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.

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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.

Fearless

I took my big girl to see the Beauty and the Beast movie yesterday (as an aside, some parts of it are really sad and scary—especially for kids with trauma triggers).

I’m not much for princesses and whatnot, but Belle is a girl I can get behind.

She loves books.  She’s fiercely protective of her family.  And in this version, she follows in the footsteps of her mom who is described as fearless.

We were in no rush to leave with the crowd stampeding out of the theater during the credits.  So we sat tight, enjoying every last kernel of popcorn.

And then we saw her, a tiny one, no more than four years old.

She had escaped from her mama’s grasp and made her way to the front of the darkened theater.  As the music from the movie played over the credits, she started to dance.

Twirling and gliding, in her own perfect way, she danced.

As everyone else rushed for their cars, on to the next thing, she danced.

In the dark, for no audience but herself, she danced.

Until the last note played, on and on, she danced.

The song ended.

A lump in my throat and emotion trapped behind my eyeballs, I clapped wildly (she didn’t care—she wasn’t dancing for me anyway).

Friends, I want to live like that.

Like this Little One, fearless in her pursuit of beauty.

Focused only on this moment and fully immersed in all of it.

Dancing in the dark, not for an audience, but simply because the music beckons.

Knowing that life is not a race, that the next thing is not as important as everyone else thinks it is.

Feeling it all, embracing it all.

Fearless.

And they came

The house was packed, there was no room left.

The road was rough, it took all their physical strength.

Jesus was busy, there was no guarantee they could push their way through.

And they came.   (Mark 2)

Their friend was sick.

They knew the One who could help.

And so they came.

Surely digging through a thick mud roof wasn’t their original plan.

But they were desperate, ready to do what they must.

And so they came.

What did Jesus see when he looked at this spectacle?

Not an interruption to his sermon.

Not a gaping hole in the roof.

He saw faith.  Belief.  Faithfulness.

Can I be honest for a second?

There have been times in my life that my prayers have been the desperate pleas of a woman digging through a thick mud roof, intent on getting through to the Healer one way or another.

But usually?  Usually they’re not.

I say lots of things to excuse and explain, but the plain truth is this:

I need to make time to come.

Even when the house is packed and the road is rough and there’s no guarantee.

I know the Healer and I also know dear ones for whom I need to start digging like mad.

Maybe you do too.

Now is the time, friends.

May it be said of us that it was hard and inconvenient and sometimes a little crazy.

But we were desperate.  Desperate for our dear ones to know the Love, the healing that we do.  And ready to do what we must.

And so we came.

When grace is in the receiving

Today we meet Jesus in the synagogue where he’s teaching with authority and casting out evil spirits. (Mark 1:21-28)

His disciples are amazed.

Amazed at this man who teaches with power, who calls out his enemy and sends him away.

And we are challenged.

When is the last time we’ve stood amazed at this Jesus?

I have stood amazed, no doubt.

The night when words I’d heard hundreds of times before flashed hot and bright behind my eyelids, fluttering in my little girl heart because I got it.

The day when Jesus yanked me out of my adolescent angst with an ultimatum to which the only response was where else could I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.

The time I prayed for a daughter and everyone told me it never happens like that.  Except that it did.

And when I pleaded with Jesus to be done with foster care and his answer, one thing, brought a Little One who is one of the greatest joys of my life.

The times I’ve watched Love win—in my home.  In my classroom.  In court.

And plenty more.

I figure I’m good.

And so through the closing song, I wrestle with another thought that thumps and throbs.

Maybe I’ll write about it soon.

And then church is over.

And I’m gathering my coat when Jesus shows up in the chair next to me wearing the skin of someone I barely know.

Words of kindness and affirmation tumble over me, then a tangible gift of grace offered freely.

Too much.

Too much from someone I barely know.

But the answer is yes and thank you.

I know this too.

Because the Jesus who speaks with authority is here.  Heavy in these words that I want to shrug away but cannot.  In this freely offered gift of too much.

And so I leave church today standing amazed.

Taken aback again by the extravagant love of One who knows that sometimes

Grace is in the receiving.

Losing Season

My big girl had her last basketball game today.

It was a great season.

She met new friends and loved getting to know them.

She had two fantastic coaches who got to know her as a person and helped her develop good skills for basketball and life.

She ran around a lot, made a lot of good passes, scored a fair number of points.

And her team lost almost every game.

It was, by the numbers, a losing season.

My big girl is competitive like her mama.

We don’t like to try things if we think we can’t master them.

We are still working on losing gracefully.

***

It’s been a rough school year for me.

If I rated each day as a win or a loss, it would, without a doubt, be a losing season for me too.

Can I be honest for a second?

I hate this.

It’s easy for me to tell my big girl that basketball is not that serious.

That I love her just the same when her team wins and when they lose.

And still I hate to lose.

I struggle not to let my self-worth get tangled up with what feels like a spectacularly terrible performance.

Friend, if you too are in a losing season, here’s what I want you to know.

What I want my sweet big girl to know.

What I want to know, deep in my bones.

Your performance does not impact your worth.

What you do is not who you are.

You are loved.  Deeply, passionately loved.

If you are winning at basketball, at teaching, at Christian-ing, at life, you are loved.

If you are putting up a spectacularly terrible performance, you are loved.

Settle down into your true identity, Loved One.

Slip into it like a pair of comfy pajamas.

Wrap it around you like a suit of armor if you must.

And then get back out there—you’ve got a game to finish.