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.

Of destinations and detours

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I’ve never been much of a planner. I tend to be a wait-till-the-last-minute person. Some might call it procrastination. I simply call it preference. I don’t like to get bogged down in too many details. To-do lists overwhelm me. I focus so much on everything that needs to get done that I can’t enjoy completing each individual task. I understand the need for plans and to-do lists. And God put plenty of people on this earth who are not only exceptional at planning but who receive immense pleasure from checking off or crossing out items on their lists.

My sister is a planner. And she’s a really good one. Have a momentous occasion coming up? She’s your gal. Everything from the invitations to the table decor to the entertainment will be thematically linked, of the highest quality, and have hours of thought behind its execution. Party planner extraordinaire. It’s her new middle name.

Me? Well, let’s just say, “Oh is that tomorrow?” is my middle name. Prime example: my hubby recently celebrated his 50th birthday. Pretty big deal, right? I threw together a swell shindig at Incredible Pizza complete with one-week-notice phone invites to two friends and my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. My hubby still enjoyed the “party”. Personally I think it was the over-the-hill ensemble I made him wear. Either that or the all-he-could-eat pizza buffet.

I am also the person who, unlike everyone else in my family, doesn’t send out Christmas cards. Not because I don’t want to or don’t have time. I could make the time. I just forget. My “forgetfulness” over the years is evidenced in the four Christmas cards I get from family every year as opposed to the thirty or forty my sister gets. She remembers to send hers. Always.

This time of year, it’s easy to see the chasm separating the planners from the non-planners. Planners had their Christmas decorations up the day after Thanksgiving and several gleaming gifts under the tree. Us non-planners still have presents to purchase and bins of decorations nestled in the attic.

I accept my preference. Others may not, but I do. It’s who I am.

I’ve been watching people plan for upcoming trips to various locations. I’ve seen people book hotels, purchase plane tickets, reserve rental cars, fill carts with travel-size HBAs. Checking to-do lists, scratching off completed items.

Me? I don’t travel much. Meniere’s Disease makes traveling not so fun. But that’s OK. I’ve accepted that this is who I am.

And believe it or not, I am planning for a destination. I RSVP’d “Yes” several years ago. And my life hasn’t been the same since.

All our plans (or non-plans), all our destinations are but detours on the road to our final destination. The one where we get to meet our Father who so lovingly adopted us into His family.

God is a Master Planner, so He sent out His invitations when He created man. He even sent His Son to personally invite everyone.

My hope is for more people to RSVP “Yes” to Him, “Yes” to the only destination that matters, “Yes” to His plan, His will, His Word. It is the best “Yes” a person can make.

The date on His invitation is drawing near. Oh how I pray that few miss it.

Old and new

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The stillness of a fresh, new morning as it peels back the layers of night’s cover welcomes me into a comforting embrace of promise for the day. I fondly reflect on the memory of yesterday, a warm imprint on the pillow of my mind. But I can’t dwell there. I can’t curl up with yesterday and remain, stagnant, frozen, forever locked in a motionless existence. So I shuffle off the sleep of yesterday and welcome the wakefulness of today. The newness of now.

This season’s front-page “cans” and “wills” hang in the closet of hope, laundered and pressed, beckoning me to wear them with confidence.

I can do anything. I can be anything.

I try on the outfit, sucking in all my bloated doubt, begging it to fit. I search for my haphazard companion, Courage, and she is late. As usual. So I approach the mirror without her. Society’s preference for emaciated reflections goads me into removing the too-small apparel and relegating it to the back of the closet with last season’s must-haves. My closet bursts at it seams with unused must-haves. And then God’s assurance of Philippians 4:13 flashes through my head. His words drown out the hollow proclamations of the morally thin. “Listen to me, Heather. Put your trust in me, my child. See my face in your ensemble of can.”

I wrap His voice around me as I slip into His timeless cloak of wills.

I will do better today than I did yesterday. I will listen to my Father’s voice.

I approach the mirror again. And smile. Because He is Who I see.

His will becomes my will.

Will is rooted in strength. That same strength that is part of God’s whole-being commandment to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Perhaps that’s why the word is willpower.  Because it requires the strength of God to do His will. It’s hard to love. Jesus had to command us to love others, because He knew how unlovable so many “others” can be.

Despite the difficulty in whole-being love (something we CAN do with the Holy Spirit!), there’s something truly and magnificently beautiful about the simplicity of the new covenant.

The old covenant has been on my mind lately. Especially the fact that God carved His commandments in stone. I thought about all the rules we have today. Our rules are written, rewritten, deleted, and amended with the ease of a keystroke or the seeming apathy of a “Yea/nay” vote among clock-obsessed officials. And we follow the rules. Mostly. We don’t really give them much thought or connect to them on a personal level. We simply do them by rote.

We follow paper-thin rules, teetering on the edge of Wite-Out extinction (depending on the mood of the rule writer), more readily, more easily than God’s people followed His stone-carved eternal commandments.

I believe that’s why He sent us Jesus. He engraved the new covenant on our hearts, so we would be whole-being connected to Him, His commandments, His will.

“I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me”. (Philippians 4:13)

I can, because He did.

Time after time

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If you’re an 80s child like I am, then it’s a veritable impossibility that the name “Cyndi Lauper” means nothing to you. Her orange hair and multilayered skirts are an iconic testament to the rowdiness (and fun) of that decade. Yes, I donned the side-swept bouffant and neon-speckled clothes a couple of times while lip-synching “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun“. One of my favorite songs of hers, though, has always been “Time After Time” (Eva Cassidy’s version is, in my opinion, FAR superior. The woman had serious pipes. Listen to it. A-MAzing.)

In this middle of the song, Cyndi penned a tender moment of what I like to think of  as a person’s decision to walk with Christ:

Sometimes you picture me –
I’m walking too far ahead
You’re calling to me, I can’t hear
What you’ve said –
Then you say – go slow –
I fall behind –
The second hand unwinds

I often think about my pre-Christian life, when I made my own path and listened to the world. I know He was calling me, but I couldn’t hear Him over the swell of the world’s enticing sin-buffet. I was deaf, blind, and lame in my sin.

He kept calling. Time after time.

Then one day, I stopped, turned around, and heard Him. He healed me. He opened my ears, eyes, and taught me how to walk in His way.

Many times since I have fallen in line behind Him on the path, He has whispered, “Go slow. Seize this moment, don’t waste it.”

Time is one of those intangible, relative things that is just out of my reach. I wonder:

  • How much time do I have left?
  • How well am I using the time I do have?
  • How can Jesus unwind the second hand on my previous sin-filled life and tell me, “All is forgiven, Heather. It is finished. Your debt is paid.”

Then I think about about how God’s timing, something I can’t imagine or understand, saves me when I least expect it.

Yesterday morning, I was stopped at the entrance of my subdivision, bracing myself for work and traffic and life. A brick-red truck was down the road a bit. He wasn’t speeding and I could have pulled out in front of him. But I heard God whisper, “Go slow.” So I waited. The truck passed and I eased in behind it. Less than half a mile up the road is a traffic light. Yesterday, it switched to Go-green a breath of a second before the truck and I neared the intersection. He signaled a left blinker and began his turn when a speeding car collided into him. The driver didn’t apply brakes. Didn’t slow or swerve. Simply plowed into the truck, totaling both vehicles.

After the dust settled and the adrenaline waned, I thanked God for not giving up on me.  I thanked Him for calling out to me time after time. I thanked Him for His whispers of:

If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you; I’ll be waiting
Time after time

His hands

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I was in the kitchen the other evening, watching my husband rinse lettuce. I smiled at the sight of his capable hands. And I thought of everything his hands represent to me.

So many stories live in these hands

So many stories live in these hands

When I see his hands, I see:

  • The damage the hot iron burned into his skin when he was five;
  • The agility of fingers that have years of experience chopping, dicing, carving, and creating culinary masterpieces;
  • The sun spots from hours spent outside, working in the yard, doing construction, fishing in lakes, rivers and oceans;
  • The gold band on his ring finger that he’s worn faithfully and dutifully for seventeen years;
  • The palms that cup my face and press against the small of my back;
  • The fingers that interlock with mine so perfectly, so comfortably, that touch me with a tenderness born of love and commitment.

I smell:

  • Remnants of garlic and onion from last night’s stir-fry;
  • A hint of sawdust from his latest carpentry project;
  • The richness of soil embedded under his nails from the new cutting he planted;
  • The burn of solder from the stained glass he’s designing for my birthday;
  • The sweetness of cedar and spice of amber from his cologne;
  • The subtle lingering of my perfume from holding my hand.

My husband’s hands are strong, over-worked, and an extension of his gracious heart. Each evening, as we close our eyes, he squeezes my hand “good night” and it assures me of more than he could possibly say with words.

I have also been thinking about my Father’s hands.

Between my hubby and God, I am in very good hands.

Tune in or out?

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I love music. I blame it on my parents. I grew up watching Elvis movies and knew every note to “Sound of Music”. I sang along to “Pete’s Dragon” and even learned the penguin dance from “Mary Poppins”.  I would put on variety shows for my parents and their friends who only thought they were in for dinner and cards. I capitalized on that whole captive audience notion. I belted out everything from Patsy Cline to the Carpenters and danced to Ricky Skaggs and the Beach Boys. I wrapped up the evening by hiding behind the piano bench to perform a sock-puppet show whereby I would improvise or quote lines from my favorite movies.

Am I in tune?

Am I in tune?

Music continued to play a huge role in my life throughout high school. The music I listened to even influenced my clothing. I went from dressing like Cyndi Lauper and The Pointer Sisters to donning Depeche-Mode-loving, pre-goth-uniform-wearing black-on-black clothing juxtaposed against a milky white face and fire-engine red lips. At least the “New Wave” look meant my parents could dump their stock in Aqua Net and I could knock an hour of hair-teasing time off my morning routine. To this day, when I shuffle my i-Pod, it switches from Chopin and Vivaldi to Mercy Me and Francesca Battistelli. From Rascal Flatts and Josh Turner to “Les Miserábles” and “Little Mermaid”. From Harry Connick, Jr. and Dean Martin to Amos Lee and Eva Cassidy. From Nina Simone and Julie London to Glen Hansard and Joshua Radin.

I  appreciate and respect melody and harmony. My ears are attracted to tune.

I am working through a “40 Days of Praise” Bible study with a friend where the first 31 days focus on Proverbs. In the midst of reading Proverbs 2, God shined His glorious spotlight across a word and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

In the first verse, God instructs us to listen to what He says and to treasure His commands. I consider myself a good listener. Well, as long as I’m having a good “ear” day. But how often do I sit in silence and truly listen for Him and to Him? And when I listen, do I hear?

The next verse is where God smacked me over the head: “Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.” TUNE my ears to wisdom. It’s as if God was saying, “OK, Heather. You like music, so I’m going to speak using terms you understand!” The word “tune” makes me think of a radio station that is set to a specific decimal point on the dial, like 100.9,  and will come in most clearly when adjusted to the point nine. Point eight and even one-oh-one will still pick up the station, but it will have static and noise, making the music harder to hear, harder to understand, harder to discern.  I also think of instruments and voices that please the ears and breathe life into melodies and harmonies when they are in tune. When a song is out of tune, it just doesn’t sound right. We know, inherently, that something is wrong.

In verse two, God is telling me to Pay Attention to wisdom, to listen for that stray, off-key note or static that clues me into knowing what I’m hearing isn’t from Him. Yesterday, as I flitted from one to-do item to the next (OK, I didn’t flit. I don’t flit. I lollygag. Flit just sounds better.), I played my Pandora station over my Sonos (yes, I have ONE station because I like a variety of music, remember?). Most times I know the music “they” choose. Sometimes, though, I check my phone to either give a song the up or down thumb. I heard a new song that had the simple acoustic sound I love and I was about to “thumbs up” it until I saw the name of the song. It was awful. Nothing fit to print here, that’s for sure. How could I have been so stupid as to appreciate something that sounded nice but was filthy at its core? The truth? I wasn’t really listening. I wasn’t slowing down to hear the words.

That’s really all God is asking of me in these first two verses. He wants me to listen to Him. To stop flitting (or lollygagging) and wait for Him to speak. Then He wants me to adjust my ears, to fine-tune them to His wisdom. Because when I open my life (and ears) to hear from Him, He will speak with clarity and His tune will fill my heart and home with the sweetest, most pleasing music of all.