Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cherry Sours and Forgiveness

The bowl was full.  Great big shiny balls of sour goodness, not only in cherry red, but in bright blue and glowing white, too.  This was the treasured stash that children who went potty by themselves ran to for an instant sugar high. Until the day Momma was running late.  When Lilly walked around the corner and saw me dumping out those precious cherry sours into a plastic bag, she hit the floor with a dramatic crescendo. 

I tried to plan ahead and think ahead, but apparently my head never received those messages that day.  It was the day of Jake and Lilly’s last swim lesson and I wanted to get their patient teacher a little something to say thank you after two weeks of hard work and teaching a couple of  nearly three year olds that it was alright if water got up their noses and the how to float on their backs.  I planned to run to the store that morning before their lesson to get him some of their favorite cherry sours.  Realizing though, that I had no time to run to the store, I decided to give him our cherry sours and pick up some more for us later.  Lilly was not OK with this plan.

I quickly decided it was a good lesson on giving and gently explained to her that we were sharing with her teacher.  I told her how special it is to give what’s most precious to us.  I remember a lot of tears, a lot of drama, and a whole lot of ‘no’s.  Eventually, she wiped her tears and I handed her the bag of red, white and blue cherry sours to deliver to her teacher.  I had visions of her not letting go of the bag once we got there, but after her lesson, she handed him the bright colored bag of sweets with no fuss.

Jesus has been working with me on giving out of what I have; not necessarily my children’s candy, but things that He’s given me that I have in my possession for the sole reason of giving them away.  Like my time.  Or words spoken to someone else’s heart to encourage them.  Stuff like forgiveness.  Apologies when I’m wrong.  Yet, if I’m honest, I’m a whole lot like my daughter who grips these things so tightly like I’m entitled to keep every last one of them for myself. 

Twenty-two years ago I met my best friend.  I was the new kid who had just moved to the States from East Africa and I was definitely not the cool kid.  I met my friend at church and she was stuck with me because we were the only two girls in our Sunday school class.  There were lots and lots of boys and me and her.  When we ended up in the same class at school, instantly a friendship was born. 

We were inseparable all the way through high school and were roommates our first year of college.  Something happened that year, though.  Neither of us could quite put our finger on it, but it was a slow and gradual tear in our relationship.  Like someone had taken that photograph of two young smiling girls and ripped the two halves apart.  She moved out.  I moved on, without really even acting like I cared.  We quit speaking, but only after hurtful words were exchanged. 

A couple years would go by and one of us would reach out to the other, yet neither of us would be willing to give what was necessary to heal the severed relationship-an apology and some forgiveness.  Twelve more years would go by and our lives would slowly begin to look drastically different than those days of passing notes in English and washing cars to raise money in the summer.  We would marry our husbands and not attend each other’s weddings.  We would pretend that it didn’t bother us that a gaping hole was left in each of our hearts as we wondered what the other was doing and how life was treating her.  When family or friends would ask, “What happened,” neither of us could muster up a response.  And slowly, my best friend faded out of my life entirely.

Fast forward to 2013, where God has done quite a bit of work on my heart, massive amounts of healing, and so much growth, I’m quite certain I am not even the same person anymore.  I felt God urging me to reach out to my friend who I had not spoken to for the past fourteen years.  One morning in particular, she was on my heart.  I was away from my kids getting a massage they had given to me as a Mother’s Day gift.  For the entire duration of those thirty minutes of relaxation, my friend was on my mind.  Taking advantage of a half an hour of silence, I began petitioning to God. I reminded Him of how I had been hurt.  I brought up the fact that it had been well over a decade, so it couldn't possibly make any difference now.  I told Him that even if I did reach out to her, I had no idea what to say.  And then, in the stillness of my heart that I've come to recognize as His voice, I sensed these three simple words:  “Say you’re sorry.” 

I knew what Jesus was asking of me.  He was asking me to reach deep down into my heart and pull out an apology and with it, some forgiveness.  As I reminded Him of my hurt, He reminded me that He has forgiven me.  I was a bit frustrated that He didn’t tell me what else to say, but as I continued this conversation with Him with soothing classical music playing softly in the background, I realized He didn’t care what I said, as long as I fit “I’m sorry” into it somehow. 

Since I did not have my friend’s email or phone number, my only option was Facebook. (Yes, I know.)  When I got home, I planned to sit down a write a message to her and I was praying that she would respond.  What Jesus knew that I didn’t was that He was talking to her about me in the exact same way…. at the exact same time.  As I pulled into the garage, my phone lit up, letting me know that I had a new message. 

When I read the honest words my friend had written, beginning with "I wanted to tell you I'm sorry," the dam holding back my tears gave way instantly.  What Jesus knew that I didn’t was that He had been doing quite a bit of work in her life, massive amounts of healing in her heart, and just as much growth that she, too, was not the same person anymore.  He had asked her to reach deep down into her heart and pull out an apology along with some forgiveness, too.  What Jesus knew that I didn’t was that He didn’t have to give me the right words, because I could have copied her message to me and sent it right back to her- down to the very last detail.

Less than a month later, we met face to face in a little Starbucks four hours from my house.  For three hours we filled in the gaps and exchanged the story of transformation that God had scripted for our lives.  And sitting there with her, I wondered why it took us both so long to say, “I’m sorry.” 

On the day I asked Lilly to give away her cherry sours, I knew her Daddy was going to stop at the grocery store after work.  I knew that cherry sours (a brand new bag of them) was on his list.  When her Daddy walked in that evening and dumped a whole new supply of cherry sours into that glass bowl, her face broke out in a wide smile.  God does that with us, too, but on such a bigger scale and with a much more complex purpose. 

When I drove four hours to meet with my friend face to face, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I knew that God was asking me to go, even after I had given my apology and my forgiveness.  In that tiny little Starbucks, He filled up my candy bowl in the most amazing way.  But to leave it at that just so minimizes what He did for me and for this new friendship.

After hours of hearing about what Jesus had done in her heart and in her marriage, I realized that God didn’t just give me my friend back.  He didn’t just fill up my candy dish with the exact same thing I had before.  When I willingly gave Him what I had held onto for so many years, He gave me something I had never had before.  He gave me a completely new friendship, a better one than I had when I was eleven years old or even seventeen years old.  It is better and more beautiful and more solid and more precious because there is so much more of Jesus in it now.  I love our story, because God gets all of the glory from it.  But, it is not the only story out there.  This is just what Jesus does when we give out of what He gave.  I was so afraid that giving forgiveness would somehow cost me, but Jesus knew it was needed so that He could drop this amazing blessing into my life. 

When Lilly’s Daddy dumped a huge pile of sweetness into her bowl, her heart was instantly filled with joy.  I bet she didn’t even remember those few she gave away that morning.  When my heavenly Father presented me with a beautifully transformed friendship that paled in comparison to the old one, I too, was filled with joy.  Overwhelming Joy.  Overflowing Joy.  Undeserved Joy.  Abundant Joy.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  John 10:10

Friday, June 7, 2013

Little Boats

When I think about my life, it’s never been the big, grandiose moments, the successes, the accomplishments, the really big endeavors that have made a difference in my faith.  If I am honest, it’s been in the whisper-prayers that echoed from a desperate place, the simple cry for help, the brokenness of total surrender. 

Hurricane Ike made landfall in September of 2008 and was possibly the worst storm I have ever witnessed.  I remember lying in bed feeling so scared, so unsure of what was to come.  Questions circled in my mind.  Are we in danger?  Will we be hurt? Will our new roof hold up in the 100 mph winds?  Will our home suffer damage?  How long will it last?  Are we prepared for this type of storm?  Should we have left town with everyone else?

Even though the winds ceased soon after, a storm in my own life had just begun and it would last much longer than a few hours.    A storm that brought high winds and torrential rain; a storm that would force me to my knees; one that would make me face fears buried deep inside of me. A new set of questions began to develop, but really they were the same.  Will our marriage hold up through this storm?  Will we be hurt?  What will it cost?  How long will it last?  Are we prepared for this type of storm?  Should we follow the crowd or climb into the boat? 

I’ve spent a lot of time lately parked in Mark chapter 4.  I’ve been here day after day after day.  Seven quick verses describe a furious storm.  But rather than study the storm itself, Jesus has had me focused on the two seemingly insignificant verses that are the calm before the storm.

On the same day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him.

Mark 4:35-36 (NKJV)

Jesus makes mention of “the other side” twenty three times in the four gospels combined.  The Greek word is peran, which means “beyond.”  It is a word that marks direction.*   “Let us go beyond…”  Jesus spoke these words to his disciples after a long day of teaching a vast number of people gathered near the water.  At one point, the crowd grew so large that He got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake while all the people listened from the shore.  And then after a long day, He instructed His disciples to move the boat to the other side of the lake.

I may not know much about boats or sailing or even rowing, but I do know this: I’m not so sure about climbing into a boat at dusk.   I know there was no weather ap back in Jesus’ day, but I am pretty sure that the storm did not just appear unexpectedly.  There had to be some kind of cloud activity, wind indicator, or something that warned these men of the imminent danger.

Another sign that this was a risky move was the fact that they were literally moving away from the crowd.   The multitude?  They were heading for shelter.  You wouldn’t find them out on the water!  Ever notice when you take a step out from the crowd how risky it really is?  And yet, other little boats were also with Him.  Right here, in this rather insignificant verse, are men and women who were desperate to follow Jesus wherever He went, even if it meant climbing into a boat in the dark and sailing straight into a coming storm.

I am fascinated by this verse that I am sure I’ve never even read before.  I haven’t ever heard a sermon on “little boats” or read a book about who was riding in them.  But I know what it’s like to ride out a horrible storm in a little bitty boat.  I’ve spent years in a tiny boat, being rocked back and forth by the waves, and during that time God showed me that I spent way too long staring at the approaching storm and way too much energy gasping at the pummeling waves and fierce wind that accompanied them. 

The word used for little boats, ploiarion, means “small vessels.” * This is the only verse that speaks of these followers of Jesus.  The story continues with the anticipated storm, and as Mark shares the severity of it, no further mention is made of the little boats and those inside of them who pushed away from the crowd and stepped out in faith to follow Jesus.  However, I do believe that the miracle that took place out on the open sea was not only witnessed by the disciples in the boat with Jesus, but by those who ventured beyond their comfort zone and said yes to Him, though they could see the storm in the distance.  I’ve often wondered why Jesus would guide them straight into the storm.  But then I lived through a storm that threatened to engulf me and I watched as the Voice of the One I love spoke with authority right before my eyes.  And that experience has given me the courage to get back into that teeny tiny boat again and again and again, following Jesus right into the middle of a storm.

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 

Mark 4: 37

This was one intense storm.  The word Mark used to describe the action of the waves is the Greek word epiballō, translated as “beat.”  It means the rushing of waves into a ship. If “flash flood” was a term that existed back then, I’m sure it could be applied here. Interestingly, this word is also used to describe seizing someone to lead him/her off as a prisoner.*  Fear does just that.  It wraps chains around us and leads us off as prisoners.  In fact, Jesus later connects the disciples’ fear with their lack of faith.

All of us who follow Jesus sit in a boat of some sort.  Some are large ships, others are rickety canoes.  The boats don’t matter and we need not compare them.  It’s the same wind that causes the same storm which makes the same open sea terrifying.  It’s funny how we think our storms are so different.  We tend to think we can only reach out to those who are literally sitting in a boat we’ve sat in.  But the storms in each of our lives magnify the fact that we are not in control.  Storms cause the same reaction: fear.  And fear often dredges up the same accusations that reveal a weak faith:  “Jesus, don’t you care if I drown?”  You see, Jesus was sleeping while this storm threatened the lives of the disciples and surely those in the smaller boats who left the safety of the shore behind.  Not only was Jesus sleeping, but He was snoozing on a pillow!  I have to say that I would have reacted the same way the frightened disciples did.  I wish it were not so, but I have asked that very same question from the confines of my small boat that was quickly filling with water.

Then [Jesus] arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.

Mark 4:39

Jesus never answered the question that painted Him as uncaring, aloof or nonchalant.  Instead, He calmed the sea with a word then asked the disciples a question:  “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”  I believe that Jesus knew the answer had something to do with the fact that they still did not quite know Him.  In fact, the last verse of this short story suggests just that.

And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Mark 4:41

“Who is this?” they asked each other, hinting that they were only just beginning to see Jesus.  Storms will do that- strengthen our faith.  Not only does our faith grow, but our view of who Jesus is expands when we see Him command the wind and the waves.  As we shout out our frantic questions, accusing Him of not being there and leading us straight into a hurricane, He remains calm.  He is not fazed.  He teaches us what He led us to sea to teach us and then He confronts our fear.  As we see and understand more and more of this Jesus, those fears start to seem less and less.  Why is that?  From my own experience, I can say it has a lot to do with where we look.  During a particular storm- one that wreaked havoc on my heart- I was way too focused on the waves.  Now I know where to look- at Jesus’ face.  Fears still surface.  Questions bubble up.  But a single, quick glance at the One who calms the sea will push those fears aside, causing them to fade into the background.  Present, but not overwhelming.  Existing, yet not consuming.  Jesus told us we’d have trouble in this world and lumped into that, I believe, is a fair dose of fear.  But Jesus says, “Take courage, for I have overcome the world.” 

Jesus offers the anecdote for fear: hope.   Look up the word “hope” and you’ll find this listed as a synonym: “free from fear.”  Jesus is Hope.  Hope comes in all different forms.  The lifeline thrust into the water is a rope of hope, sturdy and sure.  The lighthouse on the shore is a beacon of hope, projecting truth onto uncertain waters.  We spend so much of our time asking God to calm the storm, but it is in the middle of the storm that we discover the beauty of who He really is.

*Greek meanings taken from STRONG’s Numbers,

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sweet Payback

Today my little man woke up and asked, “My dress on, Mommy?” 

Jake has this crazy quirk of demanding that he get dressed as soon as he hops out of bed.  We’ve argued, negotiated, and reached an agreement that only after Momma has finished her first cup of coffee will we proceed with the Wardrobe Selection Battle.  (And that agreement was a huge breakthrough, let me tell you.) 

His usual requested attire: tractor shirt, jeans and cowboy boots
Now that summer is here, we’ve made some slight changes: tractor shirt, jean shorts, and boots

Most mornings I choose two shirts and two bottoms and he gets to pick the shirt and pants he wants to wear.  (This does not always go smoothly, hence the name Wardrobe Selection Battle.  Some mornings, I just go straight to the tractor shirt and jeans just to see his little face light up.  Other mornings, I can’t muster up the effort to stand there waiting for ten minutes while he tries to choose, so I dig the tractor t-shirt out of the dirty clothes.  (I have retrieved this t-shirt out of the pile of stinky clothes many, many mornings.)  I knew we had a problem when his preschool teacher said to me earlier this spring, “Jake sure does love his tractor shirt.  He said you got it for him.”  I corrected her, saying, “Oh no, what he means is that Mommy got it out of the dirty clothes hamper this morning because he was in tears and so was she.” 

I know exactly what he meant this morning when he said, “My dress on, Mommy.”  What he wanted to say was somewhere between “I want to get dressed,” and “Will you help me put my clothes on?” 

Despite the fact that I know exactly what he meant, I’m holding onto this one, tucking it away for a later date.  It's little things like this that make all those difficult mornings worth all of the effort.  Like a return on my investment.  Or is it payback?  I'm not really sure, but I do love my little guy to pieces, strong will and all!