The Day I Left My Rock for the Beach

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My house is a humble home, but it is set up on a large precipice. The view is phenomenal. When I stand at my front door, I can see for across the treetops and the glistening ocean in the distance. Sometimes the wind is fierce and rain pounds the roof and windows, but I am snug and warm inside my house on the rock. There’s not another place in the world that I would rather be, but there was once a time when I thought differently.

It was a warm and dark summer night. I stood, resting my head on the doorframe, looking out across the tops of the trees. It had been a very long and hard day, and I was feeling restless and agitated. A flicker of light down by the beach caught my eye, and the humid nighttime breezes brought with it sounds of laughter. A party was in full swing down on the beach. The longer I stood watching the flickering lights and listening to the gaiety, the more I longed to be down there.

I stepped out onto my porch, closed the door behind me, and started toward the porch stairs. As I lowered my foot to the first step, I hesitated. I’d never left my rock before, but the pull of the sand and the waves and the party was strong… so very strong. I bounded down the stairs and took off down the long path to the beach.

Approaching that sudden place where the trees toe the sand, I paused to observe the crowd. They were cool. They were hip. And they were having fun. Music blared and beach fires flickered. A group of three women raised their bottles and roared with laughter. A young couple sat right where the waves kiss the sand, wrapped in a passionate embrace. My eyes moved to edge of the flickering light to a small group of guys. One of them met my gaze and winked, beckoning me to join him.

I’m not going to lie. I had the time of my life that night… lifting my bottle high… joining in the uproar of the party life. I relaxed in the arms of the winker, letting him cover me in kisses.

I thought I had finally found the life, but as the east edge of sky began to ever so slightly glow with the coming of the sunrise, things began to change. The strong, muscular arms wrapped around me suddenly turned old, brittle, and death like. I looked up into his face and his eyes appeared as the eyes of the devil, dark and empty. I screamed and leaped to me feet.

All around me the happy partiers were turning into miserable creatures. The sand beneath my feet no longer felt warm and firm. Instead it felt cold and shifty. As I backed slowly away from the horror story unfolding before me, the ground turned to quicksand, pulling me into itself.

I gasped, bolted toward the trees, ran all the way up to the top of the rock, bounded up the steps, tore through my front door, slammed it, and slick my back down the inside. I tried to calm my breathing, slow my pounding heart, and stop the terrifying shivers vibrating over my body, but I could not.

I think my house on the rock understood somehow, because I felt it envelope me in some sort of safe and comforting embrace. This was home. This would always be home. This house on the rock was my safe place.

And now when I long for human connection, I just wait for someone to visit my rock and together we rest in its safety.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
(Mat. 7:24-27)

When you hear the beckoning of a beach vacation, resist it, my friends. It is a lie. Sin is but a miserable nightmare disguised as pleasure. Its foundation is shifty and you will fall hard. Cling to your Rock. Abide in Him. And when the storms of life come, you will be safe and secure.

Christmas on a Broken Heart

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I don’t remember ever not knowing that Christmas was about baby Jesus being born in a stable, but honestly I’ve never felt the significance. Why do we need to celebrate a baby? They’re helpless, red faced squallers. How was Jesus any different? It’s not like he slipped out of the womb and immediately healed the donkey’s lame knee or anything magical like that.

But this year, with my heart shredded in more ways than I can even list, I see him – this infant alchemistic anthropologist. And oh what I wouldn’t give to hold that infant in my arms, look down into his face, and feel his gaze locked on mine. I feel a bit like Simeon: “God, don’t let me die until I’ve held this blessed child in my arms!”

I wonder what sort of incredibly sweet and overpowering feeling Mary had as the Holy Spirit literally came upon her – body on body – and conceived the very son of God in her womb. It had to be an immensely spiritual moment. There is just no possible way that it “just happened” without Mary even realizing. You can’t be in direct contact with the living Spirit and not feel it.

As that tiny Jesus swam and wiggled inside Mary, he was busy already performing his alchemistic duties. His very being was an act of mystical, divine magic. This was a child created from nothing (as in not a human father), so completely 100% human and yet completely 100% divine. How? I don’t know. It’s just his alchemist ways.

As a divine being, this infant had the ability to choose his very own delivery day and time. He could have insured that there were midwives and Mary’s mother right there to guide him into this world, but he did not. He chose to come when it was just Mary and Joseph. He chose to come in a small and lowly setting. He came for the entire world, but he wanted his entrance to be intimate with the two people who would have the most interaction in his childhood.

When his wet, matted head crowned and Joseph reached out to catch him, I think something divinely electrical went through Joseph’s body. It was human fingers touching the very skin of God. How can such a moment not be charged with divine fireworks? As Joseph took that slippery, wiggly body into his arms and rubbed the slime and goo off with his cloak, Jesus turned his big wonder filled eyes and gazed directly into Joseph’s, seeing everything in his soul… every joy, every tear, every sin, every victory, past, present, and future… and Jesus loved him as deep as love can go.

Joseph laid the infant on top of Mary’s chest, and again divine electricity surged as the skin of God touched the skin of Mary. Jesus quickly latched on and suckled, lifting his eyes to Mary’s and again, he saw it all – joys, tears, sins, victories, past, present, and future – and he loved. Loved as deep as love can go.

That night in that stable, amidst all the straw and dirt and animals, the most intimately divine of all events took place. That moment when the divine being of God entered the human world must have been the sweetest in all of history. How very much like our Savior to make it the most intimate as well.

Oh to have been there! Oh to have looked into the infant God’s eyes and felt his anthropologic gaze! Oh to have felt him see my heartache – to have him wrap his tiny alchemist fingers around mine and surge wholeness and love into my veins!

And so I look for him this Christmas, because he is there – in the eyes of my children, in the face of the bell ringers, in the souls of the homeless sign holders. He is there, waiting for me to see him and to see that his gaze has not changed. He is still just as intimately connected as he was the night he slid, wet and slippery, into Joseph’s hands.

I’m All Inside Out

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October eleventh. A tiny crumble trickled down into the abyss of memory loss. Just a tiny crumb. The islands of my personality went from full color animation to unsaturated stillness. Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Anger went into full panic, fighting over the control board.

“Find the happiness. Find the silver lining,” Joy instructed.

“What will happen now? How can we even live? Quick! Build up walls!” Fear paniced.

“Life is meaningless. Just pull the plug on it all,” moaned Sadness.

“The very thought of him with them. Bleh. Just puke. Right now,” spat Disgust.

“What the BLEEPEDITY BLEEP!?!? How dare he! He’s goin’ DOWN!” yelled Anger.

Over and over and back and forth. Fear pushed Sadness away from the controls. Anger shoved Fear aside. Disgust slinked in front of Anger. Joy tried desperately to calm everyone down.

After several days of this, Joy realized she had to take action. She began to bring up core memories… the important and joy filled memories that shaped the last 12 years of my life. She played them across the screen of my mind. But as they played, Sadness crept up to them and placed her cold blue fingers on each.

I began to see the memories through the hindsight eyes of reality and, one by one, the islands of personality have crumbled completely into the abyss of memory loss. Family Island… crash. Trust Island… crash. Friendship Island… crash. Goof-ball Island… crash. Introvert Island… crash. Parenting Island… Trickle, trickle, crumble, crash. Even Music and Writing Islands’ grayed edges began to collapse a little. Faith Island, while staying full color, quakes from time to time.

I’ve been left to look at the world void of much personality. I have no human reality on which to base my interactions in this world. I’m left empty and vulnerable and confused.

But a beautiful thing is happening. Bright orange construction signs are dotting the landscape of my mind. Islands are being built. Slowly, new personality islands are taking the place of the old. It’s a tedious process that has only just begun, but it’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Sadness has sidled up next to me, wrapped her arms around my heart and offered genuine empathy. She is teaching me the value of sadness… the depth that it brings to life… the lessons that it teaches… the growth that comes from it.

I noticed an “Opening Soon” sign on one of the new islands a couple days ago. Bold letters across the top read, EMPATHY ISLAND. As I look at the world around me, I see walking hurts. I want to reach out and hug them. I want to say, “I don’t know you, and I may not know the exact pain you’re feeling right now, but I know pain and I just want you to know you are loved.”

I’m not sure yet what’s coming soon to the other islands under construction, but I look forward to finding out. I look forward to getting to know this new defined me. There’s been a shift in the universe, and I am the epicenter.

My Psalm 73

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I know that God is good to good Christians.
But me? Eh. I flounder around in confusion.
I find my soul enviously angry at men
Who enjoy the pleasures of adultery without consequence.

They flirt their way into bed with luring women, but feel no pain.
They dine and laugh as her earrings dangle and brush her neck.
Their heart skips a beat when she texts, and they smirk in glee.
They sneak into private places with her and press their body against hers.
Then they scamper home to kiss the wife and pat the kids on the head.
They feel the thrill of secrecy, and say, “Who will know? God can’t see.”
These are the adulterous men, always at ease, living the life.

I have kept my heart clean and pure in vain.
I am the one left crumbled in pain.
I am told that I am unloved and unwanted.

But when I truly try to understand this paradox,
I am dizzied with the magnitude of injustice
Until I fall on my face before God.
Then I understand the impending end of adulterous men.

God, you put them on a slippery slope
And bring their lives to ruin.
They are swept away in a moment’s notice,
Engulfed by the explosion of terror.
Like one who wakes from a nightmare, hating the demons,
You despise them.

When I was bitter and cried, “No fair!”,
I was ignorant and acted like a caged dog toward you.

And yet, you’re here, beside me
Holding my hand in yours.
You guide me with your divine wisdom.
And you welcome me into your glorious kingdom.
I have no one but you, God.
And there is no one here on earth that I would rather have than you.
My heart may shatter into pieces
And my body may crave the arms of a man,
But you are the strength of my heart and the eternal answer to all my needs.

All those who are far from you will take their last breath
And those who are unfaithful to you will meet their end.
But for me… it is good for me to be near God.
I have made him my safe place
So that I can shout his works from the top of my lungs.

 

 

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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.

God Became Vulnerable by Love

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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.

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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.