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I have a dream…that I would write something that would be remembered the way those words were, but, no, just kidding.  Alas, my dream was much smaller than that.

Was.  Past tense.

My dream was to be a United States Marine.  I had just one child when I “decided” that being a military police officer was what I most wanted to accomplish in life.

I went to the recruiter’s office.  I spoke at length with a man scarcely older than I was, at the ripe age of just 26 years. It was quickly evident that the man was used to pulling out all the stops to convince candidates to enlist.  It was even more quickly evident that he needed no such tactics with this twenty-something who had spent the past several years working through each and every reason why she wanted nothing worse than to be a real, live warrior.  When he asked, “Why?” she simply said, “Because being a Marine means something.  I want to do work that matters,” and she saw the strong and stern man shed what was surely an unashamed tear.

She said she should.  She said she would.  But the mister said not so.  No, she shouldn’t.  She wouldn’t.  She could not, really.  She had a small, silly girl that she had to stay with.  So they settled on saying she would skip the warrior wishes and set out to simply start serving as a State Trooper instead.  She wasn’t so selfish, see.  She could compromise with the spouse’s specifics.

So the exams were all said and done and all she had to do was show up for the State Police Academy cadet training.  But something strange stopped her.  She started to feel sick and she said she seemed certain that something was seriously wrong.  Soon a sibling for that silly little girl was coming in the form of a sister.

That’s where her dream stopped.  So thirteen years later, she still saves her acceptance letter.  She still starves to somehow see a way to serve that substance she so longed to see.

She ran a race last Saturday.  There were four races being run at once: a 5k, 10k, 10 mile, and a half marathon.  She ran the half, and as the trail went on, the road got lonelier and lonelier.  As the shorter distance runners disappeared back to the starting line, the somebodies running alongside became sincerely scarce.  She started to console herself saying, “It’s how many miles you can run after you’re spent that make you most strong.” She almost stepped on a snake sunning itself.  She thought about taking a picture of that slithery scare guy, but if she knows anything about running it is that she should never look back or turn around in a race.  So she didn’t.

The smallest version of me, Sonny, now the fourth sister born of this body, slid two splinters right up under her soft little finger last night.  She showed me this morning, and then quickly stopped sharing the site of the scrapes.  Sonny hid the painful part as best she could because she was afraid I would touch it and cause more sadness.

Isn’t that just what we do?  But we can’t heal if we hide, and, sometimes, when we show it, we still can’t heal because we’re faulted for our flaws.  What happens when you’re running, you’re hurting, you’re spent, and you’re left lonely without your dream?  Should the still not a service woman hide her pain?  Or should she prioritize it so she can heal?

Serious healing takes a pause, not another practice, program, or pageant.  And it is not for the unfulfilled past.  It is not the pain of a lost dream that needs healed so much as it is the profound realization that she will not be getting her chance to pour into the pride of life.  Yes, you read me right.  But praise God.  Garth got it right: sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.

The pride of life is the third of three indictments the disciple that Jesus loved said of those who were working toward the worthlessness of the world.  The first is sexual.  The second is stuff.  This, the third, is all that is of the world that leads to arrogance, ostentation,  pride in self-presumption, and boasting.  It is that which appeals to our appetites and exalts us above our staying in the specific service we are stationed to serve in.  It is the illusion of power and personifying ourselves with God-like qualities.  It is the something – the anything – that seeks to situate us in a circumstance other than that which we have been certainly called to stand still and stay in.

So the sentimental she that saved her acceptance letter and even reapplied in serious hopes to sign on before her age itself strictly exempts her says she sees why the dream stops here.  The splinter has to be sought and the overgrown skin must be severed if the pain is to ever be soothed.  She’s running the long race and the prize is found in the persevering.  She knows for sure that it is the how many miles you can run after you’re spent that make you most strong.  She knows now she should have never turned around and looked back while running such a serious, strenuous stretch of this snake-ridden so-long race.  She was smitten by her own sedition.  Stupid.  Sin makes us stupid, huh?  I’d say.

So I’m going to stand here and hold out my splinter-sore hands to my Savior. I’m going to say some simple prayers and see if He will start sticking the sterilized needle in my overgrown skin and somehow surgically remove my self-obsessive stupidity.

Selah.

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It’s nice to wake up and realize your work is already done!

Everyday Encounters With the Creator

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In Jeremiah 36, God gave Jeremiah a message for his people.  It was not a happy message.  Jeremiah’s message was a warning of judgement.  The reason given for this warning was so that God’s people would repent and be saved from the coming judgement. (36:3)

At this point Jeremiah was already so unpopular with the religious authorities that he was banned from the temple. (36:5)  For this reason, he calls his friend, Baruch, to listen to the message, write it down on a scroll and read it in the hearing of the people in his stead.

Again, the reason is stated by God in Jeremiah 36:3 and again by Jeremiah in 36:7. It was so that they would repent.

All the people fasted and Baruch read the words of impending judgement.  Afterward, some men went and told the princes and Baruch was sent for to read his message again to…

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Collateral Beauty

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“What are we doing for Easter?” she asks for at least the sixth time this week.

“I told you!” I snap back on the morning of what should be a joyous celebration of Our Savior’s resurrection.

“I told you a hundred times. We’re going to church and I am making dinner. That is all. That is what we’re doing.”

Maybe she thought, like so many other interrogatives she shares with old softie mom that my answer would change if she simply said it a super insane amount of times.

I knew what she was saying, though. I felt it, too.

I felt it in the insistence that there must be something else. I felt it in the silence after my too-stern response. I felt it in the stress of the strong words spewed at me in the full view of she and all her siblings on the road home. Then, I heard its sounds in the sad words we all felt with all five senses on this Easter Sunday. She said, “Mom, why don’t we have any family?”

Soon after, her sister twisted the spear in saying, “Yeah. Why doesn’t anyone like us, Mom?”

“We have each other. Look at your sisters. People like us. But Easter Sunday people spend time with their siblings.”

So this is our second holiday spent without any extended family, save my mom who stays with us. And it is hard not to be sad. It is hard to stay smiling. I feel like I have to strong-arm a smile and keep my countenance contrary to my compounded inner conflict.

The change is incredibly complicated. Contentment is the key. I cannot get caught up in what could have been or what should be. I have to resolve to rest in what has come to be called “collateral beauty.”

Everyday Encounters With the Creator

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He calls me on his birthday.  Seventy-one today.  A true father to the fatherless, he cares to listen.  He asks my condition.  He encourages, advises, and patiently instructs.  Here is a man who loves unconditionally.  I know,  not because he says it; I know because he does it.

If only we knew how much we are loved.  If only we loved like Dennis.  What grace!

Flooding in comes all the grand examples of the providence of God.  The red birds’ appearing.  The chance meeting with Daddy’s best friend.  The parable of daily bread read to a dying woman after holding out my empty hand repeating softly, “I trust you, Lord.”  The tender, unmistakable instructions to eat; to rest.  The dinner date planned months prior.  The revelatory dream.  The friend who just happened to be there.  The song that prepared.  The woman with the expensive perfume.  The beatitudes.  The movie.

Yes…

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While Jesus was in the grave, we good students of our Apostle’s Creed know that Jesus “…was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell; the third day He rose from the dead…”

The first thing Jesus did after his death was descend into hell. 1 Peter 3:19 tells us He preached to the spirits in prison.  The first thing Jesus did after his death was preach to prisoners.

After Jesus died, the Spirit made him alive again.  Once we are “crucified with Christ” we are also dead to sin and made alive by the Spirit.  But what does it mean to die daily?  What does that look like in a believer’s life?  And how do we preach to former fellow prisoners?  Because if the first thing Our Lord did after the grave was preach to prisoners, it must be pretty important for we fellow die-ers.

We do it the same way Jesus did.  We willingly, purposefully go through hell before we ever get to heaven.  That doesn’t mean we invite trouble, persecution, or trials.  It means we love the prisoners by whose authority we experience them enough to preach to them through our own daily death – which they themselves may indeed be dealing out.

My ten year-old is the most randomly hilarious person I know.  She is very quiet generally, but when she talks she finds the most wild and outrageous ways to describe life.  Like, the other night we were sitting at the dinner table and out of near nowhere she says, “Mom, your pen is your superpower.  You write everything with it.”  She went on to say how I write down the whole world with it and never take a break – like a superhero. Then she texted me that same message again last night.  “Mom, your pen is your superpower.  You write everything with it.”

Every morning when she wakes up she stops, looks at me, makes her eyeballs as big as outer space saucers, and she says something like, “Do you ever take a break?!  Do you take a day off?  Take a rest from writing, mom!  Just one day!”  She just cannot imagine why anyone in the world would want to write.

And she is so right.  I don’t know about the superhero part, but I definitely write everything down – the good, the bad, and the absolutely insane happenings of life and love are all written in countless notebooks stemming back all the way since I was in junior high.  That’s when I started needed someone to talk to.  When I feared or felt anything and I was alone, the notebooks were nominated.  The paper listened and the pen was the power to stop being imprisoned by the pieces of my life.

So some I have written is personal.  Some is pined over and refined for public use.  Some is protected.  And, dare I say, some has indeed been prophetic.  Nevertheless, our strengths are always our weaknesses, and there have been times when I have written words with power that have preached wrong messages to prisoners – messages not of grace, but of purposeful pride for my own self-protection.  These are those who are the prisoners of my own making.  They cannot be free – at least to me – because my perception and my pain holds them hostage.  But it’s Jesus’ job to preach to them, not mine.  His plan for my preaching is to persevere despite all the pain.  That is His plan for my preaching to these prisoners.   So I have to stop playing pinball with the parts of this story that probably only pierce and perpetually imprison me.

Yesterday, the Lord convicted me of a few of those passages.  He made me pull them out and pretend I’m a pyromaniac.  (I’m not, in case you’re wondering.  I actually don’t think I have ever built my own little fire until yesterday morning, in fact.) Anyway, I pulled out my compilation of my perception of actual events and I lit them on fire.  I burned the entire book I wrote on what happened in my past regarding excommunication and the church.  And it was hard.  And I didn’t want to.  And there’s more that needs to die in that burn barrel but I’m not ready to bare it yet.

But I burned it because that book is the best effort I can make to stay married to my rights.  Those words are the proof that the pain I have is not only proper, but was provided by other people.  And maybe most of it was.  So pride says preach that.  But the cross says kill it.  Crucify it.  Burn it.  Bury it.  Because if you don’t,  pride will continue to prevent you from preaching properly.  Jesus protects the poor in spirit, so my proof is not even necessary.  Willingness to cancel the debt of fellow former prisoners is where the real power is.

And, at this point, I can honestly say that I do not care who was right. I do not care who was wrong.  Their debts have been cancelled and so have mine. I don’t care that these things desperately broke me and raw-ly revealed my inner brokenness.  I miss my brothers.  I miss my sisters.  I forgive whatever graceless places I have walked around.  I have one goal.  I just want to see the gospel work.

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The question is merely, how?  How does the gospel work?

I pray.  I sit silent.  The pain is still so much.  I know the answer is not pretending peace.  I want to be partners in the presence of God.  Maybe say a prayer together.  But I know that the Lord wants that I would lay those desperate desires down, too.  I want to walk worthy.

I was once a warrior.  With each wicked new wound I got weaker.  I want to stand back up.  I am all wrung out for my endless weeping.  Sometimes I just want to say, “Didn’t you win me?  Aren’t I part of your greatest work?  Where are you, Maker?  Wake me.  Win me.  I need your rest.  I need you to be with me in all my work.  Then it will really be well with my soul.  Wherever is your wisdom?  Why is my whole life a war?

But I won’t.  I won’t ask those questions ANY LONGER because faith tells me that trusting is the type of true work Our Lord tells us to try.  Trusting.

Trust is what told me to bring it with an old-fashioned book burning about this time yesterday.  Those memories are a trifling train wreck anyway.  I love the truth but sometimes even the truth is commanded to take a backseat to the trust our troubadour calls us to.

So with that I say, take it.  Take my truth and tear it up til every last page is crumbled and charred.  I will take His and tell it eternally.

 Lyrics:

Its been a hard year
Since you went away
No matter what I did or said
I couldn’t make you stay
But I’m gonna be strong
I’m gonna hold on
I’m gonna get on with my life
Starting tonight, I’m gonna kiss the past goodbye
Cause I’m gonna burn down your memories
Right down to the ground
Picture by picture
Letter by letter
I’ll watch ’em all burn down
Watch those good and bad times
Disappear into the sky
Tonight I’m gonna let your memories fly
Since that screen door slammed
You’ve been gone without a trace
And for the first time in my life
My heart felt out of place
But I’m gonna be strong
I’m gonna hold on
I’m get on with my life
Starting tonight I’m gonna kiss the past goodbye
Cause I’m gonna burn down your memories
Right down to the ground
Picture by picture
Letter by letter
I’ll watch ’em all burn down
Watch those good and bad times
Disappear into the sky
Tonight I’m gonna let your memories fly
Cause I’m gonna burn down your memories
Right down to the ground
Picture by picture
Letter by letter
I’ll watch ’em all burn down
Watch those good and bad times
Disappear into the sky
Tonight I’m gonna let your memories fly
Woah tonight I’ll let your memories fly
Fly, just a little bit higher
Fly, right off into the sky
Fly, just a little bit higher
Fly, right off into the sky
Fly

 

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Good Friday.  Some ask what is good about it.   I say you cannot get to glory without going this way.  If for no other reason, this stop is a great and a good one.

Stop I will, because the big Boss brought out the big guns and restored a good deal of blindness in my own broken heart by way of a couple unsuspecting brothers and sisters by day’s end yesterday.

Isn’t it funny how as soon as you mention something you haven’t experienced in a long time it seems to creep right up and surprise you suddenly out of the clear stinking blue?  Weird.

A few days ago I shared a few words about encouragement citing how I had come full circle from the days of daily doctrinal debate and downright dereliction in the things of that nature to a place of purposeful encouragement.  Well, yesterday I got to put my skills into practice, and let me tell you, I was not only particularly surprised by my own true heart played out on the paper, but profoundly preached to by my own proper position.  I felt like I was looking at a little tiny plant who maybe might just have grown into a proper kind of plant of sorts.

I shared how I rarely ever get into debates or any sort of real arguments on doctrine or even just daily practice anymore.  Even though I love apologetics, and, sitting around all day dividing the truth together is my honest idea of a day very well spent, I realize that not many live in my camp.  Most are married to another idea that says doing anything that involves disagreeing is duplicitous and dangerous.  So I learned to document my own doctrine daily and merely dare to share it for anyone who might find some sort of depth or deployment for it.

But yesterday I did what I rarely ever do these days.  I jumped in on a disaster and I tried to help direct it with the doctrine of my favorite deity – Jesus Christ.  The words I said and meant were spoken both from me and to me in some sort of supernatural fashion that only my Savior and his Spirit can show up and share in.  It went a little something like this:

A friend was fighting.  He was angry.  He was doing all he could to show up the one who he said had surely wronged him.  He wronged her back.  They both shouted severely and would not stop.  The rift went on, and on, and on for several days.  In the midst of this debate, which, you all should all be proud that I did not even acknowledge or follow the specifics of in the least, I saw something.  I did not see who should win.  I did not see what was so wrong in the situation.  I didn’t even so much as look for those details.  What I saw was a sister.  I saw a brother.  And I saw a sadness that showed itself as sinful sharpness toward one another.  So I broke my unspoken rules of non-engagement and I said something.  It went something like this:

She’s a sinner.  You’re a sinner.  Surprise!  (Ok, I saved most of the sarcasm cause I’m reforming for real.)  No, people are not reasonable.  Forgive.  Love.  Give grace.  See your own sin as more severe.  Stop fighting.  Save room for the Spirit to do His work.

Therein, I saw myself.  I saw so many things I haven’t seen before.  Somehow, surprisingly, I meant what I said.  Somehow, I said what I meant.  And somehow I saw what I hadn’t seen before.  That is this:

Jesus has more reasons than any of us to hold on to rightness and exclude us from his grace.  Every single sin we have ever committed has been done to Him.

When we are focused on how to get people to love us, we forget that our call is to love them.  When we won’t, whatever the reason, we are actually refusing to love the Lord Himself.  The church has one foundation.  One.  And it’s not our fancy flavors of our favorite whatever.  It’s Jesus.  We are one in Christ.

My dad was a musician.  He played in a band.  Once, when they were playing a show, a man made a request.  It was a popular song (Mony, Mony),  but the band didn’t know it because they played a bit of a different genre than this song happened to be a part of.  When the man made his request and they declined, he became extremely angry.  As a little girl, I just remember the angry man cussing my dad’s band and causing a crazy-making commotion.

I heard that song yesterday.  Today I think back and wonder just what that man wanted.  If someone doesn’t know how to play your song, does it really make sense to revile them for it?  What kind of sense does that make? They don’t know how. And our job is not to teach them how to sing our song anyway.  It is to learn how to sing theirs.

We so want to be seen.  We want to be served.  But what does our Savior say?  What did he do?  Just the opposite.

So I just wanted to maybe steer the saved ones out there some for this Sunday.  Sinners do not know our song.  We often don’t know theirs.  But we should surely want to.  It is desperately hard to feel loved by God when you feel rejected by God’s people.  It is hard to forgive when the ones who perpetually hurt you are the same ones perpetually telling you to forgive.  Some would even call that spiritual abuse and serious manipulation.  So stop that.  Start seeing sinners for the saints they can one day start being, maybe, if you serve them rightly and sing their song instead of expecting them to serve you and sing yours.

I stopped into the hospital to do prayer rounds yesterday and ran into an older couple who decided to come do them on a day that they were not scheduled.  When I asked if they had come to pray for patients, they said, “Yes.  Are we in your way?”

Are they in my way?  What an odd question.  Were they in my way?  I came to serve.  They came to serve.  It was my job that day, but they had come to do it.  Were they in my way?  Would I force myself to do that which they had come to do out of turn and point at the strict-making schedule?  No.  Of course not.  “No.  You go ahead.  You came all this way.  It’s OK.”

My way ought not ever be paved with my own agenda.  My way is the way of the cross.  Therefore, no one can get in my way by mere inconvenience or inconsistency – especially when and if they are seeking to serve Him – even if it’s in my stead.

Good Friday.  That is the way to the resurrection.  There is no way to get to Easter apart from here.  Sing the song of sinners, church.  Don’t expect sinners to sing yours.

Consider Jesus.

It was not just the cross.  It was knowing one of His own was the whisperer who sold him out for a few coins.  Could Judas have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But he could have just been quiet and let the Sanhedrin do their intended work.

It was His best students sleeping as he bled his prayers.  Could his disciples have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But they could have stayed awake and supported him.

It was the use of violence to accomplish God’s will rather than submission to it.  Could Peter’s stopping his use of the sword have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But he could have saved some face for his Savior by practicing what he had been taught about submission.

It was knowing His best and brightest would vehemently, repeatedly deny Him when it really mattered most to Him.  Could Peter have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But he could have been a comfort rather than a thorn.

It was the man knowing he was innocent yet freeing the guilty for political gain and power at Jesus’ expense.  Could Pilate have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But he could have been just.

It was his very own people pleading for a improprietous perpetrator to be set free in his place.  Could his people have stopped the cross from coming?  No.  But they could have prayed for him instead of wielding the power He placed in their hands against Him.

And should I speak of the mockery of who He really, truly was by men He himself made?  The being beaten by blows of jealousy and bandwagon blood-thirst?  These things are barely the tip of the brutal ice-burg.  Jesus died, indeed, but Jesus doubtless lived dying.

Do I?

 

 

 

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Once upon a time a woman wanted to serve Jesus.  She had a great and costly gift to give.  Instead of hiding it away or keeping it for herself, the woman went to where Jesus was – despite it’s potential for personal public shaming – and she spent herself on showing her deepest love to Christ through the giving of her great gift in full view of all who loved to hate her.

She had no shame in serving her Lord with all that she had.  She had a great deal of guts.  She shared her something special like nobody’s business when she found the One worthy of her worship.

And we do not even know her name. We don’t even know her name.  Consider that.  Consider the woman who Jesus allowed to prepare Him for his death, also known as “A sinful woman,” or “The woman with the alabaster jar of perfume.”

There are three accounts of this woman in the synoptic gospels which are found in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and Luke 7:36-50.

Jesus had been invited to a Pharisee’s house.  Matthew tells us his disciples were there, Luke tells us the Pharisee’s were there, and Mark tells us that the homeowner who invited Jesus was a leper.  So we have quite a mix of men making their way to mingle with Jesus at this home-based gathering.  It’s two days before Passover.  Jesus knows it is almost time to die, yet somehow the still very human God of the universe manages to make time for a mix of men and attend their table.

Likely after dinner, as Jesus reclined at the table among these many mighty men, a woman walks in.  It wasn’t just any woman who came upon the most religious men, it was a “sinful woman.”  She is described as, “A woman of the city, who was a sinner.” Imagine that.  A woman who was a sinner.

Anyway, this woman had something.   She brought her very best for the only man she believed could really acquit her.  It seems she knew quite a few men and none that she’d known could ever help her.  In fact, they very presumably hurt her – purposefully and for their own power and personal perversion.  Imagine that.  Men who were sinners, most likely some of which were sitting at this very table, too.

The woman without a name walked in and she poured her perfume out onto the feet of Jesus.  As she did so, she, too was profoundly poured out for the pleasure of his praise.  Everyone watched in utter disbelief as she gave what they would not.  It was not so very much about the expense she absorbed, but it was in a way.  Still, it was more about the humility, the helplessness, the hard, social hurdles she helped annihilate, and the honest heart she had when she saw her own sin in light of her sure and wholly supportive Savior.

She washed his feet with her hair.

She washed his feet with her hair. What kind of a woman would do that?!

And the answer is, a woman who knows the depth of her own sin is who would do that.  This woman used the very thing that deemed her unrighteous and unworthy – hair worn down rather than a respectful woman would wear it up – and she wiped the dirt off of her Savior’s feet with it. And she did it in front of everyone who despised and disallowed her from everything holy.

What do you do with the thing that most wretchedly identifies you as the most severe sinner in the room?  Wait.  Do you even realize that you are the most severe sinner in every room you enter?  Do you?  Start there.  After you do so,  do you surrender that stuff for the use of your Savior or do you say the things like Simon and his sin-denying friends said when someone else’s surrender is a little too shocking and unsuitable for the likes of you and your accepted group?  It went a little something like this:

What a waste!  This woman is a fool for dumping out so many days’ work to douse that dude’s dirty feet!  She should have given her expensive gift to the poor people who really needed it!…And this dude…He must not be who I thought He was at all.  If He was half the prophet people perceive Him to be, He would know what kind of woman he’s allowing to touch him.  She’s a…sinner!  Surely He should know to stay away.  

Funny thing about Jesus, He is not scared of sinners.  Jesus isn’t scared of sinners.  We are.  And we seem to think that if we just help Jesus understand why he shouldn’t sit by those kind of people, we’ll all be a lot more comfortable, safe, and socially acceptable.  And, of course, if He should ever find out about our small, insignificant little sins, He’ll be sure to keep them a secret for us, too.

Has anyone ever told you that sin makes us stupid?  Cause it does.  And these guys were not the smartest knives in the drawer based on this situation.

So Jesus shuts the mouths of these condescenders by beautifying the bravery and benefit of what this woman busted in on them to bow down and give.  He defended her.  He accepted her.  He called her best beautiful and he made sure she would be remembered far better than they were.  Jesus did not care what his host thought enough to disallow a sinful woman to serve Him.  Jesus cared enough what his host thought to teach him why she not only was welcome, but was indeed doing a much greater service than he and his friends even were!  He tells them all a story about forgiveness and He waits to see if they can figure out why, without finding forgiveness for her, we can all forget grace altogether.  Cause she ain’t the only sinner sitting in the room.

She sure as shootin’ ain’t the only sinner sitting in the room. 

Jesus allowed a sinful woman to prepare him for death.  And you know, the problem wasn’t the woman.  They made the woman the problem for one reason and one reason only: these guys did not want death.  They didn’t want death.  Who wants death, right?  But Jesus had to die.  The woman without a name had to die.  The Pharisees had to die.  The disciples had to die.  You and I have to die.  And if we do not die today to the every desperate attempt the Devil does his best to drag us down doing, we don’t understand the deepness of our own debt in the least.

The woman had no name.  Perhaps its because no one particularly wanted to know her name.  They’d rather she wasn’t there.  She was not invited.  She was not welcome.  She was not worthy.  She was not what they wanted to see sitting in their safe little circle.  Nevertheless, she walked in.  Jesus honored and embraced her gift and He gave her the guts to glorify Him while all His so-called comrades did only what drove their own agendas.

“Which of them will love him more?…her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much.  But he who is forgiven little, loves little…

Go and find out why not one of us needs forgiven little.  Then, go learn the name of someone who loves much.

 

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Yesterday my friend informed me of an online debate turned dispute.  She was upset about the professing Christians on the thread and their harsh, graceless responses to those who don’t know the Lord from a rock.  And, since I’ve had my own share of disputes with mainly professors of religion over everything from doctrinal differences to the do we even dance or drink a beer questions, it got me to thinking.

Why don’t I do that anymore?

Oh, don’t get me wrong, if someone comes a-knockin’ and wants a go-round about absolutely any, well just about anything one could actually ask as far as how my tiny brain aligns with whatever, I will generously give it to them.  But I try not to look for trouble these days.  God must have got my number again.

So I told my friend that she should be proud of me.  I’ve been staying out of the faith kids fight club for the very most part.  In fact, I went on, it feels like the former things have made it full circle for me.

To prove my declaration, as all debaters and disputers don’t, but ought to really do, (Don’t these people know this??? Can the critical thinkers please stand up?!), I told her my word for the year is actually, “encouragement.”  And let me tell you, there was a day not too very long ago when I woulda argued your socks off even about why having a word for the year is a ridiculous, extra-biblical, fluff-filled attempt to feel holy.

Not so now.

Encouragement.  I told my friend that now, it seems I may be stumbling onto the opposite side of the struggle spectrum. The Lord has indeed faithfully been filling me with ways to find the very best parts and potential in people, and I have been as faithful as I can to inform them of my findings.  It is not fake.  My for real feelings are aligned with the favor and the brother-building-up fortification that the Lord has found for me to share with my friends.  The problem is that people are not used to that forte.

No, not many know how to really receive compliments and encouragement with God’s humility and grace.  It’s like the look you get when you offer a random act of kindness: complete and total bewilderment. People are afraid to trust genuine kindness, to let others love them, and to receive anything real from unwelcome sources.  We are just not used to it in this world of all that is wrong.  But maybe we should be.  More importantly, we should be the best big mouths about all that is best about our brothers and sisters, by golly!

Being a part of the pageant community taught me a ton about being positive, believing the best, and being part of a band of non-bullies who are all believing for the betterment of both oneself and one another.

But do you know what we born-again believers act like a lot?  We act like if someone has weaknesses we cannot encourage their strengths.  We act like when people have  problems we are prohibited from praising them properly.  And how many people do you know without problems?  We act like we are impoverished in the appropriate applause department.  Then, the very people who need the most encouragement get the least.  It’s really kind of pathetic when prom queens out-encourage prayer warriors.  Not only that, but the part that really works me over is when we cannot just cut through the current condition of our comrades and choose to see instead the clear picture of unconditional love. 

We have to learn how to be more positive, says the pixie with the past which was perpetually void of almost all positive vibes.  And by we I mean me…and you. 

I was a naysayer for nearly my entire life.  But I’m learning.  Encouragement is not a two-minute soundbite upon acquaintance.  Encouragement is a lifestyle, a long-suffering labor of love, and, yes, an overlooking of all that is less than in an unwavering effort to under-gird another’s God-given strengths and goodness.

Some only encourage when and if others do.  Those people are called followers.  They like what the crowd or the trusted companions like and nothing else.  But why not live into the freedom to figure out what is fantastic about your friends for yourself?  Are we really afraid to accidentally encourage the wrong person?  Really?  I can’t.  I cannot even believe that that is the case.

Some forgo encouragement specifically for those we feel are farther ahead of us.  Are we really afraid a feel-good word to a front runner is going to offend?  Or are we just fickle and feeling unfriendly toward one we find more fortunate than ourselves?  I guess it’s not too awful hard to figure out which way that one usually goes.

We are not exactly the same.  We all succeed more superior-ly in some ways.  We all struggle more strenuously in certain ways.  But we all need brother and sister support lest we start to see strongholds stand between us – strongholds that start with the word “scared,” and end with the words “preference,” “partisanship,” “power-punching,” and pure, unadulterated “partiality.”

But what did Jesus do when he most needed encouragement?  And how did his friends handle his request?

Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” ~Matthew 26:38

Stay awake with me.  Stay awake.  That was the only request a dying Savior asked of his very closest friends while taking on the sin of the entire world.  So did they?

Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”…He came again and found them sleeping; they could not keep their eyes open…Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is approaching, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer is approaching!” ~Matthew 26:40, 43, 45

 So Jesus, when he went through the most miserable moments of human existence ever known, was surrounded by sleeping slackers.  When Our Savior himself needed his sons the very most, they slept.  Do you think He could have used some prayers?  Some sympathy?  Some real set-up for what he was about to do and see on behalf of their own sin?  Sure!  Sure he could have.  But his sleepers slept three times while he prayed unceasingly for the story of the world which lay squarely upon his own shoulders.

Therefore, we ought to keep in mind that we have no idea what other people are going through.  Even if they tell us, unless we have been there we cannot possibly imagine the emotions and the wreckage that lies beneath a heart wounded by what the world so often brings.  Jesus told his best friends that he was sorrowful to the point of death and they still slept three times after he said, “Stay awake.”  We have got to stay awake and pray for people.

At the end of time we are all going to realize that even on our best days, not one of us was anything more than a try-er.  And try-ers need told to tip their chins up and to keep on truckin’ – sometimes multiples times per day.  So here’s a few questions for the encouraging hearts who want to work toward a better building up of others:

Can you give creedance when someone deserves credit?  Or it is more of a challenge to compete?  Pride prevents encouragement.  Pride picks and chooses who it will praise and who it will preach to based upon personal preference rather than actual production.  And, truth be told, most people can not only pick that out particularly appropriately, but also figure out they are unappreciated faster than you can pray a prayer of penance for your piously-guised pride.  When is the last time you encouraged your neighbor?  Friend?  Fan?  Foe?

Stay awake. Pray for.  Encourage.  These are the works of a true friend.