Thursday, April 17, 2014

When Death is Near

I'm melancholy today.

Death is near and I keep imagining myself at the Last Supper table with Jesus.  I wonder if the disciples fully understood what was about to happen.  I wonder if they could possibly wrap their minds around the anguish and the pain that was to come.

I have a vase of roses that are on their way out on a table next to me and I'm beginning to smell the rot of death.  I have tulips in the kitchen whose petals are falling, leaving the pistils bare, naked, unadorned.

You'd think I'd clean up this mess, but no.  I don't do it, not today, because today they remind me death is near.  And while I know resurrection is coming, while I know my Savior lives, I'm taking Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to heart.  To remember the fullness of His death allows me to unearth the amazing sacrifice He made for me and see it in its rawness.  To veil the pain and the agony is to rob the whole design of its significance.

I haven't pressed into Holy Week like this before.  For so many years, I've glossed over the weekdays and showed up on Sunday with all my praise and white on.  I've lifted my hands high, my voice loud, my heart full.  And it was good.  Celebrating the resurrection is so, so good.

But this year, this year, God has so much He wanted to root out of me and pour into me during this Lenten season.  And here we are on the home stretch and He's not letting me lose any intensity.  Because to truly know the death of Jesus is to truly know the death of this Love Idol I've been carrying around all my life.

While I've been in Matthew every morning this week, just now, I've turned to the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus has broken the bread and He's shared the cup and just a few sentences later, His closest friends are marveling over who would be the greatest among them.

They had love idols, too.

Just like me, they didn't understand that worldly acclamation and numbers showing success were not the answer to their emptiness.  They didn't get that fullness comes just from the incredible love of Jesus, the Man who sat with them at the table.  They had this very Man within arms reach, and yet, they ended up still trying to hug themselves, to congratulate themselves, to promote themselves.

I laid down criticism this Lenten season because critical words from others and myself have had the power to wreck me.  And Jesus doesn't want me to be wrecked like that anymore.  Through this journey, I have felt this need for worldly approval begin to die.  It has withered, just like my roses, inside my soul.  The love idol has lost luster.  I can feel it.

But it makes sense to me, these last few days, that Satan has tried to bring it back, to plaster my failures and my losses in front of me so that no matter which way I try to turn, I cannot escape them.  Because he knows to let this love idol die is to let me live.  To live in the fullness of joy and peace that God has for me, that Jesus died to give me.

So I must watch through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I must watch my Savior die because He's taking my love idol with Him.  It's all on the cross.

To see Jesus on the cross with my love idol, oh, the picture of grace He has painted for me since the beginning.  The picture for decades He's tried to get me to see.

To lay down criticism, my love idol, was to lay down one of the biggest obstructions to my walk with God.  I'm seeing the fullness of the cross for the first time.  I read Jesus' response to His disciples and my spirit simply cries out, "Yes..."

"In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called 'friends of the people.'  But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.  Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course.  But not here! For I am among you as the one who serves." Luke 22: 25-27

Want to know more about Love Idol written by Jennifer Dukes Lee?  Click this link to read the reviews and purchase.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Promise in Pieces: Book Review


First of all, I hardly ever read fiction that takes place decades ago, much less Christian fiction.  The first chapter takes place in year 2000, but the second one is a flashback to 1943.  When I realized this I think I might have sighed a little.  But I love Emily and I love her writing, so I kept going.

And I kept reading and reading and when I got to the last page, I was so sad to see it end.  Emily's writing kind of does this to you, just to warn you.  It's like saying good-bye to an old friend.

It will seem like the book is about a quilt, but it's really more about learning to forgive one's self and those around you.  It's about realizing that no matter how hard you try, you cannot fix the world and the people in it.  All you can do is do your best, love, and forgive.

Emily's book brings alive this concept: Love really does cover a multitude of sins.  It's a biblical truth that sometimes I forget that's tucked away in 1 Peter:
    "Most of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8 
When I allow myself to live from the depths of my heart, when I allow love to disintegrate my self-protective armor, I am able to see past the wrongs people have done, both those intended and those not intended for harm.  I am able to recognize that this world and the people in it are broken, just like me.

And we are broken and this is good, if we look at it from a certain perspective.  On this earth we will never be perfect, nor were we designed to be.

Because we are designed to need Jesus.

Every character in this book needs Jesus.  Everyone of them needs forgiveness and has to make a choice to love.  And those who choose love, choose forgiveness.  They choose freedom.  Because we may think we are holding onto past hurts to protect ourselves, but really Satan is using those past hurts to hold onto us.

I've spent too many years being held captive, but I am finding freedom as God helps me to use love as a weapon that breaks chains.  This freedom feels so good and I can't imagine going back to the prison which  held me.

But the truth is, it is my human nature to self-protect.  And I need examples and scriptures to keep me on the path God has for me.

If you are one who needs this, too, I recommend getting lost in Emily's book for a bit.  You'll come out fresh, renewed, and ready for God's arms.

Can you tell us about a time you have chosen to forgive instead of choosing chains of resentment or regret?

You can order this book today on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Disclosure: I was given an advanced reader copy so to review this book prior to its release.

Enter to win a free copy of Emily's book using the Rafflecopter widget below!

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Linking up with Emily for Imperfect Prose, Jennifer Lee for #tellHisstorySharita for Everyday Jesus, Lyli for Thought Provoking Thursday, and Laura for Quitting Thursday.

photo credit: Philerooski via photopin cc (text added by Jen)

Monday, April 14, 2014

When You Just Need to Know {Spiritual Misfit Giveaway!} and the Soli Deo Gloria Party

Welcome to Soli Deo Gloria!  This group exists to empower women to authentically share their hearts.  Want to learn more?  Click here to find out ways you can be involved here.
Some things to know:
1.  It's important to take some time to visit a friend.  SDG is about relationships.  If you decide to link up a post that reflects your heart, be sure to stop by your neighbor's place.  We want to make sure everybody at this party feels a little love!
2.  We are a safe place to be real.  I deeply cherish your involvement in the community.  Consider answering the question from "Let's get real" at the bottom of the post in the comments section.
3.  I'm slowly updating the SDG retreat page.  Take a second and check it out?
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My daughter took the house iPhone to school the other day for "academic purposes" (right!) and she texted me about an hour before I was to meet her down the street for pick up.  The text conversation is too long to post in pictures, but be sure, it was filled with all the possible sad emoticons that exist on the emoji keyboard.  (If you, too, have a ten year old daughter, you get what I'm saying.)

I watch her (barely) limp down the hill and I think to myself "This is no big deal."  And yet, when we make it inside the house, drama ensues.

Here's my disclaimer: I don't deal well with drama.  As much as you might think I am a compassionate soul, when I am confronted with irrational wailing, it just does me in.  For the life of me, I could not figure out why she was making such a big deal out of a non-swollen, perfectly fine-looking ankle.  And so (I basically shouted), "Why are you being so dramatic about this? Why must I rush you to the doctor?  Quit. Your. Crying."

And then she launches into this whole story about how her friend (just this week!) fractured her wrist on the playground and how her doctor said something to the effect of "If you had waited one more day to cast this, we would have had to put you to sleep and put in pins and needles."  (I'm sure the doctor only said "pin" but you know how things get lost in translation.)  After the whole diatribe, she concludes with "I just need to know if it's fractured. I just need to know."

Ah.  There was the fear.  The fear that if we don't catch this fracture RIGHT AWAY, she was going to have to undergo surgery and be put to sleep and "have pins and needles sticking out of my ankle!" (as she put it).

Once I understood the catalyst that set the drama into motion, I was able to become (a little) more compassionate.  The fear was real and if she could just know, she thought, the fear would be gone.  The thought of being able to absolutely know what she was dealing with was the only source of comfort she could entertain. No amount of trust in my words, opinions, or experience was good enough.

I've been there with God.  How many times have I said, "God, I just need to know and then I'll trust You.  Then I'll know it will all be okay."  I remember when I heard God tell me at a Christmas Eve service that He would provide if I stayed home with my daughter even though on paper it looked like Craig and I could not in a million years make ends meet for the long term.  I left that service with so much hope and faith.  And then a few days later, I lamented to God, "How are you going to provide? Can it please be in one lump sum so I can plan it all out?  I just need to know."  I actually entered an HGTV contest that was giving away $100,000 to a family that needed help paying the mortgage and told God He could provide through HGTV.

God laughed, I'm sure.

When I read this passage from Michelle DeRusha's new memoir, Spiritual Misfit, I identified with her so much.  She writes:
"When I thought about it, these lake-water images struck me as the perfect metaphor for my tentative floundering toward belief.  In matters of spirituality I often assumed that if only I knew for sure, if I firmly grasped the answers to all the questions if I saw clearly how it would all turn out, then I would be okay.  I thought if I could see under the surface of that murky water, glimpse what was hidden beneath, my faith would finally be secure, rock solid and steady.  On the other hand, my memory of yet another lake experience left me wondering if even that kind of clarity would satisfy." (page 91)
In the end, Michelle realizes just as the murky water was scary, so too, was the water that was so crystal clear she could see absolutely everything.  To see both nothing and everything are ends of a spectrum -- the black and the white.  And where I think God wants us to live is in the gray, where our lives are punctuated with light that sheds clarity exactly at the moment we need it.

Michelle's whole memoir is testament to this.  She doesn't have a Saul/Paul moment of conversion.  Hers is step by step, moving from doubt to faith.  She lets you in on her own analytical mind, showing us how she regularly clung to her logic as a three year old clings to her favorite lovey.  But we also see God gently prying her fingers off, one by one, eventually setting free the lovey, clasping each finger fully onto His, the very definition of love.

And isn't this how faith works?  Whether you've been a Christian forever or you are still entertaining the idea that He might be real, there are still worldly ways and worldly things onto which we cling because we just need to know.  The fear of the unknown, we think, is too much to bear.

It's by living that we trust, by giving Him opportunities to work in our lives, opening our eyes to seeing His involvement, to feeling His touch.  It's there.  If only we allow ourselves the time and space to see it.  Michelle's life is testament to this.

It's a beautiful, funny, poignant, wrestling life where, no matter what your journey, you will find some common ground on which you can grow.

Let's Get Real: Is there something you "just need to know?" Is there a place where you think, "If I could just see the grand plan..." OR have you had an experience where you trusted and let God work?  Let us know in the comments. 

Convergent Books has graciously given me a free copy of Spiritual Misfit to give away to one reader. (Full discloser: I was given an advance reader copy of this book as well, but my opinions here are entirely my own and I was not instructed to give a positive review.)  Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win a copy of Michelle's book.
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Time to share what's on YOUR heart. After you link up, please visit your neighbor and leave and encouraging word for her.

Friday, April 11, 2014

FMF: Paint

I treated the painting class like all my other college classes...a place to make an A.

I wanted to do the right strokes, make the right colors, paint things as I saw them...the literal objects set before me.  If I could mimic real life, that would mean I was good.  Talented.  Worthy.

And then she went up there and presented her painting...the still life that looked only vaguely similar to the flower she painted.

It was beautiful.  And I was jealous.

That 20 year old college me wanted to stand up and say, "That's not fair! That's not what it looks like! I didn't know we could get creative with what we saw!"

Brat.

But I see that 20 year old in the class, that 20 year old who hadn't found that suppressed voice that nodded yes when she painted outside the lines, when reality blurred a bit and she saw beyond what her eyes took in.

*****

Painting helps break me out of my literal and black and white ruts.  It fuels my passion for living a grace-filled life, where you can paint over the mistakes with other shades of acrylic, where you can use the built up bumps and ridges to create a texture that never existed before.

Oh, how God has uses the bumps and ridges of my mistakes past to build something entirely new, to give my life a texture it never had.  Oh, how God has let the lines get blurry, let the blacks and whites turn to gray...and make grace.

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I'm hanging out with Lisa-Jo this morning.  Want in?  Here's the deal:

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.
3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community..