Thursday, January 31, 2013

Need for God

It is inevitable that we go to the altar naked (see yesterday's post) and that those who see us may be tempted to talk more about our shame than God's glory, but this cannot and should not keep us from the altar.

It shouldn't bother us that we are naked under these clothes.  It shouldn't bother us that we have this empty place in our hearts that cannot be filled without Him.  It shouldn't bother us that there are things in this life that we just can't handle on our own.  It shouldn't bother us that sometimes, we need God so desperately that we'd be willing to make a scene about it and stand up and say so.  We can't think that people must think less of us for needing God.

There's nothing to be ashamed about.  We were created for such.  We were created to crave Him.

We were created to walk beside our God.  To talk with Him.  To listen.  To touch Him.  To hold hands.  To follow footsteps.  To crush the grass under our feet together.  To share a cup of tea.  It got kind of all messed up when we tried to share an apple, but that doesn't mean that thousands of years later, we are not still created for this.  We absolutely are!

Then it serves to reason that without God beside me, my life has a tangible void.  An agonizing ache.  An excruciating emptiness.  And a profound vulnerability.

Because I wasn't created to do this on my own, and now it seems so many days like I have to.  By the nature of the separation, I am more alone than I was created to be.  And as we know from our experience of loneliness, being alone germinates other troubles.  Feelings of inadequacy.  Fear.  Doubt. Questions.  Anger.  Nervousness.  Anxiousness.

The only remedy we have for these is the filling of the void.  There are those among us who try to satiate themselves with the wine of this world - both the good and the bad of it - and somehow we think if we can find a way to fill it here, we can avoid that taboo touchy-feely awkward moment of approaching the altar.  Yet we are a people perpetually empty.

Because we were created to crave Him.

Nothing else is going to satisfy, and I don't know about you, but I get tired of chasing these other empty things.  I get tired of saying there has to be another way.  I've tried; there's not.  You've tried; is there?  No, of course not.  There simply isn't.  The only possible remedy for our gnawing hunger is to pour out our emptiness at the foot of His throne and plead with our Lord to fill us.

And I refuse to be ashamed to do so.  He is all I need.

You know what?  I'm going to go one step further and admit that He is all I want.  I don't care if you know that.  God has promised and proven Himself to be exactly everything He says He is, and that is better than any deal I've found walking this pavement.  He has promised to be faithful, and He is faithful.  He has promised to hear me, and He hears me.  He has promised never to leave me, and I can't get rid of the guy (er...the God).

He has promised to love and cherish and value and honor and discipline and forgive and humble and hold me, and He has done all of those things almost too a fault.  This God of almost too good for me.  Not that I could fault Him for that because He promised that, too.  He promised to be more than I'd ever think myself worthy of....and He promised to show me it's not about worth.  So here is the lesson of Love.

I want that.  I want that more than anything this world could ever offer me.  And you cannot convince me that is a bad thing.

We must be a people who run to God's altar.  We must be a people who run naked to His throne, our finest of robes flapping open in the wind.  We must be a people who don't care what people think of that because we aren't paying attention to people anyway.  We are running - hungry, thirsty, naked, empty - to humble ourselves before our God, to pour ourselves out and cry out for His living water.

Because we were created to crave Him.  We are a people who need our Lord.

That's nothing to be ashamed about.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Naked Altar

Never use stairs to go up to my altar.  Otherwise, people will be able to see under your clothes.  - Exodus 20:26

As His people wander the wilderness, God sets some ground rules for worship.  He has to; otherwise, human nature would have dictated that we do it all wrong.  One of these rules is that His people should never use stairs to go up to the altar.

In other words, God tells them not to place His holy place so high that they would have to raise - or exalt - themselves to get to Him.  Otherwise, everyone else will see under their clothes.

Newsflash: Under these clothes....we're all naked.

God's concern here is part modesty, of course.  It's just common sense to protect your most intimate areas from public viewing.  For everybody's sake.  But there's something deeper going on here, too.

Anytime we approach God's altar, a little bit of our nakedness shows.  A little bit of our inadequacy, our vulnerability, our shortcoming.  We're uncovering our need for God, and the very fact that we need such a God is an admission that somewhere in us is something bare.

Now, if we make a scene about approaching the altar, if we make a spectacle of ourselves getting there, if we set it up so that everyone has to watch as we ascend in holiness to God's special place, we're pretty much broadcasting that nakedness to the world.  And as humans, our tendency will be to focus on a man's shame rather than God's glory.

All we'll talk about is this nakedness.

Those of you who follow this blog know that near the end of the last year, I had the opportunity to walk forward in my church, approach the altar of God, join hands with a shepherd, and lay down my heart.  It was an incredible moment.  One that would not have been the same were it not for the orchestration of the invitation.

There was no stigma in walking that aisle.  No broadcast about coming there.  Everyone in the congregation was standing, engaged in worship; it would be harder to notice someone walking to the altar.  As opposed, of course, to everyone being seated with an open, silent invitation to come.  That's awkward.

Because you do think about it.  At least, I do.  You think about what people are going to say if they see you walking forward.  You think about the whispers that must be happening when they see you at the altar.  The whispers are all in your head, but you can hardly believe you'd be the only one thinking these things.  Surely, everyone is talking about you.  Surely, everyone is questioning.  Surely, everyone thinks there must be something wrong with you that you would go publicly before God just like that.  That you would dare to walk forward.

That's what God was safeguarding against.  That's why He said, "Never use stairs."  Never make it a production about your coming to Me.  Never make it a spectacle.  Never make it a thing that you would dare come before your God.  Honestly?  I can't wait to see you.

Never leave room for the whispers.  Never leave doubt in your mind.  Never entertain the thought that everyone is looking at you.

And never think you're somehow better than everyone, somehow higher, somehow holier because you would come to Me.  The minute you do, everyone will see that you're naked.

Then the focus will be on your shame and not His glory.  It is never about your shame.

That is why when we approach the throne of God, when we come to the altar, when we walk up to meet with Him (and we should do such things), we ought to humble ourselves.  We ought to bring ourselves low - crawling, clawing, desperate for Him.  Quietly thirsting, hungrily still.  So that it's not a spectacle.  So that it's not a stigma.  So that it's not a thing.

It's simply a moment.  A holy moment.  Not climbing high but brought low.

Then the whispers in the crowd, that thing we're all talking about, has nothing to do with the naked man.  The story of the altar is the glory of the Lord.

So go naked.  And go low.  And for Christ's sake, keep your pants on.  Nobody wants to see that.

We have enough under our own tunics.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Old Testament Overtime: Toting the Tabernacle

The Old Testament inspires me.  And quite often, I find it beautiful discordant with life in the 21st Century.  With OT OT (Old Testament Overtime), I'd like to explore some of those contrasts as they strike me.  Today:

Toting the Tabernacle.

After staging an impressive mass exodus from slavery in Egypt (by the hand of God, of course), the Israelites found themselves stumbling around the desert trying to redefine their relationship with God.  You see, Egypt had been all they knew, and as sick and twisted as it might have been, they knew who they were to God - and who God was to them - in that place.  They had figured out how to relate to Him as a slaved people, as a people who had God to hold onto in captivity and that was some comfort.

And they were hearing His promise of a promised land, an incredible inheritance flowing with milk and honey.  They heard Him talk about taking them there and what it would mean to be His chosen people in His destined place.  They held onto that hope and could kind of imagine what it might be like when they got there.  They figured out what that promise might really, actually mean and that  was some comfort, too.

In between was the desert.  They had no idea where they were.  Let alone where God might be.  They were somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow, somewhere between captive and promised, somewhere between where they knew who God was and where they thought they might see Him again.  And it was a tough place to be.

Enter the tabernacle.

God knew they were struggling.  He knew that now, more than ever, they needed to see Him.  They needed to know they were in His presence and He was in theirs, that in the in-between times, they could still know and love and relate to this God who had both led them out and was leading them on.  He knew they needed His tangible presence within their community.  So He instructed Moses to build Him a tent.

The people brought gold, silver, and bronze to donate to the building of the tent of meeting, and those donations were then fashioned into a dwelling for the glory of the Lord - by smoke and by fire.  The finished product, according to Exodus 38, used 2,193 pounds of gold, 7,544 pounds of silver, and 5,310 pounds of bronze.  That is 15,047 pounds - more than 7 tons - of tabernacle.

Seven and a half tons of tabernacle that the people of God carried with them everywhere they went for nearly forty years in the desert.  All so that they could remember where God stood among them...and where they stood with Him.  The glory of the Lord can be quite a burden.

There is a simple genius in this, though.  When God weighs seven and a half tons, you don't just pick up and move whenever you feel like it.  Even if you're wandering.  

The Israelites never on a whim simply "broke camp" and moved on.  They waited on the Lord to guide them. When the glory of the Lord shifted and started to move, they packed up His tent and followed Him.  When His glory settled, they set everything back up and settled in until the Lord guided them to move again.

We could use a little of that discipline.  Here we are, a people in the between times.  We know how God was when we first met Him, when we sort of thought we knew how to relate to Him.  We imagine how He might be when we get where we're going, when we settle into the Promised Land.  Yet between yesterday and tomorrow, we're wandering.

Too often, we don't know where we're going or where God is, so we figure we ought to go anywhere at all and that He will meet us there.  That's a common myth in our Christian circles - that we just have to move and God will go with us.  We know the burden of the myth because in all our moving, in all our wandering, we're keenly aware how difficult it can sometimes be to pack God up and try to take Him with us.

You see, the glory of the Lord can be quite a burden.

Sometimes, we're better off waiting in our wandering.  Holding still.  Settling down for awhile, even though we all want to "get there."  Settle in here, where God has settled, and wait on Him to move.  Wait on Him to show you where to move.  Wait on Him to start shifting and then pack up and go where He's leading you.  Then when His glory settles in, settle down.  

It's not like you'd want to go anywhere without Him anyway.  If you're willing to wait, if you're willing to listen, if you're willing to follow, the Lord does the heavy lifting.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Great Big Normal

Yesterday, I theorized that a world of virtual unreality is keeping us from touching our God.  Today, I want to expand on that and let you in on what I think is the greatest obstacle to our personal interaction with our Lord.

Frankly, we've made Him too big.

In the early pages of Genesis, God walks with Adam and Eve in the Garden.  He wrestles with Jacob in an isolated place.  He knocks on Lot's door and stays the night in Sodom.  Later, we see Him meeting with Moses on a mountain, carving commandments into stone by His own hand.  And eventually, walking a road to Calvary.

For the past couple of years as I have read through the Bible more than once, I keep looking for that verse that says, "And then the Lord left their presence, enlarged Himself, and took His place in the sky to loom over His people from an unreachable Heaven."  I haven't found it yet.

Let me ask you to consider this: when you think about God calling out Adam's name in the big is He?  In my mind, I get kind of the flowy robe image of God who is slightly obscured so that you can't really see Him and yet, is somehow perfectly sized so that you could imagine touching Him.  I can imagine what it might be like to be Eve, to be standing next to God, and to look down and see an actual foot.  Because in the Garden, God must have walked on actual feet.

Or what about when God wrestles with Jacob?  How big do you imagine He must be?  Jacob nearly beat Him.  They wrestled until morning, and Jacob didn't know it was the Lord.  If the Lord was so much bigger than all of us, as we so frequently imagine, don't you think Jacob would have known the Lord by size, if not by sight?

Or how big is the God who knocks on your door?  A disembodied hand as the sun begins to set?  We know He could do so; we've seen the writing on the wall.  But how does such a giant Lord come into a modest home for a night's protection?

We know God is great.  We know He is incredible grander than we ever imagined.  We know there are the times where He is bigger than everything - when His presence fills the temple with fire and smoke, when the aforementioned hand writes on the wall, and so on.  We even sing that He has the whole world in His hand.  And if His hand is big enough to hold the whole world, then how much bigger must our whole God be?

And yes, we know that God can take the form of a man.  It does not shock us to think of this as an actual possibility - that in these stories I've mentioned, it is obviously the great big God becoming wholly normal and appearing as human for our sake, for our eyes to see.  Maybe there's truth in that.

But what if God does not so much morph down to a "man" He morphs up to a "God"?

I think it's the human form that God prefers.  He created man in His image and chose, from the start, to walk with him.  He chose, from the beginning, to put Himself next to man so that the experience of God was a tangible, relational, physical interaction.  So that you could see and hear and smell and touch and talk to God.

Eye of God, as taken by NASA's Hubble telescope.
Then here we are today, and somehow, we've made Him so big that we forget about that.  We never consider the possibility that we could actually touch God.  That we could talk to Him the way we talk to our friends and our families.  That we could hear Him speak.  That God...has a smell.  A smell!

It wasn't that long ago, or at least it seems not that long ago, that NASA released images from its Hubble telescope of the "Eye of God" - a nebula formation in some far-off piece of the heavens that certainly looks like an eye.  And that's kind of what we think of God.  That's how we have been relating to Him.

Yet, I long for the days when God wasn't so big.  When He dared walk among His people and actually engage with them.  And I have no reason to believe He doesn't still do so.  I have no reason to assume God is past that phase in His relationship with us.  I have no reason to think that I haven't already run into Him nor should I believe that I never will again.  I refuse to believe in a God who "doesn't do that any more" because my God has told me He is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever.  Which means He has got to be here somewhere.

He just can't stay away.

What I want you to think about, then, is this image of a great big God we all seem so content to worship.  What would it mean to your faith if God was....well, still great big but somehow normal?  The kind of God who would walk beside you, and you could look down and see His foot.  The kind of God who would wrestle with you in an isolated place and let you almost win.  The kind of God who would knock on your door as the sun was setting, just to see if you had a place for Him to stay.  The kind of God who smells like something.  (Probably not Teen Spirit, but then again, what do I know?)

Would you be disappointed if your great big God looked less like the heavens and more like, well, you? What would you say to a God who doesn't look like NASA's telescope has seen but looks more like...this?

I think I'd say "Hello."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Virtual Unreality

Did you know that Legos is a video game?

Apparently, it is a series of video games with all different characters and adventures and things to do and stuff to see and virtual things to erect.

It makes me kind of sad, if you want to know the truth.  Ok, very sad.  Because Legos are something that shouldn't be an adventure; Legos are a creation.  The adventure comes when you are able to walk through your creation, to make up stories to go along with it, to wind new paths and build new structures and expand and expound on this crazy idea that you came up with in your own head and turned into reality with your own hands and it's not always pretty (I've been playing real, traditional Legos with the niece and nephew), but it's yours.  And somehow, you make it pretty.

And while there is something to be said for not having the unpleasant surprise of stepping on a virtual Lego, it's just a little hard to swallow that we live in a world where your Legos are now someone else's story and you're just playing along.

Then there's the current Beyonce drama.  Did she or did she not sing live at the inaugural ceremony?  A debate for the I care.  It's just that we seem to be a nation torn between those who have embraced this kind of virtual unreality - that one could sing without singing and be credited for the moment - and the purists who invest in something so real as being present for the moment.

Progressively, we are becoming a society of virtual unreality where the fake opportunities mimic the once-upon-a-time real wonders of our tangible universe, and though we can't put our fingers on it (literally), something about the digital world speaks to us.

It's easier, we say.  It's cleaner.  It's more constant.  It's quicker.  It's more stable.  It's more safe.

And yet, in the grand scheme of things, it's a lot less than anything.  It is so much less than anything that all of our unreality is virtually nothing.

Can you smell a digital rose?  Feel the blades of digitized grass beneath your feet?  Does the light from the television warm your face?

It is true perhaps most in relationships.  Does your interaction with a friend or loved one through Facebook or twitter or email make you content for things to stay that way?  Or does it increase your longing to really love them, to embrace, to stand in the driveway and talk for awhile, to share a real cup of coffee and maybe a biscotti?  

The further we get from actually touching our world, the more this desire builds within us for something to be real.

The same could be said of our God.

We have created this God that is kind of "out there" and "up there" and "somewhere" but "not here."  We have created this God who is more a figment of our imaginations than a friend whose hand we could actually hold.  We are content to have Him in this other-worldly realm where He's not really something we could put our finger on, but when the time is right and we have a few moments, we plug in and start playing in His story.  Which isn't a story we feel like we're part of creating any more, so much as some holy world we're walking through in a leisurely moment, just to escape from this one for awhile.  We are content to create Him and give Him tomorrow while pretending this is our moment today.

Call me a purist, but I believe in more than that.

I believe if we want to have a God, if we want to have this God, if we want to believe in Him and live our lives by Him, then we have to get Him out of the clouds (or the cloud, for you digital-agers) and get our hands on Him.  We have to go old-school and dare to imagine our own story, something we collaborate with Him and build together.  Something we put our hands to.  A journey with God that we can actually walk through, wind new paths and build new structures and expand and expound on this crazy idea that there is a God not "out there" but "right here" who is building and creating and imagining right beside us and that although it's not always pretty, together we somehow make it pretty.

I believe we have to be willing to sing today, out loud, and take the risk that our voice might crack or we might forget the words or the wind might blow or the mic might cut out.  I believe that we have to engage in the opportunities before us and actually live them because I'm just not content with the idea of an out-there Godosphere where we talk about a God who says He is with us and then we dare not take Him at that word.

I believe that if we believe in a God, if we believe in this God, then it's no wonder we are a people hungry for Him.  We are a people who have far-too-long contented ourselves to drop Him an email or a quick little prayer, to connect through a short message or a status update, when all that talk that seems so good is only building in us a deeper longing to really love Him.  To embrace Him.  To be embraced by Him.  To stand in the driveway and talk for awhile.  To share a real cup of coffee and maybe a biscotti.  (Is that unleavened bread?)

This God that we've settled on is a lot less than the God that He says He is.  Stuck in an intangible unreality, this God is virtually not anything.

But our tangible God is really everything.

And I'd risk stepping on an actual Lego if it brought me one step closer to touching Him.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Trust Out Loud

It wasn't that long ago that I made a bold declaration of faith.  That Lord, today, I am trusting you for today.

The truth is that while yes, I declared my trust for the Lord in that moment, it only came after nine long years of an agonizingly similar prayer.  Yet with one simple statement of belief, I was able to finally live it.


Because for every morning, noon, or night that I had prayed that prayer, for every anguished tear I had cried asking the Lord to come and be something I could believe in, for all the exasperated and desperate moments I had pleaded with Him to answer my lowly prayer, I had also harbored a second thought (or a back-thought) in my own heart and mind.  And that was this:

Man, if this works, I am going to remember how I did this so that next time, it doesn't take so long.

Surprise.  Such a prayer never works, and in nine years of experience, let me assure it - it never works.  It never worked for me, and in fact, it kind of drew me away from God a great ways because I started to wonder just what it was about me that wasn't worth answering.  Or worse yet, what I was doing wrong that made my tear-filled prayer so disgusting to the Lord that He wouldn't even humor me.

One small, out loud statement of faith that not only could God, but God would and was and is and has and will, allowed me to live like my prayer had been answered.

It had.  The answer was in the surrender.

It was in giving the moment and the situation and the fear and the faith fully to my Father, who does love and hear and respond to me.  It was in saying it out loud so that I could never take it back.  And so that I wouldn't have to.  It was in doing more than simply saying I was giving it to Him; it was in actually letting go and letting those words linger out there without having a claim on them any more.  Without having one hand ready to draw them back in.

Which is kind of how I think most of us pray.  We think when we get it, when we hit it right, not only will we reap the rewards of answered prayer, but we will harbor the secret to being heard and we will be able to remember that for next time, to know how our God answered us and what magic we put into it.

Oddly enough, this is precisely what Prayse, my book-in-progress, is all about.  And here I am guilty of precisely the same.  Oh, how I pray to live more before my Lord.

When you put your statement of trust out there and let go of it, you really let God and God really gets to.  You won't be able to say there is any good in you, any spectacular thing that you have done.  You have open admitted your need and your inability, your weakness and your timidity and you have given that out there as a standing testament to what measly little bit you are.

Whatever happens next becomes a testament wholly to who God is.  And you just can't take that back.

What's more, the world won't let you.  Because they have seen your statement of trust and they know it wasn't you.  You can't pretend that it was.  Anyone who loves you will call you on that.  And the next time you're faced with an agonizing prayer, you'll remember this moment and you'll wonder what it was that you did this time, and there stands your statement of faith that didn't do anything but give it all up and put it all out there and let Him go haywire with it.

And that much, He does.  You give it wholly to Him and He shows you what holy means.  God will knock your socks off.

In that, there is the greatest good.  For you get an answer to your aching heart, a true word you can hang your hat on.  And the world watching sees what faith really looks like, what tangible trust is.  And everyone witnesses the promise of God...which gives us all reason to believe a little more, question a little less, pray a little harder, and trust out loud.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

For Richer or Poorer

This is one of those very rare instances in my life where I'm looking to earn a little extra money.  There is an incredible opportunity for ministry, really for God to move through my life something awesome, and it takes a small up-front investment to make that happen.  In fact, the investment is so small that I could pull that money out of savings and go for it.

If God had not put it so deeply on my heart to purposely earn the token sum that I need and set it aside for this very work.

There's nothing wrong with a little hard work.  In fact, I very much appreciate the opportunity.  However, the odd relationship I have with money makes it hard to even a little bit.

Because I won't take a dime from someone I know is poorer than me.  And I am a very rich young woman.

It's not that I have a lot of money.  I don't.  But I don't have a whole lot of need, either.  Everything I have ever needed has found its way into my life or I have found a way to seek it out, and I have an incredible God who takes absolutely wonderful care of me.  In this regard, I am very rich.

So I'll get an offer to do this or that.  An offer for someone to buy something.  And I see the way they like it or the way they need it or some void that whatever I can sell or service will do for them...and I can't accept any money for that.  I can't.  God has gifted me to be able to do these things.  He has gifted me to have these things with which I can part.  So who am I to charge another for the gift that I've been given in order to give it away?

It's a problem.

Not a big one.

Of course, I also make the argument (honestly) quite often that what I am able to do for people doesn't seem like a lot.  To them, I know it does, but since I have been gifted this way, it doesn't seem like anything to me.  The work seems so small and insignificant for the joy set before us.  Who am I to set a price on that?

I am content to just give it all away.  I am content to do what I am able and gifted and joyful to do for the sake of someone else.  It makes me happy to give myself away.  Money kind of ruins all that.  It takes the joy out of it for me.  A lot.

Which puts me in a tough pickle in a moment like this where God has convicted me that for this chance, for this moment, I ought to put my hands and my excess to work and earn what He's asking me to give.  How do you earn the money when you're content for the joy God has given you to give freely?

And yet, I am not so worried about such things.  It only provides a greater opportunity to marvel at the way God has knit my life together.  The way that the money absolutely will show up, at just the right time and in just the right moment, which is probably going to be just agonizingly after I start to worry about such things a little bit.  The way I will find a way to give of myself, to work in my giftedness as God has made me able, and to refuse to take payment from a world that is poorer than I am...and still somehow end up giving it away and walking away richer...with the needed monies to boot.

It's the way I find that God works in my life.  One of many.

It's one of my greatest pleasures in life - to watch how God's about to work it all out and then rejoice in the goodness that is all His.

That said, I am looking to earn a small bit of money in order to pursue the opportunity God has laid before me.  Before you say it, yes, I know.  There are those of you reading who would just give me the cash if I asked you for it; that is not on my heart.  Not this time.  I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities later for you to use your wealth to bless me in my richness.  This is not that time.  If you know of something I can do for you or someone else, though, please let me know.

I might even let you pay me.  Given of course, that you're richer than me.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Unopened Gift

By now, you know that I love what I do.  I am humbled and amazed at the gift of writing, of language, of message that God has put in me - whatever you want to call it.  And it's really awesome to watch this gift unfold as days go by.

But there are also days I'd rather quit.  Those are the days that you tell me that I'm so good at what I do.

Yes, there are actually people like this.  I run into it with increasing frequency, and at first, I took it as the great compliment that they intended it to be; these days, I'm less encouraged.

Because these individuals will look me straight in the eye, shake my hand, and tell me that I'm very good at what I do.  (Thank you.)  They will then proceed to tell me about an unwritten story in their lives, something they've wanted to sit down and write but have never gotten around to.  And now, they say, it won't do them much good because they "will never be as good of a writer as [I] am."


And I know it's meant as a compliment, but let me say it again: OUCH.  Here's why:

You may not know this about me, but growing up, I was that kid in art class...that sat next to the really good, fantastic, super fantabulous artist.  I sat next to the kid whose ash trays had little birds sitting around the edges, who could pick up a pen and pencil and create a fantastical world, who could look at a bowl of fruit and draw something that actually looked edible, and who could bring a simple stick figure to life with just a little definition.  I was the kid who sat next to the kid to whom art came easy, or so I thought, though I now realize how much discipline goes into it.

I was the kid who sat next to the kid whose sheer raw talent, incredible passion, intent discipline, and obvious gift made me feel like I never could.  Like the best I would ever get out of a pencil was something worthy of the Frigidaire.  And only then because my mother would have mercy on me.

I had this burning passion inside me for art.  To draw.  To sketch.  To create.  To make something.  But all I had to do was cheat off my neighbor's paper, and I knew without a doubt I'd never get there.  It wasn't in me.

My work showed as much.  In the last week or two in all my purging, I came across my old art projects.  "A++" branded across the top, although today, I'd be embarrassed to put them on my own fridge.  They aren't what you might call "good."  I remember vividly the year I was really going to go after it and create the 4-H drawing that all fair-goers would be jealous of.  I sat outside our town's courthouse for hours and counted bricks, to make sure I got just the right number in my drawing of this beautiful historic landmark.  That drawing sucks.  It almost sort of maybe kind of looks  No, it doesn't look like it at all.

And the year my parents decided each of us kids could paint one mural of our choosing on our bedroom walls.  My brother tooned up his wall, tastefully, with a small caricature of his guinea pig standing on top of the world.  My other brother opted out.  I determined to show them both up and painted a much-too-large, probably 8-foot-tall and disproportionately-wide portrait of Jonathan Taylor Thomas (my then-crush) that subsequently scared the bejeezus out of me, but I had to pretend I liked it because I had gone so confidently and obstinately into the whole project.

I wanted it to be good.  The whole time I was working on any of these projects, I knew they would be good.  They would be great!  Because the passion of art was lurking somewhere just under my questions, and somewhere inside of me, there was an artist who believed she could do this.  Who wanted to do this.  And who wouldn't stop until she got there....or until she looked at her neighbor's paper.

I know what it's like to be intimidated by someone who seems to be a whole lot better than you.  You know something?  It kills whatever good you're on the verge of offering into this world.

For me, it took a college roommate, who happened to be an art major (story of my life).  Not only did she encourage me to go after my passion, but she brought me in on some of the things she was doing. Things that, ok, maybe she was too lazy to do by herself, but everything is more fun with a friend.  And through our joint ventures in art, we fed off each other.  I spurred her inventive side, and she spurred my creative side and together, I think we both found confidence.

There were days I looked at her and said I wasn't good enough.  That she was better at it and I shouldn't even try.  She'd look right back at me and call me on my faithlessness or lack of courage.  She told me I could, and after so many years of cheating off someone's paper, she gave me the courage to turn back to my own.

Today, art is a part of what I do.  It's not my major gift; I don't earn a lot of money for it, although I do contract as a graphic designer.  I am honored to be able to gift friends and loved ones well with creations of my own hand.  And it still makes me smile.

Which is why when someone tells me they were going to write this or that, or they were going to tell this story, but I'm "so good" at what I do that they don't even feel like trying, I am discouraged.  It makes me consider quitting what I do (or at least not doing it so publicly).

God has given each of us a gift.  The purpose of our gift is to glorify Him and to encourage one another.  It doesn't matter if you're the best at what you do, the worst to ever try it, or somewhere in between; someone will be encouraged by what you do.  Just as I would hope to encourage someone else to write their story by what I do.

If it's not that, then I can't help but question if what I do is worth it.  If what brings me so much joy, this gift I am honored and humbled to receive.  This word I am trying to turn and give back.  The passion and incredible mercy with which I am able to do this....if all that is worth even one other gift remaining unopened.

(For the record, I am not that good at what I do, but I am very blessed when I am doing it.  That much, I firmly believe.  I will never come close to matching His words, but I surrender my gift to honor them as best as I can with my own.  The very few words He lets me borrow.)

I dare you today to stop looking over your shoulder, to stop cheating off your neighbor's paper, and open your gift.  Even if that means you have to make room on the refrigerator.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Every Incredible Thing

I don't think Jesus thought so much about the things He did.  Not the act of doing them, anyway.

Which is amazing since Jesus did some pretty incredible things.

He turned gallons of water into the finest of wines.  He broke bread not once, but twice, to feed thousands of growling bellies.  He walked on water to calm His disciples in a raging storm.

And I know if I had been there, if i had been standing at the water, I would have rubbed my hands together and thought, "This will be awesome.  Watch this."

Not Jesus.  His thoughts were on the party.  The celebration and the joy.  He wasn't consciously demonstrating anything of Himself; He wasn't out to prove a point.  He had the ability to pour a lavish gift on those in His company, and He did not hesitate to do so, though He admitted this wasn't really what He'd had in mind for His coming out party.  It was still a party, so He provided.

And I know that if I had been there, if I had been holding the breadbasket, I would have started counting crumbs.  I would have done the math and figured out just how much everyone could have, to seem gracious while working within my measly means.

Not Jesus.  His thoughts were on the famished.  The hungry.  He didn't hold up the loaves and profess the miracle He was about to do; He answered His disciples' doubts quietly and did the math.  He gave as much as everyone needed, not only seeming gracious but actually being so, knowing He had enough food to give.  So He gave.

And I know that if I had been there, if I had been shore-side in the storm, I would have shouted platitudes.  I would have run along the shoreline, promising my presence as soon as the waves broke.  I would have shouted to my friends that I'd meet them on the other side.

Not Jesus.  His thoughts were on the stranded, the alone.  He didn't stop to wonder what would happen if they saw Him walking on the water.  He didn't stop to think about what it would mean to defy the laws of physics.  His friends, His beloveds, were desperate for His presence, for His reassuring peace, and a little bit of water nor some crazy storm would stop Him from getting to them.  So He went.

Jesus doesn't think about what it will mean to do the things He's about to do, except what it will mean to the hearts of the men He's going to meet.  When His children cry out to Him - when they celebrate, when they hunger, when they wander, when they worry - He does whatever it takes to get to them.  He does whatever He needs to in order to get there.  Physics isn't His worry, and neither is the impression He will make.

Because He's not so interested in us knowing Him as a God who can walk on water.  Although that's pretty cool.  And He doesn't care if we watch Him break bread until the sun rises.  Again, it's neat, but it's not the God-thing.  Nor does He care much if we know that the best wine come from holied water.  That's not what God is doing.  It's what He's done, but it's not what He's doing.

What God is doing is coming to meet us here.  What He is doing is engaging His people, engaging in this world.  Do you praise a God who defies the very laws of nature that He put into place?  Then all hail Houdini!  That's magic; that's not mystery.

But you stand in awe of a God who defies the very laws of nature that He put into get to you.  You praise the God who comes after you.  You praise the God who celebrates with you, who feeds you, who comes to meet you, who calms you in the storm and then, who calms the storm.  You can't help but glorify the God who will do whatever it takes to get to you.

That's why we praise Him.  That's why we love Him.  That's why He gets to be our God.

And I know that if I had been there, if I had walked the road to Calvary, I would have questioned what good three nails would do.  I would have wondered why I'd have to die like this.  I'd have made a scene; shouted and yelled and declared the glory of what was about to happen.

Not Jesus.  His thoughts were on His children.  He didn't worry about the piercing pain.  He didn't think about what it would mean to a world waiting on a messiah to watch a man die like this.  He didn't concern Himself with what sense the world could make of an empty grave.  His children needed someone to bridge the gap.  They needed someone to close the distance, to come after them so that they could get to Him.  They needed someone to get to them.

So He died.

Every incredible thing God ever did was not to demonstrate that He could.  It was to demonstrate that He would...if only it would bring Him close to you.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Small Pond

Do you ever feel like a big fish in a small pond?  We all do at one time or another.  A small glimpse of some hidden energy or power within us inspires us to bigger seas.

One caution: the answer isn't a bigger pond.

As a girl, I went fishing a handful of times.  You know, if someone else baited the hook and also removed slimy fish from that same hook at the appropriate times.  And the one thing you can't help but recognize about the ol' fishin' hole - usually a pond around these parts - is the thick layer of algae that collects around the shores.  It stifles the water, and once that growth takes hold, it is not long before the whole pond is scum.

It's because there is fairly little to stir the waters.  Very little to make them move.  A pond is self-standing; it makes its home in one place and is fed by merely the rainwaters washing into its recesses.  There is no feeder system, no river or lake or ocean to keep fresh water flowing in.  It ebbs and flows only with the weather.  In good times, there is a pond.  In bad times, there is a crater.  Somewhere in between, there is scum.

Which is kind of how most of us are living.

We've settled ourselves into our small ponds.  These little places in the world that we've carved out for ourselves.  These places that seem to make sense.  Beautiful, maybe.  Nice and insulated.  Secluded.  Tucked away into a habitat that is specially ours.  Every once in awhile, someone might check in on us.  Might try to fish our depths for a morsel of protein, one solid contribution we can make, but for the most part, we're left alone to simply be as we are.

In our little ponds, we're moved only by the weather.  In good times, we are filled.  A little rain reminds us of the presence of God and saturates our soil with His life-giving water.  In bad times, we are emptied and the parched land of our heart leaves us questioning whether there is a God at all.  Somewhere in between, there is scum.

Because we stagnate here.  We're not moving.  We're sitting around, not doing much of anything.  There's nothing to feed us, and by our nature, we're not feeding anything.  Nothing's coming in; nothing's going out.  Save, of course, the few glimpses of God we get from watching the sky.  The longer we stay here, the more aware we are that there is still somehow life teeming within us.  Still something growing, something thriving.  Something we can offer.  And it's suffocated by the algae that is crowding our shores.  The scum that is pushing in on us and seems just to make our pond smaller.

Then we think we've got to get out of here.  We need a bigger pond.

No.  We need a river.

Jesus says, "Everyone who drinks this water will become thirsty again.  But those who drink the water that I will give them will never become thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give them will become in them a spring that gushes up to eternal life."  (John 4:13-14)

We are a people filled with living water.  Living.  Water that runs in a spring, that flows from the highest to the lowest places.  Water that starts in the mountains and ends in the sea and is always moving, always flowing, chipping away at the rut and the dirt, cutting a new groove, and flowing over a parched world.  There's no thirst in living water for the pond.  It needs a place to move.

There's no room in the pond for living water.  It has no room to grow.

Our problem is not that we're a big fish in a small pond.  Our problem is that we're in a pond at all.  We won't answer the nagging in our hearts by moving to a bigger pond, by finding a bigger place to stagnate.  We can only answer our restless energies by putting them to use in the springs.  By living and working and loving and flowing through our world, wherever that leads us.  By connecting ourselves to the source of this water at the top of the mountain and letting it flow down through us, cutting a path to the sea.  Disturbing the rut and the dirt on the way.

Then we're not moved by weather because the water always flows.  We don't waver when there is rain or when there is drought because the source of our spring is constant.  It is Christ.

Christ, the fisher of men.  Who plucks big fish from small ponds and small fish from big ponds and scared fish from dark ponds and dead fish from scummed ponds.  The question is, little fish: are you happy as a scumsucker?  Or will you let yourself be caught?

Will you let your God catch you up in rushing waters, in springs of life, in streams from the mountains, in rivers to the sea?  Will you let your God catch you and clean you and set you about in living waters - which are both in you and that in which you are to live?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Ministry

"Can I play?"

It's the way every good game begins.  Someone has some idea against idleness and sets about playing, and the simple pleasure of the act attracts an audience.  Inevitably, someone asks to join and a game is born.

And this is the way our greatest ministries begin.

I'm not talking about formalized ministries.  Not named missions.  I'm not talking about the foundations of the Fourteenth Church of the Christ's Chosen People or anything like that.  I'm talking about the movements among us that are our real ministries; our everyday passions that are our given missions.

They all start with one among us - is it you? - coming up with some idea against idleness.  It starts with one of us deciding to play a little bit.  And the simple pleasure of our act draws a crowd.

This is not the idleness of not having enough to do.  Lord knows most of our days seem filled to the brim already.  This is the idleness of sitting on the sidelines, of watching the world unfold before our eyes and seeing the need that is enveloping our communities....and doing nothing.  This is the idleness that eats away at us as we discover and know that we have something to offer here, if we were just a people who would do something.

At first, it doesn't seem like anything.  Maybe we give it a go and start something up, and it doesn't look like anything.  You know, when James Naismith started tossing peaches in a bucket, people probably didn't think that was much of anything.  After enough people watched what seemed like not really anything, someone asked, "Can I play?", and the whole peach bucket timekiller was formalized into basketball - a grand communal timekiller (and I say that with all due respect to March Madness coming up) but that somehow draws us together and we feel like we're a part of something.

We are a part of something.

Imagine if Mr. Naismith had sat on his stump, looked at his peach bucket, twiddled his thumbs, and concluded not to waste his time on something that was really nothing.  What on earth would we do with our March?

Now imagine all of the people - all of God's people - who are sitting on their stump (or preaching from it, as is the case with so many who dare not actually act), looking at their peach baskets overflowing with both the gift and the inspiration of God to do something, and concluding that they can't waste their time on something that seems like really nothing.

It's easy to do.  The problems of this world are a whole lot bigger than one little me.  Or one little you. Whatever we come up with, whatever it seems like we can do when we're itching to break our idleness, when we're motivated to get off the stump, doesn't seem to be a whole lot of anything.  Maybe you clothe a homeless family...but there are millions more you cannot even see, let alone reach. Maybe you feed a hungry child.  You can hear the growling of millions more little bellies.  Maybe you hold the hand of a cancer patient during one more round of chemo.  You can't help but notice the patient in the next bed whose loneliness speaks through the tears in her eyes.

We, alone, cannot help everyone.  So it's easy to conclude that we can't, or that we shouldn't, help anyone.  We sit on our stumps and content ourselves in idleness because whatever we've come up with is barely more.  It's silliness, at best.  It's some game.  It's like we'd be playing with the problems of this world rather than solving them.

It's a drop in the proverbial bucket.

But that's how they all start.  That's how every good thing gets going.  It starts with one person taking a stand against their idleness and doing something - even something silly.  It takes them delighting in one little act of mercy or grace or love or whatever greater thing it happens to be.  We call this ministry.  And the truth is, if it didn't seem silly and if you weren't throwing yourself into the pleasure of it, hardly anyone would bother to look.

It's the novelty of the idea, the silliness, the energy of the game that makes a person stop.  They look incredulously at you and ask, "What are you doing?"

And you answer.  And maybe your answer doesn't seem like anything, either.  Maybe you can't really articulate why you're doing what you're doing.  Maybe you can talk about the problem a little bit, about what you've seen in the world and how you've chosen to respond.  Maybe you can talk about the greater issue.  But maybe you can't.  That would be ok, too.

Because once you start doing something, it's not about how good a game you talk.  It's about how good a game you're playing.  How well you're going after something.  How well you're hitting the point.  Keep after it.  Go in your gift and do what is something, even when it seems like nothing.

Inevitably, the day will come when someone - Lord knows who - will step up in their own restless idleness, will watch what you are doing, will realize it doesn't seem like anything but that they want in anyway.  And someone will ask you,

Can I play?

That's where ministry is born.  Then everybody's doing it.  And big things start to happen.

We are in a time in our nation, in our society, in our communities, when a whole lot of people seem content to stand on their stumps and talk about what our problems are.  Stand on the stump and declare that somebody has to do something.  I'm weary of the talking.  I'm somebody.  So are you.

Do something today to break your idleness.  Do something to stand against the brokenness you can't help but notice in the world.  Do something more than talk.  Do something that begs the world's question: "Can I play?"

Make a drop in the bucket.

Two points.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

One Eye Open

Sometimes, I think we believe in God the same way we don't believe in ghosts.

Be honest.  Every time you're in a spooky situation with a group of your friends (or later, when you're telling the story), there's always someone who says, "I don't believe in ghosts."  And no matter who says it or how many times they've said it or how bravely or confidently they say it, whoever utters those five words inevitably looks a little edgy for a second, looking around with one eye open to the possibility, their body language asking that one simple question: 


I mean, I don't believe in ghosts.  ...unless there happens to be one here.  And then your mind starts to play tricks on you and every little thing becomes the evidence that maybe you're wrong.  Maybe there is such a thing as ghosts.  All of these innocuous things that in any other moment, you'd attribute rightfully to the mundane become suddenly suspicious, as if you just don't know any more.  The house settles.  Did you hear that creak?  The wind shifts.  Can you smell the cigarette smoke?  You kind of get a little chill.  Is there something out there?

It's kind of the way we profess our faith in God, too.  It's kind of the way we dare to say He's out there.  Something goes bump in the night, and we're looking for an answer, and what we come up with is that there is a God, and He is good.  But we say that with merely one eye open.

Waiting to see if God will show up.  Waiting to see what He's going to do.  Waiting to make sure that "Yes, there is a God" is the right answer to the present situation.

When we say there is a God with but one eye open to the possibility, what we are making is not a statement of belief; it is a question of faith.

Then our minds start to play tricks on us and every little thing becomes the evidence that maybe you're right.  Of course there is a God.  All of these innocuous things that in any other moment, you'd attribute rightfully to the mundane become suddenly supernatural, evidence of the God you think you might believe in.  Life settles.  Are you on a streak?  The wind whispers.  Can you hear His voice?  You kind of get a little chill.  Is God really out there?

But this isn't faith.  This is our hesitation to move and our willingness to passively resign ourselves to a God, which is nothing more than our idea of the possibility of a God.  It is our declaring that He is, and then waiting on Him to prove Himself and make the first move before we follow.

Worse yet, this does not give us an accurate understanding of God.  Just as lore has convinced us that the ghosts are in the noises, the creaks, the rattling chains, the squeaking doors, the invisible smoke, so too does our question of faith convince us that God is in the innocuous things, the mundane, the things that would likely have happened anyway but seem somehow holy because with one eye open, we were looking for Him.

I'm not saying God is not in the mundane.  He is.  It's just that if we are a people who truly believe in God, we wouldn't be able to say so with just one eye open.  We wouldn't be harboring the question.  We wouldn't be waiting on Him to answer our lingering question:  Of course there is a God. ..."Right?"

If we were a people who truly believed in God, we would say so with eyes wide open, knowing that whatever He is doing could never be mistaken for the mundane.  When we believe in God, we believe in His power and His glory.  We believe in His mercy and His love.  We believe in His goodness and His grace.  And these are not the quiet things we might mistake for something else.  These are the radical realities of faith.

Faith is knowing.  Faith is confidently trusting not only that there is a God, but that our God is who He says He is.  If He is who He says He is, then we ought to be a bold people, stepping out and takings risks, not settling for the quiet, mundane life that we can somehow wrap around Him.

We ought to be a people who wrap our God around us.  Now that's a statement of faith.

By that faith, we are able to confidently say, "Of course there is a God!"


Monday, January 14, 2013

Self-Sustaining Prophecy

The promise of a Savior is a self-sustaining prophecy.  That is, nobody needs to keep telling the story of what God has promised to do; by virtue of living in a fallen world, most of us are already hanging all over the idea that there has to be more than this.  You even make a whisper of Jesus - the answer to this - and people are ready to jump on board.  The mere idea that there's something, or Someone, greater out there is enough to keep the hope alive.

And yet, here we are as a people of faith, and it seems that we're still living in that long-awaited prophecy.  Living, waiting on the Messiah.  Told, believing that He has come so that He can be coming and that one day - one day - He will answer the prophetic longings in our hearts that are hanging on the hope that He is coming.

It's nice.  It's part of the God package, and it's nice.  But in a world hurting for faith, I don't think it does us any good to be people living on the promise of the Christ.  Nor does it do us any good to keep talking about it.  

What we need is to be people who live and talk about the Promise, Christ.

Not the prophecy, but the Prophet.  The one who came to speak truth into this life.  Not the one who showed up to show up that He will show up again.

We are a people who will always hold out hope for heaven.  We are a people who believe in that, regardless of the depth of our faith in that promise.  We're all waiting on that day when all this makes sense or at least it gets better and with the quiet suggestion that this thing is out there while we're looking in the mirror of this world, I don't think that hope is going away any time soon.

But what about today?  What good is tomorrow's hope for heaven if today is pure hell?

Our world is looking for a God who is present here and now.  A God whose promise is real and tangible for these days, for these times.  Do you know what happens when you tell the world about a God who is coming tomorrow?  They think they have until tomorrow to believe in Him.

And we, the people who already believe in Him, spend more time believing in His tomorrow than crying out for Him today.  I want a God who answers me right now.  I want a God who is standing right beside me.  I want a God who holds my hand and touches my heart and tells me this is all going to be ok.  I want a God who brings the fullness of His power that even fathoms such a thing as Heaven and indwells that in my life today, to face the problems I'm facing, to answer the questions I'm asking, to be the God I need today.

I have that God.  You have that God.  But we're all just sitting here, content that this isn't Heaven but that tomorrow might be because of the promise of Christ.

Christ is the promise!

Christ, right now, is the promise.  For the next life, and for this one.  He is the presence of the promise that said God isn't just coming; He has come.  He is here.  He has been in this flesh and now He is in this flesh - mine and yours.

It's what makes His tomorrow worth believing in.  All religions have some promise as to what happens to us after we die.  Where we go.  What we do.  What becomes of what we were.  What we will be.  The difference in Christ is that through the Promise Himself, we have reason to believe we can believe in that promise.

If we are to be a people of faith, and if we are to make an impact in telling the story of Christ, we have to stop talking about a hope of Heaven (as nice and pleasant and perfectly promised as that is).  Hope itself tells that story; we're all ready to get out of here.

We have to live not off the promise but in the Promise.  We have to live believing God for today as much as we believe Him for tomorrow.  We have to tell the story of what God does now, now that prophecy is fulfilled.  Our hopes for tomorrow are solid.  It's today that I really need my God to speak to me.

The only reason for faith, the only valid reason to hold our tomorrows for Him, is because He holds us today.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Intolerant Grace

Earlier this week, I wrote about being a people who aren't shaken by having a faith that shakes the world.  (See Unshakeable.)  Today, I want to talk a little more about what that looks like.

The answer is: intolerant grace.

It's easy to look at the ways this world is broken, the things that have had us shaking and turning away, the things that keep us on our toes when they should really be driving us to our knees and to conclude that the answer is to fall on the side of the righteous.  To stand and defend whichever side is obviously good, whichever side is innocent, whichever side is noble.

That's the easy answer, but it's not the real answer at all.  "Finding someone who would die for a godly person is rare.  Maybe someone would have the courage to die for a good person.  Christ died for us while we were still sinners." (Romans 5:7-8a)

You see, it's not enough.  It's possible to die for a good man - to stand with the innocent, stand up for the victims, stand against the perpetrator - but Christ goes beyond what is reasonably good.  Christ died for sinners, and He calls us to do the same.

We make a villain of a gunman who took his own madness out on a school full of innocent children.  We mourn with the families, pour out our love in memorials and teddy bears and promised prayers.  We cry out for gun control...or the lack thereof as your political leanings may be...and demand an answer.  This seems to us the right thing to do.  It is good, but it isn't grace.

We judge in our hearts and minds the guilt of the accused and determine that it's right to stand against a guilty man.  We condemn, as the outcry of voices is condemning, and we buy into the sensationalism that justice is justice.  Is it?  It's something.  For sure, it isn't grace.

Recently, I saw a minister friend post on Facebook in response to something he saw on bullying.  (Brother, I am not calling you out.  Ok, I am, but in love.)  He said these bullies ought to leave the other kid alone, that if they wanted to pick on somebody, they ought to pick on him.  (He's a reasonably big guy.)  Antagonizing the bully into greater bravado while standing in defense of the smaller innocent?  It's a noble response, but it isn't an answer.  It isn't grace.

If we are to be a people whose faith shakes the world, we have to be a people of intolerant grace.  Grace that refuses to settle for brokenness.  Anywhere.  In anyone.  In any way.

It's not the easy answer.  That's for sure.  It's not pretty.  It's really messy a lot of the time.  And it's not expected.  But if we are to be that people - that unshakeable, faith-founded people - who make this world tremble at the power of our God, then we have to embrace this intolerant grace.

We have to go beyond being people who would die for or side with a good man.  We have to be Christ to the sinners, too.

That means not scowling at our televisions when we see the gunman in the courtroom.  Instead, it means willingly putting ourselves in his story to respond to the measure of brokenness in him.  He is a broken man, too; you can see it in his eyes.  Do we write him off because he inflicted his brokenness on others?  We can't.  That would not be grace.

We watch the news and see a guilty man, and we rejoice in the "justice" before us.  But look beyond his conviction and find yours.  Is this "justice" just at all in light of the man's burden?  The best we offer here is punishment, not justice.  We should be offering grace.

To the bullies of the world - do we challenge them to step up their hatred, to step up their game?  Or should we go to them in the spirit of Christ and touch the wounded places in their lives?  Maybe they feel like they aren't good enough.  Or they aren't strong enough.  It is a challenge to their insecurity to tell them to step it up again and prove themselves again.  It is grace to hold their hands and show them their creation, show them God created them enough.

We stand with the wounded and with the wounder, because we recognize he is just as wounded as his victims.  We can make no room for stereotypes, public pressures, or judgments.

It's not politically correct, but then, grace never is.  But without this grace, what are we showing our world about our God?  Nothing that would make them tremble.  Nothing that would make them shake.

Who is in fear (or awe) for a God who only stands with the good guy?

Christ died while we were all still sinners, and He embraces the world with an intolerant grace.  A grace that won't stand for one broken heart to be denied healing, one wounded soul to be denied mercy, one single sinner to be denied God.

So that, too, we must be.  We must be a people of intolerant grace, standing with God against woundedness.  When the world sees that, they will see God.  And they will tremble at His feet.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Urge to Purge

A few times a year, I get the energy to work methodically through my belongings and see what is expendable.  It's not that I'm bogged down by a lot of stuff - my life fits cleanly in a 12x10 room, save a few pieces of large furniture - it's just that I still think I have too much.  Well, it's hit me again and given the time of year, I imagine I'm not alone.

But the tough questions remain: how do you know what to get rid of and what to keep?

It's easy when there's not a lot of emotion involved.  Some things are just things, and they are either keepers or they are not.  I, however, am a person of story (just as you are, though me to a fantastic extreme) and can remember the details of nearly every item I have in storage.  Who gave it to me.  When.  Why.  What it meant to me at the time.  The adventures I had with it.

For instance - I still have the bouncy, lopsided ball I collected Rice Krispies cereal box tops for in elementary school.  I remember collecting those boxtops.  I remember the agonizing wait for the mailman to finally deliver it.  I remember bouncing it around the kitchen and chasing it because it never bounced straight.  That's how it was made.

So when you remember the story of everything, there have to be some guidelines in getting rid of things.  Here's what I've come up with:

First, I've set aside a limited number of boxes (in my case, for right now, it is 3) of things you want to share with your own children someday.  Or grandchildren.  Or future generation, whatever that might look like for you.  I have a box of books that I loved - R.L. Stine and Matt Christopher, mostly - and a smattering of toys that I want my children to one day experience.  They don't make things like they used to and it seems everything changes.  I believe it is important to share a part of your growing up with those whom you are entrusted to grow.

Second, I have to take in the experience.  I let each piece speak its measure of story to me, and then I go from there.  It's not right to pick something out of a box, decide it is not useful, and toss it.  Some things are not useful.  Some things are not even pretty.  Some things are downright tacky and God-awful.  But if there is good story to it, something that strengthens or inspires or encourages me, then it is worth keeping.  At least until the next purge.

Third, I don't allow a previous purge to influence the current one.  That is, I remember why I tucked that thing back in the box last time, but that doesn't mean the same circumstances hold true today.  Every purge is a fresh remembrance and a fresh evaluation of an item's place in my life.

Fourth, I make a concerted effort to disengage things from stories and to a certain extent, disengage things from people.  There are many things we keep because once upon a time, they met an emotional need in our lives.  If we consider parting with such things, we face again the same emotional need and we have to decide what to do with it.  Do I keep that teddy bear because I remember feeling snuggly?  Or am I ready to move on into a more confident sense of safety in something maybe less tangible?  I may still keep the teddy bear anyway if it's cute or for some other reason, but I refuse to allow items to continue to meet emotional needs when I have a God who is greater than that, an Author who is writing a better story.

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, I am not afraid to "betray" story.  This is maybe the toughest.  These are the things that I keep running across that seem to define a period of my life, a portion of my journey.  Reminders of things I've been through, my growing process, my healing process, my seeking process.  Things that at the time, seemed so large and inescapable and maybe for years dictated everything I did.  I'm not afraid to get rid of many of those things.  On one condition:

If that's not the story I'm telling now.

Here's the thing.  I'm not one to ever run away from my story.  It's always going to be with me.  It is always going to paint, at least in part, how I am who I am, how I got here, and how I'm getting where I'm going.  I get that, and I am both honored and humbled by my story (and the God who is writing it).  But I'm also the kind of person who has lived my story out loud, and as such, I have an enormous excess of emotion-ladened, journey-tinted stuff that is hard to let go of.  Diaries.  Journals.  Records.  Reminders.  This thing that went to that place with me.  That thing that went to another place with me.  

And it's hard to let go because to do so feels like betrayal.  For the abused woman, does she let go of her old journals, her encouraging notes, her detailed reminders of what life was like back then?  For the cancer survivor, is it ok to get rid of that hat you wore to chemo every week or the hospital bracelet from your surgery or your before and after scans?  For the broken marriage, can you expel those sentimental trinkets from the attic...and from your heart?

We all have these big stories in our lives.  They seemed so huge and they really defined everything.  For the longest time, maybe as long as we can remember, they were our story.  That was it.  It just seems callous, or escapist, or betraying to part ways with this very powerful memorabilia.

Maybe it was your story, but the question you have to ask today is: is it still?  Is this still the story I want to tell?  Is this a story I would never tell again if you paid me?  Has my story changed?  Is this still it or have I moved on from that place?

If you can't get rid of it, then you haven't moved on from that place and that is an invitation to reassess your story.  

There are a lot of things I still have because once upon a time, they were.  It's still agonizing to think about parting with them because I know the story.  But it's getting easier, and that's just not my story any more.  It doesn't mean it's a part of my story, but it's not the story in my life.  In fact, it goes beyond that: it's not a story I would ever need to prove to anyone, so I don't need the details hanging around, and quite often, I'm finding that it's not even the story I would tell about that story if I were to tell it today.

Does that make sense?

As God works and shifts and moves through my life, my stories are changing.  Not the things that were, but how they are.  So when I'm purging through my memories, I don't worry about betraying my old story or any portion of it.  The real concern is whether I will betray today's story for the sake of holding onto yesterday's.

It's not worth it.  Not to me, anyway.  So that's how I decide.

And you know what?  When all is said and done and the pain of separation, the emotional exhaustion of surrender, the energy of embracing a new story wears off....I never really find that I miss it.

Then it's simply this: I keep what I like.  I keep what's useful.  I keep what makes its way into today's story.  I ditch the rest.