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.)

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.

Spending Grace

What kind of Christian are you? 

Recently this question was asked of me, I believe rhetorically, but never-the-less I gave it some thought.

It’s easy to say what kind of Christian I should be, but what kind of Christian I actually am?  That’s a whole other thing.  It didn’t take long for an answer to rise to the surface of my heart.

I’m the very human, sometimes sloppy but always convinced kind.

Of this.

We, though, are going to love–love and be loved.  First we were loved, now we love.  He loved us first.  1 John 4:19 the message

Like all humans, I crave love and acceptance.  I crave safe places where I can be vulnerable.  I spent a great deal of my nearly forty years trying to earn those things.  I kept trying to give away what I didn’t have.  Kept demanding from others what was never their responsibility to give me.

I knew in my head God loved me.  I knew all of it.  All the church in me, all the Sundays and notes and back-pats defined me.  But I clearly did not believe, in my core, the truth of it.  I had not bumped up against grace, so stringless.  Had not yet truly rested my weary, over-thinking head on His knee.  Never had I pressed paused on my striving.  Never had I shut my ears to other broken humans telling me I should be like Jesus instead of to just be with Jesus.

Being with Jesus…was not talking about Him, writing a blog about Him, reading books about Him, or telling others about Him.  Sometimes the path to Jesus is littered with church notes, five point plans, teaching tapes and good intentions.

Six years ago I stood by a window in my living room, looking out into my cul-de-sac.  I was grasping and afraid.  I wanted to control things and people and circumstances that did not belong to me so that I could feel better.  I will always remember the way He confronted my pride and the invitation He slipped into my heart that day.

Come be loved.

Uncertain but sick to death of towing the religious line without the promised results, I went.

To swing on my porch.  To sit at my kitchen table.  To stand at my windows.  I had no idea what I was doing.  All my life I tried to relate to Jesus by doing things I thought were right and avoiding things I thought were wrong. I only knew the currency of performance and following instructions.

I had no idea how to just do nothing. 

Smile…the best, most life-changing nothing I ever did.

I was spending grace.  Blowing through it like a hole in my pocket.  Completely myself and saying my whole heart aloud to Him.  I hid nothing.  Unrehearsed.  Unfiltered.  Untimed.

Finally I came undone.  Finally I had something authentic to give away.

Because He loved me, first.  Gave to me, first. 

I’m still sloppy some days…some years, even.  Sometimes I’m a well run dry.

But no matter what I’m convinced I’m loved.  And I’m always invited.

Come be loved by me.  Sit with me.  Talk with me.  Let me whisper into your world.  Let me fill every empty space.  Let me heal every hurt.  Let me give purpose to every regret.  Let me unlock the chains.  Lift the weights.  Time to put aside your agenda.  Give back your accolades.  Cease striving.

First we were loved, now we love.  

 

 

 

 

Inky Pages

Sometimes the quiet is the loudest.

Sometimes a Bible can say so many things before you even open it.

Yesterday morning I considered mine as it sat on the table in the quiet of my kitchen. This fading, scratched up Message paraphrase I’ve had for I don’t know how long. It’s dear to me in a way no Bible I’ve owned has ever been. I look over and it means more to me than really I can say. And at times it says more than I really want to hear.

In practical terms its simply a book with pages and ink. But in terms of living it holds potential for life and death. Thin, inky pages telling us all the things Creator means for us to know. Things that sustain us, remake us, unfold and surprise us.  The things that rescue us.

Jesus, no matter the question, is the answer. Yet I’m afraid it’s just a Michael W. Smith song until we hit a wall in life that breaks us apart…until we find ourselves completely lost and helpless. Until we have absolutely run out of answers and plans and opinions we are simply not needy enough.

Marriage made me needy. Regret broke me. Miscarriages of justice and babies confused me. I strained against the pain because I thought I couldn’t handle it, and because I mistakenly thought spiritual prowess meant a strong front. But sinking into the truth of myself, of my life, brought grace, comfort and power I never would have known otherwise. My shiny, plum-colored Bible earned it’s scratchy fade along those broken roads.

I finally heard the voice of His Spirit when there was nothing left for me to say.

I finally felt the nearness of Jesus when I was all alone.

I finally learned new things when I admitted I knew nothing, really.

I finally understood joy and peace when I gave up merely pretending to have it.

I finally liked myself when I discovered He liked me already.

When I look at my Bible lying on the table I see we have a history. I know the pages are full of Love. I know the ways of Jesus in my life happened inside and I can never forget.

But I don’t want to write about a memory. 

So I sit down at my table and read these words.

Yeast, too, is a small thing, but it works its way through a whole batch of bread dough pretty fast.  So get rid of this “yeast.”  Our true identity is flat and plain, not puffed up with the wrong kind of ingredient.  1 Corinthians 5, the message

Creator confronts, divides and winnows.  He reveals the diagnosis and then provides the cure.  Intimacy with Jesus is no small thing. The yeast of life we all contend with…pride, fear, shame…spreads quickly and before we know it we are puffed up with the wrong ingredient.

I don’t want to live puffed up with offense, insecurity, fear, and selfishness.

I believe everything I truly need, everything I hope for, lies just behind my shattered pride.  On the other side of humble and transparent.  Every life-altering thing I  know of Jesus has come with a deflation of my opinions, my way, my rights.  Jesus has never let me down when I trust Him with everything I’m afraid I can’t control.  Has never left me empty when I pour myself out.  Has never left me sin-sick when I confess my need for grace.

He never leaves me broken but always welcomes me that way. 

And so I open my Bible, these inky pages that reveal and cure me if only I say yes.

Jesus,  make me flat and plain so you can build what you want of me. 

Kiss The Waves

I HAVE LEARNED TO KISS THE WAVE THAT SLAMS ME INTO THE ROCK OF AGES — Charles Spurgeon

Recently I watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy that left me weeping as I sat alone in my living room. Two of the main characters received devastating news about their unborn child and the episode kept cutting away to flashes of their past…falling in love, getting married, creating a nursery. Maybe I cried because I’ve had two miscarriages and the storyline tapped into memories of loss and profound confusion. I think that was partly it.

But the other part was something else entirely.

As I watched and wept my mind began to cut away to flashes of my own life. In a broad sweep, a panorama view, I saw myself in bits and pieces.

And I wept because I saw that I am stronger now.

The waves I’ve kissed. The ones that slammed me into the Rock of Ages. They made me strong.

I can hear the fan whirring in my bedroom as I type from my kitchen. In the quiet something more than tears are spilled. My story. Pages and posts offered to many. Secret scribbles known only to a few. Unwritten words that never see a page, unspoken, never ride the current of the wind. This is my life. This is my ocean. These are my waves.

And He is my Rock.

Part of me resents that Instagram post. Resists the idea of kissing the waves. The idea that pain and grief, loss and rejection, can be in any way good.

But the truth of it pings at me. Like a boy with a crush who won’t give it up.

I know it’s true.

My cheeks are dry now. The bright light of epiphany has dimmed. But in its wake lies a subtle truth that anchors my life.

I am who I am because I’ve been slammed into the Rock of Ages. All I will ever be, the very best parts of me, are secondary to the bitter-sweet concussions delivered to my heart and mind as I threw myself against Him.

I’m not a pristine and perfect dish. One can easily identify the cracks in my exterior. Jagged lines that intersect and hint at prior repair.

This is the sweet in the bitter-sweet: His overwhelming grace and extravagant love are the glue in my cracks.

As we break against the Rock we are repaired by the Rock. 

We are never quite the same.

We carry something beautiful inside of us that we did not own before.

We know the touch of His Love.

And then we kiss the waves…

Being Churchy

I was on my way to the grocery store.  We need stuff.

But instead I pull into the driveway and park myself here at this kitchen table.

I’m not talking about alcohol, sex, or politics.

I’m not talking about homeschooling, private or public.

I’m not talking about long skirts, long hair or long services.

I’m not talking about small groups, serving or tithing. 

I’m not talking about baptism, worship style or praying (in tongues or in your native language).

I’m not talking about the lingo, the liturgy or Lent.

I’m not talking about denominations, traditions or opinions.

Honestly, I’m tired of talking about it.

I believe church is a big deal.  All the teaching, community and disciplines of Christianity are important but when I lack authentic love for others….people outside my bubble, my sphere of comfort, my world view…all my lingo, service and check writing is just being churchy.

Oh, I know how to be churchy.

The churchiest.

I was the best at church when my whole world was church.  Everyone, just about, in my world was a Christian.  Thought like me, talked like me, generally behaved by the same moral code as me.  Then about a year and a half ago I went back to nursing in an ICU.  My heart is torn often.  I see things that disturb me.  Things I can’t always shake off when I badge out.

I remember the woman clinging to me after saying good-bye for the last time.  I hear the words of disoriented addicts screaming at me, calling me names and cursing at me.  I feel, under my fingertips, the scars of a cutter.  I see myself standing close by as frightened grandchildren take in the tubes, machines and limp body of a favorite grandparent.  I hear the echo of my own words whispered to the one who has no grieving family, only nurses and doctors to care if they live or die.  Sometimes I bask in the victory of pulling a smile from the angry one, the bitter one, the scary one. 

I’m confronted with pain and the realities of what I say I believe.

Being relevant without authentic love and compassion for others renders us irrelevant.  Nothing I say I believe really means anything unless it’s real outside of the walls of my church.  Who I really am you can never know from a Sunday morning.

Jesus was so amazing.  The way He interacted with people.  The way He really cared about them.  He engaged others because He was truly interested in and loved them without an agenda and criteria of proof for them to meet.  He knew that compassion and God’s unconditional love are the most powerful forces that can be aimed at the wounded or sinning heart.

Thank you, Jesus, for shattering my spiritual pride again and again.  Thank you for giving me the chance to see what your love can do…thank you for breaking me apart when I’m hard…thank you for this core discontent with the artificial. I’m rough and ragged and all I can do is ask for your love to wash over me and then touch the people I encounter.

He Wants To

Mark 1:40-41 (the message)
A leper came to him, begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.”
Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said “I want to. Be clean.”

When I read this I thought about my recent all-alone day at the beach. The sky was beautiful. Azure blue with thin, wispy clouds. Being alone simply meant I was still and quiet for longer than usual. Meant that my heart could slowly open and participate in the give and take of honest prayer.

I sat alone with thoughts about my life and then as I observed the people around me I thought how they were probably doing the same. Looking out across the ocean, up into the deep blue and considering. (Something about the ocean, it makes you feel small in the best of ways) Reminds you so beautifully of a Master hand. Life pulsating all around. Life miles out into the depths of darkness where the sun does not reach.

And yet there is no place we can go and He is not there.

The depths, the heights, the shining and the darkest.  Always there.

Why must I sit on the sandy shore to remember?

I think I know.

We forget, or maybe never even know, that He wants to be with us. Wants to help us. Wants to heal us. Wants to mend and repair us. He wants us to feel His love and presence so very real yet so often intangible.

Often we are too heart-sick to hear Him. Too infected with pain, regret, disappointment,  bitterness, anger, and shame to feel Him.

Toxins accumulate and threaten our well-being.   We need treatment.

I sat on the beach thinking about my work as a nurse. Often patients are so sick and exhausted they can no longer participate in the care they need. They can only agree to receive the care we give. Yes, later a time will come for instruction and a regimen to follow, but in the sickest moments they are actually passive and unable to help themselves. They can only agree to let the doctors and nurses do the work of healing.  The only thing they can do is not resist.

Sometimes we are heart-sick and our symptoms are raging yet we continue to try to heal ourselves. It may be time to lie still. To make the one choice we can make and that is to receive the care our Healer wants to administer. Like the antibiotics I so often infuse into the veins of the very sick, God’s love and His Word need to circulate into our most septic spaces.

He is our medicine. He is the cure. And sometimes the only thing left to do is stop fighting Him.

Because He does want to heal us. He wants to.

This morning I see those words, how Jesus was “deeply moved.” This leper knew Jesus was capable of healing him. The question was and is simply this…

Am I worth it, Jesus? Am I of enough value that you’d take the time to touch me? I know you can, but do you want to?

The answer was Yes, I want to.

And it’s still His answer today.

 

Alive In Me

Jesus-

I’ve never called for You and You didn’t answer
I’ve never looked for You and couldn’t find You
I’ve never needed Your help and You didn’t give it
I’ve never been in a pit so deep You couldn’t pull me out
I’ve never reached for Your hand and You pulled away
I’ve never hung my head in shame and You didn’t lift it
I’ve never whispered Your name and evil didn’t flee
I’ve never been so lost that You couldn’t–wouldn’t–look for me
I’ve never hurt so much and You wouldn’t hold me
I’ve never needed forgiveness and You didn’t give it
I’ve never nearly lost hope and You didn’t renew it
I’ve never craved Your comfort and You didn’t sit with me
I’ve never longed for Your friendship and You left me lonely
I’ve never broken into pieces and You didn’t take time to gather me
I’ve never run so hard and You didn’t run harder to catch me
I’ve never hardened my heart and Your love didn’t melt me to surrender
I’ve never leaked so many tears that didn’t meet the tips of Your fingers
I’ve never bent low from loss and You didn’t gently lift my burden
I’ve never looked up at Impossible Mountain and You didn’t make it crumble
I’ve never felt fear without and You didn’t remind of Greater within

I’ve never been at peace…never lived whole…never exhaled relief…never known healing…except at Your feet. I’ve never known ugly and crushed and You couldn’t recreate beautiful. I’ve never not needed You. Never could truly discard You. Never part ways with You. 

You follow me all the days of my life.

You sing over me in the still of the night.

You make all things new, again and again.

You are as real and close as my heart wants to see.

I’ve never known better–will never know better– than You alive in me.