Sharing Space

We tell our kids that it’s ok to feel however they feel.

That sad and angry are ok.

That it’s only our actions that get us in trouble, not our feelings.

But do we believe it?

Or do we try to rush ourselves—and each other—through the hard feelings?

Do we offer a platitude and avert our gaze?

This is one of the reasons that I love Nehemiah.

You guys, he keeps it real.

He doesn’t deny the gravity of the situation.

His brothers and sisters are in danger.  Vulnerable to attack.

The whole situation is a mess.

So what does Nehemiah do?

He sits down.

Not in resignation, but in expectation.

He weeps and mourns.

For days.  Maybe months.

This was not a quick cry.

He owned the sadness.  The sorrow.  The anger.

He fasts and prays.

Friends, God and sadness are not incompatible.

God and anger are not incompatible.

Nehemiah got this.

He let his feelings and his God share space.

This was our sermon last week.

But it’s a word that I desperately need to hear today.

As I look around at the broken walls in my life,

The gravity of the situation threatens to overwhelm.

The feelings are strong.  And not happy.

And here, too, God is God.

Unafraid of the mess.

Unthreatened by the feelings.

In no particular rush to snatch me up and over to the happy ending.

And so I will let him share space with all of it.

Today.

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Just about every single day

I don’t know why it persists.

I guess it makes a good meme.  Or inspirational poster.  Or whatever.

But it’s just not true.

Over and over again, I hear people say, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”

I don’t know about you, but God gives me more than I can handle just about every single day.

The challenges of parenting a beautiful child who lived too much before she called me mom.

The twists and turns of foster care that yank at my heart, test my patience and make it impossible to plan for the future.

And a toddler.

And that’s before I step out the door of my own home.

Do you want to know a secret?

I think this is the way it’s supposed to be.

I absolutely think God gives us more than we can handle.

Why?

Because… Jesus.

I love to handle things.

To organize them, manage them, control them.

Having more than I can handle makes me feel small.

Not in a “no one sees me, I’m insignificant” way,

But in a “oh, wait a second, maybe I don’t got this and I better take a step back and plead for mercy from the One who does” way.

Having more than I can handle reminds me that though I am called to the ministry of reconciliation, I am not the Reconciler.  I am not the Redeemer.

Do you want to know another secret?

For a controller like me, this is a relief.

I can exhale, can breathe even when it feels like everything is going off the rails.

So, if you feel like God has given you more than you can handle today,

It’s not because you’re not trying hard enough.

It’s not because you don’t have enough faith.

It’s probably because he has.

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When all you can do is sit

Once upon a time, I watched a mama crumble to her knees when her little one was taken too soon.

In the aftermath, my prayers were intense.

I don’t remember if words came easily.  It was a long time ago.

But I do remember a picture that formed in my mind.

This mama in the middle of a circle of the faithful.

Ones who could stand, could believe, when she could not.

A circle so tight, so close that she stayed on her feet though she lacked the strength to stand.

Because of the faithful.

I don’t usually get pictures when I pray.

But this one has stuck with me for many, many years.

It comes back, sometimes.

When I’m praying for dear ones who know loss.

A reminder that the great cloud of witnesses is not just at some other time in some other place.

A reminder that even ones with great faith sometimes need their arms held up.

You guys, it was a rough day.

It was all I could do to get myself and two littles to church.

It almost didn’t happen.  Like really, really almost.

There were tears and profanity and the throwing of objects all before eleven o clock.

Bread and cup in hand, I am so hungry.

Desperate for them, for the rescue, again, of One who knows it all and loves me anyway.

I want to stand.

But right now I cannot.

I don’t even know who she is.

But from behind me, her voice is strong.

Not perfect, but strong.

Perfectly confident.

No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand.

‘Til he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand.

Though it was a fight to get here this morning,

I know I am in the right place.

Surrounded by the faithful.

Ones who can believe when I cannot.

Ones who can stand and boldly proclaim the truth

When all I can do is sit.

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Through the Cracks

candle

I don’t remember the sermon.  Or the music.

From this Sunday, not long ago, all I remember is two conversations.

She sat beside me, not a close friend, but one whose words resonated in my heart.

She spoke deep, deep words of encouragement, words of affirmation.

Words that coming from other mouths would have sounded hollow.  Fake.

But her words are true, of this I am sure.

Because she has been here.  She has been where I’m sitting.

Her words carry weight not because she is perfect.

Her words carry weight because she has been here.  She has been broken.  And she is letting Light shine through the cracks.

Less than an hour later, another mama is pouring her heart out to me.

Crazy hard stuff.  Too hard.

Stuff that she cannot handle alone.

You guys, I want so badly to minister from my strengths.

I’ve always wanted this.

I want to get it all together and then tell the story.

But this never seems to be how it works.

So I muster my courage and tell a little bit of my story.

Not about the part where I do things well.

But the part that is a hot mess in the process of being redeemed by a ridiculously gracious God.

The part about a clinging for dear life to a great high priest who is able to sympathize with my weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).

I know that my story doesn’t make her life any easier.

But I hope so hard that my words ring true in her heart.

Not because I am perfect.  But because I am here.

Because I am broken.

Because, recovering perfectionist, recovering fake church-girl that I am,

All I want this morning is for a little bit of Light to shine

Through the cracks.

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Second Violin

violin

We are a nation of wannabe leaders.

From the time we are tiny, the voices shout that we must find our thing.

We must be the best.

I’ve hung around the church long enough to know that we church people are no exception.

If we’re going to commit, we want to be seen.

We want to be heard.

We want to be appreciated.

I am not a musician, but when I hear that it’s easy to fill a first violin chair in an orchestra and hard to fill a second violin chair, I am not surprised.

No one wants to play second fiddle.

The verse this morning is about working heartily, but I like this one better.

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

(1 Cor. 12:18)

Maybe, today, you feel like you are playing second fiddle.

Maybe you feel unseen, like you give your best every single day and no one even notices.

Friend, if you are loving and serving the ones entrusted to you, you are just where you are supposed to be.

Keep loving.  Keep serving.

Don’t grow weary in doing well.

The Creator has arranged you in just the way he wanted.

The body needs you.

We need you.

Go ahead and rock that second violin.

Because in the grand orchestra of this upside down kingdom,

Second fiddle may very well be the most important fiddle of all.

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Well Done

I want to hear it as a challenge.

Three points and an application.

Something I can, you know, do.

We’re talking about talents this morning.

About investing wisely.

About not burying our gifts because we are afraid. (Matthew 25:14-30)

I want to hear it as a challenge.

To give more.  Or to unearth some hidden talent.

Or to somehow be more faithful with the little things.

I want to hear it as a challenge.

But I cannot.

I sit in my seat, bread and cup in hand, and all I hear is affirmation.

Well done.

Again, the emotion takes me by surprise.

(I don’t know why.

I should know by now that I am a big, old sap.)

This is the word today.

Well done.

Not because we’ve run harder or worked longer hours or been more faithful than anyone else.

But because of Grace.

Because when he looks at us, he sees Perfection.

Perfect obedience.  Perfect faithfulness.  Perfect generosity.

So, this week, friends, give generously.

Don’t bury your gifts.

But sit awhile with the bread and the cup too.

With the reality that no matter how faithfully you serve, how wisely you invest,

How passionately you share your gifts,

You will still fall short.

And yet.

Because of Grace,

When he looks at you, he sees Perfection.

And he says

Well done.

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I Met Her Once

We’re reading the story of the widow’s offering this morning (Mark 12:41-44).

A humble one, eyes downcast, who gave her best.

From her poverty, she gave all.

The Greek word can also be translated life.

From her poverty, she gave life.

I met her once, you know.

Once upon a time when I taught in the city.

She was a Little One, all spindly legs and braided hair.

Smart and articulate beyond her years, she came and went from my classroom that year, as her housing situation depended on the day (and, sometimes, on the kindness of strangers).

We shared a name, this Little One and I, and I joked that she was really my sister.

She loved to read, this Little One, and so when I offered a new book each month for just one dollar, she would scrounge together a handful of change and count it out carefully into my hand.

To have something of her own.

With her name inside.

There was a hurricane that year.

So much destruction, so many lives displaced.

We gave from our abundance, many of us.

Writing a check to soothe our conscience.

And then I met her.

Skipping into my classroom one dreary morning, she had gathered not one dollar but two.

Waving them in the air, she flashed a smile.

Ms. Hicks, she beamed.

Two dollars!

One for the book!  And one for the hurricane!

My breath catches in my throat at the memory.

A holy moment.

I do not know how to give like this.

I cannot wrap my head, my heart, my words or my bank account around it.

But I know it when I see it.

And that day, I saw it.

Out of her poverty, she gave life.

I don’t know where her dollar went.  I hope the Red Cross spent it wisely.

I know she did.

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