Surprise Visits from Mom

My week kicked off at the annual staff retreat for work. Each year, our multi-campus staff will get away for a couple of days to reconnect together as a team. We have opportunities and space to learn, to encourage, to challenge, and to just be.

Prior to one of our times of personal reflection and prayer, we read these couple of verses together as a team.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 Point out anything in me that offends you,
 and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139: 23-24

As I sat down to journal some thoughts, one of the songs my mom wrote immediately came to mind. I jotted down the words again and silently sung the words as I did.

Search Me, Oh Lord 

Search me, oh Lord, look within
Make me aware of my sin
Take out myself and then put love in
Search me oh Lord

Take whatever’s wrong in me and make it right
Oh Lord let me live in your light
Just take whatever’s wrong in me and make it right
Oh Lord let me live in your light

Lead me, oh Lord, now I pray
Closer to You everyday
I never intended to lose my way
Lead me, oh Lord

Take whatever’s wrong in me and make it right
Oh Lord let me live in your light
Just take whatever’s wrong in me and make it right
Oh Lord let me live in your light

I love how the journey I am on today will still include moments with my mom.  Every so often, the beauty my mom left behind will show up and sing truth-filled messages over my heart and mind. I wish I could have her here with me but “seeing her,” once again, sitting on our sofa playing her guitar, and joyfully sharing a new creation with me, is definitely the next best thing this side of heaven.  Even after 27 years of separation, these moments are gifts that I get to unwrap and embrace again.

Having songs sneak into our heads is a good reminder of something else too. I am reminded of the importance of being willing to transform our thoughts and to make them obedient to what Christ desires for us. We need to be willing to be willing. We need to honestly listen to the music playing in our heads and hearts and ask the Lord…is this tune in step with Your will for me or do You wish to fill my life with a more beautiful melody today?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV)

He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God. (Psalm 40:3 NLT)

If I Was Jesus

“If I Was Jesus, I’d come back from the dead
And I’d walk on some water, just to mess with your head
I’d know your dark little secrets, I’d look you right in the face
And I’d tell you I love you, with Amazing Grace

I’d lay my life down for you
And I show you who’s the boss
I’d forgive you and adore you
While I was hangin’ on your cross
If I Was Jesus”


“If I Was Jesus”~ Paul Colman

I’ve always loved this song and downloaded it years ago. I listened to it again yesterday morning while out for a run. I hadn’t heard it for awhile but as my phone randomly shuffled through selections, it began to play. It makes my heart smile.  On one level, it’s amusing and light-hearted, yet on a completely different level, it’s full of depth and beautiful truths.

I think what I appreciate most about this song is that it reminds me of what my heart (and all hearts) long for most: love, acceptance, and a place to belong.

I am grateful for Jesus and how he modeled, perfectly, how love should look, respond, and behave. I am grateful for grace when our hearts lose sight of this. I am grateful Jesus never stops pursuing us and reminding us that we love because He first loved us.

I long to live this life consistently loving others with this humble posture of sacrificial abandon. I wish it was always my knee jerk reaction. But honestly, my stubborn pride and and my bent towards selfishness will often be more evident as I walk through my day.  My desire is to be more intentional in my love for others, to tear down walls that divide and build bridges that connect, to lay down my to-do list and pick up His instead.

My heart aches for those who feel they are somehow excluded from God’s amazing love.  God is love and He is the host of the Love Party.  He is the one that does all the inviting and He personally sent you a handwritten invite. This invite has already been signed, sealed, delivered and has nothing do with you meeting a certain standard first. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. You are loved by Jesus just as you are. Come to the party.

“This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need—how can God’s love reside in him? Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.” 1 John 3: 16-18

“Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us. 1 John 4:10

 

Wake Up Calls

I had a dream the night before last and much of what I can remember involved working and preparing for a service at church.  I remember chatting with a few folks about baptism too.  However, the most memorable part of my dream was a statement the dream me made right before my morning alarm woke me up.

“If I err I’d rather err being too transparent than not transparent enough.”

Wow, what a message to be lodged in your brain at the precise moment the alarm abruptly startles you out of dream land.  As I sipped my coffee and thought more about the ending to my dream, the more I liked it.  It’s a great wake up call.

In my quiet time that same morning, I read the following verse.

The one who conceals his sins
will not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them
will find mercy. Proverbs 28:13

I love the topic of transparency and bringing that which is hidden out into the light. I love the healing power of the light. I love what the Lord is capable of doing in our lives when we humbly bring every single part of us to Him and to His love. There is an incredible amount of freedom, grace, and mercy found in that space of vulnerability.

During the chapter in my life when I struggled with addiction, it was transparency mixed with the truth and love of Jesus that brought ultimate healing and restoration in my life. I know the shame of the dark and I will never go back there. So yes, “if I err I’d rather err being too transparent than not transparent enough.”

As hard as that journey from dark to light can be sometimes…the journey is worth it.  Though the journey involves sacrifice and vulnerability, I will never stop being amazed at how this sacrifice can lead to so much gain.  We open our hands and our hearts and let go and Jesus comes along and fills those empty hands and hearts with something more…something better.  He also gives us eyes that allow us to see beauty and love in a way we never perceived it before.

I believe this recipe: transparency + the love of Jesus is the answer to pretty much everything.  

Navigating “Normal”

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Sometimes when I drop my son off at school in the morning, something will catch my eye and it will take me back to my own years in high school.  I think about how normal life can seem at the time you are living it but, years later, when you look back at that season of your life it really isn’t as normal as you once thought it to be.

It was 1986 and the summer before my freshman year when my mom sat me and my two older brothers down to tell us she had breast cancer. She would have a mastectomy and then go through rounds of radiation and chemotherapy treatment.  My 13 year old mind wasn’t even scared when she told us the news.  My mom would simply have a surgery, heal, and then life would carry on. After all, bad things like parents dying from cancer is something you hear happening to other families…not your family.

I was a shy and extremely insecure teenager.  In a large high school, I was thankful for the marching band and a couple of band friends who I could sit with at lunch time. On the days when they weren’t available, I would quickly gulp down a carton of chocolate milk and go hide in the library to avoid the awkwardness of the cafeteria.

High school seemed normal yet, simultaneously, excruciating. I sank all my energy into studying and getting perfect grades (even graduated 12th in a class of about 900).  I spent my days trying to walk that line between not doing anything stupid that would draw any embarrassing attention to myself and wanting to just be accepted.  I wasn’t unpopular or popular. I did my best just to blend in. I got along okay with pretty much everyone but didn’t seem to fit anywhere specific.

I fixated way too much on body image and struggled with anorexia. I exercised obsessively and watched as the scale dropped from 126lbs down to 88lbs all the while looking at myself in the mirror still believing my butt and thighs were way too big.  When my concerned parents confronted me about my refusal to eat dinner and opt for a small bowl of cereal instead,  I would tell them I was fine. I reassured them I hadn’t lost anymore weight and still weighed 100lbs.  It wasn’t until my starving body began fighting back when I decided to seek help.  I was eating practically nothing and, one morning, I stepped on the scale to discover I had gained a pound back. In panic mode, I tried to stick my finger down my throat but just couldn’t bring myself to go through with it. I went to my mom in tears and she took me to see a dietician so I could learn how to eat healthy.  Looking back on this season, she should have taken me to a psychologist to learn how to cope healthily with the two “c” words: control issues and cancer.

About the same time I was ending all the fun days of high school,  I found out that my mom’s cancer had returned; it had metastasized to her bones. She would begin more chemo and radiation treatments. My dad added my name to the bank checking account so I could write checks and do the grocery shopping. I helped take my mom to many of her radiation appointments, 80 miles up the road in Tucson.  I would prepare my mom’s lunch and bring it to her in the living room.  So many of the things were not normal teenage stuff and, yet, I didn’t realize it until years later. 

I often think about those days as I watch all the students walking into my son’s high school.  I wonder what load some of these kids carry with them into the building…detached parents, abuse, divorce, addiction, identity issues, cancer.

I wonder how many kids (and adults) are just trying to make it through their “normal” as best they can.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Polarizing Words that I Find Beautiful

“But I will sing of Your strength and will joyfully proclaim Your faithful love in the morning. For You have been a stronghold for me, a refuge in my day of trouble.” Psalm 59:16

“Dear friend, you are acting faithfully in whatever you do for the brothers and sisters, especially when they are strangers.” 3 John 5

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:34-40

I shared the verses above because they come to mind most every time I hear a certain political ad on the radio as I drive into work in the morning. The part of the ad that always takes me to these verses in scripture is the part where the politician will list all the differences between him and his opponent. He plans on banning sanctuary cities…she is in favor of sanctuary cities.

Let me stop right here and say I’m not desiring this to be a political post. I know folks across our country have very different views on how to handle the illegal immigration issue in our country. What I did want to share was my heart’s knee jerk reaction every time I hear the words “sanctuary city”…and I have heard those two words quite a bit lately. When those two words stand alone…my heart goes some place beautiful.

I think of a place of refuge for a person going through hard times. I think of how Jesus is my hiding place. I think of running to The Rock that is higher than me. I think of resting in the shadow of His wings. I think of a place of safety. I think of a haven from the storm all around me. I think of the phrase “Harbor of Hospitality”, the slogan for the North Carolina town I lived in for 12 years.

It’s just strange how those two words have become so polarizing in our country. I know that in today’s political climate those words don’t represent sunshine and flowers…they are wrapped up in messy and complicated and heated arguments.  And yet, when I look at those two words… alone…they bring my heart comfort and joy. They take me back to a humbling time in my own life when I needed rescuing and was desperate for a safe place to rest my head. They take me back to the Harbor of Hospitality. I was taken in by strangers. I found a home, a place where I belonged and a place where I flourished.

National Coming Out Day- I See You, I Love You

Treating someone who is different than you with less respect, dignity, value, or worth is not the Jesus way; it’s the complete opposite of the Jesus way.

Remaining silent in the face of injustice because we just don’t want to complicate our own comfortable lives or (add another layer of complexity to an already complicated life) is not the Jesus way; it’s the complete opposite of the Jesus way.

Choosing to love someone who is different than you at a “safe distance” so that your tribe doesn’t “get the wrong idea” is not the Jesus way; it’s the complete opposite of the Jesus way.

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day and I just want to say to all my friends who are gay or on a journey trying to figure out who they are or where they fit, I see you and I love you. Jesus sees you and loves you too. We may not always agree on everything but, THANKFULLY, that’s NOT a requirement in order to love, respect, include, and embrace another human being. Jesus is our perfect example of this too. Differences didn’t stop him from radically loving others FIRST, befriending and forming relationships FIRST, treating folks with value and dignity FIRST.

Go and do likewise.

Decided to share this post again, because I want to remember how I got it wrong and never want to get it this wrong again. Love trumps fear…always.

“Fear, produced by a lack of understanding, is a choice. A lack of understanding could produce love instead. Jesus made this possible for us. We love because He first loved us.”

I was prompted to share this post a couple of years ago right after the Orlando nightclub murders. Judging At Arms Length

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace…

I am so thankful for all the accounts in scripture of Jesus confronting the arrogant, the bully, and the know-it-alls. I am thankful He models, perfectly, the response we should choose. It’s the extravagant outpouring of Truth resting firmly on a foundation of love and grace.  Without this firm foundation His words and actions would not have had the impact that they did.

Anytime I come across stone throwing (or anytime I’m tempted to pick up my own stone and hurl it) I tend to find my way back (as quickly as I can) to one of these accounts in Scripture of Jesus responding in love…showing us how it’s possible to disagree with someone and, yet, show them the same respect, dignity, grace, and love Jesus was modeling for us in Scripture and continues to model for us today through His Word and His Spirit. In these crazy times, where the stones seem to be flying non-stop, I desperately need this reminder daily.

As these thoughts were swirling around in my brain this morning, the lyrics to an old song my mom and I used to sing together at Christmastime came to mind. The song is called “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”.  It was an African American spiritual written in the 1930s and recorded, over the years, by many different artists.  My mom and I knew the Anne Murray version. Here’s the lyrics that came to mind this morning.

“You have told us how
We are trying
Master you have shown us how
Even when you were dying
Just seems like we can’t do right
Look how we treated you
But please Sir forgive us Lord
We didn’t know it was you”

Even when I was a little girl, I remember those lyrics having a profound impact on me. There was an ache in my soul that would rise to the surface as I sung those words. They are honest and raw and remind us just how challenging it is to love others well and correctly.

Today, when I need reminding of how to love well, here are three go to Scripture accounts I run back to…

  1. John 8 1:11 The lady caught in adultery:

Jesus reminds her accusers that none of their lives are blemish free. They may sin differently than the lady caught in the act…but each of them is still just as sinful. I love Scott Sauls reflections on this account “I do not condemn you. Now leave your life of sin. The order is everything. Reverse the order of these two sentences and we lose Christianity.”

2.  Mark 2:13-17 Jesus spending his free time with the tax collectors and sinners:

Loving others well means that we break the holy huddle and spend time with people who may act, speak, and look differently than us. Jesus invested in the lives of people who were labeled as outcasts. He didn’t keep his distance; he intentionally moved closer. He formed relationships with folks who couldn’t have been any more different than him.

3.  Luke 24:42 The thief on the cross:

“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus responds to this man’s request without delay. He doesn’t need time to think about it. He doesn’t tell the man it would be unfair to let him in now since all his life was spent sinning and walking in the wrong direction. No.  He responds, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

What a beautiful message to close out His chapter of modeling love to us here on earth.  It’s a reminder that His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness is infinitely bigger than us:  a receptive and humble heart is the only thing He asks of us.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11: 28-30 Message

 

 

 

Keep Blowing Us Away, Lord

“Lord, help us be sensitive to Your spirit, help us to see with Your eyes, position us where You want us to be.”

This is the prayer I pray most every Sunday morning in Volunteer Headquarters.  For the past three years, one my jobs at church is to help lead our host team. On a side note, I find it slightly ironic that the Lord has brought me to a position of leadership within an organization. (Even though I know God has a crazy track record of taking highly unqualified people and inviting them into His story.)  I’ve taken the DISC Assessment Test and it might as well be named ISC in my case. I have very little “D”. I can definitely relate to the folks in the Bible who were somewhat baffled by God’s leadership choices.
David’s father was like…surely it’s not David, the baby of the family, he’s out singing to the sheep.
Moses was like…umm, who am I Lord?
Ananias was like…you want me to go see Saul…that guy who wants to arrest and kill us?

Even though I am still (and will always be) in learning mode when it comes to how to lead a team effectively, there is one lesson the Lord seems to teach me on a regular, ongoing basis: you all can’t do this without Me…or since we are in Georgia (and God meets us where we are) maybe it’s y’all can’t do this without Me, bless your hearts!  🙂

I am reminded, all the time, as I struggle through personal insecurities of not being a “good enough, smart enough” leader that when I acknowledge and confess my lack to an all sufficient God, something beautiful happens…every. single. time.

Eileen…you are not enough…but I AM.
Eileen…the team you lead is not enough…but I AM.

I’ve seen the Lord work and move in our midst despite our (my) lacks, our (my) gaps, and our (my) insufficiencies…and every time He does, He blows me away and reminds me that all He truly requires from us (me) is a willing and receptive Spirit.

The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.
God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart. Psalm 51:17

Thank you, Lord.

Integrity Matters

“Surely You desire integrity in the inner self, and You teach me wisdom deep within.”  Psalm 51:6

Integrity seems to be the word on my heart today.  I read Psalm 51 this morning and it stuck out to me.  David wrote about it on many occasions. The Psalms, in general, talk quite a bit about the importance of living with integrity.

“The Lord judges the peoples; vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness and my integrity.” “Psalm 7:8

“May integrity and what is right watch over me, for I wait for You.” Psalm 25:21

“Vindicate me, Lord, because I have lived with integrity and have trusted in the Lord without wavering.” Psalm 26:1

“But I live with integrity; redeem me and be gracious to me.” Psalm 26:11

“You supported me because of my integrity and set me in Your presence forever. Psalm 41:12

For the Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord gives grace and glory; He does not withhold the good from those who live with integrity.”Psalm 84:11

“I will pay attention to the way of integrity. When will You come to me? I will live with a heart of integrity in my house.” Psalm 101:2

“My eyes favor the faithful of the land so that they may sit down with me. The one who follows the way of integrity may serve me.” Psalm 101:6

If we compromise integrity, it will come back to bite us.

David knew this all too well. I know this all too well. During my running away days, I compromised integrity, one poor choice after another. Instead of trusting the Lord with all my questions and doubts about my future, I pursued a relationship with a man who also compromised integrity. After a decade of bad decisions, he ended up in prison and I ended up in a pit of my own making.  Looking back, I can see the pivotal moments along the path, little (BIG) moments where I turned right when I should have gone left, where I went forward when I should have turned around, when I remained silent when I should have spoken up.  I settled. I settled for my way, a way that was completely powered by fear. I traded in the wisdom and discernment He was offering me and chose to go it alone.

If we compromise integrity it will come back to bite us.

…and the bite mark it leaves behind is there to remind us:  integrity matters!

Mankind, He has told you what is good
and what it is the Lord requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah: 6:8

Wrestling, Thinking & Thanking

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the difference between judging versus holding a person accountable.  It seems to be a fine line, sometimes.  I think the difference  can be summed up in one question.  What is our motive?  Are we pointing out the “speck” in their eye disregarding the log in our own?  Do we point out the concerns from a place of humility or a place of “I am so much better than you” pride?  Is our desire to help the individual overcome and encourage them to choose healthier/wiser options? Does it stem from a deep and genuine concern over the potential consequences of someone’s poor choices/behavior?  These are the questions rolling around in my brain lately.

I think about things like a friend in an abusive relationship and we ask “Why are you still with him/her?  That’s not judging…that’s genuine concern for your friend’s safety and well being.

I think about pastors in recent news where a long history of sexual harassment has surfaced or infidelity has occurred and the congregation and church leadership question whether or not the pastor is fit to stay in his current role. Most don’t see this as judging (as long as it’s done with right motives). It’s holding the leader accountable.  We’d be appalled if the church leadership turned a blind eye (and didn’t address the issue) simply because the pastor knew how to preach a real good sermon on Sundays or had shared, over the years, really valuable/helpful truths on how to do life with Christ. Instead, we would hope the “fall” would lead the pastor to repent, acknowledge their need for help, seek forgiveness, and take time for healing and restoration. We would hope those making the decisions would not compartmentalize or rationalize away the poor conduct.

I think about how important it is to take responsibility for our own faith journeys and discover the “I am the way, the truth and the life” Savior for ourselves…personally.  No one can “come to Jesus” for us. No one can “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” for us.  I think about how influential my mom was to leading me to faith in Christ. As a young girl, she was my rock and I looked to her to understand the things of faith and to hold me accountable. However, I learned quickly how riding on the coattails of someone else’s faith and understanding will only carry you so far. At 18, when she passed away, I discovered I had no clue (and really no desire) to “stand firm in the faith” without her in my life. I had to learn (through mistakes, wrong turns and serious failures) how desperately the Savior she had was the Savior I needed too.  No one could be my unshakeable Rock accept for Him. This is an ongoing lesson I must continue to learn and relearn every day of my life.

I am thankful for accounts in scripture of people like Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who came to Jesus one night “working out his salvation with fear and trembling” not settling for what his peers and what authority figures were telling him he should believe. Instead, he sought out Jesus. He went looking for the truth.

I’m thankful we live in a nation where we have the freedom to question those in authority. I am thankful for the freedom to peacefully protest. I am thankful for those who fought and even died for our right to speak out and disagree.  There are places in this world where speaking out against or questioning the motives of authority figures could lead to imprisonment or even execution. 

I am thankful that we have a Savior who is sovereign over seasons where we are left thoroughly confused. I am thankful for examples like Joseph who could look at his brothers and say with no ill will “what you intended for harm God used it for good!”  I am thankful for the reminder that even Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was used to bring about ultimate victory. I need to remember His  sovereignty has the final say when the world around me seems to be spinning out of control.