Author Archives: Eileen

Wrestling, Thinking & Thanking

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the difference between judging versus holding a person accountable.  It seems to be a fine line, sometimes.  I think the difference  can be summed up in one question.  What is our motive?  Are we pointing out the “speck” in their eye disregarding the log in our own?  Do we point out the concerns from a place of humility or a place of “I am so much better than you” pride?  Is our desire to help the individual overcome and encourage them to choose healthier/wiser options? Does it stem from a deep and genuine concern over the potential consequences of someone’s poor choices/behavior?  These are the questions rolling around in my brain lately.

I think about things like a friend in an abusive relationship and we ask “Why are you still with him/her?  That’s not judging…that’s genuine concern for your friend’s safety and well being.

I think about pastors in recent news where a long history of sexual harassment has surfaced or infidelity has occurred and the congregation and church leadership question whether or not the pastor is fit to stay in his current role. Most don’t see this as judging (as long as it’s done with right motives). It’s holding the leader accountable.  We’d be appalled if the church leadership turned a blind eye (and didn’t address the issue) simply because the pastor knew how to preach a real good sermon on Sundays or had shared, over the years, really valuable/helpful truths on how to do life with Christ. Instead, we would hope the “fall” would lead the pastor to repent, acknowledge their need for help, seek forgiveness, and take time for healing and restoration. We would hope those making the decisions would not compartmentalize or rationalize away the poor conduct.

I think about how important it is to take responsibility for our own faith journeys and discover the “I am the way, the truth and the life” Savior for ourselves…personally.  No one can “come to Jesus” for us. No one can “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” for us.  I think about how influential my mom was to leading me to faith in Christ. As a young girl, she was my rock and I looked to her to understand the things of faith and to hold me accountable. However, I learned quickly how riding on the coattails of someone else’s faith and understanding will only carry you so far. At 18, when she passed away, I discovered I had no clue (and really no desire) to “stand firm in the faith” without her in my life. I had to learn (through mistakes, wrong turns and serious failures) how desperately the Savior she had was the Savior I needed too.  No one could be my unshakeable Rock accept for Him. This is an ongoing lesson I must continue to learn and relearn every day of my life.

I am thankful for accounts in scripture of people like Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who came to Jesus one night “working out his salvation with fear and trembling” not settling for what his peers and what authority figures were telling him he should believe. Instead, he sought out Jesus. He went looking for the truth.

I’m thankful we live in a nation where we have the freedom to question those in authority. I am thankful for the freedom to peacefully protest. I am thankful for those who fought and even died for our right to speak out and disagree.  There are places in this world where speaking out against or questioning the motives of authority figures could lead to imprisonment or even execution. 

I am thankful that we have a Savior who is sovereign over seasons where we are left thoroughly confused. I am thankful for examples like Joseph who could look at his brothers and say with no ill will “what you intended for harm God used it for good!”  I am thankful for the reminder that even Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was used to bring about ultimate victory. I need to remember His  sovereignty has the final say when the world around me seems to be spinning out of control.

 

 

 

My (Small) Leap Off the Good Ship Lollipop

If you know me at all, you know that my knee jerk reaction is to avoid conflict and arguments.  I’ve always been more of a “can’t we all just get along?” type person.  I don’t like discussions that turn into screaming matches, name calling, and foul language. And, If I discover that I’ve hurt someone’s feelings, I’ll typically cry and seek forgiveness for being an insensitive jerk.

On social media, I do my best to stay away from subjects that will provoke anger. I’ve deliberately avoided most conversations about politics because I know that my ability to change someone’s mind in a tweet or post is futile. However, behind the screen, I am much more animated and vocal. I am very thankful there is no hidden camera capturing my initial reaction to some of the things I read and see.  I will admit to you that I do a lot of shaking my head in disbelief and making disgusted faces at my computer screen and television. Usually, this happens with great frequency before I finally do what has always been more helpful in these situations. Pray.  “Lord, help understand…help me to respond in love and not hate or anger.”

I’m not sure what’s triggered it, specifically, but I’m beginning to feel this shift taking place inside of me. I’m tired of remaining completely quiet about things I see and read that break my heart.  I’m tired of being afraid that my words might rock my little boat…my little Good Ship Lollipop…where we all are “happy landing on a chocolate bar.”  (For any younger generation readers that’s a Shirley Temple reference.)

I’ve been told that when you reach your 40s you stop caring so much about what other people think of you. Next week I turn 46… maybe I can blame this subtle shift I’m experiencing on that.  Or, maybe I can blame it on being out on a run last week and hearing the song Brave by Sara Bareillis again. (I still love this song!)

“Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
Innocence, your history of silence
Won’t do you any good
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”

Here are the two comments I shared this week on social media in an effort to make sense of some of thoughts rolling around inside of my brain and heart.

When you ‘take the high road’ – it means doing the right thing even if it’s not easy. It also shows us that you are someone who is capable of putting aside differences and choosing humility, grace and respect. Personally, these qualities mean SO MUCH MORE to me than how someone votes. I want leaders who care about integrity, honesty, compassion and kindness. I could disagree (politically) all day long with a leader who possesses these qualities and, yet, at the end of the day I’d still be able to say “I don’t agree with you… but I don’t doubt for one moment that your intentions are good and trustworthy.” Saddened that character has been placed in the backseat or, worse, completely thrown out the window. -Originally posted on Facebook August 27

A help me understand question for evangelicals who continue to support/praise the President unwaveringly/unabashedly. What leadership qualities does he possess that model Jesus? Where have you seen the fruit of a transformed/Jesus following disciple? I’m truly curious. –Originally Posted on Twitter August 31

These posts greatly took me out of my comfort zone and it was a good place for me to be.  Both posts ended up teaching me things.
1. I can write and ask controversial things and not die.
2. There are other people out there wrestling with the same questions I’m wresting with.
3. People are capable of talking/disagreeing about hard subjects without yelling at each other or calling people names.

A Story About Love

I want to share a beautiful story with you because I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit and each time I do it makes my heart smile.

I was at the memorial service last week to celebrate the life of one of our church members, Larry, and to support his wife, Elaine. Elaine and Larry had been married close to 50 years and had been attending Rock Bridge long before I moved to Georgia. When I came on staff at our Dalton campus a little over three years ago, they were some of the first volunteers I met. Elaine and Larry would show up to greet every Sunday…even on the Sundays they weren’t “scheduled”.  For Elaine and Larry, serving others was/is simply a part of being the church.

One of my favorite things about the memorial service for Larry were all the stories that were shared by those who knew and loved Larry most. I so enjoyed hearing the different memories each family member shared with us. I was given a very tiny snapshot into a person’s life… long before I knew them.  I only witnessed the final chapter (three short years) of Larry’s life on earth.  At the point in his life that I knew Larry, dementia and frailness had already set in.

Elaine had her “four” sons at the memorial service.  Elaine and Larry only had two sons by birth.  Her other two sons had been “adopted” into the family years and years ago when her boys were growing up back in the 70s.  I actually knew one of her “adopted” sons, Terry. Terry  serves on our Coffee Team on Sunday mornings. However, it wasn’t until Larry’s memorial service that I learned how deep the bond was between Elaine and Larry’s family and Terry.  He was at their house regularly and would even join them on family outing or trips to and from soccer practice.

A few days following Larry’s memorial service I connected with Elaine again for a few minutes. She needed to pick up some flowers she had left at the church.  Again, I told Elaine how much I appreciated all the stories and fun memories her sons had shared.  I told her I loved learning of the bond between her family and Terry too.  Elaine again shared “Terry is part of our family; he is my son.”  She went on to say how back in those days it was still not a very common sight to see black and white families integrate.  And then I said,  “but you don’t look at the color of someone’s skin, do you Elaine?

“No” she answered. “Eileen, my mom and dad didn’t raise us that way.  They taught us right. They taught us how everyone is the same and should be loved the same.”

Elaine then went on and shared a story I will never forget.  If I am doing my math right this would have been back in the 1940s.  Elaine said when she was a little girl, her family had “help.”  It was common to have help in those days. Rosa and her family were their help. Elaine shared how every night her family and their help would sit down around the dinner table… together.  Elaine’s mom and dad would make a point of letting their kids know that there was no difference between their family and Rosa’s family.  “We are all the same” they would say.  Elaine even said when Rosa’s daughter became old enough to go to college she wanted to become a nurse but couldn’t afford to go off to school so Elaine’s mom and dad paid for her education.  When Rosa’s daughter graduated in Chicago a few years later, Elaine’s parents traveled to Chicago to attend the ceremony.

I’m not sure how to end this post other than to say that hearing this story filled my heart with so much joy.  I love being reminded that there are people who truly live out what is right and who choose to extravagantly love others regardless of what the world, the media, or society might currently be shouting at them.

 

…but I won’t hurt the same

“When I get to Heaven I’ll understand the pain
And I’ll hurt for those who have not come yet
But I won’t hurt the same”  ~Steve Moakler, Holiday at Sea

These are some of my favorite lyrics in a song. I guess I love the idea that the “pain” we feel in heaven will be this all knowing kind of pain.

It’s that kind of pain I suspect Jesus must have felt when He told His disciples He was going away, that this was for the best, that his leaving was out of love for them. Jesus fully knew the next chapter and I can imagine the heartache he must have felt over seeing his disciples wrestle with confusion and doubt.  Oh, My Child, you don’t understand…but one day you will!  

It’s also that kind of ache a soul feels when it encounters something so beautiful that there are no words to describe it. That kind of ache when faith and hope become sight. When Paul’s encouragement in Philippians become a reality. The pressing on and the straining towards has ceased. (Philippians 3) It’s the kind of joyful, weight of glory, ache of knowing…really knowing...it wasn’t in vain. Your mind recalls all those seasons of doubt, all those seasons of walking through the fuzziness and just holding on…listening for the voice in the desert calling out to you, reassuring you…  I am the way, the truth and the life….don’t give up…keep going.  

********

I shared this thought years ago, but it came to mind again this morning….

When my mom died, I remember sitting in Pizza Hut with one of my brothers and my dad after we left the hospital.  My dad insisted we grab a bite to eat since we hadn’t eaten all day. I can only recall one thing I said while sitting in the booth waiting for our pizza.

Dad, do you ever feel as if this life is just a dream and when we die it’s like we finally fully wake up?

I have no clue what my dad’s response was to me.  I just know that, at the time, that was the overriding thought sweeping over me.  This isn’t it.  Life, real life,  is so much bigger than this moment of pain.  

Even today, I sometimes get that feeling. Dreams don’t always make sense to us and portions of them often seem incomplete and fuzzy.  Life often leaves me scratching my head like a weird dream.  When I was younger, that lack of understanding used to scare me.  It used to have me running in fear.  But now it doesn’t.  Now it has me holding on tightly in faith.  I cling to what I know to be true.

We see and we taste just a fraction of the life God has planned for us.  One day, I will wake up fully.  One day, I will understand completely.

***********

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!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13: 12-13 Message

 

When Pursuit Becomes an Idol

“Always desire our Healer more than the healing.
Always desire our Redeemer more than the redemption.
Always desire the Deliverer more than the delivery.

Always remember He alone is the Lord our God.” ~Ben Finger

I thought this was such a good reminder that in our pursuit of healthy, whole, and free that we don’t make the mistake of making the pursuit of healthy, whole and free (all good things) idols themselves. We can get so obsessed with the pursuit that we lose sight of the One we pursue.

We forget the one who lifts up our head (Psalm 3:3) in our quest for our head to be lifted.  We focus on the lifting and not the LIFTER. We forget that He is not only the bread giver…He is the bread. We forget that He not only supplies the air…HE is the air.

We forget to take delight in Him. (Psalm 37:4)

Reminded me of some words from a blog post earlier this year…

Jesus came and announced that He was “the way the truth and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through Him” John 14:6. He didn’t claim to be someone who simply pointed us in the right direction. Instead, he claimed to be THE direction, the path. He’s not just the compass holder, He’s the actual compass. He is not just a truth teller. He is truth. He is not just a life giver. He is life. He’s not just the bread giver. He is the bread.

I think of the Israelites and the manna in the desert. They fixated so much on the manna they lost sight of the One who promised He would be the supplier of all their daily needs.

“Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.” Exodus 16: 19-20

When we focus on, pursue, and hold onto those things that fall short of the giver of life Himself… the mission will end up being just as misdirected, maggot infested, and foul smelling. It won’t fully sustain. It won’t fully satisfy.

It won’t last. 

Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but you. Psalm 73:25

But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. Psalm 3:3

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

Holding Hands With a Stranger

I love when you meet someone and you just know you were meant to meet them. You might not know why…but you just know…you know?  That happened tonight.

So I wrote those words four years ago today on Facebook; they popped up in the Memories section this morning.  It’s interesting how it popped up today because yesterday the same thing happened in the most odd and beautiful way.

The short story: A stranger and I ended up holding hands on a sidewalk, praying for one another, and exchanging phone numbers so that we could grab lunch together one day.

The Long Story: Teresa had forgotten her phone earlier in the day at a bookstore across the street from where I work and was coming back to retrieve it. Our eyes locked a few times as she pulled into the parking space and then she spoke to me as she got out of her car. She had never noticed the sign on the side of the building that said Rock Bridge Community Church…so she began asking me about it.  We chatted for few minutes about her current season in life and then she asked me if there was anything I needed prayer for. I wan’t expecting that question but the first request that popped into my head was “Please just pray that I stay connected to the vine.”

“Ok,” she said. “Can I pray for you now?”

“Certainly.” I answered. “And I would love to do the same for you!” I added.

So there we stood yesterday afternoon. Two strangers, holding hands and praying for one another.

Teresa not only prayed for my request but also prayed for protection and wisdom for my son as he navigated through high school…that he would be salt and light.  I smiled as those words came out of her mouth. I thought about the car ride conversations with Sean and my parting words to him that morning (and most every morning) as he exited the car at his school.  “Go be a light.”

Go be a light.

Thank you, Teresa, for being a bold light that crossed my path and prayed with me yesterday.

I know it wasn’t a coincidence that we connected.  There are no coincidences. This faith journey is such a beautiful and strange scavenger hunt. You never know when you will encounter another piece of the puzzle.

Choosing Him in the Take Away

“Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out, I’ll
Turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out I’ll
Turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

God, you give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name”

I was out for a run last night at the ball field while my son was participating in soccer camp.  Matt Redman’s song Blessed Be Your Name began to play and I suddenly remembered a particular moment in church ten or fifteen years ago when the song first came out.  I remember we’d sing this song on a few occasions, but each time we did we would never sing the last stanza.

God, you give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

I remember wondering why we never sang it… It was just a fleeting sort of curiosity that would cross my mind as we’d go on and sing another song or move on to the message for the day.

Why don’t we sing that, Lord?  It wasn’t something I dwelled on…just something I would notice.

I don’t know the answer to the question my heart would ask. I never took the time to find out why.

However, as I ran along last night and thought about those words again, “God, you give and take away, You give and take away” I thought about how critical it is for a believer to come to terms with this reality. Of all the hard truths we need to come to terms with as we journey further along this beautiful road called life…this one is a biggie! We need to wrestle with and make peace with how a loving, wants the best for us Savior will “take away.”

I don’t think our faith can endure for the long haul if we don’t learn to recognize His unfading beauty through all the tears that we shed. I don’t think our faith can endure if we don’t learn how to hold onto and trust in the goodness of the Lord during those inevitable seasons of painful and paralyzing loss.

A heart must learn to choose Him in the “take away.”

A heart must come to believe that He is still all together worthy to receive glory, honor and power…(Rev 4:11)

I think about Peter’s response after Jesus asked him in John 6 (after many followers deserted Him) “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.”

we have come to believe and to know….

It was a journey for Peter to arrive at this decision. It didn’t happen overnight for Peter and even after making this faith-filled statement, Peter “the Rock” still crumbled in fear on the night Jesus was arrested.  Even after coming to believe and coming to know…this fear grabbed hold of him when Jesus was taken away. His faith was put to the test in the take away and he failed miserably.

I think about my running away days, how the fear grabbed hold of me too, and how I failed miserably too.

And then I think about Jesus, the moment I stopped running away from the take away and turned around to finally see everything He desired to “give” me.

It’s been an ongoing journey for my heart to learn to choose Him in the “take away.”  It’s been an ongoing journey to see how He has made all things beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

These Things Matter Deeply to Me

My son and I were talking about character on a recent car ride.  I LOVE car ride conversations with my boy.  I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the ideas we discussed.

Character, respect, integrity, humility, honesty, compassion, kindness

These things matter deeply to me.

These things matter more to me than if you lean to the left or if you lean to the right. They matter more to me than if a politician has an (R) after their name or a (D). These things matter more to me than whether you and I agree completely on a political, personal, or lifestyle issue or if you and I are radically different.

For 10 years (ten LONG years), I lived my young adult life knowing what it felt like to be lied to, deceived, manipulated, used, and taken advantage of. I also learned how to unhealthily adapt to that kind of toxic environment. I learned to lie and deceive myself and others. I learned to rationalize things that were clearly wrong.  I became a queen of justification.

And then, one day, the pain of living a fake and inauthentic life caught up to me (it couldn’t help but catch up with me because I was living in a prison of my own making)  And, on that day, I made a different decision…chose a different direction.

I said NO MORE.  Never again.

What do you want to be remembered for?

“What do you want to be remembered for?”

I read this question last night while scrolling through Twitter.  I knew how I would answer almost as soon as I read it.

Hope

a spreader
an extender
an includer
a vessel
an instrument
a sticky note reminder
a “yes this life will knock you down but hold onto the beauty”
…of hope

That last thought reminded me of a Mike Foster quote I read earlier this month:

“sometimes we fall down because there is something down there we’re supposed to find: a gift, a vision, a clarity, a truth about love that we would have never found without the pain”

Personally, that pretty much sums up how ugly things can be made beautiful. When the eyes of our hearts can tap into this…we unwrap the bizarre and totally unexpected gift of redemption. And this gift is so precious. I can not (nor would I ever want to) imagine this life…in all it’s twists and turns and valley and pits…without it.

This morning I found myself reading through Psalm 22.  There’s one particular verse in that Psalm that always catches my attention no matter how many times I’ve read it.  “They will come and tell a people yet to be born about His righteousness–what He has done.”  (v 31)

It reminded me of the question I read last night.  “What do you want to be remembered for?”

How do we tell a people yet to be born?  The only thing that comes to mind is to start a fire so big and so hot that even after we are gone those yet to be born will be able to come across the smoldering embers left behind and still feel the warmth…still recognize the burning hidden hope just below the surface…all it needs is a little oxygen.

“So don’t be embarrassed to speak up for our Master or for me, his prisoner. Take your share of suffering for the Message along with the rest of us. We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work. We had nothing to do with it. It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it. But we know it now. Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus.”  2 Timothy 1 8-10 Message

When Life Seems Cruel…

Pain and struggle can become this firm foundation for one’s faith and character.  

I thought about this after reading a little bit more about the 25 year old soccer coach, Akkapol Chanthawong, who, no doubt, played a huge role in keeping his soccer team alive, hopeful, and calm for the nine days it took a rescue team to locate them in the Thailand cave they became trapped in.

“He was orphaned (at 10 years old) after a disease spread through his town, killing his parents and his younger brother. He moved to a monastery, but has moved back to the region to care for an ailing grandmother.”  -CBS News

As I read about this coach’s life, I couldn’t help but have this thought.  Of all the people that could have been stuck in the cave with those boys for nine days, it’s this young man…a man who had already learned how to navigate through a seemingly hopeless situation, a man who had already learned that perseverance through struggle and pain is possible. 

His pain became a tool that helped to keep a whole team of young boys alive for nine days.

This is redemption at its best.

When life seems cruel, this is what fills my heart with hope, and yes…even joy.

I know this nightmare is far from over. I see the tragedy and hardship in the situation. I see the unfairness…but then, I read stories like this and I am reminded that our pain and struggle is never wasted; it is never in vain.  

Our past navigation through pain or grief becomes this oxygen mask we extend to another human being in need.  And we can say with confidence… grab hold, don’t let go, rescue is coming.