9th grade: The year of the pulled hamstring, sacred pond, and unplanned murder.

Ninth grade was a shock to the system. All that was known:  home, five acres, junior high, church, two sets of grandparents, friends, and twelve years of childhood got smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror as we packed our grey suburban, moving truck, and cattle semi-trailer and headed south to a state that was so different, it had parishes instead of counties.

A tiny dot on the northwest corner of Louisiana would encase my memories of the next year. Haughton, population 1700, a small suburb of Shreveport, would be our dwelling from 1991-1992.  I don’t blame my parents for choosing small town America as they packed up their five kids.  Our cattle needed land and it came to be that our hearts would need wide open spaces, as well.  Our hearts would need a haven.

We lived on Elm Street, and to this day, I have an occasional nightmare about our brief jaunt in that town. The irony isn’t lost on me.

I’m shoving away tears because even though nothing overly traumatic happened this year, so many small things marked me and shaped me. Rejection and embarrassment seemed to be on the rotating dinner plan that year.

I was never a dancer (my Dad called me Lulu, for crying out loud) but my Mom was doing her best to guard my heart as we made this huge transition.  She requested a try out on the high step dance line for me so I might possibly make some friends before school started.  Flexibility was never an issue, but keeping time to choreography was another thing.  I finagled my way through the special try out and somehow made the Haughton Highsteppers.  Mom simply wanted me to belong as we moved to a new place.  God probably laughed that day.

I only danced on the high school football field one time. Every week, we had to make the cut in order to dance.  I never made it.  The one time I danced was a special American Patriotic presentation where every highstepper lined up.  I was so nervous I fell over during one of the moves where I had to be on my knees.

The first day of school was something else. The upper classmen highsteppers roasted and initiated the freshmen by dressing them up however they desired.  My group turned me into a 70’s brown polyester outfitted, mile high beehive adorned, smoky black eye lined hippy.  I knew no one other than the dance team and the first day was torture as everyone stared at me and whispered, “who is thaaaat?”  I was on display for all to see and I begged God for a sinkhole to open up and swallow me, beehive and all.  He said no.

One moment of rejection stands out above the others. My brother, Devin, was a senior at the same school and some twins on the dance team had their eyes set on him, as he was tall, dark, handsome, and new in small-town-America.  They invited him to a pool party hosted by their church youth group and for whatever reason; I was the default tag along.  They were the only girls I knew, so it seemed reasonable that I would attach myself at their identical hips.  They had other plans.  Every time I would swim over to either Raven haired #1 or Raven haired #2, they would immediately (and rather quickly) swim away.  I was left all alone in a crowded pool of hormone infested chlorine water.  Once again, God said no and didn’t allow the ground to eat me up.  Having nowhere to hide is the strictest form of punishment for an introvert living in fear.

God never once opened up that ground, but He did allow my hamstring to get pulled later that year. My dance team foe, Heather, who pretty much hated me for a reason unbeknownst to me, was helping me stretch while standing against a wall.  She thought I said “more” when I really said “stop” (because, clearly, they sound the same) and abruptly pushed my leg into my nose.  My hamstring let out a series of cuss words worse than any my innocent ears had ever heard.  After the pulled muscle, I needed recovery and rest.  I decided to quit the Haughton Highsteppers, and to this day, I do not regret that decision, even though I have never considered myself to be a quitter.

As if the physical pain of a pulled muscle was not enough, my fairly new womanhood was trying its best to figure out how to regulate itself and become the new normal. Missing class was my nemesis, but I would be in so much pain that I would get a pass from my teacher, run to the bathroom, and sit doubled over on the toilet, bleeding plum out, but too scared to leave school for the day. I was there to learn, surely this pain would pass and I could crawl back to class before the bell rang or before I needed a transfusion. I had no time for such nonsense pain and I wondered why the curse of Eve had to affect a girl who was just trying to get all A’s, for goodness sakes.

Bile rises when I think of that first kiss. His last name was Newton, but his friends called him Fig.  Prom was coming up, and he, a junior, asked me, a freshman.  A shiny dress, limo, and fancy dinner waited, so I said yes.  I hardly knew him, but we were going as a large group, so I figured I was safe.  All was well until he followed me into my dark house and stuck his tongue down my tonsils.  That was the last of Fig.

It is funny how kids will excel at whatever God has gifted them at. I was chosen, as a freshman, to sing O’ Holy Night at the Rose Garden Christmas light display in Shreveport.  I could not dance, but I could belt out my favorite Christmas song to the hundreds there enjoying the light display.  I will never forget the brisk air, the myriad of twinkling lights, my family all together, and the promise of future buds on each rose bush.

Then there was that day I was sent to the Principal’s office. By now, you know I am a rule follower, but Haughton High had one rule that was beyond absurd in its context.  The girls could not wear shorts of any length, but they could wear tube tight miniskirts that barely covered their dairy airs.  I cannot handle stupidity or injustice, so, one day, I wore dark green plaid dress shorts that went all the way to my knees, as well as black opaque tights underneath.  I looked more nun than hooker, but to the principal I was sent, nonetheless.  I did not have the guts to explain the ridiculous reasoning of their pharisaical law, so I cried instead.  I got off with a warning and left my shorts in my closet.

Chief Blackmon was my favorite instructor. He was about five feet tall, with sprouts of white follicular tufts, begging for their daily shave.  He donned large black spectacles that reminded me of the JFK days.  Chief Blackmon taught us about cumulus clouds, drill lines, and respect.  He told us to assume nothing because when one assumes, it creates an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”  That is one line that has forever stayed with me; I’m pretty sure the cussing made it stick.

Chief Blackmon won my heart by making me drill sergeant of our class. Here was someone who decided to believe in the new girl instead of shame or ignore her.  He forced me out of my comfort zone, but also launched me into an area of unexpected success.  To this day, I can still hear his booming voice:  “Leeeft, leeeft, left, right, leeeft.”

Every Thursday, rain or shine, we cadets donned our navy blue uniforms, complete with name tags, wings, cords, and hard earned ribbons. I am pretty sure my ribbons are packed away somewhere, probably sandwiched between my retainers and my hand written letters from my Arkansas childhood friends, who were shockingly and way to happily able to do life without me.

My brother, Devin, ended up joining the Air Force after graduating, and I think we can all thank the Haughton JROTC program for that opportunity.

I am the one that killed her. Lana, that is.  She was our most expensive cow (think thousands and thousands of dollars) and I inadvertently sent her six feet under, her grave dug by backhoe and hot tears.  Our barn had two large sliding doors, one in the front that faced the back of the house, and another that overlooked our land.  The doors allowed us to store all kinds of things inside:  tractors, cattle trailers, and show cattle equipment.  It also housed uncovered barrels of grain, meant to be dished out about half a bucket at a time.  After I did chores one evening, I shut the front sliding door but accidentally left the back one open.  Lana got into the barn and literally feasted herself to death on the grain while I slept the night away.

The weight of a 1500 pound black Limousin cow sat squarely on my 115 pound teen self. It was a burden almost too great, this first and only murder of mine.  How on earth would I ever dig myself out from the suffocating blow of one mere act of forgetfulness?  I would have done anything to take it back.  My only consolation was my parents’ gracious response, which eventually taught me I could let it go, as well.

When Doll Zula dropped her baby heifer on April 18, 1992, the world righted itself again. Colored just like her mama:  auburn hair, black nose, and dark eyes rimmed in heavy black liner, it was love at first sight.  Precious Moments was her name and she definitely lived up to it, bringing me purple ribbon after purple ribbon in the show ring and solace in the barn.  For the next couple of years, she was a constant in my swirl of teenage girl emotions.

I liked her, loved her, really, for a myriad of reasons. Precious was all things good, but she had an air of confidence about her that I found appealing and even coveted.  If she were human, and sometimes I wondered if maybe she was, she would be someone you would never want to mess with.  Get on her bad side, and she might thumb (or hoof) that beautiful black nose at you forever.

At Nationals that summer, Zula and Precious won Grand Champion Cow/Calf Pair. It was the first time Zula had ever been shown, and she stole the National Junior Limousin title like it was nothing, teaching her baby girl grace and dignity amidst the so called pros.  It was truly a Cinderella story for us all.

As an older heifer, people would make fun of Precious, calling her a Guernsey (which is a type of dairy cow) instead of a Limi, the beef kind that she really was. I would want to fight back (nobody puts baby in the corner!!!) then I would remember that sassy pants Precious did not need anyone to come to her defense.  She knew she was good and she turned a deaf ear to all the stupid talk.  (Human, I tell you.)  As college started and I quickly aged out of the legal show age, I would let the tears fall.  Perhaps it was Precious I missed the most, the two of us against the world, knocking down anything that attempted to get in our way.

When Miss Piggy showed up in our backyard unannounced, I aimed to keep her. I know a police officer came to our door, but I honestly don’t remember what I told him.  Mom and Dad were out of town and the policeman practically scared the metal braces right off my teeth.  So, if he asked if we had a stray pig (apparently, unlike cows, pigs weren’t allowed in the city limits no matter how much land you owned,) I may have told the truth or I may have fabricated something else entirely.  I honestly don’t remember.  All I know is I got to love that pig until she ended up in our freezer, and then I may have loved her even more, because…BACON.  God’s provision often reveals itself in odd ways, and she was just what our family of seven was hungry for.

When it came to livestock, raising cows was my specialty, so, naturally, I haltered Miss Piggy with a cow rope halter and proceeded to break her so that I could lead her around like I did with my heifers. She never quite surrendered, but she did take to acting like a cow in other ways, like climbing into the calf grain feeder, front legs propped up on the metal railing, munching away.  She was the best (and only) pig I ever had.

There seemed to be more of God on our plot of land than in the tiny First Baptist Church we attended. Not that there was anything wrong with that church, but the glory of God in that sanctuary was nothing compared to sitting on the banks of our pond, reeling in catfish after catfish as a family.  Before this, I did not know that fishing could be so sacred.  To see Kiley’s face light up after she hooked a big one.  To laugh at Kirby, begging to throw fat fistfuls of dog food, beckoning fish to the surface.  To behold Schuyler Amelia in sunkissed pigtails, my motherly-self willing her two year old self away from the murky depths.

To have one single thing that brought all of us together—that even allured grandparents from six hours away—to share in something as simple as casting rods and feasting on the bounty; it was sacred, indeed. In a time of change, uncertainty, and even cruelty, our pond was our sanctuary and haven away from it all.  God used whiskered bottom dwellers to give us hope that all would be well.  We worshiped well on those banks as we exhaled the world and inhaled shalom.

Twenty five years have passed since 9th grade and I see that there is now a uniform dress code at Haughton High.  Apparently, the short skirt system finally failed.  Mrs. Shaw and Mrs. Goslin are still teaching.  I imagine they are right at home and cannot imagine being anywhere else in the world.  I, for one, am still grateful we flew the coup back to Arkansas as fast as our broken wings would let us during the summer of 92’.

{My rockin’ highstepper uniform complete with fringe, my brother and I, my grandparents visiting, and my prom dress straight from the early 90s.}

 

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Boundary Lines

I wrote this some time ago when we were looking at the real possibility of moving out of state.  It looks like we will keep calling Arkansas our home, but waiting for that answer was lengthy and heart wrenching.  Here is one piece of what that boxing match-surrender with the Almighty looked like.  I just wanted you to know that God sees you…sees the waiting…and that He has plotted something beautiful for you, as well.

I almost had a crisis of spirit thousands of feet in the air.  Father, why do people always say, “I heard the Lord say…??”  It’s almost as if they commune with You in such an intimate way that they hear Your audible voice.  I have begged for this, Lord, that You would go deeper with me in communication and intimacy.  It would be so much simpler if I could just hear You, plain and clear.  It would be easier to obey and surely, I would love that sound more than anything in the whole world.

Silence.

My heart twists and falls, matching the rhythm of the airplane.  Don’t you love me like you do your other children, Father?

Weary.

After traveling to one of the biggest cities in the south, and knowing a move is a true possibility, I am overwhelmed at the options.  Suburb options, school options, church options…it is bigger than I ever dreamed.  Scarier.  I feel like there is no compass telling us how to get our bearings.  I am overcome with anxiety.

Would I find myself in this new place or leave myself behind in smaller town Arkansas?  I am Your child and that never changes, but so much of me that thrived might possibly wither up and die.  So many things that I love about home might be gone in a blink. I know I am supposed to lay down my life, but what exactly would I be dying for?  That’s what I kept asking myself while we drove around.  “Why again are we even here??”

You gave one small word of comfort yesterday morning while I was alone in the hotel room.  Psalm 16:5-6.

So, all of these thoughts are in a boxing match called my mind and I want to escape.  But, I am trapped on a stuffy plane where even locking myself in the bathroom is not an appealing option.

Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.  When overwhelmed, I can only process by surrendering the issue and getting into Your presence as fast as possible.

The pilot says we are almost home.  Perhaps he didn’t use those words, but that is what my soul hears.  I look out my tiny window where the clouds had playfully begged me to come out and jump from each cotton poof of candy to the next.

Now, I see parcels of land, each defined by either roads, rivers, or lines of trees.  It is unmistakable, each patch of brown has its boundary marks and is totally divided from the land that surrounds it.  Large brown puzzle pieces, all joined perfectly, each in varying size and shape.

It wasn’t audible, but I knew it was God.  The words from the previous morning in the hotel room came to mind:  “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”  It is God who holds my lot, decides which parcel I am to dwell on.  Wherever that is, it is good.

I peer out the window for a closer look.  I am always begging God to give me eyes to see.  On one patch of land, I see a flock of birds landing for lunch.  On another patch, I see rows of hay bales, winter food set aside for cattle.  Each patch has the exact provision necessary for whatever dwells there.

From thousands of feet in the air, I can look down on each line of boundary and see how the lines have fallen in pleasant places.

I know our good Father has that vantage point all the time.  I know a heart of surrender and faith gives me eyes to see, as well.

Establish us, Lord.

“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;

You hold my lot.

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

Psalm 16:5-6

God appoints the bounds of our habitation.  It is our wisdom and duty to accommodate ourselves to our lot, and to improve it.  Matthew Henry

 

 

A Stitch of Legacy

Years and years ago, my great aunts Leet and Matt sat together and sewed countless quilts together.  Perhaps it was to pass the time, or perhaps it was to meet the real need of staying warm in the winter.  I was given two such quilts.  One, in the pattern of wedding rings and edged in hot pink, hangs on my bedroom wall.  It’s sacred in that no one is allowed to touch it as I am doing my best to preserve it for future generations.  The other quilt, a colorful, more common quilt, edged in red, has traveled with our family to countless soccer and baseball games as well as countless photography sessions.  It has kept my family warm as we have cheered on our boys and it has kept my photography clients’ rears from getting wet from the soaked ground.  I need to retire it from use, but I can hardly stand the thought as it has colored my world with it’s vibrancy for so long.

I think when my great aunts were stitching all those years ago, they were not thinking about what would be passed down.  Legacy probably never entered their minds.  They did the practical task before them…one laborious stitch after another…perhaps singing hymns, saying prayers, and listening to one another’s hearts along the way.  It’s a pure form of worship:  taking a menial task, offering praise, and surrendering it to the purpose of One so much higher.  In those acts of worship, legacy takes root, and allows people to live on through their impact, oblivious to the grave.

Sometimes even the menial can be transformed into our legacy.  The dirty diapers, the countless prayers, the mountain of laundry, the taxi service to all the kids, the meal after meal after meal.  Let’s press on and be faithful in those small (and sometimes less than glorious) callings of each day.  Perhaps our “handful of stitches” will bless generations and generations after us.

 

Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch

The last chapter of Job is one of the most beautiful chapters in all the Word.  I love the blatant honesty that bows low before a Being so much higher…so much wiser.  I love the recognition given to a Sovereign God, “You can do all things and no one can thwart your purposes!”  I love that after Job has seen who God really is, he sits in ashes, dumbfounded.  I love this God who restores so many areas of Job’s life after a profoundly hard season.

The thing I love the most about the last chapter of Job is the fact that he has three new daughters and seven new sons and yet, only the daughters are named.  Now, you all know I love me some boys, but being a girl, I love that the girls are singled out here.  Not because we are of more value, but because we do hold value.  In fact, we share in a rich inheritance.

I’ve loved the daughters’ names for a long time, and I’ve studied what their meanings are, but today, the Holy Spirit showed me something fresh. In Job 42, we are told that Job’s daughters are named Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch.  If we go deep enough, we might see why their names are worth mentioning in a book deemed holy.

Jemimah:  dove, fair as the day, peace, daylight

Keziah:  cassia (which is an aromatic herb/fragrance)

Keren-happuch:  horn of stibium…which is like a paint you would use as eyeliner or eyeshadow

The beauty of these three daughters surpasses that of all the women in the land.

When we look deeply at their names, we can see that Job was praising God for doing a reversal in his life.  He was praising God for restoration and blessing.

His first daughter arrives and he names her dove, fair as the day, peace, daylight.  After a hard season of enduring calamity in the night, he sees peace and daylight when he looks at this blessing of new life.

His second daughter comes and he names her after an herb, cassia, which might smell like cinnamon.  He remembers the offensive breath(Job 19:17) and the ulcers (Job 2:7) during his season of wrestling with God and he praises God for replacing those things with something fresh and sweet smelling.

His third daughter is born and he continues to praise God for his restoration.  He names her “horn of stibium,” after a type of eyeliner/eyeshadow, something put on to accentuate beauty.  We can see him in Job 16:15-16, “I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and defiled my horn in the dust.  My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death.”  Is that not amazing?  He had buried his horn in the ground (symbolic of strength, power, and nobility) and had the look of death on his eyelids.  But, after God restored, he now had the horn of stibium on his daughter which pointed to fresh life, beauty, and promise…which was painted on her very eyelids!

I hope this blesses you like it did me.

Our God is a God of reversals. There will be rewards for your trials. Hold Fast.

On Being Christ to Others

ruth-naomi

A friend recently put a book in my hands, knowing it would be just what my heart needed.  “God on Mute” by Greig is a fabulous read in many ways.  It’s comforting to know that others wrestle with the silence of God. But, my favorite part of the book talks about how God indeed is with us in the midst of ache, and how that presence often comes in the shape of other people.

Sometimes it’s not enough to tell a suffering friend you’re praying for them.  Sometimes you have to become the answer to your own prayer…I realized that God is present in the midst of suffering because we are present in it.  We are God’s presence.

I believe prayer is the greatest work possible; but, I also think prayer can be an excuse for not going into bless-your-socks-off action.  I can be guilty of this…thinking I’ve prayed and that prayer alone is sufficient. Sometimes it is sufficient, but other times, what if I am the answer to these prayers I am lifting up?

A meal placed on the doorstep.

A gift card when funds are dried up.

Encouraging words spoken.

A ride to the doctor to share the load of possible bad news.

A hand to hold in the confusion.

Choosing to enter into a friend’s pain even if I have no words to make it better.

Katie Davis, author of “Kisses from Katie,” says it like this:

…even though I realize I cannot always mend or meet, I can enter in.  I can enter in to someone’s pain and sit with them and know.  This is Jesus.  Not that He apologizes for the hard and the hurt, but that He enters in, He comes with us to the hard places.  And so I continue to enter.

I’ve thought about the Bible and an example of a character that portrays such kindness.  Immediately, I thought of Ruth.  Her husband has died and she chooses to enter into her mother in law’s all encompassing grief of losing her husband and both sons.  Ruth could have quickly dismissed her and gone back to her own family, but she clung to Naomi instead.  She even followed her back to a foreign land and accepted Yahweh as her Lord.

Three times in the book of Ruth, the Hebrew word, hesed is found.  It is “loving kindness.”  Perhaps it is the most important Hebrew word of all as it reveals God’s loyal love towards us.  Hesed is God’s persistent and unconditional tenderness on display for all to see.  It is the superglue that keeps our relationship with the God of the universe in tact.  God’s loyal love towards His children is lasting.  It isn’t based on our behavior, but His covenant.  Hesed is the thing that keeps His children in the palms of His hands and guards our inheritance.  Hesed.

Ruth shows us a taste of hesed in her loyal love towards Naomi.  She clings to her and fastens her grip even tighter during Naomi’s ache.  Returning home would have perhaps been easier for Ruth, but she chose the Christ like (and hard) path of entering into another’s grief and staying put.  When Naomi returns to her homeland, she tells everyone to call her “Mara” which means bitter. (Remember the waters at Marah in the wilderness which were too bitter to drink…)  Ruth has selflessly agreed to hold fast to a woman swimming in an ocean of bitterness, anguish, and anger.  She doesn’t let go. That is a taste of hesed.  When Ruth has no answers, she offers her presence instead.

Ruth’s loving kindness towards Naomi is a precious example of God’s loving kindness towards us.

We simply can’t be all things to all people.  There isn’t enough time, energy, or funds to fully enter everyone’s ache.  I wrestle with this and Satan loves to attack me in this way.  I think freedom comes when I obey the nudge of the Holy Spirit: “enter in with this person.”  I can pray for all the ache that surrounds and then enter in when I feel the extra tug at my heart.  We can be Christ’s presence to others one at a time.  I can rest in the sufficiency of that since we are each only a mere part of Christ’s body, not the whole. If we are all responding to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, then perhaps it is enough.

I’d love to hear a short snippet of how another person has been Christ’s presence in your life.  I’d love to hear examples of how I can lace up my shoes and start to be some of the answers to my own prayers…

Tell me how someone entered your pain and blessed you with the presence of God.

When It’s Just Too Much

Stuart blog (8 of 35) Eric traveled to New York this week.  He put his hands on us and prayed as usual for safety, courage, protection, and wisdom.  He left one day and my mother in law the next and I realized once again how four against one isn’t always possible in the realm of child raising.

Asher may or may not keep his front teeth.  A hard fall knocked them both loose and the dentist said they might tighten up, they might not.  They could possibly tighten but turn really dark.  But, dark teeth are better than no teeth when you are only not quite four.

Tuesday was a low point.  The vacuum wouldn’t suck up the muck and mire.  The tub wouldn’t drain the muck and mire.  The carpool system for soccer was broken.  The panic attacks set in, and that was all before the oldest had a collision with another ballplayer.  Concussion.  I am miles away, because I can’t be all things to all people.  I can’t watch the firstborn play baseball and get the second to soccer and the third to guitar and entertain the fourth along the way.

Satan started in on what he does best…accuse.  “You aren’t enough.  You aren’t a good mom.  You weren’t even there when your son had a concussion, for crying out loud.  You will never get your act together.  You are failing at this. You are failing them.”

Sometimes wisdom agrees with Satan on some level, because after all, there may be some half truth in there…muddled with just enough non truth to make it a lie.  For me, it is true that I am not enough.  I’ll never be enough, that’s why I am in desperate need of a Savior not just for salvation but on a daily basis.  There has to be something much bigger than me holding this ship together.

So, I can agree with Satan that I am not enough.  But, I can tell him that Christ in me is enough.  And that is sufficient for all the lies he throws my way.

There are some days that are simply too much to process.  It’s not that a concussion, a broken drain, loose teeth, or failed carpool systems are too much in themselves, but when they combine on the same day, it’s as if my body erupts an explosion of lava and all I can do is sit and will my heart rate back into a safe zone and force my lungs to fill with air.

Some days, it is too much.  I hate that people often take the following verse out of context, claiming that God never gives us too much to handle:  “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  (1 Corinthians 10:13) This verse is talking about temptation, not every day muck and mire.  Yes, sometimes we are given way more than we can handle.  If we weren’t, there wouldn’t be much need for grace.

So, at the end of a weary weak when my weary mom-soul has had too much, when I sobbed myself to sleep, wondering if my oldest would be restored to himself, and was woken up at four am to a puking toddler, I wondered how to proceed. I felt like I needed to try and find Christ in the midst of these things. When I daily live with the truth that I can never be all things to all these boys, I can choose to look for Christ in the midst of the muck and mire.

I see our friend-doctor who was at the baseball game, calling us personally and giving us updates on our son.  I see a dentist who said we should pray for Asher’s teeth to tighten, yes, he said the word pray, where he acknowledged that for him too, some things are out of his control and help.  I see an easy fix on our tub and drain that didn’t break the bank.  I see the toddler who only threw up twice and then seemed fine.  I see the oldest starting to act a bit more like himself and seem less dazed.  I see a husband back home safely.  And I hear myself let out a huge exhale.

There are still loose teeth, a broken vacuum, scheduling conflicts, and lots of future travel.  But, if I look carefully, I can see Christ with us in the muck and mire of this thing called life.

The Final Miracle: Compassion on the Mere Slave

Malchus.

Doulos. Servant. Slave to the High Priest, Caiaphas. Sent to the Garden where oil is pressed, Gethsemane. Perhaps his mission was to help in the arrest of this so called Son of God.  Perhaps it was just to observe and report back to Caiaphas.  Clearly, he was in way over his head.

I read the book of John and see the Greek word, Zoe, over and over again.  Jesus is clear, in Him alone is LIFE, and he longs to bless others with this life.  To whomever receives Him, He grants power to become sons and daughters of God Most High.  Profound, really.  He is the amnos-lamb, the only One with power to airo-take away and remove the sins of the world.

I have come that they may have life…I have come that they may have life…I have come that they may have life…over and over again, this is His mission, His warrior cry. Give them Zoe! All that is good and blessed in Him, he wants to bestow on created man.  This is the zoe life!

Malchus.

The soldiers are knocked to the ground with the divine revelation that Jesus is the Great I AM.  He has proclaimed Himself Yahweh, and the weight and glory of it all forces them to the dirt.  Peter is either confused amidst the chaos or full of zeal for his Savior, and takes the opportunity to pull out a gladius, a short sword, and wields it for what He thinks will protect the King and Kingdom.  The small sword is meant for stabbing, so it was more than an ear he was likely after.

The response of our Christ has me sobbing on this Good Friday.  “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”

Jesus is about to gulp down the wrath of God that was intended for me…and thee.

Amidst the declaration of his glory (I AM!) and the injustice of His looming arrest, Christ pauses for the slave. 

“He touched his ear, and healed him.”  He took the time to look into the eyes of the broken, bend down and gently pick up the bloodied mess that mankind always makes, and cup it against Malchus’s head, making him whole.

I have come that they might have life…

Malchus means, “king” or “reigning.”  Could it be that after the King of Kings reattached his ear, Malchus allowed him full reign over his life?  Did the restoration of the ear give him ears to hear the good news of the zoe life that was standing right in front of him?

In one final act of compassion, Christ reminds us all that He is heading to the cross for the sake of the slaves.  He is going to cut the chains that have tied mankind to the slavery of sin once and for all. All we have to do is believe…

Today, I worship the Emancipator of Slaves.

 

Gilgal: Roll Away the Reproach

The beginning of the book of Joshua is truly fascinating.  I love the warrior imagery of conquest and how God is continually telling his people there is no need for fear. I love the newness as they are fresh out of the wilderness, about to set foot upon their much awaited land of promise.  I love how Moses changes Joshua’s name from Hoshea, giving it a more personal touch:  it isn’t just salvation, it is Yahweh alone that saves.

But, Gilgal.  I am loving Gilgal right now.  Here is a little backstory:  the Israelites crossed the Jordan River miraculously, and as soon as they set foot on their land, God started calling them a nation instead of just a people.  God instructed the nation to take twelve stones (one from each tribe) to set up as a memorial for how He alone allowed them to cross the 90-100 foot waters of the river, possibly this high during harvest time.  God is all about setting up stones of remembrance that tell of His glory and favor.

The Canaanites had just witnessed the river folding up upon itself and they were quaking in fear at this group of people that had this mighty God on their side.  The word tells us their hearts were melting.  It seems like immediate war and conquest would have been ripe for the taking, an easy victory, but God’s time is never ours.  He never seems to rush things, does He?  Gilgal must take place first.

Gilgal is the first base camp in the land of promise.  In Hebrew, it is a word play on the word “galal,” which means to whirl, roll, turn, drive away, to be rolled (in blood), remove contempt, or to roll oneself upon the Lord. 

The first thing the nation is instructed to do has nothing to do with war or conquest. God tells them to restore the rites of circumcision and Passover.  The first thing needed is a restoration of identity.  During the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, neither were done.  The unbelieving generation was not even allowed to enter the Promised Land due to their disobedience to Yahweh.  When the younger generation enters, they are bereft of older family members and elders and mentors.  They need a quick study in Who they belong to and What they are to be about.  They need a lesson in identity.  Circumcision would restore the covenant relationship with Yahweh.  Passover would celebrate their redemption from their bonds of slavery.

You can’t conquer your enemy until you know Who you belong to.

“And the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt form you.’ And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.” Joshua 5:9  You guys! God took their “cherpah,” their reproach, their shame, their scorn, their stigma, and rolled it right off.  Can I get an amen?

There are different theories on just what exactly the Israelites’ reproach was from.  After some study, I’m landing on two things.  First, there was the reproach of slavery. God wanted to roll off the weight of being known as a people group enslaved to another people group.  Slavery was not how they would be known in the future.  They were now land owners and military conquerors.  God wanted Egypt washed off of them once and for all.  Second, there was the reproach of being the children of a disobedient generation.  Perhaps they wanted to rise up in belief in this Holy God, but wondered if they would always be defined by who their parents were. Perhaps there was even some reproach in not having been circumcised, as they knew it was a sign of their covenant relationship with God.

Sometimes, the reproach is from our personal disobedience, but other times, it is from sins that have been committed against us.  God wants it all rolled off…

Gilgal.  You know I am all over that definition that says, “to be rolled, in blood.”  There is power, Power, POWER in the blood of our sacrificial Lamb and there is not a single bit of shame that He is incapable of rolling off you, dear one.

In rolling away the reproach, a restoration of identity is restored.  We become Worshipers.  Celebrators of the covenant.  Conquerors.  Promised Land Dwellers.

Roll yourself upon the Lord and let Him roll away the reproach once and for all.  After circumcision, the nation rested and remained in Gilgal until they were healed.  Stay; be still before God.  Rest and Heal.  Remember who you belong to.

 

You are My Child

Your Name is engraved on My hands

I will never leave you nor forsake you

No one can snatch you out of my hands

You are chosen

You are precious

You are my Hephzibah:  My delight is in you

*After thinking more about this subject, I want to add one more thing.  Sometimes our reproach comes from something so hidden that we think we are the only ones that know about it.  We have agreed with the Accuser and allowed ourselves to be defined in a particular way, even if it is just by ourselves. God wants to call you by something new.  He isn’t in the business of shining a light on something in order to expose and shame, but to redeem and restore.

One small example of this comes from 9th grade.  I was in an environment of youth at a swim party where I only knew my brother (who appropriately was ignoring me, being a 12th grader.) I would swim over to a set of twin girls, hoping to have someone to talk to, and they would abruptly swim away.  I caught on after a few laps around the pool.  Satan used that to tell me I wasn’t welcome in a crowd of new people, in fact, I would be flat out rejected if I tried to talk to someone in a new environment.  I hate unfamiliar crowds to this day. I hate that a ridiculous event in 9th grade rolled on the reproach and told me I am unwelcome.  But, I love that my God wants to roll it away, all these years later.

Be still.  Hear what He has to say.  Then rest and heal, friends.

 

 

Writing with Meaning {The Art of Carving}

“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” John 21:25

The above verse is the conclusion to the gospels. These words have always made me step back and ponder a little. There’s so much more story to this Jesus than we have on paper. The world itself can’t contain all that He is and all that He has done. What a beautiful verse.

I’ve thought about how God often instructs people to write things down. He tells Isaiah…write this down. He tells John the Revelator…write this down. He bubbles up through Moses and David and Paul as they write down words that simply must be told. There is a grace-threaded story and God had mere man as a collective inspired whole tell it on the pages of scripture.

Words matter.

You and I aren’t writing words that will ever go into a Holy book, but it doesn’t negate the significance of them. Our words can point to the never ending story of a God who manifests Himself to a blind world. Our words can point to His anvil that has pierced the sin and allowed the cracks of Holy Light to radiate forth.

There is no measuring what Jesus did for us on the cross that day. There aren’t enough books to hold the magnitude of such a mysterious sacrifice. It’s so simple that even a child can be redeemed and yet so heady that even the most intelligent of scholars still disagree on the complete dynamics of such an act. There aren’t enough words…

But, God still asked certain men to be a part of the telling of the story. He breathed through each one, allowing only truth to radiate onto wood and parchment until the story was complete.

It’s such an amazing word when dissected to its core. Written. “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” John 21:25

Written. It’s “grapho” in Greek and means to grave or write. “The ancient Greeks equated grapho with xeo, to carve. They carved figures with meaning on wooden tablets and later replaced these when letters were developed. The engraved tablet was covered with another, and being tied together and sealed, constituted the form of an ancient letter. The Septuagint several times applies the word in this sense of engraving, carving, or cutting out.” Lexical Aids to the New Testament

I can’t help but think of God taking tablets of stone and engraving his law deep, carving out His holy standard. “The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.” (Exodus 32:16) Is it any coincidence that these God-words were carved on stone and that Jesus is called our stone as seen in this verse?

“I will put a stone in the ground in Jerusalem.     Everything will be built on this important and precious rock. Anyone who trusts in him     will never be disappointed.” Isaiah 28:16 

God carved the law onto stone, knowing only the Stone would be able to fulfill the law for all who trust Him. The Son-Stone was one day placed on the cross, and once again was pierced and cut into as mere nails held him in place.

You are engraved- carved- written on this beautiful and Holy God. Your story matters.

Before parchment and paper, words meant to last were always cut in with some sort of incision. The Word was cut in with nail pierced incisions.

If our words are to make a difference today, then how should writers go about the craft? Sometimes, I throw my hands up in anguish and tell Him that I don’t have enough words to describe Him. When I try to get Him on paper, I wonder if I’m like a child that’s been locked inside a closet her whole life and yet she is asked to describe the sky. He is so much more. There aren’t enough words to contain Him.

But, if I can offer a piece of my story, then others might get a glimpse of who this beautiful God is. If I can make an incision into my own heart and let all of the joys and sorrows intermingle out into one grace swirled and bloody mess, then just maybe readers will get a taste of this Good-Good Father who loves deeply.

If we are going to write well, then we must cut into ourselves and bleed out.

The stories that carry the greatest impact are the ones that are carved deeply and bleed forth the beauty that only results when suffering collides head on with grace, birthing joy along the way.

{I’m telling you today that the enemy is scheming against you when he whispers that your words don’t matter.  Use that gift.  Pound on that keyboard.  Tell the world your story and let the grace that holds it together shine through.}

A Humble Heart that Makes us Want to Puke

What they really should tell us is that a heart after God is the same thing as retching in the toilet.  Because, humility. Tried it?  Ugh!

Psalm 139 was written by David, the guy known as being a man after God’s own heart.  This Psalm can be found on the walls of nurseries and the walls of our hearts.  It is comforting to know that there is One single person in the whole universe that knows us completely.  “What a mercy that there is one being who can know us to perfection!  He is intimately at home with us!”  Charles Spurgeon

I can remember losing our baby and falling on my white rug in our bathroom, sobbing, quoting over and over again, “wonderful are Your works, I know that full well…wonderful are Your works, I know that full well…”  It was a mantra to carry me from my human anguish straight to His heart.  I knew He had beautifully knit this child together, and that one day, I would enjoy what He had created in a land where death and sin dare not enter.

But, Psalm 139 confuses me a little.  It starts with, “You have searched me, LORD, and You know me.”  Then the next beautiful verses describe His omnipresence and omniscience and how we can’t outrun him or hide from the very one who knit us together in the secret recesses of our mother’s womb. This God even thinks constantly about us, some vast collection of thoughts that goes beyond our human understanding of math!

But, the last couple of verses seem to ask the obvious of what has already been stated.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart:  try me, and know my thoughts:  And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  (Psalm 139:23-24)

Wicked in Hebrew is “otseb.” It can mean image, idol, pain, or sorrow.  Perhaps we are on the road “derek,” (way or journey) to grief due to an idol that we aren’t even aware of.  What if there is something that is alienating us from the Father’s heart that we are totally unaware of?

I think David had already searched himself, but he knows that being mere man brings limitations in holiness, blindness to crevices of hidden sin, and arrogance that refuses to believe there is anything really wrong in the first place.  He recognizes his humanity and his need for a Savior.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3  A man after God falls on his face and admits just how desperate (and human!) he is.

A heart after God humbly invites God into all areas–the hidden pockets of fear, hurt, rejection, pride, unbelief, selfishness, and apathy–and asks Him to gently shine His perfect light on what brings grief to ourselves and to those around us.  We ask God to “try” us, from the Hebrew word “bachan,” which basically means asking God to investigate our motives and the integrity behind our actions. (We then go throw up, realizing what we have asked of Him!)

God wants to take the aspects of character that mar perfect love and trade them for Christ like character found in the way everlasting, the “derek” or path of peace, joy, and satisfaction. “Yet we may each one desire such searching; for it would be a terrible calamity to us for sin to remain in our hearts unknown and undiscovered.” Spurgeon

What if I’m too scared to muster the courage to ask God to search me and know me and try me? 

“Lord, we want to be women and men after your own heart.  We want to hate the sin that mars the image of your perfect love and embrace the refiner’s tool that cuts it out.  Give us grace to pray boldly for you to enter in.  We rejoice that the One that knows us completely is the One that upholds us with mercy and grace. Come and do your work, Lord.  Lead us in the way everlasting.”

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