The best stories make you cry, laugh till you cry, scare you, anger you, and then make you glad again. These are the stories I return to over and over again. I crack the cover, knowing the ending, but wanting to savor the middle.
My life is a story. Your life is a story. I know how my story will end, but I don’t know the details of the middle. Your middle is a muddle too. Sometimes it’s hard and beautiful and ugly and impressive. Even the parts of life that make us sad and mad have a place in our life. If we want to live life well, we must learn to embrace the beautiful hard.
Sometimes I want to be the hero and sometimes I want to be rescued. Recently, however, I wasn’t the hero or the rescuer nor an observant bystander, but I had an opportunity to love the “least of these.” The “least of these” are those children whose parent’s are unable to care for their children and it’s the children whose hearts have known too much pain and known burdens they shouldn’t bear.
Last week, God intersected my heart with two other hearts. My heart shattered into pieces and in the shattering I saw grace in action. I saw the power of love. I saw the power of time. I saw that despite the pain in this world, God is still with us.
For five days, I poured life and love into the dry parched places of their hearts. Their eyes lost the wary look and gained laughter for a few days. We splashed in a lake, made tu-tu’s, played dress up and participated in a jungle safari including snakes, bearded dragons, and turtles. And yes, these snakes hugged necks and crawled up arms and elicited squeals and giggles.
My heart broke into a thousand pieces as I watched these two little girls laugh with abandon and then in the next instance pull the curtain down over their heart.
Trust: It doesn’t come easy once it’s been broken.
Hope: It flickers and sputters.
Joy: It’s foreign and fleeting.
But for one week out of the summer, these children–the ignored, the forgotten, the hurt– experience safe relationships with safe adults. For some of these, the memories made at camp will be their only good memories from their childhood. For one week, these children were told they were special and worthy of time and attention. This one week of love and laughter and carefree living changes lives for the better. It breaks cycles and starts new ones.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27
It’s far too easy to reduce religion to where we spend our Sundays and how we worship. It’s easy because running smack dab into the hard awakens us to pain. And we’re a society of pain-avoiders. But Jesus ran toward pain for you and me. He suffered so that we might know joy, and hope, and trust. If he can do this for us, how can we not do this for others?
Yes, I was uncomfortable. I was hot. And the lake was green and smelly. I wondered if I made a difference in these girls’ lives. I remembered things I’d rather forget. I grew reacquainted with tears. I felt inept, ineffective, and ingrown. But God called me to love. He called me to reach the children’s hearts and so I ran toward the suffering of the hurting and wrapped my arms and heart wide around them.
We can reach out to the kid next door whose mom is working three jobs to put food on the table or we can volunteer in children’s ministry in our local church. Often there are children who feel orphaned because of the lack of involvement of their parent’s in their lives and a kind word is like a cup of cold water to a dry heart.
God gives us opportunities to plant seeds of hope, love, and trust in children’s lives and then he takes the seeds we’ve planted and he waters them and makes them grow. I had to say goodbye to my campers and I don’t know their tomorrows, but I know who holds all of our tomorrows and he’s amazing at his job.
Have you ever read a mystery and thought you had things figured out until you read the end of the story and discovered you were totally and completely wrong? I have. Which is why read the end of the story first, the suspense just about kills me! There are times when I shake my head and scratch my chin as I ponder the seeming mysteries in the Bible. I can see why it’s tempting to take a Gillette razor to certain verses or sections. The ones that have some of the greatest mystery are the verses that tell me to rejoice and to suffer.
I certainly don’t say, “Oh, rejoice!” when I splash boiling water all over myself. And I certainly don’t say, “Oh, Joy!” when I hear of a friend who’s suffering through a sickness or a death of a loved one. But I can’t deny the perplexing feeling I get when I read 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” and James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
Count it joy when I meet trials? Give thanks in all circumstances? Even the yucky ones? Even the ones that I wouldn’t wish on anybody? Surely, not the times when I screw up and cause my own bad circumstances? Surely, I don’t have to be thankful then, right?
“All” doesn’t mean sometimes, it pretty much means what it means: all. No exceptions. No excuses. No exemptions.
The mystery lies in somehow bridging our desire to give thanks with the ugly realness of our lives. Because sometimes it doesn’t feel as though my thanksgiving is real. Sometimes it feels like I’m lying because I’m saying thanks while my feelings are anything but thankful.
The answer to this mystery is found in Lament. Lament is the language of expressing anguish, confusion, disorientation, sorrow, grief, protest, and disappointment within the context of your faith in Christ. Lament bridges the gap between suffering and rejoicing always.
David is called a man after God’s own heart. David shared all of his heart with God. He shared his dismay, mental anguish, and fear uncensored before his faithful God. He knew the power of lament for bridging the distance between his sufferings and his praise.
A good book or story has five essential elements and without one of these elements, we have a flat story. A lament has five important parts: the cry, the confession of trust, the expression of our heart, the petition, and the praise. It’s the lament that gives the story of our lives color and spark. It allows us to ask the hard questions and becomes the place where we can scream our disappointment in how things are turning out.
In the lament, we are able to turn our sorrows into praise because we remember God’s character and his capabilities; we cry out to him because we know he’s our rock, refuge, and safe place. We declare our trust because we remember what he’s done for us in the past. Our pain and anguish get dumped at his feet because he’s the only one who can wade through the muck to reach our heart. We bring our petition for help and assistance because we know that the wind and waves listen to him. And lastly, we bring our praise. We praise him for what he’s done, what he’s doing, and what he’s about to do.
The lament is God’s gift to us so that we have a healthy way to communicate our doubts to him while ensuring our hearts stay close to him. Our lament is an act of faith, a proclamation of hope, and an act of love.
Run hard and fast to him with everything that is within you–the good, the bad, the sorrows, and the pain. It keeps our hearts soft before him and with a soft heart we can know God’s heart. Hide in the shadow of his wings and let your heart pour out your cry, your trust, your doubt, your petition, and your praise.
This statement arrested and accused me. I do dream small. I dream small because I’m afraid of disappointment, danger and daring to fail.
But in the dreaming small I lose pieces of my heart until all that’s left is a shriveled core struggling for it’s next breath, and it’s next beat. I become the walking dead, curiously satisfied with mediocrity, apathetic towards the status quo. Every once in a while a what if, a why not, or a what could be stirs to life and my heart beats a little louder, a little faster until I have to listen. I have to pay attention to it.
The dream longs to be heard, to be brought back to life and to have a say.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:19-20 NIV
Today, I will…
dream the dreams that frighten me.
dream the dreams that seem impossible.
And I will know that my dreams that seem so big are nothing compared to what God is capable of doing in my life. I will dream my frightening, out of this world kind of dream because God’s dreams are bigger than I can imagine. I will dream and then I will trust.
I will trust God to take my dreams that seem big to me, but are so small in his hands, and let him sift the ones that are for my glory and keep the ones that are for his.
What is my glory compared to my Father’s? What is my ability compared to his? I will let him have those dreams and discard those dreams that are all about me wrapped in the guise of all about him. I will let go of my legacy and embrace his. I will take hold of him and never let him go.
My heart takes courage and I dream big because I know I’m safe in my Father’s hands. I know that he is for me. I know that he means not to harm me. I believe that he is with me, guiding me, leading me, and shepherding me. And that includes those dreams I’m afraid to whisper in the dark.
Small dreams keep us tied to our own strength, our own glory. Dreaming small reduces our faith to something we can hold and understand whereas faith is mystery that we shouldn’t understand because if we really understood it, do we have any at all?
Your dreams. They’re gifts from a loving God. Your dreams aren’t meant to frighten you, freeze you, or fill you. Your dreams are meant to point you to God and his capabilities, and to open your heart to just how great his thoughts are towards you.
He thinks good things of you. He dreams big for you. He woos you to himself so that he might lift you up and hold you high and declare: “This is my girl and I’m proud of her. See what I do for her? I shower her with my goodness in the land of the living and I cherish her.”
Dream big. Dream of God. And let his light fill you and lift you as he does immeasurably more than you could ask for or imagine. He is good and he is for you.
I’m sharing a post that I wrote for The Family Roadmap on the power of words and the lingering effect they have on our lives. The following is an excerpt and you can read the rest at The Family Roadmap.
We can de-construct growth in someone’s heart with a careless word or misplaced assumption. The childhood sing-song of: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ is a lie and a weak defense for those who have suffered at the hands of mis-used words.
Words carry weight which crushes, deflates, and prevents us from hearing the truth of God’s love. It is then that I know that God will need to replace the negative echoes with the positive reflections of his word and what he says about me. The trick? I have to be willing to listen. I have to be willing to lay aside my hurt and be open to Truth. Continue Reading……
I’m one of those people who have a tendency to save things. I save those extra buttons that come with new shirts, but don’t ask me where I put them because I don’t know. I save gifts I’ve been given, even when I’ve outgrown the use of the item. I save gift bags to reuse, but not tissue paper because that’s just too much work. I save cards with heartfelt handwritten words from friends so when I forget my worth, I have a reminder.
Some would call me a packrat, and I would agree. I had the messiest room as a kid and underneath my bed was the best place to lose items and never to see them again. As an adult, my house might appear different, but if you opened closet doors and peeked under my bed, you would see I haven’t changed too much. I keep thinking I should get organized and clean things up and throw things away, but it’s hard.
I can’t seem to sustain any system for long so I end up on these purging binges. This might seem awesome–the crazy packrat lady is actually throwing things away–but I take it too far. I do get rid of things I don’t need, but I get rid of things I still need. I can’t seem to find the right combination of throwing things away and keeping things. And if I put something in a “safe” place it’s as good as thrown away because I can’t remember where I put it.
I see these tendencies in my heart as well. I keep behaviors and patterns of thought that should have been thrown out of my life. I cling to my belief that maybe this love of God is really too good to be true, and I might just wake up and be thrown away so I hold myself back from him.
But this holding of myself back has consequences as well.
“The most important [commandement] is, ‘Here, O Isreal: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 NIV
When I hang onto disbelief, it’s hard to love God with everything I am. When I cling to resentment, bitterness, or unforgiveness, loving him and others is not possible because these things stand in the way of giving myself totally and completely to Him.
I’m learning to live aware of the state of my heart because I know that resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness harms me more than it harms anyone else. It also makes it difficult to fulfill the second commandment: “Love my neighbor as myself.”
When I’m judgmental of myself, I judge others.
When I’m annoyed with myself, I’m annoyed with other’s.
When I’m disgusted over my own actions, it’s easy to be disgusted over someone else’s actions.
How I feel about myself reflects on how well I love others. If I don’t love myself, I can’t love my neighbor. If we could see ourselves the way God sees us–through eyes of love, then loving our neighbors would be easy.
But it’s not. We know our weaknesses. We know our flaws. We know this journey to holiness is a lifelong journey, and we know the battle between the sin nature and the spirit nature rages within.
Loving ourselves has to start with loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and body. This is where we learn that we are lovable because as we love God we begin to see things his way. I know I’m flawed. I know perfection is a myth. I know my weaknesses, but I know I’m strong when I trust in God. I know my flaws can become facets that reflect his glory. I know that in him I am made complete.
If I can look at myself in a mirror and remember these things, I can actually love my neighbor well. Beth Moore writes in Believing God, “My obedience flowed directly from my faith to believe I was who God said I was even when I didn’t feel like it.”
There are times I don’t feel like I am who God says I am, but I choose to believe it because I want to obey his commands of loving him with everything that is within me and loving my neighbor as myself.
Loving myself doesn’t mean that I get to go buy the latest pair of shoes I have my eyes on, or the purse that’s simply amazing. It doesn’t mean being selfish with my “me” time. It doesn’t mean that I get what I want when I want it. Loving myself doesn’t mean I put my needs and wants above others.
Loving myself means embracing the truth of what God says about me so that God can use me to reveal himself to others.
Loving myself means allowing God to transform me into a truer reflection of himself and going smaller so that he can go bigger.
When I struggle with loving my neighbors, the struggle can usually be traced back to my thought-life about myself. When I’m rattle with insecurity, I’m ruled by fear in my relationships. When I’m overtaken by a tongue that throws sharp darts, it’s usually because my thought-life is filled with sharp and unkind words.
The struggle to love is true and real. It’s evidenced all around us in our world, our communities, and our homes. But what if we all determined to love God with our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies, and let him change us from the inside out and to love ourselves as he loves us–beloved children, made for a purpose that only we can fill, righteous, holy, and reflectors of him to this world. If we did, loving our neighbor as ourselves might become a little easier.
I have been pondering growth a lot lately. It is probably due to this conference I have been asked to participate in that has me thinking about soil and seeds and water and nutrients.
I watched my babies grow and celebrated each milestone and worried over each delayed milestone. In parenting I have felt the pressure that all children should be experiencing this or that by a certain age even though it is common knowledge that not one child is like the other and therefore have different rates of growth and achievement.
At times that’s been difficult to remember.
I am at a point in my parenting where I am, at times, anxiously waiting for the seeds that I planted into my kids’ hearts to take root and grow. When they were young I amended their heart’s soil by adding in the nutrients of unconditional love, which did what was best for them and not necessarily what they wanted.
I planted the seeds of kindness, selflessness, respect, responsibility, repentance, and forgiveness. I hopefully gave them the right tools to tend to the garden of their souls.
I watered it with gentle responses (at times not so gentle and thank God for their forgiving hearts). I watered it with showing them kindness and respect. I watered it with humbling apologizing for my own parenting failures. I water it with prayer.
Now I wait. I continue to plant those seeds, but now I wait.
I wait for God to give the growth. I can walk my kids through the steps of what selflessness looks like. Maybe it’s seeing trash on the floor and instead of walking by it, we go together to pick it up and throw it away. Or maybe it’s doing a sibling’s chore. And sometimes it’s walking with them through the repentance and forgiveness process for something they did wrong.
But I wait for God to cause those seeds to grow in their hearts. I cannot make them grow. I cannot force them grow. I want to though.
Especially when it’s hard to wait on God.
This is part of my rest. This is part of my desperation for God. It’s the waiting on him. It’s the stilling of my mind and soul and emotions to be still in his presence and whisper, ‘God? Here I am. I am a jumbled mess. But here I am.’ and then be quiet.
Being quiet in God’s presence takes practice. It takes discipline. It takes moments of failure to train our minds to be quiet. To be quiet of worry, but to be loud in pondering the nature of God:
The goodness of Him.
The love of God, the love so overwhelming that it drives out all fear.
The power of God that causes those seeds to grow.
You are a seed planter. Plant your seeds and wait on God to water them and grow them.
I write to encourage you that you can experience a vibrant, transformative relationship with God even if your past or your shame tells you otherwise. God invites you upward and onward, will you join him? You'll receive weekly devotionals straight to your inbox.