Rubble and Rooftops

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight;
what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.~Matthew 10:27

I’ve been able to go for a couple of runs along the beach road this week while on vacation.  As I headed out the other morning, I turned on some music. All Because of Jesus started playing.  This song holds a special place in my heart. It was the song that was playing in my ears and accompanied me across the finish line when I completed my first 1/2 marathon in April 2011.  When it began playing again the other morning, I realized I was wearing the race shirt from that same run.

“And it’s all because of Jesus I’m alive
Yeah, it’s all because the blood of Jesus Christ
Covers me and raised this dead man’s life
And it’s all because of Jesus

Every sunrise sings Your praise
The universe cries out Your praise
I’m singing freedom all my days
Now that I’m alive”

Back in April 2011, I was coming up on a decade of sobriety, a decade of sweet surrender, a decade from when Jesus first breathed life back into my broken life, a decade of looking back in the rearview mirror and seeing the breadcrumbs of His beauty and His faithfulness. A decade…yet in many ways, it was still so fresh.

It’s been 7 years since that moment and I think about it again this morning praying that the miracle of how He resurrects us from the rubble never ceases to bring me to my knees in gratitude. I pray that a part of me will always feel compelled to shout it from the rooftops. I pray that the joy of His salvation is the first thought when I open my eyes in morning and the last thought that crosses through my brain as I drift off to sleep at night.  Bookends of praise to YOU LORD!

“They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!” Psalm 22: 31

“I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing to my God as long as I live.” Psalm 146:2

Sea of Surprises

We are spending this week down in Panama City, Florida. Growing up in Georgia, my husband visited this area a few times as a child. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean but this week, seeing the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico, was a first for me. The color of the water reminds me of the waters off the coast of the Dominican Republic and also the turquoise river water I remember seeing while we drove from Salzburg, Austria down to Venice, Italy while on a trip to Europe a few years ago.

I spent the first four years of my life in the Cape Canaveral area of Florida prior to our family moving to Arizona.  As a child, I remember how our family of five would make (a number of times) the crazy long drive on Interstate 10 from Arizona back to Florida during the summertime to enjoy the ocean and visit with old family friends. However, I don’t ever recall my dad slowing down long enough for us to take in any of the beauty along the Gulf. My dad was not a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of road tripper. On most family vacations, my two older brothers and I were just grateful our mom was there to remind our dad that we needed potty breaks every few hours.

Looking back, I’m sure we must have been pretty close to the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico as our station wagon sped by Pensacola and across the panhandle to reach our final destination, I just don’t recall us ever stopping to see any of it. Taking in its beauty for the very first time this week has been a delightful surprise.  Last night, as I reflected on coming across beauty that exceeds our expectations, I remembered my One Word for 2018: Surprise

I’m grateful that the beauty unwrapped in creation never seems to diminish in its ability to delight and surprise me.  Seas and seas of mercy…new…each and every morning.  


Perhaps it all Starts with Maybe

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he pulled me out of deep water.  He rescued me from my powerful enemy…”Psalm 18:16-17a

I think if I had to sum up what Easter means to me personally, that verse does a good job of extracting the words right from my heart.  As I’ve shared countless times in this space, several portions of Psalm 18 greatly encouraged me during a season in my life when I was trying to break free from an addiction (my powerful enemy) that had taken hold of me.

Most of my life I had known the story of Easter and even believed the story of Easter… but it truly didn’t become tangible and personal to me until that specific season in my life when I felt as if I was battling for my life.  It was during this season when I finally understood that I could not rescue myself.  The enemy’s grip was too tight and the pit I was in was too deep. I knew I needed to trust a power and a strength and a plan that was bigger than both me and my enemy.  And that power, that plan, was Jesus.

It had been the plan all along. I just didn’t truly understand the plan (nor was I willing to trust the plan) until the battle landed on my doorstep and hit me personally. That’s when I had this ah-ha moment in my journey where I said to the Lord.  Ok, I’ve tried it my way (and that hasn’t worked so well).  So, what’s the harm of me trying it Your way instead?  Maybe You are who You say You are. Maybe I can trust You with my whole heart.  Maybe You are bigger and stronger than everything that has been trying to destroy me. Maybe You can rescue me.  So, Lord, I guess you could say I’m putting all my (Easter) eggs in one basket and trusting You will do Your saving and redeeming work on this doubting, hurting heart of mine.  

And can I tell you what happened?  The old eggs in that basket began cracking open and new and vibrant life started to break through. It didn’t happen overnight.  It became this journey of learning to trust, learning to hold on through the dark, and learning through all of life’s disappointments and delays that healing and freedom wasn’t going to follow the “Eileen timeline.”

No… I’ve discovered that life in Christ is so much bigger and so much more beautiful than that.  

He grabs hold of your hand, pulls you out of deep water, rescues you….and that’s just the sweet beginning…the adventure goes on and on…

Falling Through Our Fears

“Fall toward me. You might just fall right through the ground you fear and discover heaven is underneath.” Paul Pastor

I read this quote last week in a devotional book called The Listening Day, Volume 2 by Paul Pastor. I love it.  As a recovering perfectionist, these words remind me of my own journey and how it was in those seasons of serious failing and falling down when I experienced the love of God in the most profound, personal, and life changing ways. It wasn’t the end…at least not the end I had imagined. Instead, it was the beginning; a beautiful chaotic beginning. Like author, Rick Lawerence so perfectly puts it, “Jesus will set off an earthquake in our soul if it will spring loose our prison door.” Falling down and losing control brought me to where I needed to be all along.

Falling through our fears and finding the kingdom of God.

I love that thought. Discovering this beauty can only be found after we hit the bottom of ourselves and then instead of the journey ending in hopelessness, we encounter and are brought to our knees by a love that we don’t deserve and could never earn.

What kind of love pursues even after we turn our backs and walk away? What kind of loves sees us at our lowest and our ugliest and still chases after us without giving the decision a second thought?  What kind of love sees the barriers we’ve put up and the lies we’ve believed and still battles with the same intensity for our hearts?

This morning I read the following quote in this great article Why Christian Theology Needs Former Atheists

“Not everyone becomes a Christian by going forward at an evangelistic altar call in a church or camp. God sometimes chases people down in very surprising ways.”-  John Woodbridge

I love that we have a Savior who refuses to take our initial “no” as the final answer.

This song has been playing on repeat in my heart all morning long.

“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine…

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me”

 

 

The Seat Saving Savior

I have this routine every morning of pouring my cup of coffee, grabbing my Bible, and sitting in the same exact spot on the couch. (On a side note, I’m kind of like Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory when it comes to my spot on the couch.)

My dachshund-mix, Rooney, loves curling up right next to me. My other dog, Finley, truly doesn’t have a preference as to where he curls up on the couch. He’s just happy to have a place to call home. Occasionally, Rooney takes his time getting to the couch and Finley is the first one to plop himself down beside me…unaware that his decision is about to cause a disturbance in the force.  When Rooney shows up (he’s kind of like Sheldon Cooper too) he is never satisfied until he has claimed the prime spot right next to me. And, I always end up accommodating this desire too.  If you know dachshunds then you know it’s not really worth arguing with them. They’re a stubborn breed and their determination will eventually wear you down. So I gently push Finely down to the center of the couch to make room for “King” Rooney.

Yesterday, it happened again. Rooney showed up late and Finley took his spot.  As he stood at my feet waiting for me to fix the issue, these words came out of my mouth:

“You can’t be late to the party and expect to get the best seat in the house.”

As the words tumbled out of my mouth, I immediately recognized that our natural tendency as humans is to live with a first come first served attitude and with this belief that promptness gets praised while tardiness gets punished. It dawned on me again how totally opposite to Jesus’ nature and character this tendency is. Jesus’ way of loving people looks nothing like our first come first served or the early bird gets the worm attitudes. In His kingdom, the last will be first, the weak will be strong, the poor are rich, and the humble and the gentle are embraced.

We see it in the prodigal son story when the squandering son comes home and receives a loving welcome not a lecture about being late. You’re the honored guest. I never gave up hope that you’d show up. I was watching for you. Come, let’s celebrate!  I saved you a seat!

We see it as Jesus responds to the thief hanging next to him on the cross. The thief, a broken man with eyes that were finally willing to see Jesus for who he was and then humbly make a request of him:  Please, Jesus, remember me.  And Jesus responded,  of course I’ll remember you in paradise. You are the reason I left it in the first place!

I then thought about these words from a Sunday message from a few years ago.

“God is a missionary God…and God is on a mission to get his kids back.”

And what truly amazes me is the lengths a Holy God will go to rescue his kids. His grace, His forgiveness, His mercy shouts truth into our distracted and discouraged souls: You’re not too late. You haven’t run too far in the wrong direction. Come home, I’ve saved you a seat! 

 

 

 

Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Do we desire to know the truth even if truth looks nothing like we imagined it would or should look?

Do we desire to know the truth even if it makes us uncomfortable, even it doesn’t fit neatly into our paradigm or our own agendas?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this lately.

There’s a part of me that thinks I would have loved being a news journalist or a criminal investigator.  I like getting to the truth.  There’s something inside me that desires accuracy. I can work with truth. I can’t work with deception.  Truth, no matter how hard it might be to swallow sometimes, is at least, a sure foundation on which to begin.  But deception, no matter how attractive, is built on a shaky, uncertain foundation…which means that anything you pile on top of it is tainted.

I think this is one reason I love hearing the stories of skeptics or atheists who come to know and love Christ.  They don’t arrive at that decision to be a Christ follower, half-heartedly. They don’t stumble into it. They have done research (regardless of whether or not what they discover makes them uncomfortable or ends up prompting more questions instead of less). They have examined and studied all the evidence and have made a decision based upon the most accurate information they have. It’s certainly not an easy route. It requires humility and a heart that is willing to be broken or shaken to the core.  BUT, it is a productive and worthwhile route because the end result is a sure foundation on which to stand.

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.

*******

After writing these thoughts down yesterday morning, I noticed a couple of common threads woven throughout the rest of the day.  My coworker read the first few chapters of Hebrews 1 during a morning prayer time.  

“Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe[a] through him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. So he became superior to the angels, just as the name he inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (1-4)

A few portions resonated with me as I was still reflecting on the thoughts I jotted down earlier in morning about this deep desire to seek truth, to know truth and to live truth.  These verses in Hebrews reminded me that God made the universe through Jesus and that Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory.  I like how the verse says that He is the “exact expression of his nature”  It’s that phrase “exact expression” I love so much.  It reminds me of why I like getting to the truth of things.  When you know the truth about something then you know the “exact expression.” You can rest assured that there are no errors or falsities in that expression. I was curious to see how other translations worded that verse too.

the exact representation (NIV)
the express image of his person (KJV)
the exact imprint of his nature (ESV)
expressed the very character of God (NLT)

The “exact imprint” I like that!  It reminded me of how fingerprints can help investigators identify a suspect and help get to the truth of a matter.

**********

Then later in the day on Twitter I saw this quote that had been tweeted out by Lee Strobel

“Either we conform our desires to the truth or we conform the truth to our desires.” –Os Guinness

This made me smile because as I was writing earlier in the morning about this desire to know truth and how I love hearing about the journey of skeptics and atheists, I actually thought about Strobel’s journey of becoming a Christ follower… a former investigative journalist and a former atheist.  

I love the quote Strobel shared:  “Conforming our desires to the truth”  leads to a firm foundation.  “Conforming the truth to our desires” leads to a shaky, undependable foundation.”Conforming our desires to the truth” takes a ton of humility, courage, objectiveness. “Conforming the truth to our desires” will not stand the test of time. It results in deceiving ourselves as we attempt to create God into our own image instead of allowing “the exact expression” of God to shape us and our lives.

Plant Seeds of Significance

I finally watched the movie Wonder last night.  It was a good movie about a young boy born with a genetic issue that caused significant facial deformities. August “Auggie” must navigate the pains of being rejected, insulted, teased, bullied and ignored as he makes the transition from being homeschooled to attending middle school.  The story also gives the audience a glimpse into the lives of several of the other characters and we get to see the story through their perspectives as well.

The part of the story that seemed to resonate most with me was when Auggie’s older sister experienced rejection from her best friend. I ended up pausing the movie and sharing with my teenage son a time back in 9th grade when I had to navigate through a similar hurt.  It’s amazing how deep the pain of rejection can cut us.  It’s also amazing how pains like that can fill us with a drive and a passion to fight against and do what we can to minimize such pain for others.

Pains can reveal our passion and our purpose.

On the days when I’m tempted to make my life and my work about something else…I want to remember.

How did I make the people who crossed my path today…feel?

Did I cut them down or did I lift them up?

Did I make sure the people I met today felt seen, accepted, and included?

Did I make sure they left this place feeling assured that this was a safe place…that this was one place where they are welcome, where they belong, and where they are loved?

Did I leave another scar on their wounded soul or did I plant seeds of significance and beauty?

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.

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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!