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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.

A Wrinkled Journey

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

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

Ironing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When overwhelming becomes an opportunity to love…

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

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

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

Matthew 14: 15-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jesus.

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

But Jesus.

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

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

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

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

He is still the defender of the weak and the voiceless

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, Lord,” she said.

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

*********

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

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

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

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

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

I hear these stories and my heart breaks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foot Washing Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our words can wash someone else’s feet.

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

Words like…

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

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

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

Bend down, pick up your towel, and begin.