Postscript

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It’s always a bit unnerving to blog or write or speak honestly. But because I have been immeasurably blessed by others’ transparency, I swallowed hard and said yes when God encouraged me to do the same. And because saying yes is a continual thing, I needed to share a postscript to my notes about oil and salt.

I wrote about oil and salt because I had a habit for too many years of pouring too much salt in all the wrong places. It saddens me to think of the relationships that I damaged and time that I wasted in efforts that were far from loving. God’s kindness always wins, though, and I was blessed beyond measure to experience some people in my life that walked out grace and love in a way that got my attention. They poured oil all over everything, and the level of love portrayed in their lives was stunning. And later on, when they dashed bits of appropriate salt my way, I was ready, eager, and hungry for it. I wanted every bit. And I wanted most of all to learn how to love well for the rest of my life.

The things I write about are areas in my own life that I know God is speaking to. There is no hinting going on here. None at all. Posts grow out of the things that I experience and learn from and stumble through and hurt through and love through and make mistakes through and move on through. Others have been kind enough to share their journeys with me, and I know how it blesses me. The thought of hinting at something or someone has not been entertained at any point on this blog, and the following are reasons why:

1. Hinting makes people wonder exactly who you are talking about. It might be them, but it might be someone else…?

2. Hinting builds walls of distrust-what else are you thinking that you are not saying?

3. Hinting makes transparent, two-way conversations difficult because you think they are trying to speak to you, but they haven’t come out and said so

4. Hinting seems arrogant and aloof because opinions are being shared from a distance and not heart-to-heart

5. Hinting is a habit that is dishonoring to the Holy Spirit’s perfect capability to speak what He knows is best to the person in question

Certainly there is a place for humorous hinting…perhaps to a good friend or as an innocent, barb-less joke. But for the most part, I don’t believe hinting is something that is loving.

Even though the journey to loving well is winding, twisting, and possibly confusing at times, I believe it is worth it. Let’s love each other well, let’s have abundant grace with ourselves and others (I know I need it!!) and let God do the rest.

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Oil and Salt

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One fine culinary day some months back, I was strangely excited to open an Amazon box and find a bag of gray stuff for my kitchen. I am hesitant to inform you that the bag was a bag of salt, because it may be that your reaction was the same as mine when I thought about salt that I personally consumed being gray. However, I was enthusiastically informed by my wise and trusted sister that the gray color meant that the salt was full of amazing nutrients and that it was basically modern-day pixie dust just waiting to be magically sprinkled on every imaginable recipe. (You know for sure that your sister has an anointing from God when she has the ability to get you excited about gray salt.) Excited, but still wishing that pixie dust didn’t have to be gray, I prepared to use it in an upcoming recipe. All was going smoothly until I put the dish in the oven and prepared to clean the kitchen. I was wiping the counters and all of sudden my pixie dust sea salt painfully told me that I had a forgotten paper cut on my finger. I got to the sink as fast as I could and turned on the water, trying hard to rinse out every last painful and suddenly not very attractive speck of salt. I stood there for several minutes, waiting for the water to wash it. And as I waited, I remembered something God had told me about wounds…

I found myself some time ago in the midst of a very hurtful and confusing situation. I was surprised to be stuck in the middle of it; it was not my choice to be there and I really wasn’t sure what the best solution was. It was not something that was going to be nice and neat. It was messy and it was hard. As I cried out to the Lord, asking for His wisdom, He gave me one word.

“Oil. Pour on oil.”

It’s as if all of us carry a jar of those things that we deem appropriate responses. When something happens, we pour on the thing that we think is the answer. We want answers. We want solutions. We want resolution. So we try to instruct and teach and logic our way through the messiness. We don’t just do this to others; we do it to ourselves. We make assumptions (so dangerous to do) and form opinions and respond accordingly. We become extremely adept at the art of picking apart other people under the guise of helping them, helping the situation, or helping ourselves.

But we are the salt of the earth. Shouldn’t the salt be salty?

When the infamous traveler on his way to Jericho was stripped of his clothing by thieves and then severely wounded there were a lot of things that might have come to the minds and mouths of those who passed by.

“He shouldn’t have been going that way in the first place.”

“If he had started earlier in the day, he would have made it.”

“No one in their right minds travels this way alone. What was he thinking?!”

None of these things really mattered, although all of them may well have been true.

The thing that mattered was this:

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring in oil and wine.”

Why not the salt of good answers and logic and instruction and correction? The reason why is very simple. Salt does not belong in a wound. When I accidentally brushed up against some salt with my paper-cut finger, all I could think was, “Get it out!” It was not attractive, it was not helpful, and it did not make me want more salt at all. Salt and oil are both nourishing but they belong in very different places.

Oil soothes. Oil heals. Oil nourishes. Oil calms. And perhaps most amazing of all, oil anoints. When God wanted to foreshadow His power resting on a life, he instructed that the person be anointed with oil. It was a mark of His blessing, His goodness, His supernatural plan unfolding. What I believe with all my heart is this: When you choose to pour oil on something difficult, you are inviting the supernatural power of Jesus into that situation to anoint it. When something is so difficult that the efforts of human hands and human solutions would only mar it, pour oil. When you are at the end of all of your salty solutions, pour oil. When you would rather pass by the wounded because frankly they are a little too messy to be convenient, pour oil. And even if someone has poured salt all over you in places where it did not belong, pour oil. When you think you don’t have any oil left, pour oil.

Again, and again, and again.

And I promise, just like the widow who by faith poured out the last of her precious, life-saving oil in order to make bread for Elijah while she and her son faced a certain death by famine….

God will fill your jugs back up. He will come to you. He will rush to you. He will fill you. He will heal you. He will nourish you. He will wash away the misplaced salt and He will close the wounds.

And when you are well, and those around you are well, and you are sitting at the table of love, feasting on His goodness and His grace and His lovingkindness, you will look at each other and you will smile and say,

“Please pass the salt.”

1 Kings 17:8-16
Luke 10:30-37

The January Non-List

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I don’t know which was more adorable: her little squeals of delight or those kissable, chubby, wobbly legs. My living room was a toddler’s paradise (more commonly known as an utter disaster) of Noah’s Ark characters, magazines, board books and scattered playing cards. And we didn’t care. AnnaSophia was finding her legs. She would soon be walking, we knew, and everything else paled in the moment as we cheered her on.

“C’mon, honey! Pull up, pull up! You can do it! Daddy’s right here, hold on to him…”

She would weary, and plop down on the rug, and then immediately try again, babbling, squealing, and grinning as she looked from one of us to the other. She didn’t really know the particulars of how walking happened, but then again, she wouldn’t need to for quite some time. All she knew was that there was a new world of freedom opening up to her, and that she didn’t want to miss it.

At the beginning of a fresh new year, I often feel like that. I’m pulling for greater heights, reaching for things, extending in order to grow, wanting to receive input from carefully chosen sources. And I’m a list-lover. For quite some time now, at or near the beginning of each year, I would choose the top areas in which I wanted to grow. I would research the particulars (I still have a favorite organizational book from one year’s researching foray) and would then set out to create new habits. My progress seemed plagued, however, by the amount of effort it took to try so hard. I wondered hard at this January phenomenon, but my list-making continued, fueled by the best of intentions and the loftiest of goals.

Last year was different. I was gearing up for my annual mental pilgrimage off to the Land of the Lists, when God spoke quietly, “Don’t make one this year.” Although my perfectionist personality may well have panicked at the deviation from habit and tradition, strangely, it did not. I breathed a sigh of relief inside, and checked with Him, “Really?”

The peace I felt confirmed that I had heard correctly. Then He said,

“Your word for this year is Trust.”

So for the first time in awhile, January came and went, and my non-list had one word. I felt odd, a little misplaced perhaps in the buzz of good-willed New Year’s observers, but free. My soul felt lightened, quieted, focused. If trusting was the word, and nothing else, it meant to me that I could be watching for those times where the grace to trust would come to me as a gift, not as a product of my trying.

And when the man who acted as second father to me passed away completely unexpectedly in the blush of summer, I gulped and reached hard for the grace to trust.

And when my niece was still-born in a Houston hospital, I got the news on the way out of a department store. I sank weeping into a cushioned chair in the mens’ shoe section and the salesman gave wondering looks, but kept silent and gave me the courtesy to cry undisturbed. I shook my head in blinding tears, and trusted that tiny baby to her place in His lap.

And when a girl trying hard to perfect-work her way to Heaven asked me about The Way, I clung to the cross and shot up flashes of prayers, and trusted, knowing that nothing I would say would reach her heart, but that only the Spirit had that power. And she let go and trusted, too.

And when the fog of postpartum exhaustion lingered on and on, His voice was sometimes the only thing my heart could hear. And I listened with ears of grateful, sometimes wavering but still present, trust.

And when He warmed me with His smile on a white sandy beach with the blue waves rolling behind me, I trusted, knowing I was loved with a love that put ocean depths to shame.

And when my would-be list of Things To Do For Good Mommying seemed dizzying and bewildering, the gift was given again and again to open my hands and let go of any system, any formula, any rigidity, and trust the care of my baby girl to His wisdom for my daily bread that day.

The most interesting thing weaving in and around it all was that mini-lists came and went throughout the year, but all of them were tucked underneath the overarching theme of trusting Him. I saw lists through new eyes. They weren’t wrong, but neither were they to serve as ultimate guidance for my year. His voice was speaking the gift of His Word, and it set me free to stop trying. Every time I needed to trust, His word to me was spoken beauty: something He was telling me He would do for me, not something I was telling Him I would do for Him. He was telling me how He wanted to bless me and grow me, how He wanted to be allowed the chance to pour His grace on a life wanting and wishing to bloom in new ways but really unable to do so by trying so hard. What freedom, then, to be tasting fruit grown by the Spirit, instead of pulling the weeds grown by works. I still love lists, and I still use them. I was just grateful that He turned everything upside-down on me in such an act of love so as to take a burden off of me, and drape each year afresh with a cloak of newness and hope. I’m happy to say that I can’t remember what all got crossed off the list this past year. But I know I held His hand.

It’s as if our parental cheers to a wobbly, grinning girl are echoing back to me…

“C’mon!! Pull up, pull up!! You can do it!! Daddy’s right here; hold on to Him!”

And this year?

The word is Wholeness.

I can hardly wait.

What Does A Thought Look Like?

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I never knew thoughts had looks.

Turns out they do.

As one who researches the brain, Dr. Caroline Leaf had been invited by Joyce Meyer to do an interview regarding her findings on the appearance of thoughts in the brain. She told Joyce that the nerve cells in our brain resemble trees with many branches, and then continued:

“I teach people to understand that a thought is a real thing. I think many people think that a thought is merely something out there that they can’t feel or touch. But, it’s actually a real thing. As you are thinking, you are actually building memories in your brain and the thoughts in your brain look like trees. The interesting thing is that if your thought is a good one, based on something positive, that it actually looks different in the brain than a negative thought does. The toxic thought…will affect your entire body. They form a different type of chemical than the positive thought does. The toxic thought causes little thorns to grow on the branches in the nerve cells. These thorns are actually a little pocket of chemicals, and those chemicals are toxic. They squirt out their poison that can make you sick. The poison goes first to the heart and begins to choke it, then it goes to your immune system and breaks down your defenses…it takes four days to start taking the thorns off the trees. It takes twenty-one days to actually establish a memory without the thorns, and then you grow a new memory over the old one.”*

I found this fascinating, because I had prayed some time ago and asked the Lord what comparison He would want to give me for how to think about my heart. The heart and the mind are so tightly intertwined, that I needed a picture in my head for this entity that God talks about constantly.

The picture He gave me was the Panama Canal. In order for ships to go through the Canal, they must stop, get permission from the guards at the Canal, be measured, be weighed, and then enter a series of locks. What is so curious about this process is that when the ship enters the locks, that is literally what happens. Walls lock around them, sealing the ship in tightly, and securing the environment. Within the seal, water raises and lowers as necessary in order to smoothly transition the ship through the passage and on to its destination. It is so very much like the heart. The heart gives itself permission to let thoughts enter and be weighed and measured, and kept, sealed even, until they finally either make it through the channel, or get stuck and do damage.

And if that weren’t enough, you may be interested to remember that the way blood passes through the four chambers of your heart is by way of a system of valves. Just before every one of your heartbeats, your heart fills with blood, then contracts to shoot the blood through the body. The critical life of the blood is managed by four valves in your heart that basically direct traffic and perfectly shuttle the blood through its own miniature lock system. Every time your heart beats, it keeps, it thinks, it directs, it channels, it locks, it seals, it lets go, it empties, and it knows…

…what must go and what must stay.

Every time.

Because it’s how you stay alive.

Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”
Prov. 4:23

*quotation taken from Living Beyond Your Feelings by Joyce Meyer, p.97-99

Off the Mat

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I’m sure I can’t imagine what it was like.

So many who were so sick, were seemingly stuck like magnets in that place, that place of unbelievable opposites. Those–five porches surrounding the Pool of Bethesda– were places of sickness and wellness. Of despair and hope. Of defeat and victory. Of choices.

Every morning as the sun rose, the light danced on the water, signaling, beckoning, reminding. The glow would warm the stones that dozens of mats rested on, stirring the occupants with newness. Hopeful lips would whisper, “Today?” and try to find their place in the coveted real estate known as Water’s Edge. Some had given up trying to physically move that far, and worked to bribe passers-by to stop and help them just in time. Others tried reasoning with those who had occupied the coveted spots for so very long. Everyone knew their chances dwindled almost to nothing if they were not at Water’s Edge. It seemed that a few mat-dwellers had those honorable places bequeathed to them by family members. “My uncle got healed here,” they would explain, and nothing could persuade them to scoot back and make room…

…not even by a few inches.

Others got into impassioned arguments about what preferences should be given to the ones who were most sick, and how someone should be in charge of this, a community both odd and at odds.

It was all about what happened in the water. The angel would come, everyone knew, and stir the water. A thousand circles would ripple out to Water’s Edge, and whoever was first
in the water would be healed. The mat-dwellers had seen it happen over and over again, but wondered by the moment when it would be their turn. To come to Water’s Edge was the only way they knew. And the only way seemed a complete impossibility.

And the sun rose, and the light danced, and the mat-dwellers argued, and the sick moaned, and the angel stirred, and the water stirred, and the made-well rejoiced, and the porch stones fell cold again by night, and the mat-dwellers left there shivered and wondered, “When?”

And thirty-eight years passed by.

And it wasn’t so much that the Mat-Dweller was looking any particular place at that moment, but it was that he could feel Someone looking at him. The thought that someone would be looking at him was normally not so unnerving. Pity was useless unless someone offered to help, all the mat-dwellers told each other, and the Very-Sick tried so hard to ignore the staring looks of The Well. But someone…

…Someone So Very Well was looking at him.

He looked back. And what he saw stunned him. The sun, a great source of comfort to the Mat-Dweller, had never warmed him as these eyes did. Everything warmed, glowed even. Everything was light. Or was it love?

A question came, “Do you want to be made well?”

Want to be made well?” the Mat-Dweller thought, and every limitation seemed to taunt him. He wished so much to move just far enough to get to the water. That was all. What was it–just a few feet? The smallest assistance would mean so much.

He knew, as did every other mat-dweller, that the things that kept him on the mat and away from the Water’s Edge were the things that paralyzed him. It was that limitation that this Someone apparently needed to understand, so the Mat-Dweller started to explain, but stopped. What was the Someone looking at? It was the strangest thing the Mat-Dweller had ever seen, and also the most beautiful. He wasn’t looking at the distance to Water’s Edge. He wasn’t looking to see what room there might be at Water’s Edge. He wasn’t looking to see who might be convinced to scoot over to make room. He was looking love. The love compelled the Mat-Dweller to have the courage to finally speak:

“Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

And as soon as the words left his mouth, he wondered if it was actually possible that the Someone cared. And his eyes fell and his voice fell quiet. There were simply no tears left after thirty-eight years.

But he had to look up, and when he did, what he saw shocked him. What was that? A smile?

And something broke. Shattered, actually.

That moment, a thousand limitations and thirty-eight years fell off of him like chains unseen. He felt it. He knew that suddenly there was this Hope:

a Hope not at all limited by what once was, or even what was supposed to be.

The first thing he noticed was his mind. All the desperate thoughts that clamored like hamsters in a wheel to nowhere: the security of the mat, the other mat-dwellers, the coveted places at Water’s Edge, the constant pain, the cries of “When? When?”…

…were gone.

And then all at once…

Rise, take up your bed, and walk.”

And he moved. And stood. And he grasped the mat that never offered him hope but only ever marked him as a mat-dweller. And he walked. And it was then that he knew. It wasn’t just his body. It was him. All of him.

He was so very, very well.

And the next morning when the sun rose, the light danced on the water, signaling, beckoning, reminding. The glow warmed him, stirring him with newness.

And he walked.

And for the first time, he knew.

It was Day.

John 5; Ephesians 5:14

The Fuel of Forgiveness

I stood there in shock and disbelief. Just moments before, my supervisor had announced publicly that I had broken a rule, and then got right in my face and hissed loudly, “Don’t EVER do that again!”

My mind was racing and my face was instantly flushed and hot. She and I were both responsible for helping to host a girls’ retreat that fall, but her leadership position was higher than mine, and I had just given a girl permission to break curfew the night before. Before I had a chance to tell her that the night staff had given permission because my girl had a medical need, she chose the first available opportunity to publicly confront me for something in which I was actually in the right. I couldn’t recover composure in front of the team of staff members before tears splashed down my face. I stuttered something hardly intelligible, and felt frozen to the floor.

She had made her power play. It was done, and I was shattered.

I turned and walked away, whisking tears as I went. For the rest of the retreat, our relationship was strained. I supported every rule, followed every instruction, filled out every report. She seemed snappish, harsh, thorny. We talked. It fell flat. I prayed for her, about her.

It still hurt.

Badly.

I knew I had a choice to make. Emotions weren’t helping anything at the moment, so I had to continually turn to God as an act of my will and pray for help to forgive.

Sound familiar?

Me, too.

Words slice. Deeply.

You bleed. It aches.

For so long afterwards, I prayed to forgive her. I discovered that her toxicity wasn’t me; it was the venom of hurt from other things going on in her life. She felt like she needed to pour it on someone. It was gnawing to get out, to find a vent. Hurt people hurt people.

Hurt people hurt people. They do.

I understood that, but I struggled, floundered, questioned, prayed. I greeted her kindly, tried to serve her, wanted to be her friend. And I was the one sliced and bleeding? It seemed so confusing. I prayed, “Lord, please help me to forgive. Show me how. I want to honor You. Please help me.”

It is a battle I still occasionally fight, but He has brought several things to me that help when I am aching with hurt.

I began to envision how much she must be hurting, and my focus turned slowly off of my own hurt and onto hers. What must it feel like to have all of that hurt bottled up and fuming to seep out? Miserable, I imagined. I envisioned how I might feel if I had to go through her circumstances. It would cause pain. I saw that. And gradually, her image of someone who was my enemy, someone against me, someone out to hurt me, changed into…

…someone human. Just human. Just like I am.

My heart softened.

Then, God prompted me to recall back to Him times when I had hurt His heart, all the way back to the day I became His child, repenting to Him of doing it all my own way.

“Oh, God! You mean, this hurt, this bleeding, this ache…? That’s how you felt? This sadness? This sense of betrayal? You feel this? You know this? And you are *perfect*, absolutely without fault!”

“Yes, I do, and yes, I am.”

My heart broke.

Then, He showed me a picture. I was the traveler in the story of the Good Samaritan. I was cut, bleeding, aching. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t walk. People passed me by. They really didn’t know what was going on. They just kept walking. I waited. And Jesus came by. He knelt down, touched the open, bleeding wounds, placed balm on them. I watched. Every place His fingers touched was healed.

Every.

Single.

Place.

And I realized I was free.

He cares about your wounds. He cares about your heart. He doesn’t heartlessly demand that you forgive while you are bleeding to death. He heals you, and then says, “Now. Now you can forgive. You can forgive because I healed you.”

There is a story very dear to my heart in the book Pilgrim’s Progress. In the tale, the traveler is taken to a room with a blazing fire at one end. The devil was in front of the fire, pouring water, buckets and buckets of water on the flames. But still it burned. After watching the phenomenon for a few minutes, the traveler broke the silence and asked his companion how the fire was still burning.

The companion took him to the room beyond. There, the Lord had a steady stream of oil feeding the fire. It would continue to burn brightly, no matter how much water the devil poured on.

He will fuel your forgiveness. You have but to ask.

Yes, I Will

It was a tiny place to scribble wandering twelve-year-old thoughts. A friend had delighted me with the gift: a miniature purple teddy bear journal with irresistibly empty lined pages. I took it with me everywhere. I used every color of ink I owned. It was my own little book, and I loved it. Such a companion was my little book that it surprised me one day to find that I was at its end. No more room to write became unthinkable, so I bought another. And another. And another. And another.

Years passed, and still the pen did not stop. It continued to follow a journey, to record the faithfulness of an irreplaceable Friend, to pray, to search, to plead, to cry, to laugh, to follow hard. And slowly, in a quiet shift of focus, no longer did the pen only write a girl’s thoughts and prayers and wanderings, but it began to write a new gift given:

His thoughts, His Words, His life uttered over me. Spoken beauty.

I had always been captured by words, and yes, by His Words. All words were shimmering treasures to me. But this–Him personally speaking the Word to me–this was all new. Like velvet, His Words wrapped me, cloaked me, delighted me, healed me, guided me. And I was stunned with the life, the breath, the beauty of what He spoke. Such a gift.

The pen wrote on.

Close family and a few friends received glimpses, but rarely were the words shared. Nineteen years and twenty-seven books later, He spoke something that made the pen pause. And then spoke it a second time. And a third. And a fourth.

“Share.”

Although a million reasons that seemed so credible yelled out their protest, His voice whispered gently that gifts are given to be shared, not hoarded, and would the pen write not only for itself but for Him? For others?

The spoken beauty of His words have changed my life.

Yes, Lord. Yes, I will.