tomorrow is my birthday

Reflections 

Tomorrow is my birthday. 

4 years ago on my birthday I woke up to the news that my dad had passed away earlier that same morning. The night before, I asked his caretaker to put the phone up to his ear so I could tell him that I loved him. He was past the stage of alertness but my hope was that he could somehow still hear my words. I went to bed later that night with this strange mixture of emotions welling up inside me. My dad’s life would end…on my birthday. I somehow knew I would be hearing that news the next day.  I just knew.

I guess a normal belief would be to think that losing a loved one on your birthday would somehow taint the specialness of a joyful day….a day when you celebrate being born. But as I lay there in bed that night, tears in my eyes, I was slightly surprised that there was something else other than sadness bringing me to tears. 

It was, instead, a profound understanding that the God “who knit me together in my mother’s womb” knew me so well. He knew me. He knew just how much, over the years, I’ve treasured uncovering and discovering the redeemable beauty in sorrow. It was a treasure I started to uncover when I was a teenager…sitting by my mom’s side as her battle with cancer ended.

The God of the universe knew that I carried that precious moment with me like sustenance for a long journey.

He knew that I carried it with me like a precious gift, a family heirloom.

He knew that I carried that moment like a compass that I took out when I needed a reminder that this…this is not my home.
 
Losing my dad on the day of my birth is another one of those surprising gifts (a gift that is only a gift when peering through the spiritual eyes of hope) that I carry along with me on this beautiful, amazing journey called LIFE.

for such a time as this

For such a time as this.

Thought of these words this morning. They come from the story of Esther when Mordecai was trying to persuade Esther to speak to the King and convince him to stop the plan that was in place to destroy the Jews. 

This “for such a time as this” idea will often come to mind again in my own life during pivotal moments along the journey. I will think of this idea at the end of one chapter and the start of new ones. I will think of them during times of uncertainty. I will think of them during times of grief. To me, they are a reminder of how we will often find ourselves positioned or planted some place for a very particular reason. Maybe it’s to meet a certain person, maybe it’s to accomplish a certain goal… but in hindsight you can see how it was a crucial point along the journey. 

I’ve noticed throughout the years that the Lord even brings “for such a time as this” people into my life during certain seasons too. I had “for such a time as this” relationships in my life after my mom died. I met “for such a time as this” folks in my life when I moved 2000 miles away from home to a town in North Carolina where I knew no one. Experienced the same thing seven years ago as we picked up our life and moved to Georgia.

This seems to be shaping up to be another “for such a time as this” season for me. Not sure what it all means but I’m grateful for the encounters, experiences, and conversations that seem to have been positioned and placed for a particular “for such a time as this” reason.

Disturber of (false)Peace

“When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.  “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.” Matthew 8: 28- 34

I was reading in the book of Matthew this morning and this story of Jesus saving two-demon possessed men seems packed with so many great lessons for us today. We are often much like the town’s people who beg for Jesus to go away when He helps the “other” in society.  Jesus, just did something amazing. He restored the lives of two men who, I’m sure because of their demon possessed status, had been shunned, forgotten, ridiculed by the rest of the community. 

Yet, instead of celebrating that these two men had been healed and given a second chance at life, the town’s people were much more concerned about the fact that Jesus was disrupting their way of life. Jesus had just thrown someone’s livelihood over a cliff to perish. Jesus, by doing the “right” and “good” thing, obviously had negative economic consequences.

The town’s people wanted nothing to do with that kind of rightness and goodness.  It was too disruptive to their way of life. It rocked their “comfortable” boat. 

One takeaway: The right and good things that Jesus does will often challenge our perspectives and bring us to a crossroads. We can either join Him on this quest to radically love and care for the “other” (even if it puts our comfortable life in jeopardy) or we can beg Him to leave so we can continue living under the illusion of security and safety.

On Grief and Table Flipping

I woke up early this morning thinking about a number of things. First I thought about grief and how sometimes it doesn’t come out as tears but, instead, will display itself as anger and frustration.  

Over the last couple of years, I’ve encountered a lot of grieving Christians. I know because I’m grieving too. And, so often there are times, I want to shout instead of cry. I want to raise my hand and question the disconnect that’s led to this grief. But there’s a problem, speaking up or questioning is not safe, it’s risky. You risk being seen as divisive. You risk being misunderstood. You risk being given a label: a disturber of peace, a boat rocker.  

Yet, this morning, another word came to mind…the one Jesus was given: table flipper. Any time Jesus spoke truth to power, spoke up about greed/corruption, called leaders out when there was a disconnect between what they said they believed and how they were actually living or how they were actually treating other people, his own grief would often come out as anger.

His table flipping anger startled onlookers and made them uncomfortable.The Prince of Peace, the God of love and forgiveness, mercy and grace… flipped tables too. I don’t think we should forget this. I don’t want to forget this. 

From Jesus we can learn that table flipping is sometimes necessary. From Jesus we can learn that maybe acts that at first glance look divisive are, in reality, acts of love stemming from a place of deep grief for the way things are. 

I’ve had conversations with other people over these last few years also grieving over the lack of table flipping. It’s rattled their faith. I’ve seen seekers, quiet observers, watching…watching to see how the Church would respond, expecting that, surely, they will flip a table or two, surely, they will speak truth to power, surely they will call out the disconnect.  But, instead, more often than not, they’ve witnessed deafening silence or worse, they’ve watched in horror the Church climb in bed with power.

Sometimes I wonder if his Church (with a big C) will one day look back on this time period and wish they had taken more of a stand, wish they had risked looking divisive, and flipped a few more tables?

Never Forget- Going Back to Go Forward

I was reading in Luke 5 this morning, particularly the verse of Jesus meeting Peter, getting in his boat and asking him to let down his net again, despite not catching anything all night.

I thought about how Peter’s first encounter with Jesus mirrors his last encounter when he is reinstated in John 21. In both scenes, Peter is fishing on the Sea of Galilee. In both scenes he has had no luck catching any fish all night long. In both scenes, Peter obeys and in both scenes he catches a great number of fish.

However, in the first scene (Luke) there are so many fish that we are told that the “net begins to tear.” This is one of the differences between these two encounters. When Jesus reappears to Peter after his resurrection (John 21), he catches so many fish but this time we are told “so many fish yet the net doesn’t tear” I appreciate that small difference in detail.
One time the net tore a little and then another time it didn’t tear at all. The tear had no negative effect on the beautiful outcome- an abundance of fish.

I also thought about Peter’s choice to go fishing in John 21.

“I’m going fishing,” Simon Peter said to them. And the disciples he was with replied…”We’re coming with you.” (3a)

I wonder what was going through Peter’s mind when he was suddenly prompted to go fishing? This was certainly a time of confusion for all of them. They had seen the risen Lord but were still trying process the miracle, still trying to wrap their minds and hearts around witnessing the most unbelievable event they had ever been apart of. How many times did they have to pause over the last few days and to ask themselves. “Wait, is this real?” “Is this some sort of weird dream?” “Did these last few days really just happen?” It reminded me how that is some times true for many of us: Even though we might see something with our own eyes or personally experience a certain event…it often takes the heart some time to process and catch up.

I wonder if Peter’s desire to go fishing was to go back to a split moment in time when he was completely certain about something…to go back to a time in his life when he encountered Jesus for the very first time? And as the Book of Luke records…”Then they brought their boats to land, left everything, and followed Him.” (v11) That was a holy moment, a moment of complete clarity for Peter.

The choice to go fishing (during such a time of confusion after Jesus’ resurrection) was a trip his heart needed to take…to remember.

This…this it where it all began. This was real. Never forget. Let down your net again.

Some Thoughts on Isolation

Things have shifted in my heart over of the last few years. I’ve had to grieve the loss of some things that I can’t yet fully put into words. During the early part of this shift, I tried hard to resist it.

Just keep doing what you are doing. Just keep going through the motions until your heart catches up again, Eileen. It’s just a season, this too shall pass. Just keep your mouth shut, smile, and ride it out.

It dawned on me this morning that this season of physical distancing is just one more layer of isolation. Honestly, it really hasn’t been hard for me to adjust to this current season, I was already feeling isolated.  

Needless to say, this journey I find myself on has shaken my faith… yet through all the tremors, all the unsteady foundations coming to light, there’s one foundation that I know I can always trust, one that won’t collapse. This foundation can carry the weight of all my doubts and questions.

Jesus.

I still trust Him.

I still trust Him even through the grief of saying goodbye to faith as it used to be. I’m so thankful that when I really don’t seem to trust or understand much else nowadays, I can trust Jesus. Over the years and this painful shifting season, He’s been the one unwavering foundation my heart can choose to come home to over and over again.

I am reminded of Peter when he replied to Jesus “Lord, where else would I go, you have the words of eternal life.”

There’s an All Sons & Daughter song that came to mind again the other day. Still pretty much describes perfectly this faith journey and this long obedience in the same direction.

“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
Oh how I need You.”

Learning From the Blind

Was reading through Mark 10 this morning and was drawn especially to verses 32-52. Jesus begins those passages by telling the disciples what is about to happen to him and how he would be beaten, mocked, and killed and then “rise after three days”. It’s odd to me the immediate response James and John have to this news. “Hey, Jesus, once you enter glory…could you reserve the best seats for the two of us?” It’s as if neither of them had even heard a word Jesus had just said. The eyes and ears of their hearts don’t seem to be the least bit receptive to this heavy revelation and the seriousness of the moment.

Jesus goes on to rebuke them both, telling them they have no clue what they are asking. When the other 10 disciples catch wind of what James and John have just requested, we see that they become indignant with them. I love Jesus’ response to this moment: He calls them over and speaks more truth to them.

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (vs 42-44)

And, it’s striking to me again…you would think after this focused conversation and rebuke, his disciples would have had an “ah-ha moment”. But, once again, it seems to have gone in one ear and out the other. (How very human they are!) Jesus had just shared with them an entirely different concept of “greatness”.  He has just shared with them how greatness looks completely different than how the rulers of the world define importance, greatness and power. Greatness in Jesus’ world means becoming a slave to others, serving the least of these. It’s the sacrificial non-sensical love of the cross.

And what happens next? Jesus and his disciples encounter a blind beggar, the least of these crying out for help. To the disciples, all they can see is a disturbance in the journey, an inconvenience to the more important and grander agenda ahead.

But Jesus stops and says “call him over.” Just like he called the disciples over earlier, Jesus took the time to, once again, share the truth of what love really looks like. He calls this child of God over into the presence of greatness, not to rub his greatness into the man’s face…but to serve him, to have compassion on him and to meet a need. The beggar wasn’t an inconvenience along the journey, the beggar was the journey. Addressing and tending to this man was the most important and greatest tasks needing to be accomplished.

This is what struck me this morning:

In that moment, the blind beggar had more sight in his blindness on the side of that road than the disciples had walking up the road alongside the Giver of sight.

One Word 2020

A couple of weeks ago I began thinking about what my One Word would be for 2020. Some years, the word comes along and smacks me in the face. Other years, it shows up like a “winter snow…quiet and soft and slow” (to steal lyrics from Audrey Assad’s song). This year, it arrived more like the former. In fact, it showed up just two days after I began asking…”What’s my word this year, Lord.”

My father-in-law passed away at the end of August…he was the last of the parental units still living. What an adjustment that reality has been; I could write an entirely different post about that. It’s a strange season of life to be in.

Anyway, when Pop passed away, many folks came to his funeral and also sent flowers and plants. A few of those plants ended up coming home with us. The arrangements were so big that the only place I could put them was on our screened in back porch. So, for the next few months, that’s where they lived. Unfortunately, I don’t have much of a green thumb and, after a couple of weeks, I forgot they were out there and neglected to water them. As the season changed and the weather grew colder, I went out to the patio less and less frequently. You can probably imagine what those plants ended up looking like. Not pretty.

Now back to my One Word. A couple of days after I began asking, Lord, what’s my word this year?, I finally remembered that I needed to discard the pass the point of repair plants on my back porch. As I picked up one of the plants and began to dump the contents out of the planter and into the trash…there it was on the side of the planter…

My heart has been sitting on this word for the last couple of weeks now. Because, honestly, who wants this word?!? It’s like 2013 when my word was “Inconvenience”…what a wild year that was.

After giving the Lord a few weeks to maybe, possibly change His mind and give me an easier one, it’s become apparent to my heart, that this is indeed my One Word for 2020.

I’ll close with words I read from my Advent devotional this morning:

“It’s important to note that the Word talks about Jesus’ growth taking place as He and his family honored God. Certainly, there are steps we can take in our own strength to grow, but no amount of self-help could have prepared Jesus for the calling on His life. And no amount of self-help will take the place of God’s grace in our lives either. …

During this Christmas season, focus on what’s possible when you draw near to Jesus. You don’t have to struggle to measure up to some unattainable worldly standard. Rest in knowing that true wisdom and strength will come from your proximity to Him. When you pursue Him daily, you’re guaranteed to grow and be equipped for your purpose.

Prayer: Father, thank You for being my source of wisdom and strength. Your grace gives me hope for my future. I know You are so much greater than I could ever be and I’m so grateful for Your willingness to share Your strength with me. When I struggle, help me lean on You rather than myself.”

“He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” -Mark 4:26-29

the wonder of it all

the wonder of Christmas

a wonder for the world

it delights and surprises

it expands and includes

it wraps and comforts

it invites and pursues

it embraces and nurtures

hope is here

walls of division collapse

there is no one left out in the cold

oh come, o come Emmanuel

On Death and Politics

I experienced a Facebook first over the weekend. I made the decision to delete a post to end the heated comments. The comments had veered off topic and the thread disintegrated into back and forth political opinions. I realized that even though I left the discussion, folks were still going to continue to comment and it wasn’t going to be pretty or productive. In fact, there was a high probability that the words written were just going to cause pain and/or anger. So after I tapped out, I made the decision to tap everyone else out too! Sorry, not sorry!

In case you don’t know this about me, I tend to be a conflict avoider and more of a “can’t we all just drink coffee and get along” kind of person. 🙂 I have friends on both sides of the aisle and I love them all dearly, despite our political differences.

A couple hours later, I decided to share about a dream I had the night before. I had been thinking about it off and on all day. In my dream I was trying to remember my mom’s phone number in order to call her and being so confused as to why I couldn’t remember her number. Then, it suddenly dawned on me that I couldn’t remember her number because she hadn’t been alive for years and years. The grief I felt when the dream me finally “woke up” again to this reality felt so real and raw. And then…I woke up.

This morning, as I thought more about these two contrasting Facebook posts, I realized that I find more “enjoyment” talking about death than debating politics! I would much rather share and discuss the pain of love and loss than engage in (or provide a platform for) back and forth unproductive political posts. I would much rather my Facebook wall be filled with discussions about missing and grieving our loved ones than filled with political viewpoints. The former I find a strange kind of profound and productive beauty in, the latter, not so much.