live now.

A phone call telling us a friend had taken his own life. A message from another friend that his father had passed away, when he had just spoken to him that morning. A friend buried a parent after she had just lost her husband.  A family member with a back injury, and it looks like surgery is on the horizon. A car accident–luckily it didn’t result in any harm to either party. All of this just in the past month or two.

And again last night, a dear friend who awoke to find her daughter with blue lips and a lack of gaze in her eyes. Thankfully she has recovered, and already has that twinkle back in her eyes. Thank you, Jesus.

But that feeling. That empty feeling. My friend said it best… she couldn’t get the “what if” out of her mind.

This. All of THIS.

It reminds me that we only have one life. Every single moment of it is precious and important. We have to make the most of all of the moments that we get, whether we feel like they are spectacular or not.

We have to make a choice to enjoy and pursue and live in the moment…

and listen

and notice

and make a difference

and not sit this one out

and give of our gifts

and pray and serve

and make others understand that they are WORTH IT.

Worth our time, our attention, worth a place on our schedule. Worth space in our hearts. Worth our heartbeats themselves.

I am the first to admit, my calendar sometimes looks like a cage. All those black lines, squaring up and rounding out the minutes of my life… scribbled in and squeezed into and running and running together. Sometimes I look at my days and think “what have I done?” and not in the way of wanting to know what I have accomplished or checked off the to-do list.. but what have I done with my time that matters?? Actually matters? To me? To others? To eternity?

today is the best day

I don’t want to waste a second. I love so many people and I want them to know it. I care about many things and I want them to be evident. I have so little time and I want to use it. I want God to use me in this little span of time that I am borrowing. I want to live.

live now

the best kind of debt-free

Thinking in crisp, clear thought today about the center of my life, who used to be despised, rejected, misunderstood, hated, and ridiculed by me on a daily basis. Thinking of how he gave up everything for me. How he suffered for me. How he died in my place.

Who do I love that much? For whom would I voluntarily be disgraced, spit upon, beaten, despised, ridiculed, tortured, even killed? Anyone? I can think of a few people who I love enough to throw myself in front of a bus without a moment’s hesitation if I thought it would save their life. Just a few. But would I do that for someone who hated me? Would I do that for someone who said I was an imbecile? Would I do that for someone who had disgraced me and everything I stood for? Very doubtful.

But that’s what He did. He paid the debt and offered new life. For me and for all of us.

ALL of us.

“Praise the One who paid my debt, and raised this life up from the dead.”

Loving Princess Leia

Hey y’all… This month’s One Word post is sitting over at my friend Marla’s blog. She is a fantastic lady and an awesome, no-pretense writer. We met online, then in real life when I realized she lived very close. (Lucky me!) I appreciate the opportunities she’s given me to share through her blog from time to time.

She’s got a series going on this month called Real. Hard. Love. With February usually being all about ooey gooey romantic love, she and some of her friends share about the part of love that we normally don’t talk about… The very very hard part. But that’s also the real part. This post that I’ve written to share over there is about perhaps one of the most difficult parts of love for me to ever talk about… Loving my own mess. Loving myself now even though that old self still clings onto me. Through this, I’m learning that loving myself as part of God’s creation actually allows me to step into the roles God has made for me with the authority He’s given me. It’s been an awesome discovery so far! I encourage you today to think about the things you’re shying away from that you know God has nudged you to do. Why haven’t you done them? Maybe you have a type of Princess Leia in your life…

Loving Princess Leia

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Redefining Our Good

I can hardly believe that I get to be among the women participating in 30 Days of Story at Sarah Farish’s blog. I have read some amazing stories of trial and triumph, all with God at the center of them, writing and rewriting the stories Himself.

I have to admit, this is very, very scary for me. Partially because I’m telling about some of the most messed-up times in my life. And partially because I sorta feel like I’m going through another mess right now. I haven’t felt worthy to be sharing my story. I’ve been hearing that voice again that says I’m nothing; no one wants to hear about my junk. Nothing I say can help anyone. I’m so screwed up, so how is anyone ever going to see God through me?

But that’s precisely why I think it’s important — no, imperative– that we share our stories. If we go through things and come out on the other side, then the whole thing is over. Great. But what did we learn from it? What could someone else learn? How might hearing how God brought us through our mess actually help someone else look at their circumstances differently?

That’s God’s recycling plan. He uses broken bits of our stories to piece together something beautiful. He’s rewritten my story and redefined my good so many times. It’s just what He does.

Here’s part of my story that I shared on Sarah’s blog, and a glimpse into how God has rewritten it.

Cultivating Character with Ben Franklin

I can’t remember exactly what I was reading the other day, (a book often leads to an article which leads to a blog which leads to another book…sort of a common hazard among us ADD’s. Anyhoo….) but at some point a reference was made to Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. It gave a brief description, and I was fascinated, so I had to find out more. After a very quick search I learned the following from Wikipedia:

Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of 13 virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726) and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life. His autobiography lists his 13 virtues as:

  • “Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
  • “Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
  • “Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
  • “Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
  • “Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
  • “Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
  • “Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
  • “Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
  • “Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
  • “Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
  • “Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
  • “Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
  • “Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”

Franklin did not try to work on them all at once. Instead, he would work on one and only one each week “leaving all others to their ordinary chance”. While Franklin did not live completely by his virtues and by his own admission, he fell short of them many times, he believed the attempt made him a better man contributing greatly to his success and happiness, which is why in his autobiography, he devoted more pages to this plan than to any other single point; in his autobiography Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”

Um…first of all, at 20 years old he “sought to cultivate his character” so he made a list of the highest virtues he could think of, then briefly defined them, and created a plan to follow them in order to have descendants that someday followed his example??

WHOA. I don’t know what you were doing when you were 20 years old, but I think I was probably just trying to cultivate enough dough to pay my rent and keep gas in my car. I was barely worried about my character (which explains a whole lot if you knew me back then.)

I have read over this list of Franklin’s 13 Virtues several times in the past week or so. I have been very inspired by it. I wondered how it might benefit me, as well as the world around me, if I took time to intentionally cultivate (or on some days, even bother to pay attention to) my own character as he did. How would it help bring to light things that I need to work on? How would it show me the ways that God’s gifts are already being used well through me? And what would be on my list of virtues to use as a measuring stick?

As a person of faith in Jesus Christ, my list is really already figured out for me. We already have a list of virtues to live by…they’re more commonly referred to in scripture as the fruit of the spirit. They are not just virtues that we should aspire to; they are actually the evidence that we’re growing more Christ-like every day.

I have an experiment in mind. Not even sure if that’s the best word for it. Maybe more like a 9-week devotional journey. What if we took this list of 9 fruits of the spirit, briefly sketched out what those look like to us in everyday life, and focused on cultivating one of them in our lives each week? Not a lot of work or hype, just focus and notice. I’d almost bet that some cool stuff would happen right in front of us.

I’ll be starting this next week. I’ve already had a couple of crazy chicks I know say they’re on board with it too. We can share our thoughts, progress, and shortcomings through the journey. Anyone else care to join us?

Monkey Town Read-Along: Week 2

This week’s read-along assignment was to read chapters 1 & 2 of Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. Chapter 1 was hilarious. I could feel her sarcastic pain. Chapter 2 made me want to puke. SOOOO much to talk about, I’ll have to choose just a few points. UPDATE: I’m only talking about chapter 1 in this post so it doesn’t become wayyyy too long. I mean, we’re already around 1000 words here. I will deal with chapter 2’s business in another post today or tomorrow. I gotta go for a run right now…

Chapter 1:

Rachel talked about her early years growing up and how she attempted to win the “Best Christian Attitude” award at her private elementary school. I was cracking up at this. She mentioned her “strategy” for winning several times, which she said included things like keeping extra pens and pencils at her desk to loan to “needy students”, allowing classmates to cut in line at the water fountain, and making a point to mention “the plight of the poor, homeless and heathen” during prayer-request time, while all the other students were focused on lesser matters such as their sick pets. (pg 36) She won the Best Christian Attitude Award 4 years in a row. She didn’t make it past 4 years because they moved to public school. I wonder if she was a little relieved not to have to work so hard for that anymore?

The whole thing reminded me a little of the “Most Christ-like” sticker (I think that’s what it’s called) in Upward sports. My niece used to cheer for an Upward basketball team and every week when the stickers were handed out, it always seemed to me that the kid who didn’t get any of the other ones for the week ended up getting the “Most Christ-like” sticker. Sorry, kid…you don’t have any real athletic ability and you have no concept of the whole teamwork thing, but you didn’t cuss and you didn’t punch anyone, so I guess we’ll give you this sticker…

Later in the chapter she talks about her “strategy” for dealing with fellow classmates at her high school in Dayton, TN. Everyone there was basically already professing Christianity, so there was no one to “evangelize.” (Pg 41) She dealt with this by being overly friendly to everyone and “always looking for openings in the conversation that would naturally lead to a discussion about substitutionary atonement.” (I laughed/snorted really loud when I read this!! She’s flippin’ brilliant!)

Isn’t that just so like us?? Striving and creating strategies to deal with life and people? We all do it. Sometimes I guess it’s necessary, like creating a strategy to deal with a toxic person in your life, or a strategy to stay away from something that is detrimental to you. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but when devising a strategy to look good on the outside becomes our focus, we become exactly what Jesus talked about: white-washed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but are full of dead men’s bones. Making ourselves into a white-washed tomb should not become a conscious effort.

Moving on…

What I loved most from this chapter was her admission of being in a constant state of tension between being “discovered” and “found out.” (pg 37) She wanted to be discovered (or maybe recognized?) as a do-gooder and praised for her efforts, but underneath it all she was worried about being “found out” as a fraud who was only out to do good so she could be praised for her efforts. I have to say that I struggle with this tension a lot. Being the baby in a family of 7 siblings, I was doted on and was always the center of attention. That shaped my personality as a loud (even obnoxious!?) extrovert in the truest sense. I grew into a life-of-the-party kind of girl in my teenage and college years, and as you’d expect, that self-centered, “look-at-me” attitude got me wrapped up in some seriously awful experiences in life. Since devoting my life to Christ, I can see both the good and bad sides to this trait.  On one hand, I’ve learned to take risks and put myself out in front of things that I’m meant to lead. It’s a natural fit for me, most of the time, and it comes with the benefit of being able to use my gifts in the way they’re meant to be used. But on the other hand, that little girl inside of me still twirls around in my floofy skirt insisting “look at me! look at me!!” and I have to make sure that I don’t allow her too much free rein. So I am constantly questioning my motives and asking God to search me out for that shred of the little girl who wants all the attention for herself, when it is God who deserves the glory for any good in me. On that note, I’ve come to realize that this can also easily be used as a weapon of the enemy, when it’s twisted up in my mind to make me shy away from doing things I am supposed to do. Sometimes I don’t end up accomplishing my given task for fear that I am just doing it for attention. I worry that I’ll be “found out” as a fraud who is only trying to get a pat on the back. It’s a crazy tension that I just have to count on God to work out in me. I suspect we all have our own type of this tension.

I want to say thank you to Rachel for her stark honesty and for her humor in this book. My brain is going a thousand miles a minute after reading these pages. Writing about chapter 2 might just take me out. Yikes.

Even if you’ve not read the book, these are some questions you can think about:

Who in your life might deserve a “Best Christian Attitude” Award? (really!) What traits do you see in them that make you think that? And how to they compare to what Jesus himself was like? Are they things you see in him or things that we’ve made up as “good” Christian ideals?

Have you recognized yourself at all in this explanation of living in a tension between being discovered and being found out? What’s behind that? Is there a central message that’s been spoken to your heart over the years that creates this tension? (Check out chapter 4 of Wild at Heart by John Eldredge for more on The Wound and the Central Message)

Other thoughts?

In Christ Alone

All day yesterday I was listening to the song In Christ Alone, which rocks me pretty much every time I hear it. I can hardly listen to the whole thing without joyful tears streaming down my face at some point. With every line of lyrics I seemed to have a reel of commentary playing through my mind in a sort of beautiful disbelief.

In Christ alone my hope is found, I don’t need anything else to hope in! Not my own abilities, not the promise of bigger or better anything…just Christ

He is my light, my strength, my song; When I do anything without him, it’s a failure. I stumble all over the place like I’m in the dark. Anything I do well comes from the strength he gives

this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,

firm through the fiercest drought and storm. There’s nothing I have been through where he has failed me. He’s brought me through some of the most stressful situations, and although I seem to flail all over the place when I’m faced with the littlest bump in the road, he never moves. He is never, ever shaken by my circumstances

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

when fears are stilled, when strivings cease! I have never felt so loved and so at peace, even when everything around me seems to be madness. Even when I am scared about my son’s future, or when I feel like I can’t do anything right, he gives me peace about it. I don’t have to fix everything or anything!

My Comforter, my All in All,

here in the love of Christ I stand. Even though I have many people in my life who love me and offer me encouragement through everything, he is ultimately the one who gives me everything. If I were to be without anyone else, he would be there with me
In Christ alone! who took on flesh

Fulness of God in helpless babe! God became one of us when he allowed his son to be limited in human form. It’s the mystery of Jesus being fully divine and fully human at the same time

This gift of love and righteousness

Scorned by the ones he came to save: I wonder how I would have responded to Jesus had I lived at the time he walked the earth. Would I have been one of those people who thought he was a heretic or a madman? Would I have spit on him, thrown things at him, joined in mocking him?

Till on that cross as Jesus died,

The wrath of God was satisfied – This is the place where God’s justice and mercy come together perfectly. His holiness required justice and His love required mercy. He was the only  one who could provide a solution to both parts of that puzzle

For every sin on Him was laid;

Here in the death of Christ I live. Everything I ever did, am doing, and will do that is an offense to God’s holiness has already been paid for because of what Jesus did for me. Because of Christ taking on my debt, I no longer owe anything. I can live

There in the ground His body lay

Light of the world by darkness slain:

Then bursting forth in glorious Day

Up from the grave he rose again! Some people say they believe that Jesus was God’s son and that he died on the cross, but not that he was resurrected. What good is it for God to have a son he sends to earth if he’s just like any of us? What good is any of this if the resurrection was not true? What good is someone claiming to be the messiah if they died like everyone else? That would just prove Jesus to be the liar that many believed him to be. But he did not stay dead…he was alive again and now he lives inside each of us who follow him

And as He stands in victory

Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me, Because of his resurrection, I no longer have to live as the same person I once was. The sins in my life no longer define me. I am a new creation. The old things have gone and the new things have come

For I am His and He is mine –

Bought with the precious blood of Christ. This one is maybe the hardest to believe. When I think about how God loves the world and all the people in it, it is easy to believe because I am speaking in general terms. But when I think of God trading his son’s life for mine so he could purchase me back from my slavery… to think that I was that important to him and he loved me that much…that’s so much harder for me to grasp. He loves ME that much. He loves YOU that much
No guilt in life, no fear in death,

This is the power of Christ in me;

From life’s first cry to final breath.

Jesus commands my destiny. I do not have to feel guilty or condemn myself any longer for the poor choices I have made. I give them to him and he creates something good and lovely from that mess I had made. He works it together for good. I do not have to fear death, no matter how or when it comes, because he is on the other side of it. He is what awaits me at the end of my life, so either way I win. He commands my time here on earth and the end of it.

No power of hell, no scheme of man,

Can ever pluck me from His hand;

Till He returns or calls me home,

Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand. There is no scheme or trick that anyone or anything can use against me to try to tell me that I do not belong to God. There is nothing in this world that will become more important to me, no matter how many people tell me that it is. Nothing I even do to mess up will keep me from the love of Christ. It is so wide and deep and high that I am covered no matter what. He holds tight to me even when I loosen my grip on him. He has lavished such a love upon me that I am called his daughter and that cannot be taken away, even by me.

Even when my focus gets blurry, I know where my hope is and always will be found.

 

How Do You Know?

A couple of weeks ago I was at an evening service at church, which is a rare thing since we don’t have one of those churches that has a Sunday morning & evening service and another on Wednesday. Nothing against any place that does, but we’re just not like that. When we have some large gathering any other time than Sunday morning, you know there’s something special going on, as was the case on this particular night.

Our pastor has recently returned from his first ever sabbatical (in 30 years! He was wayyyy overdue, I’d say!) and we as a fellowship are now reaping great rewards from that concentrated time he spent with God. We’ve been having some Sunday night “overflow” services, which is exactly what they are…a chance to get more of what we’d never have time for in our regular weekly meetings. So there we all were, drinking in all the challenge and inspiration that we could, and the discussion turned to making a list of the ways we know we’ve been changed since we met Jesus. I’m not even sure if that was the actual “title” of the list, if there had been one, but that was the way it was manifesting itself. So many people shared the evidence they have in their lives. Some said they remembered chasing after things so badly like success, wealth, prestige, etc… and that those things mean very little if anything to them now. One person mentioned that they were formerly dead and now they have life. Now, to some that can sound like a cliché, especially if you have some familiarity with the bible enough to know where those words come from in scripture, but truly it is an understatement. Others mentioned how they see people through God’s eyes rather than just looking on the outside now. There were many, many other comments presented as evidence too, and I wish I could remember them all.

But I do  remember the thing that wasn’t on the list. The very first thing I thought of when challenged with the whole how do you know? question. I was going to share it but there were so many folks offering thoughts and our time together just never seems to be enough. So I’m sharing it now. How do I know? How do I know that Jesus is real and that I’ve been given a new Spirit to live by? How to I know I’ve had an encounter with the God who is real and has invited me into the grand story that He has always and forever been writing?

I know because now, I notice.

Thought I was gearing up for some big profound kinda business, there, didn’t ya?

Well, that’s really, truly it. I know that Jesus lives in me because ever since I turned my face toward Him, I notice things now. Endless multitudes of things.

I notice things about this world.  I see all of creation as not just interesting accidents that make you go hmmm…. but as unique, artistic expressions of the most brilliant creative Mind that has ever been. I notice the fuzziness of a bumblebee, the swirl of a fingerprint, (really, we all get our own original?!) the never-ending variety of shapes and textures and depths I see in clouds on a daily basis. I notice the blending of colors in the abundant fall leaves all around me… watercolors only wish they could replicate it. I notice that there are zillions of species of birds and fish and bugs, even ones we haven’t discovered yet. Some that are microscopic and some that are enormous. I notice the things that seem perplexingly strange to me, like pitcher plants that digest insects, and patterns like the Fibonacci sequence that seem appear in everything from pine cones to plants to people.  There’s an amazing concert of creation playing out all around me, all of it with a specific purpose. I breathe more deeply now, and I notice these things.

But most of all, I notice the people who are God’s creation. His masterpieces. I notice their faces, which are just storefronts to who and what they really are. I notice the incredible diversity in their hair, their skin, their hands, their voices. I notice how amazingly different we all are from one another, but how strikingly the same we can be. I notice the variations in our laughter….deep bellowing chuckles to shrill soprano snorts. I notice the thick eyelashes of my young students as I watch their eyes move across the page they they read, and I wonder who they will become someday. And the eyes…everyone’s eyes! How large and round or small and slanted they are….and more importantly, how they can light up in anticipation and can dart toward the ground in shame. I notice how they weep in hurt and disappointment, how they close slowly with a soft sigh of relief. I notice how everyone’s eyes are searching for the exact same thing….for something beautiful to fill them…for Someone beautiful to capture them. I notice how my own eyes have a light in them I never had before I met Jesus, and how nothing else even comes close to putting that same light there.

I notice other things about myself too, like how  I am a part of this lovely creation, which means I was created for a purpose too. I notice that I’ve been given things, like the ability to encourage people, and that is an incredible privilege and a scary responsibility. I notice that I don’t always carry that responsibility out well. I notice that I am at my best when I am loving freely and allowing myself to be loved fully, and that it really does work like that. I notice that the harder I clench my fist to hold onto something, the less able I am to grasp anything else that may come my way. I notice that although I stammer and stutter my way through this life, it matters. My life matters, as does the life of every single other person around me, whether I like them/approve of them/extend love to them or not. I notice that my joy increases as I do extend love and it  decreases substantially when I hold it back selfishly.  I notice that things like compulsive shopping and worrying and lying and manipulating used to be regular parts of my life and that, because of Jesus shining that light through me, they really aren’t so much anymore. I notice that the more things I throw off that don’t matter, the more I can see that only one thing really does.

I notice that I actually care how I make other people feel now. (Maybe I should have started there. That right there says enough about how much I’ve been changed. I coulda saved about a thousand words!)

I notice that I don’t really have to look that far to see Jesus all around me….all around you. He’s always here. He’s always going to be here, and as long as we live, we have the chance to notice Him too.