Learning the New Dance Steps

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp” (Anne Lamott).

Man, is that ever true. I’ve known a lot of people lately who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, grieving the passing of a loved one.

No matter how young or old, how healthy or sick, however near or far they are, you’re never quite ready to say that final earthly goodbye. In the end, you’re always greedy for a little more time.

But you know that in Christ that death is not forever and the grave is not final. Hope has the final say. Jesus will have the final word. Just as He called 4-day old smelly Lazarus, wrapped up like a mummy from head to toe, from the tomb, so will He one day speak the name of that loved one to rise forevermore from the grave. One day, He will call you by your own name.

That won’t be the end. That will be the real and true beginning.

 

A Revolutionary Patience II: Hope Renewed

“. . . . Hope is a revolutionary patience . . . . Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up” (Anne Lemott, Bird by Bird).

For a lot of us out there, we’re still waiting and watching and working. We’re a millimeter away from giving up, but we decided to give it one more shot today.

Hope truly is a revolutionary patience because hope is based of the God who not only does the impossible with regularity, He does it with ease. There’s not only no impossible for God, there’s not a difficulty for Him.

All those things you long and wait for– the better job, the relationship, financial security, a family– sometimes seem to be infinitely far away but to God are closer than your next heartbeat.

Don’t give up. Keep showing up. Keep trying to do the right thing. Keep trusting that God IS working all things together for your good.

Hope is still a revolutionary patience with an unbelievable payoff.

 

Dancing with a Limp

“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp” (Anne Lamott).

I still miss my ol’ cat Lucy. It still feels wrong that she’s not here anymore and that she’ll never jump in my lap and settle down for a nightly nap. I think I’ll always miss her and my heart will always ache a little when I think of her or see pictures of her.

Some of you are going through much worse. Some have lost friends, parents, spouses, and even children. I saw where the mayor of Nashville lost her only son and child last night from an apparent overdose. I can’t imagine the grief she’s enduring right now. Regardless of your politics, no one should ever have to bury a child. No one.

I know it’s part of life. I know that since the fall introduced death into the world, we’re all destined to say goodbye to those we love, whether two-legged or four-legged. The pain will seem unendurable at times and you’ll wonder how you can ever survive without them.

The good news is that God knows all about grief. The cross is about God sending His one and only Son to die for us that we might live. God can comfort those who grieve and they can in turn be a comfort to others who suffer loss.

In the end, God does really work all things together for good. Even death. You carry all the memories with you in your heart, and one day in Christ you will see your loved one again.

 

Prayer and the Pray-er

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” (Romans 8:26-28, The Message).

Sometimes I feel like I should be a much better pray-er by now. I’ve had enough practice and amassed all this spiritual knowledge, yet when I actually take the time to pray in private, I get distracted and my mind wanders and I occasionally fall asleep.

I read about all these spiritual giants who would spend hours upon hours in prayer, yet for me even five minutes in dedicated prayer seems like an eternity.

Tonight, I was reminded that sometimes the truest prayers look and sound a lot like sighs and groans. Sometimes, the most spiritual kind of prayer is to confess your complete and utter helplessness to express what’s in your heart, knowing the Holy Spirit is able to translate those inaudible (and sometimes audible) yearnings into prayers that the Father hears.

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes the three best prayers are “Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.” Anne Lamott wrote an entire book about those prayers and I confess at times, those are the only words I can muster to express what’s in my heart.

It’s not my great faith in God that sustains me but rather my faith in a great big God that has carried me through seasons of so-called self-sufficiency and seasons of complete God-dependence.

On a side note: today is the seventh anniversary of my very first blog post all the way back in 2010. On another side note, I originally wrote that it was the sixth anniversary before my internal editor caught the mistake.

Thank you, God, that you are more faithful to me than I am to you, and that my destiny isn’t based on my faith in You but in Your faith in me.

 

Jesus in My Own Image

The end game for Christians is that we end up looking and sounding like Jesus. That’s supposed to be the goal. Yet I find that often we recast Jesus in our own image.

When your Jesus allows you to stay comfortable and unchallenged and never step beyond what’s familiar, it’s safe to say you’ve recast Him in your own image.

When your faith allows you to hate a person or a group of people, to mock and slander these people and wish them harm instead of seeing them as image bearers created and loved by the Creator God, then you’ve recreated Jesus to your image.

When you pick and choose which lives matter, which lives are sacred, whether they be unborn or refugee, then you have made Jesus over into your image.

When Jesus is a means to an end for financial prosperity and power and promoting your own brand, you’ve reimagined Him into your image.

When your Jesus is predictable and safe (unlike the Jesus of the Gospels), then you’re remade Jesus into your image.

When Jesus becomes a Republican or a Democrat and follows either the liberal or conservative agenda to the letter, then you’ve created Him in your own image.

When Jesus becomes a means to exclude people and ostracize those who are less hip than you rather than intentionally seeking out the least of these, then you’ve reimagined Jesus into your likeness.

When Jesus becomes another option or one of many roads instead of the way, the truth, and the life (as He Himself said), then you’ve reinvented Jesus in your image.

Jesus comforted the disturbed and disturbed the comfortable (as the saying goes). He didn’t mince words with those who trusted in their own religion and righteousness. He called young and old, rich and poor, to repent for the Kingdom of God was near. He drove people away with some of the hard truths He spoke and even His own disciples often misunderstood Him.

When your Jesus is anything other than the Jesus who told us to go into all the world and make disciples, not as a nice alternative or a suggestion but as a binding command, then your Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible.

My prayer for you and me both is that we stop trying to recreated Jesus to think and act and be like us and start being transformed by the renewing of our minds into His image until we can truly be His visible presence here and now.

 

 

 

Grace Given Vs. Grace Received

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us” (Anne Lamott).

During the homeward commute, I thought I’d play the Good Samaritan and let the car beside me merge in front of me. Little did I know that the next three cars behind that car would take advantage of my generosity.

For a brief moment, I was upset. I was livid. I mean, how dare they? All of us good and faithful drivers have been patiently waiting in line while these others felt they could rush past us and force their way in at the last possible moment.

There’s no way they deserve to merge in front of me.

Then it was like God spoke to me. I don’t claim to hear the audible voice of God and I’m not claiming I had a prophetic word, but I had the strongest impression that God said, “You know that you’ve deserved far less and received far more than these people have.”

The heart of the Gospel is that Jesus came for the undeserving– the hell-deserving– and instead of giving them what they (and I ) deserved, He lavished them (and me) with exactly what they didn’t deserve but needed most. Grace. Mercy. Forgiveness.

That’s why I don’t buy into karma. I don’t go around bragging about other people getting what’s coming to them because I know where I’d be if I ever got what I truly had coming to me. It wouldn’t be pretty.

That’s why I’m such a huge fan of mercy and grace. I don’t get what I really deserve and I get what I don’t deserve.

I believe that if we’ve received so much grace, we should be the first to show it not to those who deserve it, but those like we once were (and still are at times) who deserve it least but need it most.

That means those with different political ideology than yours. It means people that irritate you and get on your nerves. It means bad drivers who don’t know how to merge.

Ultimately, it means forgiving yourself when you let yourself down, remembering that God has already forgiven you.

 

 

Real Prayer

“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real—really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.

So prayer is our sometimes real selves try­ing to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. Even mushrooms respond to light—I suppose they blink their mushroomy little eyes, like the rest of us.

Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation. But like sunflowers we turn toward light. Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself. And in this light, we can see beyond shadow and illusion to something beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside” (Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow).

Sometimes, the best prayers are the ones without any words, the ones that express themselves in tears and groans and sighs.

Sometimes, it’s good to know on the nights when it feels like our prayers are getting no further than the ceiling that God hears anyway because He’s in the room with us while we pray.

Just keep asking. Just keep seeking. Just keep knocking. Just keep praying.

 

Hope Is a Revolutionary Patience

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life).

Whatever it is that you’re waiting for, never lose hope. Don’t quit now.

Remember that in hope, what matter isn’t just what you get at the end, but what you become in the process of waiting. Sometimes, the enduring is what makes you ready to receive what it is that you’ve been hoping and waiting for.

So my word to you is this: keep waiting and hoping.

God will either grant you what you desire or give you something much bigger and better than your mind can yet conceive or comprehend.

I’ve learned in all my years of waiting that the best outcome is that you find that God Himself is enough, with or without whatever you hope to get in the waiting process. God is enough.

So don’t give up. Let God have His way in you and let hope flourish in you during the waiting. It will be worth it in the end.

“Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodnessAnd hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love” (Romans 5:2-5, The Voice).

I am Jacob

I am Jacob. From the very first moment I took a breath, I’ve been a deceiver and a trickster. Even as I came from the womb, I was jockeying for position. My name means heel-grabber and that’s what I am.

I can con anyone. I can talk you out of your life savings for a bowl of chiken noodle soup. Just ask my brother. I am the used car salesman that makes used car salesmen look bad. I am the epitome of the snake oil peddler.

But here I am out in the desert, all by myself. I’ve disappointed my father and broken my mother’s heart. I’m sure my brother hates me and will probably try to kill me the next time he sees me. All my schemes have left me empty and broken inside and I have run out of plans.

Suddenly, I’m wrestling this Man. I can tell from the start that He’s much stronger and faster and smarter than I am. It’s all I can do to hold on. And that’s what I do– grip tight and hold on for all that I’m worth.

He barely touches my hip and it comes out of joint. I’ve never known such searing pain, but still I hold on. Even when he tells me to let go, I hold on.

“I won’t let go until you bless me. I won’t let go until you can see past my deceit and treachery and find the real me. I won’t let go until you tell me who I really am underneath my house of cards that’s falling down all around me.”

He says, “You are Israel. You are a prince and you are the one who has struggled with God and man and prevailed. You are no longer your deceitful past. You are now Mine.”

I see now that it’s good to lose every once in a while. It’s good to wrestle with a God that’s stronger than me, strong enough to take care of me, strong enough to carry me when I’m weak.

I’m learning that God has had a better plan for me than all my conniving and manipulation. I’m learning that love sometimes has to wound before it can heal, and sometimes it has to give you scars before it can make you whole.

My name is Israel, and I will probably never walk right again. My source of strength has become my weakness, but I’m finding out that’s where God’s power really shows up.

My name is Israel and I’m learning to dance with a limp.