Sunday, April 28, 2013

I Feared Anyway

Supposedly God says “Do not fear” 365 times in the Bible, once for every day of the year.

I feared anyway.

My husband just took the shortest Emmaus Walk in the history of the world- 22 hours from start to finish.  The Emmaus Walk, if you don’t know, is a Christian retreat tradition that dates back to the 1960’s.  It’s 4 days in the woods with nothing but solitude and Jesus.  No phone, no lights, no motorcars.  No way to call your wife.

I cried the whole time he was gone.

I made it 16 hours before I called the camp.  I was mad.  I was hurt.  This was just not the right time for him to go away.  We have too much stress in our lives right now- heavy, caustic burdens that I can’t bear by myself.  And I had to tell him right then because I knew that if I suffered the weekend, it would take months to bind the wounds.

But I couldn’t say any of that.  I could only cry and say you left us.

He came right home.

Last July, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, a very aggressive but relatively easy cancer to treat.  Four months from diagnosis to cure– bloodwork, CT scans, surgery, port catheter, IV’s, drug cocktails, shots.  80+ hours of poison dripping into my husband’s veins.  A pulmonary embolism.  Chemo and third grade started in the same week.  His goatee fell out on his 37th birthday.  I saw it, a clump of hair missing from his chin when I was giving him a cupcake.  He was too weak to blow out the candle and too nauseated to eat the cake.  

That’s cancer.

But now he is cancer free.  Divinely touched by Yahweh-rapha, God who heals, and sent back to life.  Emails to answer, homework to check, grass to cut, dog to walk, bills to pay.  Life.

It’s been 206 days since he last sat in that chemo chair.  On every one of those days, God has told me not to fear and I did it anyway.  I feared that my husband would die.  Everyday.  I just didn’t realize it until he went away.  I don’t want to spend a weekend without him, much less a life.  I fell utterly apart. 

But that was all yesterday.  Today, I’m safe and loved in a cabin in the Smokey Mountains with both of my boys.  Nobody left.  Nobody died.  Instead we retreated together.

I’m now on the sofa writing with the dog at my feet, and the boys are playing pool in the rec room below.  In the cabin next to us, 5 musicians unpack.  One of them plays his trumpet on the balcony.  Surreal.  And God watches over all from above, just as he said he would.

Earlier this morning, my husband called the boy and me outside to look at the clouds.  In the distance, we could see the blue horizon of the mountains covered under an endless blanket of clouds.  Covered.

There was one wisp of a cloud that had descended to settle in the valley below.  Just one wisp.

Behold He comes
Riding on a cloud
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet’s call

I am in the valley, but I am not alone.  A trumpet calls desolate and Jesus descends, gentle in the mist, to sit with me.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
 I will fear no evil, for You are with me; 
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  Psalm 23:4

Thank you Abba for telling me every single day not to fear.  Keep telling me.  Keep telling me. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

What God Sees

When you got out of bed this morning, did you see Joy?  Were you filled with possibility or stifled by your list before you even opened your eyes?  

When you got dressed, did you see Holiness?  Did you clothe yourself in fine linen and purple because you are a temple or did you shame the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit for its cellulite and hide it under black stretchy pants?

When you ate breakfast, did you see Manna?  Did you nourish yourself with goodness or did you feel fat and guilty for every bite?  Or did you even feed yourself at all?

When you dressed your kids, did you see Love?  Did you see capable hands that fed and clothed and nurtured?  Or did you see clumsy fingers that cling when they should let go and sometimes neglect to hold at all?

When you hugged your husband good bye, did you see Desire?  Did you pause to love and be loved or did you pull away because, honestly, it just reminds you of your failure to be beautiful?

When you looked in the bathroom mirror this morning, did you see your Self?  Or did you long since hide her away, sealing her heart shut with resignation and pursed lips?  

What did you see?

Let me tell you what God sees.

God first made the heavens and the earth, the dark and the light, and He saw that it was good.

But that wasn’t enough, so He made the sky and saw that it was good too.

Still He wasn’t satisfied, so He added land and sea and plants and trees.  And He saw that it was good.

But the sky was dark.  So He hung the moon and the sun and the stars to make it bright.  Again, He saw that it was good, but still....

He filled the sky with birds and the water with fish.  And these too He saw good, but there is more.

He set animals on the land to roam and to graze, each according to their kind.  Also good, but not yet complete.

He formed a man from the dust and breathed into him His very own breath of life.  And all of this He saw was very good.  But the Creator of the universe yearned for one more thing.... 

And so He made you, daughter of Eve.

And then He rested.

You created the deepest parts of my being.
You put me together inside my mother’s body.
How You made me is amazing and wonderful.
I praise You for that.
 Psalm 139:13-14

This blog post inspired by the book Captivating by Staci Eldredge.  Great book!  Wild at Heart by her husband John is even better...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Throwing Rocks

When I was a kid, I lived out in the country.  I didn’t really have a lot of other kids to play with, but there were two particular playmates that I will never forget because these two kids left a mark on my heart.

Brother and sister, a couple of years younger than me, they were a little bit of a neighborhood enigma.  Their family moved into the ‘big’ house on my tired country road, the one with the terraced front yard and cool modern staircase, the one brick dot on a map of trailers and old farmhouses.  They didn’t live there long, maybe a year, and they didn’t go to public school.  I can’t tell you one thing about their parents, not one single thing- what they looked like, where they worked- nothing except that they were religious.  

We, however, were not.  We went to church for weddings and funerals.  We said grace at Thanksgiving.  We breezed past Jesus on the way to see Santa Claus, but that’s about it. 

One good thing, though, about my churchless upbringing is that The Hymnbook for Christian Worship was totally lost on me.  As a child, this ignorance would nearly condemn me, but today I love traditional hymns.  They're new to me.  Their simple worship makes my striving heart stand down.  This is one of my favorites:
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Man, I feel those words in my soul.  Me - made right with the One who set the sun in the sky, bathed in the balm of merciful love and made whole - all of it done amidst the spite of 6 year old Pharisees and their misguided exhortations. 

Back then, I didn’t know church songs, didn’t know Bible stories, didn’t know about rainbows or talking donkeys or the belly of any fish; and I certainly didn’t know about the drenching grace of a savior who loves me.

I wasn’t about to learn it from these kids either.

One summer afternoon, they decided to evangelize me.  Right there at the end of my dusty driveway, two barefoot prophets ate Squirrel Nut Zippers and preached hell-fire and damnation to a freckle-faced little sinner.

“Is your dad a Christian?  Our dad says you’re not Christians.”

“Um, yeah, my dad’s a Christian.”

“Are you saved?”

“I don’t know.  I guess so.”

“If you had Jesus in your heart, you would know it.  Do you go to church?”

“No, we don’t go to church.”

“Why don't you go to church?  Do you even know the words to Amazing Grace?”


“Well, then you're not a Christian.  You need to go to church and get saved.  If you don’t repent, you’ll go to hell.”

Well, I let them know exactly how un-sanctified I was with a few choice words about shutting up and kissing my butt, surely heathen words if ever I’ve said any.  Then I ran home.  And they threw rocks at me.

Yep.  They stoned me because I didn’t know grace.

30-some odd years later, I know that if I were the only person on Earth who couldn’t sing Amazing Grace, Jesus still would have died for me.  No rejection I could suffer was not first suffered by him.  I know that he KNOWS and it’s ok.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  Psalm 147:3
Sadly, though, some lessons are too soon forgotten.

I’m still a freckle-faced sinner, but now all grown up and full of myself in Jesus’ name.  I play nice with the other mommies at the park until it comes to the one who can’t sing grace - you know the one, twice divorced with wild kids and a worn out heart.  When it comes to that mom, I'm likely as not to eat up all my mercy like sticky, sweet candy and throw rocks at her instead.  

It lays my heart open raw to think of some of the hurt I’ve judged into being.  Some things I can go back and apologize for.  Some things I can fix.  But some things are too far gone.

Jesus please fix the hearts I’ve broken and bind up their wounds too.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

When we put our sins at the foot of the cross, it’s not just for our own atonement.  We give them to Jesus so he can make all things right.  All things.  

This is all my hope and peace,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

He still claims me.  He pries open my self-righteous fists and lets the rocks fall to the ground.  And then he washes my dirty hands clean.

I can clean the mud you sling just as surely as I have cleaned you, He says.

Glory! Glory! This I sing—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus,
All my praise for this I bring—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Enemy

I want to share something that my husband wrote about 2 years ago.  Today is our 16th wedding anniversary.  Thank you for building our house on the Rock.  The boy and I could not have a better husband and father to take care of us!

(And if you're reading this and you don't know me, my husband's name is, ironically, Rocky....)

The Enemy walks toward the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea.  As he looks down he takes note of every detail.  He wants to affix this moment in his memory forever. He has planned this moment for years.

 He looks below at the small home that contains the source of his contempt.  Finally he will gain the victory he has sought.   He feels the breeze pick up and he pulls the hood back from his head so he can take in the coming storm with all of his senses.  He smells the storm on the air now and he knows it will not be long. 

A knowing smile creeps onto his visage as he looks down once again.  He knows that there is no way for the family below to predict the kind of storm he has set in motion.  He smiles wider as he recalls all the preparation for this one event.  Each step along the way was a deception to build the coming storm. 

The wind is biting now and cold.  The first few raindrops begin to sting his cheeks as he lifts his head to the sky in victory. He has seen this play out before. The storm will wreck the home below.  The waves will claim their prize, scatter those within, and the wreckage of the home will float out to sea.  The family will be destroyed. 

The rain is falling hard now and he has to concentrate to see the home below.  He knows the home has only minutes before it is claimed by the storm.  The wind is assaulting the beach and the cliff but the real danger is building.  The waves are crashing on shore now and he knows they will soon reach the home. He looks out to the sea and notes the swelling waves.  

With each flash of lightning he can make out the increasing danger. The waves are now crashing against the base of the home.   The Enemy smiles more broadly now.  This is his favorite part.  For he craves most not the power that is being displayed but the destruction that it will bring. 

He recalls the countless storms he has set in motion and the destruction they have caused.  He waits to hear the creaking and cracking sound that announces that the sea has claimed the home. He can see now with each lightning flash the intensifying waves and then he spots the one, the wave that will engulf the home completely.  He watches it violently come ashore and crash over the home.  He notes with some pride that this storm is proving to be more destructive than most.  He leans over the cliff and listens intently for the sound of the home being crushed. 

As the wave breaks over the home his smile falters.   He realizes that he heard no sounds of destruction.  By the next lightning flash he can see why.  The home is still standing! 

He thinks to himself that this storm will soon claim this home.  The very beach is being assaulted by the ocean.  He can see the sand being torn from the beach by the violence of this storm.   Another wave crashes over the home.  There is still no damage. 

His smile is gone now. It has been replaced by a look of puzzlement and a slight hint of fear.  He knows the storm is exceptionally violent.  He takes a closer look as a third and fourth wave crash over the home totally engulfing it in the angry sea. As the water resides and the sky is lit by a brilliant flash he sees his failure.  The storm has washed away the sand and revealed solid rock!  

As he watches the storm rage he knows that he has failed.  For all of his preparation and cunning he failed to realize that the home was built upon the rock. The rage the enemy feels is growing.  With his anger and hatred also comes an empty feeling of impotence.  He knows that once a home is build upon the rock it will draw strength and power from the rock.  The home can break any storm because the rock can break any storm. 

The storm is fading now, as all storms must.  The enemy looks to the east and notes the rising sun.  He quickly pulls his rain soaked hood over his head to protect him from the light.   As the first rays of light shine on the home on the rock the enemy retreats.  He has been defeated and he knows it is so.      

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Just Ask Him

One night last summer, my son brought me a present. The three of us had been hanging out by the campfire until well after bedtime, listening to crickets and gazing at stars.  We were three peas in a pod, growing in the red clay of our backyard, watered by popsicles and lighted by fireflies.

Now, it's balmy enough on an Alabama summer night, but add to it a smokey hot fire and a good layer of bug spray and you have painted yourself...sticky. The boy, bless him, abandoned us for the house when it was time to clean up. But when he trudged back up the hill toward me with a secret sweet on his lips and dirty little hands hidden behind him, I thought, "He loves me. He's brought me a Diet Coke. I am a most-favored mother." 

I held out my hands to receive my gift, that sweet cold nectar of caffeinated goodness.  What I got, though, was a toad.  A fat, nasty, wriggling, toad.

I am afraid of toads.

I am convinced that the greatest desire of every single toad living in this world today is to jump on my face and stick there unrelenting with its nasty little claw feet.  Also, I'm pretty sure that if I were to squeeze one, even just the tiniest little bit, it would ooze...something- I don't know what, but something.  Yuck. 

Just the thought makes my adrenaline flow like the mighty Mississippi.  Fight or Flight?  I'll take flight, please.  So I dropped the toad to the ground and did a screeching heebie-jeebie dance right there at the top of the hill.

The boy was delighted.

There aren't many things that scare me. Toads. Grotesquely broken bones.  Maybe that creepy chick crawling out of the TV in the movie The Ring, but not much else.

Well, also the words, "Honey, I have cancer."  Those scare me.

It wasn't too long after the toad incident that my husband spoke those words to me, standing in our bathroom, stunned pale and faltering. It scared him too. And that scared me the most.

We know that God is in control of all things. We know that what the enemy intends for death, God brings to life. We know that God has peace that surpasses all.  But we don't know how. And that filled our home with heavy fear. What if God's idea of 'OK' is not the same as ours?

Fast forward a few days to another balmy night when three more peas in a pod planted themselves at my doorstep. Eleanna - calm with wisdom and confident in knowing, Melinda - scrappy and bold and steeled for battle, and Nina - beautiful with joy and praise pressed down and running over.

These women came to pray over me and my family, right there bathed in moths and porch light. They came to claim Christ's finished work on the cross for me, to clothe me in God's armor, to rebuke fear in Christ's name.  And they came to thank God and recognize his goodness when I was knocked too nearly breathless to say it myself.

When I walked back in the house, the heaviness was gone.  My husband, not knowing anything spoken on that porch, said to me, "I feel better now."

Of course you do.

Three women came to speak words of prayer over us. But words are just words; they have no power over life and death. Someone must have heard and given life to the words.

God heard and God breathed life.

Provider God.

Healer God.

Father God.

Abba Daddy God.

Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, 
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us 
in our time of need.  Hebrews 4:16

Through the cross, we have the amazing privilege in Christ's good name to approach the one true God with boldness and in confidence. This is the beauty of it, y'all.  Do you know this?  I mean do you really, truly know it? 

With borrowed righteousness in hand, we can ask for what we need as rightly as Jesus asked in the Garden of Gethsemane, and God will embrace our prayers. There is nothing we can't petition him for, no need that will tire his great love for his beloved, no want or fear that we cannot lay at his feet- not Diet Coke or toads or scary movies or even cancer. All of it lies in the palm of his hand, and he desires to give good and holy gifts to us, to give them to you child of God, because he loves us.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Graceless Places

...and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.   Isaiah 61:3

Some mountains rise from the earth in violence, ripping, burning and pushing their way to life.  Others are eroded from what was, washed again and again until they are worn into greatness.

Over time, struggle and relentlessness are ordered to rest.  Mt. Everest is not a pile of charred rocks.  The Grand Canyon is not a river of mud.  What makes the difference between destruction and splendor?

The difference is grace.

“ pain you will give birth....”  Gen 3:16

Pain gives way.  Splendor brings with it a new brow to kiss, soft with newborn skin and not yet furrowed by life.  Wanting only to be fed.  Wanting only to be held.  

Wanting only grace. 

If God were here in flesh, I would sit at His feet and lay my head on his lap.

I would tell him that I sent my heart, my greatest gift, into the world and they despised it.

And he would say I know.  They despised mine too.

Anger grows in a graceless place.  The only way to sooth it is to give it the grace it needs.  But today I have no grace.

It's ok.  My grace is sufficient.  Let me purge the venom from your snakebitten heart.  It will take time.  And it will be painful.  But it will be worth it.

If that’s what it takes Lord, then wash me.  Again and again and again.  Living water and cleansing blood, hollow me out and carve grace into my graceless places.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

If Grace is an Ocean...

I just love a fresh perspective on an old Bible story, especially those stories we like tell our kids in Sunday School.  Noah, Jonah, little boy David with his 5 stones, each a shining example of obedience and faith.  But put grit to the shiny polish of these childhood heroes and you will see that there is much more below the surface.  Grate them with the seasoned fragments of understanding and experience and they will confess the depth of their texture - the grain of the wood, the smell of the sawdust, the marked rings of age and growth collected over life lived in the wilderness.

Of all these beloved Bible characters, Peter is becoming my favorite - passionate and temperamental Peter, the rock on which Jesus would build his church.  I like Peter because he is like me, boldly jumping in with both feet and yet reluctant in faith.  Remember Peter jumping in the water to walk to Jesus?  He sank in his fear.  How many times I’ve shared that story with my own son!  Each time though, I hang my head and limp away from this lesson for the little in faith.  If only I had kept my eyes on Jesus.  If only I had more faith.  Better faith.  Stronger faith.  I wouldn’t sink and disappoint Jesus in the one thing he asks of me.

But then I found a fresh perspective.

When I get sprayed by the storms of life and find my faith has faltered, my courage has gone south, I often turn to Matthew 14:22-33.  Jesus sees the disciples caught up in a squall.  It is between three and six am.  He comes walking toward them on the water.  They are terrified.  “It’s a ghost,” they cry out in fear.  He says, “Courage!  It is I!  Do not be afraid.”

Peter, nothing if not brash, decides to test the voice.  “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.”  The tentative faith of that fearful “if” quickly deteriorates into sheer terror as Peter begins to walk to Jesus.  I find comfort (perhaps perverse pleasure) in knowing that the rock on which Jesus would build the church sank like a stone.*

Jesus sees me in the squall and he comes to me where I am.  I am terrified.  Scared of the storm, scared of failure, scared of the wrath I know I deserve.  What if Jesus is not who he says he is, but only the specter of grace and mercy?

"I am the resurrection and the life,” he says.  Are you really?  I step out of the boat.  And the wind breathes doubt and fear into my mind.  You may be Jesus, but I am unworthy.  I can’t do this.  

And I sink.

I share this with you because I think if I open my eyes under the water, I will see you there.  You.  Me.  Peter.  We’re all sinking.

But the beautiful thing is that Jesus is already there to pull us up and out of the water.  Don’t you think he knew that Peter would jump out of the boat in a flash of bravado and nearly drown himself?

“O, you of little faith.  Why did you doubt?”  It’s not a reproach.  It’s a lament.  One that I love, do not doubt.  I will always come for you.  And do not feel ashamed for there is no condemnation in me.

And so soggy, sputtering Peter will still become the rock on which Jesus built his church.  And I will still serve and so will you.  Our failures and weakness do not make us useless because Jesus already knows and he will meet us where we are.

*Manning, Brennan (2002). Abba’s Child. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. p. 143.