Lenten Longings – God’s Will in the Moment

He rode into Jerusalem on an donkey. He knew exactly how the short remainder of His life was going to play out. Like a soldier facing a dangerous mission with the possibility of dying; only for Him death was not a possibility but a definite end to His journey. A life lived specifically to suffer, A life lived specifically to die. A life lived to love. A life lived in God’s will.

As vast and numerous as the stars in the sky are the moments we live in the presence of God.

Lenten Longings stars

I missed the last few Lenten services as the realities of this world caught me. First I was away tending to our recent family crisis, then as of Tuesday night I’ve been sick- some weird kind of stomach bug, headache, funky, illness that I seem to be recovering from, then a few hours later I’m back to feeling awful. Most of the time I can’t put my glasses on to read or work without feeling almost immediately sick again. Too much movement also makes me feel weird so I move and sit…move and sit… Needless to say, I have not gotten much done.

I have always thought of God’s will for my life in the grand scheme, the big picture things that effect my destiny. That is how God sees it as He is not caught in the time warp I am. I wrongly assumed I should look through His lens for many years. As I have longed to know His will for my life, I didn’t stop to consider that I was already in His will. I thought of God’s will in my life as the things that I needed to do, the places I should or should not be, the house to buy, the car to drive, where the kids (or I) should go to college, should I go back to college, what should I do with the ministry, should we go on vacation, how to handle our finances (or lack of) what is God’s will for my life...

I pray for God’s will in my children’s lives.

Without ceasing. It is tough to see God in the pain and choices at times, but He’s there.

It isn’t that these things aren’t important and are all a part of God’s will, but they are the big picture, and not the moment by moment presence of God’s will in our lives.

Our lives are a symphony played note by note.

Lenten Longins Sam cello

God’s will isn’t about the things we do, but about who we are. It’s about who will become as we live each moment. It is in the destiny He is fulfilling every nano-second. Every breath.

1 Sam.16:7 reads, “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  

When Jesus was crucified we were given eternal life with Him, not reserved for the day we die, but in an ever present relationship through the Holy Spirit. When he bore our sins and sicknesses on the cross, he bore the past, present, and future – all of the ways, all of the times, all of the places, and all of the events where we would miss the mark and sin. As fallen humanity, corrupted through Adam, every moment we breathe is a moment we sin.

Yet every moment we breathe is a moment in HIs presence.

“Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!: Ps. 139:7-11

You are already waiting for me God? No matter where I go you are there.

He is always present – never out of reach, in the same room, and He never shuts the door.

We do, when we wrongly believe He has.

Lenten Longings door

We live in an eternal moment with an eternal God. 

It takes courage to live in the moment. It takes courage to face an unknown future. It’s not the same kind of courage that Jesus faced as he approached Jerusalem, a soldier must face going into combat, or a person diagnosed with a fatal illness must embrace. It is not the same courage that says “yes” Jesus when the answer means death.

It is the courage that says in this moment. God is all that matters. In this moment, God is with me. In this moment, I am perfectly loved. In this moment, I am in His will simply by being in His presence.

There is grace for the moment, in every moment.

When we live in grace, we live in God’s will, and He is all we need.

I am only longing for one thing right now. I hope the longing never changes.

Your will for my life God, is simply You.

Letters to Jesus (You Know My Name)

Dear Jesus,

You may not remember me. I met you a few years ago at a “charismatic coffee house.” I thought it was pretty cool watching men, women, children, and even nuns all raising their hands to praise you. They all got along and seemed to really like each other. You may already know that I went outside to get high while they were singing. Even though I was high, I felt something there. It was something real. Something good. There was that one night when I prayed with two other teenagers to follow you. I liked those kids – I mean they were really square but seemed to be happy about being so uncool. I felt like they genuinely liked me. Me! Not for the drugs I could provide, or the parties, or an act I put on to be accepted – but just for me. I can’t really explain it, but for the first time in my life I felt kind of clean. Maybe even good. I felt like my life mattered. 

Dear Jesus 1

The coffee house was pretty far away from home though and I didn’t have anyone to take me there. When I went back to school I was called a “Jesus freak” and mocked out. I was known for being a fun person, a party person. I didn’t have anyone who would accept me. I couldn’t stand being alone. I hope you can understand that. I mean you created Eve because you said it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. I was all alone and it just wasn’t good. My old life drew me back because that’s where my friends were. I don’t know how to be alone. I guess I am kind of like Adam in that way.

I never stopped looking for you. I went to a church one time, but the people were really cold. I don’t think they liked me. Maybe it was the smell of cigarettes, my ripped jeans or Sarah on my hip that turned them off. I didn’t know there was a special way I had to dress or act to go to church. I really didn’t like living with David, but that’s where we were at. I wasn’t sure if you liked it either, but it seemed to matter more to the people in the church, than introducing me to you. Besides, the pastors I called refused to marry us anyway. Ben had been raised going to church and he told me I shouldn’t expect anything different. There it was again. Where are you? I kept reading my bible and trying to find where you hung out, but the people I asked scared me. Actually, the truly kind people were everywhere BUT the churches. I was very confused. What I was reading about you in the bible was really different from the people who said they knew you. I would have liked that coffee house again.

dear jesus 2

I met an old lady who said she knew you. She was really kind and brought us cookies and meals after Katie was born. She used to talk all the time about what you “did” for her, and how much she loved you. I had no idea what she was talking about, I didn’t understand what “saved” or “born again” meant.  It was all sweet, but it didn’t make any sense to me. I wanted her to introduce me to you, but I was afraid to ask. I figured because of my drugs, cigarettes, jeans, and unholy lifestyle you wouldn’t want to meet me. Maybe, I don’t really want to you meet you if these are the people you like to hang out with now. Come on, I am nicer than most of the people who say they know you! I may not dress all that great, smoke cigarettes or swear, but at least I am kind to strangers. They are all so “better than thou.” Didn’t you write the story about the man who was hurt on the side of the road?

I began to understand that I couldn’t possibly have really met you because if I had, I would have said a “sinner’s prayer” and given up my “old ways.”  At the least I would have “known” I was “saved.” That’s what they told me. I guess there would be some kind of lingo I spoke to show I had met you. I wasn’t really sure about all the things they said I had to give up either. I didn’t understand what they meant by “sin.” It didn’t seem like I was doing anything wrong or hurting anyone. I am still trying to find someone who likes me the same way those kids in the coffee house did. I am still trying to find someone who is willing to be my friend, and show me where you live or hang out. I think I’d still like to get to know you Jesus, at least the Jesus who hung out with people like me. But the “Christians” who tell me that they know you make me question if you are even real.  Or worth it.

Maybe those nice people at the coffee house who said you loved me just for me, were were just my imagination.

Sincerely,

You Know My Name

Lenten Losses (Wk.4 – 5)

I missed the last two Wednesdays of the community Lenten services. I did not miss God who reveals Himself the most clearly during suffering.

The blood was dripping down from the open wounds in His hands. My name was scribbled clearly across the palms. An image from God to remind me that His blood was shed for me – that his suffering was my suffering. It brought such a joyful reminder at that time, about two months ago, when I was thanking Him for loving me. Last week after walking through a fire destroyed home – an event that never should have happened, I asked him to show me how much He loves them. I saw the palms of his hands with the names of my daughter and grandsons. Each name was painstakingly written across His palms, reminding me again of how He brings resurrection out of the ashes of Lent – the ashes of suffering.

David’s name was written too – I can see them all written clearly. The names of the people I love most in the world who have been called to this dark place of humanity to wander the desert of grief.  C.S. Lewis said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”  Why didn’t I understand before how much fear also feels like grief?

The desert is full of mirages; places where you think you see a glimmer of hope; but it just dissipates as you move towards the wavering vision in a twisting, tormenting, torturing play. Yet, it is a glimmer of hope none-the-less, so you move slowly forward, always believing that the cool refreshing waters may lie just beyond the horizon.

lenten losses 2Fires, losses, deaths, uncertainty  – feelings of insanity that grasp your mind as they flutter through from one side to the other. Pounding headaches, confusion. Tears.

Lots of tears.

The overwhelming emotions of love – in pain. The Gethsemane moments when a loved one cries out, “Why have you forsake me?”  And I cry out, “why have you forsake them?”

This was the best Lent of my adult life. The first Lent I have celebrated in thirty-five years, and full of the richness I have missed. It’s been a year and a half of resting in God’s love and finding Him in the places I never really dared to look- inside myself. In finding the inner peace of the living Spirit, the outer Presence became my living, breathing reality.

Hidden places. Quiet places.

I have realized in the last two weeks that the only thing I value in this life anymore is God, and people – mostly the people I love.

The past is a distant memory – the Christ is my present reality.

Some of the scars still remain, some wounds remain partially opened. Healing is a process. The process takes longer when you don’t have a reprieve – a time to catch your breath before the next stretch of sand looms before you. David hasn’t even stopped to look at the sand marked “death of sister” for dealing with “love of family.”

He hasn’t had time to stop and see Jesus is writing in the sand, “I love you. I am here.”

The human side of me – the flesh, still wills for things of this world, comforts, vacations (Oh how Dave and I long for a real vacation), a more stress free life, that Dave didn’t have to work so hard, ministry finances to do His work …but it is the people who matter. It is for love of people we strive.

It is also the people – the relationships that cause the most pain. Things can be replaced, things don’t reject or get rejected, things are without depth, love, or interest. Selfless loves takes the nails in the place of someone else. It is not a thing, but a Person.

lenten losses 3Selfless love is excruciating and more often mistaken for something that it isn’t, rather than accepted for what it is. It is called words like insanity, hypocrisy, heresy, and blasphemy.

This Lent will be remembered for losses, but it will mostly be remembered for the people – the ones who Jesus would call “friend,” who stepped forward to help, email, call, text, or donate.

Not the friends, acquaintances, or community I expected, or that I was even hoping for (in my own hope of relationships I deemed should matter), but in the ones who were moved with compassion despite my church affiliation, friendship status, or the reason for this trial. Some of the people who expressed love know us by reputation, by ministry, by how we have helped others, or simply because they know one of our “great” kids.

I am thankful for the ones who prayed.

Churches who don’t even know us, but took time in their service or small groups to petition God on the behalf of our family. I am indebted to the body of Christ who rose up to be the hands and feet of God. Individuals who gave of their precious time to lift us before the Father in worship and petition.

There is always a lifting up. There is always a resurrection.

Death must always come first. Some individuals run from death, avoid it, are deceived by it, or fail to recognize it. They stay busy talking and doing. They want to pray it away, confess it away, scorn it, or fear it.

There are always hidden treasures buried in the dark places of death, but they have to be embraced to be realized.

This I have learned.

This I trust.

I’ll lead you to buried treasures,
    secret caches of valuables—
Confirmations that it is, in fact, I, God,
    the God of Israel, who calls you by your name…
I am God, the only God there is.
    Besides me there are no real gods…
I’m the one who armed you for this work,
    though you don’t even know me,
So that everyone, from east to west, will know
    that I have no god-rivals.
    I am God, the only God there is.”
Isaiah 45:2-6  The Message. 

I can only hope that God will use my life and experiences, and the lives of my children for His glory and for His purposes. It’s what the scriptures teach us – it’s what we believe. I will choose to trust that He is continuing to arm me for His work – the work of shedding light into the darkness of suffering. I will trust He is changing me by His work and will.

I have handed the lives of my children to Him, and though He may slay me, I will also trust in His wisdom and His ways for them.

I will trust He is forming light in my own heart and banishing the God rivals of this world that distract me from loving Him and loving others.

lenten losses 4Love hurts, but the losses make the resurrection more visible, more powerful, and more promising. Without death, there can be no resurrection.

 

(Note: On 3/7 one of our daughters who is six months pregnant lost everything in a house fire, escaping just in time with her two children. The greatest loss is her dreams – wrapped up in the painful and avoidable reason and cause of the fire. Some dreams that are lost can never be, and should never be replaced. In the midst of of that situation, my husband was notified of the death of his sister –  Lenten losses.

 

Lenten Love (Wk 3)

Suffering comes in many sizes, ages, shapes, weights, degrees, educations, and cultures.  He doesn’t play favorites or care about our economic or social status. It doesn’t matter if we are religious – or if we shake our fist at the sky in derision. Often he visits without notice and leaves abruptly; sometimes he chooses to stay with us for a long duration. Suffering is the great equalizer.

Suffering masks the presence of what is real. 

Lent LoveIn the movie the Matrix, Morpheus explains to Neo,

“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad… You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church…when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

To blind us from the truth of God’s love.

There isn’t a cure for suffering, because once you walk alongside him, he changes you forever; but there is an antidote – “something that prevents or counteracts injurious or unwanted effects.”

lent love 6Love

The other night someone asked me what I do, and after discussing family and school, my ministry as a chaplain came up. I mentioned how it is beyond words for me to describe what happens when a person finds hope and healing in their suffering. This led the conversation onto a theological path that I had no intentions of following. Sometimes once we get a foot on that path, it is difficult to change the direction.

The person I was speaking to said they had never experienced suffering. I chose not to tell my story. The simplest of explanations were irrelevant as I found myself staying focused on the One who rescued me. Past theological perspectives swirled quietly around and tried to pull me down into an abyss of PTSD, judgement, and questions of “Why?” The thoughts and images fought for a place in my mind as I smiled attentively, and listened to the voice the Holy Spirit resounding more loudly, “It is finished. That includes you. Never ever forget His great love.”

Ten years ago it would have crippled me. Seven years ago I would have continue to chase the demons of why God had purposed to drive me through the tunnels of suffering which led to death, confusion, chaos, and hopelessness. Five years ago I would have rambled my defense, all the while hearing the fragmented voices of judgment questioning if I had done something horribly wrong – wondering if there was something horribly wrong with me. 

Lent Love 1I did do something horribly wrong – I made a horribly wrong choices which led to death.  But Jesus did something incredibly right which led to redemptive life.

God’s love is the antidote to the “unwanted effects” of suffering.

God is love. 

When someone is walking with suffering, Love takes them by the hand and leads the way through the murky depths. Love bandages the wounds and feeds the soul. Theology gets replaced by mercy, doctrine is put aside for compassionate acts, self-ambition is buried, and the law is drowned by the fountains of grace.

Lent love 2

“Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. ‘Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?’

He answered, ‘What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?’

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

‘Good answer!’ said Jesus. ‘Do it and you’ll live.’

Looking for a loophole, he asked, ‘And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?’

Jesus answered by telling a story. ‘There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?’

The one who treated him kindly,’ the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, ‘Go and do the same.”’                    Luke 10:25-37 The Message

lent love 7

We can only reveal to others what we have embraced for ourselves.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon one day last week, and I hadn’t eaten yet. I knew there was little in the house so I drove through a food chain to pick up soup and salad for myself, and a brownie for my son who had just joined me. As I left the take out window and rounded a corner, he was there holding a sign, “Homeless.” I stopped next to him and prompted my son to ask him, “Have you eaten yet?” He said he hadn’t. We quickly handed him the bag of hot soup, salad, and a water bottle and he replied, “Thank you. God bless you.” As we pulled away I looked at Sam and laughed, “Darn, I’m hungry.” Immediately the Lord spoke to my heart and I said, “Sam, it was so easy to give him a bag of food, but what we didn’t do was give him our love. If we see him again, we need to take the time to invite him inside the restaurant for a meal, and learn about his life.”

lent love 4Dave was waiting in line at a Piano guys concert with Sam, birthday gifts to the two of them from our daughter, when he gave his last ten dollars to homeless vet to catch the train. As he watched him walk away, he questioned if they could have done more.

We only lived a portion of the Good Samaritan’s love. It was within my means to walk beside the homeless man, and possibly bandage some wounds. Even if just for a brief moment. What would it have meant instead of ten dollars, to drive him to N.Y.C. and in doing so, maybe change a life by an act of Love.

Last night in a powerful Lenten message of love and suffering, my brother in Christ gave an example, “Ever notice how everyone who gets a flat tire can laugh about it a week or a month later? She shorter the distance between the flat and the laugh, the healthier the body, the keener the mind, the stronger the spirit.”  He expounded upon the love of God expressed to others in their suffering. He has been there, and love won.

We are called to stop and help with the heavy burdens of life’s tires, not to drive by and call a tow truck, or even hand out tools. We are to help restore the laugh.

lenten 5The words of others from varying backgrounds – justice, judgment, forgiveness, or deliverance no longer hold any ground over the actions of Love. What a powerful, irreversible, and life changing moment takes root when the love of God and others, provides the antidote. The unwanted effects of suffering become the channel by which our own love is deepened, restored, and extended to others.

Paul said in Romans 11:33,

 “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.”  

Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor
    that God has to ask his advice?
Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.”

I learned during my conversations the other night that flat tires no longer phase me. My laugh comes within hours, even moments.

Love is winning.

God grant us the grace to love.