I Watched Her Cry

metro

This old post has come to mind on several occasions over the last few months.  I originally wrote it three years ago. The online magazine that first ran it no longer exists. I wanted to bring the story back to life. The lesson learned is that important.

This missed opportunity to love is a reminder to me and to you. We are all qualified to extend compassion. We don’t need to wait until we are wiser, feel more equipped, or in a better season of life.  Compassion can start with us, today…right where we are.  

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The metro ride home was packed, like it usually was for a weeknight commute out of DC and back to Northern VA. I snagged a seat for the trip back home, even though “home” was nothing like I envisioned it two years earlier when I said I do.

I glanced around at all the tired faces. No one seemed happy; they just looked like they were going through the motions.

I wondered if they felt as lost and far away from their desired destination as I did.

My eyes lingered for a bit on the lady sitting at the front of the metro, up against the wall of the train. I watched as she tried to console the crying baby in her lap. She rocked him cheek to cheek. I could tell there was something different about the tired I saw on her face. It was more than just exhaustion from another day of going through the motions…it was pain, it was ache.

And then, in the midst of all these people sitting and staring her direction, I sat and watched as tears fell uncontrollably down her cheeks. I watched this lady reach her breaking point. She silently cried. She silently rocked.

Go to her, a voice came from somewhere inside of me, something inexplicable coaxing me to get up out of my seat and speak to the woman.

But then reason kicked in.

“What would she think?” It said. “I don’t have kids. I have nothing to offer her.”

Still, the thought came again, apparently not listening to reason and logic. Get up from your seat. Go to her, it said.

I talked myself out of it.

“I’m a twenty something kid myself. My life is a mess. What would I say?”

Go to her, now, said the voice from inside.

The argument between Fear and Love played tug of war with my heart.

Moments later, a lady from the back of the car came rushing by me and knelt down next to the lady. She wrapped her arm around the crying stranger and whispered five simple words, over and over again.

It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched the scene play out. I cried over the beauty of a stranger coming alongside pain. I cried over the lady who’s dam just couldn’t hold back all the hurt anymore.

I cried over my fear and doubt, fear that paralyzed me and doubt that told me I had nothing to offer this lady.

It’s been nearly 20 years since that moment on the metro, but I still remember.

I still remember and regret my decision to stay in my seat and do nothing but be a spectator, to ignore the opportunity to act out love. That moment in time, that missed opportunity, still haunts me.

I should have had feet of courage that carried me over to the lady.

I should have had hands of compassion that were willing to wrap themselves around another person.

These days, I do everything I can to notice and seize these opportunities, not because I can “fix” the pain or because I have all the answers, but simply because I know how they feel. I know there is something powerful about saying to someone who is hurting, I see you. I am here for you. You’re going to be okay.

Freedom to Breathe

freedomAt work the other day, as I was helping to set up for an event, one of my coworkers posed a question. How would you explain, in a single sentence, what it means to follow Christ?

It took me some time to answer. There were so many sentences I could say.  I’m a blogger, I joked. I need 800 words not one sentence!  😉

The freedom to breathe.

That was the sentence that came out of my mouth.

Why?

Because the freedom to breathe makes me think of David whenever he spoke about the Lord rescuing his life.   

“He brought me out to a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” Ps 18:19

“I called to the Lord in distress; the Lord answered me and put me in a spacious place.” Ps 118: 5

“I hate those who are devoted to worthless idols,
but I trust in the Lord
I will rejoice and be glad in Your faithful love

because You have seen my affliction.
You have known the troubles of my life
 and have not handed me over to the enemy.
You have set my feet in a spacious place.” Ps 31: 6-8

I love the Message translation of these few passages in Psalm 31 too…”I hate all this silly religion, but you, God, I trust. I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love; you saw my pain, you disarmed my tormentors, You didn’t leave me in their clutches but gave me room to breathe.” 

Room to breathe.  This is the explanation for the answer that came out of my mouth the other day. This is what following Christ means to me personally.

Breath is life and we can’t live without it.

Jesus has given me the ability to truly live and move. It makes sense for me now to spend the rest of my days pursuing the One who gave me this room to breathe…. listening to Him…following Him.

I know what my life once looked like and felt like without the freedom to breathe.  Never again.   

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This morning I read the following verses in John 20 after Jesus was resurrected and came to see the disciples. 

“In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews. Then Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”

 Having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

 Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” After saying this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Did you notice how Jesus equipped his disciples to go out into the world and to follow him?  He breathed on them. He gave them himself. He gave them the power to share this breath and this life with others.  And that breath, that gift of the Holy Spirit, is the same breath offered to us today.

Jesus give us the freedom to breathe and then calls us to share that same life and that same freedom with others.

As I was writing this post, Awake My Soul by Chris Tomlin came to mind.

“Breathe on me, breath of God, breathe on me
Breathe on me, breath of God, breathe on me
I come alive, I’m alive when you breathe on me
I come alive, I’m alive when you breathe on me

Awake, awake, awake my soul,
God resurrect these bones
From death to life, for you alone
Awake my soul”

Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.  I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’” Ezekial 37: 4-6

My Distracted Heart Sits Here…

sit

Here I am, back in John 6.

It seems to be my go-to chapter whenever my heart is confused and I begin to dwell too much on the less than ideal circumstances or on situations I can’t change.

When I am tempted to depend and focus too much on the temporary…Jesus has an answer for me.

When I get too focused on doing (performing) for God and I begin to turn following Jesus into a list of tasks that must be completed…Jesus has an answer for me.

When I am tempted to rely on quick fixes or settle for temporary peace…Jesus has an answer for me.

When arguments arise between different religious perspectives and fights break out over who is right and who is wrong…Jesus has an answer for me.

When doubts rise up or answers/solutions seem far off…Jesus has an answer for me.

When I begin to rely too much on my physical eyes instead of my spiritual eyes…Jesus has an answer for me.

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I find the bread my heart is seeking every single time.

Trusting the Wing Maker

Redhead girl with suitcases at outdoorDepositphotos

Scripture repeats itself quite a bit.  We can hear the same messages weaved throughout the entire Bible. We hear over and over messages of grace, redemption, freedom, hope, forgiveness, love.  I think I know why messages are repeated. Because we are forgetful people. We wander off the path and easily lose our way.

I thought about this during my quiet time this morning.  What more can I say, Lord?  It’s been 25 years today since I sat by my mom’s bedside and locked eyes with her eyes. I watched as she caught a glimpse of Your glory. There was no fear in her eyes. Instead, I was shocked to see joy. I saw eyes sparking with life. And in the midst of this strange, unforgettable beauty she reassured me. “I’m going to be fine.” She then went on to recite Psalm 23.  And, at that moment, I knew that her Redeemer lives. 

That moment has been one of those breadcrumbs I often write about. I have revisited that moment over and over. It was hope in the midst of pain and suffering. And this one glimpse, this one breadcrumb, was enough to, one day, guide me back to His doorstep. How did you know, Lord?  You knew I would run away. You knew I would stubbornly jump into the driver’s seat and try to navigate my way through this life apart from You.

But You also knew the day I would return…broken, desperate, and ready. You knew that pits and personal prisons would be the painful, yet necessary route to Truth: My Redeemer lives too.   

Flying on the coattails of someone else’s faith could only carry me so far. Eventually, I had to get up and learn how to fly on my own wings of faith.  I get it now, Lord.  Yet, I’m still learning and You’re still teaching. 

I continue to need the repeated reminders of your grace, redemption, freedom, hope, forgiveness, and love every single day.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23

The One Thing That Lives On

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A quarter of a century.  That’s a long time. This morning, as the anniversary of my mom’s death approaches I was curious to discover what inventions have occurred since she left this earth. Google was one of those inventions (1998). I used it this morning to discover that in August of 1991 (about a month after my mom died) the answering machine was invented. The answering machine?! Remember those?! She also never saw a Beanie Baby (1993) and never watched a movie on a DVD (1995).

Stuff, that’s all this list is, really. It’s certainly not anything we would feel too broken up about if we had missed using/seeing them. It’s interesting to me that out of all these items, Google is the only one still being used frequently. DVDs are even becoming less and less necessary. This list shows a life cycle for everything. Yet even this stuff doesn’t matter when we look at the bigger picture and compare it to the preciousness of human life.

The other day I was alerted on Facebook that one of my friends was having her birthday so I wished her a happy birthday on her wall. Turns out her birthday was in May but she thanked me for the kind message. May?!?  Way to make me look like a dork, Facebook (or a bigger dork than I already am. 😉 )   I responded, first, by apologizing and then by letting her know that this was permission to celebrate her life every single day.  She said she would “take it and run with it and celebrate every day.”

This morning I was thinking about the one thing that doesn’t seem to have a life cycle…the love we have for our loved ones. That love doesn’t die or run its course. That love continues whether they are still here with us or not. This love never becomes irrelevant. This love never becomes outdated by time or technology. Love lives on and on.

I’ve shared this before but I’ll share it again. The morning after my mom’s death I grabbed her Bible for comfort. Tucked away in the front pocket I discovered a note she had left behind for us, her loved ones. In this note, she shared with us how the moment she accepted Christ changed everything for her. In this note, she didn’t talk about her love for us, although I knew she loved us all deeply. She didn’t talk about how she was going to miss us, although I knew she would.

Instead, in this note, she talked about Christ’s love for her and Christ’s love for us. She talked about never being alone and how His love lives on and on. She talked about how His love opens the door and how His love carries us on to the more life to come. 

I think I know why she chose these words to be her last words to us:  Because, despite whatever season would be waiting around the corner for us, her loved ones, she wanted us to know this one thing. She wanted us to know the one hope we could cling to when life might be falling apart:  LOVE most certainly wins.  

She closed her note with these words:

John 5:24 (NIV) says: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

I am not alone. I have crossed over from death to life, and at this very moment, as you read these words, I am with my savior, our Lord Jesus.

I’ll be waiting for you here.

The Sweet Spot

sweet spot

“It’s wrong to should people into a love relationship”-  Rick Lawrence

“The gospel life isn’t something we learn about and then put together with instructions from the manufacturer; it’s something we become as God does his work of creation and salvation in us and as we accustom ourselves to a life of belief and obedience and prayer…There are things wrong that need fixing; and there are jobs that need doing.  But this is why the Christian life starts at the other end– not with us but with God…This is why the David story continues to prove so useful; it doesn’t show us how we should live but how we do live. And how in that living, if we keep our eyes open, stay honest, and avoid pretense, we encounter God alive, God in covenant with us, God pulling the best out of us…” – Eugene Peterson,  Leap Over a Wall

I read these beautiful words from Lawrence and Peterson a few days apart.

This is the sweet spot where my heart longs to stay…wrapped up and resting…secure in this knowing.

It’s not my job to fix it, build it, or create it.

Oh, to live from this place ALWAYS.  

I find peace here. I can breathe here.

In this spot, the heavy yoke He lifted can’t touch me. In this spot, the chains He broke can’t bind me.  

As I wrote this morning a quote from Rick McKinley came to mind, one I shared years ago but one I need to remember over and over. “The kingdom is. That’s it. Jesus does not need you or me to nail it together.”

I wanted to share this song again from Gungor, Please Be My Strength. It’s one of my all-time favorites.

I listen to the words and my soul finds the sweet spot.

“I’m looking for a place
that I can plant my faith
one thing I know for sure

I cannot create it
I cannot sustain it
It’s Your love that’s keeping me”

A 4th of July Memory

fireworks

This memory always creeps into my mind on the 4th of July. I think about the first Independence Day without my mom. It was just 10 days shy of the one-year anniversary (July 14) without her and I was driving into town to meet a friend so we could watch our small town fireworks show together. As I journeyed along, a question entered my thoughts, one I hadn’t considered before.

What if I forget her?

This thought terrified me and the tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t stop crying. Instead of continuing into town to meet my friend, I turned the car around and headed back to the house. When I got home, my sister-in-law was there. She and my oldest brother were in town for a weeklong visit. Marianne had lost her mom when she was 15. I told her why I was upset and she wrapped her arm around me and reassured me that I would never forget her.

As I thought about this moment of comfort again today my heart wept. Years later, Marianne struggled with bi-polar disease and addiction. She was never able to overcome this struggle and lost her family in the process. And, one day, she overdosed and never woke up. She left behind two incredible teenage boys (my nephews).

Yet, the words my sister-in-law shared with me while we sat on the edge of my bed that evening 25 years ago were true. I haven’t forgotten. The memories continue to shape and teach. They didn’t fade. They deepened.

My mom’s life and my mom’s death have become a part of who I am today. Loss, if we are to grow and heal, requires us to wrestle with grief. I am thankful that I have had more good memories to remember than bad ones. I know that is a gift and I don’t take that for granted. I know others are not as fortunate, many are forced to grieve and heal from pains and memories they would much rather forget than have to remember.

On this 4th of July, on this day of freedom, my prayer is this: that remembering (the good and the bad) is not in vain. May pain always, always, always be redeemed. May hope spring to life out of chaos. May beauty be uncovered. May love take us by the hand and direct our steps down the path of healing, the path of transformation and the path of sweet freedom.

 

Glory and Grief

fishing

Today as I headed up the road on my run, I prayed for breadcrumbs and glimpses of His glory…not just in my life but in your life too.

A minute hadn’t even gone by before I saw a deer standing by the side of the road. Yet, at that moment, it didn’t occur to me that perhaps this was a breadcrumb. It wasn’t until the second and third one crossed my path a couple of minutes later when my heart recognized it.

I’m slow sometimes, Lord. Thank you for the second chances!

I spotted seven deer on this morning’s run. Some were braver than others. Instead of darting into the bushes they would stand and stare intently as I ran by them.

Deer always remind me of this one verse in Psalm 18.

“He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.” Psalm 18:33

And when I think of Psalm 18, my mind goes back to the season in my life when my feet came back to His doorstep.  At the time, nothing else in my life was clear, only that I needed Him.

In grief, I ran away. In grief, I ran back home.

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Last night I read these words from Eugene Peterson’s book Leap Over a Wall.  “We don’t become mature human beings by getting lucky or cleverly circumventing loss, and certainly not by avoidance and distraction. Learn to lament. Learn this lamentation. We’re mortals, after all. We and everyone around are scheduled for death. Get used to it. Take up your cross. It prepares us and those around us for the resurrection.”

“A failure to lament is a failure to connect.”

“Lament– making the most of our loss without getting bogged down in it—is a primary way of staying in the story. God is telling this story, remember. It’s a large, capacious story. He doesn’t look kindly on our editorial deletions. But he delights in our poetry.”

I think this is why, ever since returning home, I’ve headed for the Psalms whenever I don’t know where else to turn. David grieves well. And, in doing so, shows us (reminds us) how to grieve well.

“He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.” Psalm 18:33

At this point in David’s journey, he is expressing gratitude over the greatness of God. David’s life was filled with seasons of pain, loss, despair, fear, uncertainty, and doubts. Yet through it all, David chose to turn his focus and his heart back towards the God who had created him, knew him, chose him, loved him and had rescued him over and over and over. And despite the countless reasons David certainly had to lose hope, it was this ever present Hope pointing David’s heart back toward all the reasons he had to remain and rejoice rather than doubt and despair.

God was bigger than all the grief and David knew it. David’s heart found rest here.

At times along the journey, David may have known nothing else…but he did know this. 

And that was more than enough.

“Lord I find You in the seeking
Lord I find You in the doubt
And to know You is to love you
And to know so little else
I need You
Oh how I need You

Lord I find You in the morning
Lord I seek You everyday
Let my life be for Your glory
Woven in your threads of grace”
– All Sons and Daughters

The Wonder in the Wait

wait

“Waiting helps us see God’s hand in our lives.”

We are in the middle of a fruit of the Spirit series at church. Patience was the topic this past weekend and the statement above is one I’ve been pondering. Yesterday, I shared with some volunteers a time in my own life when a season of waiting opened my eyes to beauty that never would have come about had plans worked out the way I thought they should have worked out.

I’ve experienced two types of waiting in my life. The intentional/deliberate waiting is the kind of holding pattern where we are waiting for more direction and discernment from God before we move. You are waiting for the right door to open up…not just any door. You are waiting for the green light to move forward instead of running out ahead of God. You wait because you know (from experience) how messy life can become if you move first and then ask for God’s blessing on your decision.

The other type of waiting, and the type I’m thinking about today, is the forced waiting. This is when you have no other choice but to wait. The test results from your doctor or the phone call from a potential job are the two examples that come to mind.

Years ago, when my husband and I were trying to have our second child, I found myself in the middle of one of those forced waiting seasons. About a year after our son was born, I quickly conceived but then miscarried a couple of months into the pregnancy.  A short time later we started trying again. And then we waited and waited and waited. About a year later, we discovered from a fertility specialist that there was a valid reason as to why I was having trouble conceiving. Doctors did what they could to help our chances.

During this forced wait, my heart became convinced that one of the ministries the church I was plugged into needed was a Christian based recovery group. I had surrendered an addiction to alcohol a few year earlier and a local secular 12 step group played a significant role in my recovery. I had heard of a faith based 12 step group called Celebrate Recovery and felt strongly that a ministry like this would be beneficial for folks in our congregation who might be struggling with a hurt, habit or hang-up.

One Sunday morning, I approached an Elder friend at our church with this idea.  “Somebody needs to start this ministry.”  And like any good leader, my Elder friend’s response was: “that’s a fantastic idea!  Would you be willing to lead it?”

“Waiting helps us see God’s hand in our lives.”

I had never led a group in my life. I had never even considered it.  I was scared.  Could I possibly do this, Lord? 

Six months later I remember sitting in one of those meetings. It was one of those powerful small group sessions when the air filling the space around you is sweet and tender and perfect. It was as if Jesus had pulled up a chair and what sitting there with us. I remember feeling overwhelmed with gratitude. That night, I told the ladies in the group how we most likely wouldn’t have been sitting there together had life played out the way I would have chosen to write the story.

His hand was all over my waiting.  My plan hadn’t been birthed but His plan had...and that plan was beautiful.  Friendships were being created. Hearts were being healed. Life real life was being formed and reborn in each and every one of us.

What if?

imagine

“Imagination was a way to get inside the truth.”  Eugene Peterson

This was one of the great comments Eugene Peterson made about the Psalms in an interview I watched a couple of months ago when Peterson sat down with Bono. If you’ve never seen this interview, it’s definitely worth your time.

His comment reminded me of a G.K. Chesterton quote:

“…the function of imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange; not so much to make wonders facts as to make facts wonders.”

“The trumpet of imagination,” says Chesterton, “like the trumpet of the Resurrection, calls the dead out of their graves.”

 “Then He called a child to Him and had him stand among them.  “I assure you,”He said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-4

A few thoughts this morning as I thought more about these ideas of imagination and child-like faith.

Imagination points our hearts to hope, to possibilities, and to the beautiful what ifs.  It makes the ordinary…remarkable.  It makes the simple…profound.

“The function of imagination is to make settled things strange.”

What if truth is not conveniently found on the surface but under it, not in plain sight, but hidden?

What if Jesus is more than a compassionate and loving teacher?

What if He is the bread of life?

What if insignificant shepherd boys can slay giants and become king?

What if thieves nailed to crosses can find peace and redemption in paradise?

What if paralyzed hearts are worse than paralyzed legs?

What if they’re not feel good stories but life giving, God-breathed truth?

What if an unseen all powerful, all knowing, all sufficient Savior is as real and as near as the air filling up our lungs?

What if believing opens the floodgate to another world? What if believing takes our black and white thinking and opens our eyes to all the vibrant colors we had no idea were even there?

What if?  

Imagine the possibilities!

It’s reason to dance.
It’s reason to sing.
It’s a reason to proclaim this hope everywhere and anywhere…from the deepest valley, to the highest mountain.