A Few Crashing Plates

It began with acorns. Lots of acorns. My husband built a box, buried the acorns and then covered it with wire mesh to keep squirrels from stealing. When green shoots emerged we (mostly by we I mean he) transferred the seedlings into pots. Around 200 little plants sat in my backyard until they were ready to be planted on our new property. That was 7 years ago.  Since then he’s planted various bushes, fruit trees, Japanese Maples, Virginia Pines, you name it.  He walks around surveying them often, knows how each one is doing and takes great care to help them thrive.  One day I’ll be in the middle of a forest.  It will be amazing.

Now my green thumb only extends to the edge of my porch, but I do enjoy my ferns and colorful potted plants. A couple of mornings ago I was pulling off dead blooms and thought about this tending and thriving I see all around me.

We live on what is becoming a farm. I look out of my windows and see a garden, a bee hive, my dog and cat running around and the area being marked out for three goats coming soon. My neighbors on both sides have horses and one has a pond where sometimes we fish. Birds are everywhere.

I try to catch bits and pieces of serenity like I did fireflies when I was a child.

Oh, I got it!  Wait, there it went!

I really don’t believe this is how it’s meant to be. This grasping for mental rest. I was thinking about this as I pull tired, once-orange blooms in hopes of new growth.

Let me tend to you that way…

Soft reminder.  I’m this living, created being who needs God to tend my soul so that I can thrive and grow.

I grab at Him some days, cling for breath like an asthmatic. I ask questions about where Joy is…where Peace went…as though Joy and Peace are missing children.

Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control…grow in our lives when we let His Spirit tend to us.  Cultivate us. Prune us. Nourish us.  It sounds sweetly religious except honesty can be messy and irreverent.  Yet Jesus wants to teach us to trust Him with every aspect of our lives.

But If I’m not in control will all the spinning plates of my life crash into a million pieces? 

Maybe.

What if some of our plates need to crash?

What if a few crashing plates bring us relief?

This morning I thought about sisters Mary and Martha from the Bible’s New Testament. Jesus was in their home visiting. Mary sat at his feet, resting in His presence and absorbing His words. Martha was busy in the kitchen doing practical things, like preparing their meal. She became angry at her sister for sitting with Jesus and not helping her.  (I wonder if she was angry because she too wanted to sit at His feet but felt constrained by her duties to be a good hostess)  Martha came into the room upset and told Jesus to reprimand Mary.

But He wouldn’t. You know what Jesus said?

One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it – it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her. — Luke 10:42 the message

Being with Jesus, being tended to by Him, is the one essential thing.

There are many challenges and worthwhile endeavors we might experience but not one of them can fulfill its God-given purpose in our lives, or the lives of others, if we Martha-strive without Mary-surrender.

Jesus, tend to our hearts and minds.  Help us slow down and carve out the time to be still with you, however that looks for each of us.  Help us learn how to be open and honest with you.  Give us the courage to listen with an attentive heart to what you will show us.  Help us learn through your kind attention in our lives that you are worthy of our trust.  

 

 

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Lovesick

I couldn’t miss anyone more than I miss you.

Like a gnawing in my gut, like an ache I can’t relieve. You are so much more than a well-constructed childhood, a lifetime kept inside the lines, a string of choices. This missing, this ache, this unrelenting awareness of you never subsides.

It’s so easy to live transparent. And it’s so hard to live transparent.

You are my safest place. Yet I learn in this long, painful way how I cannot be soft with you and hard with people. I cannot keep my heart close to you and far from people.

But I could not continue on so willingly open-hearted.

Slowly I constructed these walls. Brick by brick. And yet when I intended only an obligatory  visit with you, had worked up my stiff resistance, I continually found myself sinking into your presence.

Unable to hold myself away from you.

Your love is no soft invitation. It is an assault on every lie I ever believed.

I was so angry at pretense and pretending people and really, I was so very angry with you. I think I felt you tricked me.

I let you deconstruct my life and rebuild me and then I could no longer find you.

Deep inside I believed you abandoned me.

I could not find you anymore.

My healer.

My everything.

Seemed gone to me and I had never been more heartbroken.

I won’t pretend otherwise. I have nothing to prove. I just need you. This missing ache, the gnawing need. It never leaves me.

Ah, Jesus how you ruined me.

Jagged hearts are sharp. Your children slice and wound and bleed on one another.

We spin in our attempts to medicate the ache. More trying, more projecting, more holding it together.

But can I just fall apart at your feet now?

Can I give up this self-preservation? Can I let my calloused heart and tired hands rest? Can I just stop now and collapse at the foot of the cross? Let your redeeming blood saturate my life as the healing oil it was always meant to be?

Can I live shattered again?

What choice really is there? It’s been too long and I can’t go on the rest of my life fighting this vulnerability you demand.

Jesus you are more than kind, more than merciful, more than gracious, more than all the words in a lifetime could express. You keep raining on dry, dusty hearts. You keep enticing our empty souls with splashes of the sweetest love, desiring to fill us, to baptize our lives in grace and mercy and freedom. You keep whispering wholeness and healing and restoration against our loss. You keep singing comeback songs, writing comeback stories, drawing comeback blueprints for our lives.

You don’t give us up.

So let pain come. Let failures accumulate. Let disappointments and disillusionment gather. Let all my striving amount to nothing.

Because still, you. There is no one like you.

And yet all this time I know you never asked me to produce a thing. Never asked me to prove a thing.

You say, come.

And I come.

Over and over and over for all my life.

Disarming

they keep singing, little birds
and the sky with its unending bright blue
confronting me
the green lush of the trees, the grass
trading secrets with cotton clouds
conspiring together

the great love so close
gently pressing
crossing my invisible lines
hovering, waiting

how can i accept you
how can i deserve you

shake off the burden?
the earning?
the proving?
the almost but not quite of it all?

it’s already done
why i gave my life for you

i know you
i know you, great love
knocking me off my feet
emptying, filling
rearranging

like the click, the snap
of a perfect fit
the missing piece
completing and revealing me like a puzzle

yet i live as an incomplete
an unfinished
because
i know you are
also
a
heart-breaker

come to terms with you?

how can i reach agreeable terms with
all of who you are
when i can never really know
all of who you are

on my tongue the bitter aftertaste
of grace
of joy
of unshakable peace
of missing you

i know there is no one like you,
great love
no one and nothing
brings the click, the snap
the settled wholeness of a healed heart

but you ask for such precious
unbearable things
my white flag surrender
my dilapidated trust
my willingness to break

to disarm

oh i do not deserve
your unrelenting love
i do not deserve to live carefree
like a child
who is yet to know
the awful weight of worry
i do not deserve
to simply take shameless delight
in who you are
and all you have given to me

except you keep sending birds to sing to me
and blue skies to remind me
and stretches of green to convince me

bruised and barricaded
barred from hidden places
yet you love me as far and wide and long
as any place i can ever go

great love, keep singing to me

Bystander

I have them.  Lots of them.

Expectations.

My greatest joys and miseries have often hinged on met verses unmet.

Unmet expectations can feel like rejection.  Rejection makes us needy for some person or achievement to disprove our core beliefs.

I’m not worth the effort.  Not worth fighting for. Easy to leave.  Easy to set aside.  Lacking.

We crave and expect certain behaviors and reactions from others in our hopes to dispel the lies we believe.

We live sad, frustrated and angry.  We grow bitter and hard.  The poisons of unmet expectation circulate through our families, friendships and even our intimacy with Creator.  Our hopeful expectations for the best morph into expecting the worst from others while assuming the worst about others.

It’s Spring break for my kiddos so today’s gift was sleeping in and two cups of coffee. I sat outside watching Leighton play while sipping and checking in with Luke. Today I moved on to chapter 7 where John the Baptist is in prison.  This same John who had baptized Jesus and declared Him the One in chapter 3 is now sending two of his followers to ask:

Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?

Jesus doesn’t answer right away.  My Bible says for the next few hours he went about his business of ministering to people.  Then finally He says this:

The blind see,
The lame walk,
Lepers are cleansed,
The deaf hear,
The dead are raised,
The wretched of the earth have God’s salvation hospitality extended to them.

Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves fortunate!

Sitting outside on my little bench, Leighton whirling around, my heart caught.

You are fortunate if you have the right expectations. 

Even John the Baptist had unmet expectations.  Clearly John was confused from prison.  I don’t know exactly what He thought Jesus was going to do or how Messiah on earth was going to play out, but his expectations were not being met.

Healing nobodies, feeding ungrateful crowds, turning water into wedding wine, conversing with women, touching lepers and children, walking dusty roads with fishermen, eating with tax collectors.

Being Crucified.

Not what Jesus’ disciples, followers and friends were expecting.

They expected King Jesus.  Overthrow the Roman government Jesus.  Let us rule and reign beside you Jesus.

Instead they got breathless Jesus.  Bleeding out Jesus.  Dead Jesus.

What a fierce blow.  Crushing.  Everything they hoped for thrown back in their faces.

Except they were expecting the wrong things.

Oh this is my life lesson on repeat.

Sometimes I expect the wrong things from the wrong people and I feel disappointed. I choke it down and let it settle like concrete into the once soft and vulnerable places inside my heart.  I cannot let myself ask for, hope for, expect anything more.  I make a series of small choices that feel like smart defense mechanisms but in reality further isolate me from Great Love and Best Medicine.

Can you relate?

Remember in the book of John when Mary Magdalene is so upset on Easter morning? She expects to attend to Jesus’ body but the tomb is empty.  How much more can her heart take?  She begins to panic and plead for his whereabouts with a man she takes for the gardener.

Then He speaks her name.

Mary.

Her disappointment explodes.

In an instant Mary sees past her unmet expectations, panic, and pain to the One who holds her heart in His nail-scarred hands.

We often visit the tomb of our dead dreams…linger in the places hope bled out…plead for the thing we believe will relieve our suffering…make our case against the ones who hurt and disappoint us.

Sometimes we make our case against God Himself.

Yet there remains a bystander.  One patiently waiting.  Calling our name and holding in His nail-scarred hands our recovery, our destiny.

Different from what we expect, probably.

More than we expect, always.

 

 

Like The Nile

I was sitting outside in an old, falling apart wooden rocking chair.  I had arranged myself in the sun to avoid a chill as I sipped coffee and watched my youngest draw sidewalk chalk hearts.  Her art was elaborate.  In between sips I spelled out Valentines Day and Love. Periodically I closed my eyes so I could feel the sun on my face and breathe in fully this life of mine.

It’s something else.  Something other than what it was.  A million times more than it was going to be.

I don’t think about the way things were all that often anymore but I’m thankful for the days I do.

Now I sit in the quiet of my kitchen and Moses comes to my mind.  I think about his staff. I think about God instructing Moses and Aaron to strike the Nile with it and how all the water in Egypt turned into blood.

I remember God’s power.  I remember how doing what He says for me to do clears the way for one thing to become another.

See, Creator took my ugly, broken marriage…took hold of two very broken people…and turned us into something else.  It certainly took more than one strike of the staff to the Nile.  It took many strikes.  Many years.  Much chipping away.

Yet my name calling, clothes on the porch, door slamming, screaming, family counseling, altogether dysfunctional marriage, like the Nile, was transformed into something else.

We were adversaries and now he’s my best friend.
We brought each other so much pain and angst and now he’s my comfort.
We doubted and feared one another and now I rest in his leadership.

Don’t misunderstand me.  We don’t live in a pretend la-la fairy land of marital bliss.  We get annoyed, disagree and argue.  But we are on the same team now and that brings us to peace.  We learned, after uncatalogued hours, when to walk away.  We learned to come back soon.

Statistically, my family should not be intact.  Everyone has a story and their experiences of pain.  But while the sun warmed my face I remembered my story, our story, is actually one of perseverance.

And one of glass-chewing obedience.

I believe God tells us in His word many things about what kind of living pleases Him.  I believe a lot of issues are black and white.  But here is the thing…people are all shades of gray.  Thankfully we have a Father who knows our frailty, understands our pathos, extends mercy and grace when we don’t even know yet we need it.

So in the middle of our greatest struggle…our face to face with Pharaoh…Creator reminds us of His word and instructs our next step.

Raise your staff and strike the Nile, he says

It might translate something like this…

Ask for forgiveness…Offer forgiveness…forgive yourself…give away your time…give away your money…submit yourself…humble yourself…trust Me for your worth…let go of the past…stop grasping for things…stop grasping at people…put others first…slow down…come here to Me…believe Me…don’t give up…stop judging others…do not fear judgment…be brave…rest…move on…

As we experience the faithfulness and power of God in our lives it makes us braver to strike the Nile again and again, however many times it takes and however it may look.

The sun filters through my blinds now as I remember.  Following Jesus, imperfectly attempting to obey Him, felt like walking on fire.  Goodness how it broke down my pride. Every notion I had about my rights.  Every idea I had about what was fair. Every demand I wanted to make.  Everything ounce of self-pity and every last temptation to be a victim.

Jesus whispered against my heart as I cried out to Him.  He gave me the grace to do what I could never in a million years have done on my own.  I laid my deepest longings for love, my deepest need for nurture, my broken hopes for wholeness on His altar.  Not because I was strong or extra pious or good.

Because Creator was my only hope.

I was desperate for a miracle.  I was desperate for this life I had to be transformed.

What could have ever convinced me that Jesus would come through?  That surrender would work?

His nearness in my life.  His presence.  Love and grace so profoundly real to me.  Jesus ruined me in the best of ways. I now live certain, regardless of my ups and downs, that nothing and no one can out-do Him.

Perhaps today you are standing by the Nile.  Perhaps you are facing Pharaoh.  Perhaps you need the seemingly impossible to take place in your life.  May I encourage you?

Strike the Nile.

Listen and wait for His nudge against your heart…seek His direction…and trust Him enough to do it His way.

Nothing is impossible with God.

So Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them.  As Pharaoh and all of his officials watched, Aaron raised his staff and struck the water of the Nile.  Suddenly, the whole river turned to blood.  Exodus 7:20 (New Living Trans.)

Swallowed Up

Bedtime Bible story goes like this: Sitting in bed with lights out and Leighton pointing a little flashlight onto the page I’m reading. We are not consistent with bedtime Bible story but it’s funny how many times I have been struck by something new in a story I already know so well.

The men on the boat were safe. But poor Jonah was sinking deeper and deeper and deeper into the sea. God sent a big fish to rescue him. The fish swallowed Jonah with one big gulp.

As I read these words to Leah and Leighton my heart caught on the words swallowed up.

When I was a kid I always thought of Jonah as a sort of Bible bad guy. And I viewed his stay in the belly of the big fish as God’s punishment because he refused to travel to Ninevah and preach God’s message of forgiveness to the people.

This morning as I’m driving, dropping off, running violins back up to school and being all mommish I’m thinking about Jonah. About being swallowed up.

Thinking about how in life sometimes the thing you view as a punishment, the thing you think is going to be the end of you, is actually God’s rescue.

A divine act of grace. A mercy.

When I read about Jonah now I don’t see a bad guy. I see a man who told the men on the boat that the storm threatening their safey was God making his presence known to Jonah. And so they threw Jonah overboard…a seemingly just consequence to running from God.

Except the God who sent the storm….the God who let Jonah sink deeper and deeper and deeper…is the same One who sent the big fish to rescue him.  I believe God knew nothing was going to change in Jonah’s life as long as he stayed on the boat.

Jonah’s time inside the belly of the big fish was just what he needed not only to keep from drowning but to keep him from squandering his destiny.  Being swallowed up wasn’t a punishment.  It was an appointment.

Time spent breaking is an opportunity for holy reconstruction.

At forty-years-old  I feel like I know a couple of things. First, I don’t know nearly anything! Secondly, more than once a thing in my life that looked as though it would swallow me up and ruin me was the thing God used to rescue me from my fears and false beliefs. To change me. I know what breaks us can actually rebuild us into people we could never be otherwise.  The big fish might just be a rescue and a preparation for things I can’t know or understand about tomorrow.

I know that being swallowed up feels scary but the dark quiet inside the belly of our circumstance is often the best place to experience the nearness and presence of Jesus.

We come out messy but more alive than ever.

December Coming

Mom, what’s your favorite Christmas song? 

Easy.  O Holy Night.  I also like the Barenaked Ladies version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen but O Holy Night has always been my fav.  

And your least favorite?

Little Drummer Boy.  I mean, meh.  

Since the local radio station started cranking out Christmas music before Thanksgiving I’ve already heard my favorite song, mostly Mariah’s version, many times.

A thrill of hope…the weary world rejoices.

This year those words are sticking to my insides.

A thrill of hope.

The collective we, the world, we are weary.  The families.  The communities and counties and countries.  We are a scraping, angry, hungry, misunderstood and emptied out people. We have settled into discontent.  Our emaciated souls are starving for genuine hope.

And so when it comes it brings a thrill.  A shock of electricity to our apathy and numbness, a holy blast to our guarded living.

Do you remember your emptiness, your shame, your unbearable burden?  Do you remember the suffocating strife that stole your joy?  Do you remember the awful pressure to prove you were sorry, could do better, could be worthy?  Do you remember the gnawing ache in your gut as you hid from the light?  Do you remember your raw and bloody heart struggling against the shackles of sin and inadequacy?  Do you remember the dark loneliness as you resigned yourself to sleep in the proverbial bed you made?

Oh I do.  Every single bit of it.  Today I combed through yesterday’s despair just enough to remember how much I need Jesus.

To remember and relive this thrill of hope.

The pit–the cold dark– has serious drawbacks.  But inside something breathtaking can happen.  In soul darkness, in agonizing weariness, we can find our December.  Discover our Christmas.

Ageless hope, bottomless grace, oceans of mercy all wrapped inside the swaddling innocence of a manger baby.

Oh how we might believe, for a time, the slippery lie that we are too far gone, too much to handle, too dirty to be touched, too plain, too unremarkable, too insignificant to matter…

But then nail scarred hands are lifting our chin.  Oh the strange, steely resolve in His eyes! Determined Savior refusing to let His grace go unopened.  Jesus fully acquainted with our sin. Carrying our confusion. Absorbing our weary efforts, deflated hopes and lost dreams.

Jesus rescuing  us.

Bringing fresh hope.  Loving us without strings. Without prerequisites. Without disclaimers.  Forgiving without the sting of disappointment in His eyes.

He simply is not offended with us.  

This is December coming.

This promise.

This offer.

For weary hearts, weary homes and a weary world.

Thrill of holy hope .

Jesus.

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9.6 New Living Translation)

Not Mine To Break

Romans 4:13-15 (the message)  That famous promise God gave Abraham–that he and his children would possess the earth–was not given because of something Abraham did or would do. It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed. If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract! That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal. A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure you will never be able to collect. But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise–and God’s promise at that–you can’t break it.

I read this words a couple of days ago as I sat outside listening to waves crashing the shore…

Constant.  Relentless.  Irreversible.  I know what to expect when I come to the ocean.  Yet the continuity and sameness are not a boring given; they are a mystery, like the one in the scripture above.

Bible in my lap.  Looking out across the cloudy, water-filled distance I wanted to shake the enduring burden…slip loose of the timeless knot.  Humanity’s entanglement with perfection, earning and proving.

I read the words above and they settled on my heart in a different light.  God’s promise to love and sustain me, to save me, is His alone.  It’s not mine to break.  It’s mine to embrace.

I am bent hard toward earning or at the least proving to Him I’ll be worth His caring.  I cannot obtain perfection but hold to this sticky lie that my efforts toward perfection are a worthy offering.

That it could ever mean anything at all.

Instead of offering Creator adoration and gratitude for all I rightly don’t deserve but experience in His grace, I come limping with whimpering cries of anxiety and exhaustion.

The fruit of my proving is bitter.

Roman letter so long ago revealing and reminding.  God’s promise never to leave, never to forsake, never to abandon is not mine to break.

This great mystery.  Stepping into what has already been done.  Putting down our disbelief.  No matter how well we follow on some days or terribly we fail on others, the promise of God in our lives is absolute because He made it. We can’t break it.  When we begin to believe this, even just a little, our hearts are filled with hope and wonder and expectation.

What else can draw us into deep places of soul rest except love and grace which, like the waves, crash against our hearts so relentlessly?