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.

 

 

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?

 

 

 

Believe & Be Held

Ephesians 2:1-6 (the message)
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

I was thinking about this recently.

I wondered, like the verses above, why God bothered with us at all once it was clear humanity was a rebel race.

I can’t mentally understand His mercy.  I can’t understand because my default thinking is set to earning, reaping and deserving.

And I don’t deserve mercy.

So as I was driving last week I thought about how God must see us so differently than we see ourselves.  Perhaps the reason God hasn’t scrapped the lot of us.

Our sin-sick living is the expression of our grasping for center, our relentless pursuit of control.  Our disjointed effort to be okay apart from the nearness of Jesus.

We do not live in organic unity with Creator because we do not really trust Him with our lives.  We don’t trust God or other humans because truth be told we don’t trust ourselves.

Regardless of our pretense, posts and posturing we know the evil within our own hearts. We can’t seem to get a hold of ourselves, our issues, our neediness.  We misunderstand that we could have ever gotten a hold of it at all, ever cured ourselves, and so we politely resist genuine fellowship with God.  We keep our distance from the bleeding vulnerability that would truly remake us.  We rebel and grasp and refuse to yield.

We live fractured, wounded lives and grow accustomed to the feel of scar tissue beneath our fingers.

Oh how we need this immense mercy, this incredible love.  And mostly we agree, yes we do!, but then we refuse to settle into it.  Honestly don’t know how.

We need to be held and safely kept in the hand of Almighty.

Our squirmy resistance is our unbelief.  We won’t be still inside this miraculous offering of peace because we don’t deserve it and haven’t earned it.

No, we don’t and we haven’t.

The crux in the matter of living.

I drive HWY 42 and think how we are all just a fractured humanity needing Jesus to set our bones to right.  Set our hearts to heal.  Set our soul to safe-keeping.

We must finally allow ourselves to slide into His grace.  To recognize our defense mechanisms, our controlling and unyielded living as the symptoms of our disease, not the cure.

He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ with no help from us.

We are certainly no surprise to God.  Our most secret sins and ruinous choices–past, present and future– are accounted for, already smeared red with the blood of Christ.

Our fractured lives, our broken minds and hearts, our unyielding will can be reset, restored and revived in His embrace.  There is nothing we can do, need to do, except believe, be still and be held.

 

 

 

 

My Undeniable Center

I really don’t even know what kind of tree this is. I need to ask my husband because he would know.

I’m sitting on this old bench under this particular tree listening to the birds. And I think if I really focus, maybe I’ll see the tobacco plants growing before my very eyes. My front porch view has changed, but the blue of the sky is the same. Sounds of creation still familiar.

It’s different. And yet it isn’t.

Under this unidentifiable-to-me tree with my Bible open.

Untangle me, God.

Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat–and he was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!” Matthew 8:23-25

Jesus slept soundly through the storm because he was not intimidated, threatened or afraid of the storm, the crashing waves. Jesus knew His power.

I’m often like the disciples. Mentally spinning and emotionally upset because the waves of life are coming into my boat and I fear they will take me down. I want to control the circumstances of life–insulate myself from storms and crashing waves–so I can feel safe and secure in every way.

I desperately want to be the best mom I can be. My impractical dream is to raise children unscathed by childhood–by life. Already I can tell you I have failed! There simply is no life lived without controversy, disappointment, regret or the need to overcome adversity.  Avoiding crashing waves is mostly a waste of time and attempting it will leave my daughters ill-equipped for life.

The waves are going to come crashing.

But Jesus, if He’s in my boat, will remain unfazed and very present.

Everything is not always going to be alright. But we can be alright.

Because no matter the waves crashing into our hearts, our minds or our bodies, Jesus will never change. His love, His grace, His mercy.  His very presence will not change.  Cannot be removed, weakened or taken from us.

No matter what. Not ever.

As I think this morning along these lines I remember my miscarriages. I asked God to save the life of my unborn child on two separate occasions.

Neither time did it turn out “alright.”

But I’m still alright.

Jesus was still in my boat. He spoke to my storm and eventually the waters calmed. Jesus is my constant, my undeniable center.  He’s my anchor over and over and over in this life.

He’s my rock-solid.

No matter what you might be going through, no matter what kind of waves might be pounding at your heart, your mind or your body, if Jesus is in your boat you will be alright in the end.

He’s not going to join into our frantic efforts to control, manage or manipulate life. But He will absolutely stand guard over our soul. He will speak peace over our lives in such a way the knots of fear unravel.

Jesus lifts our chin, turns our face to His so that our eyes are no longer filled with the circumstances around us but the love Creator has for us.

It’s not always gonna be alright, but it is.

Bridges

A tiny bit of a woman. So small I could fit her in my pocket.

Years of living made it hard for her to walk so we help her shuffle to the bedside. I offer her a chair but she looks at me with hopeful eyes and whispers, I want to give her a kiss.

Here is where the numbers on monitors, test results and skilled care become background noise. Where my heart catches because I know what this means and I’m humbled to bear witness.

I bring down the side rail and secure so many tubes, lines and machines. I stand back and watch this elderly woman hover over her grown child and then kiss her face. I’m not sure of the words she whispers but oh I feel them blow across my heart.

Love and grief.  And probably good bye.

I am a stranger. A bystander in this world of hope and despair in which they have been plunged. I discover within myself this fluidity of grace that only Creator can give. A juxtaposition of detachment and empathy enables me to gently lead them into the depths of sadness.

Like a guard of understanding I stand at attention, close by as the doctor explains the grim prognosis. They turn away and tears fall.  He tells them he will be happy to be wrong and that he is sorry. But grief and loss are breaking open and no one can respond to him. I move forward and nod, unspoken medical jargon meaning I’ve got this.

When I was a younger nurse I would have let the turbulence of this moment push me to offer platitudes. In my naivete I believed I could defuse suffering but now I understand only the presence of God carries a mother, a daughter, a brother and a best sister through the pain of loss. There is only the moving through it, never the escaping.

They are beginning their good bye.

I bring Kleenex. I bring answers to questions.  I bring another chair. And as grief spills out I bring a cup water.

As I fill the waxy cups I think about Jesus.

Jesus, this is all I can do right now.

I cannot bring the miracle they need. I cannot bring back yesterday.

But I can bring a cup of water. And I can stay inside the pain with them.

When shock and grief momentarily subside they stumble out together, this band of broken hearts. And now I am alone with her, this woman in the prime of her life losing her life.

They say she is funny and kind.

This morning I think about her. I wonder if she made it through the night. I think about her family…her frail mother’s kiss, her daughter’s graceful composure, her sister’s open grief…and I ask Creator to comfort them all with His presence.

Sometimes in life we want to fix situations and people, we want to rescue and diffuse. We want to do more than we are able and it’s frustrating. We feel like we should do more. The fact is only God can do the miraculous, only He can change hearts and lives and outcomes.

Maybe hugs, kleenex and cups of water are simply bridges people cross to keep from drowning in their deepest grief.

Sanctuary

I guess the open road has become my sanctuary.

Highways 95, 40 and 42. Miles driven while my girls sleep or all alone in a messy van.

Still longing for Prince of Peace. Needing Peace Be Still.

I swipe and tap until Kim Walker-Smith’s familiar voice fills the quiet. Can’t hold my love back from you…can’t hold my love back from you…I gotta sing…Sing my love to you, Jesus…

Inside my heart He does the thing only Jesus can do. I remember singing this song with abandon and joy and a kind of peace that cannot be manufactured.

Worship made me well.

There is nothing to compare with the presence and love of Jesus in my life–no matter how I look away.

Perhaps 2015 was a year of hiding for you, too. Maybe you sit on a pew or show up to serve but you don’t really trust people, don’t trust what you thought you knew about how it all works.  Perhaps you don’t trust Jesus anymore.

Except you can’t move on because you miss Him.

If so, may I encourage you?  We don’t need to have it all figured out. We don’t need to have our emotions in proper working order, have all bad habits put neatly away or have unearthed every issue for resolution before we come into the sanctuary – the refuge – of His love.

I have wasted so much time exalting my failings, as well as the failings of others, instead of Jesus.  Magnified every wrong and slight against me instead of the One who can heal me.   Allowed myself the luxury of suffering, let my pain and angst poison the atmosphere of my home, rather than lean on the purchase of His suffering.

I would go to church but resist His presence.  I did not want to see Jesus, hear Jesus, deal with Jesus.

Except over and over and over, as I drive,  He draws me out. With all my polluted thinking, hardened attitudes, sinful choices and desperate attempts at perfection He’s still loving me fiercely. Relentlessly. Waiting to make me well again.

Jesus is our medicine.   And the time we spend being loved by Him is what heals us.

I taste a bit of joy on the tip of my singing tongue. Hope erupts. Disappointment and doubt fade. Apprehension recedes. Pride cracks open and my bitterness spills out.

Oh this peculiar place where absolute abandon to the truth is welcome! Where our deepest realities are known and understood. Where the crumbly pieces we offer are gladly received. Where distance is closed in a whisper…in a shuddering sigh…in a song.

See, I keep breaking and spilling.  And He keeps mending and filling.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.  You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.Psalm 51:17 NLT