Thoughts for a Good Friday

19Apr2019 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

strength-violet-burning

This image of Christ has always been a favorite. From the Violet Burning’s “Strength” album (well worth a listen), I wanted to share it this Resurrection Weekend. It’s a beautiful representation of two words that have been coming to mind all day this Good Friday:

God gave

If I sum up the reason I believe in Him, it’s all wrapped up in those words. 

He gave. And He gave to me.

Our pastor challenged us recently to write our testimony. This coincided with someone very dear to me not understanding why I base my existence on what they have decided is a baseless, fact-devoid fairy tale.

For weeks, I’ve been pondering anew why I believe what I believe.

I think that all Christ followers must be prepared to give an explanation for the reason they believe.

Here is mine.

I am not a Christian because somebody said, “Here—believe this,” and I wanted to fit in.

I am not a Christian because I’m copying American cultural practices (now fading).

I am not a Christian because it is what my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents thought about God.

(Some did. Some didn’t.)

I am not a Christian because anyone expected it of me.

I AM a Christian because someone—many someones—mentioned this Jesus and I was curious.

I am a Christian because my curiosity prompted me to seek answers. Unanswered questions have always driven me crazy. I had to know why something that made no sense to me seemed to be so real to other people.

I dug and prayed and questioned and doubted, and doubted and dug some more. I stretched out on the living room rug one night and asked my parents how they knew that God was real. They said they just knew; that when you know, you know.

Eighteen-year-old me thought that was a pretty lame answer.

I went to bed one night and startled awake in the wee hours to a darkness I’d never experienced. I could not see my hand in front of my face. I fumbled for the lamp and couldn’t find it. It was so blackly, eerily, densely dark, like being wrapped up in a cloak of smothering fear.

I felt what can only be described as a hand reaching up through my mattress, slipping effortlessly through my back, wrapping around my spine, firmly gripping onto the depths of my gut.

I froze.

The hand began pulling me down into the mattress and I tried to rise up against it. But I was too weak and that hand was stronger than my room was black.

“God, I am not ready to go yet! Please don’t let this be it!” I pled.

The pulling stopped. The hand released and slipped away. I lay there, eyes staring wide into the inky darkness, seeing nothing, hearing only my racing heart and gasping breath.

I don’t remember falling back to sleep. I just know that the next day, I woke up shaken. Whatever that was, it was real.

And yet…

In the brightness of daylight, I hesitated.

I wasn’t a bad person. I just liked doing things my own way. Was this whole “surrender” thing really required to be a Christian? What if all this love and peace stuff was just hogwash? What if every Christian I knew was actually deceived, giving up their best years of life for something that wasn’t even real? All of those smiles and tears and hugs and prayers at church could’ve been fake.

(Sometimes they are.)

That week, I drove to school. I drove to work. I showered, I ate food, I wrote papers and did projects. I pondered a lot on those long drives to and from the Art Institute of Atlanta.

Every night, I settled into my bed and prayed the hand wouldn’t return. And it never did.

A week later, alone in my bedroom on a cool April evening, as the breeze blew through my window and I listed to Silent Night (yes, in April—that song just always resonated with me) I prayed. I don’t remember the exact words. But I asked God to forgive me for my sins. I asked Jesus to come into my life. I asked Him to show me He was real. I promised that if I could just see His goodness for myself, I would believe.

I wanted so much to believe.

God honored that scared, odd little prayer of mine. A peace came over me, as gently as that April breeze. And life was never the same again.

I gave up so much, and none of it was instant. But over time….

I gave up insecurity for knowing who I am as a child of God.

I traded paralyzing fear for a peace that never made sense to me before.

(And if I’m honest, sometimes still doesn’t.)

I stopped chasing the approval of people who would only use me and cast me aside. Sometimes that left me lonely, and that still hurt. But I now had Someone to soothe that pain.

I had to give up feeling unloved because He seemed to get a real kick out of showing me how much I was actually loved. In fact, I am His beloved.

(We all get to be His beloved! How cool is that?)

It wasn’t all about giving things up, though. He gave me a lot, too.

I met the most awesome, geeky, creative, loving, generous man when experience had taught me that guys like that didn’t exist. And that crazy dude actually wanted to marry me!

I sent him to war, and he came home whole.

God gave us three beautiful sons that doctors said shouldn’t be, and three more babies that wait for us in heaven. And when I thought my heart might break if I never knew what it was like to mother a daughter, He connected me with the most precious little girl half a world away and let her call me “Mom.”

With my own eyes, I have seen Him heal. I have witnessed Him make something out of literally nothing. I have enjoyed His provision when it looked to me like there was nothing to be had.

How can any of this be?

I don’t know. I didn’t earn any of it. I don’t deserve any kind of love like this.

But God gave it anyway. God gave. And God gives!

So, no, I’m not a Christian because anyone made me do it, or led me there or forced it on me.

I’m a Christian simply because I tried life without Him and I’ve tried life with Him, and the latter is so infinitely better than the former that I cannot comprehend ever believing another way, ever.

All ye that are heavy laden

15Oct2018 Filed under: blah-blah-blog
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I’m a visual person. If I can see something, even if just in my mind, it helps me understand it. Years ago, I had a pastor who had the most beautiful way of weaving stories into images. The way she taught left me with the gift of so many comforting visions that I return to all the time.

Images like these:

-Sitting down on the edge of a desert well, the wind tossing my hair in my eyes as dust swirls around my bare feet, looking up and seeing my Savior walking up, smiling, sitting down beside me so we can chat a while.

-Lying on my back in the sunshine, in the middle of a peaceful pasture of green, rolling hills, dotted with fluffy white sheep grazing safely in the sight of the Shepherd.

-Holding my heavy, sleeping child and handing him off into God’s strong, outstretched hands…again, and again, and again….

-Stumbling to the altar under the crushing weight of backpacks filled with heavy stones of worry and fear and overflowing bags of burdens in each hand, (thinking I won’t make it because of the pain searing through every joint and fiber of my being) but making it. And dumping my bags and backpacks and burdens off one by one, each landing hard, with the most satisfying thud! And stepping back and noting how huge that pile is and how light I now feel.

That last one has been coming to mind a lot lately, because I either keep going back and picking up all that stuff I left there for Him to deal with, or I go wandering off and pick up all new stuff because no matter how many times I repeat this journey, I never seem to learn that I wasn’t made to carry it all anyway.

I’m a human, not a pack-mule.

But my mind…my mind! It’s in a thousand places at once anymore and it’s like I don’t remember how to get back to the altar. Like my map app isn’t working on my phone and nobody else knows the address or how to go, either. So I’m wandering around, stumbling under all this bone-breaking weight and I’m tired. Like, there aren’t words for this kind of exhausted. I’m just waiting on someone to come along and walk with me and maybe wear one of the backpacks, carry a bag or two, and together we take all this unmanageable stuff where it belongs.

But I feel invisible, and my loads most certainly must be evident to no one but me, because all these people who know me well don’t seem to see a thing. They keep tossing more things at me, more things on me, hoping they’ll stick…and they usually do because I’m not agile enough to dodge out of the way. And the load I already thought I couldn’t carry is now bigger, along with my despair, because it just keeps coming and coming at me….

And at this moment, I don’t have a visual for what happens next.

Except that I share this and ask aloud:

Am I the only mama who feels this way? I know I can’t be.

And if that’s true, why aren’t we sidling up next to each other and carrying these burdens together to the One who can deal with them? We’ve stopped saying, “I remember how to get there…let’s go.”

But I ask you: has there ever been a time that those words were more needed?

When Moms Cry

21Sep2018 Filed under: Column

When I saw my son calling me just before midnight, I knew it couldn’t be good news.

Breathless, he told me that he just got home and saw that his apartment had been burglarized. Everything he and his girlfriend had of value was gone.

They are just starting out in life. Everything they own would probably fit into the bed of a pickup truck, with room to spare. The thief took their electronics and the Xbox. Not to be outdone by the Grinch, the burglar even took their phone charging cords.

Perhaps the worst loss was the missing cash. They had been stashing money back, to pay the deposits to move into a safer place in a better neighborhood. All that saving–gone.

I can’t even express how bad I felt for my boy. I’ve lived 50 years on this planet and never been robbed. He’s only 20 and already experienced it.

It’s just not fair. You moms know how we are. I’d rather go through it any day than have my child be stolen from. It just makes me sick that there are people out there with such little regard for others that they just take what they didn’t earn.

They created a GoFundMe to ask for help replenishing that rent money, and I don’t mind sharing it if you want to help. We’ve all had moments where we’ve been kicked while we’re down. And as the Bible says in James 2:16 (CEV), “You shouldn’t just say, ‘I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.’ What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help?” Don’t you just love how practical the word of God is, how it reminds us that empty words are exactly that? If you are part of the body of Christ, he gives us these opportunities to be his hands and feet, to show grace and mercy in a tangible way.

Anyway…can I just say that this whole “parenting an adult” thing is so hard? I know alllllll the older mamas in my life told me it would be like this, but like every stage of motherhood, you just don’t get it til you live it yourself.

I don’t care if they’re taller than you, and fully bearded and living hours away: when they hurt, you hurt. When they are in crisis, you want to drop everything and run to their side, whether that’s feasible or even a good idea. You never stop seeing them as your babies.

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They never stop making you cry.

(They also never stop making you laugh, smile or feel joyous, either, so it’s all good in the end.)

I talk about it often, and think about it more, this concept of a child leaving the nest. They do fly away, that’s for sure. But that place in your heart made just for them? It never, ever narrows or shrinks, or reduces in any way. A mother’s love, that thing is forever!

A Goat in Sheep’s Clothing

3Apr2018 Filed under: blah-blah-blog
sheep

Confession time: I sometimes worry about my true position in God’s kingdom. I fear that at some point, I will be horrified to find that I never really was one of the blessed sheep, but rather a cursed goat. A clever little goat in sheep’s clothing, hiding coarse straight hair under fluffy faux fleece, a goat that will one day be discovered gnawing contentedly on an old tin can, at which time my shepherd will find me out. My gig will be up!

Here’s the thing. Sometimes, I still rather enjoy the flavor of rust-coated tin crumbling between my molars. Sometimes, my tastes in life look more like the gluttonous goat than the sweet sheep, who contentedly dines on grass alone, every day of its bleating life. Is it possible that we could all be a bit of a goat in sheep’s clothing? I mean really, underneath it all, are the two animals really all that different? I suppose it all boils down to the condition of the heart. I mean, if I am worried about possibly being a goat, doesn’t that very fact that I’m concerned suggest that I might not be as goatish as I fear? When I actually used to BE a goat, I never thought about the fact that I was one. From my dusty old pen, I ate all the garbage I could scrounge up daily, and laughed at the prim and proper sheep on the other side of the field, looking like perfect round cotton balls scattered against the lush green hillside. Perhaps part of me still can’t fully accept that I, this dirty, coarse, metal-loving hooved one actually became one of them.

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

But when it comes right down to it, the whole reason that I doubt or question or fear, is a sincere desire to please my Shepherd. I want Him to pat my pretty curly head and be proud of me. When the smelly piles of garbage I used to enjoy start beckoning to my old goat nature, I question my worthiness before God because this danged head of mine almost always turns toward what used to please me. I usually just walk away, but I still wonder: are true sheep ever actually tempted to gnaw on old cans?

 

(Just a little something I wrote 12 years ago, and rediscovered today. Can you relate?)

Finally Finalizing

20Mar2018 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

May is a good month for my family.

In May 2014, this happened:

Violet Homecoming Collage

And now, FOUR years, four attorneys, a couple of home studies and enough Ugandan paperwork to reach the peak of Mt. Stanley LATER…

We finally, finally have our court date to finalize our daughter’s adoption!

None of us ever expected it to take this long, but apparently, the paperwork Uganda sends home with adoptees is quite different from most other countries, and it was difficult to find a local attorney who knew what to do with it (although several tried). I think Violet was about to lose hope that she’d ever legally have our last name, that she’d ever receive her citizenship or see her new name printed on a U.S. passport. She had well-meaning (but clearly misinformed) friends who expressed concerns that she would be deported, not understanding that she came here legally to begin with. Four years is a long time to live in limbo. We are all very relieved this stage is almost over!

So we will go to the courthouse on a certain morning in May, and we couldn’t be happier! If you have been part of this journey and would like to be there, let me know. I’ll send you the details and you can come celebrate with us!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.

-Psalm 136:1