Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Last Saturday, I did something I haven't done in about a decade - I stayed up 'til nearly midnight writing...music.

A little background: I have played the piano since the tender age of three.  As a student musician in middle and high school, I added trombone, trumpet, french horn, and percussion.  My old didgeridoo is currently leaning in the corner upstairs in storage.  (It cracked; it doesn't sound right now.)  As a high school student, I started playing around with composition and have three or four minute-long pieces and a couple of full-length things.  One of my earliest works - a percussion trio called "Perc Up" - fared fairly well in competitions and was a hit at our spring show, maybe because it's about more than the music (it's a visual piece that features the interplay of dueling xylophones above a background of timpani).  Suffice it to say - I love music.

About a year ago when I began work on Prayse, my heart started singing this song I'd never heard, something that was building inside of me.  I pushed it aside to get to the kind of writing I was really interested in at the time (the Prayse project), but that song never let go of me.  It's country in my head, so that's how I'm going with it, but there are days I wonder what my brother and awesome musician friend Terry Waggoner could do with it in a worship style.  Because I think it would work there, too.

Saturday night, I was in a mood.  I mean, a mood.  Pure joy.  Couldn't stop laughing for no reason.  Don't-want-to-go-to-bed-because-times-like-this-are-rare mood.  So I started picking away at my virtual piano and finally penning a few notes for the song of my heart, to go with the lyrics I couldn't let go of.

Hours later, I have a one-note, melodic chorus mapped out.

Yes, that's all I have to show for literally almost four hours of work.  About 18 bars of one-note chorus.

Which answers the question of why I don't write music more often.

Music is a challenge for me in an entirely different way than writing.  When I'm writing something like Prayse, or even this blog, I often make a giant mess and then try to work my way out of it.  I get these grand ideas all at once and then spill them out in rapid-fire, then methodically start working my way through to polish them up.  I rather enjoy the challenge and the discipline it takes to make writing work for me, and I am constantly amazed at the way God works it all out and always finds a usable word.

When I'm writing music, though, what I start with is comically simple and it takes an agonizing amount of time to get there.  It's the precise opposite of writing in word, and that frustrates me.  I mean, that really frustrates me.  Because usually, it's the same motivation as word - I have this whole song in my heart - but I don't have the skill to get it out as quickly.  I can't make it work as fast, and who has the patience for such things?  Yet when I push through and start adding one note at a time, I find that here, too, I am constantly amazed at the way God works it all out.  Although I wouldn't be looking for my name on the Top 20 anytime soon.  Or ever.

The common gift inside of me is rhythm.  I have always told people that rhythm is my first language, and I think that is why I find such pleasure in writing.  It's all about cadence.  It's about the way things sound.  Most people don't realize when they're reading, but the way something is written can make it speak to your heart or fall on deaf ears, and it's that subtle bit of rhythm that makes writing either good or...something less.  It is this rhythm that enables me to write the way I do.  It is this rhythm that lets me love the way the sun shines, the small little pulses it gives off as it lights a new day.  It is this rhythm that lets me appreciate the sound of the rain and the tide of the waves.  It is this rhythm that helps me worship outside of music.

And it's this rhythm that inspires me to keep trying my hand at the written note, rather than settling for the song of the written word.  Because truth is, I love music.  It's a harder discipline for me than the writing.  It may be one of the hardest things I ever do.  But I believe we have to make space in our lives for some of the things that are frustratingly hard.  There's something good in that.

There's discipline to learn.  There's patience to gain.  There's ache to endure.  There is joy to be found.  (Saturday night was an absolute blast!)

And maybe there's a song to sing.  We'll see how that works out.

In the meantime, enjoy these lyrics from the now-one-noted chorus:

Did I say 'amen'?
'Cause I just thought of somethin' else.
If You have another second, Lord, let me add on to my prayer.
I could pray all day
And tomorrow, pray again
And still have more to say, Lord,
But did I already say 'amen'?

Monday, April 29, 2013

An Unholy Prayer

Yesterday morning, I gave the Communion devotional at church.  It's an honor and a joy, but some mornings just don't go as planned.

Or maybe they do.  Just not my plans.

I'm in this habit of praying as the last song winds down before it's time for me to step up.  I pray out loud, charismatically (if you'd want to call it that) and just basically pour out all of my nervous energies into the prayer moment so that when the mic'd moment comes, I am pumped up, chilled out, and completely focused...on the real deal.

So often, my prayer includes something to the effect of:  Thank You, Lord, for this opportunity and for the good words to speak to my family today.  And: This is Your moment, God, and I am so grateful to be able to share in it, even just a little bit.  And: I take this moment and I give it back to You because it is only You who does this and never me, although I am humbled, Lord, that You would use someone like me.  And: I have no need to fear, no need to be nervous.  This is just a thing, and it is a thing You have graciously and awesomely created me to do and I am stoked to be able to do this.  What an awesome gift!

And so on.

But yesterday, the song before the Supper was "Holy, Holy, Holy."  After singing the first verse in Greek (as I always do), I turned to my prayer and focused my energies on focusing my heart to get myself out of the moment and give it to God.  As I began to pray, the very first, holy-roller, charismatic, fired-up, energized, humbled, surrendered words to come out of my mouth were:

"There is absolutely no reason for me to be holy right now, Lord."

Because I meant to say nervous, or anxious may be a better word, but we were singing "holy" and that's what came out.

Followed by my own incredible laughter, which didn't stop for a verse and a half, until I realized I'd better stop laughing at myself or I'd miss my cue.

Honestly, I was laughing because I realized that was kind of true, too.  There is absolutely no reason for me to be holy.  I mean, I try, of course, but I think I'm the kind of person who can easily put too much pressure on myself to make appearances.  That is, to appear holy or act holy or even, yes, be holy and it's the same kind of thing I find off-putting in other people.  Just how holy can you be in your fallen flesh?

I'm so tempted to want to get everything right, to do everything well.  To live humbled.  To show my best, most righteous, most Christian, surrendered self at all times, particularly in a moment like this when I am speaking or writing or working for God so overtly, in such a place that everyone expects something holy.  I want to be holy and bring it.  But I was laughing yesterday and relaxing because I realized I don't have to be holy to bring it.  I'm not bringing perfect; I'm bringing God.  I'm not perfect; I am God's.  And so I settled into this very relaxed state where all of a sudden, I took a breath and surrendered into being hole-y, having my weaknesses and my failures and my fallen shorts.  

Because most days, that's as close to holy as I'm ever gonna get.

I didn't come back to my prayer yesterday morning.  I mean, what else can you say after something like that.  The song faded out, the crowd sat down, I smiled to myself and said, "Let's do this," then I walked to the mic.  

And we did it.

And maybe it was holy.  Or maybe it wasn't.  Or maybe it doesn't matter.

Friday, April 26, 2013

On Mercy

I debated putting this post in the Old Testament Overtime series, but decided it's more about mercy at large, although I will be drawing mostly from the Old Testament.

And I know what you're thinking - there's not a lot of mercy in the Old Testament.  True.  Sort of.

The Old Testament law, the old covenant as many churches may call it, didn't make a lot of room for things like forgiveness or mercy.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a foot for a foot.  A stone for a sin.  A stoning for a big sin.  Unclean?  You're cut off.  Unfaithful?  You're cast out.  The Old Testament is full of places outside the camp for people who cannot be in the community for any number of reasons.  I'm not seeing a whole lot of mercy here.

The New Testament, the new covenant, the coming of Jesus, however, seems to make way for a great deal of mercy.  You give a man a chance.  You love your neighbor.  You embrace a sinner.  You guide him back.  You redeem someone.  You build them.  An eye for an eye?  Maybe.  But turn the other cheek.  Go the extra mile.  Give more than is taken.  It's mercy.

Some have even gone so far to say that where strict is the old law, mercy is the new law.  That Christ came in order to instill in us mercy and grace, and that this new law trumps the old rules.

Not so.

Because mercy has never been a law.  It has always been a gift.

And that includes in Old Testament times.

As God laid out His instructions for the Tent of Meeting (the Tabernacle), He gave Moses very specific plans for this very ornate box called the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark was to hold the tablets inscribed with the law, a sacred and holy treasure chest of God's word and His promise.  His covenant.  The old covenant, with all of its rules and specifications and harsh penalties and seemingly no mercy.

On the top of the ark were to be carved two angels, or cherubim, with their wings outstretched to cover the Ark.  The space of the angels was called...the Throne of Mercy, and it was the place where God would come to judge His people.  It has been called God's Mercy Seat.  It is placed in the Holiest of Holies and is, indeed, the most holy place.  There, in the space of mercy on the top of the Ark, is the place where God's glory came in smoke and rested.  (Leviticus 16)

You can't make this up!

So you see, there was a place for mercy in the Old Testament.  A very prominent place, in fact.  A holy place.  And it is the same position mercy has always taken - just above the law.  

Ain't that the truth?  Isn't that the beautiful way mercy works?  It takes this law, this set of rules, and rests in an open space of grace just above it.  It meets you at the place where you have failed and where you face the strictest measure of your failure and it envelops something holy instead.  A second chance.  A sinner's redemption.  A new love.  Another cheek, an extra mile, a freewill offering.  Because it is a gift.

You don't have to worry about getting it right.  You don't have to worry about earning it.  You don't have to worry about what the law says because mercy is above the law.

In the space of the angels, in the holiest of holies, in the smoke that rises, God has come to give you mercy.


Thursday, April 25, 2013


How would you describe a humble man?  Maybe you would say he is gentle.  Gracious.  Quiet.  Meek.  Strong.  Patient.  Generous.  

Eh, maybe...but you'd still be thinking, "Not quite."  You'd be thinking, "I don't know....he's....humble."  And there's a reason you can't think of a better word:
Humble is not an adjective.

It's a verb.  It's something you do.  You humble yourself.  It means you take a step down and maybe a step back, you hold yourself back a little bit, you give yourself up a little bit.

The books of the kings of Israel and Judah (1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles) in particular are full of men who had to humble themselves.  David sinned and took a census; when he realized his mistake, the Bible tells us he humbled himself.  Hezekiah found the book of the Teachings of Moses hidden in the temple; when he realized how far his nation had fallen, he humbled himself.  A myriad of other men and women, kings and prophets, disciples and yes, even one Son of God, have humbled themselves in Scriptures.

It just means they've seen their own iniquity, taken a step down, taken a step back, refrained, and surrendered.  Sometimes all at once.  They have done this in private.  They have done this in public.  They have torn their clothes, shaved their beards, pulled handfuls of hair straight out of their heads, covered themselves in ashes, collapsed to the ground in tears, cried out, prayed, and prayed some more.

And for those who had seen their sin but refused to humble themselves, God had an answer for them.  He would humble them.  Again, a verb.

Because they refused to humble themselves, God took care of it.  He sent foreign armies, strong kings, enemy nations to rise against them.  He exiled them to strange lands.  He sent plagues and sicknesses, famines and droughts until these sinful men and women took a step down, took a step back, refrained and surrendered - until they had been humbled.

In the midst of God's humiliation, some of them turned and humbled themselves even as they were being humbled!  And you know what's cool about that?  God always noticed.  Every time!  Every time a man or woman who was being holily humbled stopped and humbled him or herself, God stopped His humiliation of them, heard their heart turning, and turned His heart toward them.  He granted diseased men healing, sick men new life.  He granted new promises, renewed covenants.  He granted refuge and peace.

Not because they were humble men, but because they were humbled men.

I have spent far too long in my life trying to figure out what it means to be a humble woman.  How to graciously do this or quietly do that or generously give over here or meekly serve over there and they are all kind of sort of close to my idea of humble, but they don't really come close at all.  And when I see what we might call a "humble" man, I can't help but think to a large degree, he's faking it.  Humble always comes off fake.

As it should, I guess, because it's not the proper form of speech.  It's not an adjective.  I could never describe myself as humble.

But humbled....there's a fantastic adjective!  There's a word I get.  There's a word that introduces me to the promises of God.  There's a word that brings my sick body healing, my death new life.  There's a word that renews the covenant, the promises God has made to me.  There's a word in which hides my refuge and peace.  There's a word I can define, a good word I can live by.

It's a verb.  It's something I do.  And should I decide that it's something I do not do, God will do it for me.  So there's that.

I've given up trying to be a humble woman; I want to be a humbled woman.  I want to be a woman who has taken a step down, taken a step back, held herself back for a minute, and surrendered.

It's what I do.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Read the title again.  It's a word I made up, a combination of the two more common words, euphemism (a way of saying something that is more palatable than simply saying it.  i.e. someone with "special needs" as opposed to "handicapped.") and euthanasia (the practice of putting something or someone to death).

Euphemasia - because we are killing ourselves with things that sound good.

We are a people going after the next big thing, the next better thing.  A promotion at work.  An attractive spouse.  Well-behaved children.  A nice house.  A fancy car.  A reputation.  A responsibility.  A righteousness.

And I'm not saying these things are necessarily bad - they aren't - but neither are they the best good.

The man who goes after a promotion at work may be a skilled man, but he also may be a man questioning his skill.  His pursuit of a new title may have little to do with what he can give and more to do with what he longs to know, which is - am I good at anything?

The single woman looking for an attractive man may be looking skin-deeper for a heart to connect with, but she also may be a woman questioning her own beauty.  Her pursuit of a good-looking man may have little to do with the man himself and more to do with what she wishes she could see in the mirror, the reflection of a woman who wants to know - am I beautiful?

Parents raising well-behaved children may want to instill in the next generation a healthy respect, love, and servitude, but they may also be parents questioning their relationship.  The way their children behave or "turn out" may have little to do with what it means for the children and more to do with what it says about their marriage.  The question they are asking is - are we right together?

A man looking for a fancy car may not be looking for something quality but rather, questioning the quality in himself.  He's asking, maybe - am I special?

A woman focused on her reputation may not care so much what people think of her, but rather, may only want to know if they are thinking of her at all.  She is asking, maybe - do I matter?

A person searching for responsibility may be searching for a place to belong, even by contributing.  He may be asking - do I fit anywhere?

A man or woman concerned with his or her righteousness may be not so focused on righteousness but on self-perception or self-worth.  He or she may be asking - am I anything good?

You see, these are all things that sound good, at least on the surface.  There's nothing wrong with climbing the ladder, marrying up, raising good kids, driving a nice car, earning a reputation, taking on a responsibility, or searching for righteousness.  But when these things are simply answers to a question instead of responses to a calling, they're nothing more than things that sound good.  And they are stifling.

Because they will never be the answer.

Oh, the questions sound good.  They're all euphemisms.  I mean, doesn't it sound good to say you're looking for a promotion instead of laying out there that you're questioning your value?  Doesn't it sound better to say you're looking for an attractive mate than to admit you're questioning your own beauty?  It sounds good to say you're going after righteousness, but if you're questioning in your heart whether there is any in you to be found, even finding it will not be the answer.  Even if it sounds good.

You have to lay your honest heart out before God and dare to ask the questions.  Dare to look for the truth that will actually answer you.  Dare to look for life, which simply can't be contained in even all of these good things.  You won't find life in a job or a family or possessions or reputation or attitude or any personal trait.  You will only find life in God, and when He answers the question you're asking, dare I say?  Maybe you get these good things, too.

Only in the power of true life, they are actually good.

Because you get the promotion knowing what good you can do, and you seek to serve with all your heart.  You find the man knowing how beautiful you are, and he reflects that in the way he treats you every day.  You raise the kids who are more focused on answering the questions than being the answer, and the next generation grows.  You drive a nice car knowing only where it can take you.  You build a reputation based on who you are created to be, which only frees you further to simply be that.  You embrace responsibility because you've been created to do so, and you are honored to serve.  And you find righteousness because you understand, in truth, from the depths of your being, that God created you good.  And you understand that you are good.

Which is how you end up with good things that are actually good things, instead of the things that only sound good but are killing you.  

Which is how you end up living the good life, instead of dying by the good words.

Which is how you escape the culture of euphemasia in which we live and start living in a culture of life.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


There have been a couple of nights this month that I haven't slept at all.  Not for a fitful heart, but for the chance to see something incredible - a light show in the night sky.  A few weeks ago, it was a "good chance" to see Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) this far south that kept me crawling out of bed all night to try to catch a peek.  More recently, it has been the chance for a meteor shower.

There's nothing more incredible than watching light play against darkness.  Something about it...I don't know.  It just gets to me.  (See this other post I wrote about the glory of feeling small.)

This morning, I was thinking about such things when I suddenly realized - life is light.  In the beginning, God separated the light from the darkness...and everything else is light.  Everything is God playing with light.  Everything!

The rainbow, the sign of God's promise given to Noah and created anew for us each rain, is nothing more than the way light reflects through water.  It is a prism against a prison, a colorful creation of the light.

The flowers that this spring are blooming around my yard; these are not creatures designed to grow necessarily "up."  Flowers (and trees and plants and whatever) grow toward the light.  It is the sun that draws them out of the soil.  There are even a few hanging around in this old house that I have to turn every now and again because they start to grow toward the window, hungry for the light.

The Aurora Borealis, the meteor shower, even the starry night sky are all the whimsy of light fluttering against darkness.  It is the light reflected from the unseeable sun that ignites the night sky.

Human skin, even, is a play on light.  It has a slightly translucent property that gives it both its color and its depth, which is why when your art teacher told you "peach" was easily "flesh color," it never looked quite right.  It's so difficult, in any reproduction, to reproduce skin's properties of light that give it its fleshly appearance.

And yes, even the shadows are a product of light.  

Which gets me thinking about the iniquity of a man's heart.  Is our darkness, too, a product of the light?

It must be.  For it is by recognizing his own fallen nature that man becomes aware of iniquity at all.  And how is he to recognize his fallen self if there is not some righteous light to guide him toward something risen?

You know these people.  We all have friends, family, acquaintances, neighbors who cannot see their own sin, and they are perfectly content to live as they do.  We look at such people and wonder how they can live like that, but they adamantly insist they don't understand what's so wrong about it.  They need a little light to play with their shadows or else they will never see the giant oak that's casting the shade over them.

The only way we live with greater integrity is to see our shadows cast and learn the way the light is playing with them.  Because trust me, the Light is playing with them.  It's all He's ever done.

And I have been fortunate in my life - how about you? - to see with increasingly clarity the way that even my shadows are created by the light, in order that the Light might call my attention to my darkness and invite me into something more.  It is by this righteous light and only by it that I have ever become a better woman and that I ever will.  For that, I am incredibly grateful.

I look back on my story a lot and am often in awe of where I've come from.  It's a burden, some days, to have a story.  Other days, what a blessing to have a testimony.  Somewhere in the middle, there is all that ever simply is.  It is a dance of light against darkness and even in my own heart, there's something incredible (and sometimes incredibly painful) about that.  But I love it anyway.  It just gets to me.

You might think most of that light comes from the sun, or maybe the Son.  You might think it was the reflection of the unseen, like the light that ignites the night sky.  But I think it's simpler than that.  I think it's the righteous light that rolls the stone away to guide me toward something risen.  I think every bit of light in my life seeps in through that place where I was once locked in the grave and someone decided to let me walk out.  By letting the light in.  And letting it play with the darkness, which is just absolutely awesome.

Monday, April 22, 2013


It's spring, which means another season of creating is upon us.  

There are piles of walking sticks next to the garage, waiting to be carved, polished, and sold.  I crammed the doghouse full of thicker logs, ready to be sanded and shaped and shined.  A series of large stumps lines the side of the wood shop, awaiting whatever creative genius comes their way (I haven't decided yet).  And that is in addition to the things I've been bringing home from the neighbors' curbs, the treasures I find while out for a walk, and the regular creating work that is almost always going on somewhere in my house and brain.

Of course, I am also continuing to create in the written word and the final words on Prayse should be penned here in the next couple of weeks, which opens the door for the huge undertaking of editing the work - another aspect of creating.

I love this season!

The truth is, I love creating, but it seems so much easier in spring, somehow maybe more holy, because the rest of the world is busy creating around me.  The flowers are creating their blooms.  The trees are creating their leaves.  The skies are creating their rains.  The sun is creating its rainbows.  The birds are creating their nests (and babies to fill those nests).

It's just that I seem more mindful of things in this season.  As I'm carving on the walking sticks, I'm taking care with my wisps of scrap, knowing that some bird somewhere could use that for its nest.  When I'm sitting at the piano or playing the trumpet, I am listening to that same bird sing its song from somewhere high in my tree.  I'm digging holes for flowers while I'm watching other new growth burst through the soil right next to me.  It just seems right now that the whole world is creating anew, and it gives me this incredible spark of energy when I find myself right alongside it.  Or better yet, right in the middle of it all.

But don't get me wrong.  I create, but I am no creator.  I've done this a few times here and often while talking to friends, but I will never call myself more than a create-r.  And I won't call you that, either.

Because as hard as I try, as much work as I pour into these things, as much joy as I take from seeing them form and from working out the kinks and from perfecting and polishing and working these things out, as excited as I am even to see Prayse nearing its completion, I'm keenly aware that I have not created anything o-worthy.

I could fold you a flower out of a single sheet of paper, and it might be beautiful and it might even be awesome, but it's nothing compared to the way a tulip cautiously peeks from its bud and slowly opens itself as it blooms and grows.  I can carve you a walking stick or a garden sculpture from the branches of my tree, and it might be beautiful and it might even be awesome, but it's nothing compared to the knotty way the tree itself grows, the twists and turns and anatomy of the tree that I'm trying to preserve even as I create around it.  I can play you a song on any number of instruments, but it's nothing compared to the whisper of the winds through the tree and the melody of the birds playing softly on top of it.

I can tell you a story, write it out even, and fill a book with my words, and it might be beautiful and it might even be awesome, but it's nothing compared to the story He's telling right now that is so far beyond words that it mocks what I'm trying to do here.

See, I am a create-r, and I love that my God has created that in me.  I love that I am a creature (an object of creation) created to create by my Creator.  I am humbled and honored that He has given me this to do, and the ability to even be successful sometimes at doing so.  But let's not confuse things here: we're not even on the same playing field.

You see the things I do, and maybe you think that's cool.  Maybe you think that's neat.  Maybe you even think that's awesome.  But I look at the things God does, and I think that's incredible.  I think that's indescribable.  I think that's breathtaking and beautiful.  And like so many before me, the only words I have to say are "O, my God."

Which is why I'm a create-r and I save the "o" for my God - the Master Craftsman, the Skilled Artist, the Holy Workman.  He's the Creator.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Innocent Grace

Have you been following the story of Brian Banks?

Banks was a high school football standout when a female friend falsely accused him of rape.  His lawyer convinced him to plead guilty, saying he would never get a fair trial, and Banks gave up the pigskin for the penitentiary until years later, his accuser attempted to friend him on Facebook and admitted she had lied.  As truth unfolded, Banks was released from prison and fully exonerated, but his life seemed to be forever off track.

The young man has been doing a series of interviews as his story continues to develop, and the one question most reporters want answered is: Are you going to file charges against your accuser?  Are you going to go after her?

His answer is always no.  And that baffles most of the modern media.

This woman trashed his reputation.  She crushed his football dreams.  He had been recruited by USC before the incident but had now fully missed his college years; the pros would be even more unlikely now.  He had spent the prime years of his life, not to mention the prime of his opportunity, behind bars for a crime he never committed and now, he had the proof that she had done him wrong and he wasn't going to pay her back for all she'd done to him?  He has no inclination whatsoever to make her pay for everything her lies had cost him?


What he says about it is this, according to a recent interview on 60 Minutes.  He says, basically, that he wants to focus on getting his life back.  He wants to focus on rebuilding himself.  He wants to focus on grabbing hold of whatever opportunity is out there for him right now and moving himself forward.  He wants to live his life now that he's got the chance to, and he considers any revenge or retaliation or even rightful retribution a distraction from the open pastures in front of him.

That is grace.

There's something about the wrongly accused.  There's something about the innocent.  It seems they are always more focused on taking their chances than taking their revenge.

It's true about Banks, but he's not the only one.  Just the most recent.  Maybe the most prominent, lately.  You give an innocent man some time (double meaning intended), and he comes to see his own guilt.  That recognition doesn't break him; it humbles him and he emerges a better man.

I'm thinking of Andy from the Shawshank Redemption.  At one point late in the movie, he's sitting in the prison yard ruminating about prison life and he comes to this conclusion, "Whatever wrong I've done, I've paid for it and then some."  An innocent man who has served just less than 20 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit, and he's sitting in the prison yard talking about his guilt.  A few scenes later, he escapes Shawshank prison and what does he do?

He lives his dream.  He runs away to Mexico and goes after the opportunity that lies before him.  He has the chance now to do this, and he takes it.  He doesn't waste his time going after those who wrongly imprisoned him.

That is grace, too.

It's not grace for the guilty; it is mercy for them.  It is grace for life as we know it, grace for our opportunities, and grace for ourselves.  Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in an innocent man wrongly condemned.

We are all innocent men.  I am an innocent woman.  Not because I have done no wrong but because my God has seen fit to declare me innocent by the power and the grace of His blood.  I have served my time, and some days, it feels like I'm still serving it.  And given all that time, I've come to know one thing for certain: my guilt.  Whatever I've done, I've paid for.  And maybe then some.  And maybe not enough.

But I've been exonerated.  I have been released from prison and set free.  The question is, as it is that faces each of us, what do we do now that we have chance?  How now do you live if you know you are innocent?

The world says take it back.  The world says get even.  Common logic says to go after the guilty and condemn them, as they have condemned you.  But what do you get for all that hatred, all that vengeance, all that self-righteous vindication?  More lost years.

That's not what I want.

I want to take my chances as they come.  I want to get to doing things that I had to put off.  I want to get to living this life as I was intended to live it, knowing the trap of the guilty man and the breath of fresh air of the innocent.  I want to live my dream, to go after the opportunities that are right in front of me.  I want to take accountability for my life instead of trying to pay off the account.  I want nothing to stand in the way of the open pastures in front of me, myself included.

That's grace.  Not for the world that has screwed me over; it is mercy for this world.  But that is grace for life as I know it, life as it could be, and life as it was designed to be in me.  It is grace for everything God intended in me, and I am determined to live by grace.

It is the grace of the innocent.  There's just something about an innocent man.

Don't believe me?  Ask the Man on the Cross.

**It has recently been reported that after a few opportunities last season fell short, Brian Banks hit the gym and worked even harder on getting his body back in football shape.  He has signed a deal with the Atlanta Falcons this off-season.  There is no word, news, or update on his accuser.  Imagine that.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

On the Banks of the Jordan

I've been writing all week about the story of Naaman from 2 Kings, who really could be n-a-(any)-man.  I know he's me; have you found your story in him, too?  And I've been writing about story and the simple things, the way God changes us through the simple even though such things are rarely easy.

And why have I been writing about such things all week?  Simple.

Because I'm standing on the banks of the Jordan and my story has changed.

To be honest, I've been standing on the banks of the Jordan for awhile now, longer than I could probably admit without embarrassing myself.  Or maybe you would be encouraged to know just how long I've been standing here, looking at the waters that God said would cleanse me.  Too disappointed to even stick my toe in.

I, like Naaman, have been disappointed that God wasn't going to make a better show of this.  I have been so broken, so burdened by certain circumstances that it seems unjust for God to just offer healing, and a simple healing at that, without the spectacle of the awesome miracle of God.  I, like Naaman, have expected the miracle and waited on God to show Himself in the inarguable abba-kadabras that bring the full power of God to crush my circumstances and I get to just sit around and bask in the awesomeness that it is to be His.

Then God says something so silly, so simple, as "wash yourself in the Jordan," and I'm disappointed.

It's a question of belief.  Faith, maybe you'd say.  Circumstances like these, they crush us, but it's more than that.  Under the weight of the heavy burdens of this life, belief is a dangerous thing.  You're always looking, always hoping, always believing that the next thing is the thing and that the end is in sight, or at least just around the corner.  You get all of these false answers, false healings, false moments, and false hopes that keep you believing that it doesn't have to be like this, only to be convincingly shown that it will always be like this.  And then you pray.  God, you pray.  You pray your heart out and cry until your eyes are about to fall out of your head, and then you pray and cry some more and finally, finally you come to this place where God is obviously there and this is obviously it and this is the moment and this is the thing.  

Then God looks right at you and says, "Believe."

Believe that if you do what I tell you to do, that you will be healed.  That this will be your moment.  Believe that I am guiding you in truth and not one more false path.  Believe that I am who I say I am and that I'm doing what I say I'm doing.  Leave this place where you're standing right in front of Me.  Leave My obvious presence.  And in faith, in hope, walk to the banks of the Jordan and wash yourself.  In the waters, I will make you clean.

Let me tell you something - when the moment finally comes, when the day is here, when healing is upon you after years of the burden of questions and false hope, the last thing you want to do is dare to believe.  You don't even feel like you have the strength to believe one more time.  I know for so long, that has been my struggle.  How can I believe again when I believed before when there was nothing worth believing in?

It's simple.  This time, there is something worth believing in.  Simple, but not easy.

Which is how I have found myself standing on the banks of the Jordan for what seems like far too long, holding onto my ideas that there ought to be a better show than this.  Holding out hope for a God of miracles who would come and just take care of this so powerfully, so undeniably, that I wouldn't have to dare to believe again.  Thinking about the other solutions that seem just as good, the other waters in my own homeland that seem purer somehow than these.  Waters that maybe aren't healing, but at least they are home.  They are a place that I know, and doesn't familiarity matter for anything?

Thinking....that I would have done anything God asked me to for the sake of my cleansing except that it doesn't seem He asked me to do anything.  This...this seems like nothing at all.  It's so simple.

It wasn't that long ago that I decided to test the waters.  It wasn't that long ago that I dipped in a toe, just to see what it might be like to wash in the Jordan.  It wasn't long after that that I dove right in and cleansed myself in the water, by nothing more than God's simple graces.  And now my story has changed.

Can I tell you?  I am having the best spring I've had in at least a decade, maybe my whole life.  I am thriving under the mercy of a faithful God who waited in the waters for me to dare walk into them.  And it feels like He sent me out walking on them.  I wake up blessed every morning, energized, confident.  I feel loved.  I mean, I feel loved.  Perhaps most importantly, though, I have found the hidden mercy in God's simple things.  It is this:

I've found the strength to believe again.

I can't tell you how important that is.  I can't tell you what that means to a heart that has too long been crushed.  I can't tell you what difference it makes to have an honest hope and a daring heart that chooses to believe...well, just to believe.  If you've never lost your ability to believe, you don't know what I'm talking about.  If you've lost it and refound it, you know just the feeling.  If you've lost it and don't think you'll ever get it back, I'm telling you that you can.  You can believe again.

You just have to...believe...again.....  Just one more time.  And then do the simple things.

I'm hanging out on the banks of the Jordan these days, for at least a little while longer.  Not because there's more in the water for me, although maybe there is, but just because I'm not quite ready to leave this place yet.  Not because I'm questioning the way my story's changed but because I'm still kind of feeling it out.  I'm working out the kinks of telling a story that has changed but hasn't started over, of living a new life in a day-to-day that's not all that different.  Except that it is.  Somehow.

And I'm hanging out hoping that one day, you, too, will dare to believe again and at least come to these shores.  You don't have to put your toe in, and I won't push you.  But just come on over and hang out.  As long as you'd like.  It's just a short walk away.

Simple.  Right?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


The simple things can change your story.  As I've been talking about for the past couple of days, it's the simple that God asks of us.  Which doesn't necessarily mean it's easy.

And one of the hardest parts of the simple story is learning to keep telling it even when it changes.

This is a problem I have personally struggled with, and continue to.  Our inclination is to "throw off the old self" so completely that it's not even our story anymore.  Something changes, and we want to forget or at least move past all that ever was and start a new story.  It doesn't work that way.

Naaman was healed of his skin disease.  But when he went back to the land of his own people, there were probably more than a few doubters.  People who still didn't want to touch him, or didn't want him touching them.  Or didn't want him touching anything.  A wife who may have kept one eye open for hidden spots of skin disease, though she was trying her best to just love her husband.  Stuff lingers.  Naaman became a new man, at least a man with new skin, but that only changed really one thing about the old man.  Naaman was still Naaman, just without his dreaded skin disease.  If he wanted to convince everyone, including himself, that everything had changed...it just wasn't true.

I think we all had that moment at our baptism, or the day we committed our life to Christ.  Didn't we?  We had that first agonizing hour, day, week, month?, year? where we proudly declared that we weren't who we were any more but that instead, we were a Christian!  As if this was somehow supposed to start us over, hit our reset button, create a new person with a new story who doesn't have to deal with any of that former mess.

There are things in our lives that are such heavy burdens, things that have seemed to tell our story for us for so long.  These are the things that people think of first when they look at us.  They are the memories, the preconceived notions, the perceptions that sort of define us.  They are the circumstances that have so shaped us that anyone looking at us might think we look more like a circumstance than a human being any more.  When those things change, by the grace of God when they finally change, we are eager to shake the whole story off and start a new one.

But story doesn't work like that.

The way we try to tell it, our story is a series of beginnings.  We're always trying to start over, always trying to get one good story and get it right.  Always thinking that if we can go back to once upon a time, we have a better shot at happily ever after.  What happens is that we end up living a life where we never get started because we're always starting over.

The key to any good story is to figure out how to keep telling it, even when the story changes.  When the character develops.  When the plot thickens.  When the circumstances change.  How do you tell your story when it starts to turn - for the better or the worse?

Nobody forgets that Aladdin was a street rat.  Nobody forgets that Cinderella was a slave.  Nobody forgets that Matthew was a tax collector.  Nobody forgets that Paul was a persecutor.  (Your cute little name change isn't fooling anyone, Saul.)  Nobody forgets who you once were; it is incumbent upon you to show them who you now are.  And by what grace.

That is story.  That is God's story, the changing of people from one thing to another.  From broken to whole.  From hurting to healed.  From tax collector to disciple.  From persecutor to pastor.  From who I was to who I will be, by way of who I am right now.  It's a pretty good story.

And it takes grace.  It takes the grace of God to find you, to hear you, to hold you, and to change you.  It takes the grace of your own heart to embrace all that you ever were, knowing that shapes all that you might ever be.  It is the grace of not pretending that you have to start over.  It is the grace to know that the middle of the story is always kind of a mess (or a really big mess), and that none of that changes the magic in the once upon a time or the promise of a happily ever after.  It's just mess.  It's just the middle.  It's just how story is.

We ought to stop thinking we have to keep starting over.  God never said such a silly thing.  Not even about baptism.  He said you are a new creature, having put on the clothes of Christ.  But He never said you were created new.  He said you are being made new by the renewing of your mind.  But He never said you were being newly made.  

You are who you are.  Instead of trying to tell the perfect story with your life, focus on telling your story perfectly.  Focus on giving yourself grace for who you used to be.  Focus on giving Him praise for who you are now.  Focus on rejoicing in the promise of who you one day will be.  And just tell the story.  Somewhere in the middle, it's always a mess, but there's something satisfying in the way it ends.

That's true about every story of redemption.  It's true about mine.  And it's true about yours.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Simple Ain't Easy

Yesterday, I used the story of Naaman (n-a-(any)-man) from 2 Kings to propose that often, God asks us to do not the grand things, but the simple things.  

At this point, you're probably thinking, "God's never asked me to do anything easy!"

No.  I didn't say easy; I said simple.  And there is the difference.

It was simple for Naaman to wash in the Jordan River, but it wasn't easy.  The Jordan, Naaman complained, was not the best water around (probably because of all those dirty Israelites bathing in it).  He named two other rivers, from his own nation, with much better water.  Two other rivers, from his own nation, where the people on the banks would already know him.  Two other rivers where he wouldn't have to tell his story, and he wouldn't be ostracized as unclean.  Because in his nation, they didn't have such a thing as unclean.  Under his god, his skin disease meant little.  We know because he was married, living with his wife and servants, just before he set off to visit the prophet.  In Israel, he would have been outside the camp.

Which is maybe why he didn't have a high opinion of the Jordan, a river in Israel.  God's people would be there; they would see him as unclean.  They might scoff at him, might turn their backs.  They might walk away.  There might be a few who would try to keep him out of the river so that he wouldn't contaminate the water for the rest of them.  There would be a few who would have a thousand questions about who he was, where he came from, and what gave him the right to wash in their river.

Washing in the Jordan was simple, but it wasn't easy.

I woke up this morning thinking about this post and thinking about that verse where Jesus tells Peter to feed His sheep.  (John 21)  And I woke up laughing.  Because it seems simple enough - feed My sheep.  It was a ministry for which Peter had been training for three years with the Messiah.  

But do you realize how many sheep Jesus had?  How many He still has?  Peter probably felt honored to have such a commission from Jesus.  Maybe after years of traveling the land, he had some measure of confidence in his abilities to minister.  He had, after all, been sent out before; this was just another, albeit bigger, sending.  And then Peter blinked and opened his eyes to see the sheer (get it?  shear?) quantity of sheep in Jesus' field.

Simple.  But not easy.

It was simple, but not easy, for the widow to drop two pennies into the collection box.  It was simple, but not easy, for the disciples to abandon their nets and go fishing for men.  It was simple, but not easy, for the rich young ruler to sell all he had for the sake of eternity.  If it had been easy, he would have done it.  But he walked away.

Because God doesn't ask us to do what's easy.  He asks us to do what's simple, knowing it may be the hardest thing He ever asks of us.

He asks for the simple because He knows we can.  Naaman can wash in the Jordan.  Peter can feed His sheep.  The widow can give two pennies.  The disciples can let go of their nets.  The rich young ruler can sell all he has.  God never wants us to question for one second whether we can do what He asks.  It would be unfair if He did.

No, He only asks us to consider whether we will.  And that's not always an easy question.

Saying yes to God means saying no to something else.  Doing what God asks of you means not doing what may seem wise to man.  Going where God asks you to go may take you off the map of charted territories you've built your life around.  Choosing to trust is choosing against fear.  Choosing to forgive is choosing against bitterness.  Choosing to love is choosing against hate.  These are not easy choices, at least not in my human heart.  How about yours?

Naaman (N-a-(any)-man) can do anything (Naathing?) for God.  It's fairly simple.

But will he?  That's not so easy.

Monday, April 15, 2013


I think I just found myself in the Bible.  Only back then, some misinformed divinely-inspired author decided to change my name to Naaman.  Or maybe they knew this story was just about all of us and decided to call him "N-A (any) - Man."  

The story is recorded in 2 Kings 5.  It is the story of the prophet Elisha and a man with a skin disease, Naaman.  Here is the story:

Naaman, the commander of the Aramean king's army, was respected and highly honored by his master.  The Lord had given Aram a victory through Naaman.  This man was a good soldier, but he had a skin disease.  Once, when the Arameans went on raids, they had brought back a little girl from Israel.  She became the servant of Naaman's wife.  The girl told her mistress, 'If only my master were with the prophet in Samaria.  Then the prophet could cure him of his skin disease.'  Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said.  ...Naaman came with his horses and chariot and stopped at the entrance to Elisha's home.  Elisha sent a messenger to him.  He said, 'Wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River, and your skin will be healthy and clean.'  But Naaman became angry and left.  He said, 'I thought he would at least come out of his house, stand somewhere, call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the infected place, and heal the skin disease.  The Abana And Pharpar Rivers in Damascus have better water than any of the rivers in Israel.  Couldn't I wash in them and be clean?'  So he turned around and left in anger.

Here, I take pause.  And laugh.  Because this is me, and I'm willing to bet it's quite a few of you, too.  When I want God, when I call on God, when I journey to God and lay something before Him, not only do I expect Him to answer in goodness and grace, but I kind of want a show out of it.  

I want the thunder and lightning.  I want the earth shaking.  I want the curtains torn.  I want the rainbow.  I want the flower.  I want this wholly-other holy experience that captivates all of my senses and takes me beyond this place into another realm entirely where God demonstrates His awesome and absolute power over everything, defies the laws of physics (or at least plays with them a little), manifests a miracle, and makes a spectacle of the whole thing.  I mean, what good is God if He's not also really cool about being God?

And if He would come...if He would thunder in, flash in lightning, shake the earth, cast the rainbow, whatever...I would do just about anything for my God.  (I'd say "anything," but I'm being honest - "just about anything.")  I would go along with His show, be the willing audience member called up on stage, take part in the scene for the sake of the spectacle.  It would be epic.

You know, that mystical, magical "Abba"-kadabra moment.

Again, I'm not alone.  Back to the story:

But Naaman's servants went to him and said, 'Master, if the prophet had asked you to do some extraordinary act, wouldn't you have done it? (Exactly.)  Why shouldn't you do as he said: 'Wash and be clean'?'  (Emphasis mine.)

It's a tough concept for someone waiting on the magic moment.  It's tough to think God might not come in the thunder and lightning we want.  It's tough to imagine He wouldn't want to make such a show of it, wouldn't want it to be a scene.  It's tough to grasp the concept that maybe what God wants from us are the simple things.  And I mean really simple things.

Naaman is covered by a skin disease.  He is unclean and God's remedy is to...take a bath.  That's kind of my go-to when I'm unclean.  I bathe, and that takes care of the problem.  Simple things.

You worry about not having enough money, holding onto your last two pennies.  And God says the answer to both your worry and your finances is to invest.  Give your money to something that will grow it (the widow chose His Kingdom).  Simple things.

You're thirsty and the well, and the women, are a burden  God says to drink.  Living water.  Simple things.

Who among us doesn't know how to bathe, to invest, to drink?  Yet when God says this is what we should do, we balk.  I mean, He could have at least waved His hand around a little.  He could have stretched out His arms and demonstrated He was doing something here.  He could have thundered in the name of the Lord.  For Heaven's sake...where is our Abba-kadabra?

He's here.  In the waters of the Jordan, where He sent you to wash.  In the pennies in the plate, that He sent you to invest.  In the living water by the well, where He invited you to drink.  He's not into all that magic; He's more interested in the simple things.

If we could ever get those right, if we could settle into the simple, if we could embrace the very real, very simple, very plain things God is asking us to do, I think that ironically, we would find more of the miraculously magical God we think we're looking for.

Our God refuses to make a show of Himself; He's a quiet kind of Guy.  But He has never neglected simply to show Himself.  If only we look where He's shown us to look, do what He's asked us to do, and go where He's sent us to go.  Even if it seems simple.  Really simple.

So [Naaman] went to dip himself in the Jordan River seven times, as the man of God had instructed him.  His skin became healthy again like a little child's skin.

It's the story of Naaman, but isn't it really n-a-(any)-man?  I know it's me.  Is it you?

Friday, April 12, 2013


Today's post is for women who know the pain of sexual violation - of rape, molestation, assault.  It is for women, like Tamar, who need to hear the truth about worth and love.  It is also for the friends, family, and communities who love these women.  May this truth speak into your heart.  (I will begin by telling Tamar's story and then respond via a letter to the broken woman.)

Tamar's story is found in 2 Samuel 13.  Let's look at the story:

David's son Amnon fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of David's son Absalom.  Amnon was so obsessed with his half sister Tamar that he made himself sick.  It seemed impossible for him to be alone with her because she was a virgin.  Amnon had a friend by the name of Jonadab, a son of David's brother Shimea.  Jonadab was a very clever man.  He asked Amnon, 'Why are you, the king's son, so worn out morning after morning?  Won't you tell me?'  'I'm in love with Absalom's sister Tamar,' he answered.  Then Jonadab told him, 'Lie down in bed.  Act sick, and when your father comes to see you, say to him, 'Please let my sister Tamar come to feed me.  She can prepare a meal in front of me as I watch her, and she can feed me.'  So Amnon lay down and acted sick, and the king came to see him.  Amnon asked the king, 'Please let my sister Tamar come and make some bread in front of me, and she can feed me.'  David sent for Tamar at the palace.  'Please go to your brother Amnon's home,' he said, 'and prepare some food for him.'  So Tamar went to her brother Amnon's home.  He was lying down.  She took dough, kneaded it, made flat bread in front of him, and cooked it.  Then she took the pan and served him the bread.  But he refused to eat.  'Have everyone leave me,' he said.  So everyone left him.  Amnon told Tamar, 'Bring the food into the bedroom so that you can feed me.'  Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in the bedroom.  When she handed it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, 'Come to bed with me, Tamar!'  'No,' she told him, 'don't rape me!'  That shouldn't be done in Israel.  Don't do this godless act!  Where could I go in my disgrace?  And you will be considered one of the godless fools....'  But Amnon wouldn't listen to her.  He grabbed his sister and raped her.  Now, Amnon developed an intense hatred for her.  His hatred for her was even greater than the lust he had felt for her.  'Get out of here,' he told her. ...Then he called his personal servant and said, 'Get rid of her.  Put her out, and bolt the door behind her.'

If those words seem maybe all too familiar to you, if you feel the ache of Tamar's story deep in your heart, please let yourself hear the words that Tamar needed to hear.


I heard what happened, and I want to tell you that I'm sorry but it feels like the words would never be enough.  There isn't a whole lot worthy to say in a moment like this; this burden of brokenness in our world is a heavy one.  Nothing seems adequate right now.  But I want to try.  Because I want you to see more in the mirror than maybe you think you can.  Do you still have your mirror, Tamar?  Or have you shattered it because you cannot bear to look at yourself?

The shame here is not yours.  It never was.  I know those are hard words to hear.  It's hard to reconcile that you could be anything when the man who once thought you were everything can't even look at you.  It's hard to think that you could have a place when the man who pursued you put you out.  It's hard to think you have any worth at all when a man who found you worthy of his whole life doesn't want to even hear your name, when you feel like you've been thrown away by your own brother.

I want you to know that whatever Amnon did, whatever Amnon said, however Amnon responded in those critical moments when you were asking yourself how you got so worthless...were no statement on your worth at all.  Amnon never saw you for who you are; he only ever saw himself in you.  And that is all he sees in you now.  It is how so quickly he went from loving you to hating you.  To Amnon, you are the reflection of a broken man.

When he saw you in love, it was his own reputation he was thinking of.  He was thinking he was the kind of man who deserved a woman like you - beautiful, strong, gentle, pure.  He was thinking what it would mean to be known as the man so lucky to have Tamar.  And as he sent you away grieving, violated, broken, he saw in you his own brokenness.  He saw in you his flaw.  He saw in you his imperfection.  He saw in you his sin.  No wonder he can't stand to look at you; you remind him of who he was and how far he has fallen.  It is he who was never worthy.  Not you.

The key, beautiful girl, is to look in the mirror and discover yourself.  The key is to see in your eyes the beautiful woman God created you to be - strong, gentle, pure.  Because you are still pure, dear sister.  You are.  If you can't see that in your eyes, I have to wonder - are you looking at Tamar or are you looking at Amnon?  Don't waste your eyes on him; he will haunt you from that mirror forever if you let him.  Dare to blink and see yourself.  There you are - as lovely as you ever were, as incredible as you always are.  You are beautiful.  You are worthy.  You are God's.

And don't let today tarnish what you think of love.  I know Amnon said he loved you.  Maybe he even told you so as he violated his body, but this wasn't love.  It never was love.  This was a man who loved what he saw of himself in you.  He loved what you did for him in his own mind.  He loved the way he felt when he thought about you.  That's not love.  That's ego, at best.  His thought had nothing to do with you.  His heart had no interest in you.  He was purely focused on himself; he only pretended it was love.

True love, Tamar, has no thought of self.  True love is captivated by its beloved.  It is sacrificial, always dying so that its love may live.  Giving itself up for the sake of its beloved, that the object of its affection might grow, prosper, and thrive in beauty and grace and goodness.  True love sees you for who you are and loves you even more for it.  True love longs to see you fulfilled, to see you full in beauty, marked by grace, and treasured beyond your wildest imagination.  True love never considers what you can do for it.  It is always searching for what it can do for you.

I hope you'll recognize true love when you find it.  I hope you won't let Amnon's ego stand in the way of the very real, very powerful, very true love that will one day come your way.  He said the word.  Maybe he said the word a lot.  "Love."  But you know in your heart that wasn't it.  Trust your heart again to know when it is.  Trust your heart to recognize true love and abandon yourself to its beautiful gift.  You deserve that, dear woman.  You absolutely deserve that.

I know these words may not be a comfort right now.  I know you need some time to grieve.  I know you want to sit in the ashes for awhile and just think about all that this is, all that this has been, all the questions Amnon raised in your heart when he failed to control the wickedness in his.  Take your time.  It is a long, hard road.  That much, I know.  But never let yourself be so mired in the questions that you forget to hear the answers - that there is worth, and you are worthy; there is love, and you are loved; there is beauty, and you are beautiful; there is hope.  What Amnon did cannot take a single breath of God's promise away from you.  You are as perfectly, beautifully, strongly, gently, humbly, wholly, and purely His as you ever were.  Never forget that.

Maybe it goes without saying, but I want you to know this, too.  Know that you've got a brother out there - lots of them - and sisters, too, who aren't about to just let this happen.  You have people right now who are working toward justice for Amnon.  They want to see him reap the full benefits of all he ever wanted - the fullness of his own glory, now crushed under the weight of his own sin.  His blood will never bring you back; I know that.  I know it doesn't seem that one evil for another evil serves any justice at all.  I know it's hard to think you might be the death sentence for another man, and that only makes you feel more guilty.  But you are innocent here.  This was never about you.  It has always been about him.  It has been about the way he's wanted himself more than anything, his own glory, his own pride.  And we are about to give him all the glory he will ever know.  It was always about him, but we - your brothers and sisters - are about to make this about you.  We are about to take a stand for beauty, for grace, for strength, for justice, and for women around the world who know just what you're going through.

But don't worry about any of that.  That's our fight.  Your fight, dear sister, beautiful Tamar, is to reclaim yourself.  Sit in your ashes as long as you need.  Ask the questions your heart aches to have answered.  Reach out to those of us who love you and are fighting for you and who are ready to join you wherever you are.  And stand in front of the mirror, as long as you need to, until your eyes see Tamar again.  In all of your created, worthy, treasured, beloved, beautiful, strong, gentle, pure glory. As God intended you to be.  As God created you to be.  As God promised you to be.  As you are.

Yes, even now.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Take Two

Have you ever considered what happened when Lazarus died...again?

A brother among sisters, a treasured friend, Lazarus had died once, been buried, and opened his eyes to see the world again.  His family had mourned; his community had grieved; Jesus had cried - and Lazarus lived.  After, of course, he had died.

Somewhere after that, we lose the story, but life tells us there came a day when Lazarus died again.  Can you even imagine?

Can you imagine Mary standing there, wailing, inconsolable, shouting, "Didn't we just do this?"  Can you imagine Martha, quieter in her grief, weeping into a kerchief and shaking her head?  Can you imagine the Sadducees arguing over life, death, and resurrection?  The Pharisees debating the real nature of Jesus, the limited ability of His power?  Can you imagine the scene when a man you've grieved once dies again and now...well, now...you just don't know what to do?

I don't worry so much about Lazarus.  It was same ol', same ol' for a man like him.  He died once, entered the grave, opened his eyes, and saw his Friend.  Then he did again, entered the grave, opened his eyes, and saw his Friend.  Only the second time, he didn't have to worry about dying again.

This morning on the radio, the DJs shared a blurb about a man in California who had given his life to Christ.  They said, and I quote, "Kevin gave his life to Christ this morning.  For the first time."  They paused all dramatic in between, which is why I wrote it with a period even though they probably meant it without one.

But I laughed anyway and thought: how many times can you give your life to Christ?

Well, Lazarus did it at least twice.  And I...have completely lost count.

I feel like I've been there so often, stuck in the tomb, waiting on my Friend to arrive.  I feel like I've opened my eyes and seen something new so many times and then everything gets all messed up and life tells me it's over again.  Then I succumb to this world and die.  Again.

It's easy to think about how it looks to the world when a Christian dies again.  When a man or a woman that Jesus has raised from the dead falls back into the grips of darkness and is buried.  When a man or a woman who has been there, done that goes back to be there, do that again.  Yet we're all guilty.  We all keep falling back.  We all keep dying again and again and then begging there to be a Jesus to bring us back to life.

The world, I think, doesn't know what to think.  At the first death, it's easy to write a person off.  They aren't coming back.  This world is ready to erase your possibility as soon as you fail.  They are ready to say you've lost, you're gone, and it's tough because you had so much potential, but you lost it.  Then you come back again, whole and new, restored and reliving, and maybe they start to think there's a chance.  Maybe they start to think there's hope for you yet.

Until you die again, and a big fat marker strikes through your name.  It's why, I think, people who have been down tend to stay down; there's nothing in this world to resurrect them, no one who cares enough to walk into the grave.  This world is always content to write you off.  It's depressing.

But look at it from Lazarus's eyes.  Think about the first thing Lazarus saw every time he died - his Friend.  Jesus.  Savior.  Messiah.

I'm so thankful that's the case.  I'm so humbled that every time I die again, there is a Friend watching over me and His is the first face I see.  I'm so dumbstruck that He's so willing to walk into my darkness and bring new light, to walk into my grave and walk me out of it so that I have another chance at living.  Because the loss would be too much.  I'm heartbroken that every time, He has that tear in His eye, knowing how I've troubled Him.  Knowing that He knows He almost lost me...even when I'd hate to admit that I'd fallen so far.

I don't know how many times you can give your life to Jesus.  Honestly, I don't.  I think I passed seventy times seven a long time ago, and we're still going.  You see, I find that I have to give it to Him more than once.  More than twice.  Every time I die again, I have to give my life to Jesus because only He knows how to resurrect it.  Only He can put life back into my living.  It starts with surrendering to my grave.

And I know it's weird for a world that's watching.  Me, but Christians in general.  They are grieving good men and women who just can't stay out of the grave, no longer knowing what to think when we die again and again.  They are questioning life, death, and resurrection and wondering if such things are even possible.  They are questioning Jesus, whether He can do, with any real and lasting effect, what He is able to do.  Whether He can defeat the grave.  Whether He can defeat death.  Whether He can love and redeem the world.

All of those questions because once again, I died.  What a burden!

But here's what I know:

Life, death, and resurrection are not only possible; they are promised.  Jesus can, and does, with a real and lasting effect everything He is able to do.  He can, and has, defeated the grave.  He can, and has, defeated death.  He can, and has, loved and redeemed the world.  He can, and does, love even me.

How do I know?

Because every time I open my eyes, His is the first face I see.  My Friend.  My Jesus.  My Savior.  My Lord.  Tear-stained cheek and all, knowing He almost lost me.  Knowing I'll never lose Him.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Eyes Wide Open

I wonder if it's possible to worship with eyes wide open.

I say that because a few weeks ago, I noticed one member in particular of our worship team (and he may not be the only one) with eyes closed, worshiping with that really intense look on his face where you couldn't tell whether he thought he was a rock god or he was trying to rock out for God.  You probably know the type.  (I won't say who; it might make him self-conscious.  But it wasn't you.)

The truth is, though, that as soon as a song takes hold of my heart, I notice myself instinctively closing my eyes.  This is true of a song, a word, a moment.  When something of God wraps itself around me - or wraps me around Him - it seems I shut my eyes by pure reflex and just stay there and soak it in.  Which is really cool at church because I stand directly under this one light while we are singing, and if I'm standing there with eyes closed, but still looking toward heaven, this light washes over my new darkness, my closed eyes, and I can tangibly feel it and it's that whole cool holy moment thing.

That's beside the point.

It's hard to tell whether this is a good reflex or a bad one, an enhancement to the worship experience or a compartmentalization of it.  Obviously, it's easier to worship and to focus on God when it's just you and Him.  When you've shut everything else out and all you've got is that moment and the holy He's bringing to it.  It's easier for me to worship uninhibited if I can't see you either looking or not looking at me, worshiping or not worshiping, checking your iPhone or bouncing your baby or whatever else you may be doing in the course of an average church service.  It's easier to shut all that out, close my eyes, and share that moment with God.

At the same time, this is also part of the problem.  We have this idea that God is wholly separate from our mortal life.  He is "other than" all of this mess we call a world.  He is outside of the day to day, that eternity is beyond our revolution of the sun.  Yet God tells us that's not who He is.  That He's not separate from here; He created here.  There are a lot of things of God we might miss out on if we keep our eyes closed for the sake of Him.

Which makes me wonder, when I'm worshiping with my eyes closed, am I in communion with the God of the Universe, the Creator, my Father whom I love...or am I simply in communion with the idea of Him?

It's a fine line.  Of that much, I am certain.  On the one hand, I love the idea of connecting with God in the perfect way in which we were intended to relate, He and I.  With no distractions.  With no imperfections.  It seems like a perfect, holy moment standing there with my eyes closed, voice raised, heart hearing.  It seems like the way God meant it to be.  A perfect moment with a perfect God, perfectly away from this imperfect distraction.  On the other hand, I still have to live here and I need my God to be here, too.  I need to know He's in this world with me, that He understands what it's like right here.  More important, I need to know that He's still working here, still creating, still resurrecting, still building, still healing, still loving.  Still here.

I have those moments, too.  It's just that when I do, I find myself closing my eyes.  Trying to hold onto it for a little while longer.  Trying to keep it separate from this place, where it's so hard to worship some days, seeing all that is and aching over all that should be but is not.  And then it's just so easy to lose sight of God when I dare open my eyes and see again.

But then there is this, and maybe it is something.  Maybe the reason we close our eyes is for that residual light.  The way what we've just seen dances behind our eyelids even in the darkness.  The way it lingers in our sight for just awhile.  Maybe that's our way of drawing God into this place instead of shutting Him out of it.  Maybe it's our way of tucking away a little light in our darkness.  Because I've had those moments, too - when I close my eyes just to remember that little dance of light that betrays darkness.  That little bit of time that embraces the holy.

I can't help but wonder what I might see anew if I could ever figure out how to worship with eyes wide open.  I can't help but wonder what I'm missing in my sight that I'm sure God sees, that maybe He would want me to see.  I can't help but wonder how I would engage this world differently if I could do it while engaging God in the powerful way that comes so naturally when it's just me and Him.  I can't help but wonder what good there is to do here, what holy moment there is to create, if I didn't shut myself away from it to hold that holy moment with my God.  You know, just the two of us.

I can' t help but wonder because I'm just afraid.  I'm afraid that if I spend all my time with eyes shut tight, I may fall more in love with the idea of God than with God Himself.  I may worship who I think He ought to be or even might be instead of who He's revealing Himself to be.  That much of Him, I can only see with eyes wide open.

The question is, then, can I worship the same? 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Such Is Life

For the past couple of weeks, I have been honored to do some freelance design work for Meadowstone Therapeutic Riding Center, a horse therapy facility here in my town that works with children with special needs.  Specifically, I've been working to create some visuals for their children with autism who would thrive more with a non-verbal horse therapy experience.

What a blessed assignment indeed.

Because here's what a lot of people don't know about me, and when they find out, they still wouldn't think it: I have what you might call high-functioning autism.  That is to say I have a select few very strong autistic traits in me.  And as I've been working with the Meadowstone family and part of my story has come out, a lady asked me if I thought I could ever put words to some of what I know by experience.  It is Autism Awareness Month, so I thought I might try.

The most autistic sensitivity I have is that to texture.  Growing up in the 90s, of course, we didn't have such a thing as autism, so we called it other things.  We called it, why you can't spray your sister with silly string and why Andi doesn't participate in art class.  Among other things.  I don't do goo.  Don't get things on me.  Don't make me touch things.  It took years of hanging around other families and the church nursery, then well over six months into having my first niece, for me to be able to touch a diaper wipe at all.  To this day, if there is someone else around to do it....not it.  As the years have gone by, I've gotten somewhat better.  I can handle it for awhile, maybe, if I'm really into what I'm doing because there are experiences that trump the trigger somehow, if you can understand that.  But then again, last spring, a tube of caulk exploded and I either had to catch it in my hands or let it ruin my carpet.  I made the wrong choice.

This texture sensitivity enables me to understand something of the autistic nature, I think.  It is this: if you touch something autistic in me (that is, if you rub against my texture sensitivity), I shut down.  I can feel myself shut down.  There is this quick, searing sensation (not painful, but more shock-like) that sort of runs through my body, head to toe, shutting down everything as it goes through me.  I will just stand there, stuck.  And just....stand there.  At the same time, my mind will still be going.  I will feel the sense of stuck.  I will know it's not the thing but I will not know how to get out of it.  My body needs time, and space, to recover from having hit that nerve.  And maybe a towel or someone to wipe my hands.  It's not OCD, which might be easy to confuse here.  It's not this sense that my hands must be clean.  It is texture and purely that.  It is a sensory, not a mental, experience.

Understanding the shut down, among other things, led me to come up with this illustration for the lady who so poignantly asked the question: what is it like?  Here it is, in all my writing glory:

It's like in my head, there's a train.  It runs on a circuit that enables me to function fairly normally, socially, regularly in this world.  But inside that train, there is a conductor and she's got her own little train running on its own little circuit.   

I always have this backdrop of inner dialogue, this understanding that is beyond experience, this running conversation with myself as I engage with my world without engaging with it.  And I think that is where the social aspects of autism come into play.

See, I am perfectly happy and have a completely fulfilling interactive experience with you....without you interrupting it by injecting yourself into my space.  I am spatially oriented, meaning that I experience things by the measure of space.  This makes me able to recall things specifically; I have an incredible memory.  I can go back to a book and tell you which section of a page, about how far through the book, a certain quote appears on (provided it meant anything to me).  I can tell you where everyone was sitting in church the day that...fill in the blank.  I can tell you in vivid detail just about anything because the way I remember things is by remembering what it felt like, spatially, to be there and finding myself back in that orientation.

Which means...I often feel like you and I have done a lot more together than maybe you feel like we've done.  Because to me, it's enough that you were in the space.  You don't have to go gunking it all up by getting personal about it.  We don't even have to have spoken at this place or that for me to remember you being there, or even to remember it fondly and feel like we share that memory.

It seems lonely if I sit down and really think about it, objectively.  To have experienced the world only to realize I've barely touched it.  But it doesn't feel lonely; not at all.  Even in school, when I didn't have many friends and ate most of my lunches alone and kind of hung out in corners keeping to myself, it didn't feel lonely.  There were all these other people there, and I felt them.  I experienced them.  And they were kind enough (because I was weird, another old-fangled word for somewhat autistic) to not go messing that up by trying to engage me.

Don't get me wrong; I love people, too.  I love ministry and talking with people and stories and all of that.  But in the grand scheme?  In small doses.

That's kind of tip of the iceberg, but maybe it gives you a better insight into what it's like behind the quiet curtain.  A little?  And the truth is, I never considered it anything but who I was.  Who I am.  This is who I am created to be.  It's not a curse; it is a creation.  I wouldn't be any good at what I do without it.

It has given me incredible intelligence, which is helpful but not as important as it was many years ago (to me).  I mean, college-level-calculus-in-seventh-grade intelligence.  It also defines, absolutely defines, the way I experience and interact with my world.  It's what enables me to do what I do - to write, to create, to understand, to relate.  Things you think autistic kids maybe don't do very well.  You'd be wrong.  We do these things deeper.  This ability I have, that I think autistic persons in general have, to experience and relate to our world in unique, non-traditional ways is the blood of creativity and the essence of an indescribable life.

Not that we would describe it for you if we could.  That would just gunk it up with language.  But we're painting a picture if you're paying attention.

Speaking of which...it's been so blessed to be able to share part of my understanding and pour it into my work for kids down at Meadowstone, and my graphics turned out well.  

Except...apparently and judging by ear shape alone...every one of my horses is a donkey.

Such is life.