Monday, September 22, 2014

God's Response When We Feel He's Not Safe

If you read my post on Friday, then you know I sorta had a bit of a hissy fit with God, letting him know that he didn't feel safe to me.  Realizing that I don't completely trust him.  

This was all brought to light last week while reading Christine Caine's book Undaunted.  I realized that I've been in a bit of a stuck place spiritually and emotionally.  Literally, I've been stuck with a season of waiting.  And the emotional and spiritual toll of it has left me feeling just plain stuck in general.  I might read a verse one day or hear a song that encourages me and gives me traction.  And I think that I'm doing better and I'm okay with it all.  Then the next day, the same feelings of frustration and frenzy begin crowding back in.  

So, last Friday, I finally admitted to God through my prayer journal that I feel stuck because he doesn't feel safe. I want my feelings to match my head knowledge about who he is and who I want to be through him.  But they just don't.  My head and my heart are in a bit of a battle here.

Having gotten it off my chest and then publicly admitting it here on this blog, I did feel better.  You know, like when something is bugging you about a friend or spouse or family member and you finally just throw it out there.  

Not to say that it was all better and boom!  All was right with the world.  But, at least I felt some traction.  Felt like my ability to be real and honest and raw was a turning point.  In fact, as I drove to church yesterday morning, I thought about how many times in my life I finally turned a corner when I got honest with God.  My mind wandered to these times and I scolded myself for my amnesia.  

Why do I forget such things?  Why don't I learn that being honest with God and letting him really know how I feel has always been a point where I find new footholds in my faith.  A place where walls are broken down and the struggle dies down.

Just to be clear, I did not hear an audible voice and my concerns were not all immediately resolved.  I'm still in a season of waiting.  The circumstances have not changed.  Yet, somehow, since my Friday prayer session with my journal in hand, I've felt a load off my shoulders. I've felt a sense of peace and intimacy because I had admitted what God already knew to be true about me.

And then.  There it was.  

Not an audible voice, but just about.  

It blew my mind and I couldn't wait to tell you all about it.  I just hope that I can do justice to conveying the significance of it.  Because I know I'm not the only one who may be feeling that God is not safe, for whatever reason in your life.  

He spoke to that clearly last night.  He responded.  And I want you to listen in because it's for you, too.

I climbed into bed early last night, worn out from weeks of not getting sufficient sleep.  I was tempted to turn on the television but quickly talked myself out of it.  So, I snuggled under my covers with my nightly cup of hot tea, and grabbed my iPad to dive back into that darn book Undaunted.  I was reading chapter 5, titled "Heartbreak -- or Breakthrough?"  Bless my soul, Christine Caine is telling about her miscarriage in that chapter.  She goes into detail about going for a sonogram and suddenly being stunned with the bad news.  

Oh yeah.  Been there, done that.  Mentally, I began throwing my own experience with a miscarriage onto my pile of reasons why God doesn't feel safe.  Tell him, Christine.  Yeah, you tell God it doesn't feel fair when dreams and hopes die.  I read on to the section entitled "The Big Deal of Disappointment."  Oh, this author is singing my song.  

"Your head tells you God is trustworthy -- but in a moment of aching disappointment, your heart tells you he's not even there."

That'll preach.  That sums up eloquently how I'm currently wrestling with trusting God.  So, when the chapter moves into "God's Promises in Disappointment," I was fully engaged.  Alrighty.  Throw me a lifeline here, Mrs. Caine.  

Except she starts talking about Job and all the horrible things that happened to him and how "never, in the entire story, did God find it necessary to explain himself...just because we do not understand these things [that happen to us] doesn't mean we must stop trusting God, who has proven again and again that he loves us...that is why faith says, along with Job, 'though he slay me, yet will I hope in him' (Job 13:15)."  

Ouch.  But yet that resonates with the truth that has been hitting me that faith is not a feeling. Instead, it's a choice.  Like I choose to invest in my marriage and my children and my relationships because of my commitment to them, not because of how I might feel at that moment.  How can I give any less to God? What will my choice be?  Remember all the ways he loves me or give into grudges from hard places I've walked?

And then...wait for it.  The ace in the hole.  The slam dunk.  The nearly audible response from God to my admission that he doesn't feel safe.

Christine Caine pulls out the one passage in the Bible that had the most impact in this moment, in this season of my life, and in the context of her chapter about her miscarriage.  The ONE passage that underlines and highlights and screams out for my attention.

Luke 24:13-35.  The story of the two disciples as they leave Jerusalem three days after Jesus was crucified.  They are down trodden, on the way to Emmaus.  They were disappointed and all that they had expected to happen -- the good that they anticipated -- had come crashing down.  I think in that moment, God didn't feel safe.  I think in that moment, they felt like I admitted on Friday that I feel.  Sucker punched. Waiting for the next cruel cosmic joke.  

Suddenly, a man walks up and asks what they are talking about.  He joins them along this hard road of disappointment and sadness and frustration.  The two men are so engaged with this stranger that they want him to stay and eat with them when they reach Emmaus.  And it was only when the man broke the bread over dinner that their eyes were open and they saw that Jesus himself had been walking right with them through that walk of disappointment.


And do you want to know WHY it was mind-blowing that out of all the stories in the Bible, the fact that Christine Caine chose this one and I was reading it when I was and it was all in the context of her own miscarriage is HUGE to me?  So big, in fact, that I teared up and thought, "OH my!  I have GOT to make this the sequel to my Eeyore blog post from Friday."

I'll tell you why.

In the summer of 1998, I was finally pregnant again.  Nearly a year after my miscarriage.  I was cautious and hopeful and scared and excited, all at the same time.  Because of my past experience, my new doctor had ordered blood work to confirm my hormone levels. To prove that my HCG, or pregnancy hormones, were on track.  To reassure me.

I distinctly remember walking into my office at the adoption agency and hearing my phone ring.  I grabbed it quickly and discovered it was the nurse from my doctor's office.  I can still recall her rather factual statement that my HCG was dangerously low and it seemed inevitable that I was going to miscarry again.  

In response to my sputtering questions, she advised that I get more blood work and she offered to put a rush on it.  If my HCG was increasing, as it should daily, then there was still hope.  I could go do the blood work immediately and know by the end of the day.

I must have called my husband and blubbered incoherently over the phone.  I honestly don't recall the thirty minute drive to the lab or even going there at all.  I just remember collapsing in a puddle on my bed and Chris rushing in from work to join me in our day long vigil.  I remember calling my sister, and hearing her wisdom.  

She challenged me to remember that this pregnancy was out of my hands and God had a plan.  She prayed over the phone with me and advised me to surrender.  Already a mom (who had endured a miscarriage also), she reminded me that mothering as a believer in Jesus means surrendering our kids to God's plans from minute one.  

Completely worn out, I fell back on my pillows and grabbed my Bible like my life depended on it.  Because I basically thought it did.  I prayed, "Okay God. Make me turn to something that means something right now.  Speak to me."

And my Bible flipped to Luke 24:13-35.  

I read the whole passage and thought, "Great.  What does two guys walking down a road when a stranger appears have to do with this situation where I'm told I'm going to miscarry again?  That plot line sounds like some joke -- two guys are walking down a road...."  

I sat there, confused.  And asked again and again for some clarity.  

Then it came.  Just as Jesus was walking through pain with these two men and they never saw him, he was walking with me.  I felt as though he wasn't there and I was all alone.  But just because I didn't SEE him in my circumstance and I was blinded by my own grief and disappointment, it didn't mean he wasn't walking right along with me.  

Then, I felt an inexplicable peace.  I had very little hope for a good outcome, but yet I felt a tiny grip of encouragement.  At least I wasn't alone.

Despite the fact that I had been hysterically crying and was on pins and needles, I fell into a very deep and peaceful sleep. As I drifted off, I remember thinking, "Okay, I'm not alone."

I awoke about three hours later to the phone ringing.  It was the nurse.  My stomach clenched and I felt my heart race.  I braced myself.

This is what she said, "I am calling with your results.  Listen, I'm not really sure what has happened.  I really don't understand it myself..."

I prepared for the worst.

"...because your HCG levels initially were really not even compatible with a viable pregnancy.  Today's bloodwork shows that your levels have actually not just doubled as we would expect, but they have tripled.  Everything looks good.  The doctor wants to see you for your planned appointment this next week."

If Nurse Kay, had been in the room, I think I would've kissed her cheek like a crazy woman.

I told her that I knew that happened -- because I'd been praying and my prayers had been answered.

And Jesus showed up on my little road to Emmaus.  I walked out from a place of disappointment, thinking death had won and nothing but pain awaited me. 

Yet Jesus walked each step with me.  

Do you want to know the end result?

My first born.  Collin Evan.  Born ON his due date.  Perfectly healthy.

Wow, talk about amnesia.  I have been sitting around licking my wounds feeling that God is not safe and remembering all the dark places I've walked and all the hopes I've had for where things might be right now.  

Funny.  In all that rehashing history, I had forgotten THIS story. I had forgotten when I dodged a bullet, so to speak.  When God showed up in the midst of my panic and fear and said that his plans would not be thwarted.  When I was prepared for the worst and basically cursing God.  

That time when he wrapped up his goodness in a tiny little bundle that is a living breathing miracle every day of my life.  A miracle that I can so quickly forget.

But, through God's impeccable timing and planning, he reminded me. Sixteen years later, he reminded me. 

He used a book by Christine Caine that is challenging me to face what feels daunting so that I can break into the freedom of being undaunted.

And he responded to my feelings and fears and questions and doubts.

He says keep walking the road. 

Keep taking a step forward.  One step at a time.  Keep questioning and grieving and expressing even your biggest anger and deepest doubts.

And even if you don't see me.  Even if you don't hear me.  Even if you feel I couldn't be farther away. 

I'm right beside you. 

You may not see it until your road ends.  You may not realize it until the crisis passes.  You may not FEEL it. You may feel alone and abandoned and just plain ticked off.

But, I'm walking every single dusty, dirty painful step with you.

THAT, my bloggy friends, is God's response when we feel he's not safe.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

When God Doesn't Feel Safe

So, I'm reading this book by Christine Caine called Undaunted: Daring to Do what God Calls You to Do.  It's awesome and mind blowing and fabulous.  Except for one thing.  Apparently, to become undaunted you actually have to face that which feels daunting to you.  


I gotta be honest.  I put the book away for a bit, doing the proverbial placing my fingers in my ears and saying, "la la la, I'm not listening".  Which means, I drowned my denial in approximately 43 episodes of Nashville on Hulu during the last few days weeks instead of pressing on with the hard read.

Now completely caught up on two seasons of said television show, the book has sorta beckoned me back.  Alright already.  I might as well just face it.  So I jumped back in.  And the next three chapters set off a bit of a firestorm of emotions and apparently some truths that have come to light.  

I believe Angie Smith best described it in her book I Will Carry You.  Okay.  Here I go.  Deep breath and then I will admit it.

God does not feel safe to me.  He just doesn't.  I've thought it was all rather rooted in this current season of waiting.  Our family is waiting for something we've all been praying for over the last two plus years.  The domino effect of waiting has begun to pick up speed in other areas of our life, leaving a wake and a frustration.  Because the resolution we thought we'd long ago have seen has yet to come.  

Waiting is a recurring theme to me.  Because I have some dreams and thoughts and hopes that, to be honest, took root within me when I was seven-years-old.  And they just keep growing deeper roots, hardly breaking the surface of the soil to grow bigger and stronger as I expected.  

The restlessness within me is growing.  So much so that the other night, I could hardly sleep.  Have you ever sat in a waiting room for so stinking long that you just about lose your religion over the frenzy that explodes?  You know--others come in long after you and get called on back WAY before you?  You have read every decent magazine.  Checked your watch a jillion times.  Counted the ceiling tiles.  Paced the floor.  And approached the receptionist as many times as you dare.  She has no idea when it's your turn and to be honest, you sense her growing hostility toward your inability to wait.  

THAT is me.  Emotionally, I am pacing and waiting and trying to be patient.  But, I'm over it.  I've prayed, begged, pled and tried.  Oh, I've really tried.  I'm not doing well here, in this quiet waiting room.  

Here is the analogy I gave my cousin.  (Yes, I know.  I just offered an analogy.  Here's another....)  Okay, before I say it, just another side note.  This is my third airport themed blog post this week.  I recognize it.  I have been told to write from experience.  Now you know what this past summer was like for me.  Not to mention that two weeks from today, I board a plane for Belize and my first ever mission trip outside the states.

So, I told my cousin that I feel like I am standing in the middle of a big airport with a huge departure sign in front of me.  I see all sorts of exciting and enticing destinations.  So many possibilities.  So many places I want to go and things I want to do.  Except for one thing.  

I have no idea where to buy a ticket.  I have no idea how to buy a ticket.  I see no ticket agent.  I see no way to get from looking at the destinations to actually doing what it takes to get there.  

Maybe you can relate.  You see destinations like parenthood or pregnancy.  Maybe marriage or the dream job.  Perhaps the destinations are dreams you have for your kids.  Or ways to use your talents.  Maybe your destination is just getting past the current crisis.  

Today, it hit me as I've wrestled this restlessness and battle fatigue from waiting.  The bottom line is this. God doesn't feel safe to me.

I want to be undaunted.  I want to do what I think God has called me to do.  But it's daunting.  And what feels daunting to me is dealing with the bitter truth that God doesn't feel safe and I don't completely trust him.

There.  I said it.  And for the record, I'm not telling you anything I haven't already told God.  Oh, my prayer journal has pages of frantic script from earlier today.  I know intellectually in my head that God is good and works all things for my good.  I know he has a plan and is in control.  And I am repeating these truths in rapid mantras these days, in this waiting room, staring at that departure board.  

But my heart is still wrapping itself around it.  Because I don't completely trust God and it makes these surprise waiting times feel totally uncomfortable to me.  Rather than paraphase it, I'll just be raw and offer you excerpts from my prayer journal today:

I know you love me and you have surprises and simply want me to trust you and not be so guarded.  You don't want me freaking out because I want control.  The truth is that you don't feel safe.  You just don't.  You feel punitive and I'm afraid.  I'm afraid that you take precious sacred things away and use pain to make your point.  My heart was broken.  It all feels so complicated--what I know in my head, what I think I know in my heart--and I suppose this scar tissue from old trials.  I thought my struggles right now were about waiting.  But, I suppose the scar tissue from old pains goes way back.  Because I trusted you with my Dad.  And he died.  I trusted you in that black hole afterward, and things got worse.  Human relationships got complicated or just plain disappeared.  It left me feeling cheated.  I've trusted you as I took on new paths and new things and new seasons.  And my heart is bruised and torn from the battles...It feels cruel and silent in this waiting room.  And I'm just plain mad.  At you.  Because you don't feel safe.  Because I'm on guard for the next disappointment, the next sucker punch.  Like some cruel cosmic joke.  I'm grumbling in this wilderness.  Saying, "what now?"  I have these dreams and ideas and hopes and gifts and feel no direction on how to get anywhere with them.  

To be honest, you feel bipolar to me.  You are teaching me so much about grace yet you feel unsafe in the silent and cruel waiting.  Listen, I know I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.  I'm just gonna lay it out there...because I feel a bit crazy.  On the one hand, you are peeling back layers and helping me see grace and freedom...while I still feel tied up with the waiting.  I'm tired...I'm guarded and unsure.  But I want to be freed completely.  I really do WANT to be undaunted.  I want to run hard and fast and undeterred, fixing my eyes on you.  

Help my unbelief.  Heal my pain and wounds and disappointments.  My bruises and deep cuts.  Remove the scar tissue from old hurts.  Calm the storm in me.  Silence the accuser.  Show up strong here, in my weaknesses.  Crumble my defenses and grudges and skepticisms and fears and self-protection.  So now, I am going to be like Joshua and the Israelites.  I'm marching around the walls and shouting.  Crumble these impossible walls.  Bring me true freedom.  Help me leave the past behind.  Lord, I am crying out freedom.  Give me the ticket and instructions for the Promised Land.  It all feels so daunting.  I long to be undaunted.  

I'll keep at it.  I'll keep working to trust you and deal with my sense that you aren't safe.  Learning to trust your heart when I can't see your hand...learning to believe that you are safe even when you don't FEEL like it.  Hear my prayers.  Let's do this!

Listen, bloggy friends, if you feel that God isn't safe.  If you aren't sure you can trust him and you are staring at a departure board of unfilled longings and dreams, you aren't alone.  

Even the hardest waiting rooms aren't so daunting when we sit together.      

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Worldwide Changes in Adoption

Adoption.  It first touched my life long before I was even born.  It's a rather complicated storyline--rather like a Hallmark movie--but my father was adopted and raised by a family member.  I wasn't told until I reached the magical, predetermined age of twelve.  It wasn't a big deal.  Yet it was.  Because everyone in my family knew but me.  If it's no big deal, then why wait to tell me?  It didn't change my feelings about the precious lady who raised my dad.  But, it did spark something in me. 

This is the root of my now twenty year career in adoption.  Over my years, I have seen crazy stories where truth is stranger than fiction.  I have seen first hand--and been the bearer of it--the bad news and heartache that can be attached to the adoption process.  I have experienced the inexpressible joy of placing an answer to prayer into the empty arms of a waiting couple.  I have watched the anguish beyond words of birth parents making the best choice they know to make for their child's future.  I have watched forever families being woven together across cultural lines, racial lines and from around the world.  

And the one thing that I always know to be true is that adoption is a profound and beautiful and brutal thing.  It's brutiful!  It's a joy born from loss.  It's a hope for better days.  It's an answer to prayers.  It's a completion of emptiness.  

It is, in fact, the stuff of heaven come to earth.  Because God himself adopts us.  The Bible repeatedly paints this word picture of God adopting us as sons and daughters.  Adoption is no accidental term.  It doesn't just happen.  There's intentionality.  There's deliberation.  There's heartache and waiting and wanting and love that motivates a parent to make a stranger their own family.  And it's a gain born from an initial loss.  We know that God had to allow the loss of his Son for us to gain our adoption.

I could fill pages with facts and thoughts and feelings about adoption.  Because I fall in love with the idea every time I see a child come home and hearts being knit together.  

Adoption is a wonderful thing.  People have always been intrigued when I tell them what I do.  I've heard everyone's adoption story, from their sister's brother's best friend's cousin who was adopted to their own life experience with adoption.

Lately, I find myself thinking new thoughts about adoption and facing new realities.  And I think it's a story that needs to be told.

First, adoption isn't always the answer.  It's not a path for every potential adoptive family.  And it isn't the easy fix for vulnerable children around the world.  In fact, adoption can become the thing that unnecessarily rips apart struggling birth families.  We can sit in our pretty American dream and think every hungry child on the brink of disaster in a third world country should be swept up and raised in our blessed country of America.  Or, that here domestically, every struggling mother or father should have their child taken away and placed with better qualified parents.

But, it's not true. 

It's not our job to take children from biological parents and give them to better parents.  It's our job, in fact, to stand beside struggling parents and equip and empower them to be the parents they can become.  Yes, adoption can be a fast or "easier" solution for vulnerable children.  But, that doesn't always make it the best answer. Who's to say that our wealthier nation has better resources for a child from another country?  Wealth and resources don't justify the permanent cut of biological binds IF the biological family might become the parents they need to be with a bit of a helping hand.  

I used to think reunification with biological parents was of the devil.  That's when I saw babies and children more as commodities for infertile and capable parents.  Now, I see a broader picture.  I see that not every potential "orphan" should be adopted.  Maybe well meaning and willing and teachable but limited biological parents simply need a boost to keep a family unit intact.  The truth is that adoption is not a one-size-fits-all answer for all dilemmas and struggles within biological families.  

This is why I'm falling in love with the work of organizations like The Abide Family Center in Uganda.  Or Help One Now in Ethiopia.  Here's the humility I've gained.  Who am I--a middle class white social worker with an Americanized ideal--to decide that adoption is the only answer?  What if I had been born in a poor country and I loved my children with every ounce of my being and I just needed a leg up to be the mom I could become?  

THIS is why the work of organizations around the world who look within the culture and the biological family for answers are an amazing precursor to the idea of adoption.

Because children aren't commodities and adoption isn't always the only solution.  

Now, there are instances where children are genuinely orphaned and without any parents or without any capable parent or biological family.  Yes, adoption is the beautiful weaving of a child who has experienced loss with an adoptive couple who are ready to pour themselves into the healing and lifelong process of parenting through adoption.  

Adoption doesn't take away the pain or the past or any of the trauma from the places from which orphans come.  But adoption can be the most amazing picture of a child with brokenness coming into a family with brokenness and somehow working toward wholeness together.  

SO, in this place, in this fork in the road--I can't advocate adoption enough.  If you want to know more, just leave a comment.  Because I have lots to say.  

But, again...let me say that adoption is complicated.  And there are so many reasons why children who need families can't always be connected with families who have adoption on their hearts.  

Unfortunately, in my twenty years in this field, I've seen trends and ebbs and flows.  And I've been hesitant to proclaim or declare this, but I simply can't NOT tell the story now.

Well-intentioned legislation to guard against illegal and immoral adoption practices, such as the Hague Treaty, have actually been more counter productive than productive, in my humble opinion.  Love the idea.  All for compliance and regulation and accountability.  But, how does this play out?  It plays out in countries struggling to find answers for their children who now also need to find a way to abide with and oversee complicated legislation.  

Then there are the bad adoption cases.  The REALLY bad adoption cases.  Like the child sent on a plane alone back to Russia by a really messed up adoptive mom.  Or children seriously injured or even killed by sick and ill prepared adoptive parents.  Or couples seeking to adopt who sneak around the country's rules, deciding to write their own rules for adoption rather than complying with the country's standards.

These are all horrible and grievous stories to me.  It makes my stomach churn.
Yet, you know who loses?  Yes, the first layer is the adoptive families that I work with whose adoptions are suddenly stalled or stopped altogether.  That stinks.  It's a grief and a loss like a death when dreams are killed or delayed. Of course, it's a necessary step when things go wrong.  We all have to figure out a better way to make it right.

But the real losers are the children.  The ones whose futures are now uncertain.  The ones who will be raised in orphanages, which can be anywhere from dehumanizing and unfit for any human being, to loving and caring and the best available choice.  

And here's one thing about adoption that I need you to know.  When children become political pawns or even become the unintentional victims of good intentions, they lose.  

There are no winners there.  You have children living on the streets, either "aged out" of state care or simply out of the reach of orphanage care.  You have bureaucrats and politicians behind closed door, considering their own political gain or other such muddying factor, completely out of touch with the reality of children sitting hungry in an orphanage or making their own way by shining shoes and begging to survive on the streets.

The truth of it is...the harsh reality that I am that children are losing all over the world and we have no concept of it.  We don't know their stories.

But the brief experience I've had with learning some names and faces and stories tells me that if we only knew, we'd do something.

Because what we are doing isn't good enough.  Adoption is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the plight of children around the world. We gotta rethink this whole thing. Because from where I sit, we have a whole generation of vulnerable children who may never be adopted.  Who may never know a mom or dad or what a family looks like.  

Here's some suggestions.  From an adoption social worker whose eyes are being opened.

Some biological families got what it takes to keep their family together if and only if, we can help them fill their gaps and find their own way and be empowered to keep their children with them.  They need sustainable income and access to schools and medicine and training for parenting and for jobs.  They need a partner who believes in them.  Someone who can move them from a place of vulnerability where we think taking their kids away is the only solution and to a place of problem solving other solutions.  

Which means, we need to throw our weight and our resources and our money and our talents and our time behind organizations ALREADY doing this work. Places like Abide Family Center in Uganda and Help One Now in Ethiopia.

And, if there are children with no family who cannot be adopted due to a country being closed or adoptions being stalled or a lack of adoptive families, then those kids need better solutions.  They deserve even more than the best an orphanage can offer.  They need the ability to live in a home environment with house parents and a clean bed and running water.  

If they can't have a forever family, then they need a family of sorts.  They need the type of thing offered by organizations like Hopewell House in Belize (where I'm going in just over two weeks...more on that later) or the kind of support that One Together, Inc. offers by funding local feeding programs, schools and group homes in Ethiopia and Uganda.  

Sponsor a child through Compassion or Food for the Hungry or One Together, Inc. I know I may be losing you now as I sound like a late night informercial.  But, here is the truth.  

For about $30-$40 a month, you can literally change the life of a child.  You can help a child move from the brink of disaster to getting plugged into a school, a home, feeding programs, and community empowerment that can change their future 180 degrees.

The bottom line is this.  Yes, I am passionate about this with a growing fire within me.  

But it's not optional.  It's not just for adoption social workers.

It's for every single person who calls themselves a follower of Jesus Christ.  It's for the church, world wide, to care for the orphans and oppressed.  It's for every single person with our first world problems to make a choice to swap a luxury so that they can meet a need. 

The world of adoption is changing.  But the needs of the children are not.  

Consider yourself informed.  And maybe bullied.  Definitely challenged.  To do something.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Baggage Weighing You Down?

My grandmother was a flight attendant for American Airlines, way back in the early 1950's.  A commemorative book from the airlines sits on her coffee table, proudly testifying to one of the happiest and most exciting times of her life.  She pushed her way into the job, boldly pursuing a career for which she was both too young and not quite qualified. But, she knew she wanted to see the world.  She knew she wanted to meet new people and be part of the glamor of it all. I have no doubt the airline benefited greatly by taking a chance on her.  

These days, air travel is not the glamorous and fun adventures it used to be.  Oh, there are adventures alright.  Delayed flights, long security lines, strict regulations, and "food for purchase."  Which basically can be translated to overpriced snack items designed to keep you from being too hangry.  

We had an unusually busy summer this year when it came to travel.  This meant constantly packing and repacking and thinking and rethinking how many suitcases for our family of five.  We need to bring all that we might need, but in as few bags as possible in order to avoid checked bag fees.  BUT, if our carry-on bags are too big, then I wouldn't be able to lift them.  As I flew twice with my kids and not my strong husband, I had to consider being self-reliant.

Add all this to my growing list of first world problems.  Because the truth is that most of what irritates me is actually nothing but the problems associated with living in a land of plenty.

Checked bags versus carry on.  There's no feeling quite like when you dump off all your checked bags, pay your extra $7,998 dollars to the airline, and then can walk through security with only your small carry on.  You feel lighter and things go more smoothly.  
But then again, carrying on means avoiding those fees and the long wait at the baggage claim, not to mention the risk of lost bags.

What to do?  What to do?  My current approach is to look to Pinterest for ideas on packing for a year in one small carry-on bag and then debate greatly the merits of carry-on versus checked bags.

Just recently, I realized this is my approach to life in general.  I've spent years debating whether to check my baggage and be done with it, entrusting it to the capable hands of the experts. Willing to pay the price of letting it go. OR, attempt to carry it on for the sake of convenience, despite that fact that I might have to rely on someone else to help me hoist it up to the overhead storage compartment.  

There I am.  Boarding the plane of relationship with Jesus.  You know--trusting God Almighty.  And I am in a tug of war with him about my baggage.  I know he says he can take care of it.  If I'd only let him check my baggage.  He'd actually take care of it for good.  He even covered all of the fees.  In fact, Christ paid for it all so that I could chuck my baggage completely--once and for all.  

But, instead of just going with this option--this little leap of faith--I debate and obsess about what to pack up and what might be left behind.  

Past wounds?  Oh, I should totally check those.  What's done is done.  God covered my mistakes and offenses.  If I believe his grace is real, then I'm called to extend it, as well.  

OH, but wait.  That personal offense is ongoing and no apology has been offered or will probably be offered?  Maybe I should just find room in my carry-on and lug it with me.  You never know, after all, when I might bump into that person again with that same old issue and then I might need to fall back on my list of grievances.

Striving for the approval of others?  Again.  Awfully weighty.  Would actually take up most of my carry-on.  And it's so darn heavy.  Would be good to check it.  But, what if I need that during the flight to feel good about myself?  You know, what if there's a chance on the flight that I have an instant of feeling accepted by others.  That might be useful.  Even though the Word clearly says that I'm already accepted and approved by the King of Kings.  Can I trust that little "lightweight" assurance?

Doubts.  Hmmm... now that is sorta like trying to cram those adorable but heavy dress boots into a carry-on.  You know--the ones that go with that bulky sweater.  They take up so much space. But yet, when I put them on, they feel comfortable.  Familiar.  I'm used to wearing them, after all.  I know belief is so much lighter, but it's still just so new and not yet broken in.  I'm not so sure? 

Oh, and then there's the distractions of social media and entertainment.  Sure, they take up a lot of space, but at the heart of it all, they aren't too heavy.  I mean, there's nothing but fluff there.  Isn't it all about my ease and comfort and enjoyment?  Why bother doing the harder thing and checking those away?  I know if I checked those -- or didn't even pack them -- I'd have so much more space in life.  But, then, how do you fill the void?  Being still and resting?  Praying or reading a book?  Or THE book?  I don't know.  That might be boring.  Or hard.  Sure, I might gain much from it.  But, I'm rather attached to my distractions.  

These mental gymnastics and rechecking priorities and considering the cost of all and the benefit, too.  Oh, yes.  I can obsess about it for hours.  I know the journey should be light and easy.  I know that I will feel so much freer along the way if I'm not lugging around a huge load.  

But, at the end of the day, I have to admit that I'm just a bit leery.  Can I really trust the One in charge of baggage?  Can I really trust him to take care of things and meet all my needs?  Can he fill all the gaps if I let my baggage go?  Can I trust him to take my burdens and help me live freely and lightly?  

It all boils down to this.  How much do I want the freedom?  Do I want it enough to do the hard thing?  And put space between me and my baggage?  Letting it go with a huge leap of faith.  And seeing where my journey takes me.  

Oh, that I might!  That I might remove the things that keep me from noticing and appreciating fellow passengers.  That keep me from feeling grateful to those who serve me daily.  That I might trust the Pilot to take the controls and release me from all the baggage.  Because I have chosen to trust that He knows the destination and has all that I might need. 

Baggage.  I'm currently learning to check it.  And not worry about ever seeing it again. Because the freedom is worth the choice to release it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

That Time When Our Passports Were Expired

At last!  The day had come for the kids and I to leave for our much anticipated trip to see family in Canada.  My husband would join us at the end of the week and then we'd all head off to family camp at Moose Lake Gospel Camp.  This was our third trip there and we'd been hoping and planning to go since our trip the previous July.

Chris had taken the day off to help get me and the kids out the door, so he was handling some work stuff while I logged on to my lap top to check us in for the flight.  I'd found a killer deal -- $300 round trip tickets each -- to Calgary.  I checked myself in through WestJet and then went to check my boys and girl in.  

I've never felt such a moment of panic in my life.  Because as I typed in Collin's passport number and expiration date, a dread filled me from top to bottom.

Collin's passport was expired.  By six months.  Which meant Cooper's was, as well.  

HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?  I'd printed off packing lists for my kids, lined up a dog and house sitter, prepared curriculum and printed hand-outs for my 5 days of teaching sessions at family camp.  But, I never checked their passports?  In between the churning of my stomach, I had a moment of clarity to realize it was because I had my passport renewed the same year as the boys, and mine was valid for five more years.

Oh.  I guess I forgot that passports for minors are only valid for five years instead of ten.  
I quietly alerted my husband, talking in shushed tones, lest I alert the very excited kids.  What were we going to do?  Our flight was to depart in 5 hours.  

What ensued was a frantic working of two laptops and two cell phones with calls and computer searches to the airline, the local passport office, the regional passport office, and Immigration services.  At one point, we thought our problem was solved.  Chris learned that you could enter Canada with only birth certificates if the child was 15 or under.

PERFECT.  Collin is 15.

OOPS.  Scratch that.  WestJet said that was only true if you are driving across the border.  

I quickly texted my uncle in Canada and asked him to rally the prayer troops.  Then, I texted my best friend to pray but asked her not to tell her kids.  Lest they tell MY kids before I had the chance.  My kids were going to kill me.  I had to work myself into facing them with the news.

I was floored by their response.  The boys were quick to HUG ME (as I'm nominating myself for Mother of the Year LOSER Award) and then offer to pray and trust that God had this all worked out. Um, excuse me?  Who is the adult in this situation? 

While Chris tried to get us an emergency appointment with the regional passport office, I literally lay prostrate on the floor of my bedroom.  

"Okay, God.  I'm your feet.  I believe you want us to go to Canada.  I believe you've given me lessons to teach the ladies at family camp about Sabbath living and learning to sit at your feet.  I believe you want our family to spend time with the extended family and friends.  Help me belief you can accomplish this somehow.  Help me not to count the costs as we have no budget left.  Fix this.  Somehow." 

Cooper walked in, "Mom!  What are you doing?"

I replied, through muffled sounds near the carpet, "Son, I'm pleading with my Father!"

My logical husband had us praying over each step.  First, what should we do?  Because our emergency passport appointment was two days away.  We got conflicting information about showing up without an appointment.  Even if we could go the appointment on Wednesday and postpone our flight to maybe fly with Chris on Friday--there was surely no way to get the passports in 48 hours?  Should we try to fly into northern Montana and drive across the border with birth certificates?  What would that cost?  Should the kids and I just cancel and forfeit the airfare and send my curriculum to my cousin to teach?  

While all these possibilities swirled around us, Chris made a declaration.  I was glad for his ability to reason because I was praying, crying, and trying to think all at the same time.  The kids were amazingly calm.  The decision was to just show up in the Dallas passport office and see what happened.  

One small glitch.  We couldn't find Cooper's birth certificate.  Oh, for the love.  Are you kidding me?  I never lose things (except for apparently Cooper's birth certificate and the ability to check passport expiration dates).  Meanwhile, the clock was ticking.  We threw on clothes and finished packing our bags--just in case?  Chris advised us to do this...I wasn't sure if I'd end up throwing the kids in the van and driving all the way to Canada myself.

We all five left the house for the bank to check the safety deposit box.  Our frenzy only seemed to make everything move in slow motion.

Very slow motion.  Every red light.  Every delay getting there.  Then, endless waiting in the car while Chris ran in to get the birth certificate.  

Except it wasn't there.  We called the city office about getting a new birth certificate while we drove home to look ONE MORE TIME.  Looked like we might be stopping at the courthouse before we drove to Dallas which would get us there approximately in the middle of the lunch hour.

Great.  Just great.  Ever have one of those days?  Okay, kids, pray that we find this paper!

Stop at the house.  Chris and I run in, checking two different places.  VOILE.  There is it.  In the file I'd already checked three times.  Stuck between two pieces of paper. 

Birth certificate in hand, we jumped in the van, said a quick prayer of thanks for that baby step, and then literally began praying out loud for a passport agent that would have mercy and for mountains to be moved and for a new flight--because that 3 pm flight time was rapidly approaching.

We parked in the huge parking garage next to the massive federal building in downtown Dallas and marched/ran in through the metal detectors and security.  Oh.  OOPS.  Passport.  That would mean passport photos?

Before we could even finish our rapid sentences to each other about that problem, the security guard directed us down the hall to the office where they take photos before we could head up to the eleventh floor for the passport office. Chris and Caris went on to the passport office while I took the boys for photos.

Um, call me crazy, but I've never seen a passport photo office that doubles as the snack shop for the entire federal building?  Then again, I felt rather crazy that day anyway.  And whose to say our efficient our government operations are?  So we waited.  For what felt like an eternity of federal employees hopping up on soda and potato chips for their lunch.  Finally, our turn and the photos were taken.  Then more waiting while people buy their snacks. Did I mention that these clerks/passport photographers seemed to want to be anywhere else but there?

Finally, the photos are handed to me and the boys and we speed walked to catch up with Chris and our daughter up in the passport office.  

Here's the scene. Chris was told we can't be helped until everyone with appointments is helped.  The five of us are spread in two rows, me crying periodically, Chris working his phone to find a flight into Montana so we can drive, Cooper working his phone to find any other flight and texting with praying friends, Collin sitting chill, and Caris reading a book.  Every time the line disappears and Chris stands up, more people arrive for their appointment.

This went on for approximately FOREVER.  The shift changed and new personnel arrive.  It was then about 90 minutes before our flight.  Chris had tried to call the airline to see about alternate flights...and then after about an hour of hold and being passed around, the call dropped.  So, he was sitting there, sorta zoned out.

Suddenly, Chris looks at me and says, "That's our agent.  That's who is going to help us.  I feel it." In a sudden lull in the line, he makes his move.  He talks quietly with the lady and then calls for the boys.  And then he motions for me to join him.

I'm standing there, tears rolling down my face, and that angel of a passport agent looks at me and says, "Mama, don't cry!  You're going to Canada.  I don't think you'll make that 3 pm flight.  But I can get you out of this office today with passports in hand." I wanted to hug her and kiss her cheek and make her part of the family!

She processes our initial papers and asks for a credit card.  I hear an amount vaguely mentioned and at this point, I was sort-of like Budget-Shumdget.

While they are processing the passports, the family went to get food while I worked the phones again with the airlines. No easy task.  I'll spare you the details, but eventually, we managed to book tickets through WestJet's supervisor on another airline that would leave five hours later than we'd intended to go.

My deep sigh of relief while I waited for my family was mixed with a bit of panic about the money.  We are living on a budget, people.  We work for non-profits.  We don't have wiggle room.  And I'm sorta very much learning to release my anxiety and unbelief about God's financial provision.  It's an ongoing process.  I come by my money compulsions naturally.  It's in the DNA. It's a hard fought battle, and these days, it's sorta moment by moment again.

Then, BAM.  God seemed to turn my thoughts to the fifth day of my teaching on Sabbath living. The part where we would talk about Mary being willing to pour out the most costly offering she has because she knew Jesus was of more worth.  The part that echoes a sermon from my pastor on Matthew 13:44-46.
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Oh, sure.  Here I was, scrambling to get to Canada to teach the very thing that was challenging me personally.  OUCH.  

You see, these two men and Mary--what they all had in common was that they had excellent assessment skills, as my pastor preached.  They knew that the value of gaining Christ was worth all they had to give.  The gain of that treasure far exceeded the monetary or temporary cost.

They had found the thing of greatest value.  And then they knew that nothing else mattered nearly as much.  This is what happens when we learn what Mary knew.  When we train ourselves in the sacred practice of sitting at Jesus' feet.  And learn to release distractions and empty ritual and a religion that burns you out.  To release performance love.  To learn to cut away what needs to be cut away and to let God break impossible walls. 

Oh, yes. I had written that above paragraph as I prepared to teach in Canada.

And there I was, in the lobby of a downtown federal building, having just seen God move literal mountains to get my family and I to Canada, despite our obstacles.  The end result was leaving five hours late.  And a new lump sum on our credit card that seemed to be taunting me.

And God was asking me.  Am I worth it?  

Then my two boys walked into the lobby, passports in hand, smiles on their faces.  I felt the tingling sensation of relief and excitement that we all felt at that moment, having seen what God had done that day.  So, I asked myself this question.

What dollar amount would I put on my children gaining the experience of seeing God reach into their lives and work out all these details miraculously?  For this moment in time that they could always reference as an instance when God answered prayers and moved huge obstacles.

I was asking myself how my assessment skills were shaping up.  Was I just going to teach about Sabbath living?  Or was I going to live it?

I do believe, Jesus, that your worth is of far greater value!  That all I can give is nothing compared to gaining you and your kingdom and glimpses of you in my life.  

I do believe!  Help my unbelief!  (Mark 9:24) As I continually seek your kingdom and sharpen my assessment skills.

This post is #17 and last in a series: Sabbath Living: Sitting at the Feet of Jesus.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Willing to Throw Your Money Away

Mary.  Sister of Martha and Lazarus.  Mary has indeed captured my imagination and taught me much over these last nine months that I've been studying how she lived her life. I was initially inspired to consider how she is the picture of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  We learn this love when we discipline ourselves to still our mind, thoughts, and activities in order to sit closely at the fit of Jesus and listen to his teachings (see Mary doing this in Luke 10:39-42).  

It's a sacred practice. And it's not something we carve out inordinate amounts of time to do, necessarily.  Instead, it's a rhythm to our day.  It's the ebb and flow of distractions and worries being pound into submission as we turn our attention from them to our Savior.  

This rhythm, in fact, is what I have come to see as the unforced rhythms of grace described in Matthew 11:28-30.  Learning God's grace that covers our shortcomings.  Realizing that grace.  Diving into that grace.  And understanding that if God's grace truly is scandalous in it's magnitude over my life then how can I not train myself to extend such grace to others?  

There, at the feet of Jesus during mundane seasons, he reveals his love and we express our love in return.  This prepares us to throw ourselves at his feet in seasons of turmoil.  Where we surrender our anger and questions and grieving as we cling to him--the Jesus who weeps.

Mary shows us where a life lived in this type of rhythm ends up.  Somehow, the day-to-day and repeated patterns of stilling ourselves before him as we abide with him leads to a life of extravagant worship.  It's a natural progression.  It's the reaping born of years of sowing the seeds of reading the word and running to God and learning his ways.  

You see, I've spent my life thus far admiring the lives of champions of the faith, seeing only this end result.  Mistaking the final product, so to speak, of acts of extravagant worship.  Using that as my plumb line and feeling so inadequate as I fall short.  Like a newlywed couple seeking to buy a house that's just like their parents--never taking into account the decades of hard work it took their parents to get there.  

Acts of extravagant worship are not born overnight.  They are not feats of superhuman followers of Christ.  They are not a goal worthy of sole attention.  Because then I am simply trying to run right to the finish line, disregarding the long path to get there.  

I can't compare myself to those who sell all their possessions and move to Africa.  Or the Christian refugees under threat of death in Iraq who paint crosses and the name of Jesus on their tents.  Those kinds of expressions of faith are grown by watering the soil of your heart with the Living Water. A life marked by extravagant worship is an extension of consistent days sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Here's my simplified "task list." I am to faithfully pursue Jesus by syncing my life in rhythms of grace.  In rhythms of staying my mind on Scripture and communicating with him through prayer and prostrating myself at his feet in days of tedious tasks and days of greatest grief.  

All of that ultimately fleshes out into a life of extravagant worship.  It's just a natural byproduct. It is not the trophy to grasp, as it is instead the result of a choosing a way of life.

Then, I might find myself as the third time we see her at at the feet of Jesus.

Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor.  Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected.  "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year's wages.  He did not way this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.  "Leave her alone," Jesus replied.  "It was intened that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."
John 12:1-7

Sometimes, when I read a passage, I picture it in my mind.  I wonder about unmentioned details.  Like this glimpse of a resurrected Lazarus dining with the Jesus who brought him back from the dead.  What did they talk about?  How did Lazarus interact with Jesus now?  

And there is Mary's sister Martha, serving the meal again, while Lazarus reclined at the table with Jesus.  Did she grumble and ask Jesus to make her sister help her, as she did the first time she served Jesus in Luke 10:39-42?  How was her attitude marked by all that she had seen Jesus do in her very own life--raising her brother from the dead?  Was her troubled mind freed from anxiety and distractions now?  

And Mary.  Dear Mary.  Did she run from the kitchen, overcome with emotion toward her Jesus, and grab her perfume bottle on the way?  Or had she given it forethought, wondering how she might express her love for Jesus?  A love that had grown and expanded because she had learned the good portion of a life lived on the unforced rhythms of grace?

Regardless of these details--although I do intend to ask Mary all about it in glory someday--the point is this.  Mary was first seen at Jesus' feet listening to his teaching.  This led to her respond to her sorrow by throwing herself at the feet of Jesus to weep.  And now, she is overcome.  The result is extravagant worship. 

While Judas seemed to think that Mary was throwing her money away, Mary knew she was investing it for all of eternity. 

We see three key concepts here about a life marked by extravagant worship.

1. Mary willingly gave a costly offering.  It was expensive.  A year's wages.  I don't think she sat back with her check register and wondered if it was logical or advisable to be that extravagant towards Jesus.  Not at all.  Because the truth was the cost of the perfume meant nothing to her.  She had experienced the death and resurrection of her brother.  She saw God's heart for her when Jesus wept and his tears mingled with hers.  She had shared her suffering with him.  And she experienced the life that God can bring from what was dead in her life.  

When we see the miraculous movements of God in our lives--which, by the way, we see much more readily when we are trained ourselves to sit at his feet--then nothing else matters.  We realize true worth and surpassing value.  

No, Mary didn't think twice about offering up so much because she KNEW the One who sustained her.  Not just a fact knowledge, but also an experiential knowledge. 

When we Sabbath live, at the feet of Jesus, we know him in such a way that we see his value over all else.  And we are willing to give up all that we can in order to worship him.

2.  Mary ignored societal norms and expectations. She ignored the opinion of others.  When we Sabbath live at the feet of Jesus, we don't care if we aren't supposed to let down our hair or interrupt a meal in a room full of men.  Because only one opinion matters.  We are starving for the glory of God more than the approval of man.  We have learned to cease worshiping at the altar of man's approval and instead pour ourselves out for God alone. 

We see Jesus.  Only Jesus.

And we are eager to express our response to living in his grace.  Because his grace changes us.  And we are loosed from the binds of legalism and performance and worldly standards.  We learn to live freely and lightly with the yoke of simply sitting at Jesus' feet.  

3.  Somehow, God uses our natural response to experiencing his grace for the sake of his eternal purposes.  When we have disciplined ourselves to continually think on his love and believe the truest things about him, we are moved.  We respond to his grace.  And that response is our only intention.  But these responses are fulfilling a role in God's eternal plan.  In his sovereign hands, he uses our responses to complete a bigger picture.  

Mary was not intending to fulfill some particular role here.  She was just focused on expressing her love. Because she--in this room filled with his disciples--she was the only one who seemed to discern the significance of the moment.

She alone saw the opportunity to pour herself out in an expression of worship because she understood the magnitude and meaning of Jesus' presence. 

His own disciples missed it.  Martha missed it.

Even Lazarus missed it.

Think on that for a moment.

Mary learned something at the feet of Jesus that no one else in that room seemed to know.  She knew that time was fleeting and God had a plan and Jesus was worth it all.  

She didn't wake up that morning, setting out to do great things for God and be remembered for all of history.  She didn't wake up and check her task list and see, "anoint Jesus' body for burial."  CHECK.

She was simply living out her intimate relationship with Christ through extravagant worship.  And in so doing, she will be remembered for her role in the kingdom calendar.  Jesus said to his very own disciples that Mary was fulfilling the role she was intended to fulfill.

Are you setting out to do great things and be remembered--even if it's focused on God?

Or are you setting out to know Jesus so intimately that is shapes your assessment of what is worthwhile?

What treasures and costly offerings might God be calling us to surrender?  What expensive bottles of perfume might God be asking us to reevaluate as worthless in light of the value of gaining Christ?

God is calling all of us to shatter some habits and idols.  To break them and give them up so that we can worship him more extravagantly.  This is a cost he asks us to not even count, but to just do.

Just as he carried that cross.  For me.  For each of us.

Or, how about this.  Are you sitting at the table, with Jesus right in front you, maybe a member of a church or someone who refuses to set foot in a church--and you feel like something is missing?  Like maybe there must be more to life?  You feel unfulfilled or unsatisfied, if you were being really honest?  

Then maybe you just need to be willing to consider this question.  

If Jesus is real...if he died for my sins...if his grace and love cover all my faults and mistakes...then how do I respond?  

If he is a friend and Savior...the Son of God...the path to eternity...the hope for the hopeless...the answer to my questions...then what?  What is my response?  What am I going to do with that?   

Here's what Mary did.  She broke out expensive perfume, lowered herself to Jesus' dusty feet, poured out the costly offering, let down her hair, and wiped his feet with it.  

The beautiful truth is that a life poured out in extravagant worship and obedience brings a sweet fragrance.

It fills the house.

It's aromatic and obvious to those around you.

Intrigued by this word picture, I did some research.  I read a commentary that says that even as Jesus was beaten...even as he walked the streets to Golgatha...the aroma of this perfume likely lingered upon him.  

Because it was that potent.

As he was beaten, the aroma stirred.

As Mary walked the streets--watching her Jesus die--she, too, would have the scent remaining in her hair and lingering on her clothing.

This is the picture of the sweetness of a life of extravagant worship.

It impacts the stench of death.  It reaches the worst of times.

None of that was Mary's intent.  None of that entered her mind.

She just saw Jesus in her home and couldn't help but pour out the costly offering, ignoring those around her.  

Because all she saw was the worth of Jesus.  

And it was worth more to her than anything else she had.

Blog post #16 in a series: Sabbath Living: Sitting at the Feet of Jesus. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

EXHAUSTED! There's Got to Be a Better Way

 In case you're just now joining us, we've been discussing the idea of Sabbath here on this little blog.  I've been sharing teachings over the last fifteen blog posts all about Sabbath living.  The idea of trading a religion that burns you out for a life lived on the unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).  The idea of living freely and lightly, following Jesus.  

Think we may be on to something, bloggy friends.  

Yesterday, in my mail box, I got the newest LifeWay Christian Stores mailer.  With THIS picture, big as Texas, filling up the cover:
Breathe is Priscilla Shirer's new Bible study.  Here is the description:

"One of the greatest challenges facing women today is taking time to stop and breathe amid the activities and busyness.  Because we rush ahead to the next thing, we miss the moments for tranquility, serenity, and repose. And by missing those moments, we limit our Christlikeness and miss out on some of God's greatest gifts...if you are weary, worn out and exhausted, the concept of Sabbath will change your life."

Oh, indeed!  We are weary and worn out and exhausted.  Aren't we?  As a culture?  As moms?  And as followers of Jesus?  

As if to add an exclamation point on this state of exhaustion, I came across this on my Facebook news feed.

That is the image on today's devotional from Proverbs 31 Ministries.  You might want to check it out--if this sounds like you:

We are tired. And when life brings challenges, the little bit of margin we may have is quickly taken up. We find ourselves weary and then wonder why it’s so hard to enjoy our lives. - See more at:
 "We are tired. And when life brings challenges, the little bit of margin we may have is quickly taken up.  We find ourselves weary and then wonder why it's so hard to enjoy our lives."

If you want to talk back to that teaching, then I think you and I are on the same page.  We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.  We are over it.  Just done.  Done with living out our lives and our faith under the burden of tasks and performance and activity.  There's gotta be more to it all then that, doesn't there?  

Exploring the answer to that question is what this whole blog series has been about. As God has been dismantling my wearying ways, I have been sharing it all with you.  I chose the word "love" for 2014, and what has unfolded is this journey of learning to breathe and to Sabbath and to recognize my full schedule and empty heart.

It's uncharted territory for me. I've followed Jesus most of my life in the same manner that I've lived my life.  Task lists, activities, gold star charts.  None of which have actually spoken to love.  Because I've been too busy trying to earn his love to even recognize the unopened gift of love sitting right in front of me.

A love that says my grace did it all.  Quit striving.  A love that says you belong.  Quit questioning.  A love that says take me at my word.  Quit doubting.  A love that says I am for you. You don't have to convince me.  

Whew.  Such simple yet profound truths. So, just how do I grasp them?  If all of that is really true, then how do I live?

Enter Mary, stage left.  

Not Mary as in Jesus' mom.  But Mary as in Martha and Lazarus' sister.  We've been looking at Mary throughout this series.  Because she shows us how we live if we really believe his love enough to float in it and abide in it and be changed by it. 

We sit at the feet of Jesus.  Just like Mary.  

Oh, yes.  I've learned the last nine months of this journey to Sabbath living that the sacred practice of sitting at the feet of Jesus is the perfect posture to take when you need to find a way to breathe.  A way to learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  

In Scripture, we see this Mary at the feet of Jesus three times.  I've seen these three instances as a progression of a life centered on Sabbath.  And by Sabbath living, I'm talking about a life that finds rest in the Savior.  

In the first instance, we see that Mary is a follower of Jesus who wanted more than consumer faith.  She wasn't content to see what she could get from and give to Jesus.  She was singularly focused on tuning out the distractions and the activity so that she could listen to his teaching.  She chose the one thing necessary and Jesus called it the good portion that would not be taken from her.  Unlike her sister who was distracted with much and therefore anxious and troubled about many things (Luke 10:39-42). 

When we sit and listen to Jesus' teaching, we are soaking in his instructions, meditating on his word, and finding community with him by stilling ourselves before him.  This is what it means to abide in him, to dwell with him, to remain in his word and his love.  

This is the fine art of staying.  Not going or doing.  But staying.  Literally surrendering yourself in the position of student just as the ancient students used to sit at the feet of their Rabbi teachers as a sign of respect and submission and humility. It is said that these students sat so closely at the feet of their teachers that they got the dust of the teacher's feet on them.

I'm learning to ask.  Am I leaning into Jesus so much at this moment, in this day, that his dust clings to me?  How am I doing on the discipline of tuning out distractions and being still before my Savior?  Because there, at his feet, we hear him.  We hear him singing his songs of love and forgiveness and grace over us.  And this kind of intimacy with Christ spills over into how we interact with others. It is the rhythm of grace that shuts down the event of performance and activity.

So, like Mary.  May we learn the first step of Sabbath.  The sacred practice of centering our day-to-day lives at the feet of Jesus. Making this the rhythm of our lives.

The next time we see Mary at the feet of Jesus, it is at a time of great distress (John 11:1-44).  Mary, in the midst of incredible grief and sorrow, facing great suffering and hardship--throws herself at the feet of Jesus.  When her brother dies and Jesus shows up, she questions why he didn't come sooner.  She says that if he had come, then her brother wouldn't have died.  She wants to know where Jesus was and why this happened.  But, she doesn't just question.  She throws herself prostrate at his feet.

And he weeps with her.  This, my bloggy friends, is the brutiful act of running headlong toward Jesus in the midst of disaster.  It's the beautiful and brutal picture of seeking him even when we question him. Even when he doesn't feel safe.  And it's the place where we find incredible hope in the midst of our deepest and darkest sorrows.  

We weep at the feet of a Jesus who weeps with us.  We cling and cry to our Jesus, and his loving tender heart is moved.  We hold nothing back but surrender it all to him, remembering that he is working through our brokenness to bring new things.  New works.  New ministries.  Newly found strength of faith.  And new intimacy with a Savior who weeps with us.

Mary fell headlong into the prodigal or reckless love of our Father, learning to take on the light yoke he wishes us to offer.  She learned the unforced rhythms of grace.  She learned how to move from deliverance from her troubles and anxieties into freedom from them.  She chose to fall at his feet during times of suffering.  She looked to him with expectation when she felt broken and lame and she let him pour healing upon her (Acts 3:1-10).  She learned to live out the forgotten Biblical verbs like abide, dwell, stay, sit, rest, and remain.  She moved from old tiring ways to new things and a new heart and a renewed spirit.  

So, in the end, where did all this get her?  While I have loved these glimpses of Mary at Jesus' feet, this third and last picture moves me like no other.  Yes, Mary has captured my imagination.  She offers me hope that any woman can indeed trade the distractions and anxieties and troubles for the one thing necessary, which is choosing to throw ourselves at his feet and led him be our Shepherd.

So, what is the culmination of a life lived that focuses on Sabbath living, learned while sitting at the feet of Jesus?

Join me here tomorrow to find out.

Blog post #15 in a series: Sabbath Living: Sitting at the Feet of Jesus.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Do You Have a Dream?

Every year on MLK day, we sit with our children and watch Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech. Our goal is to help them gain a broader perspective, behind our little suburban life here.  

We want our kids to appreciate bold trailblazers like Martin Luther King and to see how his faith was lived out courageously.  We want our kids to understand that while their life experience may not be able to comprehend racial oppression, that doesn't mean it does not exist as a reality for many.  Ultimately, we want them to learn to see men not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

While I would love to say my children are incredibly moved and inspired and completely engaged every year when we watch this speech, they are not.  But I think it's still sinking in.  And I, for one, get goosebumps every time I watch it.  Still.

I'm as inspired by the speech's words as I am by the man who dared to dream.  Who dared to believe.  Who was hard pressed on every side, mistreated, living under threat of death, daily living a reality so far from his dreams...but still, who had a dream.

I'm afraid in our culture, we seriously lack this ability to dream.  Oh, we dream about bigger houses and faster cars and wild success and instant fame.  But dreaming for things and personal gain is so different than dreaming about living a life that leaves a legacy.  A life that changes people's futures.  A life that testifies to the power of an Almighty God.

What is our life teaching to those around us?  If we call ourselves believers in Christ, then do we daily live in a way that speaks to our belief in an All Powerful God equipping us? 

Or are we too oppressed by circumstances to fight against our doubts and fears?  What if Martin Luther King squelched the dream--or even a belief that things could change?  What if he chose to believe in potential change but never dared to express it or share it?  What if he silenced his bold hopes and listened to the death threats or naysayers?  

This morning, these were the thoughts rattling around my brain as I read Acts 20:17-24.  This is the passage where Paul gathers the Ephesian elders and basically reminds them that his life speaks for itself, as he did not hesitate to preach the gospel, to serve with humility, and to declare God's salvation for both Jew and Gentile.  Then, he expresses his intent to head to Jerusalem, despite knowing that "imprisonment and hardships are facing me."

What makes a man so gutsy that he courageously walks into a known danger?

It's a man who knows the truth and believes every single word of it.

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace.
Acts 20:24

It's a man who values obedience over his own gain.  It's a man who has the kind of faith that sees a powerful God accurately.  He lived a life that says God is all that I claim him to be.  God indeed offers power and grace.  God is the difference between our own human capability and pursuing God sized dreams.  Paul's life told the story of God's grace and power rather than resounding a weak, impotent gospel. 

Acts 20:24 calls us to trade in a life bent on amassing wonderful things and fun experiences and ease and comfort for a life focused on bigger purposes, fueled by a belief that God is truly powerful.

My own timid mentality marvels at men like MLK and Paul.  How can men be so bold and undeterred?  From my own thinking, its hard to not put such men on a pedestal.  To consider them super human or a fairy tale, somehow.  That they would have the guts to believe that new and bigger things could actually come through their own faithfulness. 

It's as if they actually believed this passage enough to live it out.

When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned...For I am the Lord your God...Do not be afraid for I am with you...Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:2-3, 5, 18-19

These men lived as if they believed that God could and would do a new thing within them and through them and for them.  They lived as if they believed that God would see them through any hardship or trial.  And that he would use it all to accomplish new things.

They lived as if they knew it was absolutely true that God empowers his people to serve well and to serve humbly.  To give it their all.  To be bold.  To hold nothing back.  To run hard.  To do hard things.  To endure and persevere.  To assess accurately the highest value of obeying God.  To stay strong and stay the course.  

Paul lived as if it is absolute truth that God uses the least likely and the ill equipped to accomplish the most awe inspiring movements of himself.  Here is the truth. God shows himself best when glowing through common clay jars.  God is the reason that his people can face hardships and trials and keep going.

He is the reason we can dream and believe that new things are coming. 

God is the difference between a bitter, angry, vengeful man who persecuted Christians and a courageous, humble, bold and faithful trail blazer who set the world on fire with the beginnings of the first church.

So what excuse do I have?  Can I say the same as these men?  Do I let my life speak for itself as an example of serving with humility and living undeterred by threats of danger?  Do my actions and my life tell of his power to persevere through testing?  

What exactly is holding me back from having a dream and pressing headlong toward it?  Running for the new things and the streams in the wasteland?  Do I resist hesitation from doing anything that would be helpful for the saints and the unbelieving? 

Does my life declare loudly that I actually do believe and live out that God is powerful and faithful?

Here's what I wrote in my journal this morning:  The world is starving for this kind of faith.  We all long to see the power of God through undeterred followers.  We want to see that God is all he claims to be by how his followers live.  We want to see that we can rely on his power and his grace.

We all want to see that he is the difference between our capability and our reality and our current trials and hardships...and a crazy bold dream that becomes a new thing springing up.

I believe that God wants to do a new thing in each of us.  Through each of us.  

Do you not perceive it?  His way in the wilderness?  His streams in your wasteland?  

Life is a series of mundane and tedious and busy and chaos.  That ebbs and flows with suffering and hardship.  

No matter what, God calls us to plant ourselves firmly at his feet.  Like Mary.  To choose the one thing necessary.

To choose to listen to his teaching.  And leave the kitchen duty and distractions...refusing to be anxious and troubled about many things.

Because we've chosen the good portion.  We've chosen to throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus, throwing out all our questions and confusion and sorrows.  Running to him with it all rather than away from him.

He wants us to come off the fence lines and walking the perimeters and following the rules so that we can drink deeply from the well of grace.

Refusing to be consumers of faith and of God.  Refusing to be driven by performance or to be halted by doubts.  He longs for us to allow the cutting away of the old.  He wants us to pray for the impossible walls to crumble and to believe him to do it.

Because he wants us, like the Israelites in the Old Testament, to move from deliverance to freedom.  

God wants us to plant ourselves firmly at his feet in seasons of weeping.  Expressing our problems to him.  Letting him come work in his way to do his new things, trusting his heart for us.  He wants us to cling to him when we grieve deeply.  He wants us to remember that he cries with us.  

He wants us to look to him with expectation for how he can work through our brokenness.  He wants us to believe that he works our brokenness into eternal wholeness.

He wants us to live daily, in such a way, that our life testifies to our belief in his bigger picture.  He wants our lives to shout to the world around us that there is an invitation to an eternal feast and a banquet here and now of grace and love and acceptance.

So that we can walk and jump and praise God.  So that we can not only have dreams but dare to pursue the new things that God might do through our wastelands and wildernesses.  

He wants us to allow ourselves to be pruned and deconstructed and face threats of danger.  So that new things can come.  So that life can be born of death.  

God's very heartbeat for us is to surrender our burdens.  To live out Matthew 11:28-30 and to take his yoke upon us.  To learn the lessons of walking on the unforced rhythms of grace while Jesus handles the burdens.  To live out the forgotten verbs of staying, remaining, sitting, dwelling, abiding and clinging.  Because when we do the hard work of stilling our mind and souls to think on him and believe he is who he claims to be... then new things are unleashed.  Dreams are chased.  God's power is our fuel and lifeline, as we step through our circumstances.

God has a dream for us.  He wants us to dream big.  Of the new things he can do.  That he could use the impossible courage of a black preacher to spark a movement toward changing our culture.  That he could use a former enemy of Christ as the catalyst for Christ's first church.  

What new things can you imagine God bringing about and doing in and through you?  What are your wildest dreams if you really could take God as his word to be all the power and grace that you need?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

I pray you grab a piece of paper and a pen.  And go dream with you God.  Ask him to help you live as if you believe him to be all the power you ever need.  Ask him to help you see the new things he is up to in your life.

Blog post #14 in a series:  Sabbath Living: Sitting at the Feet of Jesus.