A Little Game of He Said/He Said

wash in truthWhen words cut to the very heart of your soul, there is only one way to heal, and that is to replace them with truth. It’s time for a little game of he said/He said.

he said…
I don’t love you anymore.

HE said…
You are loved with an everlasting love that is steadfast, and nothing can separate you from that love. (Jer. 31:3, Psalms, Romans 8:35-39)

he said…
I’ve been trying to escape you.

HE said…
I’ve been pursuing you since the moment of creation. (Proven over and over in His Word.)

he said…
I choose someone else over you.

HE said…
I chose you. (John 15:16)

he said…
I don’t know if I ever wanted you.

HE said…
I have wanted you since before time began, and I prayed for you over 2,000 years ago, that you would be one with me. (John 17:20-21)

he said…
You are not attractive enough.

HE said…
I created you as a beautiful image of Myself. (Genesis 1:27)

he said…
You are not important enough for me to truly get to know you deeply.

HE said…
I know everything about you from the hairs on your head to the thoughts in your thinker. I know you inside and out and back again, and you are precious to me. (Luke 12:7, Psalm 139)

he said…
I do not take pride and joy in you.

HE said…
You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and everything that I make is good. I am proud of you, My Creation. (Psalm 139:13-16)

Hear, oh my heart. Hear these words. Let them seep into every jagged crack, filling in those broken places, making you whole. He will rebuild you and make beauty from ashes. He is God, and He can be trusted.

“You Carry My Bag?”

file0002140147781“Tall mocha,” the barista called. I reached for my coffee, hoping it would wake me, even just a little. I had been awake since midnight and now it was 5:30 a.m. My flight would leave in just thirty minutes.

As I turned from the Starbucks counter, I spotted the cutest, most pathetic thing I have ever seen. A very sleepy toddler boy stumbled behind his mom, all cozy in his fuzzy, fire truck footie jammies, a very full child sized backpack slung over his shoulders.

“Just a liiiiitle bit further,” his mom encouraged, but the poor guy just could not go on any longer. He collapsed to his knees and planted his face on the carpet.

“No more walk, Mom.” he moaned.

His mother knelt down beside him. “Ah, sweetie. You’re tired, aren’t you?”

“You carry my bag?” was his muffled reply.

“I’ll do more than that,” she answered, as she slipped off his backpack. “I’ll take your backpack, and I’ll carry you.” She swung the backpack onto her already weighted down shoulder and scooped up her son. He promptly snuggled his sleepy little head into the crook of her neck and lay limp in her arms.

And I smiled. A smile that felt warm in my chest. And suddenly, I felt just like that little boy. Relaxed. Cared for. Loved. Held.

I have a Father. A strong and gentle Father. He lets me carry my load when I think I’m big enough and strong enough, but He knows that I am not as strong as I think. And when I fall to my knees and press my nose into the carpet, begging Him to carry my load, He takes more than my burden. He scoops me up, holds me close, and carries me to the end.

Then I can relax and just let go, because I am cared for. Loved. Held. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Bring on the Carmel (Hold the Chocolate)

Megadim_Cliff_Mount_Carmel_-1Ok, so the title is probably a bit misleading. This post has nothing to do with candy. Is it about Carmel though… Mount Carmel. You probably know the story… how Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a god competition. (If you don’t know the story, you can read it here.) I’ve always read/heard the story with the idea that those stupid people who worshipped Baal needed to be put into their place. But when the story teller at our children’s Sunday night Pioneer Club retold the story, I heard something else.

Think about this… The prophets of Baal set up a proper sacrifice. They had a nice pile of wood, plenty of burnable material. They chose a bull, cut it into pieces and laid it on the wood. That right there is barbeque waiting to happen. They just needed Baal to bring the matches.

Elijah, on the other hand,  built an altar of stone. He dug a ditch around it, placed wood on top, and laid the pieces of bull on top of that. The ditch is a little weird, but ok. We can cook on stone. Then he turns to some people and says, pour water over it all. They did. Then he said, “Do it again.” And then “Do it again.” Everything was soaked. There was so much water, it filled the ditch around the altar. If you remember, Smokey Bear teaches us that water puts out a good campfire, so I’m thinking it would be pretty darn hard to start a fire when everything is that wet.

So we have barbeque waiting to happen and an impossibly soggy pile of meat. Those prophets of Baal spent all.day.long crying to their God. “Please, just light the darn thing on fire. We’ve even set it all up for you. Just one tiny spark should do just fine.” They cut themselves and danced. I cannot imagine the amount of physical pain and weakness they went through to try to convince their god to just show up for the picnic.

When it was Elijah’s turn, he prayed a simple prayer. “You are God. Answer me, Lord, so these people will know that you are the one and only God, and that you are turning their hearts back to you.” Immediately, the entire soggy mess burst into flames. The fire burnt up the meat, the wood, the stones, the soil, and dried up all the water in the ditch. Now I was under the impression that stone and dirt don’t burn, but this time, it did. If that’s not proof that He is real, then I don’t know what is.

How many times, though, do I prepare my sacrifice, and line up my dominoes perfectly, then pray to my “gods” to make things happen? I set it all up, and then I look to my husband or to my kids or to my friends or my ego or my “set your goals and achieve your dreams”ness… or whatever to make it all happen. I get so worked up, trying everything to get the attention of these gods. I mean, come on!!! It’s a barbeque waiting to happen; just bring the darn matches already! And all I get is crickets.

And God is there the whole time, waiting for me to just stop.

I don’t have to set anything up for God. I can bring Him the absolute most impossible, and it doesn’t phase Him one single bit. He simply reaches down from heaven and proves that He is real and that He can be trusted.

God is real.

He can be trusted.

He is a master of the impossible.

 

*photo credit

When Dream Houses Implode

dreamhouse

Sometimes, it feels like God thinks my life is one big joke, as if I am but a doll in his drama filled dollhouse. I can see Him sitting up there with his two buddies, Jesus and H.G…. “Hey guys, watch this!” He snickers. Then he knocks me down the dollhouse stairs or pulls a wad of hair from my head or yanks my arm off. The threesome all laugh wickedly, then rush out of the room to play something else, leaving me lying there in a battered heap at the foot of my dream house stairway.

I thought this pink dream house was going to be everything I wanted. It was perfect. My Ken doll was perfect. Our little kid dolls were perfect. Our pink convertible was perfect. My walk in closet full of flashy outfits was perfect.

But now, the shutters are hanging loose. The front door is stuck in a half open position. We’ve lost the potted flowers that sit on the front steps. Someone has scribbled on every single floor of the house with green crayon. The beautiful portrait stickers have been peeled from the walls, leaving only ragged white scum. My perfect Ken doll now wears a permanent Sharpied frown. My little girl dolls are sporting that ugly plastic-doll-hair-stuck-straight-up look. My little boy dolls hang their faces, decorated with Sharpie freckles, out the broken window pane of the upstairs bedroom. The rows and rows of sparkling outfits hanging in the closet just collect dust, because they were made for a skinnier, sexier version of me… a version I will never be again. And me… I lay battered at the bottom of my dream house stairway, wondering how I got there.

How does everything you’ve ever wanted in life suddenly blow up in your face? Doesn’t the dream house please God? Doesn’t He want us to be content… to love the home He’s given… to love the family He’s given… to throw ourselves into that dream house with all our hearts? Doesn’t He like it when we embrace the role of wife, mother, and homemaker? I thought that’s what pleased Him.

But now, as I lay at the bottom of my dream house stairway, I hear Him say…

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

“What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

“Brenda, Brenda, ‘you are anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary.’ To sit at my feet.”

And the truth sinks in slowly, but warmly. I have worshipped my dream house. I have made Ken my god. I have made the kid dolls my joy. I have made my sparkling outfits my security. I lay battered at the bottom of the stairs because this dream house has let me down. I lay here because Ken is not my god, these kid dolls are not my joy, and these outfits… these skinny, little outfits… they are not my security. They have all let me down. They have not been to me what I’ve needed when I’ve needed it most.

I poured my love and my trust into them, but they could not bear it. My love and my trust is God-shaped, not doll shaped or house shaped or skinny shaped. Nothing else can receive my love and my trust except my God, because only He can be trusted, and only He can return that love in pure and steadfast volumes.

He does not demand love, because He is a selfish love hog. He commands my love, because He knows my heart, my needs, the very depths of my being, and He longs to be…

my shield

my fortress

my hope

my joy

my strength

my rock

my refuge

my deliverer

my light

my salvation

my song

my security

my helper

my resting place

my steadfast love

the upholder of my life

…my God.

Because nothing else and no one else can be all that for me.

 

Of Tests and Wrestlings

trail

“He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’… So Abraham rose early in the morning…. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar…. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven…. ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’.” (Gen. 22)

I shoved my Bible away in disgust. What sort of cruel loyalty test is this? Is God some sort of fraternity bully, demanding insane proofs of loyalty before He allows peons to join His exclusive club?

Abraham’s stomach probably dropped to the ground when he heard the words “burnt offering”. He probably did not sleep at all that night as he weighed his options… kill my son to appease the God of the universe or anger the God of the universe to save my son. Perhaps it was with shaky legs and a nauseous stomach that he rolled out of bed that morning, skipping breakfast because he couldn’t keep it down anyway.

For three long days, the war raged inside him. He pushed forward, while everything inside him desperately screamed to turn and run the other way. How it must have broken his heart when Isaac asked why they did not have a sacrifice. Did he stumble and choke over the words “God will provide”? It doesn’t say whether he told Isaac at all what God had asked of him. Only that he bound up his son and laid him on the altar. It probably took every ounce of adrenaline in his body to raise that knife above his son’s body.

And then God said, “That’s enough.”

Are you freaking kidding me?? You demand his son, but then when he’s fighting against every bit of humanness inside of himself to simply please You, You tell him to stop? Were You just playing with him the whole time? What kind of maniac God are You?

I shoved back my chair and began to gather up my things. I can’t do this. Why would God ask that of Abraham? Why was He asking that of me? What sort of weakling did He think I was? Was He trying to prove something to me? That I was but an ant to Him, and He could squash me and every one I love with a slight pressing of His thumb?

As I stepped between the towering walls of forest, following the trail into its depths, I listened to the crunch of my footsteps. “I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone,” they whispered over and over again. I stopped, thinking that maybe if I didn’t hear my footsteps, I wouldn’t hear the desperate whispers.

I jumped as a bird called from somewhere in the heart of the forest. “Alone!” it squawked. A silent tear trickled down my cheek. “I don’t want to be alone.” The sound of my words barely made it past my lips, but my heart was yelling so loudly my ears were ringing. I could feel that yell bubbling its way up my throat. It would be stupid to scream into an empty forest, so I just shoved my body forward. First, a slow step. Then a few more, faster this time. Soon I was jogging my way down the trail, paying no heed to anything around me.

I must have worked off the pent up energy, because I slowed to a stop and looked around. I knew I passed many forks along the trail, but I couldn’t remember if I stayed on trail 3 or got off on another one. I had no idea where I was. The nice thing about hiking trails at state parks is that if you keeping following them, eventually you’ll find some sort of trail marker or another human being.

I gathered up my wits, found a trail map, and set off in what I thought was the right direction. But the more I walked and the more trail markers I came to, the more confused I became. The more confused I became, the more angry I felt. I did not want to be alone! I wanted someone here right now to help me figure out these stupid trails. I wanted someone right now to laugh with me over my uncanny ability to get lost. I wanted someone right now to share this adventure with. “I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE!”

It took nearly three hours to find my way back to the inn, but I did find it. There was no feeling of relief, though… only intense resistance. How dare God bring me to this place! How dare He ask such sacrifice!

I tried to calm my body and my soul. I soaked in the hot tub. I painted. I watched TV. I tried to sleep. But the war inside me would not stop. My chest burned. My nerves vibrated. My thoughts were like a speeding train constantly jumping tracks. All I wanted to do was run as fast as I could away from this place. And so I did, first thing the next morning.

It wasn’t until that afternoon, that I finally got the word, “Stop! That’s enough!” I melted into a pile of exhausted goo, just resting in that warm, safe place.

I don’t know if I passed the test. I never really reached a point where I calmly accepted and resolved to sacrifice what He was asking of me. And maybe Abraham never did either.

Maybe God is not so much concerned about the final grade, as He is in the wrestling it takes to make our way through the test. Maybe it’s in that intense struggle that our weak human resolve is put through the fire to make us more Christ like. Maybe it’s not about passing. Maybe it’s about wrestling.

God Became Vulnerable by Love

godcries1

Two days had passed, two long days, since Lazarus’s servant stumbled to Jesus’ feet and panted, “Laz…a…rus… is very… sick… Rabi. P…please come… so that you might… heal him…. We fear… he won’t make… it much longer.”

I searched Jesus’ face, wondering what he would do. Lazarus and his sisters were like family to him. He loved them differently than he loved us disciples. It was more than a comradery. He loved them with a tenderness, much like an older brother toward his baby sister, only with much more intensity. I studied his face, but it remained calm and confident.

“Go home,” he instructed the servant. “His sickness does not lead to death, but to the glory of God.”

And that was it. The servant ran back home believing Lazarus was going to be just fine, and we went back to… well, what we always do… walk around talking to people, camping out under the stars, controlling the crowds as Jesus told stories.

But the last two days have been different. Every word he’s spoken has been tinted with a hint of sadness. When the crowds are gone, he’s quiet. I asked Peter this morning if he had noticed something was off.

“Ah, John,” he quipped, “It’s Jesus. He’s always a bit… well, different.”

When Peter brushed me off, I asked my brother James. I only got a shrug out of him and a quick, “hadn’t noticed.”

Maybe it’s because Jesus and I have a closeness that the others don’t share, or maybe it’s because I’m simply more emotionally sensitive. I don’t know, but apparently I’m the only one who had noticed anything different. That is, until Jesus suddenly announced, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

You would have thought Jesus was suggesting suicide. Everyone immediately began to protest. You could hardly hear one above the other. Finally. Peter boomed above the others. “Are you crazy?! The Jews are wanting to stone you to death, and you want to just waltz into the middle of them?”

Jesus held up his hand and calmly asked, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

None of us were sure what in the world Jesus was talking about. Peter looked at me and raised one eyebrow as if to say, “I told you he was different.” I sighed and stayed close to Jesus. Something wasn’t right, and I wanted to figure it out.

When Jesus saw that we were confused, he said, “Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I will go to wake him up.” He said “asleep”, but his face said so much more.

I put my hand on his arm and probed him further. “Lord, if he’s sleeping, that’s a good thing. He will recover quickly.”

He sighed, and simply stated, “Lazarus has died.” Several gasps circulated through the lot of us as he continued, “I’m glad, for your sake, that I wasn’t there, so that you may believe. But, come on. Let’s go.”

Thomas began to gather up his few belongings then. “Let’s go, boys! We shall die with him.”

And so here we are… nearing Bethany. And apparently we’re not the only ones. “Hey!” I called to a Jewish man passing me. “What’s going on? Why are so many Jews coming into Bethany?”

“Haven’t you heard? Lazarus died. They buried him four days ago. We’re going to comfort his sisters.”

Is it my imagination or did Jesus just wince at those words?

“Jesus! Jesus!” Martha ran toward us. She stopped a couple feet in front of Jesus, breathing heavily from her jog. “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” she accused. Jesus took her hand and looked compassionately into her eyes, and her tone softened. “But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, He will give you.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus answered.

Martha sighed in frustration. “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus took her other hand into his and explained, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

Martha nodded slowly. “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Jesus gave her a soft, sad smile. “Now, go get Mary. I wish to speak to her.”

We sat down beside the road and waited, and within a few minutes, we could see Mary walking toward the large boulder where Jesus sat. She practically stumbled to his feet, sobbing, “Jesus! Oh, Jesus! If you had been here…. If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Her tears fell like rain as her body shook with sobs.

ifyouhadbeenhere

Jesus placed his hand on her head and swallowed hard. The mourners who had been with the sisters were beginning to gather around as well, weeping for their lost friend and for the loss of Mary and Martha. Jesus cleared his throat and blinked hard. “Where have you laid him?” he managed to ask before he too began to weep.

He pulled Mary’s head into his lap and leaned his forehead onto her head. His body shook forcefully. I have never seen a grown man cry so hard. I couldn’t keep it in any longer. I stood beside him, wrapped my arm around his shoulder, and cried.

The other disciples shifted awkwardly as the crowd began to whisper amongst themselves. “Look how much he loved Lazarus!” But some in the crowd accused him. “He opened the eyes of the blind! Couldn’t he have kept this man from dying?!”

Jesus lifted his head when he heard these words. With tears still streaming down his face, he gently lifted Mary to her feet, and stood himself up. Taking her hand, he led the crowd to Lazarus’s tomb.

“Take away the stone.”

Martha turned her head quickly toward Jesus in disbelief. “Lord, he’s been in there for four days. By this time, he’s really going to stink.”

“Oh Martha,” he answered. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Several of the other disciples lined up next to the stone, but I stayed by Jesus’ side. He was hurting, and I wasn’t about to leave him when he needed me most. They pushed against the stone and it slowly began to roll from the opening of the cave.

Jesus looked up toward heaven and confidently said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” Then turning his face toward the tomb, he boomed, “Lazarus, come out!”

I nearly fell over backwards. Emerging from the tomb was Lazarus himself, still bound in burial cloths. Jesus nudged me. “Unbind him, and let him go.”

I hesitated, still trying to wrap my mind around what just happened. Jesus nudged me again, and I stepped forward. A huge grin spread across my face, and I ran to Lazarus. One by one, I unwound the cloths as his sisters and friends began to crowd around him.

After removing the last strip of cloth, I squeezed my way out of the crowd and found my way to Jesus’ side. “God feels. God cries. God understands. God is love.” I whisper these words, half to Jesus, half to myself. He smiles.

“God is love.” These words will stick with me for life. There is nothing so strong on earth as love. Nothing so exuberating… so edifying… so beautiful… and yet so painful as love. God came down from His throne to this humble earth. He allowed Himself to love… to feel it’s beauty and it’s pain. Why? So that we can believe. I will never forget this day… the day that God Himself sobbed uncontrollably because He loved.