Friday, April 3, 2015

Give a Penny, Take a Penny.

Have you ever made a sacrifice for someone who really hurt you?

That's the question I'm asking myself this Good Friday morning.  And I'm having a hard time thinking of one.  It's a shame.

That's a level of forgiveness that I'm afraid I do not know.

There are people from my past that I've forgiven, and I have genuine compassion for them in my heart.  Given the chance, I'd like to act on that compassion, to let those people know that they are loved and forgiven and released, that it's all good because Jesus made it so.  I earnestly pray for glorious things for them and for God to gift us with reconciliation.  

But there are a couple of people that I cannot seem to forgive.  If I saw them today, I don't know that I could even sacrifice a courteous word out of my mouth in their direction.  

Sometimes, I'll find a little shred of compassion for them lying around.  I'll pick it up and hold it in my pocket for a while, but my pockets are shallow.  My compassion for them eventually slips its way out like a forgotten penny, and lays lost and sticky on a dirty sidewalk.

Give a penny, take a penny, right?  Give forgiveness and take it back.

That's not what God meant for us at all.

Jesus had so many opportunities to take our forgiveness back.  33 years worth of opportunities, really, but He never did.  Never once.  He kept trudging toward that hill, every faithful step forward, stooping to pick up our discarded pennies along the way and redeeming every single one of them.

Along the way, they met a man from Cyrene, Simon (the father of Rufus 
and Alexander), who was coming in from the fields; and they ordered him 
to carry the heavy crossbar of the cross.  And so they came at last to the execution site, a hill called Golgotha, which means the "Place of a Skull."  
-Mark 15:21-22

But at the very end, He needed help.  Not eternal Jesus, the only son of God- no, He is never weak, but the fully human package that He offered Himself in? Broken and faltering.  It was Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross this last part of the journey.

It feels blasphemous to type those words, but they are true.

Matthew 16:24 tells me to take up my cross and follow Jesus.  How do I carry that heavy crossbeam on my shoulders every day when I can't even carry a penny's worth of forgiveness in my pocket?  My human self is very, very weak.

I need a cross-bearer to carry what I cannot.  

I need a savior who knows my human frailty first hand and still stands up for me.  

And I need to admit that I am wrong.  I need to quit taking back my forgiveness and entrust it to Jesus instead.

The selfish part of me would just rather lay pinned on the ground under my cross than let Jesus carry it for me.  As long as I have my hands on it, then I believe I can exact justice the way I see fit.

However, if I leave my justice to Jesus, my enemies could have the same fate as me- redemption.  Sometimes that's a hard pill to swallow.

So my original question misses the mark.  Have I ever made a sacrifice for someone who really hurt me?  Of course not.  Because, truthfully, I am not capable.  None of us are really.  Only Jesus redeems.

God, though, knows how stubborn we are.  In His mercy and grace, He draws the way to Himself over and over. Through creation.  Through His word.  Through His Holy Spirit.  Through the person of His son.  And through the story of His people.

So, this is the God-picture that Simon of Cyrene paints for me, that God will lead me to a time when I can't make it on my own anymore.  Then I'll have to make a choice. 

I can lay crushed under my own unforgiveness.

I can leave it to litter the way for everyone else around me.

Or I can give it to someone stronger to carry.  Jesus show me how.

For Jesus is not some high priest who has no sympathy for our 
weaknesses and flaws. He has already been tested in every way that 
we are tested; but He emerged victorious, without failing God.   
-Hebrews 4:15

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Melting Grace

It snowed today.  Not much, but it did snow.  It's been 17 years since I've seen any winter weather more than a dusting.  I was happy but, let me tell you, the boy was ecstatic.  His little Alabama heart thought we had moved UP NORTH.

He had us all snow-creamed, eskimo-cloaked and scaling this frozen tundra well before 8 am this morning- good thing too because this slushy snow is melting fast.

I love the perfectness of snow.  The pure, clean stillness of it.  The glittering silence. That close-your-eyes-and-take-a-deep-breath smell.  It clears the air and shushes the chaos in my yard and in my mind.

The snow in my backyard covers all the worn things new again; dry grass dug raw by my dog is powdered and soothed.  Our broken fence and its fallen birdhouse are made quaint.  That shameful pile of bricks I knocked over in the driveway last fall...redeemed into a gleaming miniature Mt. Everest.

Can I just stay in this moment?

Do you know why winter air smells so clean?  Because frigid temperatures slow down the molecules that make up all the smells we smell.  Dirt and grass and slug trails, all those smells that we don't even register, are blanketed down by the cold so we can fill our senses with fresh nothingness.

I like to think of God's grace as being like the snow, covering all my rough and broken places, capping shame with glory.  It restores order to the chaos and sets things right.

When God created the heavens and the earth, he saw that each part was good.  Not because he sat for endless hours polishing and buffing and covering them with clean, white snow, but because, by his very nature, God defines good.  And when Jesus sits at God's right hand and whispers our names in his ear, God sees us as good too, flaws and all.

I walked outside this afternoon for one last breath of that winter air, and the sound of water overwhelmed me.  Water dripped from trees and trickled from the eaves.  It poured from the downspouts and pooled on the rocks below.  It sloshed under my feet, wetting my shoes, and I realized then that my desire for picture perfect grace has sold this grace very, very short.

Unlike the snow, this grace doesn't disappear in a day.  Or paint a study in perfection for us to stand back and watch.  And it would never, ever fill us up with nothing.  Instead, this grace is melting into living water all around us.  It seeps into broken places and soaks through rough patches.  It funnels deep within and nourishes new growth in dark hollows.  It moves and flows, swirling in and under and all around.  It changes us, washes us all clean, and because of this grace, HIS grace, God sees us through the lens of his son Jesus, and calls us good.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us,
 not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  Titus 3:4-7

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Good Soil

I’ve wrecked my car 3 times in the past 6 months.  In my own driveway.  Twice I hit one car with the other and once I knocked over a brick retaining wall.  All because I can’t get my mind on what I’m doing.

I can’t remember things anymore either.  I miss appointments all the time, even when I write them down because I forget to look at my calendar.  

I forget birthdays.  I forget prescriptions.  I forget the laundry in the washer.  Forget to cook dinner.  Or even grocery shop for that matter.

I forget to record that odd check I wrote too… that’s always fun.

A few weeks ago, I forgot my dog in the car for a good part of the day.  Thank God it was cool outside and he was ok.

If ever there were a woman in need of rest, it is me.  The past two years have been filled with stressful events and it has taken a mighty toll on my soul.  The woman who used to juggle all-the-things with productivity to spare now measures any day that includes a shower as a good day.

I’m not sure where my old self went.  We even uprooted our family and moved 4 states away and I still can’t quite find her.  I think she’s gone and someone new is taking her place.

Someone humbled.  Someone less invested in this world. Someone slowly relenting.

Our new home in our new town has the most beautiful trees.  I’ve never seen fall like this before, brilliant oaks and maples encircle our yard like a warm city wall.  Orange and gold carpet the lawn as far as I can see.  And each time the wind blows, more leaves drift down like autumn butterflies and rest quietly on the ground.

It’s like they’ve relented too. 

Seasons change.  Spring grows.  Summer abounds.  Fall, however, is expected to yield her harvest to the Sower and make way for winter’s good rest.

The leaves are much more at peace with this process than I am.  It’s hard to watch beautiful things fade.  It’s hard to give up the red maple wonder of a season to the million little deaths that mark it’s end.  I know that winter rest brings spring growth, and we all need that time.  But I don’t rest.  I mourn the leaves when the leaves don’t mourn themselves.

Instead, the leaves trust that this season is their natural state.  This place is where they belong.  They know that only when they fall and crumble to the earth can the Sower make them into something new.  

The glorious, the brilliant, the withered - even the moth-eaten - He washes them all, one by one, with cool living water.  And dries them with the breath of life.

So these things are not lost, my friend.  In the palm of His hand, they become the very things that make the good soil.

But some seeds fell into good soil - soft, moist, 
free from thorns.  These seeds not only grew, 
but they also produced more seeds, a hundred 
times what the farmer originally planted.  
If you have ears, hear My meaning.     -Luke 8:8

A special thank you to The Boy who helped me write this.  He has quite a way with words...

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 (ok-18) Lessons from 31(ish) Women (and one little boy): Failures

I set a goal for myself this month- to blog everyday.  I wanted to participate in this blogging challenge at  But then life snickered at my big plans and I made it to day 6 before I quit writing.

This is the point where I would normally call myself a failure and give up.  But not today.  Turns out, all the cool people fail.

Oprah was once fired and called "unfit for television".  

Marilyn Monroe was told that she'd never make it as a model.    

Louisa May Alcott was told by a publisher that she'd never succeed as a writer.

Florence Nightingale's family considered her nursing career just a notch above prostitution.  

Suze Ormon started her finance career because she was bankrupted by a failed restaurant.  

Vera Wang was once a figure skater who didn't make the Olympic team.  

Bette Nesmith Graham invented Liquid Paper after years of correcting her typos with white tempura paint.    

Princess Diana and Coco Chanel both dropped out of school. 

Beyonce lost on Star Search. 

And Julia Child burned dinner.  Probably a lot.

Just this summer, my son learned to ride a bike.  He's ten.  Ten is late for bike riding and he knows it.  But God wired this child up a little differently, and gross motor skill deficits and balance issues are a real thing for him.  Riding a bike is the single most difficult thing I think he's ever tried to do.

And it was hard, hard, to watch him struggle up and down the long driveway in the summer heat, all rage and tears and bloodied knees.  In his black-and-white mind, you either do it or don't.  There is no in-between, and so each fall told him that he was a bike-riding failure.  

I contemplated success and failure those days on the stone steps by our driveway, and I wondered what all this trying would be like without the world inside our heads pressuring us to get it right.  We'd be free to try as many times as we wanted, our hearts never once nicked by failure.  Trying only becomes failing when the world is watching for it.   

My little blogging 'failure' has made me think a lot about goals and what I really want to do.  I want to write.  That's it.  Write about grace and what it's done for me.  And I want other women to read what I write and be encouraged.  It would be nice to be a published author or popular blogger, but that's not really what I want.  I just want to write for Jesus.  He's my audience of one.

God plants seeds inside all of us to go and do great things for His kingdom.  Sure, sometimes He plants those seeds for a specific time and place, but mostly I think He just wants to see what we'll do with them.  He wants to see us grow in grace and knowledge, and that can take a long time trying.  But that's ok.  It's time spent with Jesus.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jer 29:11

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

31 Lessons from 31 Women: Lydia of Thyatira

Lydia of Thyatira only gets a few brief mentions in the book of Acts.  She almost seems like background noise.  It's easy to miss her, but don't.  She's a trailblazer.

On the Sabbath day, we went outside the city walls to the nearby river, assuming that some Jewish people might be gathering for prayer.  We found a group of women there, so we sat down and spoke to them.  One of them, Lydia, was a business woman originally from Thyatira.  She made a living buying and selling fine purple fabric.  She was a true worshiper of God and listened to Paul with special interest.  The Lord opened her heart to take in the message with enthusiasm.  She and her whole household were ceremonially washed through baptism.

Lydia: If you believe I'm truly faithful to the Lord, please, you must come and stay at my home.

We couldn't turn down her invitation.        -Acts 16:13-15

A few verses later, after the most spectacular jailbreak (which you simply must read for yourself in Acts 16:16-39), Lydia is mentioned again as hosting the first Christian church in the city of Phillipi in her home.  That's it.  That's all we know about her.

We don't know who her family is.  We don't know if she was married or not.  We don't know anything about her personal sin history or if she fell victim to any of the usual suspects of tragedy like childlessness or widowhood that plague Biblical women.  We know none of that.

Which is kind of nice.  We just get to know Lydia for herself.

I'd like to have coffee with Lydia.  Oh, she might would tell me about all the brokenness in her past, how she's divorced or she lost a child- we all have those stories.  But I think she would tell me more about Jesus and the hope she finds in him.  The difference in Lydia is that she's not defining herself by the brokenness.  She's defining herself by the Lord.  And that gives me hope too.

Thank you Lydia.  We need strong women to go first.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

31 Lessons from 31 Women: Sarina Leigh

Each Wednesday afternoon, the boy and I get to keep his little 8 month old cousin, Sarina.  She is such a joy.  One of her favorite things about our house is that we have four cats.  She just loves to watch the kitties.

One day we were playing on a blanket in the living room when one of the cats snuggled up right next to Sarina and began to purr.  Sarina was very happy to finally get up close and personal with one of these mysterious creatures.  She immediately reached out a chubby hand to touch the kitty’s face.  She did not expect to first encounter whiskers.

She drew her little hand back in surprised delight.  She looked at her hand and then looked at the cat.  She reached a second time; again the whiskers tickled her palm.  This time she broke a wide smile and patted the whiskers.  She marveled there a while before moving on to touch the sleek fur, the delicate ears, that little pink nose.  All the while, kitty sat warm and soft, purring patiently beside her new friend.

It was a sweet moment to behold.  I’m glad she shared it with me.

Today offered a different kind of sweet moment as beautiful Sarina Leigh was dedicated to the Lord at church this morning.  It was a privilege to gather around her with family as the pastor prayed over her.  I cheated during the prayer, though, and peeped one eye open to see what she was doing.  Her family may have been deep in prayer, intent on the great spiritual battle that rages all around us, but Miss Sarina was completely relaxed in her daddy’s arms, leaning back and looking around as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

“That’s right, baby girl,” I thought.  “You just sit back and enjoy- we got this.”

At a another baby dedication a few weeks ago, the pastor explained that really we are dedicating ourselves to lead and pray for this child as she begins her walk toward the narrow gate.  Just as I sat beside Sarina to guide her safely through her first encounter with a kitty, we all have a very serious responsibility to shepherd the children in our lives through the wilderness and right to the foot of the cross.

So you are safe and loved, Sarina.  Protected and blessed.  My prayer for you is this, that you will reach your little hand to Jesus with bold wonder.  He is full of delightful surprises; grace and mercy abound in His presence.  You can reach right out to him, close enough that His whiskers will tickle your hand.  He is your friend, your personal savior, and He will sit patiently beside you for as long as you want.

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.  Psalm 127:3

Saturday, October 4, 2014

31 Lessons from 31 Women: Martha, part 2

So I may have been re-reading yesterday's post looking for typos (because I've seen y'all mock people's grammar on Facebook) when I saw something that was so good, I had to come share it with you.  We are going to have another visit with Ms. Martha this morning.

Let's read part of her story again:

Jesus continued from there toward Jerusalem and came to another village.  Martha, a resident of that village, welcomed Jesus into her home.  Her sister Mary, went and sat at Jesus' feet, listening to Him teach.  Meanwhile Martha was anxious about all the hospitality arrangements.   Luke 10:38-40

Whoa.  She invited Jesus into her home and then kept right on worrying and doing all the same things she'd always done.

Mmmm.... I had to chew that one for a while.  And it was hard to swallow.  I might have done that too, Martha.  Once.  Or twice.  Ok, everyday.  For like the past ten years.

There are so many verses that I could quote here, verses about not being anxious about anything and how Jesus' burden is light.  Or dying to self and submitting to God's authority.  But what I want to tell you about is the power we have in the Holy Spirit.

The Father is sending a great Helper, the Holy Spirit, in My name to teach you everything and to remind you of all I have said to you.    John 14:26

Only two days ago, I was telling my husband that I wished I could hire a mother's helper for just one day a week.  She could tutor the boy while I run errands and make phone calls.  I could get bills paid on time and go to the grocery store by myself.  I could finish a whole shower without anyone asking me for anything.

Now imagine an even better mother's helper, one who would "...teach me everything and remind me of all..."  That's like having Mary Poppins in my house, guiding me through every single step of this wife and mother business every single day.  I would be all over that.  I certainly wouldn't ignore her- no ma'am.  That would be crazy!  I'd ask her so many questions, Mary Poppins would think she had three Beverlys on her!

And yet here I sit with a helper better than even Mary Poppins, a helper ready and willing to teach me everything I need to know and remind me of all the things that Jesus said.  I have this wonderful helper, but most days, I don't even stop long enough to hear to what He has to say.  

I'm just like Martha.

So here's the part that's tough to swallow:  stopping to hear the Holy Spirit is a choice we make.  So no matter the circumstance, no matter the baby crying or the in-laws coming or the looming deadline at work.  No matter how many unforeseen disasters strike, no matter how many balls we have we put in the air, we are responsible for making the choice to listen or not.  <Gulp>

By the way, when you listen, you'll probably hear this:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.   2Cor 9:8

All grace.  All sufficiency.  All things.  At all times.  Because He loves you.