Sunday, March 29, 2015

Rolling Stones

He doesn’t know what he believes anymore. All he knows is he’s so sick of feeling numb.  He’s tried just about everything, but nothing seems to move him. His heart feels broken somehow. He knows there’s something missing.  Nothing thrills him, not for long anyway. Nothing fills him.  Slowly, over time, indifference settles in and his heart turns to stone.

She’s convinced that nobody knows because no one can see what’s hidden. The fear that she doesn’t quite measure up paralyzes her. She can’t ever remember feeling wanted or loved or really accepted, so she plasters on a smile to cover it up and soon, her entire identity is concealed by this mask of stone.

He’s not sure how it got so high, but it’s been years now and he can’t even see over it anymore. He is certain it’s impenetrable.  The anger-turned-bitterness keeps him from moving around it. He’s stuck. He doesn’t remember how he got here or how this thing came between them, but he stares at it every single day as hopelessness sinks down in between the cracks. He lives here and is convinced he’ll die here behind this wall of stone.

Who will roll away the stone?

As they carried the perfumes and spices they had prepared for Jesus’ body, this is what the women discussed.  I wonder what they were feeling as they gathered together before the sun peeked over the horizon. In the quiet stillness, did grief cover all other emotions like a heavy cloak? Was there hope mixed with fear as they hurried to the place where they saw Jesus laid? Or was the discouragement thick like fog in that early morning hour? We only get a hint, one question from their conversation.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” Mark 16:1-3 (NIV)

They weren’t strong enough and the disciples certainly weren’t brave enough. The guards were stationed in front of the tomb, but it would have taken at least twenty men, more than an entire Roman guard to budge that rock. Joseph was the rich man who owned the tomb. After laying Jesus’ body inside, he rolled the stone in front of the entrance.  It required little effort to push the stone down the incline, but it was another feat entirely to remove it once it was locked in place. Pilate had ordered the soldiers to seal the stone, making it nearly impossible to move.

Who will roll away the stone?

They were not expecting to see a risen Jesus; they were expecting a dead body and an immovable stone. Yet the stone was rolled back and Jesus was alive.  The stone wasn’t removed so He could get out; Jesus didn’t need an exit strategy. That stone was the very first witness of the good news. All who bent down to look inside the tomb could see the evidence of God’s promise. When the Pharisees had told Jesus to silence His disciples, Jesus had replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (See Luke 19:40)

God’s message is one of redemption and restoration.  Jesus came to revive and transform all things- our relationship with Him, our relationship with ourselves, and our relationships with each other. Only God has the power to go straight into the caves that hold broken hearts, dead relationships, and tarnished dreams and raise each one to life.  And when He does, stones will roll. 

The angel asked the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (See Luke 24:5) He knew they weren’t looking for the living.  They were hauling perfume and spices to anoint a dead body, not a living one. And this makes me wonder, how many times do I visit my own tomb, satisfied just to throw some fragrance on the stench of what’s died rather than believe God can transform it? I settle for a watered-down version of this good news when I try to cover for Jesus and make excuses for why things seem so bleak. I forget so quickly that He died so that my hidden dead things could be redeemed, raised up, and made new. 

The friendship that ended in betrayal.
The marriage gone cold.
The dream that’s impossible and incredibly unlikely.
The hope that’s been lost and the joy that’s been stolen.
The heart that no longer believes.

His love reaches there.

Whether it’s a heart of stone, hardened by apathy, a mask that covers up who God says we are, or a wall that barricades us in like prisoners, rolling stones is His business. He is the only One who can handle any stone. And when those stones roll, others will look into the place that once held death with wonder and amazement and maybe a little fear because Jesus is alive.

There is nothing He can’t restore. No relationship, no heart, no dream, no failure. Nothing.

May God roll away what keeps people from seeing Jesus in our lives, and may we be ever aware of the Living One who makes all things new.

He is risen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Closing the Gaps through Organic Mentoring

Long before we exchanged stories over lunch, we talked across wooden desks, hunched over in too-small chairs. God planted something during those parent-teacher conferences and for years He watered it, then patiently watched it grow.

Her youngest son dropped a square envelope on my desk one morning. Inside was a note from her, brief but sincere.  She told me she was praying for me.  What she didn’t know was that my heart was breaking that day.  Deep in the trenches of infertility, my most recent loss had left me devastated.  I was smiling on the outside, but crumbling on the inside. 

Years later, when my twins were barely two, I found myself sitting next to her in a bible study class. One day I found the courage to tell her how God used that note to shine hope into my dark corner. She invited me to lunch, and in no time, it was a regular thing. She listened intently to my latest twin toddler tale, years past that stage with her own two boys.  Knowing that she survived those years with most of her sanity intact was so refreshing to me. I didn’t call her my mentor; she was my friend.

I’ll never forget the day she told me she had cancer. It was aggressive, but God was more powerful, she reminded me.  He would be with her every step. She took my focus off her illness and redirected it to the God who is mighty to save. Even as her hair fell out, we kept our lunch dates.  Some days she told me she was angry at God. She didn’t hide her fatigue.  She was honest.  And she was beautiful. We prayed for each other, confided in each other, and shared meals with each other. As we sat across the table, one thing became crystal clear:

We were both just normal women who needed Jesus.

When she died nine months ago, it left this giant gaping hole in my heart, and it’s taken me all this time to figure out why. God placed a need for this type of relationship within us all.  In fact, research shows that after marriage and family, mentoring is the third most powerful relationship for influencing human behavior. *

As women, we need another woman who’s been there and walked all the way through it to tell us to keep going.  We need her to listen to our fears and our dreams and tell us to love our husbands the best we know how.  We need her to sit across the table and just be real.  We need her to drop the forced conversation starters and tidy responses and just invite us into the hard, the ugly, the stuff in life that can’t be controlled or explained or summed up with some cheerful cliché on a coffee mug. We need to watch her face the biggest giant and do so with courage and grace and beauty, so that when we stare down our own giants, we remember her fight, her determination, her God.

There will always be a woman a few steps ahead of me, but there’s a woman trailing behind me, too.  There is a girl who needs to hear my story, my struggles, and my hidden fears. She needs me to invite her into my life and into my mess.  She doesn’t need another Facebook friend or another self-help book, and she certainly doesn’t need someone with all the answers.

The enemy hates women.  He does.  But he can only advance when we leave gaps, which is why God calls us to stand shoulder to shoulder. When we position ourselves in between the woman behind us and the woman in front, the gaps begin to close.

Soon afterward [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1-3 ESV)

These women were different ages with completely different social statuses walking through different life stages, yet three common threads wove their lives together in a beautiful way.

They shared a Common Message: They joined Jesus in proclaiming the gospel to all cities and villages.

The gospel is the key in every relationship. It’s the good news that Jesus came to restore our broken relationship with the Father, but He also came to restore our relationships with each other. There’s no circumstance or struggle outside His reach.

They shared a Common Need: All had been healed by Jesus and, as a result, followed Him.

We all need to be cured of our brokenness, healed of our bitterness and doubt and our unbelief.  We need to be restored after running away. We’re in constant need of Jesus' cure. All of us.  And it's this common need for Him that unites us and breathes life into our relationships.

They shared a Common Commitment: They gave generously out of their own means.

This is so much more than financial resources. It's committing to share our talents, our gifts, and life experiences.  It’s being generous with our time, and it's telling our stories. Everything we've been given is for service and for purpose.

These same women witnessed Jesus' unjust and brutal death yet even in that dark hour when it seemed that the enemy had the upper hand, what bound them together kept their hope from unraveling.  They were there together at the foot of the cross with all their shattered dreams and questions that echoed in the silence.  They held each other as He took His last breath. Together they watched the men lay Jesus in the tomb.  Then they went home to prepare fragrances for His body.  Together they got up early in the morning and walked in the dark to the tomb.  And together they were the first ones to encounter the risen Jesus.

They shared the hard, the ugly and painful.
They shared the tragedy that made no sense.
They shared their fears and questions.
They shared their time.
They shared their resources and talents.
But most of all, they shared Jesus and they never took their eyes off of Him.

May we open our eyes to who’s walking in our wake.  May we have the courage to move towards each other with the same love and grace He’s shown us.  Just like Mary and Joanna, Susanna and the others, when we invite each other into our mess, we will always find Jesus there.         

In loving memory of Sherri
All eyes up


Sue Edwards and Barbara Neumann have researched this topic extensively.  In Organic Mentoring: A Mentor's Guide to Relationships with Next Generation Women, they share what works and what doesn't, and they remind us what God has to say about mentoring relationships. If you are interested in learning more, this is a resource full of truth and wisdom.

*Larry Kreider, Authentic Spiritual Mentoring: Nurturing Younger Believers Toward Spiritual Maturity (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), 12.

Friday, March 6, 2015

5 Words Our Guys Need Us to Learn

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Ephesians 6:10 ESV

He's got a sword tucked in one side of his pajama bottoms and a silver wooden blade tucked in the other side. I chuckle when I realize the knife is from his sister's wooden cookie set. Today it's his weapon.

She is wearing her yellow and pink princess dress and matching pink shoes. It doesn't take me long to figure out which game they're playing. He is the hero, clearly. And she needs him to rescue her. I've seen this desire to protect her many times, and like every other four-year-old girl, she loves it. What I'm not prepared for is the conversation that follows.

He walks over to me and drops his head, visibly defeated. When I ask him what's wrong, his answer grabs my heart and for half a second I have no idea how to respond.

"I can't kill the dragon, Mom. I'm not strong," he sighs as he lays his weapons down on the coffee table between us.

"Yes, you are, Buddy,” I say. “You are strong, and you’re brave, too. Now go slay that dragon."

His eyes tell me my words will only go so far. "The dragon is too big; it's a giant dragon. I just can't," he admits, staring at the ground.

Furious, I want to know who told him he wasn't strong. But I know. I remember how young I was when I first heard the enemy whisper lies in my ears.  Choking back tears, I ask God how to navigate all this.

I tell him the story of David, pointing out that he was just a boy, small like him. And there was this horribly mean giant who was over nine feet tall. I tell him about David's slingshot and how he grabbed five stones from the riverbed, but it only took one to take down Goliath. I ask him if he knows how David had such courage. He shakes his head, no, and I can tell he's listening.

"David knew he was strong, because God made him strong,” I say. “He knew God was fighting for him. You can slay a giant, too, with God's help. He made you strong."

As my words settle, he looks up and asks, "Is it time for lunch yet?" and just like that the conversation ends as quickly as it began.

Hours later, I’m still rehearsing the exchange of words between my four-year-old son and me. If he retreats in the face of an imaginary dragon, how will he stand courageous when confronted by his true enemy- the one who's after his heart? If he lays down his weapons now, how will I ever instill in him the power of the true weapon he has access to- the sword of the Spirit, the word of God?

A warrior who questions his strength will never reach for his weapon; he will withdraw. If he believes he is strong and capable, made in the image of God, he will pick up his sword and want to learn how to use it. But he must first believe he is strong. Everything else follows.

I'm well aware how unequipped I am in this area, so I continue to pray. Five words echo deep inside my soul.  At first I think they're instructions directed towards me, but then I realize God is giving me words to pray over my son. Simple yet powerful, this prayer is for all of us- for our husbands, our sons, our brothers and fathers.

Teach him that he's strong.

We say our men are fixers, but isn't that exactly what we try to do? Fix what the enemy has broken? And we are failing miserably. Maybe it was never our job in the first place. There's only one Teacher who can accomplish this task.

God, teach him that he’s strong. Not make him strong or show him how to be strong, but teach him that he is strong. Teach him who he is and whose he is.

His strength isn't found in who he must work to become; it’s found in who he already is in Jesus.  And the work was completed on the cross. Real strength doesn't have to be earned or achieved. It resides deep within every man's soul for one reason and one reason only: He is made in the image of a strong and mighty God.

The next day I overhear them playing upstairs. He tells his sister, “Let me do it. I’m strong.”

Right there in that moment, I whisper gratitude to the God who is strong enough to hold his heart and teach him that he's strong.