Archives for August 2013

Back to School with Jesus {Whew! Life is Hard}

She’s up early.  Curling her hair, trying on outfits, loading her backpack, and eating breakfast. It’s her first day of middle school.  Whew.  How did that happen?

lockers

I feel like I am feeding her to the wolves. After homeschooling her a few years, I am sending my baby girl into the great unknown – literally.  It’s a world from which I have undoubtedly overprotected her.  I don’t regret it.  I wonder about my wisdom in sending her now.

I like being part of her days. I like helping her develop her ideas about life, math, and great books. I like knowing she’s tucked safely in my basement each day at her desk, exploring the world without the influence of others.

Because the world is coming for her.

And I’d rather it be later than sooner.

Still, I shed a few tears after I drop her off and say a prayer, passing her into the hands of her Rescuer.  The One who knit her in my womb and numbered her days long before I knew her. The One who knows the hairs on her head, the joys of her heart, and the fears in her head.

I pray…

Jesus, you rescued her thousands of years ago when you bore her sin on the cross.  You died so she might live.  Help her today to live for your glory as one who is rescued. Help her life proclaim to all “ I am rescued.”

She comes home full of stories.  Who traveled the furthest this summer?  She did!  She had the opportunity to share about Honduras and love on a gal who is desperate for attention.  (Ok, I didn’t view this little gal as desperate for attention right away;  at first, my momma heart rose up as “what  a mean girl!” but Jesus helped my heart on that over the next few days.)

Yet, through the comments she makes and my reaction to her comments (momma rising up and up and up), I am reminded of our sinful natures.  Our tendency is not to love and extend grace. Our tendency is to analyze what’s wrong and suggest possible fixes.  To talk about what we think drives all the poor behavior she witnessed at school…especially the excessive use of the mother of all cuss words.

Why do they say that?  Why do they act that way?  Why are they exclusive?  Mean?  Snobby?  Judgmental? 

The short answer?  We live in a “what’s in it for me” society, which drives poor word choice (look at me!), poor actions (I am better!), and the exclusion of others (I am part of something and chosen; you’re not!)

I find myself saying…avoid that girl! And my daughter says, “but mom you said be nice to everyone regardless.”  Honestly, I am rethinking my advice.

Until…

I am reminded of my prayer.  For my little gal to live rescued.  For those around her to look upon her life as “rescued,” she must be different.  NOT different for different’s sake. But because her heart has been transformed by her Creator.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…Ephesians 1:18

My devotional this morning articulated this desire in my heart for both of my children – as well as for you and me.

I want to be free to live out loud in contexts not so safe and predictable…I want Your love to be so compelling that I don’t think of “witnessing” to people, just loving and serving them.  I want Your love to be so satisfying that I find it hard to make excuses for my brokenness and much easier to live transparently and authentically before others. I want Your love to bring forth hot tears of compassion and loud guffaws of joy.  You’ve set me free for eternity, Jesus, please set me free for today. (Everyday Prayers, Scotty Smith)

May we all be free to live out our faith in contexts that aren’t safe or predictable. My gal can talk “Jesus” in the comfort of our home, but what about in the confines of a classroom?

I pray our lives are so compellingly different – so unbalanced away from culture and toward Jesus – that we don’t even need to “witness.”  We love and serve others, allowing the gospel to naturally become a topic of conversation.

I want God’s love for me and you to be so satisfying to our hearts that we live transparently and authentically, not afraid or ashamed of our brokenness. Never feeling the need to make excuses for who we are or for what we’ve been through.

Suffering needs no excuse. It only needs a Savior.

When you think of Jesus’ love for you, I pray that knowledge – those feelings and thoughts – pour from you as compassion to your neighbor, to the one who cuts you off in traffic, to the overworked cashier, to the stubborn child, to the hateful relative, to the orphaned child, to the impossible co-worker, to the homeless man…to all you meet.

And from the joy of knowing Jesus loves you, may you laugh loudly and delightfully, knowing you are His.

He has rescued you. Setting you free for ALL of eternity.  May we live “free” each day until His kingdom comes.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17

I Don’t Know {My Answer to Most Things About God Lately}

The room is completely silent.

The fluorescent lights’ buzz is all I can hear.

school classroom

Seventeen pairs of eyes focus on me, waiting for my response.  All chatter has ceased.  They want to know what I’ll say.

I stand at the front – the teacher – the one who is supposed to know her subject inside and out.  The one who is supposed to guide these teenage minds to a deeper understanding of literature and composition.

But, the intelligent boy in the back has asked a question about Lars Eighner’s essay Dumpster Diving.  While his sarcastic tone caused me to think he desired no answer because he had an agenda of his own, I thought his insight was interesting.

So, there I stood, pondering his question, listening to his reasoning, and knowing that I had no answer.  I’d taught this essay about a man who dives in dumpsters for food – not because he has to, but because he feels Americans are wasteful – to a few hundred students, but not one had ever questioned my interpretation or the literary devices I applied to explain the nuances of Eighner’s use of language.

Actually, few students ever questioned my analysis of any text.  Except this boy.  Who thought perhaps we could look at Eighner’s words in a different way using different devices.  And while his defiant, arrogant tone made me want to dismiss his challenge, I thought perhaps he could be right.

I swallowed a mouthful of pride.  (Pretty sure it was years of  pride.) And I said the words that I would say more and more in class after class…

I don’t know.

I always thought I knew.  I’d studied and researched and even prayed over what I taught in my classroom.  I took my job seriously and saw each student as someone’s daughter, son, sister, brother, or friend.

How could I not KNOW?  The school paid me to know.

But, when confronted with the insightful ponderings of a brash 16-year-old Advanced Placement Language student, I had no answer.  In fact, I thought his answer sounded better.

And so, I don’t know became part of my teaching style.  I found that I preferred what do you think? to here’s what I know.

And today, I am settled on I don’t know.

As I have researched and studied and asked God what it means to live rescued…why He’s not at work in ways in which I think He should be…why sometimes the promises in His word do not seem to mesh with the reality my human eyes see and my human heart feels…I have concluded…

I don’t know.

I would love to compose a beautiful speech or devotional outlining how we all can live rescued.  But, I can’t.  And I don’t think any of us can or should.

There is no formula for living rescued or living as a Christ follower.

While following Jesus’ commands to love Him and love others is a given – a must – how loving Him and others looks in your life and how it looks in mine will be quite different.

While reading your Bible, praying, and living in community with other Christ followers are essential, what your study time and prayer time and community looks like is probably very different from mine.

And that’s ok.  Even desirable.

While we all should agree that our rescue occurred 2,000 years ago at Calvary when the Creator of the universe sent his only son to bear and die for our sin by being horrifically crucified on a cross, God designed us differently and gave us each different situations and gifts.

So.

I don’t know a formula for or the ten steps to being or becoming holy.

I don’t know all the answers about what God allows or causes.

But, I do know Who He is.

He is my rescuer; the Savior of the world.

I can live rescued, resting in the promises He’s made through His word.  I can live rescued, resting in His character.  Who is He is.

And that’s the same for all of us.  We don’t have all the answers.  I can’t fix you and you can’t fix me. But, He does and can.  He has all the answers and His “fix” for your life probably doesn’t look exactly as you think it should, but we can rest in WHO he is – NOT the situation, not our gifts, and not the “fix.”

And HOW do we rest in WHO He is? Again, no formula there either.  As I struggle in this current season of life and question what God’s up to and why we treat one another poorly, I cling to His character:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Psalm 103:8

Have you not known?  Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  Isaiah 40:28

These are just a few of the verses that remind me He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; He is with you always, will strengthen you, and uphold you; He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love; He is everlasting, understanding, and unsearchable, never growing weary.

So we rest in Him and live our lives with the peace of knowing THIS is WHO he is.

Thank you, Jesus.

Living Rescued Together {Let’s Stop “Prayerfully” Talking About Others}

Eleven pounds.  Six ounces.

That’s how much I weighed at birth.  I appear to be about five months old in my newborn pictures.

And, yes, my momma had me naturally. WHEW!

From the moment I entered the world in 1975, loving people surrounded me. I have no childhood stories to share that would cause you to gasp.  We lived in a 70 X 14 trailer in Bishop’s Trailer Park in a little unincorporated area called Rock Branch.  Our socioeconomic status wasn’t the predictor of success or failure that I learned in college it should have been.

Or, perhaps we were an exception.

Our parents loved us.  My sister and I had a good relationship with both our parents including our dad.  My parents didn’t divorce.  We weren’t abused or neglected.

We simply never fit any of the statistics – thank you, Lord.

Of course, we weren’t and aren’t perfect.  But those 18 years before I moved to college were as wonderful as any child could ever desire – especially now that I know the pain and suffering of so many kiddos.

When I went to college at 18, a new group of people joined my world.  My mom, dad, and sister were still present, but not nearly as much.  I lived in another place with other people.

My new college friends and I would describe our growing up and high school years to one another…everything from bulimia to affairs causing divorce to racial slurs.  I grew up in a small town; some of my friends came from big cities. We were a diverse group with equally diverse stories.  I loved learning about each of them and how different our upbringings had been.

And, while I can share story after story with you about these precious friends, I can’t tell you what it’s like to grow up in an inner city or as the only African-American in an all-white high school.  I can’t tell you what it’s like when your dad leaves your mom for his secretary or when you struggle with an eating disorder or have been molested.

I know the stories.  I listened and loved as best I could.

But, I can’t truly know how any of that felt.

After college, I married and had two children.  I’ve lived in five different communities over the past 15 years.  Friends have come and gone.  My dad’s gone, and my extended family still lives far away.

I know story after story…I have walked through mess after mess and joy after joy with friends and family  – some joy and mess mine – some joy and mess theirs.

women holding hands

Still…I cannot truly understand living in Honduras for seven years with need in my face daily.  I can’t relate to a husband with a gambling or drinking problem. Infertility is real and hard, but I don’t know how that feels either.  I’ve never had to file bankruptcy or bury a child.

I walk alongside and love, but I can’t ever fully “get it.”

And, I don’t think I have to.  Or want to.  Or should.

Because no one really “gets” my story.  I’ve shared it generally with many, but the specifics are only known to a few. And the few who have known and dove into the mess with me? They never “got it” because my experience was not theirs.  And even if we share similar suffering, no suffering is one size fits all.

No answers are one size fits all either.

Recently, God has made my heart super sensitive to how I “size up” others.  Perhaps I am sitting in the mall and see someone I know.  My head begins down this road:  she’s the one who left her husband for no apparent reason and remarried quickly. I never speak these words aloud, but if that person’s story has been public or shared with me, I identify them with it. Always.  And sadly, I filter what I think about them through what I know about them, which I fear begins to affect my attitude toward them. And I have no idea what precipitated that divorce or how she’s hurt.

It seems no one gets a clean slate.

I think we are all guilty of “sizing up” others or speaking about another  even though we have no idea what it’s like to live in her home, parent her children, or survive her trauma. We even try to “hurry” her healing.

It’s so easy for me to say…they need to get those kids under control.  Or, she needs to spend more time being a better wife. Or, that woman needs to slow down; she’s always in a tizzy.  Or, if she were closer to Jesus, perhaps she could see the error of her ways or make wiser decisions.

We sometimes think we know what’s best for another, but even those walking with me now – walking with you now – do not and cannot know the full scope of our lives.  My parents and sister knew me best from 0-18; my college friends from 18-22; my small group and co-workers from 22-24; and a variety of friends from 24 to now.

No one except Jesus fully understands how I am wired and what’s made me that way. He’s the only one who has been there for all 37 of my years.

And no one except you and Jesus fully understand how you are wired and what experiences – good and bad – have molded and made you into the person you are, standing in the season you’re in for the purpose HE has.

So, let’s trust others in the hands of the ONE we follow.  Trust Him to be the healer, redeemer, and heart changer He promises to be.

Let’s love one another and extend grace. More and more and more.

We can find hope and life in loving one another, but we only find destruction when we sit and discuss another’s life as if we understand or know- especially if we’ve never talked to that person about what we’re seeing or feeling.  (And, heavens, I have been guilty of THIS!)

Follow Jesus’ example and walk with the hurting instead of discussing them. Trust me, they’re already hurting enough.  Whispers and sideways glances only deepen their wounds.

It’s so easy to look at others and think we know what’s better or best.  But, we can’t possibly know what it’s like to walk a mile in her shoes, and even after walking alongside her for years and loving her well, we will never fully understand what it’s like to be her.

Indeed, as I ponder “living rescued” – living as a child of the one true King – I realize God’s commanded me to encourage others to live rescued too.

He desires for us to live rescued together.

Answering every heartfelt question with often quoted Bible passages, probably won’t help others live rescued as much as doing life with them – noting when Jesus shows up in the ordinary – seeing His hand everywhere – THAT grows faith, trust, and hope. THAT moves me and those I love closer to Him as we talk about Him and look to Him through the ups and downs of life.

That is LIVING rescued together, not showing up randomly to preach rescued, but LIVING it. It’s walking alongside another in good and bad. It’s seeing others as image-bearers of Christ.  It’s realizing that in Christ we are all loved and forgiven equally.  It’s seeing yourself and others in light of the cross.

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 1 Thessalonians 5:14

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15: 12-13

I pray today that you’ll choose to live rescued…together.