Lifting the Burden of Emptiness (Beating the Blues #3)

I’m honored to participate in our pastor’s current sermon series, “Beating the Blues” as a guest writer. Here is the third and final installment:

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She was sexually abused as a child and often escaped to shelters and as a teenager, the depths of depression led to thoughts of suicide because the yoke was too heavy to carry.

That yoke – it wasn’t made for her to carry, though. So she took it off and gave it back and picked up another one. One that was light and easy. And today she walks tall and free.

She is a mom and works full-time and is a caregiving wife to her husband who is recovering from a near-fatal accident. It’s been years and some have told her it’s okay to walk away because the yoke is too heavy to carry.

That yoke – it wasn’t made for her to carry, though. So she daily reminds herself to take it off and give it back and picks up another one. One that is light and easy. And some days are easier than others but she still walks tall and free.

After her parents divorced, when she was well past the age of innocence, her mom got caught up with the wrong person at the wrong time and went to prison. And she spent eight long years without her mom at her side – without laughter and lunches and teas and tears. And for a very long time, the yoke wore her down and all she could do was crawl under its weight, knees bloodied and hands calloused.

That yoke – it wasn’t made for her to carry, though. And some days…often, really…Satan tries to convince her to pick it up and crawl around under its weight again. And she has it in her hands and is about to place it on her back when she remembers it’s not hers to carry. So she puts it down and picks up the light one, the easy one, and stands tall and free and carries on.

It’s like there are two groups of Christians and we’re all in a giant and lush field of green pastures. And on one side is the group who still carries their heavy and hard yokes. And some are even really proud of their yokes. And they sand off the rough patches and polish it up so it looks pretty but they still carry it and are crushed in both body and spirit.

And on the other side of the field is the group who have laid down their heavy and hard yokes and are instead yoked up with Jesus – light and easy. And they are all side-by-side with arms linked and in the middle is Jesus…face bright and smile as wide as east and west and as a group they are all yelling, “Red Rover! Red Rover! Send yourself over!” and when one decides to finally break free and leave behind the heaviness, Jesus breaks away to embrace them in a hug of grace and everyone cheers because finally…just finally.

It’s up to us to decide to break free. Jesus says, “Come to me…Take my yoke…Let me…” It’s an invitation for action on our part. He won’t take it away unless we come and take and let.

He invites us to act. Always and forever.

What are you carrying today that Jesus is waiting for you to let go of? What yoke are you carrying that wasn’t made for you? Come. Take. And let Him.

Send yourself over.

MATT VERSE-01

For I Will Yet Praise Him (Beating the Blues #2)

I’m honored to participate in our pastor’s current sermon series, “Beating the Blues” as a guest writer. Here is the second of three installments:

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She emailed me out of the blue…I had not seen or heard from her once in the three years since we left. But she emailed and told me some difficult news and shared her struggles and questioned God in it. She was tithing and giving extra offerings and fasting and praying, yet He wasn’t changing her circumstances and she couldn’t figure out why.

She was doing everything “right” and God wasn’t responding.

I couldn’t type my reply fast enough and there was smoke coming from the keys as I responded to her. I didn’t want any time to go by that would allow her to continue to think untrue and warped thoughts about her Abba Father. The words came easily and I said to her,

“Tithing is wonderful, and offerings are amazing and fasting shows God how serious you are. But you can never do those things out of a hope to get something from God in return. If that’s the motive of your heart in doing them, you might as well not do it at all. God only cares about your motive in doing it — He doesn’t need it. Give tithes because He asks us to and it’s obedience. Give offerings out of a desire to help others beyond what your tithe can do. Fast to show Him you really want to hear from Him…not to get…never to get. Your obedience to Him will always supersede your sacrifice. Every time. (<= click to tweet this)

 I know you feel disappointed and desperate and need a change in your circumstances. And more importantly, GOD knows that. But He seems to be asking you to follow and trust anyway…even with the possibility that nothing might ever change. Would you still follow Him if nothing ever changed? That’s the root of everything He’s trying to get through to you. He loves you regardless of everything you’ve done in the past or will do in the future. He loves you regardless of a job or no job. He loves you regardless of whether you tithe, offer, pray or fast. HE JUST LOVES YOU BECAUSE HE IS LOVE. He can’t help but love you. He just wants to know — and moreso, wants you to know — that you would follow Him into poverty if that’s what He asked of you. That’s all.”

 And God used my own words to speak and preach to me, as much as I was trying to encourage her. Because it’s so easy to praise Him when everything is great, isn’t it? And when He isn’t fitting into our perfectly outfitted, unbelieving box…well, then we just get mad and shake our fists at a Most Holy God and threaten Him with “just wait and see if I continue to follow you after this!”

We’ve all been where psalmist was in Psalm 42, that place where tears are our food day and night and people say to us all day long, “where is your God?” We’ve all been in the place where we say to Him, “why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” and that place where our bones suffer mortal agony and our foes taunt us saying all day long, “where is your God?”

Those places are hard. Those places are dry. Those places are where we tithe and offer and fast and pray in hopes of getting out of it. And God…watching from above with tears in His eyes because He is so close to the brokenhearted says,

“Remember these things as you pour out your soul…how you used to come to My house under My protection with shouts of praise and joy among the festive throng. Remember these things from the land of Jordan and the heights of Hermon, as deep calls to deep and my waves and breakers swept over you. Remember how I direct my love at night with My song in you, a prayer to Me of your life. Remember ME. Don’t love me to get. Love me because I first loved you.”

My friend replied to me with a simple and pure, yet profound realization,

“The answer is still yes…a simple but truthful yes…because I do love Him and I do trust Him even knowing I will never understand Him.”

His ways are higher, His thoughts are higher, and if we can conceive it, then that can’t be it. Yet we love Him anyway. Because He first loved us. Because He is love.

“Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God — soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.” (Psalm 42:11, The Message)

Listening for the Voice of Hope

I’m honored to participate in our pastor’s current sermon series, “Beating the Blues” as a guest writer. Here is the first of three installments:

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I’ve found myself here again. My GPS had shown exactly where to go and how to get there, but my internal compass didn’t follow those directions and instead drove the regular route it was comfortable with. Familiar with. The route that where the roads are wore down I just seem to travel on auto-pilot. And I find myself stuck in a dead-end, face-to-face with Inadequate.

Again.

Inadequate is a large, looming shadow that covers every bit of light around me. It’s not loud — in fact it barely whispers because it doesn’t have to be loud. I’m loud enough for the both of us. All it has to do is whisper ever-so-softly and the next thing I know I’m turning off the ignition and climbing out of the car and shouting what the whisperer tells me,

There’s someone who could love my husband better. My kids deserve a mom who’s more…more everything. I’m a terrible manager of my home and a worse procrastinator when it comes to home-managing details. I haven’t dusted our blinds…in the whole house…in the year and a half we’ve lived here and I’ve never once made a scrapbook. I make really boring meals and I am beyond unhappy with myself and would rather hide out at home most days than go in public feeling as less-than as I do. There are brilliant writers out there, so what on earth am I trying to do?? And worse — the absolute worst of all — is that I fear the person I sometimes see in my mind’s eye…that person God shows me glimpses of from time to time…I’m afraid she will never come to fruition because she’s on the route I just can’t ever seem to make it to. Instead I keep running into Inadequate. And I never know how I got here.

Hear my heart, please — this is not fishing for compliments or trying to come across as self-deprecating or falsely humble. It’s simply gut-level honesty. It’s a bit of a crippling season and I’m worried I’m about to crash and burn and total myself and total the car. And perhaps total those around me. But I doubt I could ever total that stinkin’ shadow.

So this is where I sit and wait. This dead-end where the brick walls fence me in on all sides and the shadow taunts me without a word. This is where I surf the web and check and recheck email just waiting on God to intervene. To send a word. Encouragement. Confirmation. Something.

This is where I stop and listen for that Voice to bring hope.

And I wait. And I sit there.

And wait some more.

And then, right there on Facebook, the Word comes directly to me from a trusted friend:

“Be still and know Him.”

And tears fall and I cry and then laugh through my tears and the new mascara I bought isn‘t waterproof so now I have an ugly mess on my hands. Literally.

Because of course the Voice is telling me to be still. Those have been My Words for this season. Those are literally The Words confirming part of My Immediate Future. Those words — they are my phone lock-screen wallpaper.

Those words are a reminder that I can’t do this — any of this — without making time to be still first. Without stillness I’m a terrible wife, an impatient mother, a boring cook, a self-loathing nightmare and completely and totally inadequate.

In all the striving for adequacy, I’ve forgotten to take time to simply be and to be still. In the painful stretching to try and fill a void that’s not mine to fill, I have forgotten to stop trying and just focus on being. And that’s how I found myself face-to-face with Inadequate. I didn’t take time to be still and know Him before I ever got in the car. (<= click to tweet)

Be.

“Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” (Psalm 46:10, MSG)

“Let BE and BE still, and know (recognize and understand) that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10, AMP)

Fan or Follower Wrap Up

I’m honored to participate in our pastor’s current sermon series, “#1 Fan?” as a guest writer. Here is the eighth and final installment — you can find the others by clicking here.

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I boarded the plane from Seattle to Atlanta on a warm September day in 1997. I spent the next five hours watching the plane fly away from my pain and my hurt and my fears faster than I ever could have run. I arrived at the airport and was immediately greeted by my dad with a  hug and a “welcome home,” and I spent the next few months in a confused, depressed daze — wondering what on earth had just happened and simultaneously doing everything in my power not to think about it.

Or pray about it. Especially pray about it.

I loved God and believed in Jesus and was a fan of most things Christian. But it wasn’t my own walk yet — it wasn’t my own relationship. I wasn’t praying, I wasn’t seeking, I wasn’t in community, I wasn’t learning, I wasn’t reading. Everything I believed was based on residual fumes of my church-based childhood. My house was built on sand and nothing more.

I found enough distractions to keep me from the harsh realities of what I had left behind. And it worked…for awhile. I avoided and stuffed all the problems and carried on as if nothing was wrong. But the funny thing about avoiding and stuffing problems is that the root is still there — always there — and the weed keeps cropping back up and eventually you’re exhausted from trying to cut it and are ready for some deep seed to remove it completely.

So I began to implode. And my house collapsed right on the sand, and everything I owned had sand in it. There was sand in my mind and sand in my heart and sand in my hair and I just couldn’t get all the sand out. No matter how much I shook and how much I vacuumed, sand remained and irritated every area of my life.

And one summer day, completely broken and irrational over one single grain of sand I couldn’t remove, I reached the end of myself. I got on the floor of my glass-green-walled room and settled onto my knees with my head on my bed, tears soaking my white down comforter.

And I finally decided to pray.

And I gave up. And I gave it over. And I gave myself over. And I asked that God remove all the sand because I hated the sand but didn’t know how to get rid of it all.

And when I got up and walked out the door, there was peace in my heart. And I found a church and went every Sunday night — only Sunday nights, for six straight months — and sat alone in the very back and cried and wept and got all the sand out.

And when my time of weeping was over and all the sand was gone, I began to heal. And I began to pray and seek and read and learn and be in community. I began to remember where those childhood fumes came from and soon I was fueled by the gas itself, not just the fumes. And I began to really love God and really love Jesus and I became a real follower. It became my own walk and my own relationship. And I loved every second of it.

I was ruined for normal. Nothing has ever been the same since.

In the greatest way possible, absolutely nothing has ever been the same since.

For so long I believed that if I really decided to follow Jesus I’d have to give up so much, lose so much. But I had already given up so much and lost so much, and the things that remained were wisps of reality and puffs of truth. What I had been holding so tightly wasn’t anything worth holding. It was like trying to hold onto sand…and it slipped through my fingers no matter how hard I grasped. Even if I could keep it in my hand, all it did was create irritation and pain. Why would I continue to grasp pain?

But when I finally pulled up the root of that stinking weed and let it go, the scales fell from my eyes and I could see. I saw Truth and I saw Wisdom and I saw the deception for what it was — a thin veil designed to keep me from the hope and future already planned in advance for me.

There’s such freedom in following Christ, not simply being a fan. It’s hard yet yielding, painful yet peaceful, challenging yet clear. It’s a straight and narrow path protected by hedges of grace. The freedom that comes from walking that path is found in the absence of shame and the absence of condemnation and the absence of fear.

In being a fan we think we’re doing Him a favor — isn’t He so lucky we’re fans of His? But He wants followers. Because when we follow Christ, it is for our good, not His.

Fan of Holiness?

I’m honored to participate in our pastor’s current sermon series, “#1 Fan?” as a guest writer. Here is the seventh installment — you can find the others by clicking here.

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To journey toward holiness is to walk where the sidewalk never ends. And the path is littered with altars along the way — altars of remembrance and altars of sacrifice.

“Here…on the left…this is where God remembered me and met me and parted the sea for me.”

“Over here, on the right…this is where I laid down my Isaac. There was no thicket, there was no ram.”

 “And up here just a little bit…this is where God got a hold of me and blinded me. And it took awhile for the scales to be removed, but then I was able to see.”

These little altars are mile markers of progress on a path that will take a lifetime to travel.

As you walk along the path, you are showered with grace. Grace falling like snow into blankets of insulation. Grace falling like rain bringing water to a thirsty soul. Grace shining like the sun and illuminating His glory. Grace falling like fall leaves, where the slightest hint of the wind brings leaves to submission and piles them high where it’s all you can do not to just JUMP in without concern for bugs or spiders or slithering enemies.

Grace.

Holiness is unattainable without it — yet it is given, not demanded. We cannot demand the snow insulate the earth. We cannot demand the rain hydrate the soil. We cannot demand the sun illuminate our face. And we cannot demand the wind to shake loose the dry leaves from its branch.

For the leaves only fall when the Spirit blows through them. And their fall is gentle and silent, not loud and demanding.

Grace does not give permission to remain unholy.

Grace does not give permission to remain unholy.

Instead, grace is the bumper along the path of holiness…that path where the sidewalk never ends…that path littered with altars…grace is piles of fallen leaves and banks of snow and pools of rain, guard rails that keep you from falling over the edge.

When unholiness beckons and summons you like the enemy of Wisdom, go to your altars. The altars of remembrance and the altars of sacrifice…stop on your unending sidewalk and visit them. Remember the things the Lord has done for you — the miracles He performed, the rams He provided and the sight He restored. Lay back on them like they were lush, green pastures and use them to restore your soul.

And after you have waited on the Lord and renewed your strength, get back up again and continue walking forward toward holiness. Soak in the Spirit as it blows grace all around you, assured it will guard you should you stumble.

“The ways of right-living people glow with light; the longer they live, the brighter they shine. But the road of wrongdoing gets darker and darker — travelers can’t see a thing; they fall flat on their faces.” (Proverbs 4:18-19, The Message)