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.

Advertisements

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.

But God

We’re singing about grace this morning.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace.

And here’s the thing about grace.

It tastes all the sweeter when you’re really and truly convinced that you don’t deserve it, that you didn’t do anything to earn it.

In fact, that’s what makes it grace.

Once upon a time I didn’t know the wretchedness of my own heart.

I was a good girl, a rule-follower, a perfectionist.

I grew up knowing about Jesus, knowing all the right answers.

And still

I was dead in my trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1).

My righteousness, my striving, my efforts would never be enough.

But God

Gracious and compassionate, abounding in love,

This God snatched me up out of my self-righteous striving and set me free.

Free from finding my identity in what I’ve done, free into living my true identity as Beloved.

Free from running hard to prove myself, free into abundant, extravagant rest.

Free from fear of not being enough, of not doing enough, free into confidence that Jesus paid it all.

Free from red-hot anger that feels justified in the moment, free into honestly seeing my own brokenness and feeling empathy.  Free into love.

It all catches me a little breathless again this morning.

This story I’ve heard thousands of times, this utter dependence and absolute need for rescue.

And this grace.

This marvelous, infinite, matchless grace.

Grace that shines light into darkness.

Grace that breathes life into dead hearts.

Grace that is greater than all our sin.

You alone

Once upon a time, I made a little girl’s profession of faith.

My ears heard the story I had heard since I drew my first breath.

God created you.  Sin wrecked you.  Jesus died to make a way for you.  Choose him.

My heart snatched onto these words because all at once it knew them to be true.

And I believed.

It was honest.  It was genuine.  It was enough.

A decade later, I was mired in adolescent angst.

In retrospect, my life was decidedly not that hard.

But at the time I felt betrayed.  And angry.

I locked myself in my room and scrawled my angsty thoughts onto paper, filling notebook after notebook.

One whole year.

And then, out of nowhere, I heard Jesus.

It sounds crazy, I know, but it is as close to an audible voice as I have ever heard.

It was an ultimatum.  Walk ahead with me or walk away.  Today.  Right now.

Knees on my bedroom floor, the answer rushed from my heart without hesitation.

Where else would I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.  I believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.  (John 6: 68-69)

Those words have come back to me over the years.

As I’ve lived through days much darker than my notebook scrawling year.

Days burnt out on ministry, wondering if I could ever love the church that Jesus called his bride.

Days of fear and picking up pieces of dashed dreams, wondering if there was still a place for me.

Days of holding a raging child, terrified of what people would think if they really knew.

Days of interminable waiting, begging for resolution and getting only resolve.

Days of aching, of walking around with a giant gaping hole in my heart and trying to pretend it was ok.

And many, many days of holding stories.  Stories too hard.  Of abuse and unfaithfulness.  Of self-hatred and self-harm.  Of terrible diseases and relentless love.  Of so many Little Ones lost too soon.

If you’ve lived any time at all, you know we aren’t immune to these too-hard stories just because we love Jesus.

But where would I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.

The words come again this morning.

As I wrangle a squirmy toddler and sing in faith words that I desperately want to be true.

For me.  And for all the dear ones with the too-hard stories.

You alone have the words of eternal life.

Only here, in those words, can we be anchored.  Secure.  Hopeful.

You alone.

Rooted in Love

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ… (Eph. 3:17)

You prophets, bold speakers of Spirit-truth, we need you.  Your words make us brave.  Brave enough to love well.

You servants, compassionate care-takers of the practical, we need you.  Your hands and feet free us to listen.  We hear the drum-beat of Spirit-love in your quiet footsteps.

You teachers, increasers of insight and understanding, we need you.  Your stories help us grasp love with our hearts and open us to be grasped by Love.

You encouragers, you gentle walkers-beside, we need you.  Your capacity to listen well helps us know that we are heard.  Your words ring true in our hearts because we know we are loved.

You givers, free-flowing vessels of grace and provision, we need you.  Your generosity lets love trickle into corners it couldn’t otherwise reach.

You leaders, influencers of mind and heart, we need you.  Your voice points us in the right direction, helping us encounter Love for ourselves.

You mercy-givers, edge-sweeping holders of the broken, we need you.  Your hearts bleed love and we notice.  You see the ones the rest ignore, and we cannot escape it when you are around… you are covered in the aroma of Love.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. (Romans 12:6)

But our gifts are not to be hoarded.  Not to be locked up inside of us.

No.

Our gifts are for the body.  For a desperately needy world.  For the Giver.

Your gift is valuable.  Indispensable.

It’s only together that we have power to know the width and length and height and breadth of Love.

A Love that changes everything.

The Call That Changed My Life

Three years ago today, I got the second call that changed my life.

The first one was giddily anticipated… the call about the Little One who would grow into my big girl.  The one that proved the naysayers wrong.

This one was different.

I had just had my annual foster care reconsideration visit a few days earlier.

I had jumped through the hoops to stay licensed for another year even though I really, really wanted to be done.

I told my social worker that I didn’t know what kind of placement I wanted.  But that parenting my big girl had made me brave, and she could call me about anything.  And that I would probably say no.

It was Friday afternoon and I was just leaving work.

And there was a baby.

A tiny one ready to be released from the hospital on Monday.

I had no plans for childcare (not to mention that the baby was too young to be in daycare even if I did).  I had no baby stuff.  I had never even held a person this tiny before, much less walked into a hospital and taken one home.

It was crazy.

And I knew by the pounding in my chest that the answer was yes.

And so I took a few months off from work (yep, with a weekend’s notice!).  I filled my sister’s minivan with stuff I thought I might need.  And I walked into the hospital with my mama pretending that I knew what the heck I was doing.

As she told me all about specially mixed formula and follow up appointments, the nurse said she could tell I had done this before.

I told her that I was a good faker.

And I strapped this tiny Little One into a borrowed car seat and drove him right on home.

It’s true, he had me at one look into those deep brown eyes.

He was an infant, after all.  How can you not bond with an infant?

But I didn’t know what the future would hold.

It would be years before that Little One would share my last name.

Years of uncertainty and stress and jumping through one thousand more hoops.

Years of navigating a relationship with a birth family that loves him too.

Years of monthly visits by social workers and CASAs (some great, some meh).

One whole year, in fact, of hellos and good-byes that ripped my heart to shreds.

This Little One immersed in potty humor and obsessed with basketball was worth it all.

To know him, even for a short time, would have been enough.

To hold him still, to ruffle his perfectly messy curls makes my heart explode.

Friends, sometimes the answer is no.

But sometimes the answer is yes.  Even when it seems crazy.

Sometimes the call that changes your life comes when you’re least expecting it.