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

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Sea Glass Wars

The Sea Glass War

Rose Jackson © 7/15/2008

sea-glass-2

The rocket attack came from out of the blue. My husband Cliff and I were standing in the long line in front of the auditorium the night of our younger son’s final high school chorus concert, when Chris called on my cell phone to ask if he could borrow some money so a fellow singer who hadn’t had dinner could get something to eat before the show. Phone in hand, I turned to Cliff and explained, “Chris wants to borrow some money to help . . . .” I asked my husband if that would be okay, and he angrily fired off, “He’s your son!” Whoa – where did that come from?

Shell-shocked, I couldn’t imagine what provoked his angry attack or even what his comment meant. I didn’t know we were at war! Our son came out to get the money and told me it was for a good friend from church. “It’s for his friend from church, Anna,” I related to Cliff, thinking an explanation would help, and he snapped, “Don’t tell me that. I don’t need to know!” Two rounds fired! This was no accidental friendly fire shooting! Instantly my defensive shields went up. I felt angry and confused, but I couldn’t lob any verbal grenades back at my husband because the women’s ministry director of our church was standing three people ahead of me. Trapped! I was pinned down, unable to defend myself.

Usually I’d launch a verbal retaliatory strike, or at least set the launch codes and fire later when I had the opportunity. This night, though, I resolved not to return anger for anger. I didn’t want to cause a scene in line or ruin the evening, but I also didn’t think it would be healthy to let the incident go and pretend this conflict never happened. “I’ve responded that way too many times in the past, and it only made me resentful,” I recalled as I took a deep breath. What to do? In an unusual step back from the brink of mutual annihilation, I decided to de-escalate, make a hopefully permanent change,  and quickly resolved to look for a way to deal with the conflict in a way both respectful to my husband and healthy for our relationship. I silently sent a prayer SOS, “Jesus, please tell me how to handle my anger,” and held my fire.

I didn’t say anything when we got home that night, but the next morning I prayed again to discern a positive way to express my feelings while bringing a healthy resolution to the issue for both my husband and me. At the breakfast table I calmly told my husband, “I feel your words last night were intentionally hurtful. Would you speak to people at work the way you did to me?”

“No,” he said, “but I don’t think what I said was hurtful.” Inside I was thinking, “Oh, come on,” but I made a conscious choice and effort to quickly subdue my frustration. “Would you speak to your associates that way?” I repeated. My husband replied that he wouldn’t, because no one at work would speak to him the way I did. Puzzled because I hadn’t said anything nasty to him the night before, but feeling a peace that surely came from God, I replied, “Your comment indicates that you do realize the words were hurtful.” I honestly, simply stated, “I can’t think of anything I said last night to merit those hostile words. Did I miss something?”

I’d presented my case without becoming defensive. What would happen next? Amazingly my husband’s demeanor changed, and he acknowledged that he had been angry and intentionally used those words to drive home the fact. At that point we were able to identify what had actually angered him, discuss the situation, and come to a healthy resolution.

God turned what could have been explosive and damaging into something healthy. Because it was unexpectedly healing, and because I felt enabled to uncharacteristically say something that maintained my dignity while still respecting my husband, to me the encounter was profoundly beautiful. Years ago I wrote an analogy comparing anger to broken glass on a playground, shiny and attractive, but you’d warn your child not to pick it up because, attractive as it looks, broken glass easily cuts anyone who handles it. Anger cuts and wounds relationships. If she or he picked up a piece of broken glass, you’d immediately ask your child to either drop it or carefully hand it to you, so you could take care of it safely and properly. In the analogy, I wrote that the proper thing to do with anger is hand it to Jesus so he can dispose of it safely.

After our “chorus line” battle, though, I realized Jesus did more than just dispose of my anger. When I resolved to respect Cliff and our relationship and placed my anger in his hands, Jesus transformed it into something precious that restored rather than destroyed. Shards of broken anger became beautiful like rounded sea glass, a powerful affirmation to keep choosing my resolution. At www.americancraftworks.com/TheStoryofSeaglass.html I found a description of the process that turns trashed, broken bottles into beautiful sea glass:

“The ocean’s saltwater and sand combined with the various tides act like a giant rock tumbler & (sic) eventually turn sharp broken glass into beautifully rounded frosted jewels that wash up on the shoreline. . . . !”

I handed Jesus the broken glass of my anger and he returned to me healing communication with my husband, something beautiful to be valued and prized like a sea glass gem. That day I changed my reaction and witnessed a battlefield turn into a beach.

Our feelings are our feelings, but we do well to look deeply within and pray to discern the hurt, disappointment, or expectation unmet that pushed a ”hot button. “We all have them hidden inside, hurts, slights, fears and insecurities in childhood that we didn’t know how to process unhealthy ways then. The longer I go through life, them ore broken people I find: people with wounds from an absent or present but controlling and rigidly unloving father, abandonment either emotional or actual from their mother, burying deep inside them the questions, “Will anyone love me for who I am? Do I matter to someone? How can I find the love I need?”

Legitimate needs and questions, but how we express them to others can bring healing or raise up like quills on a porcupine’s back, pushing others away with our angry barbs aimed at them personally, rather than expressing the need we have in clear, positive ways others can respond to.

God has much to say about anger.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 NIV

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. Proverbs 15:18 NIV

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19: 11 NIV

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. James 4:1-2 ESV

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Proverbs 16: 32 ESV

 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person… Matthew 15: 18-19 NIV

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil….

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….Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:26, 29, 31-32 NIV

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self[a] with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.,,,

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3: 8-10, 12-13 NIV

 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,[a] and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:1-18, NIV

Please, If you are, or have a loved one with, a deeply entrenched chronic anger issue, please seek professional help for both the angry person and the one(s) living with them. It may be rooted in a deep wound All of us easily speak before we think, and we tend to react, rather than respond, when someone ”pushes our buttons.” My prayer for myself and others is a cry, hands lifted to God, to help me/us do what we instinctively can’t, and bring to the light of His healing the hurts that lead us to speak harshly. What beautiful gems God can make of us when we give our anger to him for his understanding, compassionate, and passionate healing. The wonderful truth is that God WANTS to heal our wounds!

A “…BUT…”to pray: Oh, Loving Father, I do feel angry when __________________________________, and when I do, I know my words can wound like broken glass. You don’t condemn me because I have needs and desires, BUT please help me to see deep inside myself to the root of the emotions that drive me to express my needs and expectations in hurtful ways. Holy Spirit, I open myself to you now and give you permission to show me things you long to heal deep within me _____________________________________________________________________ . People in my life do irritate me, including ______________________________________________________.Help me to respond in Godly, honoring, solution-focused ways when ______________________________ says _____________________________________________________. Put a guard around my mouth, Holy Spirit, and the next time that happens, help me to lift it to your hands to shape my response and turn the broken glass into a beautiful gem. In Jesus’ name, Amen, and 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 ________________________________________________________________________________________

Riding Tandem: Training Wheels

“Gosh, I can hear the Bible as I’m riding,” I thought as I pushed a little faster than I wanted to and shot down the hill on two thin tires at 38 miles per hour, keenly aware there was nothing between my skin and the asphalt but a thin jersey and bike shorts. Others must surely have seen the same parallels riding on the back of a tandem road bike; now I entered their cadre, not entirely willingly. I ride with a man who loves cycling. Before I met him I enjoyed riding my bike to the grocery store and back, and noodling around the neighborhood on evening pleasure rides. He, however, is of the “conquer the hills, the faster, the better” squadron, and he knows I’ll love riding once I get more miles under me and build up my endurance. Humph.

I look at the hill he’d love to climb, at least an 8% grade all the 20-mile way to the top of the mountain, and I shudder. I never want to be THAT fit! When we ride independently, I usually “flake off” at the eight-mile mark, cut across a road lined seasonally with wildflowers and with a walking/biking path where I’ll generally find someone to stop, say hello to, and pray with. The surprise of a perfect stranger offering to pray for them delights me. I am God’s carrier pigeon on two wheels, bringing a word of His love to someone in their day, and I have fun being part of the “air drops” He allows me to make.

I remember riding on the handlebars or on the back book rack od my brother’s bike. That was fun, and I didn’t have to do any of the work

But when I’m on the back of the tandem …. new rules apply.

  • Where he’s going, I have to go. (And last week wearing his jersey and staring at his dorsal side, I wryly thought of how Peter must have felt when Jesus told him, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18 and Amen!)
  • I can’t see or control where we are going.
  • As far as he goes, I have to go. (And I thought of the woman in the cycling club who replied to her husband’s comment that she wasn’t giving him enough on the back of the bike, “If I give it all to you know, you aren’t getting any of it when we get home!”)
  • I have to match his pedaling speed because I’m “clipped in.” (Because against my protests, he did put clip pedals on and even bought me cycling shoes to lock into the clips so I can “give it more power” and use my hamstrings too. My hamstrings were quite happy letting my quads do the work, thank you very much, quit when they got tired, and I liked being able to freely leap off my bike if I started to fall.)
  • Which brings me to this point: if he falls, I fall.
  • When he stops, I stop. (Generally gratefully. At intersections I counterbalance his foot on the ground.)
  • I’m dependent upon his judgment and character.

These may sound like negatives, and in some ways they are, but I choose to rename them “sobering realities.” He has a few “sobering realities” to face as well:

  • He has to put his muscle to the pedals, but if I so choose, I can pretty much rest in his strength when I’m tired.
  • I can take my hands off the handlebars and sit upright because he’s steering.
  • I can communicate my needs/limitations, and he will out of consideration choose an easier or shorter route. (or face my stiff neck, sore wrists and sat-out seat)
  • When my energy is used up, it’s up to him to get us home.
  • If I shift my weight, he has to compensate to keep us upright. (Whew, I have to learn to reach for my water bottle without leaning to either side)
  • He is responsible for my safety.

I have heard the test of a relationship is if you can ride a tandem without killing each other. The rule is: what happens on the bike, stays on the bike. But every time I click my feet into those pedals, the word “captivity” springs to mind: the state or period of being held, imprisoned, enslaved, or confined. BUT that is one perspective, half of the truth. The other truth is that riding on the tandem makes a way for me to be with my friend and do what i couldn’t do, without great exertion, on my own.

I also know this is true about lasting relationship: “Perfect romantic love never does last, of course. Under the best conditions, it evolves into something more realistic and lasting, where two imperfect people discover one another’s virtues and faults, grow to appreciate the goodness in each other but also to accept the disappointments.” I have to add, though I’d rather not, learn to accept challenges to grow, stretch, get stronger.

As I crank my heart out grinding up the second or third of the of the “only one more hill” hills, I sometimes ruefully sing the old song to myself:

tandem-bike-drawing

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.
I’m half-crazy all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage.
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.

The tandem truth is that, in sending Jesus, God made a way for us to receive what we can’t do out of our own strength or “righteousness”: ride with him, depending on his strength, endurance, blood, love.

A rabbi’s disciples always walked in the dust of their teacher, following in his footsteps wherever he lead them. Jesus’ disciples did the same, and if I want to be His disciple today, I’m going to have to put in some miles. I can’t keep up with him our my own limited resources and “goodness,” but i can clip into the pedals behind him and ride where he’s going.The disciples were on two feet; I’m on two feet with you, Jesus, and sometimes literally on two wheels in the company of some of your competitive “conquer the mountain, harder, faster, longer, first” children who don’t know you yet, but need to. All I want to conquer is the enemy of my soul, not the pavement! Stop and smell the Texas sage, people! There are lonely folks to be prayed for out there…. but they ride on.  Sigh.

Okay. Once a week, at least, I saddle up as sidekick. Hop on the back of the bike and lock in with Jesus, who genuinely is crazy about you and me,  as you read these verses. Ask the Holy Spirit if and how they might apply to your life today:

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, Hebrews 10:23-24 NIV

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1: 4-8 NIV

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalm 31:3

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:26

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight.[Proverbs 3:5-6a]

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31

Oh, God, that’s what you want for me, isn’t it? Rats! I’d much rather noodle around the neighborhood and never get serious about going somewhere with the faith and gifts and strengths you’ve given to, and invested in, me. I’d rather quit when I feel tired, hop off when I want, go where I want at the speed I want and not be obligated to anyone for how long it takes me to get nowhere in particular. But I have a sneaking suspicion – and last week at a conference I heard a “name of God” for the first time: “Jehovah Sneaky” – that you want me to do something with the talents and desires and gifts you put in me, you want me to follow the road you planned for me, to go as far as You want to go, willingly stop when you stop, and trust your love for me whether I can see where we’re going or not. I recall speaking on this subject ten years ago, but then I hadn’t been required to walk down a road I never wanted to travel, for longer than I wanted to be in battle and in limbo. Now I’ve had to live it, and it hasn’t been rainbows, bunnies and flowers. It’s been hard, uphill, in the dark, in the rain, against the wind, and a challenge to keep my heart free from bitterness, anger, pulling away from you and fear every turn of the wheel.

God, you told me two things over two years ago: “You’re worth fighting for” and “You are my chosen child. Don’t be afraid of what man tries to do to you.” You didn’t tell me where we were going, how long the road would be, or how steep the climb. I suspect my fear and inability to hang on made this trip take longer and be harder than it needed to be. Did I switch places and try to be the one in front? Did I let go of “manna” you gave me because I was grieving too hard? Well, I know you forgive me and your mercy is new every morning. I want to take the back seat now and let you pull me up the hill, pump hard when I can’t, stop when i/we need to, and yes, I desperately need to trust your character to take responsibility for my safety.

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, I know you want my life to count and have meaning. I do, too, but honestly, “clipping in” with you makes me feel _____________________________________________________. I know you understand, because you know I’m human, and not seeing where we’re going , I feel ____________________________________________. But I know you love me and your plans for me are for good, not for evil, so as I ride with you, Jesus, I’ll give my best to _______________________________________________________________________________________ and I’m leaning on you, holding on to your character and love, and asking you to ______________________________________________________________________________________. When I start to lean, slip, get tired or want to quit and go home, please _______________________________________________________________. Thank you that you “know my frame” and you love me even in my weakness, as well as in my strength. I need your renewing strength to _______________________________________________________________________________. Thank you that you wont quit on me! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Motown Jesus

everlasting love_t_nv_2In 1967 Robert Knight recorded a song written by Mac Gayden, lyrics by Buzz Cason. For those not born in the United States within the 1940’s through 1960’s, Detroit, Michigan was noted for two products: automobiles and music, gaining it the label of “Motor City” and the rock and blues music that came from Detroit “Motown.” I’ve loved their song ever since I first heard it. Teenage girls could weep thinking of finding a love like this song proclaimed. Then some of us discovered that the Prince  Charming who found us was really just another wounded human being searching for, but unable to give, the same thing we were searching for and longing to be part of, the song’s name: Everlasting Love.

Buzz Cayson said he was inspired by the words of Jeremiah 31: 3-4: The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness…Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.

Aha! i always thought I heard God speaking in that song! Something in it called to me when I was just 17 and lodged deeply in my heart. I knew Jesus because I grew up in a church-going, God-loving family, but my knowledge became full-blown love in our tiny church on February 20, 1972 when I “heard” Jesus say to me,”You know I died for the world … but do you know I died for YOU?”

Wow! Chosen! Beloved! I was going to need that deepest love inside me to carry me through the shattering of my world decades later. Rock solid, Jesus’ love for me, passionate and burning, tender and embracing. Why do we demand from each other the unconditional love that only our Father Creator God can give us through himself made flesh and blood in Jesus? “Hearts go stray, leaving hurt when they go …” Our hearts get wounded, we close them up to keep from bleeding, or to keep the world from seeing our bleeding and the depth of our need. Being “needy” isn’t cool, but in reality, we all are.  Wounded animals do the same thing: conceal their pain and vulnerability so predators won’t single them out for a meal.  I suspect we humans do the same thing.

“Nobody is going to ever talk like THAT to me again!”

“I won’t let anyone treat me like THAt again!”

“No, I’m fine, really, I”m just picking myself up and moving on ….” bleeding all the way. We close off our hearts from the ones who have hurt us, but brick by brick, does that wall keep out the very love we need, and does it keep out the love Jesus may send through others?

If it’s true “you can’t heal what you don’t reveal”, it may also be very true that you can’t heal what you don’t let yourself feel, or more accurately, how can Jesus heal what we aren’t willing to feel? Feeling hurts, we feel because we care, and the ones we care about the most are the ones whose wounds hurt us most deeply. The truth hidden there is that we/I/YOU  hurt  because we/I/YOU DO have a heart capable of knowing and wanting love, empathy, a consciousness of and conscience toward others’ feelings, and we expect others to be wired as we are. Sadly, tragically, not every person is, BUT amazingly, incredibly, JESUS IS!

Whatever else happens to us in this life amid the wounded, predator and prey and innocent bystanders minding their own business and trying to live uprightly, we do well to remember we “wrestle not against flesh and blood.”

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:12-13

Paul goes on to describe the helmet of faith, breastplate of salvation, belt of truth, shoes of the readiness to preach the gospel, and the sword of God’s Word. That  brings me back full circle to Isaiah 31:3 and the promise god can’t possible break, that he lives us/me/YOU with an everlasting love and draws us to himself with kindness. Can I dare, can you dare, to open up your heart and feel that you’re part of everlasting love? Can we wear that love like chain mail to protect our hearts without walling them off from the lives around us who can, at best, love us despite our, and through their, limitations?

I know this: I can only approach feeling and living out unconditional love for others when I let Jesus into my heart to heal the wounds in me and then to love others through me, even while I’m healing. The Motown song implies we can find this love in other people, but it’s truly only God’s love for us through Jesus’ love that is, and enables, everlasting love.

Unlike the lyrics, Jesus never will leave us:

For He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! Assuredly not!]  Hebrews 13:5 Amplified  (from Deuteronomy 31:6)

Jesus promised to embrace everyone who comes to him with everlasting love: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. John 6:37-39 NIV

Had Motown been around in those days, Jesus might have sung it, rather than say it. Can you hear his call to you in this song? More importantly, can you hear the voice of “Motown” Jesus calling to you in his song for you today? Listen to it online, and as you listen, underline the words that God’s Spirit speaks to you, about you, in the song.

Hearts go astray, leaving hurt when they go.
I went away just when you needed me so.
Filled with regret I come back beggin’ you,
Forgive, forget. Where’s the love we once knew?
Open up your eyes, then you’ll realize here I stand
With my everlasting love.
Need you by my side, girl you’ll be my bride.
You’ll never be denied everlasting love.
From the very start, open up your heart,
Be a lasting part of everlasting love.

Your love will last forever.
Your love will last forever.

Where life’s river flows, no one really knows
’til someone’s there to show the way to lasting love.
Like the sun that shines, endlessly it shine,
You always will be mine. It’s eternal love.
When other loves are gone, ours will still be strong,
We have our very own everlasting love.

Your love will last forever.
Your love will last forever.
You give me, you give me, you give me everlasting love

A “…BUT…” to pray: Jesus, I’m going to be very honest. I need your healing touch and everlasting love. It’s true that I’ve ___________________________________________, and it’s true that _______________________________________ said _________________________________________________ to me. It’s true that ____________________ did _______________________________________________ to me, and if I’m really honest, it’s true that I said ________________________________________________ and I did _________________________________________________________ and I wish I hadn’t. I could easily wall of my heart, BUT Father God, you love me with an everlasting love. You said it, you promise it, you mean it, so I will let you come into my heart and _______________________________________________________________________________. Help my unbelief, and help me to feel your everlasting love. Can I dance with you to this song today, and when I do, please help me feel you with me. Amen!

I Think; Therefore I …Dance!

left_verse_right_brainI’m   not throwing stones – I am perplexed by something I cannot fathom. Granted, every one of us has two sides, two halves, two hemispheres that constitute our brain. And granted, we tend to operate more easily or more usually out of one hemisphere, depending on the need of the moment. Oversimplified, the left side dominates in analytical and objective information, while the right tends to dominate in recognizing faces, intuition, subjectivity, art and music. The two sides are separated by a groove, the medial longitudinal fissure (aren’t you impressed?) and connected by a band of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. Granted, all of this is neuroscience, but I’ve observed (both from my left analytical side and my right experiential side) what seems to be a medial longitudinal fissure within the Body of Christ that, for the life of me, I can’t make sense of!

I’ve attended some wonderful Bible-based, God’s Word honoring and teaching churches where the pastor and Adult Sunday School teachers are seminary-trained, steeped in cultural and historical context for the Scriptures, delivering, proclaiming and applying God’s truth to other Believers. But I’ve seen very little passion or spiritual/emotional enthusiasm in worship in these churches. Conversely, I’ve attended churches where joy and unbridled enthusiastic worship open every service, but there is no intentional, serious discipleship training. To quote the book of James out of context, “My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

I’ve discovered in myself that the more I learn, the more wonder I see in the world. I take clouds for granted until I stop to think they are collections of water molecules in gaseous state suspended on and driven by air, a collection of invisible gasses trapped by earth’s gravitation that amazingly enough have mass and volume! As I think deeper, I realize that water vapor is nothing more than a bonding of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom held together by a force I can’t begin to comprehend. It is at this point that the very existence of water absolutely astounds me, and my spirit falls down in awe that the Being we call God Almighty, Yahweh Adonai, not only THOUGHT of hydrogen and oxygen but CREATED hydrogen and oxygen. My next question: Why? Whatever for? What kind of mind intentionally creates the infinitesimally small building blocks necessary for life as we know it? And I fall on my face in wonder that He created collections of water, amino acids, minerals, fats, proteins, and biochemists only know what else who have the ability to possess AWARENESS of themselves, others, the world around them, HIM, and who carry deep within themselves a yearning desire for relationship!

The more I know on the left side of my brain, the more my right-hemisphere awe and wonder wants to leap and dance.

If water vapor can generate that kind of active, alive,, passionate amazement in me, why can’t the Word of God? Why must reading, hearing, and learning God’s Word be free of emotion, passion, joy, living fire and longing to experience Him? And why can’t passionate experience and enthusiasm drive us to KNOW and desire to know more about the Word of the One who fuels our hunger and longing to relate to Him out of love? And that moves me to ask why we can’t relate to each other out of that amazement.

Bringing this back down from the clouds to the ground, our cataloging, categorizing, assessing, differentiating, and looking askance at might benefit greatly from a connection across our spiritual corpus callosum to generosity, appreciation, gratitude, empathy, compassion, wonder, amazement, and brotherly love. Polarization has no place in the brain or in the Body of Christ. “Right Brain” Pentecostals need the understanding, knowledge, and biblical scholarship of more cerebral “Left Brain” traditions, and highly liturgical and cerebral traditions need the passion and alive, emotionally connected experiential relationship of charismatics and lively worship churches. How refreshed I’d feel to find a fellowship where Believers do – I could do –  both!

I know God still works miracles of healing, deliverance, provision, and creation. The Holy Spirit is moving undeniably in other parts of the world in things unexplainable by human intellect. I can’t deny the miracle healing I had in my own body in 1980, being saved from a plane crash in 1987, moving me across the country in 1997 to meet a woman who’d be part of a miracle I’d need nine years later. Yes, those encounters with God make me want to shout and dance! Considering the clouds drops my jaw in wonder. And the more I know and experience God intellectually, the more I want to know and understand about Him, about the Bible, about the world, about others and my relationship to them, about the purposes God created me for – the more I want to experience the passion of experiencing and encountering Him more in my life every day. Oh, for that “bundle of nerves” we need to connect us both mind and heart to Jesus!

And oh, the more I should be taking both right and left, my knowledge and my compassion and passion outside my personal quiet time and corporate worship to the dying, the hurting, the hungry, the needy, the “have it all” but empty, the lonely, the lost.

I think; therefore I dance. I dance; therefore, I think!

I am known; therefore I want to know Him MORE! Therefore I want to make Him known in both fact and experience to people who don’t know Him! Amazing – to truly love with ALL my HEART, all my WILL, ALL my MIND, all my strength, and truly live.

 Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

A “…BUT…” to move: Lord, Beautiful Savior, I want to know you fully. I sometimes have trouble with _________________________________ in my relationship with you. I can get too _____________________________. Help me, Loving God, to both know you and experience you. Deepen my understanding and heighten my joy in You. Holy Spirit, come into my life and do what I can’t do for myself. If I could ask you for one thing in my relationship with You, if you were sitting right here beside me, I’d ask you to/for __________________________. Thank you that you WANT me to know and experience more of you.

Can you see the “angel” blowing a trumpet on the left side of the cloud? Let’s dance! IMG_0264