And My Answer Is…Yes.

Jesus, my answer to you is yes.

To whatever it is you ask, to whatever it is You want. To wherever You lead, even and especially when I don’t know where we are going. Yes to following You through pain and things I would never choose for myself or my most beloved ones. Yes to the loss of choice and how that terrifies me. Yes to a season of darkness if it means I learn to find Your hand in that very darkness.

Yes to following You into places in my heart that cause me to grimace and wince because of their raw power. Yes to opening up my most private, shameful and personal memories, allowing you to speak to them and change my perception of them. Yes to Your changing my habits and patterns that are so ingrained and hidden, only a serious disruption of “normal” brings them into view. Yes to my paying attention to and cooperating with whatever disruption it takes for you to save me from myself. Yes to letting you pry my hands off of my beloved status quo.

Yes to You loving me enough that sometimes You tell me “no.” Yes to letting You break my heart if it will save me from the damage that some of the things I love do to me. Yes to letting go of things that are less so you can give me more.  Yes to releasing that which has been holding me tighter than I have been holding it.

Yes to walking in to the unknown and to following You down paths where no one can go with me. Yes to a heart sickening loneliness if it teaches me to learn to love and relate to You more authentically and healthily. Yes to Your plans for me, even as it means the death of my dreams for me. Yes to not running from fear of You when You choose to flex Your muscles, to exercise Your sovereignty, to call attention to the fact that I am helpless before You. Yes to laying down my desires and my control tendencies, to opening my hands and being willing for them to stay empty for as long as You want. Because yes, I believe You want to eventually fill them with more than I had before. And Yes to You taking as long as You want to accomplish Your purposes in my life, even as I think I’ll die waiting for You.

Yes to You stripping away my illusions of how I think the world works in exchange for You teaching me the truth of how it actually works. Yes to the grief that comes along with seeing truth for the first time and realizing how long I’ve lived with lies. Yes to following You to places of repentance and an accurate self-view that can be so devastating.

Yes to Your request to physically occupy more space in my heart that I have given away to idols and taken for myself. Yes to not just allowing You to take up space, but to my inviting You in, willingly and wholeheartedly. Yes to learning and re-learning how to love you in a way that actually honors You, rather than in a way that is convenient for me.

Yes to resting in You and to letting You lead. Yes to slowing down even as my heart pushes me to speed up. Yes to letting You be You, even when it is so bewildering, confusing and doubt-inducing. Yes to Your heart for me and yes to trusting You with my heart. Yes to the lifelong process of acknowledging, with my head, mouth and life that You are indeed God and that you are indeed good.

My answer to you is yes. May it always be yes.

(originally published 5/18/13)

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May My Dreams Be More Powerful Than My Memories

Memories are these mysteriously paradoxical things.  At their best, they help us form the foundation of our lives. Acting like anchors, they secure us to people, places, our culture, our stories and our history.  They give us a place to from which to launch when we are ready to spread our wings and explore…and a place to land when a season of life exhausts us, when we are hurt, and needing to rest.  They create a filter through which we make future decisions, enabling us to recognize what we like, what is dangerous, what we hope to repeat or avoid. They have the potential to make us smile, reminding us of the joy we’ve experienced, of the people we love, of our most human moments when we touch something divine within us and feel the pleasure of our Maker.  In the darkest night of the soul, they can remind us that the sun used to shine, that if we can just wait long enough, it will shine again, and that sometimes, there are treasures to be found in the darkness.  No wonder God encourages His people to remember… (Ps. 103:2, Ps. 105:5) Our stories are powerful. Everyone should have a few snapshots of genuinely happy moments from their lives, if not stuck to their refrigerator door, then to their hearts, where they can encourage us when we need it most.

At their worst though…memories can be terrible tyrants, rubbing our noses in our failures, in our shame, in our disappointments and heartbreaks.  Instead of an anchor, they act like a ball and chain, tying us to a past we would rather leave behind.  They alter our perceptions of who we are and who God is…and their sometimes uncertain nature makes them a dangerous tool in our enemy’s hands.  Destructive memories can follow and punish us with a ferocity that makes us wince internally and hide from others externally.  Their wounds can be ingrained, like an ill-timed footprint in the wet cement of our hearts.  It is there forever, and forever marring what might have otherwise been beautiful…what was intended by our Maker to be beautiful.  In the darkest nights of the soul, these are the memories that taunt us, telling us that the sun will never shine again, and that the God who made the sun, who made us and who allowed our memory to happen, must not love us because of how unloveable it all makes us feel.  No wonder God also encourages His people to forget… (Is. 43:18, Phil. 3:13) Our stories are indeed powerful.  Everyone has memories like this, taped not to our refrigerator door for all to see, but hidden away in the most vulnerable, and most private places in our hearts.

In light of all this, I have a complicated relationship with my past.  Alternately grateful and regretful. Recognizing the value of owning my past, but not letting it own me.  Not wanting to leave it all behind, but not wanting to bring it all with me either. Knowing the lens I use to look at it changes its value.

Oh Jesus, may my dreams be more powerful than my memories! 

May my life be anchored, not to what was, but to who You are, and to what You’ve promised will be.

May my life be energized by hope, by a future focus, and with the optimism of one who knows that You heal broken things, and that You resurrect dead things from the grave.

May my heart be open to the possibility that tomorrow can be better than today.

May the happiness I’ve been blessed with be a reminder that the joy I feel here is but a foretaste of what is to come.

May the sadness I’ve endured be transformed in Your hands… into a doorway that leads to knowing You more… into plowed ground in which my compassion for those in pain grows… into a prized story I treasure and get to share, because You met me in the middle of it and changed its ending.

May I find and chase after the dreams You’ve given me, that You created me to dream…and may I learn to build my life around them…not on the memories that would restrain me.

May the painful memories of my past… become things that have happened to me…not things that define me.

May I be more motivated to pursue what is before me than chased by what is behind me.

May I be willing to let some things from the past go in order to make room for what will come.

May I take You at Your word when You say I am a new creation, that the old has gone, and the new has come…and that the life sitting before me is a gift, is safe, and holds the potential for my deepest satisfaction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embracing The Bright Sadness (Jesus pt. 98)

“Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness…” Richard Rohr.

It is an interesting tension that older followers of Jesus are asked to hold. In one hand there should be hope and joy. It is the positive sunny perspective on life that gets us out of bed in the morning, looking forward to tomorrow.  It reflects our trust in and belief that Jesus is indeed more powerful

Clouds and sun, all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

Clouds and sun at the same time… all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

than this world and that He is indeed making all things new, restoring, rebuilding and blessing. Our tomorrows can be better than our todays – this is part of the birthright of children of the King, of those who have been saved and now have the Savior living inside of them. Our faith should allow us to smile.

Yet,  in the other hand we hold a sadness and a darkness that comes with living in a broken world where sin has had its way. It means we don’t pretend all is ok. Because, sometimes, things most definitely are not all ok. This awakening to the presence of pain can be a weight that at times threatens to topple us over in its direction.  As we age, most of us bump into a most sobering, and at times, depressing reality – that this life can really, really hurt. That sometimes things don’t always work out well or even good. Sometimes evil wins and we lose. Sometimes we can’t stop the suffering, especially of those we love. Sometimes life descends into a nosedive of despair that can be difficult to pull out of without medication, unhealthy coping mechanisms of some kind, or a very, very deep and complicated work of the heart and faith. (Phil. 2:2) And not everyone has the time, inclination or stomach for the heart work or faith that surviving such a nosedive into pain requires.

People who have walked with Jesus for a while are able to embrace both sides of this. Joy, while at the same time, sad. Light and dark co-existing side by side in our hearts. Grabbing hold of the two truths at the same time, “It will all be ok. It won’t all be ok.”  As Richard Rohr puts it, “…a kind of bright sadness…”. I suspect you’ve met people like this. They have a weight to them. A gravity. An internal spaciousness about them that allows them to hold two such full and complex experiences at the same time, negating neither, and embracing both. A bright sadness. St John of the Cross, author of the term, “dark night of the soul”,  called this mystery a “luminous darkness”.

And because of the internal and theological stretching required to hold all this, these people are able to hold more of Jesus in the created space.

As a younger believer, I never would have guessed this. Maturity in Christ means being familiar with sadness. Sadness is not a bad friend to have either. It can open doors – to heart things, to spiritual truth, to intimacy with Jesus, to great depth and wisdom. It can be a companion who knows things and shares them with us.

Willingly walking through the doors of sadness holds the potential to lead us to the doors of joy we are looking for, are wired for. But it is not a happy clappy, Hallmark card blurb, easy Sunday School kind of joy. Instead, it leads to the deeper kind that gets us out of bed in the morning when just that takes all we’ve got… knowing that even in the midst of pain, it is still worth it all. The kind of joy that says to despair, “I’m not afraid of you because you have something to teach me about Jesus, about truth, about me…and I’m willing to sit with you, walk with you for a while, in order to learn your precious secrets.” (Eccl. 7:4) Walking through deep sadness leads to the kind of joy that doesn’t blot out darkness, but overcomes it. A greater joy. The joy Jesus promises us.

The path to joy may meander first on the path of sadness. Sometimes for a long time. Being able to hold joy most fully requires that we first learn to hold sadness. And this is a most stretching thing to do. Which is why it is almost always older people who are able do it. It takes a long time and a lot of life to learn to do it properly.

Over the years, I’ve found that Jesus loves the simplicity of a child’s faith, the primary colors, the basic foundational vocabulary, the straight lines, the innocent faith and reckless trust. And I’ve also found that Jesus loves the deep and multilayered complexity of an adult’s faith that involves a lot of blurred edges, uncomfortable uncertainty, endless shades of gray and more questions than answers.

Jesus invites us to know Him from both places if we want.

But we have to be willing to go there with Him. The journey isn’t a short or easy one.

Jn. 17:13 …but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Phil. 2:12…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

Phil 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Eccl. 7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

He Walks Into Our Pain With Us (Jesus pt. 90)

Sometimes I come to Jesus with tears in my eyes, almost always with them in my heart, and I ask… sometimes sob, sometimes wail, sometimes just whisper …”Fix this. Oh please, fix this.”

And instead of fixing it like I hoped, wanted, asked, begged…He does something different… unexpected…at times so very disappointing…yet ultimately better. He walks into the pain with me.

Walking with Jesus...is a bit more intense as one walks further with Him.

When you start walking with Jesus there is no telling where He will lead you.

A God who doesn’t always fix things. Who has the power to resolve and heal with a word yet chooses not to. Not how I expect anyway. Who says, “I know this hurts. I know how things are playing out is profoundly disappointing for you. I know my choices for you aren’t what you would choose and lead you to question my goodness and love for you. But what you see as a “non-answer” is actually a better answer. There are things I am doing in you through the pain that are worth far more than just the avoidance of the pain. Will you trust Me? Will you let me walk into it with you? Will you follow Me where I am leading you?”

Somehow, walking with Jesus into my pain is better than Him just fixing it.

A God who willingly gets His hands dirty in the mess of my life. Who not only allows, but welcomes the questions and wrestling that come with an honest experience with Him. Who doesn’t phone in His participation in my life, but goes there with me, to the darkness, the weeping…and walks with me in it all. And then, when I can’t walk anymore but just crumple on the roadside, sits with me, holds me, watches over me, till I can get up again.

The journey of sanctification, of growing in my faith, of growing me, leads through pain, not around it.

Pain has a work to do in my life. One that is so important, so valuable and ultimately so wonderful that Jesus, in His love, can’t deny me. It leads me to Him. To more of Him. To bypassing the trap of knowing a lot about Jesus and thinking that is the same as actually KNOWING Him.

A God who gives His presence as the greatest gift. Who refuses to allow me to think His gifts are the greatest gift. Who takes my pain and flips it, using it for me and not against me.

Ps. 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Sometimes Mothers Get Crushed – A Very Non-Traditional, Somber and Almost Dark Mother’s Day Post

I was pulling up in our driveway one morning when I saw her. A large box turtle. Since we all enjoy the ‘wild kingdom’ vibe of our yard, I got out to take a photo of her to show the kids for later.  As I got close I noticed. The left corner of her shell had been crushed. Either Jeff or I had run over her on our way out in the darkness of morning. She was now dead.

To make matters worse, several almost-done, but still intact turtle eggs had spilled out.

It was an accident and accidents happen. Nature is cruel. Things die all the time and it is a part of life. I try to guard my heart with these truths whenever I’m faced with the reality of suffering and death – almost always unsuccessfully, as in this case. I was moved. And so sad. I took some time that morning to talk with God about what I’d seen and why I knew it was important for me to stop and pay attention.

I don’t know how turtles do motherhood. Because they are reptiles, I suspect they aren’t too attentive or affectionate. But this mother, because of events beyond her control, would not be there for her babies. She’d been crushed.

And from what I know of people, this happens to us all the time. Oh, the mother may not literally die, but because of an accident, because of events beyond her control, because of sin – either hers or the effects of someone else’s on her life – she’s had a weight land on her that was too heavy to bear. It left her wounded. Damaged. Unable to fully do what her babies needed her to do. And those babies had to learn to fend for themselves way too early, perpetuating the line of wounded mothers into the next generation.

Surely you’ve seen this. Probably experienced it. A mother… in a painful, loveless or soul-killing marriage. Broken in the separation from a destructive man. Supporting something very unhealthy, addictive or secret, and not knowing any alternative. Enduring a life burden that is too much for one person to hold. Carrying pain in verbal silence but screaming it within the quality of her relationships. Suffering from a crippling depression or physical struggle. Damaged by her mother, who was damaged also. Wearing soul wounds from abuse, words, disappointment, neglect, trauma and all the other things that were never meant to happen to us in Eden.

The children of mothers like this know. Because the weight of it has crushed them too.

We so rarely get the mother we want. We only get the mother we’ve got. Making peace with that is a major passage of life. It is a passage many never make.

Motherhood is etched on the hearts of most women, calling to us in a visceral way we cannot fully explain. Yet it is this dynamic, how our woundedness has the capacity to wound our children, that has the potential to make a day like today, one of sorrow and not joy. Of fear. Of regret – either for our mothers, or for our children.

My greatest motherhood fear is damaging my beloved children with my own damage. If there was ever a reason for me to cling for dear life to my Healer, to my Jesus, surely this is it.