Author Archives: Eileen

A Place I Never Want to Live Again

With years of keeping secrets safe
Wondering if I could change
‘Cause when you’re hiding all alone
Your heart can turn into a stone
And that’s not the way I want to go

So I walk out of the darkness and into the light
From fear of shame into the hope of life
Mercy called my name and made a way to fly
Out of the darkness and into the light” —Marvelous Light

This Ellie Holcomb song played again on my run the other day and it took me back.

Oh how I hate the fear that keeps us stuck in the dark. I hate how the dark convinces us that the only option we have is to remain in the dark. I hate how it convinces us the darkness is safe.

So we settle for the dark.

We hide, run, lie, justify, rationalize, numb, escape.

The dark:  I spent nearly a decade of my life in that place; it was anything but safe. It wasn’t just a place I visited from time to time. I set up permanent residence there. I am all too familiar with the consequences… with the damage it causes and the pain it inflicts.

“If you think you have no choice but do what you’ve always done, then you’ve already made a serious error” — Seth Godin

The dark will tell us there is no turning back, or that somehow it’s all our fault and we deserve this.
The dark will tell us it’s all their fault and not ours.
The dark will tell us it’s not that bad.
The dark will tell us they need to change not me.
The dark will tell us well…at least I’m not as bad as that person over there.
The dark will tell us if they can do it, then I can do it too.

The dark will convince us that settling is freedom when really it’s a prison.

Jesus told us that He came in order to give life to the fullest, an abundant life!

Whenever our hearts are convinced to listen to the dark, we settle for something short of abundance, something short of freedom.

“I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”  —John 8:12

Settling…instead of being set free

Been thinking about Luke 4: 14-30 this morning. We looked at these chapters last Sunday in church and then again in our small groups.

Here’s something that keeps standing out to me about Jesus and the words that he shared with his home “base”.

He didn’t seem to give a hoot whether his hometown accepted him or not. Sharing truth was more important to him.

And the truth was, he didn’t have favorites. Never once in his speech to his hometown did he say “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” Never once did he say that because you all are my people and where I am from then you will receive preferential treatment from me.

In fact, he shared a story with them that reflected the complete opposite.

And his hometown was so offended and enraged by his words that they tried to kill him. They don’t say it out loud but the fact that Jesus was sharing how he was just as concerned (and I would even argue more concerned) with the “other” and wasn’t willing to give preferential healing or compassion to his own people was not a perspective that sat well in this audience.

Jesus…that’s not how to win friends and influence people!  Tell us, instead, what our itching ears want to hear! 

It’s so fascinating to me how “human” this crowd is. In the first 9 verses the crowd loved him and were “amazed by his gracious words.” Yet, 8 verses later, they were ready to kill him. His words cut at their selfish and proud hearts and instead of a desire to understand they just wanted to shut him up.

Settling…instead of being set free.

Birthday Reflections

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of looking for and recognizing the Lord’s redeeming work. I’m reminded of Nathanael sitting under the fig tree when Philip found him and told him about Jesus. I love his initial response. The guy from Nazareth…can anything good come from Nazareth!?  (John 1: 44-51)

Can you picture the expression on Nathanael’s face as he says this to Phillip? I can. I’m certain my face has contorted itself into that same expression before on many occasions.

And, Jesus’ ministry was and still is the work of redemption. He came to heal the sick and eat dinner with the outcasts. He came to breathe new life into the hopeless and the lost. He came to humble the proud and strengthen the weak. He came to offer himself in our place, to become the slaughtered Lamb.

A few years ago, our pastor pointed out something I had never taken notice of before. In the book of Revelation, standing in the throne room,  Jesus is depicted as a slaughtered bloody lamb. Perfection includes something that seems so opposite of perfect.  And yet…

What a beautiful reminder that God can redeem all that is lost. In the throne room, you don’t expect to see a depiction of pain…but it’s exactly what we see and what we need to see.  We need to see the hope in the ugly.  We need to cling to the promises that God can take anything we have gone through or will go through and redeem it.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” Ephesians 3:20 Message

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure and the joy of watching God work in situations that look and feel completely hopeless. I’ve watched the Lord extend His hand of grace and mercy over and over in my own life.

He’s faithfully sat with me in pits (of my own doing), walked with me through valleys, and rescued me from raging seas. And through each experience, I have seen glimpses of His incredible beauty and the depths of His love. Glimpses and depths that I know I would never have seen from the mountaintops. Never.

I guess I think about all this because my birthday is quickly approaching. This Saturday I will turn 47.

47!?! Can anything good from that?!? 😉

I’ve also been thinking of my 44th birthday all week. I went to bed the night before I turned 44 knowing that my dad would most likely pass away on my birthday. As many of you know, my dad had a life altering stroke in 2012. It paralyzed his left side.  He was unable to walk and was bedridden for four long years.

A few days before my 44th birthday my dad’s health took another turn. I was able to call his caretaker the night before he died and the caretaker put the phone up to my dad’s ear so I could tell him I loved him, so I could tell him that I was so grateful God had chosen him to be my dad, and to thank him for loving me.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, a story I had written about on my blog several years ago suddenly came to mind.  It was the story my mom shared with me about going into labor with me and asking my dad to wash her feet before taking her to the hospital to give birth to me.  At the time, we lived in Florida and my mom didn’t want the delivery doctors looking at her flip flop filthy summer feet while I popped into the world!

The next morning, my oldest brother called to tell me our dad had passed away at 4:30am that morning…my 44th birthday.

I think it’s only through the lens of grace that one can see loss and grief on a day that is supposed celebrate being born as a gift…but that’s exactly how I received it.  It was like the Lord was whispering affirmations into my soul: I can turn a story about dirty feet into a beautiful picture of love.

It’s a gift I have been opening up on my birthday every year since my dad’s passing.  How beautiful and fitting it is to remember (on my birthday) the two people who helped bring me into this world.

A world mixed with pain and healing, sorrow and joy, death and life.

When Truth Comes Looking For Us

This morning I read through John 9 again. It’s the account of Jesus healing the man who was born blind. I’ve always loved this story and have written about different aspects of it on many occasions.

I love how the man born blind faithfully obeys Jesus and goes to Siloam to wash. What a walk of faith that must have been!

What must have been running through this man’s mind on that walk? How many other times in his life had someone come along claiming they could heal him? How many times had he been disappointed?

I also  love his straightforward responses when the Pharisees harassed, belittled and interrogated him.

They cared more about holding onto power than considering evidence that would point them in a different direction.

They cared more about their long standing interpretation of law than carefully or humbly considering another explanation.

They refused to believe the evidence staring them in the face, evidence that was at that very moment looking them straight in the eyes and saying “I was blind…now I see.” What more proof do you need?

*******

However, this morning, it was the first few words of verse 35 that caught my attention.

“When Jesus heard that they had thrown the man out, He found him…”

I read those words this morning and thought...Jesus will come find us when others reject us.

In other words The Truth will intentionally come looking for us when others stubbornly or painfully dismiss us.

Fear and puffed up pride dismisses truth but humility looks for and embraces truth.

If you think about it, the man who had been healed was simply sharing his story.  Plain truth. Nothing more. Nothing less.

He didn’t feel the need to elaborate or embellish or defend his new found sight. Truth doesn’t require all that extra fluff. It’s like the man was saying. This is my journey. You can take it or leave it. I’m not going to expend any energy trying to prove it to you.

I love what happens next. Though the religious leaders callously rejected him, Jesus did not.

Truth tracked him down. Truth affirmed and validated his journey. Truth invited him, welcomed him, embraced him.

“When Jesus heard that they had thrown the man out, He found him and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is He, Sir, that I may believe in Him?” he asked.

Jesus answered, “You have seen Him; in fact, He is the One speaking with you.”

“I believe, Lord!” he said, and he worshiped Him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, in order that those who do not see will see and those who do see will become blind.”

Some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and asked Him, “We aren’t blind too, are we?”

“If you were blind,” Jesus told them, “you wouldn’t have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see’—your sin remains.” (v 35-41)

Letting Go to Cling Tighter

I was out on my run yesterday and one of my favorites from “All Sons and Daughters” began to play.

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

Those words have always resonated deeply with me. As I listened to them play again yesterday, I silently prayed.

Lord, no matter what season I may be going through, may I never lose my grip on this crucial truth. “And to know You is to love You and to know so little else…I need You.”

Whether I find myself in a season of lack—filled with things like heartache, confusion and loneliness …may I never lose my grip on this truth.

When I find myself in a season of plenty—filled with clear direction, passion and joy overflowing …may I never lose my grip of this truth.

As a recovering people pleaser, I tend to shy away from polarizing topics. I just don’t want to offend or cause division. My desire in this post is to simply share with you the terrain I’m currently navigating…on the road to beautiful.

And on the road to beautiful, my seasons always change. But my heart is spent on loving You, to know You in Your power and pain. – Charlie Hall

I’ve wrestled for a while now as to the best way to write about this particular place. I find it hard to put into words. It’s not an unfamiliar season. I’ve been here before.

It’s as if something must die in order to make room for something else that’s waiting to come to life. 

It’s like I’m arriving at this place (again!) in my soul where I’m learning the beautiful (yet oh so challenging) dance steps of surrender. 

In order to cling tighter we must let go.  More of Jesus, less of me.

We must be willing to lose our life in order to find it. (Easier said than done)

Here’s what this is looking like in my own life…

—I’m learning to let go of your opinions of me. 

—I’m learning that speaking up against injustice and the wrongs I witness in the world around me… is not out of line.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

—What is out of line is for me to remain silent, ignore, justify, rationalize or minimize injustices I see.

 Jesus desires to be our teacher.  

—I no longer affiliate myself with a particular political party; I haven’t felt comfortable calling myself a Republican or a Conservative for many years.

—I want to follow Jesus. I want to learn from Him and the “unforced rhythms of his grace”

—It’s clear to me that Jesus wouldn’t have affiliated or pledged allegiance to any political party.

His message of love is so far beyond party or country loyalty.  His message of love is radically inclusive. The politicians of Jesus’ day felt threatened by this message of love, acceptance, and forgiveness too.  It went against everything they knew about current laws, customs, traditions, logic and comfort zones. 

Weak are strong?  Poor are rich?  Outcasts are welcomed? 

Yes. Yes.  Yes.

***

I started writing this post earlier this morning after taking my dogs for a walk but didn’t finish it until after I returned from church.

On that walk, I kept hearing the same lyrics play over and over in my head. They were from the song “I Surrender All”

“I’m lifting up my hands, I’m laying down my arms.”   

Over and over they played.

“I’m lifting up my hands, I’m laying down my arms.” 

I headed off to church, expectantly.

We are in the middle of a series called Fresh Starts. These words resonated with me this morning.  “Our surrender is the condition for victory.  Fresh starts are take overs more than do overs.”

It was then I realized what the next line from the song that was playing on repeat while on my walk earlier in the morning.

“I’m lifting up my hands. I’m laying down my arms.

God take me as I am; God take over my heart.”

What do you say, Jesus?

Yesterday, as I observed all the back and forth online over the issue of gun control, I tried to imagine being among the crowds where Jesus was teaching.

First, I thought about what it would have been like to be standing in the crowd waiting to see what Jesus said society should do with an adulterous woman who clearly broke the law.

Second, I thought about what it would have been like listening to the Good Samaritan story and Jesus’ definition of a neighbor.

I’m thinking my initial response to both these situations as I processed his answers would have been…

mouth hanging open in disbelief and muttering something like…whoa, who is this guy??

Jesus had this way of taking issues people had strong viewpoints and opinions on and turning the arguments on their heads with his shocking responses. I can only imagine that if gun control had been a hot topic in his day, he would have done the same thing.

Each side would have presented their viewpoints and arguments. Each side would have brought a list of statistics and talking points to prove why their side was the right side and Jesus, like he does with every issue where we are adamant that WE are right and THEY are wrong, would have shocked (or maybe frustrated/angered) both sides with his response.

Neither side would have walked away validated. Instead, each side would have walked away with a more accurate picture of what love looks like.

I love this Anne Lamott quote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

I think we could also say that we can safely assume we’ve created God in our own image if we think God would vote the same way we do or take the same stance on current issues as we do.

The Problem with Problem Management

“God’s purpose for you is greater than problem management.”

I jotted down this quote from Sunday’s message and have been thinking about it ever since. It resonates with me for so many reasons.

I’ve always had a “let’s just get through this without sinking, ok?” kind of mindset.

If I was lost in the woods somewhere with a group of friends, I’d most likely be over with the “survivalists” whose immediate thought was, we have to ration our food and water so we have enough to survive. We have to manage this problem.

If I had been an Israelite wandering out in the desert, I would have been the one trying to store manna that the Lord told us would only be good for one day.

When I was in middle school and high school, I was powerless to control or manage the problem of “mom battling breast cancer”. Instead, I decided to dump all my energy into managing my weight. I exercised excessively and monitored my food intake. I watched the scale dip from 126 pounds down to 88 before reaching out for help. Although my eating and exercising  eventually leveled out again, my tendency to want to manage problems was never addressed.

During my drinking days, I took pride in the fact that I was a functioning alcoholic. My thinking was, if I’m going to have this hidden problem and I’m not willing to let it go, than at least I’ll manage the problem. I know I can do that! I went to extreme measures proving to myself that I could do what I wanted AND still be a productive member in society. I would drink a bottle and half of wine every night of my life and get up at 6am the next morning and go run five miles on the treadmill. It was insane!

And, you know what? It worked for a time. When I finally became willing to admit that “my life had become unmanageable” it wasn’t the physical toll that drove me to my knees in surrender. (I do believe my liver could have continued to take the beating I was giving it for another decade.) Instead, it was the spiritual and emotional toll which caused me to finally “hit bottom” and reach out for help. My heart and my soul were dying.

I surrendered my addiction to alcohol in 2001 yet, unfortunately, this habit of wanting to manage or control situations still rears its ugly head from time to time. When we are in challenging situations, it’s human nature to revert back to what we know and what comes natural to us.

And “let’s just get through this without sinking, ok?” is my comfort zone.

Yet, here’s the problem and why I think I love the quote that was mentioned in our sermon yesterday.

“God’s purpose for you (and me) is greater than problem management.”

God’s purpose

That’s what He was trying to teach the Israelites out in the desert thousands of years ago. That’s what He is still trying to teach me today in 2019.

The Philosophy of Finley

“You are the God who works wonders; You revealed Your strength among the peoples.” — Psalm 77:14

Wonder

I’ve been thinking about this word today. I’m beginning to think that searching for and asking for child-like wonder may be just as important as searching for and asking for wisdom.

My dog, Finley, lives in a constant state of awe. Everyday truly is a new day to him. Sometimes he gets so caught up in this perpetual state of wonder that he totally forgets that one of the main reasons his person takes him for a morning walk is so that he can do his morning “business”.

Instead, Finley is chronically preoccupied by the sheer beauty of being alive, gazing upon creation and breathing all of it in. Every blade of grass is a miracle to him… each smell, new and exciting. Every squirrel he sees is the first one he’s ever laid eyes on. It’s like he runs up the road, shouting in joyful disbelief…this. is. AMAZING!

I’m not totally convinced that the Finley philosophy is the most productive way to go through life (at least not from the world’s standards of productivity) But, geez, it sure is the most soul-filling way to go through life.

The Proverbs tell us to search for wisdom and understanding like we search for treasure. Maybe, just maybe, the same applies to wonder.

There was a time in my life when wonder and waking up with a sense of giddy, joy-filled, expectancy seemed as natural as breathing to me.

What are You going to do today, Lord?
What beauty do You want to show us today?
What lessons do You have waiting for us today, Lord?
How are You going to blow us away again with Your greatness today?

Life was one big, beautiful scavenger hunt!

It still is.

Show us Your glory today, Lord.

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.