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Just as I Am

I got together with a dear friend this afternoon. As we sipped our drinks, we, in the words of Audio Adrenaline “talked about all the things that really matter most, like life and love and happiness and then the Holy Ghost.”

It was not fun. At the end she said that she was all challenge today and not much invitation. (Yup. But I love and adore her.)

It’s hard to take a bunch of challenge, even if it is prefaced with a boatload of invitation.

So, I cried.

I went home and asked Alexa to play modern hymns and I got old school hymns.

I sat there and thought and concluded that I must be post-Christian now. Not Post-Christian like one of my friends whose theology consists of a laundry list of Thou Shalt Not Have Tos, but more like the only time I can think about God without a whole bunch of bad thoughts and feelings is when I’m with the little Munchkin and we listen to songs about all the things God thinks about us and the little Munchkin either gets super excited or he settles in and gets cozy and the only thing you hear from him is the occasional contented sigh. It’s like he knows what it means to be a Child of God. Maybe he does. Maybe he knows that way better than I ever will.

I knew this day would come.

Several years ago, I was at a college ministry weekend and as the weekend progressed, I had this awful foreboding feeling come over me. One of the people I had traveled with asked what was wrong and I said “I’m going to lose my faith.” I couldn’t completely shake the feeling, but I did get a sense that night that there would be a child in my life at some point with miraculous faith and their faith would sustain mine.

And look at that.

It happened.

Obviously, I can’t quantify the Munchkin’s faith, but his contentment in spite of everything and his response to songs about Jesus tells me that there’s…. something…. there.

As I pondered these things tonight, I thought maybe I should pray.

But, nope.

The music wasn’t helping either. Music speaks to me about every time I turn it on, so this is really weird.

And then….

Just As I Am….

Without one plea

But that Thy blood was shed for me

And that thou bid’st me come to Thee

Oh Lamb of God, I come. I come.

I was transported back to when I was about 4 years old and Billy Graham came to Fargo for a crusade. I attended one night back then and I don’t remember anything but the earnestness and the kindness in Billy’s voice. And Just as I Am. It wasn’t a message of condemnation, nor, necessarily, of God’s “wonderful plan for your life.” No. It was more a message about Jesus wanting us.

Just as I am and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot

To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot

Oh, Lamb of God, I come. I come.

The beauty of Jesus is that you don’t have to come whole or spotless. There’s enough grace to cleanse all of it and more grace to drown in. Oh, the beauty of grace!

The verse that broke me and left me a pool of tears, my soul bare, was this:

Just as I Am though tossed about

With many a conflict, many a doubt

Fighting within and fear without

Oh Lamb of God, I come. I come.

He welcomes us with outstretched arms, even in our doubt. Even when we’re convinced that He’s not good and that He’s forgotten us. He welcomes us, even when we’re pretty convinced that He has spent the past year actively abandoning us. He. Wants. Us. In spite of it all. He wants us.

I got about this far in the song and I was a mess.

Just as I Am Thou wilt receive

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve

Because Thy promise I receive

Oh Lamb of God I come. I come.

By this time, I believed. I came. I was a sniffling, tearful mess.

Whoever would have thought that God would use Billy Graham years after his death — and Alexa, of all things! — to change me from the inside out?

Friends, there’s hope. Jesus wants you too. All you have to do is come.

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Posted by on July 14, 2019 in Current Events, My Story

 

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Make Social Media Kind: All the Things People Don’t Tolerate

Social media destroys relationships.

Not every relationship.

Not every person.

Not every day.

I have had several instances in which I posted something on social media and someone, zealous in their endeavor to prove themselves to have a superior moral compass, superior theological ideologies, or superior political views, turned my post into a warzone. I’ve had friends who didn’t even know each other hollering at each other on my posts in an effort to prove me or one another wrong. (Full disclosure: If someone turns my posts into a warzone, I change my privacy settings so that person can’t see anything I post. It’s not because I can’t handle opposing views. I simply believe that if you can’t be gracious when discussing your disagreement…. You know, that scripture about speaking with the tongues of men and angels….. You can speak with all sorts of eloquence, but if you don’t do it with love, you’re a clanging gong. No one wants to hear it.) I’ve had strangers beat me up on social media because someone I respect eats meat, and because I had the audacity to suggest that emotional trauma can sometimes manifest in gender dysphoria and because I suggested that when it comes to the color of one’s skin, what is more important than the color of one’s skin is the ability to connect on a human level with everyone, regardless of their skin color.*

Social media gives people a soapbox (coupled with the protection of distance and anonymity) on which to boldly declare their own superiority and everyone else’ inferiority.

I hate it.

Because when it comes down to it, we’re all just people. We’re not colors. We’re not political parties. We’re not races. We’re not theological beliefs. We’re not agendas. We represent those things at times. But before any of those things, we are people. Can we please just treat one another like we’re people, void of agendas and void of an internal sense of smugness about our own correctness and everyone else’ incorrectness?

I haven’t written much in the past few years because I feel that I have to self-censor so much that it just isn’t worth it to try. People’s pet agendas and social justice warrior stances make it impossible for people to own their own stories, their own convictions and their own experiences. If I tell my story, home school advocates come against me because “that’s not the way it is.” If I tell my story, faithful people everywhere get offended because “church is a hospital for the broken.” (Spoiler alert: It’s supposed to be, but it often fails miserably.) If I tell my story, therapists tell me that I suffer from a weird cognitive dissonance or some kind of denial because all that stuff is true, but it hasn’t destroyed my faith and it hasn’t made me disown my family.

Can we simply listen? Can we listen to hear, instead of listening to develop an argument? Can we respond with compassion and grace and generosity and understanding? Can we throw agendas to the side and embrace people simply because they are people, instead of quantifying them (or ourselves!) with adjectives that divide us into “white people” or “Christian people” or “Asian people” or “Atheists” or “educated people” or “Progressive people” or “Republicans” or “Socialists”? We are just people. The minute we started dividing ourselves by our adjectives, we started a subtle war that will never end until we decide that Ariel being a redhead means nothing because life isn’t about people’s differences. It’s about finding similarities in the midst of our differences. It’s about teaching our children to find something in people who are opposite from ourselves that we can appreciate and even understand. Life isn’t about forcing the world to conform to our demands. It’s about finding the very subtle similarities that are present in even the most opposite individuals. Life is about teaching children that there is more in the world and more to life than just our own selves, our own experiences and our own prejudices.

So, let’s be open. Let’s be humble.

Let’s learn to be kind again.

*Regarding race and color: I want to make it very, very clear that I have utmost respect for people of all races, colors, and ethnicities. There are many people of many races and ethnicities that I love and adore. I do not in any way wish to minimize the struggles that anyone has had pertaining to their race, color or ethnicity, because I know that many have been marginalized and treated very unfairly and many suffer greatly due to attitudes and events of the past that still impact them and their families many generations later. I am only saying that a little bit of openness to others who have different experiences, and understanding that our experiences are different and that’s ok (and yet, in spite of our differences, there is similarity somewhere), will get us a long way in our endeavor to create a kind and compassionate society. 

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2019 in Rants

 

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Heartbreak

Lately I have been thinking about God’s plans and purposes.

My heart hesitates to speak of God. Not because of lack of love for Him. Not because of shame or guilt or anything like that. I simply feel inadequate. Who am I to have any vast knowledge of or insight into the grandeur of the Lord? Who am I to comment on the holiness of God or the love of Jesus or the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit? I am not a great theologian. I’m not even a mediocre theologian. Even reading the Bible is so very difficult at times. All I know is the still small voice. The one that whispers, “You are ok” when everything is falling apart. All I know is His faithfulness to hold me when everything around me is crumbling. I know nothing from an academic standpoint. But I know He loves me and He has good thoughts and intentions for me.

The past several months, God has been asking me to evaluate my attitude about my circumstances and deal with my emotions about how someone else’s choices are affecting me.

I was hopeful.

I was jubilant.

I was devastated.

I was numb.

I was numb for about 4 months while my life crumbled around me. I didn’t have the capacity to feel anything. Then I needed help and he came. He helped me for a few hours and then he left. My world was right-side-up for a few hours and then it crumbled again. I was devastated. I was broken. I was heartbroken.

It’s been four long, long years since this situation started.

I had prayed and cried out to God to reveal His plan to this other person. I cried a lot during those four years. And nothing happened. Nothing. Except that he left for two years in the middle, while I did my best to muddle through life, hoping for the best; fearing the worst; praying to be delivered from the affection and adoration I felt for him.

And still, nothing changed.

After he departed that day, I was down. It was the first time I felt anything outside of numbness about the situation for several years, and it was bad. Very, very bad. I struggled. I prayed. And in a moment of epiphany, the Lord seared on my heart the truth that the things that I have always thought of and understood as “God’s plans” aren’t plans, per se. They are purposes. They are things that He thinks and wants for us. But because of His overwhelming grace, His mercy and His love, we are given the choice if we want to participate in those purposes. (Note: I think the terminology is important here, because, a plan, when coupled with the name of God, implies inevitability. Because of God’s gracious gift of free will, the word “purpose” is a much better fit, in my opinion.)

No one is locked into a plan with Him. No one. He’s not like Verizon, where you sign on the dotted line and follow the rules until the contract runs out. He doesn’t work like your employer or your Master Promissory Note or your wedding vows. He does His thing and gives us opportunity after opportunity to participate in His purposes. But we aren’t locked in. We get to choose.

I was given an opportunity to reevaluate how I feel about Him. And how I feel about…. him. Am I going to reject God because I can’t (necessarily) have what I want? Am I going to be angry and bitter with the man in question because he won’t get his crap in a pile already?

Of course, my other choice was to internalize the grief and heartbreak and enter an even deeper depression. But that’s no fun either.

So many choices….

Several years ago, during a time of deep darkness in my life, God branded into my heart the truth that people are terrible representations of Him. Nothing people do changes who He is — nor does their behavior (very often) represent who He is. And because people are imperfect, I neither have the choice to be angry with Him, nor do I have the choice to be angry with…. him. He is already perfect, while he is in the process of…. becoming. You can’t kick people to the curb because they’re not quite like God yet.

I internalized the grief. I got depressed. I asked God for a reason to live.

Four. Years.

Wasted. (At least from my perspective, at this moment in time.)

I don’t know what to do with any of it. I’ll be the first to say that I have no idea how to help myself. I don’t know where to begin, except by going to the faithful arms of the One who is incapable of setting me down and incapable of losing His love for me. That is the only thing I can do. And as I cry out the pain and frustration and sadness of loss, I begin with these words:

If You’re going to start somewhere,

Why not here?

If You’re going to start sometime,

Why not now?
(City on Our Knees, Toby Mac)

I have no words. No thoughts. Nothing but pain and sadness and an eternal hope in His purposes that are always, always good – even when I don’t understand them and even when they don’t feel good.

I am reminded of this:

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;

    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.

    Do not forsake the work of your hands.
Psalm 138:8

 

I know not how to pray. Nothing I can say helps. Nothing changes anything. I don’t know what to ask for. And so, I pray, “Lord, fulfill Your purposes toward me.” That is all I can do.

And He will do it, because His steadfast love endures forever. He will never, ever forsake me, the work of His hands.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2019 in Current Events

 

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St. Patrick’s Day

I love St. Patrick’s Day.

I don’t drink green beer or believe in leprechauns or 4-leaf clovers or pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But I love the story of how the grace and mercy of Jesus compelled a man who had everything ripped from him and who was sent to another country for the purpose of being sacrificed to the gods, to go back to the place of his greatest pain so he could tell the people who hurt him the most about how much Jesus loves them. I love how that one choice changed the trajectory of a nation. Patrick saw the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. He saw redemption. He saw freedom, both for himself and for the nation that had oppressed him.

Whether you know it or not, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is celebrating the grace and mercy of Jesus. You’re celebrating the freedom and life that Jesus gives.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2019 in Profundities

 

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Simply Rest

Today, nothing matters.

And tomorrow, nothing matters.

And the next day.

And the day after that.

Today, I am supposed to breathe. Tomorrow. The next day. The day after that. Today I am simply supposed to rest. Today, I am supposed to simply be present.

Today, I am supposed to take hold of all that is before me in this moment and receive what is here in this moment and offer what I can offer in this moment. Because this moment is the only one in front of me. Tomorrow doesn’t matter. The next day doesn’t matter. Not in this moment.

It is astounding the difference it makes when I am in the middle of what God has called me to do. Even if I can’t even begin to guess what He is asking of me in this moment. Sometimes I just know that even though I don’t know what my “thing” is at this moment, I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Sometimes not knowing what to do is exactly what I am supposed to be doing.

Sometimes, the only thing I am supposed to do is rest.

Wait.

Listen.

Be.

Sometimes.

Sometimes, there is no “do.” Sometimes more is accomplished by waiting, being present in the moment, and laying hold of opportunities as they present themselves, than could ever be accomplished by relentlessly chasing after good things. Sometimes things that appear to be life-giving can be suffocating, simply because they take time. Sometimes, we focus too far out.

Sometimes, it just needs to be about today.

This hour.

This moment.

Sometimes, it is enough to simply rest.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2019 in Profundities

 

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Is It Well? Really?

The past several weeks have been very hard. There have been several situations that have been challenging and some of them have been heart-wrenching.

I went to church yesterday and found myself thinking about no less than three potentially life-altering situations that I’m living right now. The sermon was about how to find joy in the darkest, most painful parts of our lives.

But, the thing that had the most impact on me was the very last hymn. “It Is Well.”

As I sang, I felt the Lord saying to me, “But is it really? Is it well with your soul? Is it truly well? Or are you just resigned to what happens? What if situation A is bad and Situation B doesn’t step up to the plate and Situation C ends up throwing you under the bus? What if none of those things work out for your benefit? What then? Is it truly well with your soul? Or are you simply resigned to your fate?”

I felt an overwhelming sense that regardless, I was going to be ok. I didn’t sense that everything was going to work out for my good and my glory (because let’s face it — we all have an inner, unconscious desire for self-glorification), but I felt peace that no matter what happened, I could trust that I would be well and that I could expect to find a place of wellness of the soul.

I spoke with my pastor and a dear friend this afternoon and we were talking about the concept of wellness of the soul. How do you get to a place where no matter what happens, your soul is well? What does that even look like? My pastor reminded me of the message in church yesterday….

  1. Be humble enough to invite Jesus into the painful areas of life.
  2. Receive the grace that He continually pours out.
  3. Experience true joy in the darkness.

That is how one can move away from being resigned to one’s fate and into being able to truly say, “It is well with my soul.” Wellness of the soul begins with knowing that Jesus is intimately involved in your situation, even if that situation doesn’t work out for your benefit. It involves being aware of and consciously receiving His overwhelming grace and being able to see the hand of God at work in it. Knowing His presence and seeing His hand is what brings joy — and true wellness of the soul.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2018 in Current Events, My Story

 

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Window of Hopelessness

Last night I watched an old episode of House in which Dr. Cuddy had to negotiate a deal with an insurance company. She asked for a 12% increase in the amount the company paid.

Throughout the episode, several things went horribly wrong. An employee was caught stealing meds. She was late for the insurance meeting. Her baby was sick and she couldn’t reach the sitter. The day was a disaster. And on top of that, the insurance company refused her offer. Several times.

Dr. Cuddy made several bold moves, with the intention of trying to get the insurance company to agree to her offer. They flat out refused. She interrupted an insurance rep’s lunch to offer an ultimatum which earned her an increase.

But it wasn’t enough.

She told them her hospital wasn’t going to accept their insurance anymore, effective at 3:00 pm.

And the whole hospital was in chaos over it.

For the next two hours, Dr. Cuddy put out fires related to the stealing employee and the insurance company and she was so discouraged by 4:45 that she told people she was going to turn in her letter of resignation.

She turned around….

And ran into the insurance company rep who handed her an envelope and said “congratulations. You got your 12%.”

Sometimes our miracles come when we are at the end of our rope and well past the deadline. Sometimes we have to get to the end of all of our options and then wait a little while longer before that one last detail falls into place.

Don’t give up. Yet. Because sometimes, it takes just a little bit longer than we have. Sometimes, when it feels like it’s a lost cause, that is when Jesus can step forward and move the last piece into place.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8


It’s the waiting.

The waiting is what hurts our hearts.

We try.

We do our part.

We give it everything we have.

And then we wait.

We wait while discouragement settles in and becomes a faithful companion. We wait while every last option floats away and we are left clinging to hope for something that could have been.

And after hope is gone, we wait those two hours that sometimes stretches into two decades and we struggle with discouragement and fear and wondering what our next option will be — and if there will be any next option.

And if hospital dramas are any indication, at that last possible second…. just as we’re about to slam the door on our dreams, something changes. Our vision becomes clear. And we finally find victory.

Don’t get discouraged during the two hour window after all hope is gone. That is where Jesus is. That is where grace lingers and where hope dwells just around the corner.

I was given a thorn in my flesh,
a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
But he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
II Corinthians 12:7-9

Give glory and honor to Jesus, even in the two-hour window of hopelessness. Because His grace is enough. His power is unending. And your victory is near.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2018 in Current Events, Profundities

 

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