Friday, March 28, 2014

Two Words Could Change A Life

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.  Proverbs 18:21 (The Message)

Words are powerful. They hold weight.  They can build up or crush to pieces. They can be careless or well-thought-out. Words come in sophisticated styles and comfortable ones.  They can be tender and they can be bone-chilling cold.  Words can empower and words can destroy.  They can unite or divide. Words make up the language we speak.  Words have the potential to connect us… across borders, across barriers, across oceans.

So many moments in life can be traced back to words.  The beginning of a thrilling yet challenging new chapter of life called marriage began for me with two: I do. And we’ve had many more to follow.  My favorites include: Love you.  Told you. Miss you. You’re right. (Unless of course I’m the one speaking.)

Healing in my heart after being shattered also started with two words: I’m here.

Hope is rekindled with these: I’m praying.

A season of waiting is often initiated by two very frustrating and confusing words: Not yet.

And then there are these that can snatch your breath and steal your joy: Too much. Not enough.

I think of all the words that have squeezed hot, salty tears out of joyful eyes; how words like I’m sorry become a bridge that can be crossed over.

When gratitude is difficult to express, these deliver that message gracefully: Thank you.

I remember the words that spilled out of me as a teenager when life spun out of control: I’m scared.

Or when I became a mom of two babies and found myself struggling to say: Please help.

There were words spoken to me that caused me to pack up my pen and pad and quit writing… for over a decade.  But it was also words- different ones- that encouraged me to return to it all these years later. Words stir something deep within us and cause us to act. Words can leave us paralyzed where we are or convince us to step out even if we’re scared. Jesus’ words caused quite a stir in His day, too.  He knew the power two words could have. His words were anything but empty; they were full of truth.

You’re forgiven, set a sinful woman free.

Follow me, turned fishermen into fishers of men.

Get up, caused a lame man to hold his mat as his testimony.

Come out, raised a dead man to life and invited him to walk out of a tomb.

Be still!  calmed the wind and the waves.

Have faith. Fear not. Take heart. These words bring peace to the doubters, like me.

Today I wrote a letter to Sheldon.  His picture hangs on the wall in the room where I write. He just turned twelve this week.  He lives in Kenya and he attends school at his local church and learns about Jesus through the Compassion International Child Sponsorship Program. Last year he wrote to tell me that he purchased a mattress and a sheep with the birthday money we sent. The year before, a cow. I’m wondering what it will be this year.

Sheldon loves soccer and volleyball.  His favorite food is “chapati,” which he calls pancakes.  (Pancakes are a big hit in our house, too.) Sheldon now owns a bible. He writes and tells me, “I know Jesus.” I share words with Sheldon that I need to hear, just like him.  Words straight from the heart of Jesus. You’re loved.  You’re precious.  You’re accepted.  You’re seen.

Sheldon always includes a scripture verse in each of his letters, so I do, too.  Once he wrote, “I hope we will be friends forever.” I wrote him back and shared Romans 8:29 with him, told him we were in the same family- God’s family- since we both knew Jesus.  I included a picture of Jake and Lilly, said they were like a brother and sister, too.  Explained that God’s family… it grows.  I showed him where his name is written right there in my bible.

And many months later, scrawled at the bottom of the page, I read two words:

Your son,

And those two words make my heart smile big, securing this: We’re family.

Your words can make a difference in the life of a child, too. 

All it takes is two: I’m in.

Sponsor a child and allow the words of that child to dramatically change your life.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When Silence is a Gift

From within the four walls of the waiting room, I hear it.  It’s loud.  Deafening, even.  I hear the silence, the sound of waiting.  My boy’s having surgery- just a minor out-patient, routine procedure- but it’s nerve-racking… this waiting and this silence. I look around and I see so many different stages of life represented, different cultures, different stories, different kinds of waiting.

Over and over again, I read about God’s silence and today I’m thinking about how His silence has played a role in my own faith walk, how I am responding to His silence even today. When I’m met with silence, I tend to feel rejected, like a failure who missed the mark… again.  So many times, fear bullies me and mocks me like some kind of cruel joke. But when I line up my life to the scripture that is God-breathed, I am refreshed and I breathe more freely. 

The weight of waiting diminishes and now, waiting seems like a precious gift instead.

One doctor emerges from the massive double doors.  He speaks in Spanish.  I can’t pick up too much, but I hear one phrase and it makes me want to cry.  “Mucho cancer.”  The doctor is gesturing; he’s trying to explain, pointing at his abdomen, and he keeps saying those words, again and again. I feel sick.  I don’t know these two men I’ve shared silence with; I have a feeling the patient is a woman.  Maybe she’s a mother or a sister or a daughter.  I’m not sure. Maybe she’s all of those things.

We wait some more.  Finally, Jake’s doctor walks down the hall and tells us he did great.  He’s in recovery, so we’ll wait some more. I am relieved, but my heart is still sinking for the family whose answer was so much different, so much more painful, and so much harder to swallow. And I think about how they are still waiting, too.  A new silence has crept over this family. 

When we arrived earlier, way before the sun was up, Jake noticed the statue right away.  I walked by it twice, once on the way in, a second time on the way to the elevator.  But up from the waiting area, he pointed out through the glass window.  “There, Mommy.  What’s that?”  And then I saw Him.  I leaned down and whispered low, "That's Jesus, buddy."  He grinned and chuckled, "Oh yeah," like it was so very ordinary that Jesus was here with us.


Jesus is standing in front of a woman and there, engraved in the stone I read, “Jesus, the Great Physician.”  The scripture etched beneath it is from Matthew- the same place I’ve been day after day after day. I’ve been getting to know this woman whose story has taught me about Jesus’ mercy.  I wonder if this is the same woman kneeling before Jesus.  This woman knows about waiting.  And she knows all about silence. And she knows all too well about needing the Great Physician.

This woman is a mother whose little girl is not only sick, but possessed by Satan and suffering terribly. She is desperate.  She probably wishes she could take her daughter’s place. But then, one day Jesus comes to her town, and she wastes no time asking for a miracle. But Jesus does not utter a word. If you’ve been there, desperate at the feet of Jesus stunned by His silence, take heart: the story does not end there. If God is silent, it is for our greater good and His greater glory.

This morning I read a different version of the same story- the New Living Version- and I saw it with fresh eyes: “Jesus gave her no reply.” Matthew 15:24 (emphasis added)

Could this holy silence be a treasured gift, given with the end in mind?

I noticed it first here in Matthew 15, but Genesis 15 holds another instance of God gifting His children with sacred silence. This time it’s Abram. He believes God will bless him with descendants as numerous as the stars, because after all, He’s promised.  But Abram, much like me, wants to be sure. 

Because sometimes the gap between believing and knowing is a cavernous, silent hole.

Abram asks God such an honest question: “How can I know?”  How many times has that one left my lips? And on its heels, another usually follows, “When will I know?” So God tells Abram to prepare an offering.  He is about to cut covenant with His chosen child.  But curiously, verse 11 leaves traces of that dreaded silence I’ve come to know.  After following God’s instructions to a tee, nothing happens.

“Then the birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.” Genesis 15:11

Vultures indicate that the sacrifice is not immediately consumed, as before. In fact, it isn’t until darkness falls that Abram hears God’s response and it is from within a very deep sleep.  Then six long verses later, God Himself, represented by the smoking firepot and the burning torch, walks between the animal pieces that Abram prepared, finalizing His covenant, His precious promise.

Jesus was silent after hearing His good friend, Lazarus, was ill.  Instead of going to Bethany immediately, John 11:6 explains that Jesus stayed right where He was.  It confuses me, because the verse that precedes that one tells of Jesus’ great love for Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. 

This makes me wonder if the waiting, the silence, the no reply, was in fact a labor of love.

Jesus waited two days… He waited until Lazarus breathed his last breath, and then He showed up.  But God received immense glory when out of the tomb Lazarus walked, dressed in his grave clothes, for the crowd to see.  You see, His response was right on time.

There is perhaps an even more fascinating account of God’s silence, and this one is so hard to wrap my head around.  This one is found in John 19.  Jesus stands accused.  He’s been beaten… no, flogged. Brutally whipped over and over again, and then beaten some more.  Spit on. He’s been dressed in a crown of thorns and a purple robe, so they can mock Him. Before Pilate, Jesus offers silence.

“Jesus gave him no answer.” John 19:9

Another gift- the precursor to salvation that involved even more silence… the silence from the Father that made Jesus cry out from the cross where He hung, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In every one of these instances of God’s silence, during the stone cold waiting, in the empty gaps full of wishing we knew; in the wondering where on earth God is, an answer eventually comes.  Because He is faithful.

The woman with the sick daughter eventually heard Jesus say, “Woman, you have great faith!” And her daughter was healed at that very moment.

Abram saw God walk through the flames and sign His covenant forever.

Mary, Martha, and the entire crowd of mourners heard Jesus say, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did!

And my salvation is secured, because Jesus uttered these precious words given to Him by the Father as He paid the ultimate price for me to be called His child: “It is finished.”

And after three long days of nothing but a deep heaviness as those who loved Him mourned this unfathomable loss, Jesus conquered sin and death forever when He rose from that very grave.

The answer always follows the silence and each soul is better off because of the answer that eventually comes and God’s glory shines brighter through it.  So when you sense God’s silence, an answer delayed, or when the waiting gets really challenging and the gap grows wider by the day, remember He is faithful.  He knows how the story ends. And it ends in victory if you are His.

Let Jesus write your story… the beautiful beginning where you realize you belong to Him, the precious pauses that are gifts of love, and all the parts in between that bring glory to His Great Name.

For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
Habakkuk 2:3

Monday, March 10, 2014

I am not ok…

The branches of the oak in the front yard drag nearly to the ground.  They are bowed down, bending under the pressure.  Icicles hang off each limb, suspended in mid air as they catch the light.  Instead of refreshing rainfall, this tree sags under the weight of too much. I keep staring at the oak tree out the window, but instead I feel like I’m looking in the mirror.  Responsibilities, commitments, relationships, guilt, fear, doubt… these are the icicles that have left me feeling frozen and near breaking, weighed down under that nasty expectation to “be ok.” You know what?  Some days are harder than others.  Some days the rain that falls lingers too long and it accumulates and feels heavy.  It’s exhausting.  It’s anything but refreshing.

Today I sent this text to a friend: “I am not ok.” And she wrote back: “I have no words.”

She had nothing, no words, and this was everything I needed to hear.  She had no words and yet, all I felt was love.  And this got me thinking, why is it so hard to admit we’re not ok some days?  Does saying, “I am not ok today,” assume that I’ll never be ok, that tomorrow is hopeless because today is hard?  Don’t we have to admit we’re not ok in order to move towards being ok? I felt the need to text back: “I’ll be fine.” I wanted to assure her that surely I’d have it together eventually.  Why do we put this pressure on ourselves?  Why do we put it on those we love? Can’t we just say, “Hey!  Today I am not ok!  I might be ok tomorrow, but I’m really not sure.  I might not be.  Is that ok?  Is it ok that I’m not ok… today?”

My good friend, Jackie Hooks, is a guest on the blog today.  She is a wife, mommy of four, president of Pruning Hooks Ministries, author, speaker, teacher and blogger.  She does a lot.  She is my coffee buddy, and I love that chit-chat makes her just as uncomfortable as it does me.  She is wildly hilarious, completely authentic, and what I love most about Jackie Hooks is that she walks with Jesus.  She walks with Him on the hard days, the good days, and the daily days.  So when I am sitting across the table from Jackie, coffee in hand, I can actually hear the soothing words of my Savior pouring out of her mouth.  Even if you don’t know Jackie, her God-given gift of writing breaks down that stranger barrier and invites you to come, sit, and share life over coffee.  And you just might leave knowing Jesus a little bit better. 

Here is what Jackie has to say on this topic of being "not ok."

Saturday morning was the first official morning of Spring Break.  My three oldest kiddos were making a big deal out of this…even though it was just Saturday, and I could possibly call them on a technicality.  I kind of rolled myself out of bed, over Jude, handing off Joshua, possibly stepping on Grace and listened to my oldest, Jake, comment on how I should totally hurry and put on pajama pants.  Thank You.  Felt so good to hear.  I headed to the kitchen to make waffles, scrambled eggs and bacon.  Everyone is happy with this breakfast.  Everyone.  I am looking at our little house that is starting to fill up with big boxes as we prepare to move.  This has literally come up all of a sudden.  The decision to stay renters until my old green farm house on lots of acreage becomes available…wherever it is.  The house next door to one of Jude’s dearest friends has opened up.  The fact that we have been praying about our next house.  God is answering our prayers.  Old prayers.  Big prayers.  And I am standing in my kitchen, looking at boxes with my pajama pants on that are clearly a necessity now.  I am standing in the kitchen burning bacon.  

I have disappointed everyone.

We make it to the table with homemade waffles and scrambled eggs and whipped cream (the added touch to make the kids forget the bacon fiasco which is so hard to forget because the smoke alarm is blaring and the back door is open).  We start the conversation again about how this is the first day of Spring Break, and Jake, out of nowhere stops eating waffles.  He looks across the table at me as I am downing coffee as fast as I can, and asks this horrible, horrible horrible question:

“Why do we never go on vacation?  Why do we never go anywhere?”

You see, I have heard this question before, but never in this way.  I have heard my kids ask why we don’t have certain things or do certain things or go certain places.  I have.  But they have always asked it innocently.  Like it was just a question.  Waiting for an answer.  But this time, it was a 10 ½ year old knowledgeable boy asking WHY, and wanting a complete answer.  This time, he was choking back angry tears.  This time, he was mad that our life seemed different.  This time, he was jealous.  This time, it hurt to hear him ask.  This time, I wanted to tear all the homemade waffles to shreds and set the burned bacon on fire and scream at the top of my lungs, “Do you know what you’re saying?  Do you know what poor is?  Do you know how many kiddos would kill to have a family like ours that hugs and snuggles and laughs a lot?  Do you know what your daddy gave up to be the daddy that he is today?  Do you know how badly these words sting?  Do you?”  But he is 10 ½ and it is my job to not flip out this Saturday and find a little bit of a different approach to answer this question.  You see, what Jake doesn’t know is:

I am not ok.
I am bringing about 958 pieces of baggage to the table this morning.
Some mornings I can leave all the baggage at the back door.
This morning, the boxes, the moving, the pajama pants comment requires me to grab my baggage.
This morning, the baggage is at the breakfast table.
I am not ok.

It stretches all the way back ya know?  All the way back to growing up and knowing what poor is.  It stretches all the way back to living in an apartment and dreaming of living in a town house.  Dreaming y’all.  I didn’t dream of a two story house like my kids do…I dreamt of a town house…that was moving on up.  It stretches all the way back to washing clothes in the sink, and thinking it was living large when we washed our clothes at the Laundromat.  And believing we had won the lottery when my mom got a washer and dryer (the stackable kind) when we moved to a duplex.  It stretches all the way back to my mom feeding the kids who were our downstairs neighbors because they were so hungry.  And my mom having to worry about feeding kids too much because what would we eat?  So, she just didn’t eat.  It stretches all the way back to being a latch key kid, and being scared to death to walk home some times.  And getting home and being scared to be alone.  But daycare wasn’t always an option.  It stretches all the way back to being the kid who didn’t have a dad come to the Daddy/Daughter dinner at school.  So, one year my uncle took my sister and me, and that was even worse.  So, we never went again.  It stretches all the way back to “shopping” at a church for my mom a Christmas present, and “buying” her a coffee mug with three balloons on it (one for me, one for my sister and one for my mom).  It said, “We belong together”.  That cup held everything in it.  Everything.  And everything was the three of us.  And I knew that was all that mattered.  Because it was all we really had.

And my son doesn’t know all of this because really, I don’t want him to know.  I really don’t want him to grow up with the hurts that I held by the time I was 10 ½.  I really don’t want him to know what poor is…I really don’t.  And so, he sits, across from me at the breakfast table, piled with food and drink options and he has no idea he is talking to a woman that is not ok.  He is simply talking to his mom, wondering why we don’t go on vacation for Spring Break.  And he is holding back tears of real 10 year old boy anguish because he wants to go out of town so badly.  And I so want to take him.  But this is not the year, and neither was last year, and next year might not be either.  And I wish I could tell him how OK he is growing up to be…

My “not ok-ness”…
Is not ok.
It is the baggage by the back door that I rifle through when life gets overwhelming…
Not to unpack it y’all. 
Just to look at it and move it around a bit.

In Luke 10:38-41 Jesus stops at the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha.  Martha opens her home to Jesus.  Don’t miss this piece of the account.  Martha is hospitable, and opens the door of her home out of love for Jesus.  Jesus didn’t travel alone either.  He brought His disciples.  So, Martha opened her home to many people that day.  Martha’s sister Mary is at her home that day too and she is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to everything He had to say.  “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made (Luke 10:40)…”, and she even goes to Jesus asking Him to tell her sister to help her out.  Jesus replies to Martha that she is “worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41). ” I wonder if Martha immediately went and sat by her sister, and began to listen to all Jesus had to say.  Or did she continue to cook and clean and bring water to the disciples with a new found bitterness in her heart?  Did she tuck this day into her diary of things that had not worked out as she had planned, and mumble about Mary under her breath the rest of the day?  Or did she look at all her baggage by the back door and realize, just maybe, that she was holding on to some old hurts of feeling like the sister that was always doing the behind the scenes cleaning while Mary sat front and center with all the guests?  Did she smile and hide all her pain of not being ok, and go sit down with everyone else and act like she was just fine?  Or was it the moment she took her “not ok-ness” to Jesus, and held all the kitchen and clean up and hospitality all alone work she had been doing maybe for years, and said please tell someone else what it feels like to be me…and not be ok…and to keep trying to make everything nice and ok for everyone else…

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed (Luke 10:41)…”

And Jesus never said that Martha was upset and worried about really stupid things.  Jesus never said to get over it and get on with it.  Jesus never said to Martha that she was upset about cleaning and preparations.  You see, I think, when Jesus answered Martha; He knew all the baggage that she carried to Him.  I think He knew it was so much more than just preparations.  I think He saw a woman so willing to open the doors to her house and love and obey and invite Jesus in…just somewhere, in the moments that followed, life got overwhelming, and she began to rifle through the baggage she carried with her…and she was not ok.  And this day was not going to get any better.  But Jesus was there, y’all.  Being Jesus.  She complained to Jesus.  And He answered with there is more going on here than meets the eye…now come sit by me and listen to me…let go of the baggage…come pick up what is needed.

I launched the way that I would typically launch…asking my kids if they knew how lucky they are…asking them if they understood how painful that is to hear as a parent…I could feel my hands tightening their grip on all my baggage, getting ready to put it all on the table…not to unpack it…just to hit people over the head with it..And that is just not good parenting y’all.  So, I paused for a breath.  Paused for effect.  Paused before I began my monologue on how good they have it…And something changed…And the words came out different…more honest…because Jesus was there y’all… at our breakfast table.  Making sure I don’t crush the feelings of the little boy who is upset and worried about many things… talking to his mom who is upset and worried about many things too.  Instead I tell him about the hard choices his daddy has made to be the kind of daddy that is around all the time.  I tell him how his daddy chose his family over money and that it was a hard choice to know there might not be tons of riches, but there would be loads of memories.  I tell him about how frustrated I feel because having three types of cereal at the breakfast table was not an option, or dessert, or eating tons of snacks after school when I was his age…that I wanted to just have hostess cupcakes in my lunch but they were too expensive.  I tell him that we have worked hard to pay off mountains of credit card debt, and that came with boatloads of sacrifices that no one really ever wants to make, but it was the right thing for our family…and right things sometimes are really hard.

And I am unpacking years of baggage on to my kitchen table.
 And I am crying…all sorts of “I am not ok” tears.
And my kids are listening like I have never seen.
And Jesus is there too.

And I’m trying y’all.  I’m really trying to unpack some of these bags before it’s too late.  I’m trying to say I’m not ok when I’m not ok.  And say it to Jesus.  And say it to others too.  Because maybe people need to hear that there is a girl with a mountain of baggage by her backdoor that she is starting to unpack.  And it is good.  And it is making it easier to sit at the foot of my Savior without a sea of luggage between us.  And it is making it easier to sit at the breakfast table without all this pain and anger and regret and sadness that spills over into my coffee when I try to pretend it’s not there. And Jesus knows y’all.  He knows it’s not about trivial things.  He knows we are not ok because a lot of life has happened, and life has been hard.  And not being ok is just a fact some days.  And He still wants us at His feet with all the other girls who just burned all the bacon too.  Because He has things to do through our messy lives, and not being ok is just part of the messiness, but being able to admit it is one really good step to inviting Him in…burnt bacon and all.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”  Luke 10:38

If you laughed, if you cried, if you were moved like I was, please, please, please do yourself a great, big favor… today.  Go to Jackie Hook’s Facebook page and click ‘like.’ You will hear more from this amazing woman of faith, and I promise you will not regret it.  If you are instantly hooked, (and who can blame you there?) visit her blog, Undignified for more. If you want to learn more about how Jesus is using everyday ordinary women to do extraordinary things for His kingdom, visit Pruning Hooks Ministries.