Where to go when you’re doing it wrong.

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There’s a funny scene in the iconic movie “Mr. Mom” where Michael Keaton has recently taken on the role of stay-at-home dad, so he’s trying to learn the ropes. While dropping his kids off at school–in the rain–he’s met with a barrage of angry, blaring horns from the cars around him.

His son repeatedly tells him, “Dad, you’re doing it wrong,” as apparently he’s dropping off in the wrong direction. But the dad persists. As he crawls along to the front of the school, finally ready to make the drop off, he’s approached by a cheerful mom in a rain slicker, who promptly tells him, “Jack, you’re doing  it wrong.”

Do you ever feel like you’re doing it wrong? I don’t mean dropping kids off at school, although maybe you’ve had a similar experience. But, do you ever have one of those weeks when you just can’t seem to get it right? And there seems to be a message blaring all around you–at every turn–and the message says this. You’re doing it wrong.

I just finished a week like that. A week where I just couldn’t seem to get it right. And for someone like me (a type A, perfectionist sort of someone) getting it wrong is just not all right. I so want to do well. It’s ingrained in the fibers of my being. I am made to want to do well. But I often don’t. I often won’t. I often am doing it wrong.

So, this thought occurred to me at the end of my wrong sort of week…

Where do you go when you’re doing it wrong?

Well, here’s where I go.

I go to the One who wrote in the sand. Remember that story? There’s a woman caught doing wrong. She’s caught red-handed, shamed-faced, altogether guilty. She’s an adulteress, and she stands condemned by those who drag her to the feet of Jesus. In that moment, she knows she’s doing it wrong.

Making her stand before the group, those in power say to Jesus…

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:4-5)

But He doesn’t say anything at all. Instead, He does the most peculiar thing. He bends down to write in the sand. He won’t be pressured by their traps that they might accuse Him of some wrong answer. He won’t be bullied into agreeing with their manipulation. No, instead he stoops low as she is, running his fingers through the sand on which she stands condemned by those around her.

Finally, He stands for a moment, and simply says this. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)  And then stoops down to write once more.

And this crowd that once surrounded her, once condemned her, once judged her guilty, slowly walks away. One at a time, until only Jesus is before her.

She stands before grace alone. She stands before the One who says, “Woman, has no one condemned you? Than neither do I. Go now. Leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11) Begin again. Start over. Receive grace.

That’s where I go when I’m doing it wrong. To the feet of the One who stooped low to write grace in that sand of condemnation. When I surround myself, reminding myself, convicting myself, judging myself for all the ways I’m just getting it so wrong, there is only One place to go. To His feet.

Because He gets down low with me. Down in the muck and the mire. Down in my mess. Down into all the ways I’m getting it wrong. And He meets me there. And as He meets me, I marvel at this God who receives me in my mess and loves me all the more.

And then He calls me to something better. He calls me to begin again. He writes grace on my heart, takes my hand, lifts my head, forgives my sin, and says, “neither do I condemn you.” Go and sin no more.

This is the grace that was born on Christmas. This tiny, humble God came and lived and loved and wrote in the sand. Grace upon grace upon grace.

He pursued Zacchaeus–a notorious “sinner”– up in that tree and invited Himself over for a meal. He broke bread with Matthew, a hated tax collector, as well as with his friends, all of the riff raff and outcasts, the looked-down-upon ones. He asked for a drink from a Samaritan woman at a well, and so disrupted the patterns of racism of His time. He hung on a cross, next to a convicted criminal, and invited him to join Him in paradise.

He just keeps writing grace.

He writes grace into my life every single day. Especially on the weeks when I’m doing it wrong. When I’m doing it wrong, I need a God who did it right. Who came and lived and loved and gave Himself perfectly, for all of us who do it wrong all the time. That we need not get it perfectly right. That we might have somewhere, Someone to go to when we’re getting it all wrong.

A refuge from all of the wrong.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:27)

I go to His arms. It’s the only place to which I can go. It’s the only answer. He’s the only answer. When I’m getting it all wrong, when I’m doing it all wrong, when it all seems wrong around me, I go to Him.

The One who go it right. The One who made it all right by giving Himself on that cross. The One who will one day redeem it all. My only hope, my refuge, my Jesus. The One who rights all my wrongs.

 

 

 

Holding Nothing Back.

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“I will pray to the Lord your God according to your request…and whatever the Lord answers you I will tell you. I will keep nothing back from you.” (Jeremiah 42:4)

This summer my family and I visited the Grand Canyon, a place for which there really is no name to capture just how grand it really is. The number of people at this world wonder in the summer season is so great, that parking spots are few and far between. This massive chasm in the earth truly draws an audience from all over the world. Year after year, it’s grandeur never runs out.

After taking in the awe of this place, snapping all the necessary photos and strolling along the fence line to capture every view point, we made our way back to the car. Along the path we happened upon an elderly gentlemen standing behind a display of flip top signs that said, “Three things God can’t do.”

So, we stopped, wondering what this was all about and guessing this guy was probably some kind of evangelist. So, what were the three things God couldn’t do? Well, flip top number one was “lie.” Flip top number two was “stop loving you.” And flip top number three was “save you without Jesus Christ.”

My kids sat and listened as this man went on and on about Jesus, and made them each a beaded bracelet depicting the gospel. I sat and thought about my own life, my own testimony, my own desire to share with the same courage and boldness as this man.

Lately I’ve been feeling like many of us who know Jesus are afraid to share our faith. In the name of political correctness, we have been silenced. For the sake of cultural sensitivity, many of us are keeping this treasure that has been entrusted to us all to ourselves. Because of our longing to understand our neighbor, we often don’t share the truth of Jesus with our neighbor.

Maybe it’s something just stirring in me. Maybe it’s just something God is doing in my own heart. Maybe I could learn from you…I probably could. But I feel I’ve been all dammed up, my mouth is stopped, and I long to share my faith. I’m tired of worrying I’m going to offend. I’m weary of feeling like the Jesus in me is off putting.

Because the Bible tells me to be unashamed of the gospel. The Bible tells me, like Jeremiah, to hold nothing back. It’s not saying to run over people like some kind of obnoxious bulldozer. No, all is in love and for the sake of love. But certainly Jesus doesn’t want me to be silent about the very thing He’s commissioned me to share.

So, here it is. I’m a Christian. And it’s not because I’m a pastor’s wife. It’s not because I grew up in a Christian home. Although those things are good. I’m a Christian because, as a little girl, I struggled with who I was and whether I mattered. I felt abandoned by a dad that I didn’t know. I needed to know that I was loved and I was here, on this earth, on purpose.

So, one day, I came across a cube of colors, much like the bracelet the gentleman at the Grand Canyon made for my kids all these years later. The cube showed the color black, for the sin that we find ourselves in. Not a pretty truth, but who can deny that we make mistakes and fall short all the time? Who can log on to CNN and not know we live in a world that’s broken?

Red for the blood that Jesus shed on the cross, giving Himself for the washing away of sin. White for all things made new, forgiven and forever received because of Jesus’ great love.

Green for our growth in faith and maturity in love, as we know more and more of this Jesus, who always accepts, always receives us. And gold for the future, the hope of a new life, forever life in Him. A better world. A better existence. A greater hope free from sin forever.

As a nine-year-old girl, this made sense to me. I had already felt the affects of sin, how sin had affected my life and the holes I felt in it. As I grew older, I knew more of my own sin. I knew I wanted something different, Someone who would love and receive me no matter what. I needed to be known, and everything that I learned of this God told me that He knew me, and He loved me. Me, specifically.

For you know my innermost being…you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13,14)

So, I was all in. I mean, singing worship songs, giving my heart to Jesus, all in. I felt the love of Jesus in a real and palpable way. This kind of love has changed my life. It did then, and it still does.

And so my question is this…if I really love people. If the love of Jesus is really in my heart. If I really care about this world outside of myself, how can I hold back? Not just hold back in loving Him, but hold back in sharing who He is and what He has meant to me?

How can I let the current culture in which I exist keep me from sharing the love and truth of Christ? Why do I allow myself to be all dammed up? Because to really care, means to share the very thing that has changed my life forever. The very thing that brings me joy, peace, hope, and strength in difficult times. The very reason I wake up in the morning.

As I observed this man sitting outside the Grand Canyon, here’s what I saw. He held nothing back. He was unashamed. Yes, there were those who were offended by his message. But, the truth is, Jesus is offensive. People felt offended by Jesus all the time when He walked this planet.

The Apostle Paul spread the aroma of Christ everywhere He went. To some, it was the aroma of death, to others it was life itself. We can’t share Jesus without inciting one reaction or the other. But to hold back in sharing for fear of offending is to keep a treasure of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and hope all to ourselves.

So, here’s the truth. If you don’t know the love of God through Jesus Christ, I want you to. And it’s not because I don’t care about you. It’s because I do. If I have the love of Jesus in my heart, I have to want you to know Him too. That’s just how it works.

I hope that’s not offensive. But I can’t hold back anymore. Because I have a God who held nothing back from me. His love has followed me every day of my life, never holding back in pursuit of my heart. I believe He wants yours too. Specifically. Unashamedly. A love that’s greater, wider, deeper, and grander than any canyon. A love that holds nothing back.

What about you?

If you know the love of Jesus, do you hold back? What’s keeping you from sharing your faith, from inviting others in?

If you don’t know the love of Jesus, do you want to? Like me, do you long to know that you matter and are loved and accepted by the God who knows you and loves you?

 

 

 

When You’re Not Brave.

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But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

No one sets out to chicken out. Everyone wants to be brave. It’s what we admire. It’s what we seek. It’s what we want. So, what happens when you aren’t what you want to be?

Last summer I attempted a high ropes course meant for students at Hume Lake Christian Camp. I cheered the middle schoolers on as they made their way across each obstacle. I was the one yelling, “Way to go!” when they leapt out to grab the swinging rope and land on a wooden island of a platform, suspended high in the trees.

To me, it all looked easy. Until I got up there myself. And my legs began to shake, and I seemed to have lost all control over my appendages. After about five minutes, I was the one asking if I could get down. I was the one chickening out. I was the one who wasn’t brave.

This summer I made a major life change. I stepped out in a giant leap of faith…for about a day. Like those middle schoolers, I reached out for that swinging rope. Until I panicked. And then I stepped right back into safety and what felt more secure. As much as I wanted to keep leaping, I just couldn’t do it. And I disappointed myself. I wasn’t the brave that I wanted to be.

We all want to be brave. No one wants to be the cowardly lion. Everyone wants to have a Braveheart. We want to be the hero or heroine of our own lives. We want to believe with all that is in us….”I can do all things through Him who gives me my strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Except sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we won’t. And the same Paul who wrote that he could do all things, also referred to boasting about his weakness. As much as we want bravery, sometimes we aren’t brave at all. So, then what?

Sometimes we fall short. Sometimes we’re weak. Sometimes we aren’t the hero or heroine that we want to be. Our hearts aren’t brave. We chicken out. Where is the safety net for times like these?

After getting down from that ropes course, I kept replaying those moments in my mind, trying to figure out what went wrong. Why did the thing that looked so easy suddenly get so hard?

After stepping back from my giant leap of faith, I did the same. For weeks I wondered what happened. Why couldn’t I move forward? Why did I panic? Why did my weakness get the best of me? Why wasn’t I brave, at least in a lasting way?

Until I realized that it doesn’t matter. As the well-known saying goes, it is what it is. A dear friend who was advising me as I made these major life choices kindly said to me, “I just don’t want you to feel like you chickened out.” But the reality is that I did. It is what it is.

So, where is God when it is what it is? Where was He as I chickened out? What was He thinking as He watched me kindly ask if I could step back on the platform, and enter back into what felt more safe? Had I disappointed Him as well?

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

When we chicken out, God is there. When we freak out, it doesn’t freak Him out. No panic of ours surprises our God. When it is what it is, when we aren’t the brave we want to be, He still is. His grace still is. He is sufficient.

You see, when I tried that ropes course, I forgot something really important. I was strapped in. Somehow, up high in those trees, I forgot that I was strapped in. I didn’t think about how the tethers would catch me should I fall. All I could think about was falling, and my legs gave way beneath me.

When we chicken out, we are tethered. When we back out, He has us. When we change our minds, or don’t follow through. When we aren’t brave, He’s the safety net beneath us. We are securely tethered to the God who watches over our coming and going. The God who never sleeps. The God of the ones who chicken out.

So, as much as we want to be brave, we can rest even in our not-so-brave times. God comes close to cowardly lions. He’s sufficient for those who aren’t brave of heart.

Because if it’s my own bravery I’m counting on, I’m in trouble. Though I know I can do all things, I also know that sometimes I won’t. Sometimes my weakness will get the best of me.

And here’s the amazing part. Not only does my God accept me in those times. Not only does he not reject me. He tells me to boast, to celebrate my weakness. Because that’s when He shows up most strong. That’s when He swoops in to make a way and save the day.

That’s when He shows Himself as the Hero of my life. So that I can step out again. So that I can be brave again.

I’m coming for that ropes course. I will do it again. But next time I’ll know this. I’m tethered. I’m securely tethered. And His grace is sufficient for chickens like me.

What about you?

Have you ever not been the brave you wanted to be?

Does it help to remember that you’re tethered in your brave moments, and your not-so-brave moments?

**If you’d like to read more about “Brave,” check out Sarah D.’s post at http://sarahdsstories.livejournal.com/15462.html.

 

Soaking Up Strong Love.

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But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I grew up watching Wonder Woman and wanting to be super. When my family watches American Ninja Warriors, I marvel at the strength and determination of those athletes. I ran a marathon once, only to prove to myself that I could make it the full 26.2 miles. I’ve always wanted to be strong.

If I were honest, I find little merit in weakness. I don’t like my coffee weak; I don’t like my cell coverage weak. I don’t like my body, my mind, or my emotions weak. I don’t like having a weak will or a meek demeanor. The truth is, I want to be brave, courageous, strong, self-sufficient. I often despise the weakness in me.

Though I’m not always aware of my weakness, it’s always there. And under certain circumstances, given the right amount of pressure, my weakness becomes glaringly apparent. Apparent not only to me, but to those around me. And embarrassment settles in. And shame. And I despise my weakness all the more.

Sitting in such a place, reflecting on my weakness, this thought recently crossed my mind. “Oh, Lord, why must I be weak?” Why do I have to do things in such a messy way. Why am I so needy, sometimes such a mess? Why, Oh Lord? Why can’t I be strong?

I think of the Apostle Paul with that thorn in his side and realize we all have thorns. We can’t get through this messy life without a thorn or two. I’ve got several thorns, thorns that rear their heads in times of weakness. Thorns of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Thorns that reveal my great limitations under intense pressure.

So, I plead with Paul…Lord, take this thorn away! Remove this long-standing weakness in me, this part of me that makes me sad, that I wish were different. Make me strong. Make me self-assured. Make me confident. Make me decisive. Make me different. Anything other than weak.

Until it hits me. A mental picture dropped from heaven, as I feel the embrace of a God who loves me, even in my weakness. It’s an image of a sponge. A big, yellow sponge with all kinds of holes in it. All kinds of apparent weaknesses. Yet if it weren’t for those holes, it couldn’t fulfill its purpose. Without holes this sponge couldn’t soak up anything.

It’s as though God is reminding me that we are all sponges. We all have points of weakness, apparent holes in us. Yet these holes can be used for good. These holes enable us to soak up the very thing we were designed to receive, the great love of God.

You see, when I feel strong, I have little need for the love of God. I may know it in my head, but I don’t feel desperate for it in my heart. But when I feel weak—when I sense the holes in me—oh, how I need that love, that acceptance, that embrace that says, “In this weakness, my love is strong for you.”

In my weakness, I am able to soak up a force from the heart of heaven more super than any man-made strength. A force greater than anything I could conjure up within me, any strength I might have in and of myself.

In my weakness, I soak up the love of Christ, a powerful love that saturates me, soaks me, fills in all my holes. But then it does more. It flows out from me in greater love and understanding of others. In compassion. In grace. In overlooking an offense. In making peace. In recognizing that we are all weak in one way or another. In being strong in love for another.

In this way, I am stronger in my weakness. I am better for it. I begin to accept it. Suddenly weakness doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. It almost seems right to be this way, so that the kind heart of God can first be soaked up in me and then be wrung out from me into the lives of others.

And so I join with Paul again and say…

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

 I still don’t like my coffee weak, but I’m feeling more comfortable with weak me. I will never be Wonder Woman, but I can wonder at love like this. Instead, I am a simple sponge with all kinds of holes in it, but those holes can serve a greater purpose.

Oh, Lord, let me be weak enough to recognize my great need for you. Let me soak up your love and acceptance when I feel least lovely and least acceptable.

And in so doing, let me love those who feel unlovely and unacceptable with the same powerful love that has saturated me. A great, all-encompassing love. A love that’s not repelled by our weakness. A love that, instead, makes us strong.

What about you?

Do you experience the love of God, even in your weak places?

Can you befriend the weak parts of you, knowing that God’s love for you is strong?

Driving in the Wrong Lane.

 

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I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you and watch over you. (Psalm 32:8)

Merging onto the 210 freeway headed east just a few days ago, I glided along as usual, my normal five miles over the speed limit. My mind was somewhere else, as I carried on in auto-pilot, on my way to the next errand. This freeway is as familiar to me as the street where I grew up. In Los Angeles, there’s a freeway for every destination, and the 210 is my most-frequented freeway.

A few minutes later, it occurred to me that I was in the carpool lane, with no one in the car but me. Now, the carpool lane requires “two or more persons per vehicle,” and yet, whether to use the carpool lane is never something I have to consider. For the past twelve years I almost always have at least two or more persons in my vehicle. (And sometimes one labrador.)

And so the reality of a season of life passing me by hit me as clearly as the cars whirling passed me. Because, in this new season, I don’t always have little ones with me. In fact, my little ones are getting bigger, and life is changing. Don’t you just hate it when life decides to change without your permission?

All of the sudden I realized I needed to change lanes–or run the risk of picking up a hefty ticket. And so I made my way out of the carpool lane, considering the fact that my life is changing and wondering how I’m to change along with it, as Stevie Nicks played in my mind…

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Oh, oh, I don’t know.

I’ve always loved that song, and yet there’s a tinge of sadness to it. Because change is sad. There’s a letting go of one thing to grab on to the next, but sometimes you don’t know what’s next. So, you feel like you’re driving in the wrong lane, with no apparent lane to switch to.

Have you ever felt like that?

And yet there’s hope for people like me, people who switch from one lane to the next with a heavy heart. People who are “change-averse.” There’s a God who sees more. There’s a God who knows more.

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. (Jeremiah 29:11)

There’s a God who sees the whole picture, from start to finish, a God who knows where we’re headed and where we’ve been. A God who has plans. Have you ever really thought about that? He has plans. Plans for you and me. Why on earth would the God of the universe have plans for me and my little life? And yet He does.

He’s got the whole road map, every twist and turn through every season of our lives. When we’re driving in the wrong lane, He stands ready, ready to guide and direct. Ready to counsel us, to teach us the way we should go.

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My dog Sadie and I have been enjoying hiking in the Deukmejian  Wilderness Area that sits in the foothills of La Crescenta. A short drive up the mountain, and we’re away, hiking our way up to gorgeous views in mere moments.

My favorite trail is called Crescent View. As it winds its way straight up the mountainside, it leads you to a whole new perspective. Within about twenty minutes, you stand high above the 210 freeway, watching the tiny cars make there way along. And everything looks so different, so manageable, so easy.

I imagine this is just a small illustration of how God sees my life. God is high and lifted up, looking down from the most amazing vantage point. And as it says in 2 Kings, He looks at my life (and yours) and says…

This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord…

Not easy in that it’s insignificant. No, quite the opposite. But easy because He can manage it. He can handle it. To him, it’s quite do-able. He’s got it.

And yet I see my life from an altogether different perspective. To me, every decision feels huge. It’s me in my little van on the 210, figuring things out as I go, unsure of what direction to take, just looking at what’s right in front of me, sensing I’m in the wrong lane.

But God says to me, “This is an easy thing in my eyes. I’ve got this. Just look to me and trust that I will teach you the way to go. I’m watching over you from so high above. The view is great up here. I see it all.”

Yes, life brings change. And sometimes change brings pain, the pain of letting go. The twinge of that feeling that comes when you suddenly realize the lane that’s been right for so long doesn’t feel quite right anymore. And…now what?

But there’s hope for change-averse people like me. Because God isn’t done with us yet. He always has more. He always sees more. There’s always a hope and a future, from here right into eternity.

If you’re feeling a bit lost today, like you’re suddenly driving in the wrong lane, take heart with me. There’s One who sees more. And it’s an easy thing in His eyes. From where He stands, we’re just tiny little cars that He can guide along as easily as my son Micah used to push his trains along the track.

He’s got this. He’s got us.

And there’s more. Even if we should make a wrong turn, switch to a wrong lane, head in an entirely wrong direction, there’s grace. For…

“…he gives us more grace.” (James 4:6)

So, don’t worry about those times it seems you’re driving on auto pilot. Don’t fret when it seems you’ve lost your way, suddenly carrying on in the wrong land.

You’ll sail through the changing ocean tides. You’ll handle the seasons of your life. And I will too. He’s got every life transition, every change. He’s got you. And He sees so much more.

 

 

 

Perfect Hope.

 

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“…but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” (1 Corinthians 13:10)

As a stood in the check out line at Ralph’s the other day, the bagger casually asked me with a smile, “How’s your day been?” “I’m doing okay,” I answered politely, “How about you?” “I’m perfect,” he replied, “I’m having a perfect day.” The checker snickered in response, prompting the bagger to say, “What, you aren’t having a perfect day?” “No,” replied the checker, with a smirk. “I’m not having a perfect day.”

The bagger’s answer caused me to reflect a bit, because how often have I boldly proclaimed to be having a perfect day? I can think of maybe two or three times in my entire life. And yet I long for perfection. I would argue that we all long for perfection. Still, like the checker, my days are often just okay. Perfection in this life eludes me.

So, what’s the secret of this bagger? This simply happy guy who finds perfection in the mundane task of bagging? I mean, surely his day hasn’t been perfect. But to him, in this moment, it’s all good. It’s all perfect. He’s having a perfect day.

I have always thought of perfectionism as a purely negative quality. The longing for perfection leads us to narcissism, or compulsive tendencies, or striving, or just always being really, really disappointed. Until I think about it and realize, we were made for perfection.

We were made for perfect love. For a perfect existence. For perfect, pure, joy.

Remember how it was from the very beginning? There was a perfect garden, with perfect beauty, and a perfect relationship with a God of love, who created humanity for paradise. Creation existed in perfect peace. Until the imperfect came.

Now we exist in the imperfect, still longing for the perfect. Creation groans as it awaits redemption. (Romans 8:22) And we, as part of creation, groan too. We long for the perfect. In a way, we’re all perfectionists. We were made that way.

And so, like the checker, we live in disappointment. Life disappoints. The imperfect hurts. Because we were made for something better.

I so long to be more like the bagger, to find the good in each and every day. In fact, I recently hung a sign up in our family bathroom, which we often frequent, so we can often read it.

It says this, “Today is a good day for a good day.”

Because even in this imperfect life, we find glimpses of perfection. Glimpses of the good that God created in the very beginning. Glimpses of the life to come, found  in Jesus. Completed when he returns to make it all right again. The One who was and is and is to come.

We find it in the intricate pattern of a butterfly’s wings, in the sudden giggle of a sixth-month old. We find it in the compassion of a friend, who demonstrates the heart of Christ. We find it in unexpected rainbows and moments of worship when we feel transported to some other place. In blueberry pancakes and steaming hot coffee. In roaring ocean waves and laughing fits that bring us to tears.

These, and so many other things, are the glimpses of what is to come. When the perfect comes, displacing the imperfection, causing it to disappear. This isn’t some fairy tale, some foolish notion. This is the hope of the gospel, the heart of Christianity. There is hope beyond this imperfect world.

There is a better world to come.

So, I’ll look for the good in my imperfect days and tell myself, “Today is a good day for a good day.” And some days I’ll groan along with creation, as I feel the weight of life’s imperfection. But I will hope. Oh, how I will hope.

And I’ll try to be more like that bagger. Optimistic to a fault. So full of contentment in the present moment, because I know there are better present moments to come. It’s coming. The perfect One is coming. And that will be a truly perfect day.

What about you?

Do you struggle to find the good in your imperfect days?

What is the good you can deposit in someone else’s life, making their day a little more perfect?

 

The Hope of Surrender.

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“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Usually when I head out for a run in an unfamiliar area, I take note of every twist, every turn, every street name I pass, ensuring I’ll make it back home. I’ve never been known for having a strong sense of direction.

But this week as I set out each morning under the crisp air of Big Bear Lake’s snow-topped  mountains, I decided to do it differently. I wandered my way through the neighborhood streets, trusting I’d find my way back. I surrendered to my own sense of direction, faulty as it has often proven itself to be.

Instead of memorizing street signs, I focused on searching for bald eagles and taking in the early calls of persistent blue jays. I fixed my eyes on glistening white mountain tops, as I wound my way around the lake’s edge.

There’s something beautiful about surrender.

Returning from one of those early-morning runs, I came across this passage from Hebrews, and one phrase struck me more than the rest…

…the race marked out for us…

I’ve read this passage before. I’ve thought about perseverance and what it means to hold on. I’ve thought about joy and fixing my eyes on Jesus. But I’ve not thought much about the hope that comes from a marked-out race.

A marked-out race means that this God has specific plans for my life. A marked-out race means there’s a route I’m to take, me and me alone. It means that this God not only loves me, not only offers me forgiveness and life in His name. It means even more.

It means this God considers me. It means He thinks about me. It means He has a race marked out specifically for me. It means He knows where I’m headed, even when it feels I’m running in circles.

Have you ever considered that God considers you? Thinks about you? Has a marked out race for you, and you alone?

Have you ever gotten lost? I mean really lost. No GPS. No gas station directions. No frayed road map. Just completely lost. Years ago I found myself lost on a back country road in rural South Carolina, while evacuating from a hurricane. No GPS. No cell phone.

Three in the morning, and I wandered the winding streets, separated from my husband, because for some reason we decided to take both cars. I had no plan, no marked-out route. Only darkness and debilitating fear.

The truth is, I’m petrified of being lost. And I don’t just mean on a  road trip. I mean that feeling of being lost in my life. Of not knowing what’s next or which way to turn or if I’ll ever end up where I hope to arrive. The truth is, I really like control. Surrender is really, really hard for me. I wonder if it’s hard for you too?

I don’t like not knowing where I’m headed. I don’t like not knowing how things will turn out. I don’t like feeling unsettled, and I certainly don’t like uncertainty.

So I find great hope in a marked out race. I find great hope in a God who promises me that…

…”all the days ordained for me were written in [His] book before one of them came to be…” (Psalm 139:16)

I find great hope in surrendering to a God like this. Because trusting in my own sense of direction gets me no where. Trying to control my own life leaves me realizing how little control I really have. And fixing my eyes on me just leaves me confused.

I recently read about the idea of floating on water, and how it requires complete surrender. The weight of your body has to rest fully on the surface of the water. Lift your head for a moment to see where you’re headed, and you’ll begin to sink.

But if you trust in the care of a loving heavenly Father, you can float along the current He has for you. You can rest. You can surrender. You can let the weight of your life rest on Him, even when you have no idea where you’re headed.

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you have all sorts of questions about all sorts of things. Maybe you fill your journal with wondering about what God is up to and where you’re headed. Maybe it seems these same questions have been filling your journal for years.

Well, this week, letting go of my need to memorize street signs, and surrendering a bit to my morning runs, I’ve been thinking about surrender. I’ve been thinking about all my questions. And this thought came to mind.

What if I choose to trust? What if I find hope in surrendering to the current of my life, floating on His love, allowing Him to take me where He’s already marked out for me to go? What if I really believe He has a marked out race I’m running?

What if I consider that He considers me? What if I fix my eyes on the One who has plans for me, who knows where I’m headed even when I feel utterly lost? What if I let go of my need to control?

And then it occurs to me. When it comes to surrender, there’s a reason we fix our eyes on Jesus. Because He surrendered. He let go. He took the race marked out for Him, even when it took Him to a splintered cross. He trusted in the current of His Father’s love.

He surrendered so that we could surrender. For the hope of surrender, He surrendered Himself. That there might be a race marked out for us. That we might find our way out of every dead end. We consider the goodness of the One who considered us, when He surrendered Himself.

Surrender like that warrants our surrender. And this phrase comes to mind…

Love so amazing so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

My surrender.

So, I’m fixing my eyes less on street signs and finding my way to where I want to land. Instead I’m following a way unknown to me, but marked out by my Savior.

I’ll keep running this race, as long as He knows where I’m headed, as long as He’ll lead me on. Each ordained day by each ordained day, even in lost seasons. There’s great hope in surrender–not in my own sense of direction–but in the current of floating on the love that surrendered itself for me.

Yes, there’s something beautiful about surrender. Teach me how to surrender, Jesus. To surrender to the One who surrendered for me.

**This month I’m writing about hope with some fantastic ladies. If you’d like to read more about hope, check out Susan’s blog at http://www.growingplaces.us/the-gift-of-hope/ and roll through the circle from there!

 

 

A Big Dipper of Love.

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be·lov·ed
adjective
1. dearly loved.
synonyms: darling, dear, dearest, precious, adored, much loved, cherished, treasured, prized

noun: beloved
1. a much loved person.
synonyms: sweetheart, love, darling, dearest

There was a time in my life, though I don’t like to think about it, when I thought myself unlovable. Years of processing my personal history with my mixed-up mind led me to believe that abandonment I experienced as a child had nothing to do with the one who had left and everything to do with me.

The egocentric mind of a child often thinks this way. Our  propensity to concern ourselves predominantly with ourselves can often lead to faulty conclusions. And yet, faulty as they may be, they still affect us, still shape us, still deceive us. Thank goodness we have a God who is bigger than our faulty conclusions.

Much of my adult life has been shaped by a God whose heart for me will not quit, until I am able to reach the very conclusions about myself that He believes to be true of me. That I am beloved, chosen, adopted, embraced, received, delighted in.

Do I know this to be true of me? Do you know this to be true of you?

I’ve often heard it said that it’s possible to believe something in your mind, without necessarily believing it in your heart. So, while I may believe with one hundred percent of my mind that Jesus Loves Me, this I know…does my heart know it? Am I living out of it? Am I existing in the realm of the beloved?

When I wake up in the morning, am I pleased with who I am? Am I grateful for who God has made me to be? Do I delight in being delighted in?

Do I trust that as I open my eyes, there is One whose eyes are on me, One who neither slumbers nor sleeps, One who knit me together in my mother’s womb and promises to never leave or forsake the one He loves, the one He created, the one for whom He has plans and purposes and even surprises!

No, I often don’t. Instead, I pray, God make me a better person. Make me a better mom. Make me a better wife, a better friend. Oh, God, please make me better. My whole life is this ongoing quest to better myself. And so I realize, even as an adult, I’m still egocentric. I’m still that child who mostly thinks of me.

Brennan Manning, who made it his quest to champion the grace of a great big God with a great big heart, often pleaded in his writings that we would accept our acceptance. He said it like this…

And Grace calls out: you are not just a disillusioned old man who may die soon, a middle-aged woman stuck in a job and desperately wanting to get out, a young person feeling the fire in the belly begin to grow cold. You may be insecure, inadequate, mistaken, or potbellied. Death, panic, depression, and disillusionment may be near you. But you are not just that. You are accepted. Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted.

And so I ask, have I accepted my acceptance? Today, am I living out of a place where I’ve accepted my acceptance? Are you? Have you? It’s right there waiting for you. You are loved, embraced, accepted. Just as you are…

You see, only after we’ve accepted our acceptance, can we say, God help me to do better. Only then can we say, God help me to love better. Only then can we say, God give me grace for what lies before me this day, that I might honor you. Because we know we are already loved, already embraced, already accepted.

Right in the middle of our mess.

After all…

We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

So often I get that backwards. I wonder if you do too. I’m so desperately trying to better myself, to somehow prove myself, not even really aware of what I’m doing. And again I’m deceived. Believing I know the love of God, when in reality I’m waiting to receive it, as soon as I get this right….

You see, at the end of the day, there is only One who gets to decide who is lovable. The Lavisher of Love.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

We may be like children. We may be egocentric in our own ways. We may draw faulty conclusions about ourselves, but this is the truth. We have a Father who lavishes.

We have a God who will not quit until we are completely convinced of love. Who will not give up until we have fully accepted our acceptance. He makes it His mission, His quest, His primary purpose.

He has a world of kids that He wants to win back. A world of egocentric sheep who have gone astray, who have wandered from love. And He longs to bring them into His enfolding, all-encompassing, defining love.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by looking up at the night sky, and all the constellations before me that never change, that remain fixed, no matter my life station or season. My favorite in this season is the Big Dipper.

As I make my way up my driveway for my nightly dog walk, that thing just looks enormous.  I find myself glancing from the Big Dipper to the Little Dipper. And I sense this from my God.

He wants to lavish us with love. So often we think maybe we can dip a bit from a Little Dipper, or that God must feel obliged to love me a bit, because He said He would. But here’s the honest truth. I feel God saying to me…

I have a Big Dipper full of love that I want to lavish on you. And it’s available every day, as often as the stars appear in the night sky. I long to pour that kind of love on you, an all-encompassing, overwhelming kind of love. But you have to receive it. You have to take it from my hand and let me pour such love on you. 

You have to think less of you and more of me. You have to accept your acceptance.

I once thought of myself as unlovable. Now, by the grace of God, I know more of God’s love, deep in my heart, than ever before. But He’s not done with me yet, He’s not done with you. He won’t quit until we are fully convinced of love.

The Lavisher of Love has a Big Dipper of love awaiting us, each and every day. Oh, for grace to receive it, that it might wash away all of our faulty conclusions. That we might think ourselves–not just lovable–but beloved.

**To read more about “Loving the Unlovable,” check out Megan’s writings at http://megontap.blogspot.com, and roll through the circle from there!

 

 

To Pick Up a Rolling Pin.

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Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)

The other day I received the most pure, the most generous, the most humble act of service at the hands of my six-year-old. “If I could give you a gift, what would it be?” he asked. “A picture you drew yourself,” I answered. But I guess that wasn’t good enough.

“What else?” he pressed. “Nothing,” I replied. “I don’t want anything else.” But, never quick to give up, Micah persevered. “Mom, how do you write, ‘Free back massage?” And so my boy took my words slyly, sealed them in an envelope, and then snuck them up to the mailbox for me to find. A precious gift. An act of service. The very best.

I can’t say what it was like to stop for a moment, lie flat on the rug, as my six-year-old massaged my feet. He then ran a rolling pin up and down my back, and I really rested. “Don’t cry, mom,” he chided, knowing me all to well. Because when I relax, my emotions well up. And how can you not cry at such love, such humble service?

Maybe this is why Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children…” (Matthew 18:3), because young children aren’t afraid to serve. They don’t worry about being a doormat. They aren’t concerned about their pride. They aren’t afraid to love without reserve.

They simply say, “What would you want from me?” And then they do it.

I confess that all too often I’m not saying, “What would you want from me?” Instead, I’m thinking, what will I get? I may serve, but as Oswald Chambers puts it, I’m looking for what I’ll receive in return.

Are you willing to sacrifice yourself for the work of another believer–to pour out your life sacrificially for the ministry and faith of others? Or do you say, ‘I am not willing to be poured out right now, and I don’t want God to tell me how to serve Him. I want to choose the place of my own sacrifice. And I want to have certain people watching me and saying, ‘Well done.’ ” (Oswald Chambers)

Oh, how I long for that “Well done.” I wonder if you do too. I so want to feel good about me. So that my service becomes less about the one I’m serving and more about me. And that’s no way to serve.

As Micah pressed small thumbs into my tired feet, he had no concern for himself. There was no money involved, no treat promised, nothing in return. Simply love. Love and service offered in the most humble of gifts. This is how I long to be. This is the service of Jesus.

And so I wonder how He did it? How was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords able to pick up that towel, to lower Himself, to serve such undeserving recipients of His love. Here He was, the Creator of the Universe, through whom all was made. And yet He scrubs those He created, imperfect and full of mixed motivations. Much like me, much like you.

Until I reach this one poignant line…Jesus knew…He had come from God and was returning to God. He was the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. And He knew His own beginning and end.

He knew His source; He knew His destination. He knew Himself, and from that place, He knew how to serve. He had no need for recognition, no need for prestige or honor, no concerns about being a human doormat. Instead, He remembered who He was. And from that place, He picked up that towel…

And washed away all our grime. All our filth. All our mixed motivations and selfish pride. First in the washing of His disciples feet, the ultimate precedent of service. And then on the cross. Where He became a doormat for you, for me.

They stamped out His life, and still He chose it. Because He knew where He had come from and where He was going. And that was all that mattered, to walk in obedience to a good, good Father, the One to whom He would soon return.

All for love of His Father, for love of us. They very ones who stamped Him out.

And that is how I long to serve. That’s the kind of foundation from which I want to live my life. To know from Whom I have come. To know to Whom I am going. So that, it’s not about me at all. It’s about my source. It’s about my destination.

My all in all.

I learn so much from my boy. And though he’s not walking around giving me massages every day, I learn so much from his humble heart. Kids love so well. How I long to be more like them, the ones I’m supposed to train, and yet they’re training me.

Oh, to serve like Jesus. To pick up my towel today. To know who I am, where I came from and where I am going. And here’s the very best part, though I don’t deserve it, one day I will hear that “Well done.”

Only it won’t be from the applause of men or the praise of people. It will be in the embrace of my God, as I return to Him and find rest in His grace, which always receives me, even serves me. How can this be? And yet it is. My Jesus, the One who picked up a towel for me, and then proceeded to pick up a cross.

May today be a day when I am willing to pick up an envelope, to write a tiny note, to slyly make a plan to serve, as my Micah did. In ways big and small, may I live out service because I know exactly who I am and the One who served me, that I too may pick up a towel (or a rolling pin) in His name.

What about you?

Does it help you to know where you came from, to Whom you are going?

Is there a small act of service you could do today to surprise and delight?

 

 

 

No Longer Jane.

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An English/Journalism major in college, I’ve always been  a fan of the Bronte sisters. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are among my favorite all-time reads for their intense passion and unparalleled drama. Yet it’s been many years since I’ve read or considered either story. Until the other night when I watched a recent version of Jane Eyre available on Netflix.

Immediately I found myself drawn into the tragedy, sorrow, and darkness of Jane’s unfortunate circumstances as an orphan mistreated, cast aside, and scorned. And yet there is such strength in her demeanor, such an inward sense of her inherent worth and an unmistakeable pride about her. Jane is a survivor. More than that, she’s a fighter.

Sickness has taken her parents. Abuse has denied her the love of her extended family. Mistreatment has been her lot amidst her peers and teachers. And yet as a young adult, she finds herself a governess to a young girl at an elaborate estate, where she falls in love with its master, Mr. Rochester.

When Mr. Rochester returns her love and proposes marriage, in spite of Jane’s inferior social state, she turns to him and asks, “Do you really love me?” And later she declares to herself with a first shred of hope, “I no longer have to be Jane Eyre.”

And I can’t help but think about the verse…

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

You see, being Jane Eyre meant pain. Being Jane Eyre meant mistreatment and abuse. Being Jane Eyre meant feeling “less than,” and struggling through life with little hope. You can imagine this fictitious girl’s soaring hope at the prospect of getting to be someone entirely different.

And though we might not find ourselves in such dire circumstances as Jane, we know what it means to be ourselves. We know our limitations. We know our life’s pain. We know what it means to live alone, without hope, without God in this world.

And yet one day Mr. Rochester comes to Jane with a most unexpected proposal. He offers her his hand, his love. He sees something in her she doesn’t see in herself and casts aside convention. He simply loves her, offering her the chance to have a new name, a new life station, a new hope.

And so I consider myself a Jane. A plain person living with many limitations, struggling within myself against my own shortcomings. Longing to be someone new.

Sometimes I tire of myself. I don’t mean this in a self-deprecating way. I mean it in a practical way. I’ve lived as this very same person for over four decades. And sometimes, I’m kind of tired of me.

I’m weary of this very same person, with the same shortcomings, the same struggles, the same hang-ups, the same me. It’s not that I haven’t changed at all. By God’s grace, I have. And yet, some things stay the same. This side of heaven, some of my hang-ups will always be my hang-ups, and I long to be different.

And yet in Jesus Christ, I am offered that very thing. He comes to me unexpectedly. He offers me His hand. He offers me His identity, His record, a new station in life through His blood shed on the cross. Miraculously, I am made new. The same old me, and yet made new.

He’s made me new, and He’s making me new. And I say along with Jane, “I no longer have to be Allison Hughes.” I am, and yet I’m not. At least not the same old me.

Because along with Paul, that old me has been crucified with Christ, so that I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. As Brennan Manning so eloquently puts it…

Jesus, the incarnation of the furious longing of God, wants more than a close relationship with you and me; He seeks nothing less than union. 

Beyond a simple marriage between a Mr. Rochester and a Jane Eyre, I am literally given a brand new identity in Christ Jesus. United to Him in an all-encompassing love that literally defines me. And I no longer have to be Allison Hughes any more.

It is Christ in me, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

I in Him and He in me. I’m still me, yet entirely different. Like Jane, I suddenly have hope.

So, on the days when I ‘m tired of me, I say this to myself, I am no longer my own. I have been bought at a price. This life I’m living, I live in Jesus, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Union. Jesus in me, and I in Him.

I am no longer Allison. I am no longer a Jane. I am His.

I am made new. Each and every day, I am made new. By some miraculous event on the cross, He offered me His hand. And I took it. I took it with joy!

His love defines me. His hope heals me. His power transforms me.

Because I’m tired of just being me. I long to be His alone. And though I still struggle with me, I have hope. I’m no longer a Jane. I belong to a Jesus.

What about you?

Do you long to be different?

Can you grasp the hope of being made new in Jesus, each and every day?