In Case A Relationship In Your Life Could Use A Little (Or A Lot Of) Resurrecting This Easter

I wish I had known it a long time ago. I wish I had known that words well-crafted can’t heal like an ear gently offered. 

Because if I had known it, Conflict wouldn’t have so often been handed an invitation to trample on my day with all the delicacy of a herd of elephants. And oh, the things that happen next. We protest that we were caught off guard and protest that there is now mud all over us and we protest that WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS, and then we list out, in crisp staccato, the long list of opinions we have on the matter. 

It happens constantly. Hurt happens, and then it wants to spill. It doesn’t tend to stay in a tidy box of five minutes and three sentences. It’s not exactly something we are well-versed on, this business of hurt feelings. Sometimes it’s just the way it stampedes in that leaves us sputtering and slack-jawed. I have a confession: I’ve often resented it. Conflict doesn’t catch me in my best mood on my best days. And I kind of don’t like coming up short on the strategy side of things. Some of us blow up, and others of us shut up. 

But here’s a thought: What if we listened up? What if we could take the posture of Jesus and wash feet with the way that we listen? What if it sounded a bit like,

“Wow, I am truly sorry you found that to be hurtful. Thank you for sharing that. I really don’t take it for granted that we can be open and honest with each other. I’m so glad we are. Can you help me understand ____? I’m sincerely asking.”

There’s this thought that’s been growing inside of me like a whispered, secret invitation, and it is this:

“I have the right to ____ but I also have an opportunity where I could ____.”

I have the right to defend myself, but I have an opportunity instead to be quiet and simply listen.

I have the right to point out that their delivery was harsh or lofty, but I have an opportunity instead to hold a space for their hurt and be gentle in return.

I have the right to stake out my claim but I have the opportunity to step aside for them.

I have the right to do any number of self-serving things, but I have an opportunity to be a place where they can feel respite.

I have the right to live within the bounds of the natural but I have the opportunity to live in the wide open spaces of the supernatural.

Certainly we all have the right to turn to words but what if instead we created a space for them? Because, just between you and me, it’s remarkable what can happen when someone feels heard. It’s uncommon, this idea of making room for others during fragile exchanges of words wrapped in so many feelings. But you may well receive a two-fold gift: actually hearing (maybe for the first time??) what is said, and realizing deep within you their many struggles left unsaid

I recently went through a season in my personal relationships where God made it very clear to me that I was not to share my opinion. On anything. I was to be an active listener, and that was all. At first it was strange to enter into conversations having pre-decided this. Then it became peaceful, like a place to surrender each day. Then it became a startling revelation. I began to hear things I’d never heard before, to understand things I’d never understood before. But what started out as a few pitiful loaves and fishes of my silence has turned into overflowing  baskets of supernatural understanding and love. God help us, we don’t need another formula for relationships. We just need to offer up whatever He asks, and expect Him to do the supernatural with it. 

And the supernatural is precisely where resurrection begins.

Sitting At The Table

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of taking our place at the table. Psalms talks about God, the Father-Shepherd, preparing a banquet for us in the presence of our enemies and that’s all well and good if we actually pull up a chair.

I teach my children that it’s rude to run up to Mommy’s freshly cooked and served dinner, snatch a nibble, and run off like this is poolside watermelon time. No, no, sweet restless things, you must pull up. Sit. Converse. Listen. This is dinner. There is great food, fun company, and oh! Did Mommy mention dessert? But stay in your chair. Patience, dear ones, patience.

Your seat at the table brings great blessings, but also great responsibility.

I see myself in my children in this. I want to nibble at God’s blessings, get dessert first, get up, get down, run around the room, get impatient at the idea of faithfulness. He says, “This is your place at the table. We don’t want or need an empty chair, nor is the chair for anyone else. This is yours. There are blessings assigned to you here, but only if you take your place. You cannot stand in the corner and watch or your chair will be empty. You cannot nibble and snack and walk around the table or your chair will be empty. You cannot go get full on other things or your chair will be empty. See here, this right in front of you? Pull up your chair. Take your place. It is yours to take. I did not make a show of this feast for your enemies to then laugh over empty chairs.”

Your seat at the table brings great blessings, but also great responsibility.

It’s hard, I tell Him. So many responsibilities, pressing, pressing. I might sit in my chair and then wilt under the pressure, I confide to Him. But how curious is it that He instructs me to sit in the presence of my enemies? Fear, worry, exhaustion, comparison, overwhelm seem to be odd dinner companions but there they are. And He says sit down.

Like every proper dinner party, there is my name. It is my place. I am here to take my place, it confirms to me, and I know just by pulling up that I belong. It’s right there in front of me. So immediately Comparison gets a holy slap in the face.

I continue faithfully obeying Him, quietly serving Him, and food is served. It’s there. It’s right there. And Fear gets shown the door.

I lean in, I listen. I cry, I laugh, I obey through the meal again and again and again, and My Host shouts to Overwhelm, “Hey, did you see that?! Look at my girl! She just listens to my voice! Look at her peace now!” Overwhelm is furious and sulks off.

Sadness slips up quietly behind and catches off guard. Dark thoughts hide with Sadness and it likes to make itself all consuming. I fumble with my meal, drop my glass, fight back tears and I look at my Host. He says,

Your seat at the table brings great blessing but also great responsibility.

He waits. I take a deep breath, turn around, take every single joy tool at my disposal and fight it. The feast He has laid has made me strong. I am at my place and the feast is laid right there. I turn and point to the table furiously: “See this?! The joy of the LORD is my strength!” Sadness recoils and howls in pain. It cannot win.

I turn back to a grinning Host. He winks at me and serves up the most perfect dessert.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Love My Broken Faucet

So my kitchen faucet is broken. 

It’s not broken as in non-functional;  it’s just broken as in The-Little-Piece-That-Keeps-Flying-Off-The-Handle broken. It actually works quite well as I wash down the day’s mess after the kids are asleep. It’s just a little piece on the top, the branding actually, that has come undone. With the slightest accidental bump on the right angle, it will careen into a spin across the counter.

At first it annoyed me. Then I decided (although it would only take a whopping 10 seconds to permanently reattach it) I would use it as a reminder to continue to seek His path for some specific questions and challenges I was facing. Lots of us are functional enough, just like my faucet. But we can feel knocked off kilter in areas we haven’t quite settled with Him yet. We can go into a tailspin easier than we wish we would, and then have to pick ourselves up and start again. I like reminders to pray, and this has served my purpose perfectly.

I remember getting upset at God. I had some pretty amazing (I thought) solutions for some of the hurdles in my path, and He wasn’t getting on board. My creativity was certainly plentiful but the most basic action that defines my relationship to this Jesus I love is to follow. Following is the action grounded in trust and love. So I took a deep breath, scrapped my plans, and asked Him the simplest of questions: “What do You want me to do?”

He answered me.

A few thoughts raced into my head but the most dominant was this conclusion:

“That is not a good idea. That is not even close to a good idea. There is almost nothing in me that has any desire whatsoever to execute that idea.”

I know. I’m brilliant like that. 

And my faucet top kept flying across the counter. I would sigh, and put it back, and remember why I hadn’t glued it. I would remember that His view of things encompasses so much more than mine ever could. It’s worth leaning in when Someone Who breathes stars starts talking. I remembered other times in my life when His word to me was so powerful, so incredible, so miraculous. And I followed through on what He said.

There is a compelling common thread that runs through the Biblical stories of an unappealing river (Naaman), an empty pantry (the widow who was about to eat her last meal), a stone being rolled away from a best friend’s grave (Lazarus) and a guy’s 38 year long stint at the local pool. The solutions God gave them were not what they were expecting or asking for. They were so much better. And the end of every single one of those stories was lives transformed. 

Perhaps it is our information mentality that short-changes us. We can just grab a book, attend a seminar, hire an expert, (things I have done, and things that can be good and helpful), and boom. We’ll find plenty. Certainly He uses all kinds of methods, and I’m immensely grateful for them all. But we inform ourselves most wisely when we run the information through the grid of being willing to change. God is much more into things transforming and becoming a new thing altogether. We can get informed by ourselves. But we get transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us. 

Praying and hoping for some answers? Just be ready in case He brings something you aren’t expecting…since He has a track record of doing that.

Eventually, I’ll replace the faucet. At the moment though, I’m rather fond of it.

It’s getting way more done than just dishes.

Returning

I remember being so tired.

I was fifteen, and was swimming lap after lap, watching the wide black stripes under me go on for what seemed like miles. Each of us swimming would touch the wall, then keep pace, not allowing ourselves to stop at the wall and be disqualified. The clock kept ticking. The shallow area had kids off in the distance, laughing, having a carefree time. We were on a mission, and it was laps. It was laps that went in circles. Not a finish line, just circles. We were to swim until the instructor said to stop. That was the magical finish line. One word. There was no view. There was no one cheering. There was nothing but a few teens and endless black stripes in the water. I was testing for a high level of swim certification and part of that test was endurance. Lap after seemingly endless lap in an Olympic-sized pool, and I was sure no Michael Phelps. I remember wanting to stop. Badly. But I had placed myself under the direction of the instructor, and the word was Swim. The word hadn’t changed just because I reached a wall or was tired. When I reached the wall, the word was still Swim. When I was tired, the word was still Swim. When my lungs hurt and my arms and legs hurt, and my freestyle form drooped from tiredness, the word was still Swim. So I swam.

It’s come back to me these days, those laps have. I remember how many times I had to return. Re-turn. Turn around again. Do it another time. And another. And do it more after that.

When a swimmer swims a lap and touches a wall, he barely touches it, and then flips completely around and keeps going. Laps don’t take you on a scenic journey. You finish one, and then you flip against the wall and you do it all over again. If a swimmer is going to do more laps, if they plan to Return, that wall has to immediately become a non-issue. At my tiredest point in those laps that day, the walls became my friend. I had something to help propel my strokes. Swim, reach the wall, return to your stroke.

Not one of us poked our head out and started treading water and said, “Hey, um, hello? Yes, all these laps so far? So…we’ve counted how many and it’s a lot. This distance kind of seems sufficient to us, so we were kind of wondering what you were thinking here? I mean, don’t get us wrong. We love your passion for our swimming, but we really weren’t clear on the strategy of why this is taking FOREVER. What if we call it a day? And besides that, we hit walls on a regular basis down here. Not sure if you saw that part or not. But, uh, yeah, so we are listening and all, but we were just wanting to let you know, um, respectfully and all…uh, this is getting ridiculous.”

Not a chance. 

We wanted to qualify. 

Return. Return. Return.
I remember something unique about that day, and it was the instructor’s feet. As we swam, we could only see a little ways up and there were always feet right above on the pavement. Never only at the walls. Never only at the start. Never off in a deck chair, with an unseen voice barking starts and stops with a lemonade in her hand. The feet were always walking beside us, keeping pace as we swam. We heard a few extra words like, “Keep going. C’mon. Nope, watch your lines, keep inside. Go. Keep going. Keep going.” but it was only to support the One Word. Swim.

There is something enduringly beautiful happening when He speaks and we obey. We trust, our walls become our springboards, and we grow closer and closer to the Feet above us, ever walking with us, towards us, for us, to LOVE US.

This is not any old endless drill.

This qualifies us for something else in His heart for us.

His word to us? It’s Spoken Beauty over our lives. It’s direction in the craziness. It’s that help we are craving when our goggles fill up with water and our lungs begin to burn.

But we must know this:

He will stretch us. 

He will challenge us. 

He will push us to do things we never thought we could. 

He will re-make us. 

And when we are ready He will lead us out into some wild blessings, into dreams fulfilled, and into a larger heart and life than we could ever have had on our own.

“…Lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes, for you shall expand on the right hand and on the left.” Isa. 54: 2,3

“I will run the course of Your commandments, For You shall enlarge my heart.” Ps. 119:32

When You Are Seeing Red This Christmas

Our Christmas cards this year have red hearts on them. I had scrolled and scrolled through the available designs, not satisfied, until I found those. What I thought was just cute turned into something hugely appropriate. They read, “Merry Christmas, from our hearts to yours.”

Because of the recent loss of my Nana, my heart has ached a little more than usual this Christmas, stirring up even more thoughts and prayers for others. Two young ones, states apart, also passed away suddenly this Christmas time, both in the prime of their life and leaving behind a young bride or groom or young children. So much is also happening that we don’t fully see. Hearts so dear to God have confided quietly about their feelings over loss, pain, deep confusion, depression.

I grabbed a random pen out of my junk drawer the other night and took it to journal. It was red. I looked at it, surprised, then thought to myself that was an appropriate color to pour out all that was on my heart. One hour and five red-filled pages later, I was seeing red everywhere.

The red on this earth is the color of hurt and halt. STOP, there is a problem here. STOP, don’t go here. STOP, no chance here. STOP, you aren’t wanted here. STOP, no opportunity here. STOP, there is an injury or loss here. STOP, this loss is the end of that dream for you. And the red blinks loud on top of ambulances and screams, “Hurry, rush, crisis, emergency!” and red in the sunsets means night is coming. Red is the color of flushed faces and tear-filled eyes asking if there is any real solution, or any real hope. And underneath it all, the common refrain shouting silently, inwardly, is the begging plea,

“Won’t someone help me?”

“My. Heart. Is. Dying.”

This earth may see the outside of your red. They may see the outer trappings of your loss, your confusion, your strife, your struggle, your tears. But there is much going on on the inside. And it often gets forgotten, or worse, buried alive on purpose. What’s buried and hidden couldn’t possibly hurt so badly, right? But our God sees. He sees all of your red, red, heart. Your heart has not been forgotten. When I lean in quietly, and ask for the red love of Heaven to replace the red hurt of earth, I remember this:

Our God did not come to bind up our wounds so that we could go be part of the Kingdom assembly line and do our job and our duty and check off the boxes of a useful life. Our God, Our Immanuel, Our Savior, came to bind up our wounds and then rescue our hearts so that we could find our way back to our rightful place at the banquet table of love and pour out the wholeness of a passionate, radiant, loving life that is full of every joy and every good gift and every fiery spark of a heart alive and well and rejoicing.

The red of Heaven is the red of love and life. LOVE, that flowed freely down to give you abundant life, and yes, even here and now. LOVE, that shows up in surprising ways to support and strengthen you. LOVE, that calls you by your name and tells you your rightful place is right by Jesus’ side and yes, He wants you there. LOVE, that speaks truth to you and opens your heart to be willing to receive it. LOVE, that softens the hard places and waters ground that has been dry and barren for too long. LOVE, that fills you in places you thought you might always be empty. LOVE is the blood transfusion that is given to you in the emergency room of your life and it’s ready and waiting for you, so that you may really come alive again.

When you find yourself overwhelmed by the red of this earth, please know that the healing can begin with a word. This is not too simplistic. This is pure truth. “He sent His word, and healed them…” Psalm 107:20. When we feel that our heart cannot contain the hurt anymore, we can open up to hear Him speak. This word is His command against the oppressive dark, His proclamation, His spoken beauty over our life, His will and His plan and His destiny for us. He speaks, and the healing red of heaven begins:

“And when I passed by you, and saw you struggling…I said to you…’Live!’ Ezek. 16:6

So yes, our cards had red hearts on them this year. From our hearts to yours, Merry Christmas. And may we see and hear, all around us, the red of Heaven…

His love shown so many ways…

reaching out to rescue us.

The Most Nourishing Feast

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I’ve done it enough times that she is curious.

She sips her milk and clutches slippery banana for breakfast and looks at me with big eyes wondering about that Book lying open in front of me. She wants whatever it is I have as a general rule, but this Book has no pictures. No colors to speak of. No shapes or pop-outs. Nonetheless, she’s been watching and pondering and thinking all along, and today she verbalized her desire:

“Bi! Bi!” (translate: Bible)

Pat. Pat. Tiny hands pounding the table for emphasis. The decision has been made. She has pondered long enough and she wants to pull a little closer. I wipe off the banana-y hands best I can and pull her close on my lap.

“This is the Bible,” I tell her.

I open to John 6.

“I am the Bread of Life,” I read aloud. She sits still, reverently waiting for what that means or what it is going to do. Then she pats. More. She wants to hear more.

I read a couple more lines, and then tell her just a bit about it, and close it before the squirms and wiggles come out in full force. She seems satisfied, and crawls away.

I feel stuck to my chair.

“I am the Bread of Life.”

I thought I was simplifying everything for her, but now I’m not so sure. I feel like the one in need of the simple truth all over again.

These last several days have been days full of His voice. The words have come precisely in the right time and way, and I have eaten a steady diet of them. It’s when I’m weak that I need the Living Bread more than at any other time. I feel like I’m the one tugging on His pant leg, saying, “Bi! Bi!”

Tell me more.

And He responds, “I’ll do more than that. I’ll show you. I’ll show you pictures of grace and love and power that you have never seen. I’ll show you my glory in shimmering full-spectrum color. I will show you the shape of your place in My heart. I will make My Words pop out to you like nothing you have ever seen. I am your life. I am your nourishment. I am your bread. You are made body, soul, and spirit, and I know you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb. I know the bread you need. I know the nourishment you need. I know the strength you need. I am Nourishment Perfected.”

Prayers are being answered.

Breakthroughs are happening.

The Living Water, The Bread of Life, His voice, this Spoken Beauty, is serving up the most stunning, nourishing feast.

A feast right in the very midst of these careening days is like my very own eye of the storm.

Am I surprised by it? That He cares. So. Much.

Is it so hard to comprehend? That sometimes He takes care to serve up one spoonful of His feast just as lavishly as a heaping platter full. Because He knows just what we need. And when. And how much.

I am in awe at how He takes us, wind-blown, rain-blown, right out of our storms, and leads us to the table, saying all the way,

“How beautifully you are perfected in My love, child! How appropriate that you should sit at My table! How wonderful that you are here! I am delighted to share this feast with you.”

I tell Him that the feast takes my breath away. He is so pleased.

I see my name at my place. Except…

It’s not written on place cards, but it’s written on His hands.

“See?”

He leans in close.

“You belong here.”

Song of Solomon 2:4
John 6:48
Isaiah 49:16

Two Banners

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Our shoes crunched over the gravel path as an eerie silence fell over us. Empty buildings, empty rooms, empty beds lay barren and desolate, standing as silent witnesses of what had happened.
Our tour guide must have known so much more than he ever wanted to tell. His grandfather had been there.

We were inside Auschwitz.

“…and we always wondered why he would walk around every day with bread in his pocket,” the guide was saying, “so one day, I asked grandma why. She shushed me, ‘Don’t ever, ever talk about it in front of him’ she said, ‘he will always carry bread in his pocket. Always. There was never enough to eat. He got so very, very hungry. Don’t ever talk about it again.'”

He continued explaining that every prisoner marched in under a bannered lie.

“WORK BRINGS FREEDOM” the guide pointed to a wrought-iron entrance sign above our heads and translated, then shook his head. “It wasn’t true. No one was getting out of there. They just wanted them to have a false hope so they would work harder.”

A false hope, and working harder, always harder, striving, stressing, and hurting. Isn’t that what the enemy always offers? He is not only always telling lies, but he is working to fabricate evidence around us to convince us that his lies are true. My week this past week was challenging, to say the least. Every time I turned around, there was a lie trying to erect itself as banner-worthy and believable. What’s worse is that lies really hurt. I’ve heard the enemy accurately described as “The Hurt Whisperer”. It’s so true. He is always and forever re-interpreting our circumstances to us in ways that speak hurt to the places we are most vulnerable. He unfurls banner after banner of lies and coaxes us to walk under. But all is not as it seems. Walking underneath those banners only makes the hurt get longer, louder, and more painful.

When banners of lies unfurl, there is something that we desperately need. We need to be washed. Ephesians talks about the “washing of the water of the Word”, and oh how I needed that last week. When we immerse ourselves in truth, lies cannot live. They are choked and drowned out. Banners are shredded and torn down. Hurt-whispering stops.

When life gets busy, it’s hard to have good chunks of time to soak in the Word. But I have come to love having Scriptures around the house like it’s the medicine that I desperately need and can’t live without…

…and it is.

I love having index cards by the sink, in the kitchen, by the coffeepot, by my office area. Cards that are like love notes, sent straight to me, like so many mini banners making up one large, beautiful banner. I might look at three words, or three lines. Whatever I need, I grab. And whatever God washes my heart with, I jot down fresh and put up new. Maybe I’ll keep the same one for a week, maybe a month. Some days it’s not just medicine. It’s an emergency IV, a shot in the arm for what hurts and stings and ails and it washes the hurt out clean. And there are some days when my lack of Christ-likeness saddens me greatly and I go to the love notes once again. He loves me so much and so well. I need that reminder some days to remember how to love others well.

And on the days when I do have a little longer to open the Word and read long and soak deep, I suddenly see the mini banners weaving in and out and around others’ lives, too, making up one boldly gorgeous statement that tears down every other banner in sight:

“He brought me to the banqueting house,

And his banner over me was love.

Song of Solomon 2:4
Ephesians 5:26

Feeling Fragile?

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For reasons that we can’t explain (other than that we are the first-time parents of a toddler who sticks everything in her mouth and then happily shares the germs despite our most diligent attempts at cleanliness and nutrition) we have been sicker this year than any year in my recent memory.

Time in bed is definitely not my favorite pastime, but all that forced slow-down time is helpful for me to process some things that I’ve been hearing not just from my own heart but from others as well.

There are a lot of things in life that make us feel fragile.

We feel challenged by sickness, strife in relationships, other peoples’ opinions of what we should or shouldn’t do, hard decisions, unexplained criticism, loneliness, or just plain tiredness. We get overwhelmed by all the ‘shoulds’ or ‘coulds’ and feel like if we go one more minute without our ducks in a row we might just scream because by George we’ve been trying and should it really be this hard?

Feeling fragile is human, but I think we women are especially prone to feeling that way. And I think there is a huge reason why.

We compare.

Anyone relate? It’s sort of a survival mechanism. We compare because frankly, it seems safer to conform. Less risky. Just give us three easy steps to a guaranteed solution and we’ll grab on and hope with everything we are that one size fits all. After all, it seems to be working for so-and-so…and the truth is that different can be so scary. And when Someone enters the scene and whispers to your astonished heart that you are indeed intended to be different in your make-up, gifting, and calling than every other person on the planet, it’s slightly overwhelming.

At first.

But if it is true that “No man can serve two masters…” then certainly no one (especially us women!) can serve the demanding internal voices of five or ten or fifteen comparisons to ourselves. It is a sure recipe for emotional implosion. Ask me how I know.

In His kindness, God has had me focus on some very simple truths these past months. And one of them is this:

I need to hear His voice.

I need Him.

That’s all.

I don’t need to hear (to focus on, to meditate on, to obsess over, to worry about, to make decisions by) any other voices. I don’t need to see life through their filters, their opinions, their conclusions. I need to hear One Voice. He has directly promised me that His Spirit will lead me into all truth, and you know what, friend? He is an expert on everything. He’s the best counselor there is. He’s the most experienced relationship expert. He’s awesome when it comes to money matters, nutrition, decision-making, kids, church, friendships. He’s so unspeakably amazing about speaking to any kind of need for wisdom. He loves to speak life and beauty and wholeness over us!

Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t at all mean to say that we should be an island unto ourselves and refuse to receive from each other. We need each other, and God made us that way. And we should absolutely be listening to our husband’s voice and wisdom if we are married. Your husband is meant to be a protection for you. What I do mean to say is that every voice that speaks into our lives should be brought through the filter of One Voice. (And our husbands can help us with that, especially on our tired, emotional days.) Everything must distill down through the wisdom of the Wonderful Counselor who knows exactly what we need, and when, and how much. The voices that we are aching to hear—voices of resolution, acceptance, wisdom, peace, solutions, comfort—all come ultimately through One Voice. He is the only One Who knows the right timing, the right season, the right answer, the right method, the right decision, the right words…for you.

The beauty and freedom of this really came home to me when I considered that the root motivation of comparison is to be the same as.

But sameness is not wholeness.

Just as in the classic example of marriage, wholeness means difference. And differences are healthy, beautiful, and needed.

I was talking/complaining to God one day about feeling inadequate, and He, in His wonderfully straightforward way, said,

“I have made you the way that I have made you.”

Insert a huge breath of fresh air right there. I love it! I can be exactly who He made me to be, and revel in it. I don’t need to feel burdened, overwhelmed, frazzled, or inadequate when I am perfectly confident in knowing that His design in giving me my giftings and passions is part of creating wholeness in the Body of Christ. Suddenly, the absence of pressure to conform, and the presence of His voice guiding me into the uniqueness of His plan for me is not at all overwhelming. It’s totally freeing.

We are most whole when we are rested and confident in what He speaks to us and for us.

We are most whole when we know that the differences He has made in us are perfect.

We are most whole when we are free to celebrate who God made others to be.

We are most whole when we silence the mental cacophony of voices, and

Just. Hear. His.

“I will hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people…”

Psalm 85:8
John 16:13
Matthew 6:24
Psalm 139:14

A Valentine’s Story

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It was the early 1800’s in England, and the slave trade was thriving. Every day passers-by would hear the shouts of the slave traders as they bargained, bought and sold souls like animals. Long, cruel years of a slave’s future would be decided by a few words and a bag of money. Just a few minutes, a short exchange, and everything in a slave’s life would instantly change.

An upstanding English businessman was on a journey through the city one morning, and, although the scene of the slave trade could not have been new to him, something about it this day caught his eye and ear. A woman was up on the slave block. Shouts rang out…something about her strength, what working years she had left, her usefulness, her worth by coins. Something about the crowd’s response troubled him. Men eyed her, bargaining over each other. Then one man in the crowd offered a bid well above the rest. The businessman looked at the would-be buyer and felt sick. His heart told him immediately what he wanted her for. He glanced back at the woman. Eyes black with grief and hate stared straight ahead, numbing their way through the scars of being used. The seller yelled that it was done. The crowd murmured restlessly.

Her new owner grabbed her, barking out an order. The businessman felt ill, and could watch no longer. He stepped forward.

“Sir!”

The buyer looked up, surprised.

“I will offer you double what you paid. Triple, if necessary. I must have her. She….uh….is what I have been looking for.”

The buyer’s eyes glinted with greed, and he paused only briefly, then accepted the offer. He re-counted the coins offered as the woman’s price, and walked away without so much as a backwards look.

The businessman looked at the woman, and held out his hand.

“Please, come with me.”

She could contain her hatred no longer for these who would buy and sell her very soul. She pursed her mouth and spit directly into his face.

“I…..hate…..you,” she hissed from behind clenched teeth.

Only slightly taken aback, the man used the back of his hand and wiped the spit off of his face. Calmly, he repeated his request,

“Come.”

She had no choice. She followed him down the cobblestones, every step etching deeper the decision in her soul to hate. It was her only revenge. It was her only shield. It was the only feeling she ever felt anymore.

They walked for several minutes before reaching a two-story building. He walked up the steps and she followed. Once inside, she stood in the back of the room. He hadn’t told her to do anything yet. He hadn’t said anything since they were out in the street. He stepped up to a desk and began talking to a man behind it. They used terminology that she didn’t quite know. The man behind the desk seemed to protest. The businessman calmly, firmly, seemed to remind him of the law in a way that said he knew the law well. A paper was reluctantly slid across the desk. The businessman signed it, and, in return, slid a bag of money across the counter. Thanking the man behind the desk, he turned, the paper in his hand.

She didn’t look up. It was common knowledge among the slaves that making brazen eye contact with the one who owned you was met with swift and severe punishment. She had already looked at him and spit in his face. Outwardly, she was still as stone. Inwardly, she trembled.

The paper was thrust out towards her.

“This is for you.”

Confusion filled her. What was he doing? Probably some sort of trap. Some sort of punishment for having spit at him.

Again he spoke, “This is for you. You are free.”

No one spoke. She did not understand. The numbness enveloped her like a thick cloak. What did he just say?

“These are your official papers. You are free.”

Her head began to shake, and tears quivered in the corner of her eyes. No, it was cruelty. All was cruelty. Some evil, cruel joke. What worthlessness. Just some random piece of paper. It was his revenge for the spitting. She shook her head again and again and again. Tears spilled down. She could not stop them.

So gently, the man reached out for her hand, placing the paper in it.

Once again, he told her slowly,

“You…are…free. It is done. Go now, dear one. You are free.”

The floodgates could hold no longer. Her ears unstopped after this, the third assurance that what he had spoken was truth. She fell to her knees and wept. Tears fell like rain onto the dust coating his boots. She clutched the paper, kissing it over and over and sobbing loudly.

The man spoke one last time,

“Go in peace.”

“Sir!” she gasped out. “There is nowhere I would go! You have bought my freedom! I am….”

More sobs. She felt something…something strange, so different, welling up in her.

Free!!

The word came out of her mouth, and then she knew.

The feeling she felt was love. And love streamed tears and spoke once more:

All I want to do is to serve you as long as I live.

John 12:26

Signs of Life

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It’s not too often that I hear an analogy as arresting as this one. I was reading recently about one author’s evaluation of where he was at with God physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. What he said he looked for in every area was signs of life: signs of growth, change, adjustments, and ultimately fruit. How wise. I don’t know that it matters so much exactly how great or big any given sign of life in our lives is, as long as we know that the seed is in the ground, it is being watered, and it is budding in some way. God knows. He knows full well that the sweet potato buds differently than the corn does, and on a different time table. Fruit does comes after the bud, but I often forget that. I generally like to throw my personal seeds in (things in my life that I know need work), flood them with a river, and cross my fingers and hope for fruit in the morning. I’m sort of impractical that way. It’s so easy to demand so much of ourselves all at one time that we forget we need time to bud, time to grow. And as time passes, there are few things I’m reminding myself of…

I need to breathe. The interesting thing is, I am able to choose the air that I breathe. Some is refreshing and life-giving, and some is not. If I am breathing air (choosing friends, books, events, pursuits, etc) that is oxygen-saturated, there will be more life because there will be more air. It simply is that way. Anything that is sucking air out of you is taking life away from you. I was shocked to discover at a recent visit to the eye doctor that the brand of lenses I had been using only allowed 34% oxygen into my eye. He explained that this had caused some nerve ending damage but that it would heal in time since my new lenses were going to allow 120% oxygen flow to my eye. Amazing. I had nerve damage because I was seeing through a particular lens. But I would receive healing and restoration because I was now choosing to see out of a different lens. My eye could finally, finally breathe. It reminds me of another story…

A student was airborne with his instructor, taking flying lessons. The instructor told the student to look at the instrument panel. Puzzled, the student studied it, not sure what he was looking for. It seemed pretty dim, but other than that everything looked correct. The instructor reached over and placed the oxygen mask over the student’s face. Suddenly the panels lit up. His instructor hadn’t touched the controls at all. It was the student’s vision. He could not see properly at that height without oxygen. His instructor explained that if oxygen was not used when it was supposed to be, not only would the panels continue to get dimmer and dimmer, but that the student’s mind would also became dangerously foggy and incapable of making good decisions.

Breathing properly and seeing clearly are signs of life.

And you have to see to love.

The very first body part I taught my little girl was the eye. She would poke at it and look at me intently and wait to see if she got it right. Now she can say it. She loves eyes. I want her to always notice them. I want her to notice them because if you see eyes, you often can hear hearts. And if you can hear hearts, you will love better. I want her to love very, very well. Loving well is a sign of life. And I want her to live fully alive.

If you can breathe well, you can see well, and if you can see well, you can love well.

And if you are breathing, seeing, and loving, you will be lifting. You will be lifting others up. You will look for ways to cheer them on, to celebrate them, to help them become every single beautiful thing they were created for. Interesting thing, though, that lifting properly means stooping down.

Serving is a sign of life.

I want to make sure that I am breathing to see, seeing to love, loving to lift up, lifting up to stoop down and stooping down to serve.

“The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing has come…The fig tree puts forth her green figs, And the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell.

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away!”

Song of Solomon 2:12,13