More Here and Now…More Yet to Come

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“Dad, do you ever get the feeling that this life we are living is kind of like a dream and when we die that’s when we finally wake up?”

I asked my dad that question when I was eighteen years old.  We were sitting in a Pizza Hut around 10:00pm waiting for our pizza. We’d been at the hospital all day by my mom’s side watching her life here on earth slowly come to an end. We hadn’t eaten all day and my dad said we needed to eat something.

Over the past 24 years, that scene will come to mind every so often. I still get that feeling sometimes, that feeling our life, here and now, is like a dream. But, today, it’s more like what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:12:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

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Today, I also think of the reason Jesus gave us for coming to earth and entering our situations. He came to give us real and abundant life now. So even in the midst of our puzzling reflections and partial, incomplete knowledge, we can experience life to the fullest, today, through Him. Even on the days when I feel as if I’m only partially “awake” (and no, this is not from lack of coffee) and am highly aware that I lack complete understanding, I still have full access to this abundant life and to a Perfect Love that drives out fear. 

“I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture.  A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” John 10:9-10

He will come in and go out and find pasture.

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Psalm 23

I think about how my mom recited these words as she faded in and out of consciousness…hovering between the life here and the more yet to come.

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
 He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths
for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell int he house of the Lord
as long as I live.

He lets me lie down in green pastures

I love the image of green pastures. They make me think of Scripture verses that refer to “spacious places.”

“He brought me out to a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” (2 Samuel 22:20)

“You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.”(Psalm 31:8)

“..but you have set my feet in a spacious place.”  You might recognize that.  It’s been the tagline for this blog from the very beginning. It’s one of my favorite verses. It sums up my journey from dark to light. 

The words, spacious place, make me think of a wide-open-I-have-room-to-breathe pasture filled with lush green vibrant life. In other words…abundant and full…just like Jesus promised!

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I had the opportunity to spend some time sitting still in a green pasture earlier this week. I sat, read, and listened to the “quiet” creek water flowing nearby. It was peaceful. I can understand why both Jesus and David were inclined to use this image to try to describe the connection we can have with our Savior and our Creator this side of heaven.

Today, I am thankful for the green pastures where we are invited to come and find rest no matter what challenges we are currently walking through or uncertainties waiting just over the horizon.


“My Beloved, bring me awake
Take me up to Your resurrection place
My Beloved, bring me awake
‘Cause I wanna feel Your light on my face”

All Our Moments

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“I am intimately involved in all your moments, and I’m training you to be aware of me at all times.  Your assignment (should you choose to accept it) is to collaborate with Me in this training process. ” -Jesus Calling

Okay, so I added the portion in parentheses because when I read these few sentences this morning, the Mission Impossible theme song popped into my brain. I then pictured Ethan Hunt sitting on an airplane, opening his laptop, and receiving his next challenging mission.

” I am intimately involved in all your moments,and I’m training you to be aware of me at all times.”

I have to say, I think this is the most exciting part I have learned and am continuing to learn about this Christ following adventure.  He is always walking next to me. He is always teaching me lessons. There are no coincidences. Every moment (should we choose to accept it) is an opportunity to grow closer to the God who created us.  Sometimes it’s as recognizable as a stunning sunrise where we pause long enough to marvel in the truth that, through this scene, we can catch a glimpse of God’s glory.  Sometimes, it a little less obvious and harder to see, such as the next words that come out of our mouth. When we have a choice between mean and hurtful words or kind and loving words in a difficult conversation, what will they be?  If Christ has the power to be intimately involved in all our moments then what does that make possible?  How should this impact our lives today?

I don’t know about you, but this fires me up.  I know God can take our mustard seed of faith and grow an entire garden. I know God can take broken beyond repair and make masterpieces.

My challenge to you and to me today:

Willingly give Him access to and reign over all your moments today.
Keep your eyes open for glimpses of His glory.
Expect Him to show up and do His thing!

Footloose and Fancy-Free(dom)!

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Ever been so happy for the spacious place God has chosen to place your feet that you had a hard time expressing and articulating your enthusiasm and your gratitude?

That’s the place I find myself lately.

Whenever I have moments/seasons like this I think of this scene with Red from Shawshank Redemption.  (Yes, I am mentioning that movieagain.)  Red is full of hope, anticipation, and joy for the next chapter in his life. He experienced a long season of captivity and now he’s free…and this freedom is even sweeter because he knows what life looks like without it.

“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my
head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man
at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I
can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his
hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I
hope.” ~Red

Decades later and that scene still fills me with emotion. I’ve never spent time in a physical prison but I have lived my life in a prison before. And, I can still remember the beginning of my journey out, that moment when the chains fell and the cell door flew open. I still remember like it was yesterday. Everything around me looked and felt different. There was a hope inside me that hadn’t existed before and that hope brought with it a joy that made me want to shout His name from the rooftops. You did it, Lord! You did what you promised you would do!

I don’t know what battle you might be facing today. I don’t know what prison you might be living in. But I do know this. He is the answer. He is our freedom. He is our joy and he is, most definitely, our everlasting hope!

The Beauty of Coming Home

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Yesterday, as I drove to work, I thought about a first time guest I met at church on Sunday. At one point, he thanked all of us for making him feel so at home.

First time guests always take me back to the time when I was searching for a church in North Carolina many years ago.  I was recently divorced and had just relocated 2400 miles away from my family and friends to start a new job. Besides the realtor who helped me find a house that would rent to a single lady with two big dogs, I knew no one in my new hometown…no one.

My first attempt at finding a church didn’t go so well.  Other than a “hello” from the man who handed me a bulletin at the door, no one else acknowledged me, introduced themselves or shook my hand. On top of that, a Bible seemed to be completely unnecessary. Never once did the pastor read any verses of scripture during his message.  I walked out of the building and knew I would never return.

My second attempt at finding a church almost didn’t happen the next Sunday. As I sat on my back porch that morning sipping my coffee and having my quiet time, I shared with God that I knew I needed to find a church to get plugged into but I thought I would just skip this week. I was tired from the move and from all the transitions with my divorce and my new job. I also did not want a repeat of what had happened the past Sunday. Emotionally, I just wasn’t up for it.  I didn’t want to feel invisible again.

Yet, even though I didn’t want to try again…something inside me told me that I needed to get out the phone book. Remember those books?   😉

As I flipped to the “Church” section, I told myself I would just look to see if any ads had church service times listed.  There was one in the Non-Denominational section that caught my eye but the church time was not listed.  I’ll just call them, I thought.  It’s only 7:00am…but maybe their answering machine will list the service schedule. I picked up my phone and dialed. To my surprise, a lady answered.

Her voice was pleasant. I told her I was wondering what time the service started because I was thinking of coming. I then asked her a kind of  weird question…”Do you all use your Bibles?  I mean, does the pastor refer to verses of Scripture?”  Yes, she assured me.  Great, I told her. She then went on to say something that convinced me that I would be walking through the doors of this particular church later that same morning.  “My name is Mary-Lynn and I play keyboards on the stage…come say “hi” when you get here!”

When I stepped through the front door a couple of hours later, I didn’t have one person shake my hand. No, I had five or six hand shakes and countless cheerful hellos. When I took my seat and the service began, I held back tears.  I’m home, Lord. I’m home. 

And even as I wrote that last sentence, tears were in my eyes again.

“I feel so accepted and so at home here.”  That’s the feeling I pray everyone will feel when they walk through the door of a church.  I have tasted the beauty of coming home and I want others to taste it too!

Can I share a crazy secret I have?  I envision churches that don’t need “organized” greeter teams because everyone just naturally feels a strong desire to reach out and say hi to the folks that walk through the front door and the stranger sitting in the chair next to them. You don’t need an official greeter badge to do that. All you really need is a willingness to spread and share the beauty of home.

You’re home here. You matter here. You can be yourself here.

A Job Well Done

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What we do is not nearly as important as how we do it.

This is the reminder I’ve been hearing over and over during the past several days. I heard it at church on Thursday night. I heard it echoed again in the following exchange I had with my son, Sean, after we interacted with a man who was just “doing his job” selling concessions at the movie theater on Saturday afternoon.

Sean: He was really nice.
Me: Yes he was.
Sean: I like that.
Me: What do you like?
Sean: I like when people don’t just treat a job like a job…even when it may not be considered the best job in the world.

This exchange made me smile. Not just because of the truth he expressed, but also because it was confirmation to my mom heart that he had indeed listened to the message at church earlier that week…he had listened and was now taking into consideration how people can choose to do their jobs.

And, last night, the same message was reaffirmed while attending a memorial service for a gentleman I didn’t know very well. I heard story after story after story of how this man touched the lives of everyone who crossed his path. “Mark never met a stranger” his family and friends repeated over and over. He invested in all the lives around him. He seized opportunities to engage with people. And for that, he will be remembered as someone who loved well.

He loved well.

It’s interesting to me how it’s so easy for us to get off track and make the point of our lives about something else entirely. We strive for a better or more prestigious job, for more money, a nicer car, and a bigger house. And yet, that’s not what the people we leave behind talk about when we’re gone.

Instead, they remember and cherish all those moments when you made time for them, how you looked into their eyes and genuinely listened to them or how significant you made them feel. They remember all those times that your actions and your presence shouted again and again, you matter to me!

What we do is not nearly as important as how we do it.

As this new work/school week gets underway, I want to remember that doing my job well, first and foremost, means loving others well.

Same Power

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“The same power that rose Jesus from the grave lives in us.”

Yep, it was the midnight melody on repeat last night. I laid in bed and let the words play over and over.

Remember this in the morning, I thought to myself…remember.

I awoke the next morning and thought about the mental post it note I had “jotted” down.

What was the message I was supposed to remember?

I brewed my coffee and sat down on the couch. It took a few minutes for the words to awake again and percolate up to the surface of my heart.

“The same power that rose Jesus from the grave lives in us.”

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It’s easy to forget this, isn’t it?  Even in my waking hours, I tend to forget (all the time) and even doubt this incredible deposit Christ left with us. But the Apostle Paul assures us that this power is accessible to all Christ followers:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength  he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians 1: 18-23

“But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” Romans 8: 10-11

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 I keep going back to a quote I read the other day from Scott Sauls.  I really like it.

“The wise heart prays not only to be blessed, but to be mastered. Because in the being mastered we find the true blessing.”

Could this also be the key to tapping into this resurrection power that seems so hard to claim and wrap our brains around?  If Christ rules our heart, then and only then do we give Him free reign to unleash this incredible power living inside us.

Oh, that I would remember this!  Not just at midnight. Not just when I’m sipping my morning coffee in the comfort and safety of my own house…but everywhere and always!

But in order for that to happen…there can only be One Master.

When Crazy Leads to Beautiful

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This morning I thought about how some things in life that might appear crazy the first time we see or hear it, end up being something that leads our hearts to a place we needed to arrive at all along.  The memory that triggered this thought was the one I’ve shared with you all many times. It’s the story of how I learned (and then never again forgot) how to spell the word beautiful.

I was around eight years old at the time. For several agonizing minutes (which for a child feels like eternity) the word, beautiful, was a painful thorn in my side. I excelled at spelling. I learned to spell new words on my weekly spelling list quickly, but not this particular word. This word was a challenge for me. Beautiful was the only word on my weekly list that I can remember ever bringing me to tears. It was at that tearful (the world is coming to an end) moment, when my mom said three words that forever changed my negative perception of beautiful.

“Eat an umbrella,” she said.

“What?” I asked.

And she repeated her off the wall statement, “Eat an umbrella. Just remember that the first letter of each of those words is the order they are in the word beautiful.”

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35 years later and I have never misspelled this word again.  And, it all started when I embraced a three word statement that sounded crazy.

Let me go back to my original thought:

There are some things in life that might appear crazy the first time we see or hear it, but it’s those things that end up being instrumental in leading our hearts to a place where they needed to arrive at all along…to a place of peace and understanding.

This morning I read, again, about Jesus referring to himself as the Bread of Life (John 6).  It sounded absolutely crazy to the crowd of people listening to him. How is that possible? they grumbled. And then Jesus went on to explain his off the wall statement.  The result?  Some chose to stick around and others walked away.

Today, we are faced with the same choice when (insane sounding) solutions come our way. Do we stick around or do we walk away?  If you’ve spent any time at all in the Gospels then I’m sure you’ve come across a number of crazy on the surface statements Jesus was famous for saying.

John 6: 35, 48 I am the bread of life
John 8: 12, 9:5 I am the light of the world
John 8: 58 Before Abraham was, I am
John 10:9 I am the door
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd
John 11:25 I am the resurrection and the life
John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life
John 15:1 I am the true vine

Is our knee jerk reaction to grumble and walk away when “crazy” hits our ears or is our heart receptive and willing enough to stick around and dig deeper?

Because maybe, just maybe, crazy will lead you some place beautiful.

More Treasures For The Journey

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Prompted by the message at church last night, I spent some time in Colossians 2 this morning. One of the verses our pastor pointed us to can be found in Colossians 2:3 “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him.”

I love this verse.  It’s one of the many I jotted down in my journal months ago while doing some book writing research. This morning, I went back to that page in my journal and discovered I had even circled it.

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I have a confession to make, folks.  I haven’t made any progress on my book writing since May.

And here are my excuses:

Life got really busy.
I started a new job.
17,000 words and I’m more confused now than when I first started.

And here are more honest excuses:

I began to question “why” I was even attempting to write a book.
I allowed the what’s the point thoughts to be the loudest voice in my head.
I was surprised uncomfortable  scared by the direction the book was beginning to take.

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“Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.” Colossians 2:9 Message

Coming across words like this in Scripture excite me and fill me with gratitude.  I love how these passages remind us that all the answers we are searching for can be found in Christ…and not a list of rules and regulations. We waste so much time becoming side-tracked by dos and don’ts and Paul is reminding us that are focus is on the wrong thing. Christ and Christ alone is the key to all the wisdom and knowledge we are needing.  Why, oh why, is this such a challenge for me to remember?  “When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.”…even book writing.

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So what does all this have to do with writing a book?  I’m honestly not sure… only that Colossians 2:3 has played and will continue to play an integral part.

Today, I’m reclaiming and resting in a verse I shared months ago.

“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.”  Psalm 145:15

Your timing, Lord.
Your words, Lord.
Your message, Lord.

The song I woke up humming at midnight last night…close your eyes, listen and cast. :)

How To Never Get Lost…

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“You don’t have to choose between staying close to Me and staying on course. Since I am the Way, staying close to Me is staying on course.”  – Jesus Calling

I loved this reminder today. We often make it more difficult than this, don’t we?  I tend to feel overwhelmed when faced with too many choices.  I’ve written before how I’m not a big fan of pages and pages of options when I go to a restaurant and open the menu.  The more choices, the harder it is for me to settle on an option. That’s probably why this reminder today resonates so much with me.  I like knowing that if I stay close to Jesus then staying on course is the guaranteed result.  If I stay close to Jesus, I won’t be unsatisfied with my choice, I won’t be left wishing that I had made a different choice.

I am reminded again of a season in my life of starting over. At the time, I had no idea where the road in front of me was going to take me, the only thing I knew for certain was that I  was done trying to navigate, on my own, the menu of choices life had to offer. I had gotten a ten-year taste of what venturing off on my own looked like. I had tried the pages and pages of options. And, instead of nourishing me or filling me up, the only guaranteed result it offered me was varying levels of emptiness. Nothing left me satisfied. Nothing filled me up. Nothing gave me peace.

My decade long detour taught me one important lesson and truth:  I needed to grab back hold of His hand and never ever let go again.  This single choice, this deliberate commitment, forever altered the course of my life.  The life Jesus preaches about in the gospel became possible for me. Instead of less freedom, I experienced a freedom beyond my wildest dreams. The chains fell away!  Peace and joy beyond life’s circumstances became a reality.

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

 

It Takes Faith

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“My troubles turned out all for the best; they forced me to learn from your textbook.” Psalm 119:71

I read this verse this morning and was reminded of a conversation I had earlier in the week at lunch. I mentioned to my lunch date how I had made many wrong turns before arriving on the path God wanted me to be on.

I still marvel at the fact that God finds a way to use the bad to teach us dependency on Him. He not only uses our stubborn detours but He also uses those painful seasons, the ones completely out of our control, to remind us and to teach us that we are in a constant state of dependency.

As I thought more about this cycle of redemption, I was reminded of how hard it is to see this lesson when you happen to be walking through the middle of hell. When the “why” questions threaten to become louder than God’s “trust Me I’ve got you” invitation, faith must work double duty in our hearts and in our minds. It must become a conscious and deliberate decision to trust and surrender over and over and over.

It takes faith to come back to the God you think has failed you…to come back and be still long enough to listen.

It takes faith to trust and to put your day-to-day life in the care of invisible hands.

It takes faith to open a Book that is thousands of years old and believe there are promises and truths tucked away in it that still apply perfectly to your current situation.

It takes faith.

And yet, when you witness God take your mustard seed of faith and run with it…there is no denying.

Sometimes, there are days, I wonder if I will ever stop relating so much to the father who told Jesus…”I do believe. Help my disbelief!” Mark 9:24

And then I remember, it’s in that moment, when Jesus does His best work!

Show off today, Jesus, and give us eyes to see it.