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”.

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.

A cup of suffering

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I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. My aging cat, unfinished projects, double standards, the future. Cups. Yes, cups. And no, not the Anna Kendrick song from “Pitch Perfect“. Although I love that song. Also not coffee cups. Although I love a good cup of coffee. Especially with Italian Sweet Cream.

How could you not want coffee out of something so cute?

How could you not want coffee out of something so cute?

Mostly I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ cups.

In scripture we see literal cups. But the metaphoric cups are the ones that have been on my mind. When Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, He tried so desperately to get them to understand that their rules, hundreds of which they created themselves, were blinding them to the sheer awesomeness and graciousness of God. He offered them example after example, pleading with them to open their eyes to Who was before them and what He was offering. He addressed their superficial OCD rule-following by pointing out their hypocrisy: “You are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!” (Matthew 23:25) All that mattered to them was the appearance of the cup. “Look at me, following the rules. I’m such a good person. Let me announce it in the streets. And put You down for deigning to heal people on the Sabbath. Scoff-scoff.” They practically stalked Him, hoping to catch Him breaking a rule. His very own paparazzi, ready to publicize the slightest slip. I wonder what they would think of my cup?

Mine is filthy, inside AND out. But, hey, I'm a sinner.

Mine is filthy, inside AND out. But, hey, I’m a sinner.

Jesus spoke of another cup. The cup. He left the Last Supper where He passed around a cup, a literal cup filled with the metaphoric representation of the blood He would shed. He ventured up to the Mount of Olives to pray. In solitude. Not surrounded by His twelve or the self-righteous naysayers and non-believing paparazzi. He was alone. Well, not completely. He was with His Father. Filled with the heaviness and knowledge of what was to come, He looked to His Father and said, “If you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me (Luke 22: 42a)” He could have begged. Or stopped it. I would have. I would have run away. I can barely carry the burden of my own sins, let alone the world’s. But not Jesus. He told His Father, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (42b).” He WANTED His Father’s will and He knew what that entailed. His was the only clean cup, inside and out. So it had to be Him.

One of my favorite movies is the mid-nineties hit “When a Man Loves a Woman.” There’s a scene where Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan’s characters are arguing in the kitchen about parenting and Meg is stirring her coffee. Andy, who is all kinds of frustrated, looks at her and says (I’m paraphrasing here), “I think we have enough to deal with, with our coffee and our little spoon.” In the movie it’s a big time “Yikes”. But in reality, it’s true. Some days, it’s all I can do to stir my coffee. Jesus knew that. He saw that. He grabbed my cup, with all of its sin-filled sludge, and drank it. He washed it in His blood, scrubbing away any remnants of my sin, and handed it to His Father. “I’m doing this for her,” He said. “She’s worth it.”

I will remember that. Always. Especially when I’m staring into my own cup of suffering. Because of Him, my cup is clean.