Is It Real?

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I was but a tiny girl.
I peered around the corner at my mother, sitting in the kitchen.
The ashtray overflowed with ashes as a pillar of smoke rose from the center.
Beer cans were scattered across the surface of the table.
Her eyes met mine for five seconds – long enough to pierce my soul with fear.
But she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

She sat in the rocking chair, tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Mommy?”
I placed my hand on her hand and turned my empathetic face up to hers.
She shoved me, knocking me to the floor.
I knew I must have done something wrong.
It was my job to keep her happy, and she was not happy.
But she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Nineteen. An adult.
No job. No college. Just obedient toe kissing.
Baking. Cooking. Cleaning. Teaching. Parenting the young siblings.
Twenty-three.
No job. No college. No dating. No parties. No hanging out with friends.
Just more obedient toe kissing.
Wearing homemade dresses. Dedicating my young years to domestic “ministry”.
“It’s for your protection,” she said. “It’s God’s design for girls.”
And she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

“Giving the world a new approach to life!”
Follow these ten steps.
Drink these seven basic principles and drown in them.
They look like Biblical righteousness from where you sit in the stadium, but really they are chains of slavery.
Beat yourself over the head with these 49 character qualities.
And remember that grace is you doing what you’re supposed to be doing… perfectly.
Dating is fornication. Once attracted, you must marry.
Hook, line, and sinker… I swallowed it all.
But God said “I love you” in John 3:16.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Long eyelashes. Hazel eyes. Best friend turned something deeper.
Engaged just 2 weeks after realizing it’s more than friends.
Married 4 months later.
We did it right. We were righteous.
Courtship trumped worldliness.
We waited to say “I love you” until we were promised to each other.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Eleven and a half years of total dedication.
I made myself everything I thought he wanted.
Always quick to forgive. Very slow to judge.
Everyday I strove to trust and give the benefit of the doubt.
Shove the paranoia to the back burner.
Smile.
Hug.
Kiss.
Believe the best.
Ignore the warnings.
Say “I love you” every day and every night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Go to work.
Leave work.
Walk in the door.
Hang up the jacket.
Kiss the wife.
Whisper, “I like us.”
Chat over dinner.
Sit in the living room with the computer, ipad, or phone.
Tuck kids into bed.
Watch TV.
Get intimate in bed.
Fall asleep.
Repeat.
He said “I love you” tonight.

Is this love?
Is it real?

I thought it was all love.
I thought it was all real.

“You mother suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder.”
Reality shattered. There is no fixing it. There is no healthy, loving relationship.

“Your over sheltered life has your thinking and belief system in complete turmoil and bondage.”
Reality shattered. Protection from life is psychologically harmful.

“There is no new approach to life. The greatest approach was given 2,000 years ago through the life and death of Christ.”
Reality shattered. There is no man who has “new revelations” from God.

“All your striving to be perfect has made you resistant to His amazing grace.”
Reality shattered. There is no doing what’s right, because it’s right… perfectly.

“I’ve spent our entire marriage trying to escape you. I don’t think we should have ever married.”
Reality shattered. There was no best friend. There was no “us”.

“Working late again.” Coming home smelling like perfume. Texting pictures back and forth. The list goes on.
Reality shattered. The words “I love you,” “I like your body,” “You’re beautiful”… they mean nothing. Just empty words to hide a lie.

There is no love.
Nothing is real.

But then He whispers.
He shows me that grace is not a list of rules to keep. Grace is Him looking down, loving me just where I am, and wrapping me in Christ’s righteousness.
He shows me that He is a good, good Father. Always providing. Giving good things. Holding. Hugging. Listening. Always patiently listening.
He shows me that His heart knows brokenness. Betrayal, deceit, abuse, devaluation… He’s felt it all.
He shows me that being human means always questioning. It means blood and tears. And He’s ok with that.
He shows me that He is the God who sees me… ME… in the midst of crap I never asked for.

This is love.
This is real. This is the only reality. It will never shatter.

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.

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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Called to Divorce

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I’ve been tossing around the concept of being called to divorce quite a lot lately. In all my percolating, I’ve managed to pound out these somewhat disconnected thoughts. I’m not sure how much sense they make, but they speak to my heart and whisper His reassuring love in my ears.


What does it mean to be called to divorce?

I don’t mean like being called to the mission field or called to preach to the unreached people groups.

I also do not mean that God causes sin or causes suffering. I don’t believe that God calls people to the “dark side”. But I do believe that God is sovereign and that He calls us to specific responses to the sin and suffering in our world. I do believe that He is the defender of the weak, the father to the fatherless, and the provider for our very sustenance. And I absolutely believe that when we are faithful to His calling toward a response, He is faithful to not only care for us but to lift us up to higher places than we had ever dreamed.

While I do not believe that God randomly calls people to divorce their spouse, I do believe that He most definitely calls people to respond to sin that drowns out the divine in the most sacred of human relationships, and sometimes that response is divorce. Not out of hatred or revenge, but out of love for God above all else and love for the spouse as a human being and brother/sister in Christ. Love for God and love for others should be the basis for everything we do, and sometimes love is tough and stern and stands its ground. It says, “You are in sin, and I cannot be a part of that.” It says, “If this is your choice, then I must hand you completely over to God. May He bring you to the end of yourself and grant you mercy and grace.” This is what I’m talking about when I say “called to divorce”.

The church, as an organized institution, has a way of taking all the individual acts in the world and throwing them into one of two columns, “Righteous” or “Evil”, and then they stick to it… you know, like in-concrete, by-the-book rules.

Killing – evil

Bible reading – righteous

Tattoos – evil

Attending church – righteous

Divorce – evil

We do this because we believe that God sees our world in black and white, and while there is some truth to that, there is also a flip side. How many times can you think of that God did something or commanded someone else to do something that we would deem absolutely evil?

God commanded Abraham to kill his son.

God commanded the Israelites to plunder and pillage and kill their way through the land of Canaan.

God commanded Hosea to marry an adulteress.

Jesus Himself broke one of the Ten Commandments when he “worked” on the Sabbath.

God, in fact, pre-ordained the murder of the world’s most innocent man.

God doesn’t  judge a single act as either inherently righteous or evil, because He sees the back story and His supreme, sovereign purpose. He sees the needs of those involved in the act… both the doers and the receivers. He sees the depths of their hearts. He sees the thought patterns in their minds. We humans do not see this so we have set for ourselves sure, hard rules because we cannot act in divine wisdom as God can.

But God has not left us to figure it all out on our own. He gave us the Spirit and His still small voice, if we would just listen. When our eyes are locked on His divine gaze of love, we have a direct connection to His divine wisdom. He gives us a peace that truly surpasses human understanding, and we can confidently act, even if the act is conventionally in the “evil” category.

Erika Morrisson, in her book Bandersnatch, ventures that there are words in our human languages that need to be seen from the divine side or “crossed over”.

“It seems that on the other side of Jesus, so many things and thoughts are the exact opposite of definitions already established…. Crossing over is the antidote to the systems and traditions of humankind and simply means that a word or idea or a value has made the journey from being defined by and rooted in the world to being defined by and rooted in Jesus…. Christ’s flesh is the gateway to understanding how the kingdom defines what it means to be a human living on this earth while bringing divine circumstances into the here and now…. But Jesus is not in competition with the earth’s terms; it’s not necessary for the earth’s terms to be wrong in order for Jesus’ to be right or vise versa. This isn’t an either-or ideological war, but rather a space to breathe in the free air of paradoxical both-and. What the earth offers just isn’t the whole story. The earth only has one-half of the paradox and Jesus has the other, and although they seem to contradict, I believe they are designed to live in tension to one another. Each gives its counterpart the integrity and brimming value of its full definition.”

What would it look like to cross over the word divorce? What if we looked at divorce in that free space of both-and?

God was adamant when he said, “I hate divorce.” He really, truly does HATE divorce. Divorce means that His perfect, beautiful plan, of one man loving his wife in purity and respect and one woman supporting and adoring her husband in love and respect, is completely broken. It means that women and children are abandoned. It means that families are ripped apart, and this completely grieves the heart of the Creator of all things good.

When the Pharisees came to Jesus asking him about divorce, He reminded them of God’s perfect and beautiful plan of a loving and respectful relationship between one man and one woman. Not satisfied, they wanted to know why Moses commanded they use a certificate of divorce. “Because your hearts were hard,” He answered them. Men were kicking out their wives over burnt toast, so God, through Moses, protected the women by requiring the men to make it legal with a certificate of divorce.

In the beginning of the world when God had created paradise, placing Adam and Eve into the gorgeous Garden of Eden, His plan was for constant companionship with His creation and for them to have human companionship with each other. But then… sin. That companionship with God and with each other was tainted. The consequence was their removal out of the sacred Garden. I think perhaps marriage is a metaphoric garden, created to be a form of perfect companionship. When that bond is tainted by unrepentant adultery, there is but one consequence… that is to be removed from the garden of marriage.

To allow the unrepentant adulterer to remain in the garden is to communicate that they can mix sin with divine, and that is just not true. Sin and divine are like oil and water. They cannot mix. The more sin in your system, the less room for divine, and if you continue to fill your vessel with sin over and over and over again, you lose your ability to hear the divine voice of the Spirit. Before you know it, you are living the life of an unbeliever, choosing the pleasures of the world over the glories of God.

In a lot of cases, you may not have a choice in the matter of divorce. When your spouse lives in the sin of adultery and chooses to leave you and continue on with someone else, what say do you have? It is that spouse who is separating and choosing to end the marriage. Paul addresses this in I Corinthians 7, and he answers, “Let it be so. You are not enslaved.” These words give me an unexplainable peace. It’s an acceptance of reality mixed with a freedom of permission. “It is what it is. Go. Be free.”

Perhaps in times like these, God wishes to split the one flesh, so that He might deal with the individual fleshes separately. He has discipline and consequences, and hopefully restoration, in line for the adulterer, but protection and provision in mind for the abandoned. This response to sin is a complicated mix of justice and mercy, and in all the aspects of God’s divine character, it is one hundred percent righteous and holy.

And so I proudly brand my forehead with the dreaded capital D for “divorced”. It is a proclamation to the world that I have been set free from a relationship created for divine but drowned by sin and am now infinitely protected and provided for by a God who loves me beyond my wildest imaginations. I am called to that freedom. I am called to that protection. I am called to that provision.

I am called to divorce.

 

 

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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.

“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.