Radiant

Our unlikely hero has fallen from grace.

Lies piled on lies, feigning madness to escape with his life, he finds himself in a cave. (1 Samuel 22)

And it’s there… dark, damp, a million miles from the adulation he once knew, that he pens these words.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered in shame.  (Psalm 34:5)

If there ever were a time for shame, it’s now.

And yet.

David, our great, flawed hero knew God not just in the cheers and songs of giants defeated.

He knew him here too.

Here in this lonely place of his own making.

Here in this honest place, no one left to impress.

Do you want to know a secret?  I don’t always understand the God of the Old Testament.

But here, in the cave, he feels familiar,

This redeemer that David knew, this radiance-maker, this shame-defeater.

I know him on the cross, this redeemer.  Taking the punishment that I deserved.

I’ve known him too, in the fog of darkness when all is not well, in the ugly cries and the ache too big, when only the prayers of the righteous dragged me off the floor.

I don’t know where you are this week, friends.

But this I know…

If you’re basking in the glow of defeated giants, look to him.  You are radiant.  Your face is not covered in shame.

If you’re cowering in a cave, feeling like you’ve fallen from grace, look to him.  You too are radiant.  Maybe in a tear-stained, wild-eyed sort of way, but radiant nonetheless.  Your face is not covered in shame.

If you’re in a lonely place of your own making or an honest place with no one left to impress,

Shame will yell loud.

It will fight to define you.

But, friends, shame is lying.

If you know the Redeemer that David knew, your face is not covered in shame.

Look to him.  Fall on him.  Cling to him.

Embrace your true identity, beloved.

Be radiant.

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On Giants and Unlikely Heroes

He was as unlikely a hero as one could imagine.

The would-be king overlooked even by his own father…

Aren’t there any more sons? the prophet asked. (1 Samuel 16:10)

Only the littlest one.

The one out tending the sheep.

The one bringing snacks to the soldiers on the front lines.

The one naïve enough to think he could face a giant with a slingshot.

Too small.

Too inexperienced.

Too naïve.

Except.

Called by his Creator, anointed by the prophet, the Spirit of the Lord came upon this unlikely hero in power.

Forcefully.

Propelling him hard in the direction of God’s own heart.

Drawing him into unwinnable battles with confidence that his God would deliver.

We know the rest of the story, right?

Just like he does time and again with his unlikely heroes, God shows up.

I don’t know what giant you are facing this week.

Maybe you feel like this too.

Too small.

Too inexperienced.

Too naïve.

Know this, friends…

You too are called by your Creator and anointed by Messiah.

The same Spirit that propelled this unlikely hero toward God’s heart is available for you.  For us.

Let’s not be too quick to shrug off that calling, or to let someone else dress us up in ill-fitting armor.

Let’s give our God a chance to show up forcefully in the battles that we’ve written off as unwinnable.

Let’s give him a chance to knock out some giants.

Joy

Scars and struggles on the way, but with joy our hearts can say…

You are faithful, God you are faithful.

I told a dear one this morning that as I light the joy candle this year,

I feel like I am on the “other side” of joy.

The side where I can pump my victory fist to this song.

My life isn’t perfect.

In fact, as I write this, I am weathering a bedtime meltdown—

How’s that for multi-tasking?

But it’s a meltdown that I’d never trade for the silence of three years ago.

That was the year that I lit the joy candle choking on my own breath,

Cursing the silence and the system and my own heart for loving too hard, for holding too closely.

That was the year that I lit the joy candle in defiance.

In response to a gift promised but not yet given.

Not the promise that Little One would be mine.

That’s not the foster parent’s promise.

But the promise of good news.  The promise of redemption.  The promise of God wrapped in flesh and then a Comforter, a Counselor, and Advocate.

Do not be afraid

The angels said

I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. (Luke 2:10)

Not just the ones who have seen the gift, the promise, delivered.

Not just the ones who can pump their victory fist.

But for the ones working their program and beating addiction day after hard-fought day.

For the ones still choking on their own breath, facing Christmas with giant, gaping soul-wounds.

For the ones lighting the joy candle in defiance.

This good news is for you too.

This great joy is for you too.

This is the promise.

And he is faithful.

Hope

My childhood church was not much for liturgy.

Even writing that makes me chuckle a little, actually,

Recalling the folding chairs and clanging tambourines and fire and brimstone.

Not much for liturgy, but big on Jesus.

Is it a cliché that as an adult, I find the rhythms of advent life-giving?

Perhaps.

Alone in the relative quiet of my own home tonight, I light the hope candle.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19)

A verse that’s never far from my heart.

One that I’ve written about before.

Here in the anticipation

We have this hope

Ancient prophesies, angelic proclamations.

Light in the darkness.

Here in the manger

We have this hope

God wrapped in flesh.

The promised one crashing into the mess that was a stable.

The mess that is our world.

Here in the Eucharist

We have this hope

Remembering with thanks.

Joining hearts and sharing the table.

Not just with the ones who look like us.

Here at the cross

We have this hope

Death defeated.  Brokenness turned beautiful.

All made new.

Here in this moment

We have this hope

Living hard in the direction of grace

Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses

In between the now and the not yet.

Hope is here.

Take Heart

They’re in the upper room.

They’ve had their feet washed by the Teacher, watched him stoop to serve.

They’ve shared a meal together, lingered long at the table.

And now Jesus seems to be talking in riddles.

We, of course, know what awaits them all as they step from this place in mere moments.

They, clearly, did not.

In this world you will have troubles. (John 16:33-34)

The poor guys didn’t know the half of it.

The next few days would lay their hearts, their intentions, bare.

They would deny.

They would run and hide.

They would watch in horror, wondering how this One who called them to follow could actually die.

They would sit with the silence, with the questions.

With the grief.

Maybe they would scream at the Father.  Surely they would doubt.

But take heart,

The Teacher spoke.

Have courage.  Be brave.  Hang on to faith, and even joy.

Take heart,

The Teacher speaks.

In the horror.  In the silence.  In the questions.  In the grief.  In the screaming.  In the doubt.

Friends, this is a word for us too.

As we live, like the disciples, in the heavy hours after Good Friday and before Easter Sunday.

In the middle place of the Kingdom, in between the now and the not yet.

Courage.  Bravery.  Faith.  Joy.

The Teacher spoke these words to his dear ones even here.

Even when he knew the darkest hours lay right ahead.

We know this is not the end of the story.

But it’s where my heart lingers tonight.

For, you, dear one, wrestling in the middle place.

The Teacher still speaks

Take heart.

Audacity

We’re talking today about when it feels like God is silent.

I’m not in that place right now, though I’ve been there before and I will be again.

And if you are there today, let me just say

There is no shame in those dark nights.

You are not alone.

I’ve spent the week feeling restless and also emboldened, which is how I sometimes feel when a need is heavy and my words just don’t feel adequate but I can’t stay silent.

I’ve been storming the gates of heaven for a few dear ones this week.

Hard core.  Full stop.

And this morning I’m challenged to ask even bigger.

I’m challenged to pray with audacity.

To pray for the Kingdom to come on earth, right here in this middle place between now and not yet.

Friends, our God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20-21).

So let’s imagine big.

Big like mamas and daddies living into the reality of their identity as Beloved.

Big like safe homes for all the Little Ones.

Big like enough schools for every child in Haiti to receive an education (help make that happen here!).

Big like physical healing and freedom from addiction and restored relationships and changed hearts.

Big like churches unified and peace reigning in our cities.

Can I tell you a secret?

Sometimes I’m scared to pray with audacity.

It feels, well, audacious.

Presumptuous, maybe.  Like who am I to ask for so much?

But, friends, I know who I am.

I am a daughter of the King.

I am invited, empowered to approach the throne of grace with confidence.

And, this week, I am choosing to pray with audacity.

Pray Continually

As you may have guessed, I am a words girl.

I love savoring them as they roll off a page, through my eyes and into my imagination.

I love listening hard for them and feeling the fiery spark when they resonate in my soul.

I love stringing and restringing them together until they feel just right.

I love sending them off into the big, beautiful world as a force for good.  For truth.  For love.

And then there’s prayer.

Oh, yes, sure, when I’m “on” in Bible study or grace-saying or goodnight-benedictioning, I can rock some prayer words like the good preacher’s kid that I am.

But alone with Jesus, I’m almost always speechless.

Pray continually (I Thessalonians 5:17)

Yes.

But sometimes prayer is messy for a girl who likes tightly woven words.

Sometimes it’s hearing the pain behind a story and just sitting with Jesus in the heaviness of it.  And letting him hold the heavy.

Sometimes it’s holding hands with sisters praying in Creole and feeling the thick, undeniable presence of Jesus and saying just “yes” because your brain doesn’t understand the words but your soul knows they are right.

Sometimes it’s walking into a situation with Jesus-eyes and being open to seeing things differently.

Sometimes it’s just one word.  Hold.  Help.  Jesus.

Sometimes it’s straight silence.  Hard, focused silence that brings you to the end of yourself.  To the end of your words.

Sometimes it’s a victory fist and tears of joy.

A few times for me, it’s been pictures.  Pictures that I want to wrap in beautiful words but can’t because they are not meant for sharing.  They are just for that still, vulnerable moment.

Sometimes it’s hearing a word and getting up out of your seat to go do (or say) something very specific.  I love when this happens.  And also I hate it, because I’m a wreck that it will be crazy-awkward.  Friends, sometimes prayer is awkward.  Sometimes following Jesus is awkward.

And sometimes when you finally say yes, the words coming from your own mouth surprise you because one second ago, alone with Jesus, you were speechless.  And maybe, just maybe, those Jesus-words are exactly what somebody else needs to hear.

And so.

Whether you are a words girl or not, know that words aren’t the only way that prayer looks.

It looks like hope.  Like authenticity.  Like openness.  Like obedience.

And sometimes, to be fair, like groaning or crazy-awkwardness that, in the hands of an infinitely gracious God, end up beautiful.