Connect the Dots

dscf0669Dots on the donut … dots in a dot-to-dot book, one of the few toys my three-year-old grandson had when his  family  was air-evacuated for his baby sister’s two-month-early arrival.There he and I were in the tiny apartment every day, not much but Grandma, books, the dot book and our imaginations to play with. A highly intelligent child,he could count to 100 by the time he was two, but faced with something he’d never tried before, he was hesitant to connect the dots in the book by himself. I decided to help him overcome his anxiety by starting,connecting the first two dots, then handing him the pencil to connect dot #2 to dot #3,  then I’d connect to  dot #4,  he’d draw to dot #5, and little by little,  he  overcame his hesitancy and soon was asking me to draw dot-to-dot pictures in my little notebook. I hope part of what he learned,  beyond connecting dots, was how much his Grandma loved and loves him just  for who he is, anxieties and insecurities and all. I see who he can be and the success he can achieve,  given little encouraging nudge.

Can I confess I’m not much different from my grandson when it comes  to connecting the dots and finding meaning and reason  in the jumbled craziness  life often brings? A  friend mine recently posted on a social media site that he believes each of us is still a small child inside looking to be loved. I agree totally. I know part of me is, despite all I’ve accomplished and learned to handle in my more-than-I-care-to-admit decades of living.

So what does this have to do with God Almighty? I know  why we call him Father! All through my life, and  more pointedly in the last two decades, I can see God connecting dots all over the place in my life. I have a strong hunch God is doing the same thing  for me that I was  doing for my grandson: showing me he loves and cares about ME, not my insecurities or anxieties or hang-ups ,and he sees potential in me.

Some dots  I’ve seen God connect in the  past:

Moving  me,via a radio show my husband heard, to a new church where I’d get  an unimaginable connection and chance four year’s between dots later to write books with the senior  pastor.

Moving us across the country, where God connected  me with Dana  and Loretta  (in their next-to-last Sunday at that church) who connected me  with Hiroko to help Hiroko, but via their obvious “you should be here” connection, God connected me to Julia, whose mother across the world would meet me ten years between the dots later at the airport to help me find/connect  with my son and  his family,  some 36 hours after the emergency evacuation.

Connecting me with Marilyn, who connected me with Donna, who allowed me to write leaders’ guides for her incredible ministry about five years between  dots.

Connecting me with “Ken,” who incredibly lived as a child with his mother  two blocks up the street from where the grandmother of Mark, Julia’s  husband, lived, and  Mark’s grandmother knew of “Ken’s”  family. Now we’re talking 60 years between the dots!

On the heels of “Ken’s” tragic death, connecting me with a woman during the memorial ride at the informal service I did on the street corner – I don’t even remember her name now – who connected me  with the chaplain in the county jail ministry who put copies of the devotional book  “Ken” encouraged me to publish into the county jail. No way, God! Were those broken hearts your intended audience/readers for this book all along?

Connecting me with “Dan,” who drove me to a meeting because of my connecting with “Ken.”Dan connected with the barber who cut his hair during my meeting,  who connected “Dan” with his church, where the  next week I connected with Donna, who asked  if my kids knew “Dr. John” half  a world away. A week later via a call  my son says yes,they know “Dr John” very well from their small group! Two weeks later I get a text from Donna’s husband who tells me “Dr John”will be speaking in a church a two-hour’s drive  from me, a church I know of from a connection 36 dots-worth of years earlier wjem O did youth ministry, and I drive up and get to meet and surprise “Dr John”and meet his daughter who is in the same grade at the same school with my grandson half  a world away, and his daughter who is in the same class with my granddaughter there. The next week at the church where I met Donna, God connects me with a young woman whose father happened to work  decades of dots ago  way up north with the husband of my best buddy “Patty,”whom I met fifteen dots  worth of years ago at my church in the middle of the state.

What in the  world am I to make of all this? I CERTAINLY don’t see a comprehensible picture emerging yet from all of this, and I have to make peace with the truth that I may not see the entire “picture” till I  sit with Abba God  in  Heaven looking at the dot-to-dot page of my  lately weird  and  wild life. What I CAN make of this is that God DOES love me, doesn’t despise my insecurities and anxieties,  somehow  amazingly sees potential in me to “draw”the picture with him as I hopefully let him lead me from dot-to-dot into his blessings, even when part of my heart still hurting and healing from some traumatic turns in my life. Abba Father, help me look into your kind, caring, loving, patient, all-seeing (omnipresent) and all-knowing  (omniscient) and I pray by faith all-powerful (omnipotent) eyes to trust my small not-omnipotent hand, heart, life and future into your hands. You hold one  huge pencil. I’m grateful your pencil has a huge eraser, and I make mistake in connecting dots, you’ll forgivingly, grace-filled-ly erase my goof and help me connect to the next, right dot in your plan for me.

That’s called love, and the little  girl in me desperately needs to know your love will never,never fail or forsake me. You keep your promises!

7You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance.
Selah.
8I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

9Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.

10Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.

11Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones;
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. Psalm  32: 7-11 NASB

And in reflecting on Psalm 32,connecting the  dots of these verses: ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.’ –PSALM 32: 1, 2. This psalm, which has given healing to many a wounded conscience, comes from the depths of a conscience which itself has been wounded and healed. One must be very dull of hearing not to feel how it throbs with emotion, and is, in fact, a gush of rapture from a heart experiencing in its freshness the new joy …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

16″Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit.” 17 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go. Isaiah 48: 16-17 NASB

And  dot-to-dot commentary: Matthew Henry Commentary
48:16-22 The Holy Spirit qualifies for service; and those may speak boldly, whom God and his Spirit send…Whom God redeems, he teaches; he teaches to profit by affliction, and then makes them partakers of his holiness. Also, by his grace he leads them in the way of duty; and by his providence he leads in the way of deliverance….Spiritual enjoyments are ever joined with holiness of life and regard to God’s will. It will make the misery of the disobedient the more painful, to think how happy they might have been. And here is assurance given of salvation out of captivity. Those whom God designs to bring home to himself, he will take care of, that they want not for their journey. This is applicable to the grace laid up for us in Jesus Christ, from whom all good flows to us, as the water to Israel out of the rock, for that Rock was Christ

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, Father, I can’e see thread  ahead of me, I’m not sure of the direction you want to take, BUT you p;promise to teach and instruct me in the way i should go and guide me with your eyes upon,so I  say out of my heart _________________________________________________________ Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and Father, I’m watching for your hand of  leading, in Jesus’ name,amen!

Of rocks and “rolls”…

poppin_fresh_pillsbury_doughboy copyright Pillsbury

Oh, drat, a rock in the toe of my Tevas!   Occupational hazard when you’re walking on a street in the foothills in the desert. But instantly a thought flashed into my consciousness, a thought of all the people of old who walked deliberately with a rock in their shoes where it would hurt the most to show God their penitence and piety, to do penance for their sins. I thought of the people I’ve read and heard about who crawled on their hands and knees to a shrine, arriving bloody to show God how sorry they were for things they’d done. And just as quickly I thought of the scornful taunts Jesus endured, the crown of thorns on his head, 39 lashes of the whip that Jesus took for me, the nails in his wrists and feet, the spear through his heart. Who in the world would I think I was to think anything I could do to cause myself pain could in ANY way add to or make more sufficient what Jesus did for me?

Before I throw any of those stones in my shoe at those people, though, Lord knows, and the Lord does know, how quick I am to self-flagellate with regrets, “if only’s,” all too conscious of the mistakes I’ve made even inadvertently. It’s a twisted form of pride masquerading as humility, and it does God absolutely no honor at all for the ALL-SUFFICIENT sacrifice He made for me through Jesus.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:1-10 NIV

https://youtu.be/XgjJ_CR9oEY

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

 as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

 As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

 for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

 The life of mortals is like grass,

they flourish like a flower of the field; 

the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting

the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

and remember to obey his precepts. Psalm 103: 8-18 NIV

 

 

Jesus told us to go make disciples, not penance:

 

 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16-20 NIV

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give…. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10: 6-8, 42 NIV

THAT is my reverence, that is my response, that is my job description now. Soo …I sensibly, gratefully took off my shoe, shook out the pebble, and thought about the responses God does want from me for his freely given totally all-sufficient gift of forgiveness. Stones? I could sweep them from my neighbor’s sidewalk. I could buy some new tennis shoes for a child who has to walk barefoot to school. Crawl on my knees? I could gladly bend down and reach under my car to get the ball the neighbor kids accidentally rolled onto my driveway.

Give a cup of cold water? Here is where the rubber meets the road, the gratitude and freedom sets me truly free. I could take a jug of ice water down to the homeless people in the park, hand out cups of cold water, say, “In Jesus’ name I bring you this water,” as if I, the blessed, was stooping down to them, the oppressed, out of my own magnanimity, and think I’d fulfilled righteousness – but that would be just another disguised stone in my shoe. In truth and honestly, you know what I’ve learned in the last five months? That wouldn’t be the right thing to do at all … unless I sat down with those people, looked them in the eye, asked their names, understood their heartaches and frustrations and their own perhaps deeply held self-condemnation, listened to their stories, ate one of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’d brought with them as I listened, held their hands and prayed with the ones who wanted prayer.

Now, lest you think I am being “holier than thou” here, let me hasten to admit it took me over 50 years to come to this realization. Yes, I pick up math pretty quickly, but in some of the things of God, I’m a terribly slow learner. Fifty years ago I went with the other junior high and high school girls in our World Friendship Girls group, the junior version of the Women’s Society of Christian Service at our church to the Wesley Center downtown. We’d spent weeks blowing out dozens of eggs, dying the shells, filling them with confetti and gluing crepe paper frills on top to make cascarones for people at the center to give out as prizes in the game booths at their fund-raising fall fair. But did I ever strike up a conversation with any of the girls at the center? Yes we put on an overnight slumber party for the girls, but did I ever get the phone number of a girl so I could talk to her again or take her to the movies with me sometime?

It took me over 50 years to finally get it that God wanted me to sit down with Harlan and Betty in the park, learn who they are, treat them as equals, laugh with them, and pray for them as we ate together. I am a slow learner, but I hope, like “Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy,” or rather like “Little Poppy,” I’m still soft and pliable enough in God’s hands, even at my advanced age, for the Lord to poke me in the belly sometimes. When he does, I hope I can and will giggle, or at least smile, that God is still concerned about me and loves me enough to keep conforming me more to his heart, his compassion, his truth, his passions, what matters to his heart.

I guess I’m not “done” yet ….

https://youtu.be/RnpoD0hlqpQ “The Scandal of Grace”

 

Grace, what have you done?

Murdered for me on that cross

Accused in absence of wrong

My sin washed away in your blood

Too much to make sense of it all

I know that your love breaks my fall

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

Death, where is your sting?

Your power is as dead as my sin

The cross has taught me to live

In mercy, my heart now to sing

The day and its trouble shall come

I know that your strength is enough

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

And it’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of your love

And my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

 

Any rocks you need to shake out of your shoe today?

Need a loving poke in your belly? God, our Father God, gladly, kindly will.

 

A “…BUT…”to pray: Oh, Father God, loving Lord, I see now that I’ve held onto shame, guilt, regret over _______________________________ BUT you truly, absolutely, forever removed that from me when Jesus took it upon himself. Jesus, I won’t minimize what you did for me by trying to ”make up for it” by my own actions, so God, I will thankfully, gladly let you _________________________________________________ in me, through me, for me. yes, please poke me in the belly when I need to be more pliable and ____________________________. I know I’m not ”done” yet, so Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________. In Jesus’ name, make it so, amen!

 

IMG_1083.JPG

Tandem Blessing – No Kidding!

“You have to be kidding me…” I thought when Ken asked me to clip into the pedals on the back of the tandem bike he’d joyfully bought for the two of us. Never more than a casual biker until I met Ken, part of my marriage commitment to him was purposing to get stronger, so fears and anxiety set aside, I clipped in and rode 25 miles – for me challenging and heart-pounding after the first 16 – with him every Friday. “Stoker” is the word for the rear rider, but “blind truster” is more accurate, because where he went, I went; my feet had to go as fast as his, and if he fell down, I fell down too. He did agree to put straight handlebars and a softer seat on the back for me, simply glad I was willing to try to become a fuller part of his world and passion.

 

Eight months later, “You have to be kidding me….” flashed through my mind when the sheriff’s deputy standing in my driveway bluntly told me Ken had been killed just two hours earlier in a cycling accident while leading a group of cyclists visiting from out of state. My world, my new hopes, my life toppled over in the gravel as surely as if ken and I had run off the edge of the road on the tandem. Nothing in my life seemed stable when my heart was torn and bleeding.

 

But, and thank God he always has a “… but…”, four months later my friend Deb’s husband Rob stood in my garage looking over the tandem to buy, I thought, for tandem rides and races with a fellow cyclist. “You have to be kidding me …” I gasped in delight when Rob told me he’d just decided to volunteer for a veterans’ cause and actually wanted the tandem so he could take disabled veterans on bike rides with the group VeloVets, a nonprofit started by Guilianna, a young woman Ken had introduced several years earlier to the cycling club he belonged to.

 

Full circle, I thought. Ken was an Air Force veteran himself, and I couldn’t think of anything that would make him happier than knowing blind and disabled veterans would get the chance to fly down the road behind Rob, wind in their faces, hearts pumping, feeling whole and vital, valued and accepted.

 

“Rob, the bike is yours! Take it, oh my gosh, please take it and know Ken must be beaming in Heaven!”

 

God’s timing was impeccable. Sunday I’d texted Rob about coming to look at the bike, Monday he met Guilianna at his own cycling club meeting and decided to volunteer with VeloVets, Tuesday he drove to my house to check out the tandem, and Tuesday the miracle happened. Wednesday the miracle continued when a local TV reporter heard about the tandem’s donation, and I was able to honor Ken’s generous, giving, encouraging spirit and his deep Christian faith on the local news.

 

Tears of joy still flow when I think about the improbability of all of the elements of this true miracle coming together. I could barely see through tears to mount my bike a few weeks later when Rob and Dr. Les, a blind veteran, took off down the bike trail in the hot summer night with a group of avid riders. The smile Les wore was brighter than the evening sun.

 

Coincidental? Accidental? I can’t possibly believe so. Ken and I were part of something bigger than the two of us. We’d thought so from the early days of our relationship, and this glorious gift of new meaning and purpose poured into my heart with joy that eased the pain of my grief. Ken was still giving joy into my life, and I know he always will. I have no clue what other surprises and miracles of meaning God will reveal to me, but I’m clipped in with him now as I ride into each day, going where he goes, my feet pedaling to keep up with God’s passionate love and value-giving purposes, breathless again for a new reason. No kidding! img_1203

“Leave your table looking like …”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA(No, I am not scolding him; I’m actually praying a blessing on each child)

Reward, success and insight come in the  strangest places.

In the third week one of my least favorite jobs, I listened to the assistant principal decisively tell the room full of fifth graders that if they didn’t clean up their table and sweep the floor after their lunch period,before the sixth graders came in, they’d be sitting in his office. That went over like the proverbial lead balloon, and I thought, “I’d better find another way to inspire these kids  or it’s  going to be a very, very long semester for us all.” I give the Holy Spirit credit for the  thought that came to me. I began going table to table, cheerfully and positively telling the boys, “You’re young men of valor,courage, integrity, commitment, teamwork, strength, and honor. I know you want to leave your table looking like a man of that true strength was sitting here,” and to the girls, I said, “You’re beautiful young women of honor, virtue, strength, courage, compassion and kindness. I know you want to leave your table looking like that kind of  beautiful woman was sitting here.”

Completely puzzled looks met me, but I simply smiled and moved to the next table,and  repeated the process for every grade level that came into the multi-purpose room for lunch. One eighth-grade  girl had the surprised confidence to respond, “Miss Jackson, nobody ever talks to us like that!”

“Well, I’m going to tell you that until you believe it!” I  replied,  and her face lit up. Encouraged, I repeated the process for the rest of the week, for fun throwing in situations to the boys like, “You’re the pit crew, and you want to take care of  this ‘car’ and leave the pit ready for the next crew, looking like dedicated, capable,  smart, honorable men were just here,”and similar  girl-themed situations for the girls. Table after table, boys raised their hands and asked if they could be pit boss, and girls asked if they could be the head attendant at the coronation.

For three weeks,  grade by grade, twenty-minute lunch period by  period, I repeated character affirmations to the girls and boys, young men and women, from fourth grade up to seniors in high school, and in those three weeks, something wonderful happened: children started asking me for the rags, spray bottles, and brooms.  No threats of detention, no raised voice, no wagging  finger, just an affirming call to be someone higher, greater, and to have the power to lead by a servant-hearted example of true strength and grace. The assistant principal was surprised by how clean the room and tables were, I was enormously glad  that my venture worked, the students  felt good about themselves, and even more importantly and delightfully, I began to develop good relationships  with quite a few of the children.

It occurred to me at the same time that I was also telling myself something important about myself, as well as others: this is precisely what Father God wants for us and from us as His  children: to conduct  ourselves in such a way that  we leave our corners of the world looking like women of inner beauty, valor, value, honor, strength, kindness and compassion were “sitting here,”and men of courage,  strength, integrity, commitment, teamwork,  and honor were “sitting here.”

There was not time and no place in the multi-purpose room for, “It’s not my job. Oooh! That’s yucky! I don’t want to. Somebody else can.” May I propose that there is no time and no place in our  families, friendships, relationships, work associations, neighborhoods, churches, cities or world  for those kinds of self-centered, self-serving, weak, uncaring, and flatly irresponsible attitudes either. God may not call us into his “office” or wag his finger in our  faces, but we can be assured of  this certainty the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Romans 14:10-12 NIV

Sadly I see a spirit of taking offense and entitlement rising in our nation, perverting the idea of individual liberty (which ought to include individual accountability and responsibility) into narcissism. This  attitude is nothing new,and sadly, it isn’t limited to immature children. Jesus dealt with this attitude among his disciples.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10: 35-45 NIV

We should take  Jesus’ words very seriously, but can we put the same affirmative spin on this command that I put on cleaning up the lunch tables? Can we live out our lives in the strength, beauty, dignity, honor, commitment, kindness, and courage of  humbled service, knowing how it positively impacts others,  how glad it makes our Father God, and how much  true strength, validation, and outright joy we will find within ourselves when we live our lives with an eager, enthusiastic, “May I please have the rag and spray bottle?” attitude? If it was good enough for Jesus,  theKing of KingsandLord of Lords …. then there is true greatness in  every act of giving, listening, sharing, forgiving, mess-cleaning helping, and walking alongside one another.

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23: 9-12 NIV

I know the children  at that school with a high academic reputation were and are not  simply brains to be filled, but lives to positively, affirmingly, enthusiastically shape for a lifetime of real valor, courage, strength, kindness, beauty, dignity, commitment, compassion,and serving.

IMG_5439

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Father God,I  admit I’ve looked down on people who work at jobs like ______________________ and I’ve drawn back from_______________________ because I thought it would be yucky,time-consuming,  no fun, someone else’s job, beneath, or __________________. I seen I have missed opportunities to rise to true strength and dignity, integrity, honor, courage,inner beauty,commitment, and compassion,  BUT you never tell me it’s too late or I’ve missed and messed up too much. Awaken me to opportunities to live  my life in Christlike ways. Holy Spirit, what could I to today,this week? Where and for whom could I “leave this home,job, relationship, community, world looking like a man/woman of  those  values was ‘sitting here’?” ______________________________________________________________ Please  remind me to pick up the “broom”  or ask for the “spray bottle” where and when I can, and help me remember that bending and sweeping and wiping and serving lifts me up to the greatest I could possibly be within me, not justified by works, but reflecting the character and powerful love of Jesus.

Little Boxes on the Hillsides

IMG_1135So began an irreverent song in the 60’s, but as I walked back down the hill toward my house in the foothills today, a thought I’d had  earlier in the week driving home struck me again. What are the conversations going on in the minds of the people in these  custom and semi-custom houses? In reality, all they are is boxes.

Unvoiced perhaps, but perhaps subconsciously thought, going up from these boxes: “ My box is bigger than your box… My box sits higher up the hill than your box…. I’m glad my box isn’t down there below the river …My box is full of more stuff, fancier stuff than your box… My box makes me important… My box tells the world who I am and why I’m important…” and perhaps some voices  down below the  river: “I wish I had a bigger box up on the hillside … I deserve a better box than this … .” Surely, and true, many people may be grateful for the boxes they have, that they have a box lid over their  heads, that  they have a place to sit and eat and sleep.

Yet up here on the hillside (and even down below the  river)  nobody asks who the real lien holder on the land is, who holds your hill in his hands, who created the minerals in that mine far in the background, who can call in the loan at any time.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Psalm 33:6
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 24:1
A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Psalm 50:10-11
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

Job 41:11 Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heavens is Mine.

Nehemiah 9:6
“You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.

Haggai 2:8 —

” ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

John 1:3

Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 — “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God in your body.“

Colossians 1: 15-17 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.…

Walking down this hill that my mind and hand could never make, that no land developer or geologist or  architect or construction engineer could ever create from pre-existing molecules,let  alone from nothing. I bow in holy awe of the One who spoke, “Let there be earth,” shaped these hills, spun the earth to create day and night, gave me cells and DNA and breath and life, because without His Spirit and breath, I’m the same as the sand beneath my shoes.

“Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades! Never-ending, Your glory goes beyond all things! And the cry of my heart is to give you praise – from the inside out, Lord, my soul cries out to you… consume me from the inside out.” Be all you are in me,and how totally implausible is that for me to ask of God Almighty? I have no right to ask that, EXCEPT that through Jesus I am adopted into God’s family,called his own,  filled with his Spirit, loved, no matter  what  size or shape box i live in, how it is filled, how empty it may be, or who shares it with me.

And when I stand before Jesus, I wonder, will he ask me how big my box was, how much I had in it, how high on the  hill it sat? Or will he ask me  what I did with the time and the life and resources I had, all that He  gave me, while I was here? Will He ask,”Who did you love? How did you love? To whom did you reach out? To whom did you give a ride to their job? To whom did you give a loaf of bread? Whose child did you clothe? Who did you comfort in their grief? Who did you share me and my love with?”

“‘When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:38-40 NIV

Jesus speaks a sobering word as I sit in my box and  look out at  the boxes around me down the hill:

Matthew 25:15-29English Standard Version (ESV)

To one he gave five talents,to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

I hope, I pray, I have answers for those questions that  will gladden the heart of God.

Lord God, I am eternally grateful for a roof over my head, a place  to sleep, food to eat,clothing to wear, family and friends  to love, and, improbably, for my very life, a  gift from you. Help me to manage all that you give me with love and faithfulness,  out of love for who you are and all you’ve already given: the priceless blood of your son Jesus as a  ransom for my life and soul, my righteousness, my life  forever with you in your house.

Coming home into my box, I fall on my face on the floor in reverent awe of the Holy One who created, differentiated, gave life to, and sustains it all and us all.

 

A”…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, I may not have much in the sense of possessions, or I may have more than enough, BUT no matter what I have or lack, I have YOU as my Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Provision, Father,  Savior, Loving Lord,and that give me  value no one can take  from me. You say I am yours, and that alone makes me ___________________________________________________________________ and I thank you for your Spirit within me! Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and who can stop the Lord Almighty?

Bowerbirds,Sparklies, and the “Birdbrain” in Me and You

bowerbird1 Satin_Bowerbird_Ptilonorhynchus_violaceusWhen I worked in the education department at the local zoo, I wrote curriculum for the summer kindergarten track of Camp Zoo. “Animal Artists” was one week’s theme, and I researched animal behavior to reflect painters, sculptors, weavers and architects. Bowerbirds came up in my search of nest builders, and the courting behavior of male bowerbirds made me shake my head in wonder at the similarities between animals and human beings. Males build a nest, or bower, on the ground, and place shiny, sparkly, colorful articles around it to attract females. According to an encyclopedia article:

 

The most notable characteristic of bowerbirds is their extraordinarily complex courtship and mating behaviour, where males build a bower to attract mates. There are two main types of bowers. One clade of bowerbirds build so-called maypole bowers, which are constructed by placing sticks around a sapling; in some species, these bowers have a hut-like roof. The other major bower building clade builds an avenue type-bower made of two walls of vertically placed sticks. In and around the bower, the male places a variety of brightly colored objects he has collected. These objects — usually different among each species — may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even discarded plastic items, coins, nails, rifle shells, or pieces of glass. The males spend hours arranging this collection. Bowers within a species share a general form but do show significant variation, and the collection of objects reflects the biases of males of each species and its ability to procure items from the habitat, often stealing them from neighboring bowers. Several studies of different species have shown that colors of decorations males use on their bowers match the preferences of females. Mate-searching females commonly visit multiple bowers, often returning to the male several times, watching his elaborate courtship displays and inspecting the quality of the bower.

 

Sparkly, shiny, colorful objects, the more, the better. And how, I ask myself, is that any different from the world of online dating or the world of human behavior in general? Yes, I had to venture into the fields and forests of online dating sites, and the simple and silly truth is that people – both men and women – build profiles much like bowerbirds build nests, with ”sparklies” like their income, education, possessions, interests, and travels, and the more stuff and flirty quips, the better. Photos posed in exotic locales, at a bar or table with a glass in hand, on the golf course, standing beside a fast car …Sadly, that’s what we look for in others all too often. Equally sadly, that’s what we want others to see in us to attract them.

 

I wasn’t hugely successful in the world of online dating, probably because I was looking for more than shine and sparkle and a resume of accomplishments: I was looking for real substance: integrity, faith, honesty, kindness, generosity, humility, purpose, warmth. I wrote an openly honest assessment of myself, including my wrinkles from 21 years of hiking with two Boy Scout sons, and when I read other profiles, I Iooked for key words like those in a man’s self-description. Hmm …rare as hens’ teeth, as my mother used to say.

 

What does God want us to value in each other? He certainly tells us something important through the words of Samuel as he searched for God’s choice for Israel’s king:

 

 

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”  But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’  Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate. Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:1-7 NIV

 

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:15 NIV

 

All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD. Proverbs 16:2 NIV

 

“‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Leviticus 19: 15

 

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31: 30-31 NIV

 

Your adornment must not be merely external– braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV

 

I have to check myself daily, fighting the impulse to value others by how much money they make, how much education they have, what job they hold, what car they drive, how they speak, what church they do or don’t attend -that I don’t judge the people I meet by their appearance – including tattoos, piercings, and unnaturally colored hair – and by their income or house or job status. Compatibility comes from shared values and character much more than externals. What good would it do me to be married to a man who scorned Jesus, loved money, looked down his nose at the homeless, but made a six-figure income and loved to travel in his Ferrari? That would be a match made in hell. How counter-cultural is that?

 

Oh, Father God, deliver us from our bowerbird nature! Give us Your eyes to see the value in one another, appreciate character, kindness, and honesty above wallet and neighborhood and facelift. Give us hearts of wisdom, O Lord.to view ourselves in the light of the way You see us, in truth and humility, and teach us to value others for what You placed in them and see in them. Give me the grace to receive a hug from a homeless person with the same gratitude I’d receive it from a billionaire.

 

As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,

Or if due to strength, eighty years,

Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;

For soon it is gone and we fly away.

Who understands the power of Your anger

And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?

So teach us to number our days,

That we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90: 10-12 NIV

 

A “…BUT…”to pray:   Oh ,Lord, search me and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.   God Almighty, I know I shouldn’t judge, BUT I do, based on __________________________________________. Yes, bowerbird as charged, BUT you can give me new eyes. Help me to see ________________________________________________ not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but because You want the best for me and in me, out of Your purity, righteousness, and love. So, Holy Spirit, dig deeply, root out the insecurities, sparklies and shinies that I push out in front of me so others think I’m valuable and desirable, and help me to dig deeply to find the true value you invested in me _______________________________________________. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________________________________________

Not a post, just my favorite new praise and worship song

Yes, you may see my candle held high in the sequence with Bill Bright and Billy Graham at Explo’72 in the final scenes in “Woodlawn,” and somebody else was there  with me, too,holding a candle high right after we mutually said,”I do … till death.” Well … I tried to keep my promise.The bigger truth is that the ONE who loves us with relentless, fiery, passionate,never-ending love, the One we were holding our candles high for, still loves me and gave a piece of His heart to love with everlasting love, so in a  way,I win even in my loss.

Johnny Cash sang several times at Explo ’72. Boy, I admire his faith ands and June’s lasting love. Yes, self-confessed Jesus freak here, and even though Country music isn’t on my iTunes playlist, a few weeks ago I woke up with this song going through my head. Instantly I  realized it’s a wonderful  song for  worship, everything  true about twelve Johnny sings about being truer still about the two-way love affair we’re meant to have with God through Jesus.

So,  for all of you Country fans out there,and for  those of you who aren’t, here’s a new way to look at Johnny’s immortal ballad:

I Walk The Line

By Johnny Cash
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time.
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine,
I walk the line
I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when day is through
Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a fool for you
Because you’re mine,
I walk the line
As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I’ve known proves that it’s right
Because you’re mine,
I walk the line
You’ve got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can’t hide
For you I know I’d even try to turn the tide
Because you’re mine,
I walk the line

 

Yes, I did, and would have eternally with the first one,  will with a new one, and thanksgiving ever to the ONE who’s always walked with me, Yeshua,  Jesus,  however you speak  his name in your language,  still the faithful Lover of  our souls.7701932_SMK5n

My Father’s Sweater

Spin Me Around the StarsI’m not sure how old I was when I claimed and started wearing my Dad’s old brown cardigan sweater. I think I was around eleven, but I do know I continued to wrap myself in it till I was fifteen. I think I must have felt like I took on something of my father’s nature when I wore his sweater. It was soft with wide, flat ribs and moth holes in the sleeves – definitely not a “Mr. Rogers” sweater, but perfect to wear on chilly nights out in the garage.

That’s where you could find my Dad almost every night: at his workbench repairing something one of us had broken or building something amazing. I thought my Dad was the smartest man on the planet. None of my friends’ fathers sent Morse code messages on a radio or made science-fiction movie sound effects with a home-built Theremin. None of my friends got to watch miniature lightning shows in their garages from a Van Der Graaf Generator!

Somehow I felt secure in that sweater (and in on some great secrets) standing beside my father at his workbench, even when I had to stand on tiptoe to see what he was doing. I still associate the smell of hot solder and freshly sawn wood with Dad and can hear the sound of his table saw ripping through boards on their way to becoming furniture. He built a split-level ranch-style dollhouse for me, complete with a fireplace with hand-carved “bricks”, a chandelier that worked, and real tiny shingles on the roof. Dad went through several very 1960’s phases, too, most of which involved the overpowering (and probably brain chemistry altering) fumes of melting plastic that became bunches of grapes and the clacking, conservation of momentum and energy-demonstrating plastic spheres of a “Newton’s Cradle.”

My father let me help him plane wood, drive nails into odd bits of scrap wood, and sweep up sawdust, all while wearing his old brown sweater. When I was a sophomore in high school, Dad helped me draw out, saw, sand apply sealer to, and wrap with copper wire a walnut hardwood bangle I put on a necklace that looked, very much before its time, very much like the Nike “swoop.” I felt so proud that my father was a builder and creator who guided me to create as I stood beside him, wearing his sweater, at his workbench.

Maybe those hours spent in Dad’s sweater standing at his side account for some of my freedom and desire for intimacy with God, my Heavenly Father. Oh, if I could, I’d love to stand beside my Father God at HIS workbench and see what HE is creating!

Do you know what’s cool? My Father God lets me help with his projects. In fact, he WANTS me to get involved! Those amazingly validating times when I get to speak some word of affirmation to another person or meet someone’s need absolutely delight me, because I sense that I’m standing at my Father’s side and can almost see him smile. What amazes me, though, is what God my Father gives me to wear while I’m at his bench: not an old brown sweater, but the righteousness of Jesus! “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10

Today I bought three pair of shoes for the church “Kicks for Kids” fall shoe drive for children in impoverished school districts. On learning I why I was buying the shoes, the clerk at the sporting goods store gave me an extra discount. Knowing my ABBA and what he likes to do in people’s lives, I asked the clerk how I could pray for her, and if she knew Jesus. ”Well, yes… but…” she replied, and then told me she’d ask prayers for her young daughter Sharon with Type 1 Diabetes. Aha! My Father God handed me a ”board” of his word and prayer to sand, and I jumped at the chance to pray for this woman, her daughter and whole family, and share how cherished, chosen and beloved this woman is and how much she means to God. I believe God intended our meeting to do more than put shoes on three children; he also wanted to put his love in the heart of someone who needs to run back to her Father and needs to know he welcomes her.

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth…. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 2: 14-15; 4:1-2 NIV

How many days, how many times, does God my Father hand me some work from his heart to help him build into the life of another person? Hmm, how many times do I completely miss seeing hammer placed in my hand, the opportunity to work beside my Father in building his Kingdom in hearts and lives?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Isaiah 58:6012 NIV

Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied.

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

“What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” Zechariah 4:1-7 NIV

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Mathew 5:13-14 NI

It takes my breath away sometimes when other people see my Father through me! Oh, God, let me stand beside you at your workbench as you create beauty, goodness, honor, kindness, integrity, compassion, truth, love, and living faith in the lives in this world so precious to you. Guide my hands and heart and words and prayers to help you. And wow, thank you that through faith in Jesus I get to wear a garment that looks like YOUR nature! You ARE the smartest Father in existence, and I want to be more like you. Thanks that you invite me to spend time by your side!

A “. . . But . . .” to pray: Oh, ABBA, Daddy, Father, you are incredible! All creation, all wisdom, all power, all authority, all goodness, all truth, all justice, all righteousness, all life comes from your hands that are still building, repairing, restoring, and creating today and every day. I may feel small, untalented, inarticulate, incapable, BUT standing by your side wearing YOUR righteousness, I know you’re calling me to ____________________________________________________ beside you and I know you’ll guide me as I ___________________________________________________. Tap me on the shoulder in my spirit every time you have an opportunity for me to tell someone or show someone how much you love and care for them, and give me the courage to know that, even if my words are simple, limited or halting, or not as fancy as some others might say, and even if I don’t know where in the Bible the words come from, they are still your words sent to strengthen, build up, encourage, correct in love, restore, repair, and create a place for YOUR hands to work in another life. I give you permission to destroy my excuses right now, and here they are ___________________________________________________________Help me to remember it’s YOUR work, not mine, and YOUR Spirit, not mine, truly at work in my encounters with others; you jut need me to open my mouth and open my heart so YOUR words and love can come out. I hope others see YOU in me! In Jesus’ name, amen! Holy Spirit, I‘m listening ___________________________________________________

As Simple as it Gets

As Simple as it Gets

I couldn’t find the bunnies, flowers or rainbows in my circumstances. I was so crushed yesterday, and I recognized my deepest grief is the contradiction between what I know and read of God from the Word – nothing shall be impossible for God – and what I see in the free will He allows us all to walk in, often to the wounding and discouragement of others. What I heard for 18 months was a grand and hideous silence and contradiction. This morning it even hurt too much to let God’s word in and listen to any of my favorite Bible teachers. That contradiction slapped in my face again was more than I could bear.

“When your words came to me, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty. . . . Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive (intermittent) brook, like a spring that fails?” Jeremiah 15:16, 18 NIV

So, the question to me on my morning dog walk was simply which side of this razor’s edge I’m going to fall on. Do I believe my circumstances reveal the character of God, or do I believe somehow, against all the grief within me, that God’s character gives meaning to my circumstances? I want with every fiber of my being for God to change my circumstances, BUT . . .

I love, I hope, I’m crushed – I rise in love, I hope, I’m crushed – I crawl back up to my feet in love . . . . I genuinely understand why sometimes people feel death would be easier than this life. BUT . . . it all comes down to the cross, and the cruelty I see Jesus bore for me. He was taunted, and their taunts were true. He COULD have called down legions of angels and taken himself off the cross, but the end of Jesus’ pain would have begun eternal torment for all the rest of us. Real, raw honesty here today, I have come close to despairing of life, just two months before God brought the faint dawn of a new hope into my life. I don’t doubt for a minute that there is someone who will read this and identify exactly with my feelings. Keep reading!

It all comes down to the cross. For love, Jesus emptied himself of all his majesty and rights as Deity and took our betrayal and rejection of him, even my imploring questions now. He loved, he hoped, he was crushed, he rose up in love. What could it have meant to Jesus to be stripped – willingly, but stripped nonetheless – from all that incomprehensible union with pure joy and love and Oneness with the Father? Whatever it meant, it meant winning me.

No, I’m not at all equating myself and my suffering with Jesus. It’s just that now I begin to understand the ferocious depth of his love for me. He IS love. I don’t BEGIN to grasp how much, but I desperately want to soak myself in him.

Words water down the impact of this truth.

Aaugh . . . as much as this still – hurts isn’t strong enough a word – grinds me to dust emotionally, I will not let my circumstances and the horrifying choices someone else is making inform me about the nature and love of my Jesus. Whatever meaning comes out of this in the end, it will be the meaning LOVE incarnate gives to me.

“Come under my wing,” God whispers, and we cry out, “Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD, for I hide myself in you “ Psalm 143:9

“Shelter Me” by Tab Benoit

The earth can shake the sky come down*

The mountains all fall to the ground

But I will fear none of these things

Shelter me lord underneath your wings

Dark waters rise and thunder pounds

The wheels of war are going round

And all the walls are crumbling

Shelter me lord underneath your wings

Shelter me lord underneath your wings

Hide me underneath your wings

Hide me deep inside your heart

In your refuge – cover me

The world can shake

But lord I’m making you my hiding place

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! Psalm 32:7-11 NIV

In the shelter of your presence you hide them from all human intrigues; you keep them safe in your dwelling from accusing tongues. Psalm 31: 20 NIV

Why, my soul, are you downcast?Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5 NIV

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,  and he began to teach them. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5: 1-10 NIV

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” Revelation 7:17 NIV

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . Romans 8:28 . . . . If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8: 31 NIV He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 NIV. . . For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither height nor depth , . . . nor anything can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:38-39 NIV

A “,,,BUT…” to pray: Sometimes God, and it might be right now, it feels like the whole world is against me because ____________________________________________________________________________. I tried to _________________________________ but __________________________________. BUT God, help me remember hat YOU are greater than the world, and if YOU are for me, then you must have a plan to bring something good out of _________________________________________________________________. Show me where you are, Father, and Jesus, help me truly feel in my deepest heart how much you love me. I never asked you about your feelings on the cross. Jesus, what did you feel? Can my love for you bring you joy? It CAN! Then I trust you enough o give you ______________________________________________________ and let you work something good from ___________________________________________________. I have to “hand it to you,” so I will, by a choice of faith. What do you want to tell me today? Amen in Jesus’ name, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening ________________________________________________________________________________________

Sticks and stones …..

Evan and Elsa names in rock cache“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” we resorted to a self-protecting reply in the face of taunts and teasing from the other children on the playground. They would, of course, NEVER have the courage to be verbally abusive – and that’s what it was – in front of the teacher or principal, because they’d face the consequences of disrespecting another person. In my day, that was one quick, solid whack from Mr. Nelson’s paddle. Interestingly, one swat often “redirected” the bullies in class far more effectively than a time out in the corner.

The truth is, words cut and injure more deeply, significantly, and for much longer than any poke from a stick or bruise from a stone. Sticks and stones hurt the body, which mends quickly. Words cut viciously into the heart, into the soul, into the identity and value of a person, which means so much to God. No one, not even my enemy, deserves to be dismissed as a person, robbed of value, dignity, honor, respect,

I grew up in a home where harsh words were never used or heard. Oh, yes, my mother let me know when I’d disobeyed, but she always spoke of the behavior, not of me as a person. I never doubted my worth to her, value she made all the more evident the day she came to ask me to forgive her for falsely accusing me of lying. What worth she poured into me that day!

So I was never prepared to deal with verbal abuse when it struck suddenly like the fangs of a small, hidden viper early in my marriage. Had I known then what I came to know 38 years later, I would have confronted the angry jabs at my identity as the abuse they were. I chalked it up to his early childhood living in a very strict family and let it roll off my back. Only much later did his mother tell her children that their father was seriously mentally ill. Only later did she reveal her frustration and her own sense of invalidation to me. I had no idea then how early emotional and verbal abuse permanently damages “wiring” in the brain and sets up a child to become a “user,” ”controller” or abuser later in life.

Faithful are  the wounds of a friend, the Bible says, but hurtful, rejecting, abasing, accusing, denigrating, disrespectful, abusive words from someone you trust who tells you he/she loves you are like a flight of arrows or javelins, aimed top pierce the core of your heart. God does not want anyone assaulted verbally, mentally, emotionally, or physically. Anger is an emotion God gave us to alert us to problems. Righteous anger is not sinful and should not be associated with abuse. Anger mishandled can certainly lead to a sinful, abusive response, but it is a sinful heart, not the emotion of anger, that is the root cause of abuse. Abuse crosses the line from the proper expression of unmet needs to a sinful disregard for the worth and dignity of another person. The Bible regards abuse as sin because we are called to love one another. (John 13:34) Abuse disregards others and violates this command. An abuser desires to satisfy his natural selfishness regardless of the consequences to himself or others abuse, but the true deep insecurity in them  ensures they won’t be abusive in public where authorities and others might see and think less of them or bring on consequences.

The Bible doesn’t use the term “verbal abuse,” but God speaks clearly about the power of our words: “The tongue has the power of life and death” Proverbs 18:21 NIV

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:23-31 NIV

Verbal abuse is one weapon in the stockpile of emotional abuse. While abusers use many tactics and strategies, the ultimate goal is to gain dominance and control over someone in a relationship. We all can be or have been abusive at some time, because we all fall short of God’s command to love one another at all times, but ongoing verbal, emotional, or mental abuse is a sign of a much deeper issue or pervasive sin problem. Verbal abuse constitutes psychological violence. Verbal abuse is n sin that seldom goes away on its own and can potentially escalate into physical or other forms of abuse.

We all can be or have been abusive at some time, because we all fall short of God’s command to love one another at all times. But ongoing verbal, emotional, or mental abuse is a sign of a much deeper issue or pervasive sin problem. Those who’ve been abused don’t get a free pass to perpetuate it in their own relationships. Those of us who tend toward deep empathy need to walk away from the false sense of responsibility for, or the need to cover up, an abuser’s actions. Sometimes being ”nice” isn’t helpful or healing, nor is it, I’ve come to see, truly “Christlike” if it only puts a Band-Aid over a festering wound that needs to be exposed to the light of truth for real cleansing. The tricky part for tender-hearted people is to understand how to “speak the truth in love,” and how to walk away in integrity, without returning abuse for abuse, when the truth is rejected.

One of the most  helpful things I did for myself, without realizing it, was to tell children at a school where I worked that they were men of valor, courage, strength, honor, integrity, dignity, and kindness, and told the girls they were women of virtue,  courage, kindness, value, worth, beauty, kindness, honor compassion, and caring. I sensed God telling me this is true of me, too!   One  prayer warrior I’d never met before told me,  “I see the beach. Words are written on the sand, but God is coming like  a wave to wash away all the words spoken over you.” I needed the wave of God to wash away all the  abusive words so much deeper in me than words in the sand, but thank you, God,t hat you see themas just words in the sand.

Christians, churches, and civil authorities clearly know what to tell victims of physical abuse: get out while you can, and report it. Sticks and stones leave marks. But how can the abused document verbal, emotional, or mental abuse? Who will believe you when your abuser seems so charming and mentally sound? Where do you go for help? And why include this in a devotional book?

My abuser “pulled the wool over the eyes” of two psychologists and one psychiatrist. I take comfort in knowing that God does indeed know the truth and I cling to the truth that God l will never abandon me – even if on my rough days I feel like He has – or grow tired in loving me. Out of relentless love and value for me, God brought a woman into my life through a small group Bible study who told me quite bluntly, ”Oh, he’s a narcissist,” and pointed me to a helpful website, BPDCentral.com. God spoke through another woman I didn’t even know, who heard from the Holy Spirit as she was ironing and gave the message to the young man who was renting a room in my house. I share it to encourage someone else who is suffering the pain of abuse and injustice:

“Don’t give up. Come to ME in MY secret hiding place, under MY protective wings. Love ME as I love you. Fear not anything man has done to you. MY WORD is what is important. I hold you in MY arms. You are MY chosen child.”

On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday last year, God lovingly lined up three cars with “vanity plates” – license plates with words or a reference to a saying – to pull in front of my car one after the other. In order, the plates read ”Justice,” ”Christz” and ”Chronos.”

Can we as the church, we as Christians, wake up to the silent suffering going on in our midst, drop the shame and blame we all too often lay on the victims – as if they were responsible for creating the abuse in their abusers – and courageously confront the men and women inflicting such damage out of their own unconfessed, denied and hidden wounding? Can we offer the wounded abusers a place of real grace and tough, but real, love that gives hope for transformation when they find the courage to admit their abusive nature and ask for help? We must break the silence!

I pray we can. I pray others caught in the trap of unseen abuse will find the courage to speak to someone of their own gender whom they can trust and seek wise counsel. I pray Christians will offer better, more compassionate and understanding advice than others gave me: ”Just get over it.” I pray we can all know who our true enemy is: Satan and his legion of abusive deceivers. I pray for my abuser, that somehow the relentless love of God will pursue him with redemptive judgment, not for his destruction, but for his transformation. My prayer for a narcissist, ”God, break him to make him the man of true goodness, kindness and integrity you intended him to be when you formed him, in his mother’s womb” is not a prayer of anger or revenge, but a fervent cry for true justice for us all from the real abuser of us all, Satan himself, the father of lies and abuse. Father, I surrender my abuser to you for your victory over the abuser in him.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel ( insert the name of the person who offended or abused you) is that they (name him/her) may be saved.” Romans 10:1 NIV

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43 NIV

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 NIV

Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself. Proverbs 2:24 NIV

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:14-19 NIV

God loves you, period, forever. Hang on to the hand that won’t ever wound or push you away!

A “…BUT …”to pray: Oh, God, ABBA Father, I cry out to you. You feel my pain from _______________________________________________________________________ and you want me, above all, to know how much you love me. I confess I’ve been thoughtless and I hurt ________________________’s feelings when I said__________________________________________. Forgive me, God, and give me the courage to go to _____________________________ admit my wrong, and ask for forgiveness. Help me,Holy Spirit, to use only kind words when I speak, and filly words with encouragement,truth and grace. God, you know that __________________ did/said ____________________________________________________________________________ and I see now that wasn’t just a mistake; it was abuse. Holy Spirit, show me if and how and where and to whom I need to speak up to bring into the open, for true healing, _____________________________________________________________. Show me what real love looks like in this situation, and where and how I need to exercise “tough love” if that’s what will be best. Almighty God, if I need to walk away from _______________________________________, give me the courage to trust that you will hold me in your hand, cover me with your promises, and provide for my needs as your word promises. I’m listening for your voice now, looking for your hand to lead me. Help me trust in your love for me. In Jesus’ name, amen!Sticks and Stones …..