Monday, November 18, 2019

Leave It at the Cross...?

("Studio 55D Atlas" sculpture found on
"Honey, you just need to leave that at the Cross."

Has anyone ever said that to you?  Have you ever said it to someone else?  To yourself?

I have.  And I'm an awful failure at it.  I lay it down, and then snatch it back up.  For all sorts of reasons.  Sometimes it's because I'm afraid God won't handle things the way I want Him to.  But mostly it's because it's hard for people to let go of something that we still have to live with.  Things like kids, cancer and unemployment.  It's hard to let go of something that requires you to continually make decisions, feel symptoms, drive carpool.  
And so, instead of leaving it (whatever "it" happens to be), tied up with a pretty bow at the foot of the Cross, we scoop it back up and carry it around.  Everywhere.  Even on my pillow as I wrestle through the night.  I can't leave my boss at the Cross because I have to go to work tomorrow.  I can't leave my teenager at the Cross because I kind of have to parent them.  I can't leave the puppy I'm second guessing at the Cross because my carpet will be frayed at the edges and soaked with pee.  Which is kind of what life feels like sometimes.

So, as I sat alone with God during a retreat this weekend, finally verbalizing something He's been waiting for me to say for a long time, I told Him I wasn't sure how I was supposed to give it to Him and walk away.  How to "leave it" at the Cross.

I kept telling Him I didn't think it was possible to simply let it go (no offense to Elsa).  And, sitting there in the quiet, I couldn't find verses telling me that's really what I was supposed to do.

What I did find was even better, because it was something I can do. It was something I couldn't fail.  It was Jesus telling me to simply come to Him.  To yoke myself to Him and let Him bear it for me while I walk through it.  That He's already borne the yuck of it all, and that He'll hold my hand or hold me up when it gets hard.  If I stay, rather than leave.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

I can't tell you how freeing that moment was.  I'm not a failure.  And I honestly thought I was.  Because for a long time, I've been trying to bear a certain something alone, since I'd failed at leaving it alone.  And bearing it alone left me fearful, paranoid, and grouchy.  Completely not fun to be with.

But Jesus was teaching me that we don't just lay our pain and suffering down and walk away.  We simply can't.  Life won't allow it.  But we can hand it to Someone who can bear it for us - whatever that "it" is. However heavy or impossible it seems. He's already shouldered it, so I don't have to.  I just have to abide in Him as He carries it.

And abiding, as I learned from Kim Greene this weekend, isn't a passive stance.  It isn't a sweet, quiet submission.  Abiding in Jesus means I can bring tears and rants and confusion and anger and shame.  Because by bringing it to Him, I'm acknowledging He has the answers and the power to heal/fix/save, even if I don't receive the healing/fixing/saving I want in that moment.

Now, all of this may surprise those who know me.  Especially those who have heard me teach on this very verse.  Even just a couple of weeks ago.  I asked a room full of women the question, "Are we going to yoke ourselves to our fears and our hardships, or are we going to yoke ourselves to the One who gives rest to our souls?"  

I'm such a poser.  That's what I just confessed to my husband.  And he agreed.  Emphatically.  But continued, laughing, by saying that we are all posers.  He's so good for me.

Now I'm accepting that I don't have to leave things at the Cross.  That leaving them is actually way too hard, and pretty much impossible. That I can - and will - continue to struggle, because the struggle is real.  And that it's really okay that I can't "leave it at the Cross."  Because Jesus left it there.  Nailed to it, in fact, stained with His blood.  So I can trust that He is intimately acquainted with my "it."  Just as He is intimately acquainted with yours.  

That's how He already knows it's too much for us.  And why He can take it when we cry and yell and stomp our feet even as we hand Him the reins.  There's gut-level honesty in that.  And still He says, "Come to me..."

I promise I will never again tell you - or myself - to leave hard things at the Cross.  But I will always urge all of us to come to Jesus, and to say all the words and feel all the feels.  And then to stay and never leave.  And find together that, as we remain there, our burden grows lighter.  Not because it's gone, but because a stronger, wiser, powerful One is holding us together. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Beautiful Depths

I recently went snorkeling for the first time. 

Well, technically, I’ve snorkeled before. But the last time was in about five feet of muddy water, which I don’t think counts. Nor does the time I “snorkeled” in the Red Sea at age 20, since a bout of claustrophobia hit me the instant I put my face in the water. 

But this was real snorkeling. On a reef in the Bahamas. 

It was my absolute favorite moment of our family cruise. (Although I must admit that watching Avengers Endgame all together while floating on the Atlantic, with my teenage daughter clad in a Captain Marvel dress, was pretty cool.)

But snorkeling was spectacular. Not that it started out that way. 

When the captain killed the engine at the designated spot, I looked around and thought, “Well, this is a bust. There’s nothing here.” 

The water was as still as a stagnant pond, blackish blue marred by large swaths of brown. “What in the world are we going to do here for an hour and a half?” I wondered to myself. So I climbed down the ladder with snarky expectations, pushed off and stuck my face in the water. 

My involuntary gasp thundered through the snorkel. 

I was not prepared for the wonderland that lay beneath the unassuming surface. The corals, the creatures, the plants. Other-worldly colors, perfect choreography, beckoning sway. 

My maternal anxiety over the family getting separated dissolved instantly in the gentle current. 

Entranced, I chased after every magical curiosity. Trailed a ray as it fluttered along the ocean floor. Carefully backpedaled from a barracuda. Twice. But mostly drifted here and there, mesmerized by fish painted in colors I’d never even imagined. 

Instead of a middle-aged mom weighed down by details and expectations, I became a little kid buoyed by wonder and delight. I was completely captivated, and the time flew. 

Eventually the captain called us back, and I reluctantly climbed the ladder, pausing to look back at the water. Once again, the surface above misrepresented the majesty below. Like some science fiction shield cloaking untold treasure. But now I knew. 

I closed my eyes against the whipping wind as we motored back to the ship. And it occurred to me that my snorkeling experience was a vivid example of people’s perspective on the Christian life. 

Here’s what I mean. That day on the ocean, what I thought looked eye-rollingly boring lit me up with wonder once I peered beneath the surface. Those ugly swaths of brown blah from above were actually the reef below: intricate corals painted in the full spectrum, fostering life and beauty and harmony. 

If you don’t believe in Jesus, I realize that, from your perspective, the Christian life may look boring and bland, foolish and weird, a royal waste of time. Just like I thought with an eye roll as we stopped over the reef. And just like I thought about Christians and the church before I personally encountered the Messiah as a young adult. 

But, oh, once you’ve jumped in and looked beneath the surface! Once you’ve met the One who first knit you brilliantly together and then stepped in to heal your brokenness! Once you perceive His great power yet also taste His deep kindness! And discover hidden places where you comprehend His call and receive His grace upon grace upon grace!

The vibrant, thrilling wonderland under the surface is what walking with God is like. It’s not about monotonous rules or mundane religiosity. It’s a breathtaking relationship. One that astounds you at every turn, no matter how much you’ve already seen. One that compels you to follow Him into unknown waters because He’s just that good. 

If you’re already living in the beautiful depths, please don’t let your heart and mind become clouded to how incredibly breathtaking it is! But when you do find yourself in that cloudy place - which we all sometimes do - stop and take time to wipe the fog from your goggles and see Him anew in all His majesty! And, please, as you interact with others, do whatever you can to shatter the shield of misconception about what life with God is like!

On the other hand, if you’re someone who’s observing from above the surface, looking skeptically at Christians based on what you have seen from the outside, I invite you to dip your toe in the water. Get to know some divers and ask them about what they’ve seen. And I pray that one day you will come to personally know the Redeemer who unlocks all the unseen beauty to you...

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Big Toes & Pinky Fingers

So, I’m staring down a big birthday. 

A decade ago, I defied my  big birthday by competing in my first triathlon. Take that, 40! I had dreams for this one, too. A Marine Corp mud run, perhaps. Maybe enough strength training to wear a bikini for the first time since my teens.

Then, last November, came some bone removal and a plate with five screws in my right foot.
With a difficult recovery. Then, six months later (two weeks ago), more bone taken out. And now, a broken pinky finger. Maybe I shouldn’t have been bouncing a medicine ball off the gym wall, but I was holding out hope for a miraculous return to my old self by the end of summer.

Now, here I am, still unable to take a pain-free step and now unable to fold laundry or make the bed without yelping. Maybe I’ll just let those go for awhile...

If you haven’t experienced chronic pain before, let me tell you that it isn’t good. In fact, it’s pretty bad, especially for your mental health. So is not being able to get a cardio workout when you’ve become accustomed to pounding out your stress on the pavement. With friends who laugh and cry and pray with you while you run. It’s also incredibly frustrating to not be able to type with your left hand while trying to write a blog about said broken finger. I never knew how much I used my pinky until it hurt like #%^))&%@!

At the same time, it’s given me true understanding and appreciation of Paul’s words to the Corinthians: 

The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” 
The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 
In fact, it is just the opposite. 
The parts of the body that seem to be weaker 
are the ones we can’t do without...
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. 
If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy. 
1 Corinthians 12:21-22,26 NIRV 

I’ve experienced firsthand that when even a little piece of your body hurts, the rest of the entire body suffers. All of my muscles are atrophying because of my limited mobility. My fat cells are expanding in direct proportion. It takes me longer to go places and get things done. I’m easily frustrated/angered/saddened. Moisture seems to pour out of my eyeballs for no reason. (Okay, maybe parenting teenagers is part of the reason.)

When someone is hurting in your community, the whole group suffers. No matter how pretty the public face is, you can’t move forward in your God-given potential if you ignore the suffering of others. Or murmur against your leaders. It will take longer to reach your goals if some of you are limping. Your whole team or congregation will become slothful, unable to be productively proactive and no longer nimble enough to respond to needs and opportunities. 

So take care of yourself, because sometimes it is about you. And take care of others, because it’s never all about you. You matter because we matter, and we matter because you matter. Or, as my daughter’s Newsies cast would sing, “one for all and all for one!”

Now I’m going to go fold half a load of laundry - I’ll be back in a couple of hours...

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Writing on the Wall

"Daniel Interprets the Writing on the Wall"
Gustave Doré, 1865
People use the phrase "the writing is on the wall" a lot.  It's an ominous assessment; that even though things may seem to be great, there are circumstances coming together that promise to bring chaos, disaster, failure.  

Most people today don't even know where this phrase comes from, but the interpretation is spot on. And I've chosen it as my daily prayer inspiration for the new year.  


Yes, you heard right. The ancient curse written on the wall - Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin - is the core of my daily prayer time. 

Not because I'm self-loathing. Not because things are shaping up badly. But because that writing on the wall reveals the heart of who I do and do not want to be. Especially in a year that will be chock full of milestones for me and my family.

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king [Belshazzar] watched the hand as it wrote.  His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
"[Y]ou did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.  Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN  Here is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.  Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.  Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”  That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain.
Daniel 5:5-6, 23-28,30 ESV
So here is how I'm turning that ancient curse into a blessing through daily prayer.

Mene: Lord, help me to remember that you hold my days in your Hand, so I can trust you with all of them.
Mene: Lord, help me to number my hours well today, to use my time on this day to bless others and to honor You.
Tekel: Thank you, Lord, that I am not found wanting, even when I don't measure up, because I am found righteous in Jesus the Messiah.
Peres: Lord, please bring unity rather than division, and please work unity through me - in my family, in my friendships, in my workplace, in my community.

The writing on the wall may have spelled the end for Belshazzar, but it is bringing intentionality and life to me.