Audience of One.

Three years ago, around June 2014, I felt 6 little words stamped right on my heart by God.

“You have an audience of One.”

I even thought about writing a blog about what those words meant, but every time I began to write it, I would get distracted and never finish… A majority of this post was written 3 years ago, and looking back now, I think it’s because I hadn’t fully understood… and maybe I still don’t have a full understanding, but I feel like I understand well enough to put it into words.

So I’m going to try to tell you the story without sounding like a crazy person, which I’m sure many of you who have read my previous posts already assume I am one, so here goes nothing:

Around the 4th of July 2014, I texted my friend who I had worked on the Christmas play with the previous year, because after like 3 nights of staying up until 2am and saying “next year, we’re starting in July” I just wanted to check in and see if we were going to be doing the play again…

And she said “Uhh… no, I need a break.”

And I said “lol”

Fast forward 2 weeks, I had a message on my voicemail

“Hey Sam, when are you available to meet to talk about scripts for the Christmas play.” Bwahahaha…

So, after 2 weeks of looking, but not finding a script that was “Christmas- but not cliché,” we decided to take a story we loved and had considered for the previous year, and adapt it into a Christmas play…

The story is Max Lucado’s “You Are Special” and I’ll let you look up the full synopsis somewhere else, because someone who is better at summing up things than me wrote one somewhere. But basically, it’s a story of how a little wooden doll learned to drown out all the voices around him, except for the voice of the woodcarver who carved him, to find true peace, love, and acceptance.

Now if you think this is the moment I caught on to the “audience of One” message from June, you’d be wrong… because I didn’t make that connection until much later.

So, I got busy with writing and making schedules, and my friend handled a lot of the actual work: asking for things and getting things approved, because I’m shy and don’t do well with talking to people on the phone… And we both were thrown for crazy loops beginning around the end of August, all the way through to the night of the performance, but somehow we got everything done… and by “somehow” I mean by the grace of God… because there was literally no other way… I mean, the week before the performance, I was on crutches with pneumonia at the same time, we had no props painted and zero costumes made… #Miracle

Anyway, in November, I was at a ladies’ bible study/training and one of the ladies was asked to share some of her experience after serving in ministry, and for some reason I decided to record what she said on my phone… and do you know what words came out of her mouth?

“I’ve learned that I have an audience of One.”

Whoa! I remembered the words written on my own heart five months earlier and… then finished eating my bowl of congee…

I’m not a total dunce, I knew then that those words had significance… I just was worn down from months of being in a season of constant change and heartache… so I thought “well, my life isn’t really a show worth watching, so You should just change the channel or get a refund for Your ticket.”

It felt like the next month was on fast forward up until Christmas Eve… The night of the performance… I was excited and nervous and I’m pretty sure I had an ulcer and lost half of my hair. I was understandably going a little nuts so I decided to head down to the church 2 hours before anyone else was scheduled to get there. I needed quiet. I needed to be alone.

Since we were a few stars short for the costumes,  I was sitting at the soundboard and listening to worship music, cutting out these little fabric stars… except, I wasn’t. I mean, everyone who knows me, knows I’m not the craftiest person… so these weren’t stars… they were some sort of quadrilateral blobby things… and after the tenth star that had one point completely lobbed off by my unskilled, useless hand, I just stopped and said “Why can’t I do this simple little thing? It’s not like it’s even that hard. Any idiot should be able to handle this.”

And if you were wondering, this is the moment when I finally understood why we had chosen this play, and why God had written those words on my heart 6 months before… because in that moment, I felt like I had done my best, and it still wasn’t good enough. I felt like the fact that I couldn’t cut out stars, somehow made me… less…

In that moment, I had an honest, desperate desire to hear what God thought about me…  not what great plans He has for my future, or if He’s had time to think about cluing me in on winning lottery numbers … I just wanted to know if He thought I was as useless as I felt, surrounded by those 4-point star-things. And as clearly as I could hear the music playing on my phone, I heard God say  “I would never think that about you.”

And so I cried for while, and got back to cutting out stars… that looked a bit more like stars this time… at least they seemed to look ok from the stage… (You can watch the performance here… it’s just a cellphone recording, so you might need to turn the sound up)

And now it’s been years since then, and most days, I can’t even claim to be any less of a mess… but if I hadn’t fully grasped the fact that God is not only keeping an eye on me, but He’s cheering me on, I probably would not have made it through the trials of the last few years.

But God already saw my future, and He prepared my heart ahead of time, so that even when I’m limping along, I know that the only voice that is allowed to speak in to my life is His.

The sheep that are My own hear and are listening to My voice; and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never lose it or perish throughout the ages. [To all eternity they shall never by any means be destroyed.] And no one is able to snatch them out of My hand.

– John 10:27-28 AMP

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Seventeen.

 

When I was 16, I had a rough year. I had two major surgeries. One of them was to fix my ankle, and the other one was to remove a tumor on my ovary. Both ruined my life. I couldn’t play volleyball anymore and was told I may never have children. But when I turned 17, my outlook on life improved almost immediately.

I think maybe it was because I was so deeply depressed and uninterested in life that my mom decided to finally relent and get me a puppy. A golden retriever for my golden birthday.

December 12th, 2006 I saw a golden retriever puppy for sale online at a local pet store (please don’t lecture me- we didn’t know about puppy mills and I’ve more than learned since then).  We drove straight there after my mom got home from work. We signed all the papers, paid a whole lot of money,  and he was mine.

 

2013-10-03-17-53-45

Charles

Within 2 days of having him, I could tell something was wrong. He had kennel cough, and because nothing can ever be easy, it was the year the power was knocked out for a week because of a windstorm… so my little puppy’s kennel cough developed into pneumonia, and I cried and cried because I was pretty sure he was going to die. But 500 dollars in vet bills later, he survived.

When he was 2, I noticed he was walking funny. He had terrible hip dysplasia. By the time he was 3, he had arthritis in his back from his bad hips. That was also the year his hair started falling out. All the vets could tell me was that I had a sick dog, who probably wouldn’t make it to the age of 5.

Then my sister found a new vet. He was wonderful and he helped us manage Charlie’s health problems in a way that improved the quality of his life. He was a sweet, happy guy who loved to play horsey and bring toys to show off (but he never learned to play fetch).

Charlie lived to be 10 years, 3 months, and 25 days old. 2014-06-06-20-07-41-1

I’m not writing this blog post to depress anyone with the news that my dog died a few months ago… believe me, I’m depressed enough for all of us. Rather, I needed to remind myself of a few things: 1) If my dog could live with all his health problems, and still be the happiest guy in the room, so can I (well, not the guy part… ). 2) A prognosis isn’t the same as a guarantee, and there is always the possibility for miracles. 3) Every day should be filled with enough love to make all the hurt we feel worth it.

We all have our struggles, times when life seems cruel and unfair. But to those of us who have faith in God, we know that He has promised us so much more. We can have full confidence that He is good and He is for us. We can give Him all of our hurt and pain, and He will exchange it for joy and grace. I know he was “just a dog”, but Charlie taught me so much about God.

It’s in the difficult moments, when I feel like I’m about to be swallowed up by my pain that I stop and think about my baby boy, whose golden fur soaked up every tear I’ve cried over the past 10 years.  I think about how despite his many health ailments he always found a reason to be happy, whether it was someone coming in the door that he could greet, or a scrap of a toy he could bring to give to someone. When he really didn’t feel well, he would let out an audible sigh, and that was my cue to come sit on the floor and pet him slowly, and when he’d start to wag his tail, I would know he was feeling better.  I feel like God sometimes sees me this way…  That even when I think I have offered a piece of myself to Him, it’s just like a dirty rag…  But He is pleased with me anyway… And when I am not doing so great, He comes to meet me on my level until I feel like I can pick back up the burden I’ve been called to bear.

Thinking about it tonight, the number 17 has always felt significant in my life- significant but not necessarily “good”. Maybe it just feels significant because I was born on the 17th, so I make it significant… But if my 17th birthday was an incredibly happy occasion complete with the promise of a brand new puppy… The year 2017 has so far felt like a year devoid of hope, and full of pain and sadness and a whole lot of other ugly emotions. However I know I am not without hope. A quick google search has provided me with the information that the number 17 biblically symbolizes “complete victory” – and that Jesus overcame death around sunset on Nisan 17. As Easter is approaching this weekend, I am reminded of the pain Jesus endured on the Cross for my sake. Though He would never belittle my pain, I gain a new perspective when I look to Him. He did not die for me so I could let bitterness and sadness and pain take up occupancy in my heart. I am hoping and believing that even though 2017 started out feeling like I had been utterly crushed and defeated, especially today when I felt the blows upon my heart, God will give me total victory because of the Blood of the Lamb that was shed for me, so that I may lay hold of His good promises and partake of the uneven exchange that the Cross made available to me.

“To those who have sorrow in Zion I will give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. I will give them the oil of joy instead of sorrow, and a spirit of praise instead of a spirit of no hope. Then they will be called oaks that are right with God, planted by the Lord, that He may be honored.”

    – Isaiah 61:3

Finding Satisfaction

So. I’m supposed to be cleaning my house and doing some studying today, but I was really hit with the Word, and I wanted to write it down for future reference… so I thought I might as well blog it, since I haven’t done it in a while…

You know that story in the Bible about the rich man who comes to Jesus and is like “what do I need to do in order to inherit everlasting life?”, and Jesus tells him he has to give up all his worldly belongings- and he leaves sad because he can’t do that… and all of us reading that story are like, “what a greedy jerk!” (ok, maybe not ALL… but definitely not just me)

Well, I was eating lunch, complaining about all the food I’m being told I need to cut out of my diet. I DO want to be healthy. I DO want to lose weight. I DO want to feel better and have these weird symptoms stop popping up all the time. But… I DON’T want to cut out: Grains, Dairy, Fruit, Caffeine, Sugars/Sugar Substitutes and Red Meat. (Most current list of things my doctor has told me to limit or eliminate completely from my diet.)

And that made me think… do I REALLY want to be healthy then? If I’m not willing to give up these things to get what I want… how badly do I really want it?

And the line “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mark 10:22) came to mind.

I asked the question, “What do I need to do to live a healthy life?” and my doctor gave me the answer. In my mind, I’ve already given up a lot for the sake of my health. But apparently it’s not enough…

And I can only imagine what this rich man was thinking after he heard Jesus’ response… because at the beginning of the story, he tells Jesus that he has kept all of the commandments his whole life- since he was a little boy. Wasn’t that enough? And wouldn’t those of us today argue that all it takes to be saved is to confess our sins and declare and believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior? This man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher” and Jesus replied to him ” Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” So this man  basically already confessed before men that Jesus was God.

So now what? This man did everything he was supposed to do – but then Jesus tagged on one more thing. I feel like almost every Christian who is earnest and honest in their walk has experienced this. “God, I prayed and I fasted and I believed, but You have not healed me… what ELSE do you want from me?” “God, I have repented for my sin and read my Bible and go to church… WHY am I still struggling with the same issues over and over?”

We all come to a place where we are comfortable with our effort in our walk with God… we just set the cruise control like it’s auto-pilot and are surprised when we hit a wall at full-speed… But God is always going to ask just one more thing of us… usually something we think we cannot do. Some will walk away sad- like the wealthy young man.

But maybe there’s a better option.

The verse Philippians 4:13 is so overused it’s almost cliché. And it’s often misused because we as humans have an odd way of making everything about us. Obviously God had Paul write it to reveal to us that we are all amazing and capable of doing everything we’ve ever imagined we wanted to do, right?

The verse is not about accomplishing amazing, super cool, death-defying feats… “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” is about finding contentment in any situation. Paul LITERALLY was like “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13 (emphasis mine)

So many times we hear this verse used when someone is struggling or striving towards a personal goal… but this verse is about finding contentment. It’s about finding comfort and contentment in Jesus. Not in religion or the things of this world.

So back to the original text, what Jesus was really asking of this rich man was for him to trust that He would be enough to sustain him. I do not believe that Jesus was demonizing wealth. I believe He was revealing a hurdle in this man’s journey to the everlasting life that he sought.  I believe God still does this, for the simple fact that many times I have had people tell me that they fell away from God because He asked something of them that they believed they could not do, or do without.  More and more, we are becoming accustomed to a comfortable life. We still have minor worries, but in the grand scheme of things, many of the things we think we lack, we lack only in our minds. Like my diet… when I started writing this, I felt like I had no options left… but then I realized I have so many more options than the Israelites who were stuck with just manna every day… but at least they had something… and not just something, but Someone. (And they would have had something better had they not been terrible complainers who whined about how good they had it as slaves… ungrateful wretches!… but that’s a story for another day, I think)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

 

 

 

 

Speak Up.

I really love my mama.

She knows who I am, but sees who I was created to be, and she reminds me of who that is all the time.

This used to drive me nuts.

I am a person who is very black and white. Things either are or they aren’t. So when I would say “I’m sick.” and she would come back with “No, you are healthy and strong. You walk in perfect health.” I felt like she didn’t listen to me. When I would complain about someone or something, she would always counter it by reminding me of something good. And I would think “MOM. I JUST WANT TO COMPLAIN.”

And that’s the problem. Why would someone want to complain?

Because there are power in our words, and if we can keep speaking negatively about ourselves and our situation, the enemy holds the power over those things.

If something is clearly wrong, I don’t need to say it’s wrong. If someone is bothering me, I don’t need to tell someone else about it. The phrase “misery loves company” is so true. Bitterness breeds like rabbits and spreads like wildfire.

Almost all of James chapter 3 talks about taming the tongue. He compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship, and how such a little piece of the ship can completely change its direction. James also points out that you cannot get fresh water from a salt spring, or an olive from a fig tree. So if you are speaking negative things, it’s a pretty good indication of what is in your heart.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a “believer”, think about people who recite affirmations to overcome depression and eating disorders. Think about how when something terrible happens, people say “It’ll be ok.” Compliments, praise, encouragement… we like to speak into others’ lives.

Words have power to change us.

In America, I think sometimes knowing we have the “right” to say something prevents us from asking ourselves if it’s right to say it. I’m not trying to suggest that speech should be censored by other people, but I am saying, should we be censoring ourselves?

As a Christian, I believe that what I say does matter. It not only changes a situation, but it also reveals my heart.

As someone who has a very sarcastic sense of humor, I have a hard time taming my tongue… because even though I don’t really mean what I’m saying, I’m still putting those words out there for someone to misunderstand and see me in a light that I never wanted to be seen in.

As someone who is non-confrontational and vents to release frustration, I have a hard time taming my tongue… because sometimes I convince myself that it’s better to air out my frustrations, not realizing that I’m planting a seed in someone else’s ear that can grow into a whole different issue…

So is making a joke or venting really worth it? No.

Words have the power to change things.

God spoke the world into being. Jesus cast out demons just by telling them to get lost. The apostles just said “Get up and walk” to a lame man, and he did.

So what would happen if we all started speaking up instead of down?

What if we started realizing what is coming out of our mouths is a reflection of what’s inside us… and maybe realize the problems around us aren’t being solved by our negativity… One of the seven habits of highly effective people is to begin with the end in mind… so if we look at something and say “it’s never going to happen” are we really going to work as hard to see that it does happen?

I’m not talking about lying to ourselves just to make us feel better… I’ve been really disappointed by some things going on lately. But instead of saying the country is doomed… I can instead use that breath to say a prayer. I haven’t been the best at doing this- especially lately- but I know it is better to pray than to complain… so this is my new goal…

 “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind,  but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:7-8)”

sigh… I never said it was going to be easily achieved… help me, Lord…

 

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. –Luke 6:45

 

 

 

 

What Are The Chances?

God is so cute.

That’s a phrase the worship pastor at my church likes to use when God does something unexpected… and not seemingly in a good way, but in the end, it’s better than you first thought it was going to be.

I’m sure there’s a better way I could’ve written that last sentence, but I’m heavily medicated from having major surgery. So cut me some slack, yeah? Because I’m going to tell you an awesome story.

Remember that post… the one where I was yelling at God… yeah. That was fun. And probably pointless for anyone reading, but very therapeutic for me to write. Who knew 4 months after the post, and 8 months total of waiting… I would finally have a praise report about my stupid, dumb, deteriorating ankle.

But I do.

Because I did not want this doctor. I wanted my doctor that I’d had for the past 11 years to do my surgery. Not someone new who I didn’t know and didn’t care how highly recommended he came.

But apparently- this doctor is one of the top in the world for this procedure. And you know what? He said my surgery was the best he’s ever done and he’s the most excited about my recovery than he’s ever been. And he wasn’t just saying that…

Because I apparently not only had a deteriorating ankle bone, but it also is deformed (go figure) in that it has a very odd (unique, maybe) shape…

And two months ago, when they called and said they had a donor, only to call back 20 minutes later to tell me it wasn’t viable, turned out to be a good thing, even though I was upset at the time…

Because the donor bone I got, had the exact same deformation in the bone, and fit perfectly, kind of like Cinderella, but more gross and kinda creepy if I think about it too much (but I am very grateful for the donor and hope to reach out to the family if that can be done with a bone… it’s not really the same as an organ… but just as life changing for me).

And I can’t stop asking myself, what are the chances?

There is no way for all this mess to come together in the end, and have an outcome far exceeding any expectation I ever had.

There are so many unexplainable things in my life. Things that are just too good to be true, and too good for me to have even imagined. I know there are probably some who would look into my life and still see all the mess… but for me, I’m choosing to see the blessings and praise Him while I’m waiting for the rest to catch up to the promises He’s already declared over my life.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[b] have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters –Romans 8:28-29

Trusting The Shepherd

This isn’t your average New Year’s Eve post… Sure, most people take stock of the year, what went well, or not so well, and turn them into resolutions for the next year…that they probably won’t even keep…

But sitting here tonight, I find myself desperately looking back over the year and wondering what God is trying to do in my life…

Because just last night, driving home with my sister after going to the movies, I told her how frustrated I feel with my whole leg situation…

It’s been 4 months…

4 months since I found out that my ankle is basically deteriorating…

4 months of waiting on God to heal me…

4 months of waiting for the doctors to tell me more than just “well, we don’t really know what to do”…

4 months of being told that I don’t have enough faith…

4 months of being told to “suck it up.”

And after complaining to her, she asked me “Well, what do you think God is trying to do through this situation?”

And I kind of just disregarded her question, because honestly, I just wanted to vent last night…

Fast forward to this afternoon: My knee on the opposite leg is sprained and they want to send me for an MRI in a week, and told me I should stay off my feet for a while, because obviously I already have the other leg to worry about.

What?!

No.

This is not ok.

I do not have the time, nor the patience for this to be happening right now.

So now I’m asking:

God, what am I missing? Who are you trying to be for me in this moment? What are you trying to tell me? I promise, I’m listening!

Stop.

Stop what?

Stop complaining.

Stop worrying.

Stop getting caught up in the busy work of life, and just sit with Me.

I literally can’t do anything but sit right now, God.

I know.

So, a little less Martha, a little more Mary?

Yes.

I don’t know how to do that…

That’s why I’ve had to go to extreme measures…

…The Shepherd sometimes has to break a wandering lamb’s leg in order to teach it to stay close…

 Now do you see?

Did You have to be so literal?

Did you have to be so stubborn?

Touché.

 

Here’s to 2015… a year that’s starting with me stopping… and listening… and learning… and Trusting The Shepherd.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever

 

 

 

 

 

Casualties of Change

I took the long way home the other day, and it brought me past my childhood house. I didn’t have a Miranda Lambert moment and knock on the door, but I did notice I dropped below the speed limit (probably to the annoyance of the driver behind me) and took in the view.

Everything about the exterior is different. The fence is now made of wood, not the low wire fence that my basset hound used to be able to jump… well, not really jump, he would lean on it until it bent down for him to step over. They painted the house brown. Not a nice brown, but this kind of gross tan. And they tore out the lilac bushes and Asian pear trees that my mom had planted. They probably replaced the front doorknob that didn’t even lock… neighbors and friends always just came and went, and sometimes the wind would blow in a squirrel… or a bird… and that dang basset hound did nothing about it… he was still a good dog, though.

I don’t blame the new inhabitants for making it their own. It’s theirs now to make memories in. They are unaware that the improvements they made to their house would make someone passing by feel a little bit sad… And the neighbors that used to barge right in have all moved, so it’s probably best if they got a doorknob that locks… who knows who’s living in that neighborhood now…

I’m not reminiscing for the sake of reminiscing… this was just one more thing lately that reminded me of the cost of change.

Maybe it’s just the visual changing of the seasons, but it’s beginning to dawn on me how much has changed… in the last month…year…decade… 25 years I’ve been on this earth… The funny thing is, most change in my life, I haven’t been consciously aware that I’m changing just as much as the people around me…

I don’t know if this is going to sound weird, but in my head, I’ve always felt like a stepping stone for other people… like I’m always there to take the weight of their latest problem, and then they just walk away… But lately, I’ve had a new way of looking at people as stepping stones in my own life, not in a “I’m gonna walk all over someone” kind of way, but in a “people in your life help you make it to where you are going and it doesn’t have to always be forever” kind of way…

I guess for me, I just have always seen people as cornerstones, foundational parts of my life that aren’t supposed to move or walk away… but things change. Lifestyles change, relationships change, needs change…

And it’s taken all this time for me to realize that I’m ok with being a stepping stone in someone’s life, and it doesn’t have to make me feel small or unimportant… Because I can’t be anyone’s cornerstone… and I don’t want anyone to be mine… except for Jesus… because after all, He’s the only one who is never going to change, and never going give up on me. He’s the safest choice to build my life around.

But even though I’ve come to this revelation in my own heart, it doesn’t mean I still am not sad when things change… when people move on… when I move on… Change always comes at a cost, even happy change means we are leaving something behind… pushing someone aside… And we’re not always aware or concerned with the “old” parts of our lives, apart from the fun stories we tell around the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So I guess there are really two reasons for this midnight blog…

1. To recognize that there are casualties of change, and that they often go unrecognized, so I should remember to see the value in each person in my life today, because tomorrow one of us could be pulled in another direction…

2.  To remember that even when someone walks away, that it doesn’t have to shake my whole life… because they were never supposed to be my cornerstone anyway… and if I treated them as such, I need some repentance and time in the Word…

 

Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem,
    a firm and tested stone.
It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.
    Whoever believes need never be shaken. —
Isaiah 28:16

 

Windows.

Heartache. Grief. Loss. Pain. Fear.

I think a lot of times, people think that upon accepting Christ they receive an immunity from these things. The reality is that there is nothing that makes us immune to feeling the full spectrum of human emotions. And frankly, there are plenty of places in the Bible that basically say “life is going to suck” (We’ve already established my paraphrasing of scripture sucks, go read your Bible.) But right after those places where it says life is going to be hard, God says “Hey, chin up! I’m still right here and when you get to the end, you’ll be fabulously skinny.” Or maybe that’s what I tell myself to get my butt on the treadmill…  The point is Christians simply have faith that there is a purpose for the pain.

But that doesn’t always make it easier to handle the moments when the shock wears off and your stomach is churning and it feels like your lungs are shriveling up and you can’t get enough oxygen to breathe, let alone cry, which you know you should be doing but you simply can’t.

It doesn’t stop your mind from racing and trying to process every single scenario of “coulda, shoulda, woulda” at the same time until you feel like a medically induced coma sounds like a delightful vacation.

Knowing there’s a purpose doesn’t always mean you can  keep from shutting down and shutting out the world.

And sometimes,  it starts to feel kinda good to be away from everyone. When you just get to be sad without having to hear someone say “it’s going to be alright.” … because sure, they mean well enough, but let’s be real… you’d like it better if they just shut up. Words aren’t going to fix what’s broken or bring back what’s been taken from you.

But then, it happens.

Someone takes a chance and cracks a joke. The corners of your mouth betray you, and you can feel it. Your first smile. It feels a little bit foreign and even a little wrong.

But instead of just cracking a joke, it’s like they’ve cracked a window into the dark room you’ve shut yourself into. And once that little bit of light breaks through, you realize that the dark room doesn’t feel as cozy and nice as it used to… you realize you don’t want to stay there forever…

And maybe you’re not quite ready to walk out the door yet, but slowly you start letting more and more people open windows until you can finally look out and see that things are going to be ok.

That’s what my faith is to me; a window that lets light into the darkest situations in my life. I can’t always see exactly how things are going to be ok… but I know that they will be.

 

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” — Hebrews 11:1

 

 

 

Run.

I don’t run.

Like, you know those shirts that say “I don’t run, if you see me running, you should run too because something is chasing me”

… yeah… That’s me.

But when people come to me for advice, I usually tell them to run. To Jesus. Or Mama.

Obviously Jesus has more to offer than a human being, but I’m pretty, pretty sure God gave extra portions of grace and love to mom’s for when their kids can’t lift their heads. And I’m convinced that there is nothing stronger on this earth than the prayer of a desperate mother.

I heard a story on the radio about this guy who was super depressed, everything in his life had gone wrong. He grew up with a Christian mama, but never himself really believed… but when he was so low and feeling suicidal, something always stopped him and he had a sinking suspicion it was divine intervention. Eventually he cried out to God, “Will you just leave me alone?!” and he said God spoke to him in that moment, “I can’t. Your mama won’t leave Me alone.”

Life has been tough the past month or so. It’s put me into a funk that I’ve never quite experienced. Usually, I am the one who people call when they can’t hold it together anymore… so I’ve convinced myself that I can’t fall apart… that if I talk to people about how I’m feeling, I’ll lose some of my street cred as being the one who you can turn to… and that’s probably my pride… and by probably, I mean definitely.

But back to my advice about running…

I took it.

My mama has been listening to this sermon series by Jim White. When I walked into the kitchen, this was what was coming through the speakers:

But I’m sick. Doesn’t Matter. Get Up.

But I’m about to go bankrupt.  Doesn’t Matter. Get Up.

But my wife left me. Doesn’t Matter. Get Up.

But I hate the president. Doesn’t Matter. Get Up.

And when I heard that… it reminded me that even when everything sucks, the decision to get up or stay down is in our own hands… and it’s funny how my brain works, but I was suddenly reminded me of last year’s fall retreat for my campus ministry.

I really didn’t want to go. It was cold. It was rainy. I’m not particularly social, and there was this awful suspension bridge that separated the yurts from the bathrooms… But I went. And if I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have gotten to hear my pastor’s friend Bill’s story about life on a submarine. Which sucks. He said if you tried to put prisoners on a submarine and kept them down there for 72 days at a time, it would be considered cruel and unusual punishment… yet these men went not only willingly, but did it over and over again… and he said, “The difference is the mission. If you believe in your mission, you will go through hell and back to see it accomplished.”

And I really want to live my life like that. From now on. I want to look at my life as a mission, rather than just moments and memories that I’m collecting and will ultimately disappear when I do.  We don’t get to decide when or how we go, but we do get to decide how we live. And I’m going to live my life running from here on out.

 

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

—  1 Corinthians 9:24

I Am.

Today, as I was driving to caregroup, I was talking to myself… like I always do when I drive. (what? it’s just thinking aloud, right?)

But today, I wasn’t being very nice.

I’m lazy.

I’m ungrateful.

I’m undisciplined.

I’m judgmental.

I’m too negative.

I’m a complainer.

I’m fat.

I’m dumb.

I’m not like this other person.

I’m just…not enough.

God calls Satan “the accuser.” The Accuser likes to tell us all the things we’ve done wrong to make us feel bad and keep us stuck in our sin. If we are convinced that we are “bad” we stop seeing the point in trying to do good. We don’t have a reason to struggle against our chains.

Just a warning, this isn’t going to be a very sophisticated blog post.

But isn’t that what we want? Something simple to fix all our problems? A lot of times when we think of encountering God, we have an expectation of discovering something deep and profound, instead of something that’s been staring us in the face all along. And tonight, simple was just the thing I needed to keep the accusations of the enemy from sinking into my heart and condemning me into feeling like less than I am.

Tonight, all we did was have prayer and worship. No fancy lesson with a profound message… just singing and talking to God who, despite everything, delights in me.

By the end of the night, when I got in the car to go home, the first thing that came out of my mouth was:

“Thank You, God.

Thank You that Your mercy is fresh every morning.

Thank You that You provide for me.

Thank You that You comfort me.

Thank You that You surround me.

Thank You that You love me, even when I’m bad, even when I’m angry, even when I don’t deserve it.

And thank You that Your love is enough to pull me out of wherever I have been.”

And that reminded me of Exodus 3:14, when Moses asks God who he should say sent him and God answers “I am.”

God could have been more specific… and yet He couldn’t have been more specific. He could have gone down the list of all that He is…

I am your Provider

I am your Healer

I am your Banner

I am your Creator

I am your Savior

I am your Redeemer

I am your Peace

But in an effort to save time, He just said, “I am.” Because He is everything. He is the giver of the very breath we breathe, and He created us with the intention of being involved every time we take a breath.

And isn’t it comforting to know that the same God who was with all those people throughout the Bible is the same God who is with us today?  He never changes and His promises are true. So on those days when you can’t seem to remember anything good about yourself, or you have someone reminding you of all the times you’ve failed… start remembering who God is, and He will remind you of who you are.

 I am praying to You because I know You will answer, O God.
    Bend down and listen as I pray.
Show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways.
    By Your mighty power You rescue
    those who seek refuge from their enemies.

Psalm 17:6-7