By Thy Help I’m Come

We went to the beach, the four of us, and spread out. The joke was that it was an “introvert party.” We all had our own things to process. I saw the rock barrier and instantly knew that’s where I needed to go.

I wanted to walk out to the end, but my lack of courage (and balance) kept me from going more than 15 feet out. So I parked myself on a rock with my journal and a towel. It was warm from the sun, but the breeze was nice. Refreshing.

From there, I had a clear view of the water and the sun and waves coming in. I didn’t realize there were so many colors of blue in the world. Deep blue of the sky far beyond the horizon. Murky, grayish blue of the waves in front of me. Muted, calm blue of the in-between. Even each of those had shades of depth and profundity. Levels of sadness; levels of joy.

The water was fresh, like the tears of joy they say fall first from your right eye. So many of my tears have been saltwater recently. Sorrow. Sorrowful tears aren’t really much different than joyful tears, chemically speaking. But they feel so much different. Tears are the place where sorrow is mixed with joy; bitterness of pain with the sweetness of relief you feel after a good cry. You still feel miserable, but somehow better.

Maybe this is what Paul meant when he wrote about being “sorrowful, yet rejoicing”. I’m sorrowful because my world is broken and has gradually gotten even more so. But there’s joy, because all things are being made new. Life consists in tears – sorrowful and joyful.

I could see down into the waves. The water was clear here, but only enough to see what was making it murky. There was sand and seaweed and rocks. Dead sea animals, shells, driftwood, sludge.

I realized it then: “All your breakers and your waves have gone over me.” God’s waves are love, but they knock me down. God’s love drudges up all the sludge I would rather not deal with. His love has to be violent sometimes to churn up what makes my heart murky. That grit and sludge – it makes its mark. The rock I was sitting on was smooth – not because anyone had made it that way, but because the waves had eroded it with the silt and sand they contain.

God has smoothed me out with the struggle of this past year. He had to bring suffering into my life to reveal all the pride, anger, and idols in my heart. He had to show me again how broken I really am. He slowly but surely eroded some of those rough edges of immaturity that seemed to follow me everywhere.

Sitting by Lake Michigan, I realized how angry I had been with Him. I had seen the waves in my life as hatred, not love. But God knew that I needed my pride broken down, my idols removed, and my dependence on others to hear His voice destroyed. He knew. So He did.

My faith had been hindered, like my prayers, because I was angry. I had been trying to hold onto things with a death grip that the Lord had chosen to take away. He gently pried open my fingers and said, “Give them to me. You can’t hold onto them any longer. It’s hurting you.” All the bitter tears of the past year were caught in His bottle.

Thinking about these things, I walked down the beach. Looking at the sand so I wouldn’t lose my footing, I began to see little stones – baby cousins to the one I had been sitting on. They were flat and smooth. They looked like they had been chiseled out to build a pyramid for the Pharaohs . . . or an altar to my God.

Spreading out my towel, I began to stack them into a pile. One after the other. 12 months, 12 stones. One memorial to God’s faithfulness over a very hard year. Like Samuel, I raised an Ebenezer – a stone named “God is my help”. He had been my rock and was faithful, even when I rejected His painful love and severe mercy.

IMG_0723

“Here I raise my Ebenezer:

Hither by Thy help I’m come.”

This little rock pile, built with patience and hot glue, sits on my shelf as a reminder. Every time I look at it, I reflect on God’s faithfulness. His helpfulness. His grace.

Through every ebb and flow of the past year, He was the same. He never changed or left. I cried out in anguish many times. I raised my fist at Him more times than I care to admit. I lay prostrate on the floor – flattened by the misery I felt.

But He was unfazed by any of this. His care for me did not change. He was still a loving Father Who brought these things into my life to show me His painful love.

Even when I screamed into pillows and pounded the floor and sat in stunned silence, He still said, “I love you.” He said it to me in the moments of my deepest depression. He said it to me in the moments of my highest joy.

“I love you. I love you so much that Christ died to rescue you.” He whispered it into my ear when anything more would be painful. He shouted it when I shut Him out to wallow in my misery.

I’ve learned that His love is not a cupcake kind of love – all sugar and frosting and sprinkles. No. His love looks like a naked, pain-wracked man with gory wounds who is in the anguish of being forsaken by God.

If God’s love meant that for Christ, what does His love mean for me?

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds.”

“Blessed are you when others revile you . . . on my account.”

He loves me – and that doesn’t mean everything will be sunshine. Instead, the storms show His love just as much as the rays of light. They show that He’s in control. He cares about me individually when the mess is much larger than anything I can see.

Life with God can be painful. But that pain reveals His love. If I didn’t feel pain in this life, I wouldn’t need God in this life. I have to be present in the pain, because God is in it. Like Elijah, I have to listen for His voice in the storm, in the wind, and in the calm. He’s there – in all of it.

The Blessedness of Being Nobody

one-way-london

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

(Emily Dickinson, 1891)

It is such a freeing thought — to be a nobody.

Being a nobody means that I don’t have to pretend that I am somebody. It means pride gets checked at the door, and grace welcomes me into a Father’s embrace.

Being a nobody means removing the roadblocks to honesty. If what makes me valuable is not based on things I do, but is a gift from God, revealing my secrets will not destroy me.

Being a nobody means standing up to the pressure to put on a mask, close your mouth, and lie low. It means choosing to stay authentic, speak the truth, and stand up tall on what matters, even when it means losing it all.

Being a nobody means that I can step aside and Jesus can be made known. My brokenness becomes a canvas for His glory.

Today, I want to be a nobody. I want my somebody-ness to be thrown off.

For me, part of being a nobody means leaning hard into the truth and writing about it. It’s sharing who I have been, with all its ugliness, but also sharing who my Savior has made me to be. I’ve been so afraid to do that — to write about my life, with all its joy and pain. But even Jesus didn’t look like a Walmart smiley face sticker all the time. No. He wept. He was sorrowful, yet rejoicing.

From experience, facing the truth and digging down into it hurts. But I remember all that is true and beautiful does hurt. It hurts in the place where our hearts long for another, perfect world. It hurts in the place where healing happens. It hurts in the place where Jesus joins with our lives.

I’d rather be a nobody, singing the praises of One who is infinitely valuable, than a somebody, silently pretending to be someone I’m not.

 

Follow Me (You Smell Like Fish)

DA0J1dicQ76uxpzK5PR5_PR_4040_retinaInsecurity. Maybe it’s a me thing. I question my clothing choices like some sort of Spanish Inquisitor. I scrutinize every choice I make and wonder how it will affect others’ approval of me. Even something as simple as what I order at a restaurant becomes a major ordeal of “is this healthy enough? Is this hip enough? Maybe I should order something smaller?”.

Insecurity. Maybe it’s a woman thing. I listen as my friend sits across the table and feels the need to justify her piercing. I watch as a teenage girl is emotionally destroyed by inability to make her accessories complement her hairstyle. I see hundreds of women selling themselves for some small sense of being loved.

Insecurity. Maybe it’s a human thing. It’s with the child that cries when their parent is out of arm’s reach. It haunts the man who works himself into the ground to prove himself as a provider. It motivates the person who religiously logs into social media to check their status in the world.

Insecurity consumes us. It’s an obsession. It can become our identity.

But then Jesus walks by, and He says, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).

The men he first said this to – they weren’t nice-smelling, clean, perfectly accessorized, religious people. In fact, they probably smelled like fish . . . sweaty, dirty fish.

Jesus could have easily said to them, “Follow me . . . but take a shower first!”

Instead, His call is simply to follow. He calls us where we are – fish stink and all.

He also doesn’t say, “Follow me, and make yourselves into fishers of men.” That’s what I think I have to do – work hard and make myself good enough. Christ is kind enough to not leave us to that. Instead, He takes the responsibility off our shoulders. His command is to “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He does the transforming.

He says, “your identity is not in what you can do, it is in what I will do in you.”

Following Him means hearing the call where I am and submitting to His changes. Only Jesus can change me and make me someone useful and valuable to Him. No amount of time in front of the mirror or right decisions or social media notifications can do that.

This is my struggle. I know that He is working in me and His opinion is all that matters, but I’m still insecure. My view of the Savior is still too small.

Loss and Faithfulness

a699942a

It’s been months since I have written seriously. Nothing has been posted here, and my journal has been sadly neglected. That is usually a sign that something is wrong. But in this case, I’ve simply needed the quiet to process all that has happened in my life.

There’s been many times during this season when I could not speak for one reason or another. Needed restrictions were placed on me – and I’m grateful.

I’ve learned that sometimes it is good to simply be silent and let the Lord work. Often I speak so much that I cannot hear what God wants to teach me.

Although even now I cannot share much publicly, I believe the Lord would have me start speaking again.

Today, as I was talking with a friend, it struck me how much loss I’ve experienced recently.

I’ve lost a sense of belonging.

I’ve lost friends I loved like family.

I’ve lost mentors.

I’ve lost spiritual leadership.

I’ve lost my reputation with many.

I’ve lost contact with people I love dearly and had invested in.

I’ve lost the security that comes from living a safe and comfortable life.

Needless to say, the last 3 months have been very hard. My life has changed and is changing at a frighteningly fast pace.

I’ve drifted in and out of depression and struggled to see the purpose of God in my suffering. I guess I’ve been experiencing what some would call “a dark night of the soul”.

Rainbow-free-license-CC0-980x652

But in all of the struggle and all of these changes, I know one thing for certain: God is faithful.

That fact never changes. And that is what I have to bank on.

Paul understood this. I’ve always loved 2 Corinthians 1, but this week I realized that my life is truly written on those pages.

After explaining the joy and bond between believers that comes through suffering and experiencing God’s comfort, Paul gets really personal.

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

Paul had been mistreated and nearly put to death. But beyond that, he had experienced the heart-burden of living in an angry, fallen world. He knew what it felt like to not be able to breathe, to not have any strength to keep on.

But in that struggle, he could see how God used it.

Paul saw God’s hand leading him to a deeper trust in his Savior.

He could see the hope of a future resurrection where all things would be restored and made new.

He could recognize his own previous self-reliance and his need for God’s help.

I’m grateful for how God has been teaching me the same thing. To truly need God is a blessing.

Sunbeams-through-the-clouds-980x652

Paul continues, with a confident, triumphant tone: “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:10)

I too have set my hope.

The peril is deadly, but deliverance is coming, and His name is Faithful and True.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

Perfect Love for Trying-To-Be-Perfect Fear

Last post, I talked about my fear of being imperfect. Even as I wrote that, I realized how much farther I have to go. A year ago, I could never have admitted how much I struggle with my own sin. I would (and did) hide the majority of my life from those I love.

The Lord has made large strides in my life. He has given me freedom I could have never imagined, and I am so thankful. But it is still a struggle. I often catch myself trying to cover up my brokenness with a façade.

But that is not Jesus in me. Jesus is real. My “togetherness” is not.

Jesus’ love isn’t dependent on how “together” I am. It just is. The I AM, who is self-existent and unchanging, cannot love any other way. He is not dependent on any creature for His existence, and so is His love not dependent on any creature for its existence.

In simplest terms: He is. He is love. Therefore, His love is.

My weaknesses don’t change His love.

Instead, God is perfect; therefore, His love is perfect.

The apostle John understood this love. If you read his books very much, you realize two things: Jesus loved John, and John couldn’t stop talking about it.

He writes in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

John says that God’s love is the solution for my fear. Failing terrifies me because I’m afraid of the consequences. I say to myself: “What will people think if I open up? What if I try something and screw up?” I’m looking for a punishment around every corner.

But perfect love means I don’t have to fear punishment. As Romans 8:1 reminds me, “There is . . . now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus already took my punishment, so God isn’t going to punish me.

I don’t have to fear people either. They can hurt me, but what they do will not take God by surprise. He is sovereign – the ruler of all things – and He is my Father – the giver of good things. I can trust Him completely, even with the painful actions of others.

John continues, “whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” My fears reveal something about my heart. They show me areas that I haven’t allowed His love to penetrate.

My fear of imperfection is a barometer of how deep His perfect love has really affected me.

The areas of my life that are controlled by fear – they’re not God’s fault. They’re mine. In those moments that I fear punishment, it isn’t because His love has changed. It never will, but my response to it can.

When I do allow God’s perfect love to cast out my fear of failing:

Instead of forgetting the gospel, I remember it. I can preach the gospel to myself through reading God’s Word and rehearsing the Truth. But, I also need other people to help preach it to me. In times that I can’t see past my fears, I will go to a friend and say, “I’m struggling. Please tell me what is true.” Other times, I pick up a book or listen to a sermon to hear a mature exhortation. All of these together help me to remember God’s love.

Instead of believing lies, I take them captive with the truth of God’s Word. 2 Corinthians 10:3 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” This is a battle of the mind. My fears are not based in what’s true. When they come up, I have a choice. I can either believe the lie, or I can believe what God says to me in love and turn to Him for help.

Instead of trying to protect my reputation, I rejoice that the God who loves me will get glory. This is a hard one to believe sometimes. But as God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The more I am weak, the more He has to and can do in and through me. When I trust that, I also can “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Instead of being afraid to use the gifts God has given me, I yield to His right to use them. Perfect love means that God has created and redeemed me. He owns me. On top of that, anything I have is also His, and is given to me so that I can fulfill His calling on my life. When I trust His love enough to let Him make demands on what He has given me, it makes me bold.

Therefore, instead of missing opportunities to make an impact, I take Kingdom-focused risks. I can step out into the unknown as God lovingly leads me. And the joy of seeing Him fulfill His purposes through me can be mine in its fullest. Many through the ages have taken Spirit-prompted risks. For some, it meant martyrdom. For others, it meant losing everything. For yet others, it meant dying of old age with a fulfilling life behind. But all understood a perfect love that cast out their fears. And they were compelled by that love with a faith that knew no boundaries.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus . . .” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Will you join me?