Posts tagged ‘faith’

2014/01/31

Deep waters

photo 2

New life can be found in deep water


“Drowning must be a terrible way to die, breath snatched as dark waters cover you, panic rising as you’re claimed by murky coldness.”–
From Confessions of a Big Girl  

When I think of murky cold water, I’m taken back to my childhood and images of the muddy Ohio River. I recall strains of “Shall we gather at the river…” sung loudly and fervently, a thick Kentucky accent wrapped around each note and phrase, as a group of earnest believers made their way to the banks of the river for the sacrament of baptism.

I remember the minister slowly entering the water up to above his waist, finding his footing before those who wanted to be baptized made their way to him. I don’t recall the liturgy in full. But I do remember the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” being said for each person. Then I watched how each one trusted the arms of the pastor, leaning back into that brown seemingly dirty water to profess their faith in Christ.

Water can be a very beautiful and safe thing.

Water sitting in a clear glass is a nourishing beverage. Healthy. Harmless.

An inch or two of standing water outside after a warm summer rain: that’s a puddle perfect for splashing in, running through. Fun. Whimsical.

A crystal blue pool with a deep end, or a community pool with a lifeguard; a pond on a farm or a lake with rippling water ready for water skiing: these places are where the water can get over your head if you don’t know how to swim.

And what about an ocean? You can’t drink the water there. That can be a problem. Especially if you need it, if you are lost at sea that deep water will not help you. In the ocean, the stakes are higher. It takes the proper equipment to survive the waves and the mysteries that swim there.

A few years ago I saw first hand the devastation that water can do when a flood damaged much of the bottom floor of our church and claimed the lives of two of our members. I wrote about that incident, and I learned to respect the power of water like never before.

Sin is like water. We think we can control it. When it is just sitting there in a glass, we know we’ve got it covered. We can swallow it whole, and it won’t be trouble. But what happens when the water gets too deep and murky?

I’m currently reading Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush’s book Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity. Even though I grew up a world away from the one Naima did, and we have very different stories of how we came to faith, the book is filled with connection points for any woman. There are few of us who haven’t struggled with body image, self-worth, and believing that God can really love and fulfill us so much.

In her chapter entitled “It Led to My Death,” Naima tells of a time in her life when even with caution signs, she decided to go her own way and before she knew it, it was too late to turn back.

Naima’s deep and dangerous water was the all-too-common destructive relationship with a man who said all of the right things and showed love and respect for a time, but who actually represented a dark and powerful undertow. As the relationship continued, she recognized he was robbing her true beauty and self respect, but it seemed there was no way out.

Fear and desperation led Naima to her dusty Bible for answers. And as her faith slowly strengthened, she began to fight the current. Bravely, she acknowledged the part she played in the real-life drama—how she willingly “held [her] breath and sank.”

Naima’s story could be my own. I have taken part in destructive and confusing relationships covered in sticky sweet layers of deception. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that I often did not have the discernment skills nor spiritual depth and wisdom to handle those relationships properly.

Looking back results in the classic phrase, “If I had known then, what I know now.” But I believe that sin has an ongoing purpose in our faith journeys. I’m honestly grateful that though forgiven and free, I can still feel a tinge of pain when I think of the times I succumbed to the deep waters of sin.

But as Naima reminds me, and all of us really, it is precisely those times that lead to a death that can save us. As she so skillfully states, “…dying to sin and self-loathing, I drowned and was buried only to rise again because the Lord called me from the depths of the waters to walk upon them and not drown beneath them.”

Sin can be like water. But as He does with so many things, God takes the water meant for our destruction, and He redeems it to give us new life in Him. Thanks be to God.

If you would like to read Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity by Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush, it is available now at www.amazon.com. As I am sharing a piece of her story with you, Naima has graciously offered that the first two people to leave a comment on my blog will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of the book. For more information about Naima and her ministry, visit www.facebook.com/ministryofnaima.

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2013/11/30

Wonder

WonderRecently I was honored to be asked to go to Grandparents & Special Friends Day at a local private school as the special friend of a young lady from our church. I was doubtless filling in for grandparents who did not live close. Plus, when I thanked the sweet girl for her invitation, she honestly said, “We don’t know many people around here.” At least I am blessed to be one of the few.

The day entailed a sweet program where each grade did a musical presentation before we were given tours of the school. The program was progressive from the youngest grades up to eighth grade. As I watched the kids, all uniform clad and many eager to share their hard work, I started noticing more details about the students. The uniforms did not hide the occasional student with unkempt hair, or an untucked shirt here and there. They couldn’t hide the weariness in some kids faces, or the students that didn’t smile as they sang.

I sat there realizing that adults are more like kids than we like to admit.

There’s a commercial out right now which features a dad and his son eating pudding. Dad starts talking about his adult life, and the kid’s imagination takes him into the scenarios he hears described. Suddenly we see the son is balding with a small suit on. He goes through the day, fighting traffic, dealing with jerks in the office, and so on. By the end of his dad’s explanation of why he needs pudding, the son simply hands his cup of pudding over saying his dad needs it more than he does.

It’s cute to see the kid in the commercial walking through his dad’s paces. We adults sometimes like to think we have it all together because we have learned stuff along the way. But in reality, we are messy, and we get hurt. We fall down, and we make mistakes every day. In those ways we are very much like kids.

We sometimes have to deal with bullies in the form of bosses or mean people. We don’t always choose good and faithful friends. We forget to take our lunch with us, and someone has to spot us until we can pay it back. Then we spill the lunch that we had to borrow money for down our shirt and we don’t have an extra one at work. We are like kids.

If only we could capture the playfulness, wonder, and the spirit of joy that kids have this time of year. 

We are at the beginning of Advent, and the new year in our church life. The story starts again–the most amazing story every lived. And we do have the chance to act like kids. We have the chance to approach the next few weeks with childlike faith and wonder as we visit the manger and think about how God changed the world forever with a little baby.

Yes, there will be mall traffic, and school programs, and decorating, and family functions, and so much more to navigate. But let’s act like kids this year as we focus on the coming of our King. Let’s anticipate His arrival by (at least inwardly) jumping up and down, just like kids at Christmas. Who’s with me?

2013/01/31

Take the shot

Take the shot

Take the shot

“Goal of the century.”

“Best goal of all time.”

That’s what the London AP said last fall about soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal in a Sweden versus England match.

What made the shot so incredible? Zlatan was shooting blind. The goal was made with a 25-yard overhead kick that sank right into the net.

The odds were clearly against him, but it didn’t prevent him from taking the shot. When you watch the replay of the goal, you see that Zlatan didn’t even hesitate to take what looks like a completely impossible shot. The commentator mentions Zlatan’s “improvisation and skill.” I love the juxtaposition of these two words.

Cynics and naysayers would probably say this was a lucky shot. I look at it a bit differently. His physique, his coaching, his hours of practice all prepared him for this moment.

Sometimes even though we are prepared for a moment like this, we fail to take the shot.

Zlatan’s shot reminds me of faith. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV) This chapter in Hebrews goes on to trace the history of a team of faithful followers who did extraordinary things in the name of God, taking blind shots, as they trusted Him to lead the way.

  • Abraham faithfully raises a knife over Isaac
  • Moses faithfully leaves the privileged house of Pharoah to eventually lead the Israelites to freedom
  • Rahab faithfully helps the spies who come to Jericho

These stories just scratch the surface of a myriad of believers who have taken the shot with a promise unseen or a blessing yet unfulfilled, and often the promise or blessing is somewhere far off in the distance. This particular passage of scripture doesn’t tell the whole story—how many of our forefathers and mothers doubted God’s words to them, tried to manipulate events to quicken God’s promise, or even wallowed in their own insecurities. And yet, they all stepped up to take the shot, however unclear the future was.

Sometimes we can’t see what is ahead. Sometimes the path is so foggy the brightest flashlight doesn’t help. Sometimes though we study scripture and learn from sermons and seek counsel from fellow Christians, we still aren’t sure of what to do next.

I have a pretty extreme need for knowing the course ahead, ever the planner, I want to take the safest path. But frankly the lack of trust at times has stopped me in my progress. Sometimes I’m too afraid to take a calculated risk because I’m trusting in myself versus trusting God and His sure and lasting promises to me.

As 2012 came to a close, I felt God pushing me out of my comfort zone in some surprising, life-giving ways. When my humanity takes over, I get scared and start talking myself out of moving forward. But as 2013 is now a full month underway, I’m praying for courage and strength, even if my back is to the goal, to trust the training, the coaching, and the practice, to step up and take the shot.

May you find the courage to do the to take the shots God is leading you to take in 2013.

2012/11/01

In Emergency Push to Open

In emergency, push to open.

Last night, I watched my girl Emma, dressed as Alice in Wonderland, go with friends to celebrate as other kids (and adults) all over the country do, many donning capes and gowns and masks and makeup to hit the streets for some treats or to attend a Halloween party. I noted how some dressed as sweet things like lady bugs and princesses while others went for more dark characters like ghouls and zombies—playing with scary things, fright giving way to smiles or laughter once the realization hits that it’s just a bit of makeup and fake blood.

Playing with fear is much different from living with real fear.

I snapped the picture that I’m using for this post a few months ago. I had just dropped my daughter Emma off at the airport to go to her dad’s for the summer. She was having a rough time and leaving was part of it. The sign on the exit door reminded me of how she was handling it all. She was closing the door to herself, holding back information and her feelings, making it very difficult to know how to help.

At the time, I was worried about her. I had never really seen her like that, but I recognized the new phase we were moving into. Age 12 already felt like 13. Emma being a bit ahead of the curve was no surprise, and the teen angst had been showing up off and on for at least six months.

Fast-forward to today, and that picture is taking on more meaning. Several weeks ago, I began asking, “Where is my little girl?” Everything about Emma was changing. She was disobedient, rebellious, and even rude to my friends at times.

This is normal. This is what it looks like.

But it didn’t feel normal. It felt too sudden and helpless, and my heart felt like bigger things were under the surface. Turns out there were.

I pushed the door open, and in the midst of that I was able to find out at least some of what was going on. On one hand what was on the other side of the door was painful to face, but on another hand, opening it has brought with it hope and some answers.

There is pain, and there are tough, ongoing conversations still to be had. And there is fear—real parental fear. The old adage of taking things one day at a time often becomes taking things moment by moment. Some days are roller coaster days with great highs and deep lows. It helps to know that we are not the first people to ever deal with tough teen stuff, and we are very blessed to be able to seek out the advice of professionals and the love of our family to help.

As a parent, this is by far the toughest time we have gone through. Entrusting Emma to God looked a little different when she was going from diapers to “big girl pants” or from one-night sleepovers to weeklong school trips. Now she has questions about faith and God that I don’t always have the answers to. She feels lost sometimes, and there is a yearning that a mom can’t fix by redirecting her attention to playing with her toys or by determining whether she’s cold, hungry or tired.

Unlike the joy and the relative ease there was in helping her take her first steps, I know that she has to take some of her next steps on her own. And yet, I also realize that in a strange way she needs me more now than ever.

In emergency push to open.

This seems like the biggest thing I can help her learn now. I want her to know that when things get dark or scary or worrisome or confusing that she can be open with me. I want in a small way to show her that my love is big, though nowhere near as big as the love of her Heavenly Father, and that He is always with her even when I’m not.

Just a couple of weeks ago at church, she sang these words from O Vos Omnes with her choir:

(Translation) O all you who pass by the way, pay heed, and see, if there is any sorrow like my sorrow. Pay heed, all people, and see my sorrow, if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.

Did she digest the message? Jesus felt great sorrow, and in that we can take comfort. But as I try to look through the lens of my daughter’s eyes, I can see how that idea, how that comfort, could seem far away or frankly unbelievable. God doesn’t always seem near—even to lifelong believers.

And that makes it hard to stay open especially in the midst of a personal crisis or emergency. Yet so often in scripture we are reminded don’t be afraid, and God is talking about real fear—no makeup or fake blood. As one of my favorite verses in the Bible says from John 14:1:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

And later in the same chapter in verse 27: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

I’m praying this for Emma today and really for anyone who is facing an emergency. Push to open. Trust God.

May we find rest in that place where fear and trouble dissipate through trusting a God of love. Amen.

2012/09/30

Good eats

Was it my charred onions on the meatloaf that turned my daughter away?

I love food. I often joke that I only exercise so that I can eat. I also love to cook. Like the kind of cooking that can take hours. I love sitting down with some good recipes, making a list for the grocery store, shopping for the ingredients, and then preparing the feast.

On a recent visit to my Nana & Papaw’s house, I got to cook Sunday dinner. Now this was a rare treat. It used to be that my Nana would chase you out of her kitchen if she didn’t want your help. Unless she was teaching you how to make something, you were an unwanted guest in that kitchen. She didn’t need anybody to help until it was time to take the sumptuous dishes to the table, and believe me, there was help standing by to do so.

Now that she’s in her 80s though, Nana has relinquished more control over her primary turf. In fact, my Pap often cooks for them now. It’s pretty great to see this man who worked on railroads and in the steel mill to don an apron. From an era where man’s work was man’s work and woman’s work was woman’s work, he’s come a long way.

So when I had the chance to let both of them take a break from the kitchen on a Sunday, I leapt at the chance. I decided to make a classic—meatloaf. This wasn’t made from any ordinary recipe though. I chose Martha Stewart’s meatloaf. I had made the recipe before with my own custom modifications, so I knew it would be moist and delicious. My meatloaf would not conjure up “bad memories” as a worn out dish from an ancient edition of a Betty Crocker cookbook.

No, the meatloaf I make is so good that it should be renamed so as not to associate it with that nasty meatloaf covered in ketchup. As if ketchup could rescue dry, cheap ground beef, bread crumbs and eggs!

We sat down to dinner and everyone “oohed” and “ahhed” as I dished the entrée out. Mouths waited in eager anticipation. The compliments flowed as my family chowed down. Then I noticed that one person was silent. My daughter. Emma did not like the meatloaf.

I was baffled. Hadn’t she eaten it before? I gently tried to get her to understand that this was premium meatloaf before her. She didn’t really care. She didn’t like it.

I felt a little defeated. Why wasn’t my meatloaf a symphony of flavor to Emma? I had put a lot of great ingredients and love into that meatloaf. But she didn’t taste any of that.

Later, after getting over the rejection, I wondered if God ever feels the same way about what we reject. He prepares such good eats, such blessings for us, but sometimes we turn our noses up and say, “Nah! I don’t want it.” It doesn’t matter the quality of ingredients, or the special custom sauce that rests on top; sometimes we refuse the good things God has for us. Sometimes it’s because we are too proud, or we feel too damaged, or we are blind to see what he has laid before us.

This takes form in the wife who has forgotten how good her husband is for her and her children. She wears him down with nagging and never encourages him. She‘s careless with her words and carries a cold heart and a chip on her shoulder.

This takes form in the son who is not yet a man but thinks the world owes him something. He doesn’t honor his parents even though they have raised him to be a good person and to love God. The son complains about everything he doesn’t have, failing to recognize how grateful he should be.

This takes form in my own heart when I don’t keep my eyes wide open at how truly rich my life is, desiring more not for the sake of expanding God’s kingdom but rather so I will be more comfortable or more successful in my own name.

The key is love. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” When I focus on love, and specifically loving God, I have better vision and I am ready to receive his good eats. I can see that what he is serving is premium meatloaf, not what I expect to be served, but notches above my dreams.

Lord, may I see clearly the blessings before me and the quality and care you take in your provision. Amen. 

2012/08/22

This is where life is now

Life starts from the reality of where we are now

My neighbor turned 40 a few weeks ago. This vibrant, beautiful woman that shares a wall with me is celebrating four decades of life. Though we have lived beside each other for about three years, we only recently became good friends. Two single moms passing like ships day and night are now sharing Zumba and laughter and more conversations about life, love and God.

Because our friendship is relatively new, I was really honored when she asked me to come to her birthday party. It was great for a number of reasons but perhaps most of all because she was inviting me into her close circle, and that was a wonderful gift.

At one point in the party, we talked about the “big 4-0” and she confessed to being a bit sad and unexpectedly emotional about it. Most of her feelings centered on her expectations of “where she would be” at this age. Birthdays, especially the mile-marker ones, have a knack for making you evaluate your life.

But even though she has faced a lot of tough stuff through the years, my neighbor doesn’t just sit around waiting for life to happen. She is actively shaping her life around the things she knows are valuable.

Years ago, this is not where my neighbor would have envisioned herself at 40, but this is where her life is now.

I have two friends both who have lost their moms in the last few years. They each have small children some of whom will not remember much about their grandmothers. Their moms have left this life too early, and life just isn’t the same without them.

I know these friends think from time to time about the big things their moms will miss like birthdays, and weddings, and great-grandchildren. And they think about the ways they miss their moms right now in the day-to-day stuff of life.

Losing their moms so early in life is not what they planned on, but this is where their life is now.

I have another friend who spent 10 years writing a book. Ten years is a long time to work on anything. At times, she was very discouraged in the process, and she thought about giving up. Sometimes she beat herself up for taking so long, and yet as the celebration of the release of the book grows nearer, I think she knows now that the timing is just right.

She would not have planned to take this long to write her book, but this is where she finds herself now.

So many of us have similar stories. We have unexpected break ups, a move across the country to find a job, a miscarriage, a betrayal that forever changed the course of life. I certainly am not living the life I once imagined. I’m not married, I only have one kid, and I continually bounce between laughter and tears at my bank account.

But this is where my life is now.

And I know I need to embrace it.

It’s scary to let go and move on. Forgiving ourselves and others; taking another risk; rising to a new challenge; believing that God’s timing is perfect timing…these are tough things to make peace with. Sometimes though, we willfully choose to stay shackled to the past and to the pain, to the failure and the loss.

God knows how to use our pasts to help us live in the present and wants us to have confidence that our futures are redeemed in him. When we pray, trust, and keep ourselves open to him, we can see glimpses of this truth.

So whatever you are facing, look it in the eye and come to grips with, “This is where life is now.” And choose to see that statement as a fact that is your friend. From that reality, you move forward.

Just like the beautiful women I’ve mentioned here. They remind me in inspiring ways that life goes on with realigned expectations, new dreams, and unexpected hope.

This is where life is now.

But with a hope rooted in the God of all, it’s just the beginning.