From Suffering to Something Else

Heard this song for the first time last week and went back to listen to it again this morning. What a beautiful song. Think these are my favorite verses:

“O it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine.”
“When I was your foe, still your love fought for me.”

Love the reminder that His love pursues.

I saved the above words in a draft post yesterday morning after listening to this song again.

And then, yesterday afternoon, I hear the news of another senseless massacre at a high school in Florida. It’s atrocities such as this that prompt us to question and doubt the goodness of God. And yet, His goodness, in the midst of tragedies like this is the only thing my heart is certain of, the only pillow on which I can rest my head.

When evil abounds, it’s the hope of redemption and the promise He will redeem all things and make all things right that seems to hold the pieces of my heart together. And the only way I’ve been able to trust that this promise is true is by seeing how God has taken the grief and pain in my own story and has somehow someway transformed it into something…else. This something else takes all that is in vain and reveals to our souls something more. He is capable of taking the pain and the suffering, the rubble and the wreckage and restoring it into something. He takes dead souls and broken hearts and breathes life back into them.

In times like this, this knowledge is the only certainty and the only hope that makes sense to me and brings peace to my spirit.

Lord, comfort these families in Florida. Pursue them with Your reckless love. Overwhelm them with Your unexplainable peace. Help them to make sense of the senseless in a way that only YOU are capable of doing. Take the pain and the grief and make something more. Do it again, Lord.  Redeem this…redeem even this. 

Lyrics That Lead Us Home

I’m not sure how many other people do this but a couple of years ago I started writing down songs in the front of my Bible that I wouldn’t mind being played at my memorial service.  Now, obviously, I won’t actually be at the event to listen to them in person but, still, I’ve felt compelled to jot a few down over the years. This morning as I wrote down another potential song, a thought crossed my mind and it made me chuckle.  One day, a few years ago, a coworker of mine asked me if I was “micro-managing” him when I came along to check to make sure a task had gotten done. He said it in a humorous way but there was definitely a thread of truth woven through his comment. I tend to be a “all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed” kind of person. Maybe.. this song suggestion list is my last effort to micro-mangage. 😉

However, it’s much more likely this urge comes from finding a goodbye note and list of songs tucked away in my mom’s Bible the morning after she died. Discovering that note and that list of songs was such a gift in the midst of grief. I guess I just want to make sure I leave behind gifts for my family to unwrap too.  In fact, I want to leave behind lots of “gifts” for them.  And, it is my hope, that each gift will point them back to the Giver of life Himself.

I want them to remember Who to run to when life gets hard.  I want them to remember to cling unswervingly to the hope we’ve been given.  And if they ever find themselves misplacing the  lyrics that will lead them home, I want them to remember the amazing grace that eagerly waits to serenade a forgetful heart over and over again.

A Decisive Mission and Some Whoa, Dude Moments

I was reading through the familiar account in Matthew 14 of Jesus walking on the water and Peter getting out of the boat to walk on the water too.

What stood out to me this morning was how the word “immediately” was mentioned three times in just ten verses.

Immediately was the description of how quickly Jesus instructed his disciples to leave after the feeding of the 5000. They had just witnessed Jesus take five loaves and two fish, look up at the heavens, bless the food, and then break the bread for the hungry crowd. The disciples had been charged with the task of being the servers, distributing the meal and then collecting all the leftovers so that nothing was wasted.

Scripture says that immediately Jesus made them get into the boat, without him, and move on.  For some reason, this abrupt transition from being witnesses to such an amazing scene one moment to being instructed to leave the next moment captured my attention. Personally,  I think I would have wanted to recline in the grass for a bit and reflect on the glory of it all.  Whoa, Dude!   But just as Jesus didn’t waste any of the leftovers, Jesus didn’t waste any time moving on to the next faith building lesson that was waiting out on the sea for his disciples.

Here’s my thoughts.  Jesus didn’t see the need to dwell on one moment of glory because wherever He was, His glory would be too. Life with Him would be one glory filled moment after another…not because His disciples’ circumstances would be perfect or without struggle, but because holy moments are possible whenever Jesus is present. And Jesus knew that another one of those beautiful and unforgettable moments would be waiting for his disciples out in the middle of a dark sea. His disciples left one whoa, Dude moment in order to be positioned smack dab in the middle of another whoa, Dude moment.

And, as we can tell from how quickly fear wrapped around their hearts again while they were all alone on that boat and suddenly placed in a position of uncertainty, they needed yet another lesson reviewing the fundamentals of their faith again:

Who should you depend on for all your needs?  Jesus
Who can calm your fears in times of uncertainty?  Jesus
Who does the rescuing? Jesus

Immediately was the description of how quickly Jesus spoke to his disciples when they became filled with fear at the figure walking towards them on the water. I love the urgency Jesus used to reassure them with His voice. Peter’s response makes me smile too. It’s so human. He essentially challenges Jesus.  If you are who are say you are…then prove it. And so Jesus does!  And then what happens? Even after Jesus “proves it”, Peter takes His eyes off the “proof” and looks at his circumstances again.  Can anyone else relate?  

Immediately was the description of how quickly Jesus reacted when Peter began to sink and then cried out for Jesus to save him. I love the knee jerk reaction of Jesus. He instinctively does the one thing He was sent to earth to do…rescue.  

This moment wouldn’t be the last time Peter would need rescuing from his fears and his failures. Jesus knew Peter. Even as He stretched out His hand that night to save him, Jesus had full knowledge that this same man would one day deny Him, run away in fear, and need rescuing again.

But thankfully…

Jesus’ mission is to rescue. Despite our indecisiveness, our apprehensions, our fears, our doubts, and our failures, Jesus’ mission never changes.

It’s His character and nature to rescue us, redeem us, and restore us. 

Every decision He makes, every direction He sends us, is perfectly timed and strategically planned to teach us, yet again, Who we must depend on.  

I take comfort in this Truth.

” Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After dismissing the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. Well into the night, he was there alone. Meanwhile, the boat was already some distance from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. Jesus came toward them walking on the sea very early in the morning.  When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and they cried out in fear.

Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.”

 He said, “Come.”

And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the strength of the wind,he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped him and said, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14: 22-33

Simple Leadership?

“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” – Seth Godin

I read this quote last night.  I have to say, I never thought of putting the words leadership and simple in the same sentence.  🙂  And yet, the steps that follow have a way of striking that “could it really be that easy” match down in my soul.

“Do what you believe in.
Paint a picture of the future.
Go there.
People will follow.”

Do what you believe in   A few weeks ago, I heard a message at church that has been on my heart ever since.  It even triggered this blog post about pursuing strangers.  One of the reminders from the message is that if we desire to achieve lasting change then belief and good intentions are not enough.  The most important ingredient is the actions that stem from our beliefDO what you believe, live the conviction out, model the behavior. As I thought more about this, I realized how much this one step of putting actions behind convictions was really the catalyst to transformation in my own story, a journey that led from bondage to freedom.  Many years ago I got to a point in my own story when I began doing what I said I believed (not just lip service) in hopes that it would lead to healing. I began to live as if God truly was bigger than my addiction.  I began to trust that He could, indeed, free me. The choices I started making and the actions I started taking positioned me right where I needed to be for a BIG God to blow me away with His goodness, His love and His healing!

Paint a picture of the future:  The best leader we can model when it comes to getting to where we desire to be is Jesus, he’s the Artist of all Artists!  In my own story, Jesus, through Scripture, painted a picture for me of what freedom and peace in Him would look like.  He painted a picture of wide-open spaces where I had plenty of room to live and move and breathe. He planted the hope of what could be in my heart; He invited me to taste and see. His brush painted a picture of unending love, never-ending grace and forever acceptance and accessibility.

I’ve had a burden on my heart lately about the true meaning of hospitality. As I shared in the post I noted above the biblical meaning of hospitality is “the love of strangers and immigrants.”  It’s not just a friendly handshake or a warm smile. Biblical hospitality exceeds our expectations and surprises and, sometimes, even shocks us.  It’s the Samaritan who tended to the wounds of a total stranger. It’s Jesus engaging a lady at the well or having dinner with tax collectors and sinners.  It’s all the times in scripture we see Jesus going above and beyond the call of duty.  He takes our nice idea of hospitality and blows it out of the water every single time.  Water isn’t simply turned into wine…it’s the finest wine that’s ever passed through your lips.  Hungry crowds not only have their fill and our satisfied but there are leftovers too!

Go there:  Jesus went there. He showed us how. He modeled the way for us.

“Jesus’ hospitality was more about the opening of one’s heart than the opening of one’s home. He had no home of his own, but many found their home in him….And this welcoming of the stranger begins by recognizing that God in Christ welcomes us (total strangers) into the life and home of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Rich Villodas

People will follow:   It was Jesus’ radical hospitality that made him so inviting to the outsider.  It was his heart for others that constantly communicated this to the stranger…

  • No matter what you’ve done.. you are welcome here and I will personally seek you out in order to be with you.
  • You belong here and, not only that, I’ve saved a seat for you!
  • I do not condemn you for your past or the rumors of your reputation.  I love you and want to walk alongside you.
  • I will go (and already have gone) to whatever lengths necessary to show you how much I love you and want to be with you.


I Just Felt Another One

A Facebook friend of mine shared this beautiful picture a few weeks back.  It’s a shot down Main Street of the little down I called home in northeastern North Carolina for the 12 years before moving down to Georgia.  Significant snow fall is just as uncommon there as it is here in North Georgia.  When snow is mentioned in the forecast people run to the store and buy up all the bread and milk just like they do here….us southerners like to be prepared for snowpocalypse.

Anyways, I love this picture, not only because of the quaintness and the old time feel but because of the memories this particular shot prompts. As soon as I saw this picture, I noticed two things: the snow covered ground and the church.  As I did, words from Isaiah swept over me.

“Come, let us discuss this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be as white as snow;
though they are as red as crimson,
they will be like wool.”  Isaiah 1:18

I’ve never attended services at that church but I have been to several 12-step meetings there. For months and months, I would spend my lunch hour in the basement of that church in a small narrow room. I’ve shared about this room before in another post. “I think the room must have been, at one time, a storage closet converted into a meeting room. As I think back on this now, it was kind of appropriate to be having recovery meetings in a storage closet. You come across and uncover a lot of junk in storage closets.” Advice in a Storage Closet

I had forgotten about this picture and this memory until this morning when I read the following verse in my quiet time:

“Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
Psalm 51:7

And, then, the snow covered scene, back where it all started, filled my thoughts again.

I remembered the journey, the tug of war matches with the God of the universe, the letting go, and the sweet sweet graceflakes that followed.  They’re still falling today.  I just felt another one hit my cheek.

Tears That Lead to Truth

“I will love you for you
not for what you have done
or what you’ll become.
I will give you the love
the love that you never knew.”

Listened to this JJ Heller song again this morning. I was pretty confident as I pushed the play button the lyrics would bring me to tears just like they have on every other listening occasion. Ever know this about a song you choose to listen to again? You know it’s going to bring you to tears but you listen again because you know the beauty and truth that is going to wrap itself around your heart again will make every single tear worth it.

As I thought more about this willingness to experience the tears to get to the beauty, I thought about how that’s a pretty accurate description of every journey worth taking in life. We must step into the uncomfortable and the pain and the tough to discover the beauty and the life changing lessons. These lessons have a way of teaching our heart the true meaning of love and showing us what’s important in life and what’s not.

I will often experience this when I think about my parents again. There are times when I know that allowing my mind to go there…down that path of grief… will most certainly bring tears and, yet, when I choose to step into the uncomfortable the Lord tends to have gifts there waiting for me too.

Gifts like:
don’t take this precious life I’ve given you for granted
be present
shine the light
love where you are
extend grace
cling to the hope as if your life truly depends on it
keep finding the redeeming beauty hidden away in the hard and in the pain… keep looking for it and don’t give up until you find it.

His beauty and truth wrap itself around my heart again and make every single tear worth it.

I don’t know who might need this reminder today, but hear this:  The same God who walked the road to Calvary wants to walk this hard road with you too.

“I will love you for you
not for what you have done
or what you’ll become.
I will give you the love
the love that you never knew.”


Essential or Accessory

“Here is the truth: If you cannot see yourself, you will never see your need for me. You will only treat me like some nice and extra thing, like some tepid relative who sends fruit at Christmas…” The Listening Day, Volume 2

I love the analogy Paul Pastor uses in the devotional I read this morning. It’s perfect. When we fail to see our need then the gift and the giver become more like non-essential accessories in our lives. It’s nice and we even think briefly….”how thoughtful”…and then we move on.  The fruit gets consumed (or it gets placed out of the way on the kitchen counter, gets forgotten about and eventually goes bad) We toss out the rotten uneaten pieces and then life goes back to the way it was.

Yet, when we see Him as essential, not some nice and extra thing but the present of all presents...then His presence becomes the very air we breathe.  And there’s no living without it. We inhale and exhale the grace and the mercy and the second chances and the gratitude at every moment and every turn. We can’t shut up about it… because the oxygen is everywhere, over all, through all, and in all.  (Ephesians 4:6) .  We tell others about the day this breath showed up in our life, how it changed everything, how it continues to change everything.

This gift is the very foundation for our life and without it we know there is no hope for survival.

We breathe Him in; we breathe Him out.  We pour out our tears of praise at His feet.

It’s a strength…

“Your right hand upholds me and Your humility exalts me.” Psalm 18:35b HCSB

I find myself going back to particular verses in Psalm 18 quite a bit. It’s one of my favorites mainly because the words in it sustained me at one of the darkest, most confusing, most faith building chapters of my life.

I read the above verse again the other morning and the part which always amazes me is how His “humility exalts us.” Back when I was first drawn to the words in this Psalm, the translation I had was slightly different and read “You have stooped to make me great.”  I was instantly drawn to the image of someone stooping. It reminded me of a parent stooping to help a small child with a task they were still learning to master. It’s a gentle, patient, compassionate posture. It seems natural to use this type of approach on children who are still in learning mode… but for some reason we seem to use this posture less and less as we grow up.  This idea is completely at odds to what the world shouts at us on a daily basis in regards to strength.

Yet Christ doesn’t lift us, hold us, carry us with the kind of strength we are accustomed to. Instead, we are raised high because He stoops low.

It’s a strength clothed in weakness.

It’s a strength that doesn’t look only at its own interests but takes intentional interest in others.

It’s a strength that “makes itself nothing”, that gives up divine and royal privilege/position to be a slave and sacrifice for all. (Philippians 2)

It’s a strength that goes as low as it can possibly go in order to assure that nothing and no one could snatch us from His hand (John 10:28) or separate us from His love. (Romans 8:31-39)

It’s a strength where an innocent man is willing to step in between a firing squad and  a guilty man and insist… punish Me instead.

It’s a strength that cries out in its final hour “Forgive them!”…not words of condemnation or finger pointing but words full of love, reconciliation and healing.

Strength that stoops for you and me…it’s a strength humbling to think about.

“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” Ephesians 3:14-21 Message

The Spark

“When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

Sometimes surprise is the spark that opens our eyes to recognition.

And, it’s at that pivotal moment in time when we must make a choice.  What is our response when Truth sweeps into our circumstances, cups our face, and locks eyes with us?

Do we run? Do we reject? Do we deny? Do we make excuses and justifications? Do we go about our days unchanged… hell bent on keeping our feet planted on the path that we already had planned out in our minds?


Do we look into the eyes of Truth, “give glory to God over what has been done”, (Acts 4:21) and allow our lives to be swept up into an adventure that takes us down a path we could never have planned out for ourselves?

Light upon light.

Wind upon wind.

Surprise upon surprise.

“All humanity finds shelter
    in the shadow of your wings.
 You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
    letting them drink from your river of delights.
 For you are the fountain of life,
    the light by which we see. “Psalm 36:7-9

“Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying.”  Act 2:2

One Scary God Idea!

“I’d rather have one God idea than a thousand good ideas. Good ideas are good but God ideas change the course of history.” Mark Batterson

I read these words the other day from Mark Batterson’s latest book “Whisper”. It made me think back on the season in my life when I was finally willing to leave life navigation up to the Lord. I was done attempting to “plan my own course.” (Proverbs 16:19) I had come to this conclusion in my heart: If God is who He says He is then why not give Him the benefit of the doubt? Why not choose to trust Him wholeheartedly? After all, the alternative hadn’t really been working out all too well for me. I had lost everything.  I had failed miserably at creating the safe, predictable little world I had desired to live in. My “plan” not only backfired…it basically blew up in my face and I was left with pieces of a life that needed to somehow be put back together.

And, it was one God idea, one scary God idea, that changed the course of my life in the most beautiful way.

It showed up as a whisper. “This drinking problem, Eileen…you need to give this to ME…completely.”  

And then my baffled response.   You’ve got to be kidding, Lord?  How?  If You truly know all my thoughts and all my desires… then You must know that I have NO desire to stop drinking. At this season in my life, You know that I want to drink more than I want You.

And the whisper responded:  then how do we change your desire? 

And my heart knew the answer: You pray for it, Lord.  I ask You for it, Lord.

And so, a God idea planted its tiny seed in my heart and this prayer became my battle cry for the next several months.  “Lord, make my desire for You stronger than my desire to drink.”  I prayed it through failure. I prayed it through hangovers…I prayed it instead of running away or hiding or justifying.  I prayed it through tears. I prayed it through anger. I prayed it through tantrums. I prayed  it on my knees in humble desperation. “LORD, make my desire for You stronger than my desire to drink!”  

And then one morning, my tired heart had nothing left.  “I give up, Lord.”

And that’s when it happened.  The God idea taking root in my heart, broke through out into the daylight. His vines grabbed my weary soul and wrapped me up in an unexplainable peace…and, at that very moment, the course of history was changed forever!