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Friends in the Boat

Recently,  I recalled a comment a friend said to me shortly after my dad dying. This friend and I are both in the “no more living parents” boat. I know there are a ton of folks in this boat with me. My friend shared with me how losing her parents made her feel a little bit like an orphan.  At the time, it didn’t feel that way to me personally. I lost my mom when I was 18 and my dad when I was 44.  Maybe I didn’t feel like an orphan because I was little further along in the adulthood journey when I entered into the realm of parentlessness.

Yet, I do feel something all the time: grief. It’s not the kind of grief that paralyzes you like when a pain and loss is fresh. It’s a different kind of grief. It’s that kind that resides, hidden, under the surface. It ebbs and flows, rises and falls, but never goes away completely.  Most days, I’m okay with this. Each chapter has helped to shape me into who I am today. Most days, the hope of glory and the joy that comes with knowing Jesus and being a part of His family far outweighs this chronic presence of grief.  I’m so grateful that the hope He offers us is infinitely bigger than the despair all around us and the sorrow that sometimes hits us personally.

Yet, there are still those days when the reality wave will hit me again and I’m deeply aware of a loved ones absence in my life.  As I was driving home from work yesterday,  I told the Lord exactly how I was currently feeling about all of it…death, grief, pain, sorrow, separation.   You know Lord, this sucks.  And you know what?  I felt like I heard Him respond to my statement.  I felt like I heard Him say.  You’re right… it does. 

And Jesus wept.  (John 11:35)

I like that I have a Savior in my life that can sympathize with me, that climbs in the boat with me for a bit and reaffirms the suck that I’m feeling.  It’s like having that wise spouse or good friend who doesn’t try to fix it all or explain it all away right then and there…but rather they just sit with us in the darkness and simply listen to our pains and allow us to throw some tired tantrum punches.

I can relate to the Psalmist’s words

When I became embittered
and my innermost being was wounded,
 I was stupid and didn’t understand;
I was an unthinking animal toward You.
 Yet I am always with You;
You hold my right hand.
 You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me up in glory
Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but You.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart,
my portion forever. (Psalm 73: 21-26)

“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” Hebrews 4: 14-16

 

Looking for Hints

Yesterday I went for a much needed run. It’s been unseasonably warm this week in Georgia and I wanted to seize some outdoor time in the sunshine.  As I ran along and listened to music the song “What Do I Know of Holy” by Addison Road began to play. I’ve always loved this song. The lyrics are beautifully honest. Yesterday, it was the word “hint” that lingered in my mind as I journeyed up the road.

“Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be
the slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees.”

I thought about the hope tucked into the word hint.

Lord, maybe I’ll write about that word tomorrow.

*************

Last night, I had dream after dream. However,  I’m having a hard time remembering any of them.  The only thing I remember is that during the last dream this lady looked at me and said “Did you know…”

And, then, the alarm went off on my phone and the dream ended.

“Did you know…do I know what???”  For someone who likes to be in the know, a dream that ends like this is torture.  I jumped out of bed a tad disappointed that I would now never know if I know.  Nice timing alarm…way to ruin a good dream.  I started my morning coffee and then took my dogs out into the yard to do their morning business.  I stood there under the stars and thought more about the abrupt ending of my dream and then I suddenly remembered the song from yesterday, “What Do I Know of Holy” and the word hint that lingered for a bit.

“the slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees”

Hints keep us on the look out for the more or the rest of the story.  Hints keep us in a state of anticipation.  When someone says to us “I’ll give you a hint” it automatically triggers our brains to go into seek mode.  We are eager to discover the answer.  Folks are often drawn to games like crossword puzzles, Jeopardy trivia games, and mystery type shows and movies.  These clue-filled activities keep our minds and hearts engaged as we seek for all the possibilities and scenarios.

I love that, on this journey with Christ, the hints of who He is and how great His love is for me are never-ending. And yet, the more I journey along, the more I realize I’ve barely scratched the surface.  What do I know of Holy?

A hint is like a beautiful taste of His love. And it only takes the slightest taste of the Holy One to make our mouths water for more…and the clues to His greatness never run dry.  Every day is a new day to look for them again, to catch glimpses along the path.

Look for the hints today.

YOU are the reason

Lord, the king finds joy in Your strength.
How greatly he rejoices in Your victory!
You have given him his heart’s desire
and have not denied the request of his lips.
 For You meet him with rich blessings;
You place a crown of pure gold on his head.
He asked You for life, and You gave it to him
length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through Your victory;
You confer majesty and splendor on him.
 You give him blessings forever;
You cheer him with joy in Your presence.
 For the king relies on the Lord;
through the faithful love of the Most High
he is not shaken. Psalm 21:1-7

Read through Psalm 21 this morning before flipping over to the book of Mark.  I emphasized every place that reminds me of who gets all the glory, honor, and praise.  This was the secret to the king’s victory. He showcases the Lord and says: You are the reason.  I owe everything to You!

I then read Mark 5 and was reminded of the same thing in the three stories shared.

First, there is the man who had been tormented for years by a demon. He encounters Jesus and Jesus does for him what the man was never able to do for himself…give the man victory over that which was holding him prisoner.  And the man spends the rest of his days shouting the praises of Jesus, the Man who gave him true LIFE.  You are the reason. I owe everything to You!

Second, is the account of the lady who must push through crowds (and the chaos all around her) in order to reach Jesus. She relentlessly pursues Jesus. It was this lady’s faith in the same thing the Psalmist sings about in Psalm 21. You, Jesus, are my only chance for healing and restoration and victory.  I need Your power in my life! And the result:  peace, freedom, and healing. We don’t hear the post story but I can only imagine the praises this lady sang for the rest of her days. You are the reason. I owe everything to You!

Third, is the account of the young girl who dies while Jesus is delayed by the lady who was bleeding. He tells the synagogue leader. “Don’t be afraid. Only believe.”  Jesus wasn’t late. He was right on time. His glory and power is showcased when He takes the girl by the hand and says to her “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”   From death to life. We see Jesus give victory over even our graves.  And, again, I have to wonder how the rest of the story played out. When hardships and struggles came up in this family’s life, would they pause long enough and remember the miracle. When all hope seemed lost, would they pause and allow the sweet words of Jesus to reassure their weary souls again:  “Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” 

I think of my own life.  Shackled by addiction, pushing through the chaos of lies and deception, touching the robe of the great Healer, and hearing Him say “Don’t be afraid. Only believe. I will take you by the hand and breathe life back into you!

Second Mile Service and a Front Row Seat to Hope

“When He entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home.  So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the doorway, and He was speaking the message to them. Then they came to Him bringing a paralytic, carried by four men. Since they were not able to bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above where He was. And when they had broken through, they lowered the mat on which the paralytic was lying.

Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:1-5

A few thoughts came to me the other day while reading through this account again of Jesus healing the paralytic brought to him on a mat.

How creative will we be to remove barriers so people can get to Jesus and hear the message?  To what lengths are we willing to go?  It wasn’t the faith of the man needing healing that caught Jesus’ attention, but rather the bold faith of the men going the extra mile for the man needing healing. 

Might it be the same thing that sometimes catches Jesus’ attention today?  Are we willing to go the second mile for people to make sure they can get to the feet of Jesus?  Will we help remove barriers that often keep people from positioning themselves in the places Jesus can be heard?  Do our hearts send a loud and clear message:  You belong HERE and we will go out of our way to prove it to you! 

Because the truth is, there are people on mats all around us…broken hearts and paralyzed lives… in need of the healing words of Jesus.  Will we boldly grab hold of a mat and proclaim in our hearts: “there is hope and we are determined to go to any lengths possible to assure you get a front row seat to it!”

From Suffering to Something Else


Heard this song for the first time last week and went back to listen to it again this morning. What a beautiful song. Think these are my favorite verses:

“O it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine.”
“When I was your foe, still your love fought for me.”

Love the reminder that His love pursues.

I saved the above words in a draft post yesterday morning after listening to this song again.

And then, yesterday afternoon, I hear the news of another senseless massacre at a high school in Florida. It’s atrocities such as this that prompt us to question and doubt the goodness of God. And yet, His goodness, in the midst of tragedies like this is the only thing my heart is certain of, the only pillow on which I can rest my head.

When evil abounds, it’s the hope of redemption and the promise He will redeem all things and make all things right that seems to hold the pieces of my heart together. And the only way I’ve been able to trust that this promise is true is by seeing how God has taken the grief and pain in my own story and has somehow someway transformed it into something…else. This something else takes all that is in vain and reveals to our souls something more. He is capable of taking the pain and the suffering, the rubble and the wreckage and restoring it into something. He takes dead souls and broken hearts and breathes life back into them.

In times like this, this knowledge is the only certainty and the only hope that makes sense to me and brings peace to my spirit.

Lord, comfort these families in Florida. Pursue them with Your reckless love. Overwhelm them with Your unexplainable peace. Help them to make sense of the senseless in a way that only YOU are capable of doing. Take the pain and the grief and make something more. Do it again, Lord.  Redeem this…redeem even this. 

Lyrics That Lead Us Home

I’m not sure how many other people do this but a couple of years ago I started writing down songs in the front of my Bible that I wouldn’t mind being played at my memorial service.  Now, obviously, I won’t actually be at the event to listen to them in person but, still, I’ve felt compelled to jot a few down over the years. This morning as I wrote down another potential song, a thought crossed my mind and it made me chuckle.  One day, a few years ago, a coworker of mine asked me if I was “micro-managing” him when I came along to check to make sure a task had gotten done. He said it in a humorous way but there was definitely a thread of truth woven through his comment. I tend to be a “all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed” kind of person. Maybe.. this song suggestion list is my last effort to micro-mangage. 😉

However, it’s much more likely this urge comes from finding a goodbye note and list of songs tucked away in my mom’s Bible the morning after she died. Discovering that note and that list of songs was such a gift in the midst of grief. I guess I just want to make sure I leave behind gifts for my family to unwrap too.  In fact, I want to leave behind lots of “gifts” for them.  And, it is my hope, that each gift will point them back to the Giver of life Himself.

I want them to remember Who to run to when life gets hard.  I want them to remember to cling unswervingly to the hope we’ve been given.  And if they ever find themselves misplacing the  lyrics that will lead them home, I want them to remember the amazing grace that eagerly waits to serenade a forgetful heart over and over again.

A Decisive Mission and Some Whoa, Dude Moments

I was reading through the familiar account in Matthew 14 of Jesus walking on the water and Peter getting out of the boat to walk on the water too.

What stood out to me this morning was how the word “immediately” was mentioned three times in just ten verses.

Immediately was the description of how quickly Jesus instructed his disciples to leave after the feeding of the 5000. They had just witnessed Jesus take five loaves and two fish, look up at the heavens, bless the food, and then break the bread for the hungry crowd. The disciples had been charged with the task of being the servers, distributing the meal and then collecting all the leftovers so that nothing was wasted.

Scripture says that immediately Jesus made them get into the boat, without him, and move on.  For some reason, this abrupt transition from being witnesses to such an amazing scene one moment to being instructed to leave the next moment captured my attention. Personally,  I think I would have wanted to recline in the grass for a bit and reflect on the glory of it all.  Whoa, Dude!   But just as Jesus didn’t waste any of the leftovers, Jesus didn’t waste any time moving on to the next faith building lesson that was waiting out on the sea for his disciples.

Here’s my thoughts.  Jesus didn’t see the need to dwell on one moment of glory because wherever He was, His glory would be too. Life with Him would be one glory filled moment after another…not because His disciples’ circumstances would be perfect or without struggle, but because holy moments are possible whenever Jesus is present. And Jesus knew that another one of those beautiful and unforgettable moments would be waiting for his disciples out in the middle of a dark sea. His disciples left one whoa, Dude moment in order to be positioned smack dab in the middle of another whoa, Dude moment.

And, as we can tell from how quickly fear wrapped around their hearts again while they were all alone on that boat and suddenly placed in a position of uncertainty, they needed yet another lesson reviewing the fundamentals of their faith again:

Who should you depend on for all your needs?  Jesus
Who can calm your fears in times of uncertainty?  Jesus
Who does the rescuing? Jesus

Immediately was the description of how quickly Jesus spoke to his disciples when they became filled with fear at the figure walking towards them on the water. I love the urgency Jesus used to reassure them with His voice. Peter’s response makes me smile too. It’s so human. He essentially challenges Jesus.  If you are who are say you are…then prove it. And so Jesus does!  And then what happens? Even after Jesus “proves it”, Peter takes His eyes off the “proof” and looks at his circumstances again.  Can anyone else relate?  

Immediately was the description of how quickly Jesus reacted when Peter began to sink and then cried out for Jesus to save him. I love the knee jerk reaction of Jesus. He instinctively does the one thing He was sent to earth to do…rescue.  

This moment wouldn’t be the last time Peter would need rescuing from his fears and his failures. Jesus knew Peter. Even as He stretched out His hand that night to save him, Jesus had full knowledge that this same man would one day deny Him, run away in fear, and need rescuing again.

But thankfully…

Jesus’ mission is to rescue. Despite our indecisiveness, our apprehensions, our fears, our doubts, and our failures, Jesus’ mission never changes.

It’s His character and nature to rescue us, redeem us, and restore us. 

Every decision He makes, every direction He sends us, is perfectly timed and strategically planned to teach us, yet again, Who we must depend on.  

I take comfort in this Truth.

” Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After dismissing the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. Well into the night, he was there alone. Meanwhile, the boat was already some distance from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. Jesus came toward them walking on the sea very early in the morning.  When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and they cried out in fear.

Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.”

 He said, “Come.”

And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the strength of the wind,he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped him and said, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14: 22-33

Simple Leadership?

“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” – Seth Godin

I read this quote last night.  I have to say, I never thought of putting the words leadership and simple in the same sentence.  🙂  And yet, the steps that follow have a way of striking that “could it really be that easy” match down in my soul.

“Do what you believe in.
Paint a picture of the future.
Go there.
People will follow.”

Do what you believe in   A few weeks ago, I heard a message at church that has been on my heart ever since.  It even triggered this blog post about pursuing strangers.  One of the reminders from the message is that if we desire to achieve lasting change then belief and good intentions are not enough.  The most important ingredient is the actions that stem from our beliefDO what you believe, live the conviction out, model the behavior. As I thought more about this, I realized how much this one step of putting actions behind convictions was really the catalyst to transformation in my own story, a journey that led from bondage to freedom.  Many years ago I got to a point in my own story when I began doing what I said I believed (not just lip service) in hopes that it would lead to healing. I began to live as if God truly was bigger than my addiction.  I began to trust that He could, indeed, free me. The choices I started making and the actions I started taking positioned me right where I needed to be for a BIG God to blow me away with His goodness, His love and His healing!

Paint a picture of the future:  The best leader we can model when it comes to getting to where we desire to be is Jesus, he’s the Artist of all Artists!  In my own story, Jesus, through Scripture, painted a picture for me of what freedom and peace in Him would look like.  He painted a picture of wide-open spaces where I had plenty of room to live and move and breathe. He planted the hope of what could be in my heart; He invited me to taste and see. His brush painted a picture of unending love, never-ending grace and forever acceptance and accessibility.

I’ve had a burden on my heart lately about the true meaning of hospitality. As I shared in the post I noted above the biblical meaning of hospitality is “the love of strangers and immigrants.”  It’s not just a friendly handshake or a warm smile. Biblical hospitality exceeds our expectations and surprises and, sometimes, even shocks us.  It’s the Samaritan who tended to the wounds of a total stranger. It’s Jesus engaging a lady at the well or having dinner with tax collectors and sinners.  It’s all the times in scripture we see Jesus going above and beyond the call of duty.  He takes our nice idea of hospitality and blows it out of the water every single time.  Water isn’t simply turned into wine…it’s the finest wine that’s ever passed through your lips.  Hungry crowds not only have their fill and our satisfied but there are leftovers too!

Go there:  Jesus went there. He showed us how. He modeled the way for us.

“Jesus’ hospitality was more about the opening of one’s heart than the opening of one’s home. He had no home of his own, but many found their home in him….And this welcoming of the stranger begins by recognizing that God in Christ welcomes us (total strangers) into the life and home of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Rich Villodas

People will follow:   It was Jesus’ radical hospitality that made him so inviting to the outsider.  It was his heart for others that constantly communicated this to the stranger…

  • No matter what you’ve done.. you are welcome here and I will personally seek you out in order to be with you.
  • You belong here and, not only that, I’ve saved a seat for you!
  • I do not condemn you for your past or the rumors of your reputation.  I love you and want to walk alongside you.
  • I will go (and already have gone) to whatever lengths necessary to show you how much I love you and want to be with you.

 

I Just Felt Another One

A Facebook friend of mine shared this beautiful picture a few weeks back.  It’s a shot down Main Street of the little down I called home in northeastern North Carolina for the 12 years before moving down to Georgia.  Significant snow fall is just as uncommon there as it is here in North Georgia.  When snow is mentioned in the forecast people run to the store and buy up all the bread and milk just like they do here….us southerners like to be prepared for snowpocalypse.

Anyways, I love this picture, not only because of the quaintness and the old time feel but because of the memories this particular shot prompts. As soon as I saw this picture, I noticed two things: the snow covered ground and the church.  As I did, words from Isaiah swept over me.

“Come, let us discuss this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be as white as snow;
though they are as red as crimson,
they will be like wool.”  Isaiah 1:18

I’ve never attended services at that church but I have been to several 12-step meetings there. For months and months, I would spend my lunch hour in the basement of that church in a small narrow room. I’ve shared about this room before in another post. “I think the room must have been, at one time, a storage closet converted into a meeting room. As I think back on this now, it was kind of appropriate to be having recovery meetings in a storage closet. You come across and uncover a lot of junk in storage closets.” Advice in a Storage Closet

I had forgotten about this picture and this memory until this morning when I read the following verse in my quiet time:

“Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
Psalm 51:7

And, then, the snow covered scene, back where it all started, filled my thoughts again.

I remembered the journey, the tug of war matches with the God of the universe, the letting go, and the sweet sweet graceflakes that followed.  They’re still falling today.  I just felt another one hit my cheek.

Tears That Lead to Truth


“I will love you for you
not for what you have done
or what you’ll become.
I will give you the love
the love that you never knew.”

Listened to this JJ Heller song again this morning. I was pretty confident as I pushed the play button the lyrics would bring me to tears just like they have on every other listening occasion. Ever know this about a song you choose to listen to again? You know it’s going to bring you to tears but you listen again because you know the beauty and truth that is going to wrap itself around your heart again will make every single tear worth it.

As I thought more about this willingness to experience the tears to get to the beauty, I thought about how that’s a pretty accurate description of every journey worth taking in life. We must step into the uncomfortable and the pain and the tough to discover the beauty and the life changing lessons. These lessons have a way of teaching our heart the true meaning of love and showing us what’s important in life and what’s not.

I will often experience this when I think about my parents again. There are times when I know that allowing my mind to go there…down that path of grief… will most certainly bring tears and, yet, when I choose to step into the uncomfortable the Lord tends to have gifts there waiting for me too.

Gifts like:
don’t take this precious life I’ve given you for granted
be present
shine the light
love where you are
extend grace
cling to the hope as if your life truly depends on it
keep finding the redeeming beauty hidden away in the hard and in the pain… keep looking for it and don’t give up until you find it.

His beauty and truth wrap itself around my heart again and make every single tear worth it.

I don’t know who might need this reminder today, but hear this:  The same God who walked the road to Calvary wants to walk this hard road with you too.

“I will love you for you
not for what you have done
or what you’ll become.
I will give you the love
the love that you never knew.”