Alone

Alone.

It’s a scary word.  I don’t know anyone who, when being honest, doesn’t fear this word.  It’s calculating.  Cold.  Indicting. 

It’s difficult to not believe there’s a judgment associated with being alone.  After all, it’s how they punish the worst criminals. 

It’s easy to believe that those who are not alone did something right that you got wrong.  You failed the acceptance test.  You didn’t make the grade. 

It mocks the sensibilities of value and worth.  It plays riddles with the human need to be known and loved.  It is a cruel jester to all who seek belonging.

Alone.  Nobody wants to be alone.

One is an odd number.  Nobody wants to be the only one. 

I remember the weird sensation I faced the day I saw everyone’s name huddled together in one category…and my name stood alone in another category.  I was the only one.   I was odd.  I was alone.

Truth spoken long ago echoes daily through every human heart, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

The things we’ll do to avoid being alone.  Endure ridicule, humiliation, control.  Surrender convictions, callings, and passions.  Being a nobody in the midst of many somebodies is preferred to being alone. 

Yet there are times when we must take a stand, and go it alone.

Family talk last night centered around this topic.  One of the boys has been a part of team system for many years where he has not been valued.   His contribution has not been welcomed.  His dignities have been insulted.  Even though it’s been a dehumanizing experience, he has chosen to stay because he likes being a part of the group.   Being a member of the whole has been meaningful to him.  However, yesterday one of the other players quit—he quit the charade.  He decided being alone and taking a stand for what is right is better than sitting on the bench with the other guys while the wrongs play on.  My boy felt bad for him, “He’ll be alone now.” 

I felt proud of the boy.  It takes courage to stand alone.  It takes courage to be your own person.   I hope that his “aloneness” will be a temporary condition; but it’s better than sitting on the bench.  There’s a game to be played—and he was made to play it…somewhere!

We all live in this tension that comes with being people created for community—we need to belong to the group, and yet also stand out as an individual created uniquely in the image of God.  I face this tension regularly.  For over a year I’ve prayed that I would have the courage to stand alone, if that’s what I need to do.  It’s a risky prayer because the Scriptures show that God’s people often get called to do just that.  Moses stood on the mountain alone.  David wandered the hillsides alone for years.  Esther stood in the court of the king alone.  Paul sat alone for many years in prison.  John was marooned alone to Patmos Island.

The confidence we have as believers is that if God is calling us to stand alone, we do so on God’s sovereignty with Him.  There is really no such thing as “all alone” for the believer—there is always the community of the Trinity made available to us through Christ.  In our aloneness, we still abide in Christ and He abides in us.  In Him, we belong, we are loved, we are accepted—we are counted worthy.   God doesn’t bench His players.  He values every one. 

Yesterday I had a beautiful conversation with a friend who is exploring adoption options.  She was educating me about embryo adoptions, because “there are so many babies, frozen, waiting for their lives to begin.”   I thought, “And God sees each one.  He sees them all alone and He is setting them in families.  To be loved, to be treasured, to be what they are created to be.”  This is God’s heart for every person.

If you are feeling alone today or fearful because God is calling you to stand alone, remember His love for you.  Let the power of His love demonstrated in Christ speak courage to your heart.  You are not alone.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depths, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 8:38-39

“We’re All Living Life with Frags”

Today the Washington Post published an article “Who Shot bin Laden?”  (You can read the whole article here .)  I’m not so much interested in the name of the person who did it, but I am always intrigued by the story behind the story.  More specifically, what does it take to be a Navy Seal?  What does it take to accomplish courageous acts of selfless heroism–to make a difference in the world?

One portion of the article caught my attention and has captured my thoughts:

His hands will be calloused, Smith says, or just plain “gnarled,” as Marcinko puts it. And “he’s got frag in him somewhere,” Marcinko says, using the battlefield shorthand for “fragments” of bullets or explosive devices. This will not have been the shooter’s first adventure. Marcinko estimates that he might have made a dozen or more deployments, tours when he was likely to have run afoul of grenades, improvised explosive devices or bullets.

Be we a Navy SEAL or not, we’re all living life with “frags;” memoirs of the hits we’ve taken.  These frags may be an empty ache from loss, disappointment, lingering pain, memories of hurtful words spoken to us or by us, recollections of rejection, criticism, or betrayal.  Maybe somewhere deep inside we believe that only the weak or careless get hit–that the ones strong and smart enough can avoid the pain.  Let the training of Navy SEALS remind you:  No matter how strong, how skilled, how trained, We can’t get through life without running afoul of pain.

Very little pain in life can be forgotten.  It gets lodged into our being and we carry it wherever we go.  For some, it will embedded as a looping voice box of shame.  For others, it will be a memorial of healing, so life can keep being lived.   “Frags” remind us that freedom comes with a battle.

Each person must determine how much power to give their “frags.”  Will it leave them disabled, embittered, and helpless?  Or will the “frags” be symbols of strength and courage? 

I think we often believe we’re the only one with “frags.”  We run our fingers over the scars they’ve left.  We cover them up so no one will see what a freak we are.  We look covetously on others who we believe have escaped the explosive devices of life.  We sit at home thinking our frags make us useless, broken, and subsequently sidelined forever.

There is another option:  We can go out and keep fighting for freedom–ours and other’s.  Taking a fragment of pain is not the worst thing that can happen.  The moral of this news story is that the mission is greater than one person’s past wounds.  It’s true for you, too.  You are more than your “frags.”

Could it be that your “frags” from yesterday are there to give you courage for the battle you will fight tomorrow?  Will you let them remind you that you survived them for a greater purpose than just to carry them around?

What does it take to accomplish courageous acts of selfless heroism–to make a difference in the world?  It takes knowing that your mission will include pain.  Face it and embrace it, knowing that there is something bigger outside of yourself; something more compelling.  A Navy SEAL fears missing out on the mission more than mission itself.  This was the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ–freedom was worth the frags!  If you are going to make a difference in the world, than we must not fear the “fragments” more than the whole. 

I have my own “frags.”  I know you do too.  May they speak courage to us today.

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us”  Romans 8:16-18.

 

Getting Through Stuff: Storms, Scares, & The Stuff that Makes Us Trust

“We get through stuff” were the last words spoken in the darkened bedroom just before the first ray of light broke. 

We do.  We people get through a lot of stuff–we get through broken relationships, broken hearts, broken bank accounts, and broken bodies.  Instead of perishing, we find a way to white knuckle our way through some pretty treacherous storms.

“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep.  And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing!’  He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?’  Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm.  The men were amazed, and said, ‘What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?'”  Matthew 8:24-27

There are many of us who are probably in a boat of sorts that is being covered by the waves.  This week I have been hit with waves of grief, disappointment, and betrayal.  And I confess, it seems like Jesus is asleep in my boat.

I have sounded the alarm.  He appears to still be sleeping.

I have nudged Him with fervent prayers.  Yet on the storm rages.

I have felt like the disciples, like I am perishing.

Yet, Jesus when awakened by the disciples does not recognize the same peril of which they are distressed.  He first addresses their fear, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?”

We all want Jesus to rebuke the storms in our life–to seperate the elements, quiet the uproar, and set us safely into “perfectly calm.”

Far fewer of us, most notably me, are willing to let the Lord rebuke my fear and my lack of faith. 

Is it possible that the storms rage on in our life because it is more important to God that we trust Him in spite of the storm and not simply because of the storm?  Jesus knew full well that the disciples would not perish from the storm.  The much bigger threat was their lack of faith.  The storm scared them.  They scare me too.  They’re probably scaring you.  Let the Lord rebuke your fear.  Allow the storm to show you what you do not yet know about trust. 

Today, I am declaring “Christ is in my boat.  Bring on the waves!  Amaze me, Lord!”

You?

There Are Days…

Do you ever find that there are days that seemed filled with more than your share of allowable errors? 

Yesterday I was more mistake-prone than usual.  I overslept.  I had an editing fail.  I spoke some careless words.   I forgot to pick up my boy at baseball…causing the hubs to miss a business dinner.  I arrived home to a messy house filled with grumpiness.  It was an epic fail day.

Instead of going from “strength to strength,” I seemed to be on one slow ride swirling around the drain of humanity.

Humans fail.  It’s a reality we try so hard to avoid. 

I don’t know why we are so reality-resistant about our humanity.  Pride.  Insecurity.  Fear of others.    Maybe the need to measure up gives us a false sense of security that we won’t be swallowed up…by other’s expectations or criticisms, or overlooked, or worst of all, found unworthy. 

There are days when I think we’re all just trying too hard.  Doing too many things to prove we’ve got what it takes. 

There are days when the failures–be they big or small–are just reminders that I haven’t yet surrendered to humility.  I haven’t yet embraced the virtue of being poor in spirit.  No, the poor in spirit have nothing of their own accounting.  They have reached into the depths of their performance pockets and pulled out nothing.  They are desperately dependant on the riches of another.  They’ve come to the end of themselves–and their own kingdom building–and have surrendered to One whose riches are not conditioned on their perfected accomplishments.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”  Matthew 5:3.

There are days when that has to be enough. 

What will you need to surrender today in order to let it be enough for you?

Getting Dirty: Making Way for the Beautiful

“Do not fret because of evildoers, be not envious toward wrongdoers.  For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herbs.  Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land cultivate faithfulness.  Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your ways to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it.  He will bring forth your righteousness as the light”  Psalm 37:1-6.

I hadn’t planned on getting dirty.  

Yet, the mud caked under my fingernails.  Thorns from nearby roses embedded under my tender haven’t-gardened-yet-this-season skin.  Misguided roots persistently blocked the patch of ground selected for the new plants.  I’d forgotten how much work gardening can be, especially in land that has suffered seasonal neglect.

Flowers sat on the side awaiting their assigned seating in the garden.  When purchased them at the nursery, I had only imagined them planted with heads prouldy reaching for the sky.  I only saw their beauty.

I hadn’t planned on getting dirty.

Beautiful things compel us to dig in and wear pain.  Pain makes a place for beauty to dwell.  It’s true in the garden and in life.

I watched three loved be baptized this week.   As I listened to them describe their journey to the water’s edge, I thought about the pain they each had endured to make way for the beauty of Christ to be displayed in them.   It hadn’t been an easy for any of them.  For each, they had dug through hardened dirt, twisted roots, and painful thorns to stand before their community of friends alive in Christ, their Healer.    Yet rolling up their sleeves, with the help of Christ His glory went proudly on display; heads held proudly and hearts humbled tenderly.  From the pain there was a joyful harvest of beauty. 

I think about my own journey, most notably my journey of late.  There’s been much digging into hardened ground.  The muscles have fatigued and the heart has frequently fainted.   There are days when I think the ground is too hardened for flowers.  There are others when I think I am too soft to finish the planting.    There have been too many days where it seems that all I have to show is mud-caked hands.

I never planned on getting dirty.    Yet, this weekend reminded me that the beauty is worth the pain. 

Are you tired?  Trust in the Lord.  Cultivate faithfulness.  Make way for the beautiful.

Are You Sleepy?

It’s easy to get sleepy.

I have long since discovered that the circumstances of an event in no way condition my attentiveness to them.  I can be reading the best book and still nod off.  I have fallen asleep on the most entertaining of speakers.  No matter how close to the edge of my seat a show may lead me, it’s not uncommon to find myself waking up the next morning wondering how it ended.  I always pass judgment on the disciples for falling asleep on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, but He and I both know how often I have repeated their folly. 

I posed the question here yesterday about how to stop evil without becoming evil.  This was a question generated by my study of the Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat.  (If you’re not familiar with the text, see my previous post.)   No one would contest the fact that there is evil in the world–we see it in every new’s medium, and occassionally confront it on our own hearts. 

So how should disciples of Jesus live, those who for the present struggle with life in the tension of the is and not yet kingdom reality?  How do they respond to evil? 

One response formulated by the parable is obvious:  Understand that evil is for God and His agents to judge.  Know that there is a coming judgment. 

That comforts me.  Yet within the whole counsel of truth, I understand that I don’t just exist for my own comfort.  So, the parable begs another question:  Do I sit back with no response to evil just because I know that judgment is coming for those who do evil?  Furthermore, the parable has an omnious warning:  The wheat and weeds can look identical.  In fact, if not carefully discerned, the weeds would be harvested by a farmer and he would not know it until the weeds molded his flour. 

The careful reader–and the respondent disciple–must take this warning seriously.  Kingdom living in the not yet fully present kingdom requires alertfulness.  Note carefully, Matthew 13:25–

But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went away.

Parables teach us about the kingdom, so I don’t believe that this is in reference to a physical sleep–but a spiritual sleep; a drowzy approach to life that the apostles frequently warn against in the New Testament writings. I believe the church, especially in America, has fallen into a it-can-never-happen-to-us induced coma. 

I’m not usually one for doom and gloom.  Yet I have been reproached by the Spirit this week for my own casualness.  I have been watching the ticker tape of prophetic warnings go unnoticed by many church leaders.  The weight of this is such, that I feel compelled to speak up…even if at the risk of you thinking I’m becoming theatrical.  Trust me, I don’t want to be this messenger.  I like California Casual; where it’s “all good” and everyone goes with the flow.

It’s easy to get sleepy.  It’s dangerous to mistake our circumstances wrongly.  Maybe we think that because we’re going to church on Sunday, or helping the poor, or we’re a leader in the church that we’re all doing everything right.  That all the problems belong to those weeds–the other guys.  We get sleepy with our standards for ourselves–we justify, we rationalize, sometimes we might even spin the truth to make sure that no one wakes up to what’s really going on.  And while God’s men sleep, the enemy plants seeds.

So what do we do?

1) Identify where you are prone to sleepiness.  In discussion with my dear friends on Friday we made a list of our own areas of apathy–those things/conditions in life that lull us into a false sense of safety or immunity.  We included pride & arrogance, comfortability, busyness, luxuries, self-righteousness, and rationalization.  How about you? 

2) Get alert!  Listen to emphatic exhortation of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians:

While they are saying “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.  But you, brethren, are not in darkness that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of the light and sons of day.  We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober…But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. ~I Thessalonians 5:3-8

 Don’t get me wrong:  I do proclaim the sovereignty of God.  I do trust in His coming judgment.  I am confident that He will one day set right all that is wrong.  But these truths cannot be responded to passively.  They ought to wake us up!  Call us to action!  Judgment is not ours…but we ought to live as those who will be judged. 

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.  ~I Thessalonians 5:14-15

Whatever you do, dear friend, don’t doze off!  I need you to be awake; to help me stay alert.  For the sake of one another, we all need to have our eyes wide open.  

Are you sleepy?

Of Holding On and Letting Go

The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD is everlasting; do not forsake the works of Your hands.

Psalm 138:8

I suppose 2010 would best be characterized as the year of hanging on.

 It seems there was a daily struggle to hold on to the things I treasured.

I’ve been holding tightly to children who grow up too fast; to a way of life that is comfortable; to pursuing a dream that’s wrought with struggles outside my control; to a mom who is dearly loved, yet battling cancer.  There are days when it has felt like I have been holding on to the last threads of sanity. 

 Post 40 is far too late in life to have an identity crisis.  And yet, if 2010 was anything, it was about my crisis to hold on to me—the me I thought I was supposed to be.

It was tiring…exhausting…depleting.

2011 has to be the year of letting go—letting go of all that my hands have held too tightly—letting go to a God who has promised that He will accomplish all that concerns me. 

 This year, I’m letting go of …

My “wants” I have called needs.

My desire to “accomplish” something.

My self-imposed expectation to “be better” than I am.

My disappointments & hurts.

My search to find my “spot in the world.”

My obsession with Diet Coke…really, I have to let that go!

 I am resolved to live with open hands before the LORD who I know loves me and will hold that which concerns me.    Am I scared?  Not really.   I am well-acquainted with the LORD prying misplaced devotions from my hands—things I thought I had to clasp for fear that if I did not the seams of life would unravel.  Yet I have found that in the unraveling, the LORD always stitches things back together most beautifully. 

It reminds me of the first miracle Jesus performed.  When the wedding host ran out of wine, he panicked.  Jesus saved the day by turning ordinary water into the best wine of the day.  I think I usually leave just a drop of wine in my goblet, fearing that when it is all gone there will be no more.  I wonder how many empty-handed miracles I’ve missed by clinging to the metaphorical “last drop?”   Oh what wisdom there is when we finally recognize that what we hold in our hands is rubbish compared to the treasure with that which God longs to replace it!  

With this confidence I will learn to live with open hands.

  

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit” 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.

How about you?  Will this be another year of just barely holding on? 

Advent: The Least of These

Ann Voskamp wrote this incredibly moving piece this morning about Christmas.  (You can read it here.) At the end she included this video..and everyone must watch it.

Christmas reminds of us God’s heart for the least of these.  Does your heart beat with His?  Will you continue to slumber in your indifference?

“the pits we dig”

Have you noticed in the life of Joseph how often he ends up in a pit or prison? 

First his brothers fear his favor with their father.  Later Potiphar fears the safety of his home after the false allegations of his wife.  After his death,  Pharoah would fear the number of Joseph’s descendants and would create a pit of slavery for them to bolster his power and control.

Fear does that…it leads us to oppress and trap others to find security for ourselves.  Rarely does humanity sink so low as to lock up people in physical pits, but we are certainly skilled at scapegoating, maligning, and reputation rumoring to make others be viewed in their worst light.  Digging pits to bury them…so we can look better than we know ourselves to be.

The apostle John tells us, “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”  I John 4:18. 

This truth is changing how I see people and situations.  It’s changing how I pray for them.  It’s changing how I treat them.  God’s perfect love is driving out my fear! 

How about you?  Is there anyone that you need to rescue from a pit you’ve dug for them?  Have the courage to love today!

“stuck”

What do you do when you can’t make a decision? 

Uncertainty has to be the most crippling state of mind for me.  I’m not one who is usually indecisive.  However, right now I’m faced with a decision that makes my brain hurt every time I think about it.  I don’t know what to do.

I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do…prayed, searched the Scriptures, sought good counsel, and made a pros & cons list.  Still no answer.  In fact, I’m not any closer to discerning what to do then I was a year ago when I first brought this situation under consideration.

So now what?

I’ve determined there are only two answers

     1) I don’t care enough about this to risk making a decision.

                                                            or

    2) I care so much I’m terrified of making the wrong decision.

Everyone I’ve talked to tells me to wait…be still and wait until God makes the direction clear.  If I’m being honest here, either of the reasons for my not moving forward ooze with fear.  If I’m afraid to move forward, is my ‘waiting’ just a self-righteous posture for hiding?  If so, that’s makes me feel really lame…lame that I don’t trust God more, lame that I’ve let this thing become such a roadblock, lame that I’ve let fear have so much power in my life.

What I’ve decided today is that fear doesn’t just make feel lame, it really does paralyze and keep us from doing what we were created to do…enjoy (trusting) God!   It’s time for this Gideon to get out of the winepress.  One thing I’m learning is that no matter where your ‘hide out’ is–a winepress, a relationship, a job–they will all suffocate the vitality of faith out of us.  We weren’t created to hide–even though it’s a human condition to do so (see Gen. 3)…hiding is cowardly, no matter how nobly you dress it up.   

So today instead of asking God what should I do, I am going to ask Him how He would like me to enjoy trusting the sufficiency of His plans and purposes!  Today, no hiding.  Only seeking!