Sunday, March 29, 2015

Only Jesus Can Give That New Skirt

I stood at the ironing board pressing a multi-colored cotton skirt. The radio was tuned to a station playing Christian music and the song playing was a familiar one. I hummed along moving the steamy iron back and forth in rhythm to the music. I knew the tune but for whatever reason had never really paid much attention to the lyrics. Then, boom, the words suddenly hit me as very unsettling:

“You may be knocked down now but don't forget what He said, He said. I won't give you more, more than you can take and I might let you bend, but I won't let you break and No-o-o-o-o, I'll never ever let you go-o-o-o-o. Don't you forget what He said…”

Did God really say that He won’t give me more than I can take?

Really? Because I think I passed my limit a long time ago.

Here’s what I do actually find in scripture:

“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.  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 1:8-10)

Paul’s life was dedicated to living for and like Jesus. Yet, he wrote those words because this life that he had chosen was hard. He felt the despair. He felt like he was dying.

To live like Jesus feels like dying. Living for Jesus feels like dying because that’s exactly what Jesus did, but there was a purpose in it. Paul talked about that too.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

Living like Jesus feels like dying, but it gives us the comfort only God can give us. It is comfort that only God can offer because even if it kills us, He has the power to raise the dead. That’s why we continue to do it. Plus, there are people around us who need to know and experience that comfort and we need to show them.

Here’s the thing. To say God won’t give me more than I can handle is basically saying, “I can handle it myself.” And if I can handle it, then I don’t need God. But I can’t handle it. My track record proves that.

I'm just like the skirt I'm trying to iron. Wrinkled, faded, worn, jostled through a wringer, tumbled around in a hot cylinder, and pressed with a burning, steamy iron, doing everything I can to look brand new. But I am not new. I die a little bit every day. Some days more than others. Some days a lot more than others.

As much as I might want them to, and as much as those who love me may try, there is not a human soul on this earth who can stitch all my torn remnants back together or make the grim reaper stop breathing down my neck. Only the God of all comforts who raises the dead can do that. Jesus is the proof.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be broken. He knows what it’s like to feel death coming.

He's the only one who can make my life feel like I'm wearing a brand new skirt for the first time. A skirt that's never been subject to sweat, dirt, stretching, or harsh cleaning chemicals. Even if I have to wear that new skirt to a funeral.

Yes, to live like Jesus feels like dying and that makes me more alive than anything in this world. 

This was originally posted March 29, 2015 on the Press and Standard website:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

When Jesus calls, the right answer is Yes

My husband, Scott, and I both have vivid memories of the morning we met. We both remember some of the same logistical details, but our sentiments associated with the events are completely different. One glance was all it took for him to jump head first into the deep sea of love. My first sight of him left me just a bit curious about who he was and thinking he had a wonderful smile. I was more comfortable sitting on the edge, just dipping my toes in the water. 

As eager as he was, Scott remained patient yet persistent with me. We went on a few dates. A couple of months later he asked me to marry him. I was fond of him, but turned him down. We continued to date. He proposed again. The second time I couldn’t say no, but I also had a hard time saying yes. I knew I wanted to marry him and felt like his proposal was one of the best things to ever happen to me, but I like to analyze, plan, and prepare. I was uncomfortable handling a significant life decision on short notice. I thought I needed more time.

Scott’s spontaneous and all-in attitude eventually won me over. We met in September, were engaged by Christmas, and married the following June. Scott never had to ask himself the question about whether or not he wanted to marry me. He always knew his answer was yes. It took asking me twice and a good bit of Mexican food before I could finally say yes.  

James and John were all-in men too, only their yes was to Jesus. They were brothers who worked in their father Zebedee’s fishing business. Zebedee was likely proud of the strong, smart men they had become. At this point Zebedee might have begun to scale back on the physically demanding responsibilities, letting James and John do the hard work. He might have had retirement and grandchildren in his sights. Maybe he was ready to sit on the dock, dangle his feet in the water, and wave to his sons as they set sail for a long day of fishing on their own.  

One day, Jesus walked up to their boat and called James and John to follow him. Neither one thought twice or had any hesitation. They both said yes and left. Jesus was already convinced they were the right men for the task of disciple or else he wouldn’t have asked. He didn’t offer them much in the way of persuading words or explicit expectations. Just come, follow. No one had ever been a disciple of the earth-living, oxygen-breathing Son of God before. There was no precedent. Still, their answer was yes. 

They left Zebedee holding the empty nets of the family business. Although it’s not recorded in scripture, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Zebedee received some kind of call too. After all, God knew what it was like to have a son leave home on a mission unlike any other in all of eternity. Maybe Zebedee’s comfort came in knowing that his sons were not leaving empty handed. They were taking with them everything he had taught them to be, the kind of men Jesus wanted as disciples. The kind of men who say yes to Jesus.

The story is told in only two verses of Matthew Chapter 4. It’s a short, beautiful story that inspires me to want to be more like that, more ready to say yes the moment I’m asked. What if they had been more like me?  What if they had wanted to ponder and plan first?  What if they had said no? Oh, what they would have missed!

When they dropped their nets and followed Jesus, they didn’t know they would later see him transfigured before their eyes. They didn’t know they would hear the voice of God telling them, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). John had no idea he would find himself as the only disciple at the foot of the cross at Jesus’ crucifixion. He also didn’t know he would receive a revelation of future events that would become the culmination of the Bible as we know it. 

Don’t miss it. When Jesus calls, the right answer is always yes. Your all-in, absolutely yes response can win other people over. Just ask my husband. 

This was originally posted March 15, 2015 on The Press and Standard's website:

Don't Be Afraid, Just Believe

My college roommate, Lynne, celebrated her birthday last week. I couldn’t come up with a gift to send her that didn’t seem trivial, silly, or pointless so I finally decided on just a card with a heartfelt sentiment written in it. It took a bit of going back and forth to find a card that was appropriate. I finally settled on one that didn’t scream Happy Birthday but it was all fancy and glittery. It had a portion of a scripture verse dye cut on the front. The verse was Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” 

One of the earliest memories I have of Lynne as my roommate is that she was disciplined about her skin care and her Bible reading. She would often combine the two, lathering up her face with a pore-reducing cream and then sit cross-legged on her bed to read her Bible while the cream dried into a tight mask and worked its magic on her skin. She took the time to tend to those things and the result was a beautiful Lynne, inside and out.

Lynne had thick blonde hair back then and I was always amazed at her prowess with a blow dryer. She could have her hair dried and styled in just a couple of minutes and look good all day. Today, her hair is cropped close to her head. She has been off and on chemotherapy now since November 2012. 

Cancer is not beautiful. It is ugly and painful and hurts not only the one inflicted, but almost everyone around them as well. Lynne has managed, although not necessarily easily, to find some beauty in the experience. She told me the other day that it has been twenty-six months since her diagnosis, but the blessing is that she’s only been on chemo for twelve of those months. What a beautiful way to see it. No wonder I couldn’t find a suitable Hallmark sentiment. 

I can’t tell you how many times in the past twenty-six months she’s said something like that which left me inspired and overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of her life. Lynne may not sit cross-legged on her bed any more, but she does still read her Bible and that is where she has found much of her beauty regiment these days. She found it in Jesus’ words written in Mark 5:36. 

 “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” Jesus was saying that to people around him because a 12-year old girl was dying. Actually, the blood in her veins had ceased to flow. She was already dead. 

While Jesus was on his way to tend to the child and her family, a woman’s fingertips grazed the hem of his clothes. This woman had been suffering from a hemorrhage that had been flowing since the year that little girl was born. She reached out to Jesus and the gushing of blood stopped.

Jesus went on to the child’s house, took her by the hand and sent blood coursing through her veins again. She got up and ate something.

The people Jesus spoke those words to were troubled about a child dying. The bleeding woman was discouraged about living. Like cancer, nothing about either of those circumstances was beautiful. 

I can only imagine what that little girl told her girlfriends afterwards, or what the woman said to her family. They probably said little about their illnesses and more about touching Jesus. He is the one who brought the beauty and made the story worth retelling. 

That verse in Ecclesiastes goes on to say, “He has set eternity in the human heart.” To me that means hemorrhaging hearts can still have hope. It is hope and satisfaction that is found beyond this life and world, in eternity. It means even if our circumstances kill us, we can go on living, but we’ll need the blood of Jesus.  Don’t be afraid. Just believe.

This was originally posted February 8, 2015 on The Press and Standard's website: