Tuesday, August 30, 2011

all my fountains

She was hard to miss in that neighborhood, dancing atop an egg-covered sidewalk, temperatures so high she just knew an omelet was soon to appear beneath her feet. As I pulled to a stop in front of the sign on her street, she knelt for a moment to examine a runny yolk then allowed the stillness of the air to lead her swiftly through her yard, the browning grass snapping as she began to leap about and land in one small patch and then another. She curtsied to a royal audience only she could see and lifted her chin to the sky, blond curls escaping from the knot at her neck and settling around her head like a veil on a bride. With a spin, she skipped to the shadows of the brick wall supporting her house and, bowing low, knelt to pick up a small umbrella lying in the grass.

With the determined march of what can only be described as a woman on a mission, she made her way across the driveway: goggles on her head, shoes missing from her feet, and a nod of acknowledgement ready for the lady retrieving mail next door.

Her parade led her to a lone sprinkler spitting out sustenance, a metal head bringing life to a dying ground. She bent her knees in the direction of the spout and thrust the umbrella between her and the sun. In one long jump, she pounced and moved beneath the stream, pink plastic shielding girl from water.

I watched as she stared up at the waltz of the water flitting across the top of the umbrella. Small fingers traced the reflection of each droplet as they gleefully slid off the edge and into the puddle awaiting their arrival. As the puddle rose and covered her toes, she twisted the umbrella’s crooked handle and allowed the dome above her head to collapse before her eyes.

She let out a surprised squeal as the now-forgotten shield rolled to the curb, and the water from above began to fall on unadorned shoulders. She loosened the fists that had formed when the first cool drop hit her skin and lifted her fingers toward the source. As her little hands tried to grab hold of the liquid raining on her, her body carried her forward, wanting to be as close as possible to the fountainhead.

As I drove past this little girl, wet curls flat against her scalp, I saw her close her eyes, unaware of all that was around her, until a moment came, when she opened her eyes and saw someone else that would benefit from the spray of water. Running toward him, she giggled and tried to explain what it felt like to stretch to the heavens and let refreshment come, to accept the incoming of water, those little drops of grace.

In this season of life, caught up in this Texas-drought, it only takes a second glance to find another person who seems to be walking through dry lands in search of a spring, a pond, any place with fertile ground where they can bury their roots. We’ve become a sea of thirsty-souls, dry throats begging for just a bit of something to quench our need. Yet instead of scratching to find the source, we throw up umbrellas and stare at the sun, wondering why we can’t feel the rain.

Now, with a new semester starting, I can’t help but wonder what I’m holding over my head: what I have now that I believe will satisfy me, and what I don’t have but hope will fill me. If I stood outside and stared at the heavens, would I feel the rain, or have I become comfortable under my umbrella? Am I holding my friends, my family, my job, my academic achievements, my successes, my failures over my head and expecting these things to actually end my drought? Am I dragging around a longing for more money, a future husband, a diploma, a trip to a beautiful country, and believing that once I have these things then I’ll feel the breathtaking sensation of water on my face? Or have I set down everything holding me back and thrown myself in front of the metal sprinkler?

Jesus, You said that if anyone thirsts, he should come to you and drink. We're so thirsty, Lord, and sometimes I think we're so dehydrated we barely realize it. Help us realize that You alone are the source of all that we crave, and the sweet water that we've been hunting for. Take hold of all that we are currently holding onto and give us the strength to leave it on this dry earth, so that we may close our eyes and dance in the sweet rain of Your presence. It is You who refreshes us, you who are called the Living Water. And we want more of you. So much more. Open the heavens, Lord. We’re in need of some rain.

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:7-9)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Someone reading this has just received that one piece of news she prayed would never come. Someone reading this just felt a final push that has sent her tumbling over the edge she's held onto for so long. Someone reading this just swallowed a sob, a wish to return to the moment before the ground started breaking below her feet.

Someone reading this just needs to know there is Another Someone out there who understands what she's feeling. Someone reading this just needs to feel that she can curl up next to Another Someone and lean on Him and collapse in His arms. Someone reading this just needs to trust she can count on Another Someone to hold her close and never let go. Someone reading this just needs to believe now - when all seems broken, and everything hurts - that Another Someone has not stopped loving her with the deepest passion and cannot help but feel every ache that's breaking her heart. Someone reading this just needs to realize that Another Someone, steady and stable and sovereign, is waiting for her to fall at His feet and find out He is Comfort. and Peace. and Joy, even now.

Someone reading this just needs to look beyond her current circumstances and fix her eyes on Another Someone, the One who hears and responds to the whispered prayers she cries to the heavens:

"Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of All"

Monday, June 20, 2011

church camp

It’s here. You might have seen the effects of it yesterday morning, maybe the week before that. If it hasn’t happened in your town, don’t think it’s not coming. It’s coming. It is coming. And you’ll probably go along with it. You’ll probably even send your little brother and sister off with everybody else. So young. So innocent. But wave good-bye because they will never be the same.

What am I talking about? Church camp.

Ohhh, yes. It’s all fun and games until the passion-filled worship nights start, and then your friends start crying and you start crying and everybody’s crying and suddenly you realize you’re a terrible person who needs Jesus. It’s true. You need Jesus.

Then you wake up Friday morning, grab your stuff, head home. And you are SO pumped about going back with a clean slate. You walk around hugging everyone and giving high-fives to strangers. It doesn’t even matter that your bus broke down in the middle of a Texas summer, or that you’ve sacrificed your personal space to be around like, 150 teenagers singing “Don’t Stop Believing” in a vehicle that no longer has A/C. It doesn’t even matter. You just love Jesus, y’all.

And then you get home, and you unpack, and you go to sleep, wake up - but today is different, it’s going to be different - you go to sleep - SUNDAY! YEAH! - go to sleep, wake up - and then Monday rolls around.

The alarm goes off, and you’re back to work, back to class, back to life. And some of the enthusiasm has rolled off, but you want your life to be different. What you experienced was real. You got a taste of this huge God, a beautiful Savior, and you want more.

But what was it that drew you in? Your precious Jesus, suffering on a tree? Your Redeemer, who had on his head not a crown honoring His majesty, but thorns cutting His skin? Your Master, who had on his hands and feet not gold to represent His inestimable worth, but nails piercing His flesh?

What was it that caused those tears to start to flow when the worship kicked in and the speaker began to pray? You closed your eyes, and instantly, the weight of who you were and what you had done was pressed on your shoulders. You felt almost nauseous as you realized that you had tried so hard to succeed, but even your best attempts had failed you. All around you the noises began to fade, and you heard the story of a God who sent His beloved son to the world “to reconcile to Himself all things... by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (Col 1:20-23) And you could barely wrap your mind around it, but suddenly you saw the beauty of the cross: you did nothing, and you didn’t deserve it, but the blood of the Son of God covered your failures. And you couldn't help but cry out for strength “to continue in your faith, established and firm, [so that you] do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Col 1:23)

But now it’s Monday.

Oh, “God, hold us to that which drew us first, when the Cross was the attraction, and we wanted nothing else.”

That was missionary Amy Carmichael’s prayer. In her book, Gold Cord, she told about a time when her fellowship in South India greatly required more human help. She wrote to pastors “asking if they had any women wholly devoted to [her] Lord and separate in spirit from the world who were likely to be free for such work.” Their response?” ‘Not only have we no women, but we do not know even one woman of the kind you want.’”


Amy Carmichael led a group of Indian girls, called the “Sisters of the Common Life.” These were girls who had experienced that Thursday-night-at-church-camp moment and had seen the Cross, but instead of going back to what they had known before, what Christ had saved them from, they continued “seeking to live a life of unreserved devotion” to their Lord.

“When a soul sets out to find God it does not know whither it will come and by what path it will be led; but those who catch the vision are ready to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, regardless of what that following may involve for them. And it is as they follow, obedient to what they have seen, in this spirit of joyful adventure, that their path becomes clear before them, and they are given the power to fulfill their high calling. They are those who have the courage to break through conventionalities, who care not at all what the world thinks of them, because they are entirely taken up with the tremendous realities of the soul and God.” (Bishop Bardsley)

I keep wondering what would happen if an Amy Carmichael of this generation asked our church pastors for “women wholly devoted to our Lord and separate in spirit from the world.” Because many of us have definitely had a moment where we've realized our need for Christ and recognized what His death and resurrection meant. But... now it’s Monday. How would your pastor respond? Would he say shake his head sadly, and say, "Not only have we no women, but we do not know even one woman of the kind you want"?

Please, God. "Hold us to that which drew us first, when the Cross was the attraction, and we wanted nothing else.”

It's only through the grace of God that we are drawn back to the foot of the Cross, and we must continue to diligently seek the One who called us, asking Him to keep us there.

The Sisters of the Common Life signed the following confession of love, which I pray will be what describes our day in and day out moments, not just the highlights from a few nights at camp, now that we belong to Christ.

“My vow.
Whatsoever Thou sayest unto me, by Thy grace I will do it.

My Constraint.
Thy love, O Christ, my Lord.

My Confidence.
“Thou art able to keep that which I have committed unto Thee.

My Joy.
To do Thy will, O God.

My Discipline.
That which I would not choose, but which Thy love appoints.

My Prayer.
Conform my will to Thine.

My Motto.
Love to live: Live to love.

My Portion.
The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance.

“Teach us, good Lord, to serve Thee more faithfully; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do Thy will, O Lord our God.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

a letter to juliet

She’s a girl who’s always moving: it’s what makes her pauses so profound. When you’re walking beside her, and you notice she’s taken a beat to process what’s around her, you know the next phrase out of her mouth will be the one that changes the tempo.

The day was beautiful. Large puddles on the ground reflected the sunshine through the naked trees, a painting of the remains of winter and the promises of spring. She, sixth grader Juliet, was bouncing along beside me, her blue eyes sparkling like the water on the ground until she stomped and sent the ripples running for dry grass.

She stopped for a moment as we walked along the trail and looked up at me. She complains about being too tall, but she’s still not able to look me straight in the eyes without lifting her chin. “If you know why, can’t you just tell me?”

She’d been talking about the way they make her feel. The populars. The ones that she’s not envious of and would never idolize, but the ones that leave her tongue-tied and guarded. The ones that always leave her feeling like an idiot if she stands there, and a loser if she speaks.

So what? I asked. So what if they think you’re an idiot? What’s the worse thing they could possibly think about you, and what’s the worst thing that could come of them thinking it?

She blinked. “I don’t know. I just don’t want them to think I’m stupid.”

So? If they think you’re stupid, what happens then? Why does it matter what they say?

She stood still. “I don’t know.”

Do you think if you knew why their opinions matter so much, you could find a way to feel free?

She kept walking but glanced up at me again. It’s what she wants. To feel free. To know peace. As soon as the word came out, we both recognized the chains wrapping her up, messing with her mind, leaving her frustrated, intimidated, tongue-tied, insecure.

She pulled at her hair until the right words finally came out. “I hate feeling like this.” She stepped around one last area of mud and squinted up at the sky. The sun fell slowly through the trees and cast shadows on my car in the corner of the lot. Her hand caught on the car door, and she hesitated before climbing inside.

“What would you do?” On top of the dashboard, pinks and oranges swirled together and stretched across a sky which seemed to go on forever. At the end of the road, she shut my car door and said good night. My heart instantly started speaking the prayers my mind longed for as her pony-tailed head followed the pinks and oranges straight into the dark.

Dear Juliet,

Don’t you ever for a second doubt your worth. Not for one second. Not because you couldn’t think of anything to say when one of your populars asked you a question. Not because you’re thinking there’s a good chance that they’re right: you really are an idiot.

What they say or think about you does not determine your identity. The more you treat these people as a mirror which reflects who you are, the more fragile you become. Your entire personhood is left for them to decide. Doesn't that explain why you're feeling so insecure right now? But don’t run from people and start digging into your soul to try to find yourself. It’s tempting, but going on an Eat, Pray, Love soul-search will only leave you empty. And possibly 20 pounds heavier.

So, here’s the deal: it doesn’t matter so much who you are, but Whose you are.

Really let the next words soak in.

Ezekiel 16:6 says that the Lord “passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, [He] said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ [He] said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’” We’re a mess on our own. I mean, we are literally wallowing in our own blood. What an awful image. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. On your own, you’re a terrible person. A sinful, selfish person following the course of this world. Don’t get offended. I’m the same way.

[But God], being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, [even when] we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-5, 7)

Ephesians 1:3-10 says that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. In love He predestined us for adoption as [daughters] through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.

There’s your identity. Right there. Did you catch it? “In Him.” Not through others’ approval. Not within yourself. In Jesus Christ.
You're so loved, amiga. Personally. Intimately. Jeremiah 31:3 says that the God of the world loves you “with an everlasting love.” In Zechariah 2:8, He calls you the “apple of His eye.” (Zechariah 2:8)

Let those glorious truths sink in. It's not an exaggeration. I'm not trying to make you feel better. This is real. You may not be the most popular person on your campus, but what does it matter when Psalm 45:11 says that the most powerful, wonderful Being to ever live “desires your beauty.” He desires your beauty. Doesn’t that make you the happiest girl alive?

Last thing. You asked what you should do to find freedom from the insecurities that are holding you captive. In other words, here's how to survive sixth grade:
  • Hope in God. (1 Peter 3:5) CRY out to Him. Spend all of your free time on your face if that’s what it takes. Find out who He is. What He’s like. What He’s up to. Praise Him when He reveals something awesome. Write out your worries and fears and thoughts and hopes and dreams in prayers and tell the God of the universe that you don’t know what to do with them. Trust that He does. And know that He hears you. It’s cool to have your prayers written down in a notebook, so that you can see the incredible work He’s doing in you. Guess what….In a few years, you will look back and be overwhelmed by how your God set you free from these insecurities that seem bigger than life right now. He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it. Believe it, girlfriend. And trust me. You’ll be surprised the joy that comes when you’re not focused on yourself, but rather, the One who put the stars in their place and still considers your feelings.
  • Memorize verses to meditate on when you’re doubting who you are and worried about what others think. As soon as those thoughts start to creep in, speak the truth to yourself and know that you are adored by The Truth.
  • Study the Bible. Pursue wisdom. I realize you’re now picturing yourself with gray hair, but just stop. “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)
There’s so much more I want to share with you, but this is a lot already. I love you, Juliet. More importantly, the Savior of the world is crazy about you. Never forget that.

Friday, January 28, 2011

the most extraordinary things seem to have come over the household.

“Don’t you babysit every afternoon? What are your kids like?”

That’s one of my favorite questions. My time is split between two families: one with little boys and one with older girls. Are there ANY words in the English language that overlap to describe both groups?

The first house. The bus arrives and drops off C2, a 4th grader who takes his time getting to the door because every leaf which lines the path must be annihilated. He walks past me without a word, wanders to the pantry, flips on his X-Box. I ask if he has homework and get a grunt. I turn around to close the front door, turn around again, and he has disappeared. I call out his name and ask about his day, and all of a sudden, sixty pounds of spunk fly at my waist and shove me into the couch.

The second house. My keys twist around my palm as my fingers feel for the correct size and shape that fits this door. Right as the key slides into the hole, the door flies open and a happy 6th grade girl greets me with a smile and several hundred stories. Before I’ve turned around to close the front door, I know what happened during her day, what happened during her yesterday, what happened during her yesterday’s yesterday, what she plans for tomorrow, what makes her happy, what makes her sad, what she has to do for homework, what the guy on her bus two rows back and one over said about her neighbor’s best friend’s friend, and how upsetting it was when her teacher talked to her new best friend’s old best friend and asked if her new best friend’s feeling better. (She’s not.)

She tells me about her classes and her teachers and her friends and her friends’ parents and her sister and her parents and her parents’ parents. She analyzes the complexity of each relationship with the insight of someone much older than her twelve years, and I sit on her kitchen counter and wonder if she’s been reading parenting books again. She talks about the arguments she’s recently had with her sister and her parents and worries about the quiet kid who’s ignored by the (air quotes) popular crowd. She says she wants to be nice to everyone, but sometimes she just gets annoyed by the girl who is always trying to steal her position as first chair bassoon player.

She takes a breath.

She wonders what Jesus was like as a teenager. Jesus, who was the earthly son of two parents that definitely did not understand Him. Jesus, who was fully God but also a human pre-teen at some point. Jesus, who must have been tempted to throw the fact that His parents were imperfect in their faces. Jesus, who must have been tempted to question His parents' judgment and rebel against their authority. Jesus, who must have been tempted to roll His eyes and ignore their requests. Jesus, who must have been tempted to complain about His parents to His friends and dishonor them by mocking them behind their backs. Jesus, who must have been tempted to return to heaven and escape the discomfort of a cramped home owned by people who were not well-off. Jesus, who must have been tempted to be annoyed, cold, lazy, discontent, grumpy, jealous, proud, insecure, unsympathetic, and on and on and on and on. Jesus, who must have been tempted to fight with brothers and sisters that did not believe in Him. (Can you imagine what THAT would be like? Literally eating breakfast with the Son of God?)

But He didn’t sin. Not once. His family did. But He did not.

He lived in submission to His parents and His teachers and every other human authority over Him. “It would have been easy for Him to just walk away from it all.

“But He didn’t.

“While Christ was on earth, at any time He could have returned to heaven and resumed the throne and His rule as part of the Godhead. He never ceased being God. He only laid aside His powers. It was a choice He made to submit Himself to the Father and live in total obedience. In John’s Gospel, He says, ‘I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again’ (John 10:17-18).

“Jesus could have said, ‘I’m stopping this whole thing and going back to heaven. I can’t continue to live under these people and their decisions.’” (K.P. Yohannan)

But He didn’t.

And a really cool part (for us imperfect people who struggle with submission), Jesus “humbled himself by [becoming] obedient to the point of death.” (Philippians 2:8) Jesus didn't die on the cross until He was 33. Year by year, day by day, hour by hour He humbled Himself in obedience to God, His Father. In every choice and thought and action, He surrendered His will to His Father's, until He was finally obedient to the point of death at age 33.

It's not supposed to be a snap-deal. What. A. Relief. In Jesus' life, He matured over time. As our own relationships with God progress, we become more obedient; we surrender our desires and emotions and longings to Him. One moment at a time. We trade what we want for what God wants and are thus obedient to HIS will. We start to exchange our fame for His: it's why we were made. Our lives proclaim the glory of God and the glory of the cross of Christ.

Jesus, the more I think about Your life, the more blown away I am by who You are. You hold the entire universe together, and You personally understand everything we go through. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 14:15) As we go through the normal routines of life and chatter away about what we consider important, please put Yourself at the forefront of our minds and hearts and conversations. Let us not forget what Your life means for us. Lead us, Lord. Let our lives also be marked by utter obedience to God. Lord, we need You. Not only are You the perfect example of how to live, but You are our Savior who we can’t live without. Thank You for your guidance, Your mercy, Your patience…. And thank You for your grace; it truly is all-sufficient. We love you, Jesus. We are not unaware of your greatness.

Jesus, “...though [You] were in the form of God, [You] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made [Yourself] nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, [You] humbled [Yourself] by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted [You] and bestowed on [You] the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)