This is it

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” —Semisonic

This is it.

I’ve been thinking about those three words lately and the seasons in my life when I have felt them hit my heart.

I find it interesting how differently those words resonate with us depending on a what season we might be going through. If you think about it, they can indicate either the exciting/nervous beginning of a new chapter or the bittersweet/solemn ending of another.

I think about Frodo and Sam in the Lord of the Rings as they leave the Shire for the first time.

Sam:
This is it.

Frodo:
What?

Sam:
If I take one more step, I’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.

Frodo:
Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

*********

This is it.

I felt the bittersweetness of these words when our time in North Carolina came to a close. Twelve beautiful years of seeing what the Lord can do with a life that finally becomes willing to give Him all the broken pieces. What an incredible season filled with surrender, freedom, growth, and second chances. God invited me to taste and see His goodness and it far exceeded anything I could have ever imagined.

This is it.

The weight of those words during “what next seasons” are especially strong.  I can remember, time after time, how the Lord has faithfully gone before me and prepared the way. He closes one chapter in order to turn the page to the next.  Yet, despite all the surprising twists and turns, His everything is going to be okay peace wraps itself around my heart.

You have nothing to fear, child, I am with you.

Sometimes, when I look back at pivotal this is it chapters in my life, it’s like I’m sitting on a park bench and the Lord nudges me. So, naturally I move over slightly.  He nudges again. So, I move again.  Eventually, it dawns on me that I’m teetering on the edge of the bench. Somewhat surprised and confused I say to the Lord: wait…you want me to get up and move?!?  But, why, Lord?  This is a nice spot. I like this spot.

I’ve learned from experience there is only so long you can ignore or deny or run from a this is it ending or beginning.

They’re inevitable.

“And on the road to beautiful
My seasons always change
But my life is spent on loving You
To know You in Your power and pain” —On the Road to Beautiful

“There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

“Sometimes the only way to return is to go
Where the winds will take you
And to let go of all you cannot hold onto
For the hope beyond the blue”— Josh Garrels, Beyond the Blue

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine believing so deeply in your convictions that all the logical and wise reasons that your mind can list for choosing exclusion are immediately tossed into the not an option pile because everyone should have access to the Savior’s love regardless of whether or not they are seen as worthy?  

Because the grace and love being extended is not fair and has nothing to do with worthiness. 

Can you imagine being willing to become so vulnerable and so inclusive that you are willing to let someone who you know will one day deeply hurt and betray you into your inner circle?

That was/is the reckless kind of love Jesus had/has for people.

While onlookers scoffed at his decisions to include outsiders, Jesus went right on doing what His Father sent Him to do.

Show them My love for them…whatever the cost, whatever the sacrifice.

He didn’t care about the crowd’s perceptions. He didn’t care if people saw him as a push over or a doormat.

He just kept on living with recklessly open arms.

A Wrinkled Journey

I guess because it was the 4th of July yesterday, but this week I’ve been thinking a lot about sweet freedom. Despite being born and raised in the “land of the free because of the brave,” there was a chapter where the life I was choosing to live was far from free. Most every move I made in that season of my life was prompted by fear.

This morning, I thought a little bit more about those years. Sometimes when I think about who I was back then, it’s almost like I’m looking at another person’s journey. I don’t recognize that person anymore.

Ironing

I don’t like to iron. I’m not sure I even own an ironing board anymore. If I do, I couldn’t tell you where it is in my house. I’ve probably ironed a total of five times in the last 19 years. I spent nearly a decade of my life with a narcissistic charming, manipulative bully. If he needed his dress pants and shirts ironed, it was my job to do it.

I remember the few times I’d try to stand up for myself: “I don’t want to iron your clothes today; you iron them.” But in classic passive aggressive narcissistic form, he always, ALWAYS, found a way to break me. It sounds so crazy to even write those words. I can’t imagine being bullied into ironing by someone today. I wouldn’t believe it even possible if I hadn’t experienced it firsthand.

Passive aggressive manipulation can be so subtle sometimes that it’s hard to spot and then, one day, it just becomes your normal way of life. It’s only after you (hopefully) break free that you realize how dysfunctional life had become. And how you never ever want to settle for that existence ever again. 

Ironing is just one of the many examples I could give you about doing life with a narcissist, but it’s the first one that came to mind this morning. There were countless times when I was somehow convinced into believing that the only choice I had was to do it his way.

Before eventually breaking free, I discovered the “beauty” of alcohol. I could temporarily leave prison and be “free” without stepping out the prison door.

I’m grateful for that day in my life when alcohol stopped working and the pain of staying became more terrifying to me than the pain of walking out my front door and into the unknown.

The unknown. What a beautiful, grace-filled, spacious place that turned out to be!

But me he caught—reached all the way
from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved—surprised to be loved! Psalm 18: 16-19

When overwhelming becomes an opportunity to love…

“As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

Matthew 14: 15-17

This well known account of Jesus’ exchange with his disciples came to mind this morning on my drive to work. While I won’t go into a ton of detail as to what prompted this thought, I will say it has much to do with trying to wrap my brain and heart around the current crisis on our southern borders. I understand it’s a complicated issue. I understand there is no easy solution.

I read an article last night that has been circulating on the internet the last couple of days. It’s a newsletter piece James Dobson shared with his audience after he visited the border.

“Doctors and medical staff are overwhelmed by their patient load. Remember that word, ‘overwhelmed.’ It describes every aspect of the effort to deal with the situation there.”

He also said this…”we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down if we don’t deal with it. And it won’t take long for the inevitable consequences to happen.”

As I thought more about all this, I remembered the Sunday message from church. When trying to determine next steps, no matter what hard situation we are trying to wrap our brains around, the first thing “we the people” need to do is “get Jesus’ vision”. Which is “a new kingdom filled with and run by new people who are becoming more Christ-like because they are deeply in love with their Savior King.”

Our pastor went on to list five mistakes the church is making.

It was the fifth one he shared with us that came to mind this morning:

“We have left the available power of the Holy Spirit untapped.”

The disciples’ knee jerk reaction as to how they could best help the 5000 people who had come to listen to Jesus share a message of hope and love was to send them away. And, their reasoning was perfectly logical.
1. We are in a remote place and we don’t have enough resources.
2. It’s too late to help them right now.

The disciples looked at the crowd in front of them and were completely overwhelmed. Sending them away to find their own food was the only option they could see.

But Jesus.

He invited his disciples to tap into a power that was far greater than their natural eyes could see. He invited his disciples to walk by faith and not fear. All they saw was the impossibility of the situation. But Jesus saw an opportunity to put His LOVE into action. Without Jesus’ help the situation would have been impossible.

But Jesus.

“When you speak, confusion fades
Just a word and suddenly I’m not afraid
Cause you speak and freedom reigns
There is hope in every single word You say

I don’t wanna miss one word You speak
Cause everything You say is life to me
I don’t wanna miss one word You speak
Quiet my heart, I’m listening

When sorrows roll and troubles rage
You whisper peace when I don’t have the words to say
I won’t lose hope when storms won’t break
You keep your word and your promises will keep me safe

Your ways are higher
You know just what I need
I trust you, Jesus
You see what I cannot see”

He is still the defender of the weak and the voiceless

Mark 3:1-6 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

John 8: 1-11 Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

*********

I drifted off to sleep last night thinking about these two significant accounts of Jesus choosing compassion and kindness in the face of adversity and accusations.

First, I thought about those times (7 times total) when Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath. In the account above, Jesus asks those accusing him of breaking the law a simple question:

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.”

Second, I thought about the lady caught in adultery. The law said that stoning her fit the crime but Jesus responded, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”

What prompted me to think about these moments in Scripture was the current topic of illegal immigration.
I read about the living conditions at some of the detainment camps.
I read about those who broke the law by entering the country illegally being rounded up and separated from their families (sometimes years and years after the offense took place).

I hear these stories and my heart breaks.

Yes, I get it. People have every right to shout…”but the law says…

But then I remember these moments in Scripture when Jesus demonstrates to us that life is precious and life matters regardless of what the law might say.

Life (all life) is worth caring for and protecting (regardless of citizenship).
Life (all life) is worth defending (regardless of citizenship).

“Which is lawful….to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

In Biblical days, Jesus was the defender of the weak and the voiceless.

He is still the defender of the weak and the voiceless.

Foot Washing Words

In the book I just finished reading there’s a chapter that talked about the night Jesus knelt down and washed His disciple’s feet. As I read about this account again, I started thinking about the different ways we as humans are wired and how differently each of us may be called to wash feet.

The reason I’m sharing this now is because the Lord seems to be teaching me lately more about what it means to wash feet. Just yesterday, I watched as one of my co-workers got up from the table we were sitting at and briefly leave the room. When he returned, he was carrying a bowl full of water and a towel. He proceeded to wash the feet of one of my co-workers as an expression of deep gratitude.

I think this was my first time ever seeing an actual foot washing. It touched my heart. To see one person freely give and another person freely receive in such unguarded ways. There really is nothing else like it.

Foot washing requires humility, vulnerability and sacrifice…not just from the giver but also from the receiver.
Foot washing requires that we stoop low in order to show honor and love to someone else.
Yes, there’s a risk that the task might get messy.
Yes, there’s a risk that we fumble around a bit or feel completely out of our comfort zones.
Loving others well will always include some level of risk or rejection.

Lord, is it possible to wash someone’s feet with words?

I asked this question a few weeks ago (and I asked it again this morning after thinking more about the foot washing scene I saw yesterday). The answer I keep hearing is…yes.

Our words can wash someone else’s feet.

Will the words we choose to speak (or write) to another person today contain humility, vulnerability, transparency, and self-sacrifice? (No matter how awkward or messy they may feel. No matter how far out of our comfort zones they may take us.)

Words like…

I’m sorry
please forgive me
you’re not alone
me too
you’re going to be ok
let me help you
I was wrong
I appreciate you

The towel you are called to pick up and use to honor another person today might be the words you speak.

Words that refresh and renew. Words that cleanse and restore. Words filled with hope, encouragement, and life.

Bend down, pick up your towel, and begin.

Dawn Dreaming

“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”― Rabindranath Tagore

Read that quote recently and I could actually picture a person walking over to a kitchen table and extinguishing a burning lantern. I could see the sun rising through the open shuttered windows and natural light beginning to creep into the room.

What a beautiful picture of death. The dawning of a new day.

Dawn is my favorite time of day. I love how in this quote, death is described as a never- ending break of day. The artificial or temporary is no longer necessary because something eternal has emerged onto the scene.

This quote actually made me think about the hours after my mom’s death. We had been at the hospital all day. My mom passed on a summer evening in July. As we left the hospital, the sun setting, my dad insisted we go and get something to eat. We hadn’t eaten all day. We ended up at Pizza Hut, not too far from the hospital.

As we waited for our pizza, I will never forget the thought that crossed my mind. In a strange way, I remember it filling me with a sense of peace.

“Dad, do you ever get this sense that when we die, that’s when we finally wake up? Like… this life here on earth is more like a dream and the moment we die, we are fully awake.”

I don’t recall my dad having an answer for me. I don’t think I was really expecting one.

The dawn is my favorite time of day because it symbolizes hope. The coming light is inevitable. Regardless of what darkness surrounds us…we have this deep assurance we can cling to and wait for.

“There’s a sun coming over the horizon. I want to know where it’s coming from, doesn’t everyone?”

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” 1 Corinthians 13:12 Message

I’m sorry for the things I’ve made it

I had a strange thought cross my mind earlier this week. “Lord, will I be able to drink and enjoy wine in heaven?” (For anyone who might not know, I’ve been sober since 2001.)

I know I’m trying to ponder what heaven will be like from merely my limited human understanding. I also know that there’s a high probability that, once my faith becomes complete sight, then I won’t even give a hoot about wine, but I wonder.

I wonder about all those things in life that were created to be good and to be beautiful but we’ve managed to abuse them. I wonder what it will be like to experience these things in their uncorrupted forms when our thinking is no longer warped, when our desires aren’t easily misplaced, when we aren’t always looking for temporary quick fixes to satisfy that part in us that only He can fully heal. I wonder what it will be like to simply enjoy that which our Creator… created. I can’t even comprehend this kind of untainted joy and freedom that we will be able to find and fully appreciate  in all that is good and beautiful!

I thought about the lyrics to the song Heart of Worship. “I’m coming back to the heart of worship…where it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry Lord for things I’ve made it…when it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus.” This is what I think drinking wine in heaven will be like. I will be able to drink it simply as an act of worship, with joy-filled praise and humble gratitude!

I thought about 1 Corinthians 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” In heaven, we will forever be experiencing all the beautiful things in life the way they were intended to be experienced.

Can you imagine?

Until then, Lord…I’m sorry for things I’ve made it…when it’s all about You…all about You.

This older song came to mind as I was writing this post

“Savior, please…keep saving me”

7:14

Take up your cross and follow Me.

I’ve been thinking about those words this week.

What is your cross?

The image of Jesus lugging the actual cross on His back, bent over in exhaustion, came to mind. Then the image of the cross being a source of excruciating pain, suffering, and rejection.

What is your cross?

Yet, when Jesus overcomes the cross we are able to see, with new eyes, a different side of the cross. It was the painful path filled with sacrifice and surrender that ultimately led to freedom and life.

What is your cross?

I think this came to mind for a few reasons.

I was thinking about testimonies shared at creek baptism over the weekend. This last sentence of one man’s journey with addiction resonated with me: “I am grateful for both my family and also my addiction because it helped me to discover life in Christ.”

This is the surprising and redeeming beauty we can discover from the crosses we carry.

Addiction brought pain and agony to this man’s life but it was also the road that led to sweet freedom and renewed hope. Oh, how I can relate to this!

The cross(es) we carry will be those things in life that threaten to crush or derail our lives and our own souls.

Yet, as we follow Jesus and surrender to His desires for our lives, these things become humble reminders that apart from HIM we can do nothing.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Matt 16:24-26

Yesterday was the anniversary of my dad’s life changing stroke back in 2012. A fiercely independent man was brought to a place of complete dependence. He was bedridden for over 4 years before passing away in 2016, his body and spirit, giving up.

A few times in the last week, I’ve happened to glance at the time on my cell phone at precisely 7:14. Those numbers are forever ingrained into my heart. It’s the date of my mom’s death and the first thought that comes to mind whenever I happen to see these numbers together. And, tomorrow was my mom’s birthday. Another date etched into my heart.

I share these things because, I think in many ways, the grief we experience in life can be a cross we must carry. Heartache will bring us to a crossroads with our Savior. Where do we place our “I don’t understand” questions, our anger, or our broken hearts?

Do the painful seasons in life pull us away or draw us closer?  Do we drop the cross and walk away or do we grip onto it even tighter and keep walking home?  

There are times in life I feel like Jesus asks me the same question He asked his disciples after sharing hard to swallow truth.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6: 68-69

Take up your cross and follow Me.

Jesus and His Mom

 

 

“What has this concern of yours to do with Me, woman” Jesus asked. “My hour has not yet come.”
“Do whatever He tells you,” His mother told the servants. John 2:4-5

Whenever I read this particular exchange between Jesus and his mom, I’m always struck by two things.

First, I’m amused by just how “human” it is. The son, even the Son of God, listens and takes direction from his mom. He essentially gives her the typical child “but, Mom, why?” response and she goes into complete “mom mode”, ignoring the “but why” in order to find a solution to the problem.

Second, I love how Jesus’ mom knows what the answer to their dilemma will be. She knows He holds the solution. She has no idea how he is going to fix the situation she just has complete trust in the fact that He can. “Do whatever He tells you.”

I think that needs to be our reaction more often.

Got a problem that needs solving? Do whatever He tells you.

Not sure if you should forgive or hold a grudge? Do whatever He tells you.

Not sure if that person should be included or excluded? Do whatever He tells you.

Following His lead will result in water to wine moments.

He can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. He can take what appears to be endings and turn them into new beginnings. And, sometimes, they’re even sweeter than you could possibly imagine.

Do whatever He tells you. That’s always a good starting point.