may allow the falls in my life, He does not throw me down and make me bang my head. Often I am just living and the natural consequences of my actions or the actions of others… Just. Happen. And how often do I shake my fist at the heavens because He didn’t catch me. I wonder how that makes Him feel?
Going further, so many times when one thing goes wrong in my life, I let it ruin so many other things for at least a time. It becomes so easy to lose perspective when I’m in pain. And so I find myself sitting here wondering what I can learn from your little incident. . .because I sense something profound in your statement of betrayal. “You didn’t catch me.”
Knowing the deep love and compassion I feel for you, I know my Abba feels nothing less for me. I scooped you up and felt your pain in my own heart. I felt sad that you were angry and sad. I wanted to soothe away the hurt and the sadness. And knowing that God feels that way when I hurt is a huge revelation to me. Because it speaks to His goodness and His eternally extravagant love. He doesn’t always catch me. But He always loves me. And He is always there with me in my pain. And each day, as I continually learn to surrender the illusion of my own control, I learn more about what it feels like to trust Him even when He doesn’t catch me. Just like you will someday understand that I wish I could catch you every time you fall. Thank you for being so honest and transparent, little man. Because that dose of truth from your innocent little heart has taken me on a journey of my own.

I hope next time you fall, I can catch you. But if not, I will pick you up and love you in your sadness. Because you’re so worth it. <3

Love, Mama

10 Years Ago

Dear Melody,

As your tenth birthday rapidly approaches, I have many of the normal emotions of a mama with her firstborn turning double digits. I can’t believe it’s been a decade since I first held you on my chest as the gurney wheeled me from the OR back to my postpartum room. Since those sweet little inquisitive eyes peered into mine, trying to figure out our connection. Since I snuggled your sweet baby newborn head in the cleft of my neck and thought about how lucky I was to have such a privilege as loving you.

But an unexpected text message this morning sent my heart back a few more months in time to the events that made up our time together pre-birth. And I can’t believe it’s been more than ten years since my life changed from those events, for better and for worse.

Since a tiny spider caused immense pain and suffering in a way I could never have imagined a small creature like that could cause.

Since my first trip to the doctor after the bite, hopeful that it was no big deal. My biggest fear then was the steroids they wanted to prescribe to stave off the reaction I seemed to be having. Before that, Tylenol and anti-nausea medication was a stretch for me as I carried you inside. I was determined not to take anything into my body that could possibly cause you harm, sweet baby of mine.

Since the pain became so intense that I was sent to the hospital for IV pain control. Still assured that the medicine wouldn’t hurt you, but every time I pressed that button a battle waged in my heart and mind. The pain was too much to bear without it, but how was it affecting my sweet little girl?

Since they drew my blood twice a day. From the deterioration in my leg, we knew I was in the unlucky 20% of brown recluse victims who lose a lot of tissue, but would I be in the unlucky 1% who lost my life? And yours with it? At 24 weeks pregnant, you still needed me to live.

Since I listened to your heartbeat on doppler 3 times a day. That sweet sound filling the hospital room that let me know that you were fighting with me.

Since the doctor looked me in the eye and gave me a choice. I could allow the reaction to rage on unabated, or I could put you at risk and have the surgery. He couldn’t guarantee you would survive all the stress and trauma it would cause to my body. But left to run its course, my leg and my life was in danger.

Since both the surgeries that I was awake for. The medicine they gave me to relax me as they removed a piece of my leg made me feel especially emotional. I remember telling the CNA that I couldn’t believe the love I felt for you because how can you love someone you’ve never met.

Since I felt you move with my hand for the first time. You started rolling and tumbling in my belly as I recovered from the first surgery.

Since they changed my dressings from wet to dry 3 times a day. Pain more intense than anything I have felt before or since. Ripping away the “bad” tissue to make room for the healthy. Keeping the area raw so the coming graft would take. A week of heavy pain medication that barely took the edge off. Of me screaming as the dressings were removed. All I could think about was that you could hear us now from inside the womb. How was hearing your mother scream in such a horribly scary way going to affect you? I couldn’t think about it too hard because it was too awful.

Since the night I spent in the hospital after the second surgery (26 weeks). The contractions started as I was being wheeled out of the OR. They called it “irritable” uterus. They said they might not be able to stop it. They listened to your strong heartbeat and gave me medicine that made me shake. We made it through the night and everything settled down. We thought the worst was over.

Since they unwrapped the skin graft and that horrible smell filled the room. I spent 24 hours thinking we were going to have to go through it all over again because what we thought was a dangerous infection may have taken hold.

Since I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. The infection was not a true infection. The worst was over. We had survived. I was disfigured but we were alive and you were thriving.

Since I stopped talking to God because He was my best friend who had betrayed me. How could He let this happen? What good could come of it? Why allow such suffering and torment and pain and fear in the life of someone who trusted Him to have my back? I railed and told Him how angry I was. He wrapped me in his peace and loved me anyway.

Since we found out that there was a nest of those spiders in your nursery-to-be and that was destroyed, but was only brought to light because I was bitten. People told me that was probably the reason it happened. My response was, if God is so powerful, why did He allow me to get bitten to find a nest? Surely there were less painful ways to reveal the problem? I was not interested in calling the pain and disfigurement a miracle. I wanted to wallow and cry.

Since I named you the name that honors Him for not walking away. He didn’t stay because I was worthy. He didn’t even stay because I prayed. I stopped praying after the last worst turn. I stopped talking to Him when He stopped meeting my expectations. But still He stayed. Still he guided and loved and protected.  And after a few months, I began to realize that He had not broken a promise. He hadn’t promised me no pain. He hadn’t promised a perfect life. Those were my expectations. He had promised not to leave. And the fact that you were born healthy and unmarred and beautiful was a testimony to that promise. And the scar on my leg that remains after many reconstructions and 10 years later is a testimony to that promise. And my heart that now trusts Him in a way I never thought possible in spite of the pain of life’s happenings is a testimony to that promise.

And these 10 years with you, sweet Melody, are a testimony to that promise. Because as I look at your sweet woman-child face, I see even more promise extending beyond me and beyond this life we’ve shared to this point. I see a spirit of determination. I see a heart that already loves Jesus. I see a sweet, trusting spirit. I see a mind that thinks and ponders and calculates beyond its years. I see a girl who personifies the meaning of her name. Who loves much. Who keeps moving forward in spite of much fear. Who loves herself in a way that makes me love her even more. And suddenly the scar on my leg is a badge of honor. I had the honor of bringing you into the world, despite some scary odds. I was made to be your mama. And the painful experiences that have made me the woman I am today will be a benefit to you. They make me a better, stronger person. They give my faith a foundation that won’t crumble, and that makes me someone you can lean on in times of trouble. And now, 10 years later, I can honestly say that I am glad it happened. Because the changes in me are worth the pain it took to make them.

Happy Birthday, my love. I can’t wait to keep watching you grow up. You are my best girl and my sweet melody. You make me want to be a better mama.

Love, Mama

 

 

 

Because I love you. . .

Yesterday, in the midst of our usual chaos of homeschooling and breakfast and chores, Jubilee asked for help applying glue to a piece of construction paper. When asked why, she replied, “Because I need to glue it to the wall.” Uh, no. Tape was suggested as a viable alternative and I told her that under no circumstances was she to use glue to hang anything up.

Fast forward several hours. I am rearranging the magnets on the fridge to get them out of Romeo’s reach when I discover that a piece of purple construction paper is stuck to the refrigerator quite solidly. I pull it off to see that it has been glued there. I call Jubilee in and ask her if she glued it there after I told her not to use the glue to hang things. She says yes with a look of shame. I put her in time out to give myself time to gather my thoughts.

After her time out was done, I brought her into the kitchen and required that she stand with me as I tried several different things to remove the paper from the fridge. I first had her try scraping it with a plastic scraper, but she was not able to make progress at all on her own. So I took over, but made her stay with me through the process. By this time, she had gotten sad because she sensed my frustration and wanted me to be “happy” again. I periodically took time out from the task to hug her and explain that I was frustrated that the paper was so hard to get off. I told her that she was going to pick up all the tiny paper shavings that had fallen to the floor as I worked. She again looked very sad and with tears in her eyes asked, “Will you help me pick them up?” My first instinct was to say no and to launch into another diatribe about how she made the mess by disobeying me and I was already doing most of the work and blah, blah, blah, lecture, lecture, lecture. Then I took a deep breath and looked at that sweet little concerned face and said, “Yes, Jubilee, I will help you pick them up.” She look a bit relieved and then asked, “You’ll help me because you helped make the mess?”

An onslaught of surprisingly deep thought ran through my head at that moment and I realized I had the opportunity to teach my little girl a lesson about grace and mercy. My response was, “No, I’ll help you pick them up because I love you and I know you don’t want to do it because it feels hard. So you have to do it, but I will be here with you and we will both clean it up.” She nodded and fell hard against me for a very vigorous hug, and the parallels between my own heart and this situation began to form in my mind.

The definition of mercy is undeserved favor. In the simplest sense, Jubilee did not “deserve” my presence or my help in cleaning up the mess she had made. . .but because I love her, I was able to look past that “fact” and be there with her to help her through something that was hard. Even if the difficulty was the consequences of her own actions, still I love her too much to leave her to sift through those consequences on her own.

I do not deserve the mercies of God. I have made many messes over the course of my life, some in ignorance, some in disobedience, some in selfishness and some with good intentions. Where would I be today if God stood by, brushed off His hands at me and declared, “Well, you MADE the mess because you didn’t listen. Good luck cleaning it up!” But because of His enormous love for me, that has never been His response to my mistakes. Sure, as I’ve grown from a baby Christian into a more mature one, He has let me own more of my consequences, but He has never just left me alone to pick up the pieces. And more times than not, all it takes is a little effort in the right direction on my part before I feel His hand intervening to “help” me in sometimes almost imperceptible ways. . .but sometimes miraculous ones.

So in this journey through brokenness as I learn to parent my children in a way that is also discipling them for Christ, may I learn to respond more and more often with, “. . .just because I love you.” Because that’s the character Jesus wants to build into them as well. And children learn from what they see. And my prayer is always that they can learn from my failures. . .but a little more often these days, they are learning also from my example. And that feels good. And is well worth the pain and the turmoil of deep changes in my heart and mind. Because they’re worth it.

The Light

I read a blog post this morning that really resonated within me. The main idea I took away from the post is that telling our children they need to “be an example” for Christ is a well-intentioned statement that falls empty in the execution. In fact, I want to take it a step further and say that setting our own goal as simply being an example for Christ is short-sighted. Now before anyone goes all crazy on me and thinks I’m giving Christians a license to just do what feels good, I’m not. We live within scriptural boundaries and within our own Holy Spirit convictions because we love Christ and that’s a good thing, but it’s dishonest to only show the world what we do perfectly. And Jesus seems pretty clear about where He stands on being honest.

Early in my adult life, as a young Christian, I felt like I had to portray a certain “holiness” to the people in my life who didn’t claim Jesus as their savior. I kept to myself a lot at work, trying to show that I was separated in my way of living. I looked appropriately offended when anyone used profanity or talked about sex outside of marriage. . .or told a dirty joke. In my heart, I wasn’t feeling self-righteous. In my immaturity, I genuinely felt it was my responsibility to portray a certain way of doing things. That somehow me showing the world only the “good” part of me was my calling. You know what that made me to them? Unapproachable. Unlikable. Hypocritical.

As maturity began to happen, I had some realizations. I’m a sinner (I know, duh, right?). The only difference between me and the prostitute on the street corner at the core is that I’ve accepted a free gift that has transformed my very being. I did nothing to earn it. I don’t deserve it. And it didn’t turn me into a perfect person. It turned me into a grateful person, saved from a fate worse than death through no power of my own. It made me want to live in a way that makes my Jesus smile. But it didn’t give me superpowers of neverdoinganythingwrongever or overcomingallthethingswithoutastruggle. It didn’t even change my base nature. So why on earth would trying to portray unattainable perfection that really doesn’t exist attract anyone at all to my faith?

You know what is attractive to people? Imperfection. Real people who don’t give up. Kindness. Loving the unlovable. Encouragement. Hope. And that, my friends, is what made me decide to “get real.” Even this very blog is born of my desire to share the raw emotion of a follower of Christ learning to parent through the brokenness of pain, depression, anxiety and just being human. I am so far from the perfection every human soul craves some days that I wonder why God keeps holding on to me. There are days when I feel like I’m the worst “example” ever and that watching me live my life must make those who don’t know Jesus want to run as fast as they can in the other direction for fear of being like me. But then there’s truth.

Matthew 5:14 says that I am the light of the world. It doesn’t say I can be the light of the world if I’m perfect or if I’m trying hard enough every single day. It doesn’t even say that I’m the light of the world when I’m living exactly as a Christian “should.” It simply says that I am the light of the world. I am the light of the world because Jesus says I am. The end. My responsibility is to live my life. To allow others to see my brokenness. To see me struggle and fall. And to see me get back up and keep going. To see me change over time as I learn from my mistakes and make a better choice tomorrow. To know that I care about them when they’re hurting because I’ve been hurt, too. That is my light. My light is raw. My light shines through a scarred lampshade that paints a mosaic of brokenness, healing, failures, forgiveness, mistakes, hope and a love so big it’s impossible for any human mind to fully understand. And changing my perception of that marred and imperfect lampshade from something ugly and shameful to something unique and beautiful frees me to really. be. me. And learning that the real “me” is beautiful is the first step in learning to see the beauty all around me, and in allowing the people in my life who have not yet met my Jesus to see His beauty inside of me.

So no, I’m not a good example of Christ. But I am an excellent example of the transformative power of His love, and the hope He gives that gives me the strength to get back up on my worst day and keep going. And I hope I can carry that forward into the lives of these imperfect little people that He has given me the privilege of discipling for Him. Because if teaching them to be perfect is the goal, I’m going to fail. But if it’s teaching them to own their imperfections and keep moving forward, I got this.

The Garden of My Heart

Today, I spent a few hours working my flower beds, weeding and cleaning out debris. Those of you who know me personally are currently picking up your jaw off the floor in shock that I spent time “gardening.” Here’s another shocker for you. . .I actually enjoyed it. *Gasp*

I understand learning about God by looking at His creation in general terms, but while weeding? Really? Oddly enough, I found myself pondering deeper spiritual things while prettying up my little garden space.

I started thinking of the “strongholds” in my heart like the weeds in my flower bed. I’m referring to anything that keeps me stuck in any area as a stronghold or a “heartweed.” I’m sure any of you can relate to a point. It’s that old attitude that pops up out of nowhere years after you thought you were over it. Or the anger you feel rising unexpectedly about a situation that doesn’t even involve you. Or the fear that seems to overtake you in a situation that most others would find trivial. And many, many, many more of the heartweeds that pop up when you least expect it, or that you’ve known were there for years, but just haven’t managed to get rid of.

So here’s the lesson I learned from the weeds. First, there were the big, extra leafy weeds that were open and obvious. I looked at them and thought the roots on those things must be totally huge and go deep into the soil. Imagine my surprise when I started digging only to discover that they barely had a root at all, and they were easily plucked out and disposed of. Then there were the tiny little stick-like weeds that looked completely unobtrusive. I casually grabbed hold of one and pulled. . .and pulled. . .and PULLED. . .and rested and pulled again. OH, the roots that were attached to those! Not only did they run deep and big, but many of their roots had given off shoots that ran everywhere into the soil. They were a huge challenge to get out, and some of them probably had pieces left behind that will cause them to grow back, just because I was tired of pulling.

I’m guessing you already see where I’m going here. The obvious conclusion is that surface appearances really don’t mean much. I know in my life, I’ve sometimes found that a fear I’ve been struggling with for years is very shallowly rooted, and only requires me to face the cause before it’s easily plucked out and resolved. The more disturbing to me is the deeply rooted weeds in my heart. The ones that look so benign on the surface. Those are the ones that knock me back to my knees every time. The ones I know only a supernatural touch from Jesus can remove.

The main lesson I learned today? No matter the size of the weed or the depth of the root, you have to get your hands dirty to get it out. Now that’s profound, eh? Only when I choose to be honest with myself and with my God will change truly occur. And honesty is messy. And ugly. And sometimes heartbreaking. But completely necessary. I’m fooling myself if I think God doesn’t already see the mess. Obviously He does. He sent His son to die for that mess, so that I could come to him, washed in the blood of Jesus, and allow Him to clean me, heal me, and repair my brokenness without fear of ever seeing Him react to the “ick” factor. It’s hard to remember and hard to accept because it’s so easy. Many times, I think I’d feel better if I could somehow earn His love. Falling on His mercy is scary sometimes, but He’s never dropped me yet. And I’m so glad He’s willing to get His hands dirty right along beside me in my heart. Because the freshly weeded flowerbed is so beautiful to behold. And my freshly weeded heart is more fit to love than it was before. . .

Form or Power?

My daily scripture that came on my e-mail this morning was from 2 Timothy. I read it as usual and a partial sentence caught my attention. I’ll admit it-I often read this scripture with that “blah, blah, blah” feeling in my brain because the list of evils listed is so long, but this morning, it wasn’t the list that grabbed my thoughts, but the last part.

2 Timothy 3:2-5 “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of god, holding to the form of religion but denying its power. . .”

Usually when I read this, I think of it as those forms of religion that are very sanctimonious and take pleasure in putting on a show. The kind that’s all about ritual and right, not about relationship. Today, I saw it in a different light, and I saw where I am often guilty of just this type of “form.”

Example? How often am I guilty of calling myself a Christian, but failing to show compassion to those around me. How often do I judge the motives and actions of others without truly knowing their hearts? More often than I’d like to admit. Even in my own life and thoughts, I find myself saying the right things, like “I’m just trusting God to work it out,” or “Well, He’s in control,” but do I really believe it? Am I actively trusting Him by working out my salvation and my problems with Him, or am I just copping out by saying it’s in His hands, all the while continuing on as I am, worrying or pretending everything will work itself out, while ignoring His pleas that I examine my heart and take action? I’m afraid I’m guilty of the latter all too often. Trust is an active thing with Jesus. It doesn’t mean throwing up my hands in “surrender” and then sitting on them while I wait for Him to “fix” everything. More often, it means crying out to Him through the sweat, tears, and pain of seeking His purposes.

A more tangible example is childbirth. I’m currently nine months pregnant so I’ll admit it’s an example that sits at the forefront of my mind. What if a woman in labor decided not to participate in the birthing process at all?  God did design our bodies for it after all, and to a certain point, the body does what it needs to on its own-I know that is true. But what if the woman instead decided to lie there writhing in pain, but refused to tell anyone what was happening, refused to push, and refused to allow anyone to help her if something went wrong? How would a birth like that turn out? The baby might eventually come out and sometimes all might be well, but if she chooses to cooperate with God’s design, how much better the experience!

When we hold to our “form of religion” but deny it’s power, we often get these results. We tell ourselves that God is in charge and will somehow work it out, but He’s asking us to push. Sometimes pushing means nothing more than allowing Him to examine our hearts and asking us to admit our weakness to Him, but sometimes He’s giving us interim instructions on how to survive the trial and we’re ignoring Him because it’s just too hard. Maybe He wants us to give something up, or sacrifice for the sake of someone else, but we’re so focused on our own pain and our own status as the “victim” that we aren’t listening. And sometimes it’s an even more serious heart issue. Sometimes we should be on our faces before Him, not just on our knees, repenting for our complacency and our self-pity. It’s hard to look up when we’re beat down, but it’s essential for survival. The bottom line is, are we listening for His instructions, no matter how simple? Or are we claiming our form of religion, all the while denying His power to move us through the changes in life and walk us through the trials and pain we’re going through. For me, it’s definitely food for thought.

The Real Jesus

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

I’ve never really given this scripture a lot of thought-until today. Often when I share my faith with someone, they track with me until I get to the point where I talk about how I don’t know who I’d be without Jesus, and how He’s carried me through so many hard times. Then I see their eyes glaze over as if to say, “How can just believing in something do all of that?” Reading this scripture, their reaction makes a lot more sense.

For those of us who know Him. . . who have a relationship with Him, His power makes sense. You know you are a new person. When you look back into your past, you see a totally transformed life. I can’t imagine reacting the same way now to things that used to knock me on my butt, both emotionally and spiritually. It’s the trials and tribulations of life that have transformed me, but only through His power. Without Jesus, the pain of living, of losing, and of suffering would have just made me bitter, angry, and wounded. But with His comfort, strength, peace and perspective, they have made me stronger, smarter, and more resilient, all the while preserving a tender heart. His power is something I couldn’t live without. His grace is something that keeps me moving forward when I want to lie down and quit. His love is the one constant thing in my life that never changes, and the unchanging goodness of His character gives life to my soul, especially in the midst of darkness. To me, the power of God is scientifically plausible, proven beyond a doubt, and dependable without question.

Now look at “those who are perishing.” They live in the same world, with the same pain. They see the rain fall on the just and the unjust and wonder what kind of God would allow the innocent to suffer and the evil to prosper. They compare themselves to the next person and think they rate pretty high on the decency scale, and yet they experience more than their “fair share” of pain. How could some fabled prophet dying on an ugly piece of wood over 2000 years ago make any difference in their lives? How could just believing that something happened and accepting the message from an ancient manuscript do anything to ease their pain? Foolishness. It doesn’t make sense. They need to win the lottery, finish school and get a better job, move to a nicer neighborhood, make more friends, meet the right man/woman, travel more, experience more of life. That is the way to more peace, more happiness. That makes sense.

So how do we convince them that Jesus and the message of the cross is the answer? We don’t. He does. We live our lives before them and honestly share our struggles, with all the ugly emotions they cause and all the pain we endure. We don’t pretend that being a Christian keeps us from suffering. We don’t act like we can’t be hurt and broken. We show them hurt and broken, but then we show them what it is that gets us through. What it is that changes us from the inside out. When we’re weeping like there’s no tomorrow, we let them see that, and then let them see that His hope is all we’re living for. When we’re tortured by our own fears, we don’t hide it, but then we don’t hide the fact that His peace is all that keeps us from insanity some days. We have to be real. Real people, with real struggles and a real God who gets us through them.

The world doesn’t need another empty promise. Humanity isn’t crying out for the corner neighborhood church that has all the pat answers and a 12-step program. They need Someone who’ll walk with them in the trenches. They need Someone who understands their suffering, and won’t turn away from the gore and ugliness that is in their soul. They need the real Jesus. And it won’t make sense until they see His face. The face that understands their suffering, the injustice and the pain and doesn’t turn away. The face that loves them because of who they are, not in spite of it. Only then can foolishness become power.

Forgiveness or Healing?

I was reading my bible in Mark tonight and again, was hit by the feeling that there was something I was missing in a passage. If you want to read the whole story, it’s in Mark 2:2-12. It is the story where Jesus is teaching and a paralytic with four tenacious friends is trying to get to him, so they cut a hole in the roof and lowered their friend to Jesus. In Sunday school, we always heard this story and about how his friends helped him get his healing. They always focus on the “Take up your mat and walk!” part of the story.

What I’m pondering now is this-Jesus doesn’t heal the man right away. In fact, I’m not sure he intended to heal him at all. His first reaction when he sees the cripple and his friends is to say, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The religious folks sitting around were slightly appalled at this and begin thinking to themselves how full of himself Jesus was for saying such a thing. “Only God can forgive sins. Who does this guy think he is?” When Jesus sensed their thoughts, he asks them a question. “Why are you reasoning these things in your hearts? Which is easier; to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your stretcher, and walk?’ But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . .” Only then did he tell the man to get up. After that, the religious men were astounded and praising God saying they’d never seen anything like it.

My real focus here is on the scribes. When Jesus forgave the man his sins, they were almost indignant. When he healed his body, they were overjoyed. Did Jesus delay the healing for their benefit? Perhaps he was hoping they would see the bigger picture and understand that forgiveness of sins is paramount. What I see here is that too often, we tend to judge what God is doing in the lives of those around us. Or, we judge another person as not being “spiritual enough” to get God’s healing. Jesus knows the “real us” from the inside out and what it is that we really need. This challenges me. The next time I see a fellow Christian doing something I don’t see as “spiritual,” I want to take a minute to think about what God may be doing in that person’s life.

God is a precise surgeon, only working on the parts of our heart that are ready for his work. We must be careful not to be judgmental of that work in those around us. Jesus is the expert, we are merely there to observe and support, much like the friends of the paralytic. Their faith got him in front of Jesus in the first place, then they backed off and let the Lord do his thing. There is a lesson in that.