No One Touches Me

I was biting my lip and all I could think was, they are gonna think I’m crazy if I start crying.

I stared at words I could not read but knew by heart. A song from my own church childhood…

Lord, You are more precious than silver
Lord, You are more costly than gold
Lord, You are more beautiful than diamonds
And nothing I desire compares with You

After a couple of times through the Pastor directed the worship leader to sing the lyrics in English.  I could barely get them out.

I felt the pressing presence of Jesus. I felt the touch of His love in the unguarded purity of a warm welcome.

I hadn’t expected it.

For my Transcultural Healthcare class I needed a “field experience.” My oldest daughter and I walked into this Spanish service held where my youngest daughter attends preschool. As we walked into the lobby a man stopped immediately because, well, we looked out-of-place. He gave us a big smile as I explained why we were there and asked if it was okay for us to attend.

One hundred percent!  Do you speak Spanish?

I told him no and he walked away, seemingly on a mission.

We took a seat in the back and were greeted by smiling faces, hellos and holas. The next thing we knew Norma was introducing herself and inviting us to sit with her family. We moved with her and met more friendly faces. Before service could begin a beauty of a young woman came to sit by me. She handed me a bilingual Bible and explained she was there to interpret for us. Her name was Percy and she was Pastor’s mission for his visitors.

With my head tilted to the right and sitting more closely to a stranger than I normally would, I listened to Percy translate…various praises were shared, prayer requests and then a message about living with a pure heart before God.

When the service was over and I had thanked Pastor Javy, Percy, and Norma we made our way back to the van. I looked at my daughter and tried to explain how touched I had been. How unexpected their kindness and warmth had been.

And I finally cried.

See, I thought I would just sit in the back and observe. And even though it might be awkward, well I needed to do it so I could write this paper.

But Jesus touched my heart. He touched me. He made me see and feel within this small group of Hispanic Christians many of the things that I have grieved not experiencing in my middle class, mostly white church world.

Instead of being invisible, receiving a polite nod or smile, I was embraced.

I told my daughter through tears that if Christians treated visitors, regardless of their differences, the way we had just been treated people would come to church. They would stay in church. They might actually believe the things church people say about Jesus.

I keep thinking about a movie my family watched last Saturday night. “Risen” was about a Roman Tribune who was assigned the task of finding the body of Jesus after the resurrection. Instead of finding a corpse, the Tribune found Jesus alive and well. In one scene a group of angry people were running a leprous man off from their village. As the man stumbled and fell to the ground, Jesus got up and went over to him.

Jesus sat down on the ground beside the man and put His arms around him. Initially the man covered in skin lesions pulled away but Jesus held on to him.  And the man cried out softly, No one touches me!

No one touches me.

My goodness.

Jesus is no smiling head-nodder. He’s a hurt-embracer. A broken-life-toucher.

He gets down to the ground and puts His arms around us. It’s unexpected and awkward because we live with our guard up around people, especially church people. So when Jesus won’t let us go we squirm and try to pull away because being touched is the undoing.

The undoing of our pain, our soul’s disease and dis-ease. Being touched by Jesus is the uncovering of our pretense; our shaky control.

Jesus touched me last Sunday as I sat shoulder to shoulder with Percy. As Norma leaned into our personal space to ask about my daughter’s school and learn our story a bit. As I recognized the melody to a chorus from my childhood and struggled over the lump in my throat to sing along.

Jesus is absolutely going to touch our lives! He is going to find the ways, the hands, the words, the songs, the unexpected encounters.

He is going to get up from wherever He is when He sees you. Jesus is coming over to where you are.

Jesus will look directly into your pain, your sin, your shame, your loss. He’s not going to glance nervously or pretend it isn’t real. He is not intimidated by your life.  Jesus is not going to offer a smile and shake your hand. He’s not going to refer you to a verse or hand you a Bible. Jesus is not going to ask if you have made Him the Lord of your life before He even knows your name. He’s not going to carefully hand you a bag lunch or a twenty and invite you to His church.  He’s not going to walk away feeling good because He tried.

He’s not going to walk away at all.

Jesus is gonna get down into the dirt with you. And He’s gonna hold on to you until you believe you are loved.

Homesick

Psalm 119:173-176 (the message)
Put your hand out and steady me
since I’ve chosen to live by your counsel.
I’m homesick, God, for your salvation;
I love it when you show yourself!
Invigorate my soul so I can praise you well,
use your decrees to put iron in my soul.
And should I wander off like a lost sheep–seek me!
I’ll recognize the sound of your voice.

Vs. 176 (NIV)
I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.

Have you ever felt lost? Misplaced? Turned around?

Unsteady in your soul?

Sometimes we feel lost because we’ve lost…

Lost track
Lost hope
Lost trust
Lost passion
Lost surrender
Lost dreams

We might breathe in and out yet never exhale.

We might be constantly on the move but going nowhere.

We might grasp for peace and safety but claw ourselves (and others) bloody.

We might live completely disoriented but refuse to follow His lead.

Empty. Lost. Wandering.

A soul bent and buckled.

The verses above touch my heart this morning…This morning when I find a bit of my familiar.

In this chair. At this table. Jesus Culture playing. This backyard view and this cup of coffee. Blank screen before me with His Word beside me.

Inside me.

I exhale just a bit in the comfort of my familiar.

Recently a friend used the word pizzazz as she described a particular kind of lack. I don’t know why, but it stuck to my insides.

This pizzazz quality, this passion, this thing, is really just the glory of our God filling and spilling as He chooses.  Creator is our steady…Shows Himself in the pizzazz of peaceful living.

Wandering from His presence produces homesick, strife-filled living.

I have strayed like a lost sheep…seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.

You know what my heart hears in this verse?

I’ve lost my way, God…I feel misplaced…this more, new or wrong path feels like shaky living…and I can’t catch my breath. Please Father, come and get me! I have not forgotten you, just lost my sense of direction.

And He comes.

Jesus tells a story about a shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to recover the one lost. We always think of the unsaved person as the lost sheep and well enough.

But really the sheep that wandered lost was once in the fold. Living close to the shepherd.

Maybe you’ve never lived palm-safe. Maybe you’ve never experienced Jesus-close living. The steady, the pizzazz, the iron-in-your-soul.

Perhaps you have and identify with homesick living.

Are you homesick? 

I am.

Because there is no place like home. No place, no person, no thing and no success that will fill us, mend us, splash and spill against our hearts like Jesus-close living.

Sometimes we stray from His presence because our distracted hearts lead us off track.

Sometimes we are living in the more and new of unknown pasture but it’s scary and unfamiliar.

Either way, Jesus is still home.

We call out and He comes.

We stop fighting and He carries.

If you feel homesick in your soul may I encourage you?

Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me.  And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go.

Jesus says in Matthew 6 that He won’t ever let you go.

I believe this is why we feel homesick in our soul.  Homesick for love, grace, acceptance and rest.

Because Jesus offers what we need most.

And He doesn’t let go.

Seasons and Silver

Lord, when you favored me,
You made my royal mountain stand firm;
But when you hid your face,
I was dismayed.
(Psalm 30:7 NIV)

Wife. Mother. Friend. Registered Nurse. Volunteer.

Of all the roles I’ve known in my thirties, the one I was least prepared to hear God speak to my heart was Leader. This sudden whisper, loud as it was, seared my heart forever. Leadership was unfamiliar so I resisted until one morning, months later, I finally came undone. He was calling me away from nursing to lead in ministry…something I never imagined myself doing. I wept as His peace filled my heart.

As I gaze into my autumn backyard, I pause. He took this ordinary girl and did something extraordinary with my life. I get it now. God takes those “less likely” and turns us inside out if we’ll let Him. It’s breathtakingly beautiful what happens in this great romance between Creator and created…Crucified and called…Lover of souls and the lost. He mends and blends, transforming us and spilling out of our regular lives.

A year ago I chose to step down from this God-whispered calling as my third daughter arrived. I have struggled almost every day. Like the Psalmist, God’s favor made me strong and His purpose was my royal mountain! I was standing firm in His presence and power. It was clear. I was certain.

Now I’m dismayed.

I see the reality of change all around. Leaves, once green with life, now a blaze of color as they fall to the hard earth. I wonder does nature fight against the changing of seasons? Does it know that when things feel dry and dead it’s only preparation? Do the trees sway in consternation or surrender? Do the leaves swirl in confusion or anticipation? Have they accepted what I cannot? A God of changing seasons has my future in sight even as He lets me wither…

As the seasons changed, so did my heart! I would love for you guys to check out the remainder of my post under “Guests” over at (in)courage and share your thoughts!

Freshly Laundered

1 Peter 2:23-25 (the message)
They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.

This morning, as Leah sits beside me playing Temple Run and Leighton rocks vigorously in her little chair, I am trying to pause…to absorb a reality that does not feel right.

I am kept. For good.

It doesn’t feel right because I live in a world of earning, cost-benefit analysis and fair play. I cannot convey in words the thick fog of human reasoning that resists this reality of being named.

Bright rays of truth permeate my heart when I remember. I did not clean up and present myself, earning acceptance. Jesus washed me, beggar that I was. Clothed me, street urchin lost and wandering aimlessly. Then He whispered in my ear. So simple a word and yet rain to my lonely, desert soul.

Mine.

Jesus led me along an unfamiliar road. I did not recognize or even believe my eyes.

Pure goodness.
Gentle kindness.
Unconditional welcome.
Genuine acceptance.

Sometimes I slowed…pulling back and away…but He held my hand a bit tighter, looked back at me and smiled a smile of understanding. Jesus understood my hesitation. He knew about my shame. As we stood in the moment together…could I trust this was real?…He let go of my hand. Just when I turned to go He held it out for me to see.

Scarred.

Forever scarred.

I looked into His eyes and saw longing.

Longing.

Jesus wanted me.

The scars He forever bears are not meant to accuse me. They are declarations of His love and longing for me.

For you.

His wounds, they heal me. They tell me who I am and where I belong.

Jesus leads me to Creator. I approach the throne of Grace with a new and almost unsettling confidence. No longer do I timidly, shamefully draw near to God.

I do not come uninvited.

I do not come as the begging, unsure street urchin I once was.

I do not come to Creator a trembling orphan, hoping for a home.

Instead I am brought.

Jesus brings me, named Mine and freshly laundered in love and forgiveness, to meet His Father.

My Father.

And I exhale every polluted untruth I ever believed about myself and this God of the sun and snow and ocean depths.

I was always His. I always belonged. I always had a name.

He missed me. Missed sharing my life. Missed calling out my name and watching me turn with an expectant, ready smile.

Jesus brought me back to Him.

And now I’m kept. For good.

The Pieces of Me

Psalm 18:20a (the message)
God made my life complete
    when I placed all the pieces before him.

This is a verse that always stops me.

This idea of giving Him the pieces of me.

Once in a while it hits me how much of a “grown-up” I am now.  I’m thirty-six with a husband and three children.  There is so much of me in so many sometimes scattered pieces.  Wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister, in-law, volunteer, writer and Jesus follower.  Honestly, on some days I feel washed away.  As if somehow the girl that I was has been swept away in the current of adulthood.  Do you relate?  Why, I’m most certain you do.  Smile.

Yesterday in church something else washed me away.  Gratitude.  I stood beside my husband in worship, holding his hand, and could only lift my other in thanksgiving.  I could only whisper words of praise to Jesus…the One who holds us together…the One who moves us along when things get hard…the One who pours hope into our hopeless hearts…the One who whispers  keep going when the world says just quit.  The One.  The Glue.  Healer.  Strengthener.  Wonder-Worker.  See, I know my marriage should be a statistic.  I know.  And yet, it’s not.

He takes all of my pieces.

Leighton sits nearby playing and babbling.  I pause to watch the crimson trees swaying in my backyard.  My heart begins to burn again.  As crimson as the leaves I see.

I cannot live inside the nice and primly neat confines of our modern christianity.  The way we do it.  The way we often settle.  Church, if we go at all, is enough.  The “sacrifice” of getting up and showing up.  The “sacrifice” of a few left-over dollars in a bucket.  The “sacrifice” of serving in some capacity since we are supposed to be a part of the body of Christ.  Oh, now, aren’t we good Christians?  Can’t we talk the scriptures?  Can’t we promise to pray and share delicate information in the name of prayer?  Don’t we agree whole-heartedly with the message?  Don’t we feel emotional when we sing Amazing Grace?

Don’t we leave just the same as we came in?

I’ve lived that version.  The praying prayers that hit the ceiling and bounce back in my face because there is really no intimacy to carry them to the heart of God.  I’ve told other people what to believe even while I wasn’t completely convinced myself.  I’ve professed joy and peace and life-change all the while living in strife.  Jesus is real and I was His child all along but my experience was largely manufactured.  And I was incomplete.

Oh, the pieces of me.

A few years ago my incomplete and lacking lifestyle finally got the best of me.  All the instruction, the formula, the confessions and posturing.  All of what I should be able to produce if I did it “right.”  Finally I hit the wall of truth:  I could never do it right.  So, I quit trying so hard to say the right things around the right people.  I would even say I grew to care less how I measured up to  those people.  Every day I sat on my porch and just talked to Him…every time I got up and put aside my spiritual how-to agenda for His agenda…every day I chose to be real with Him, myself and others brought a shift.

My pieces began to move.

He moved me all around.  Inside and then outside.  I found my pieces put together in ways I couldn’t ever have conjured up on my own.  Jesus became more than my label or my cause or my vote.  Jesus began to pulse through my veins and arteries.  My lungs filled up with His nearness and I began to exhale something more authentic than I had ever known.

There are pieces of me still dangling in the clouds.  Pieces of me at the bottom of the valley.  Pieces of me scattered along hillsides and rugged mountain terrain.  The story is incomplete.  And yet even in my sometimes washed away, scattered pieces a fire burns deep down.  And so I cannot go back.  I cannot go back to my former manufactured christian living.  Just like before, I crave more.  Not more feelings or more experience.  More revelation.

Last night I started reading a book written by a man who suffered deeply for his faith under Communism.  I’m well aware I live in America and God understands my experience here.  But as I was reading and understanding how I could never really understand, a question blew across my heart.  Do I know Jesus well enough to be so compelled for Him?

It is highly unlikely I will ever suffer the way many Christians do for clinging to Christ.  But do I know Him, do I even care to know Him, in a way that would compel me to cling to Him in such ways?  What if knowing Him this way, clinging to Jesus, is what transforms our mundane and mostly satisfied experience with Creator into something that burns within our souls?  Changes us?  Transposes our supposed sacrifice in church attendance, giving and serving into the rare and beautiful privilege that it is?  What if we find ourselves breathless that we get to know Him rather than resign ourselves duty-bound to know Him?

What if we stop manufacturing and give Him the pieces?

I consider the days and weeks ahead this morning.  I consider the seasons of life and how I am passing from one into another.  Flames begin to lick at my heels, my heart and my mind.  I hear the beginnings of God whispers and know that we are going round the bend.  See, it’s not really about me.

It’s not about my pieces and how I want them arranged.

How uncommon to discover God does not serve my purposes.  I was made to serve His purposes.  As long as I am satisfied with my “sacrifices” and believe I am placating Creator with words and duties that produce only religious pride I will continue with less.  Less than what He means for me to have of Him.  Less than joy.  Less than true peace.  Less than a fire that burns away the excess and reveals His Glory.  Less than complete.

God makes my life complete when I place all the pieces before Him.

All our pieces:  who we are as a spouse, a parent, a boss, an employee, a leader and a servant.  What we do with our talents, our dreams and our failures.  Our deepest needs and desires.  Our secret hopes and fears.  The places we turn for meaning and answers.  Our efforts, even with pure intentions, to cross our spiritual T’s and dot the I’s.

When placed before Him our pieces become our greatest offering.  Only in His hands are we authentic and complete.