The Knowing

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Relationships are funny things. They run the gamut from friendly banter exchanged between barista and coffee aficionado to intimate secrets shared between friends to understanding (and loving) your spouse’s sighs, head tilts, and vocal inflections. On a daily basis we engage in a number of relationships. Some require nothing more than a smile and a “Have a nice day”. Others are open arms at the end of long, trying day. Arms that hold on while you sob quietly into them. Arms that don’t care that dinner is burning in the oven or on the stove because the embrace is more than dinner.

And then there’s our relationship with God.

If you’d like to read a deeply powerful and piercing foray into a person’s relationship with God, I HIGHLY recommend you read Paul’s series “To see GSHJ less darkly” over at just me being curious. His words gave me so much to ponder.  If you are a shallow swimmer, you might want to grab your scuba gear because his posts burrow into the deep end of the ocean. Just a forewarning: pack extra tanks, because you won’t want to come up for air for awhile.

My relationship with God is very different than Paul’s. As I’m sure yours is as well. That’s what is so beautiful about it. God meets each of us where we are and He works from there.

Relationships are a process. They take time to develop.

Just because I read all of CS Lewis’ books or sing along to every Mercy Me song does not mean I am in a relationship with them. Just because I research someone on Wikipedia or read every biography on Napoleon does not mean I know everything about them. Just because I sit in a pew on Sunday and listen to a sermon about Moses or David or Paul or Jesus, does not mean I know them. Because what I’ve come to realize is that knowing about is not the same as knowing. And relationship, REAL relationship, is in the knowing. Not the knowing about.

My relationship with God began when I accepted Christ as my Savior.

I walked into the room, a single chair in the center with a spotlight illuminating it from above. I hesitantly crawled to the chair, feet leaden, legs wobbly, heart crescendoing into a fortissimo. “Hello?” I called. “Anyone here?” No answer. “Am I too late? The notice said the meeting starts at 7:00 and my watch shows it’s ten till.” I wondered where they had the table of cookies and punch, because I eat when I’m nervous.

“Sit down, please,” a voice called out.

Normally, I would have jumped, but there was something comforting about the voice, something familiar.

“Hello? Do I know you?”

“Not yet. But you will.”

I sat in the chair and looked around the room, hoping to see at least one other person. “I’m not sure this is the right place. I’m looking for the S.A. meeting?”

The voice laughed, a pleasant laugh, like warm apple cider on a wintry day. “Yes, yes indeed. You are in the right place. This is Sinners Anonymous. And we are glad you are here.”

“I expected more people,” I said, tears welling in my eyes. Could I really be the only one who needed this?

“Don’t be afraid. Be strong and courageous, my child. You are making the best decision of your life.”

Just as quickly as the tears started, they stopped. I sat straighter in the chair, courage replacing the feelings of hesitation and awkwardness.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes,” I said. And I was. Instinctively, I said the following words, “My name is Heather, and I am a sinner.”

God bellowed from above, “Hi, Heather!”

“Hi,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”

“I’ve been waiting since the beginning of time for you to come, Heather. And I’m so glad you did,” He said.

I didn’t grab my purse, get up from my chair, flip my hair, and walk away from the room suddenly cured of my desire to sin. I wasn’t spontaneously armed with the necessary tools to be strong and never waver in a world saturated in sin. I didn’t automatically put God first, put His will ahead of mine, crave Him with every ounce of my being. Actually, I felt a little queasy because I understood that my life would forever be changed. I would no longer be the Heather of yesterday, keeping God “out there” somewhere at a seemingly safe distance. I didn’t want God out there anymore. I wanted Him in here, in me, alive and active and working in me and through me.

As with any addiction, I knew my first step was admitting I needed Him. I had no idea what plans God had in store for me, but I knew that the path would not always be easy.

Staying in my chair and facing God was difficult, but I knew that in order to understand myself and my sin and learn how to walk with God, I had to stay. I had to remain in Him. Because God had the answers then and He still has the answers today.

My journey with God began several years ago and every day is a beautiful, scary challenge. Perhaps I will share more with you about my journey from knowing about to knowing. But first, there’s something I need you to know. My name is Heather and I’ve been a sinner all my life.

There. I said it. Now that that’s out of the way, nothing I say should shock you. Well, it might. If so, then I hear there’s a meeting down the hall for righteous naysayers called “Pharisees Anonymous”.

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The fault in our scars

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I’m what you might call a crier. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a blubbering fool. But if something moves me, I’m gonna cry. Guaranteed. There are times when I’m reading God’s Word and I have to stop because my heart twists in my chest and I simply can’t contain the ensuing downpour. I’m pretty sure tears are the result of God wringing out our hearts.

Recently, God has drawn me to the book of Jeremiah. I’ve always liked him. Maybe it’s because he’s a crier, too. “They” (the proverbial they of the scholarly elite who write commentaries that spongelike students devour) call him the weeping prophet. Now I’m not going to say that I want people years from now to refer to me as the weeping anything, but I can appreciate Jeremiah’s tenderhearted affection for God. I love the conversations he had with God and his displays of emotional rawness, or the thread-thin strength he had in moments of tension.

I curled up with Jeremiah the other night and felt the familiar wringing of my heart in God’s hands. I had read the verse—the verse that stopped me in my reading tracks and elicited the ocular waterworks—before. Numerous times, in fact. I’m sure it had struck me in prior readings, but not in the tearful way it did that night. Isn’t it strangely exhilarating and wonderful that God can make His Word fresh and new with each reading? Oh how I love feasting on His manna daily!

Chapter Two of Jeremiah begins with the “word of the Lord came” to Jeremiah. If you’ve ever read any of Paul’s posts over at “just me being curious“, then perhaps you have been privy to one of his God-zooming-in-on-His-Batmobile insights. If not, then I encourage you to read his posts. All of them. Just not right this second… We’ve got some Jeremiah to discuss.

As I think about Paul and his conversations with God via the Batmobile, I can’t help but wonder how God’s Word came to Jeremiah.  In dreams? In whispers?

Either way, I’m grateful for Jeremiah’s obedience to deliver God’s messages to the people. I imagine it wasn’t easy. After all, who wants to hear how bad they’ve become?

In verses 2-3, God spoke to Jerusalem about the days when Israel was a devoted and loving bride, dutifully following Him. God protected His holy, chosen people from those who attempted to devour the “firstfruits of His harvest”. Those enemies faced disaster (as in Egypt and the Red Sea).

Then God stops reminiscing and confronts His people with a question: “What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me?” (Jeremiah 2:5).

Whoa…wait a minute. What? Did I read that correctly, God? Did you just ask what fault they found in YOU?

I sat back in my chair, flummoxed. There it was. Verse 5. I had read it in the past without much more than a passing curiosity. Sadness enveloped me as God whispered to me, “Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently to keep my children at home, safe in My arms, resting in the warmth of My lap? Why, oh why, do they always run away from me?”

I could hear the pain of a parent who has lost a child. Pain filled with the all-encompassing emptiness of unanswered questions.

Then, I heard Him say, “Please, my children, come back to Me. I’m waiting. Still.”

And He is. Not just for them, but for us, too.

Sitting in my office that night as I read Jeremiah 2:5, I wept. Uncontrollably. Loudly. I couldn’t fathom God’s agony over losing His chosen ones time after time after time. I cried at the thought of His suffering for those who hear His call daily and refuse to answer, or worse, tell Him, “No.”

That verse has been on my heart for a few weeks. I’ve been afraid to respond. Afraid because then I’d have to look at myself and see the truth of me. But He deserves an answer. Even if it seems too small.

Oh my Heavenly Father. You did nothing wrong. As if You ever could. We do not find fault in You but in ourselves. You are without fault. We see our history and the wounds of our transgressions engraved in the landscape of time. Our wickedness repulses us. Our idolatry and pride disgust us. We are covered in the scars of our sins.

The fault, God, is NOT with You. Never. The fault is in our scars.

Shame on you

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I love bags. Messenger bags. Tote bags. Book bags. All colors, shapes, sizes, and materials. I carry different bags for different things. My “Wednesday” bag houses Bible study materials for my small group.  My “Saturday” bag is devoted to those seven-hour jam sessions with the girls at the coffee shop. My “study” bag carries personal Bible study goodies. My “just in case” bag stores random things and possibilities.

There’s another bag, though, that most of us carry that we wish we didn’t. It’s our “past” bag. You know the one. It’s tattered, broken, covered in embarrassing destination stickers, and bursting at the seams with sin and regret. It’s the bag we shove under the bed or hide in the corner of our living room under a potted plant, hoping nobody will notice. It doesn’t fit in the overhead bin (not much does!) in airplanes, so we have to carry it. And after awhile, that burdensome bag can be quite heavy.

I was thinking about that bag the other day when I was in a store and overheard a mother tell her daughter, “Shame on you.” I don’t know what the daughter did, but I saw her reaction and recognized its paralyzing effect. Allow me to share a story from my past.

***

My second-grade principal towered over me, onyx hair glued to her scalp, arms crossed chest high— their first favorite position— and heaved a gusty sigh. She closed her eyes, pursed her wafer-thin lips and shook her head in disapproval. “You better explain yourself, missy.” She called all the girls “missy” and the boys “mister”.

Tears dripped from my eyes and my chest heaved in distorted rhythms. “I…I…I…”

“Yes?” She moved her hands to her hips—their second favorite position—and took two steps closer to my trembling body. Heat emanated from her, palpably and ferociously.

“I…”, sniff, breathe, sniff, “lied…”

“I know you lied. I caught you, missy, because you are a terrible liar.” She grinned and leaned back. I half expected her to laugh.

“Would you rather I was good at lying?” I was in the second grade. Sarcasm wasn’t in my grasp.

“Don’t you dare get smart with me, young lady.”

Uh-oh. Not young lady. Young lady meant I was in serious trouble.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know I was being smart?” I paused, twisted my right doggy ear around my index finger and contemplated, to the best of my second-grade brain’s ability, her negative use of the word “smart”. Smart was a compliment in my home and deserved a hug. Not crossed arms and a furrowed brow.

“Explain yourself. Now.” Her toe tapped in rhythm with my increasing anxiety.

I let it out. All of it. I told her how I had forged my friend’s name on the student council ballot but thought it would be OK since he told me he was voting for me. It was Texas. A man’s word is his bond. It wasn’t my fault he got sick the day of the election.

[Sidebar: The boy’s last name was Townsend. My seven-year-old spelling skills didn’t extend to last names, so I had actually written the name “Townsin“. Phonetically correct. Spiritually, too.]

“I’m withdrawing you from the race and putting this in your permanent record. You will never run for student office again.” She scribbled some notes on her acrylic clipboard. “Ten swats in my office after school plus one month of cleaning duties.” She pivoted on her clunky heels and stepped away from me. Two paces into her departure she stopped and looked back at me over her shoulder-pad. “Shame on YOU, Heather. Shame on you.”

***
The pain of that memory is as real for me today as it was so long ago. I got over the blistered backside and the nausea from cleaning toilets and chalkboards. I even ran for student council president in 6th grade and won. Without lying.

The biggest sting for me was the jagged knife across my emotional skin of the word “shame”. That word and all its accoutrements filled up my “past” bag. I lugged it through school and college and even included in my marriage dowry. I suffered under its weight, believing I had to carry it, had to bear the burden of all those past sins. Until I realized that’s exactly what Satan wants for my life. He doesn’t want me to let go of that baggage, because it keeps me buried under a shroud of lies and darkness, keeps me from seeing the brilliance of God’s illuminating Truth.

I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Hebrews 8:12

He forgives AND he forgets. Forever.

God held up His mirror and showed me shoulders hunched under the weight of sin. The mirror reflected my shame. Not Him: So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Remove the veil, my friends. See yourselves as God sees you. Stand up straight, because we don’t need to slouch anymore: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Christ’s yoke is my everyday, anywhere and everywhere bag. It stores my salvation. And honestly, it’s the only bag I need.

It began at a tree

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IMG_1719I often wonder what pre-sin freedom felt like. The complete and total peace of love, community with God, and the joy of simply being. The not worrying about waking up with bed hair or bad breath or crusty eyes because self-consciousness didn’t exist. Swaying to the twisting, twirling dance of truth. Knowing and accepting and saying, “It’s enough. You, God, are enough.”

Did Eve wake up that morning—you know the one where it began—fully rested and meander, naked and unashamed, through Eden’s canopy-lined pathways to discover Adam had prepared a breakfast feast? Did she laugh as Adam juggled figs? Did she put a daisy behind her ear and hum a God-kissed melody? Did she bask in the warmth of the young sun? Were the colors Crayola bright and the sounds Dolby clear?

I wonder how often she passed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Was it shrouded in darkness? Did she even notice it? Or did she so completely and totally trust God that the tree meant nothing and just living with Him, for Him meant everything?

As she pushed her way through the garden of life-giving branches and ran her fingers through their vibrant leaves, did she see the slithering serpent or hear him? Did he frighten her or was she merely curious about him? As he spoke to her, planting sinister seeds of doubt, did he grin?

Did the sin-seed sprout inside her, causing her to see the tree in the middle of the garden differently? Or did her lack of faith and trust transform the way she saw the tree?

Her once harmonious, stable life was thrown off kilter by an inharmonious tree.

Genesis 3 tells us that, to Eve, the tree’s fruit looked delicious. Fruit she had seen every day with no desire to taste. Because God was enough.

But the wild and shrewd serpent whispered poison into her ears and Eve suddenly had a craving for the fruit’s wisdom.

Sin disguised as delicious, wisdom-giving fruit.

Sin began in the middle of a garden. Sin began at a tree.

The tree that meant nothing changed everything.

Years later, God sent us a Savior, One who survived the serpent’s venomous promises and Whose eyes remained focused on a tree. A tree in the shape of a cross. A tree where sin—Eve’s, Adam’s, yours, mine—would be pierced, crushed, beaten, and whipped into Jesus. A tree where He, carrying the full weight of our transgressions, would be hanged, suffer and die. For sin. All sin. Sin that began at a tree.

The reconciliation had to happen where it all began.

You look just like Him

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My nephew is precious. Every day, he grows, morphs. Sometimes several days will lapse before I see him again, and I am amazed at how much he has changed. Whether it’s a mannerism or a look or even his height.

Could he be any cuter?

Could he be any cuter?

My sister and I are planning his first birthday party. Truthfully, the party is a celebration of survival. The adoption journey has been a tough one for the whole family, but especially for my sister and brother-in-law. You’d never know it, though, by looking into their eyes. They have nothing but love and tenderness for their son. He is a joy and has given them joy.

Any time people see him, they can’t help but smile.

How could you NOT smile when seeing such a beautiful baby?

How could you NOT smile when seeing such a beautiful baby?

People also say how much he looks like my brother-in-law. And he does. Except for the nose. He has my sister’s nose.

I started thinking about how, as Christians, we are adopted, too. Into God’s family.

  • God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:5
  • See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1
  • So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.  And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:15-17

He chose us. He sacrificed for us. And he looks in our eyes and pours out His love, mercy, tenderness, and grace upon us.

My hope is that when people see me in public, they smile and tell me how much I look like my Father. Actually, I hope they don’t see me. I hope they see Him in me. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

 

The lost one

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Tornadoes touched down Sunday in a small town a little over an hour north of where I live in Oklahoma. Initially, news reports speculated two people had died in the storm. This morning, however, reports indicate one confirmed death. I didn’t know the person. I’m not even sure his/her name has been released to the public. But somebody out there is experiencing loss today. Not just the loss of a loved one but the loss of tornadic devastation.

I saw another news report about sixteen people who died in the same storm in Little Rock, AR.

I thought about how that number—16—seems so much bigger than one. I thought about how easily the one in Oklahoma can be lost among the sixteen in Arkansas.

That made me think of another time where numbers were significant.

Jesus and His disciples docked their boat and trekked up the hill to a small village in the Decapolis. It was a Gentile village, so Jesus was showing His disciples how He wanted to expand His ministry to the “unclean”. As the small group approached the outskirts of town, a wild beast of a man accosted them on the hillside. Naked and wild-eyed, the man bore little resemblance to a human anymore. He resided among the dead in the tombs. The townspeople had failed to contain him, so they left him to his misery. Broken chains hung from his wrists like iron reminders of his imprisonment. Blood dripped from the self-inflicted gashes in his skin. Filth spewed from his pores and his mouth. “What do you want from me?” he asked Jesus.

In the same breath, he begged Jesus not to torture him. A tortured soul asking not to be tortured? Can you even fathom that level of darkness?

Jesus recognized the evil within him and commanded the impure spirit to leave the man.

In a nearby field, some men were tending to several herds of pigs totaling two-thousand. They tended to pigs, but not to the man. I wonder if they had stopped seeing him.

Jesus saw him. Not the demon-crazed, tomb-bound man. He saw the man within. The human being crying out day and night, begging for mercy.

The demon called himself Legion. I always wondered if that name had some sort of evil meaning, but I read somewhere that was the largest unit of the Roman army, containing three-to-six-thousand soldiers.

Did the man have a legion of demons in him? A whole army of evil battling against his very soul? Perhaps, because “Legion” asked, nay begged, Jesus to grant permission (demons don’t TELL Jesus anything! They must bow to His power!) to enter the pigs.

Jesus agreed and the man was freed.

Immediately the herd of pigs rushed to the cliff and plummeted to the water below.

The people of the town were furious. How dare Jesus allow two-thousand innocent pigs to die all for one man! They vomited their disdain at Him and deigned to tell Him to never return to their village.

They got caught up in the numbers. Two-thousand pigs versus one man. (Mark 5:1-20)

But Jesus saw him, He had compassion on him, and He saved him. And to Jesus, one IS important: “There is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away” (Luke 15:7).

This story of the demon-possessed man can be quite haunting, but I find it comforting to know that even though I am just one person, I am an important one to Him.

May we pray for the families of the sixteen in Arkansas, the one in Oklahoma, and the other one, the lost one, the one that matters, always, to Him.

Getting to the root of the Word

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When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office. Not because I skipped class or sassed my teachers or caused problems, but because I was a bit of a non-conformist. One thing you should know about me is that I love hats and there’s nothing better than a hat on a bad hair day. Trust me when I say that, in the 80s, I had LOTS of bad hair days. I had that whole lion-mane-mall-bangs look. Plus I lived in Texas, and as the saying goes, everything’s bigger in Texas, especially the hair. So yeah, I donned many a hat. And wearing hats was against “the rules”…unless you were a guy. Can anyone say “double standard”? I pretty much loathe double standards. Always have.

So I “voiced” my annoyance at the seemingly bogus rule by wearing hats to school. Each time I did, my first period teacher would send me to the principal’s office where we’d have chats about everything from rules to politics to the future of education. That poor man listened patiently while I unloaded my frustrations about the world and sports. Yes, sports. It was Texas. Sports were/are king, queen, AND the royal court. I was a theater geek. We were the foppish jesters, rogues and vagabonds, begging for funding. I digress…

I look back on that time and think of how much easier things could have been for me had I just conformed to the rules. The hat rule wasn’t the only one I broke. There were a couple of others that involved discrimination. More double standards. Nicknames preceded and followed me down halls and into classrooms. More than I can remember, or more than I want to remember. They weren’t all bad, mind you, but they weren’t my name.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was sitting in my booth with my friends, Cori and Lady Di, I read a verse that God had put on my heart: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Cori, who was struggling with some things, honed in on the “testing” portion of the scripture. Lady Di focused on understanding the perfect will of God. I, on the other hand, zeroed in on two words: conform and transform.

The root of both words, obviously, is “form”.

In the beginning, Genesis tells us, the earth was “formless”. Nothing was here. God brought form and He formed us: “Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person” (Genesis 2:7). Such a beautiful picture of God, the artist, creating man with nothing but dust and a breath.

I explored the two words and looked first at the prefix “con” in relation to “form”. Con means several things:

  • deception trickery
  • in opposition to, against
  • slang for a convict

Paul tells us not to be conformed to this world. I believe understanding the “con” helps us see why:

  • The world deceives us, and tricks us.
  • The world is in opposition to what God has formed.
  • The world wants to live outside the law. The world wants to lock us in its prison so the devil can throw away the key.

Next, I dug into the prefix “trans”. It means:

  • across or through
  • complete change

So I can conform or BE transformed. I own the conforming. God owns the transforming.

  • I can live in the lie of the world’s deception, or I can allow God to transform me with His truth.
  • I can be in opposition to God, or I can let the Holy Spirit run across me and through me.
  • I can be a prisoner, a convict, or I can be set free.

The word “trans” doesn’t just mean changed. It means complete change. Why?

On the cross, Jesus “was in the form of God” and He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:6-8). Jesus completed it. He uttered “It is finished!” upon His death. It was, as Oswald Chambers tells us, “the final word in the redemption of humankind.”

Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians, “you also are complete through your union with Christ” (2:10). He completed it and in Him I am complete. Total transformation.

Looking back on my days as a non-conformist, I realize I was preparing myself for a Christian walk that doesn’t conform to the ways of this world but allows God to transform me. Praise Him.