Nothing is Wasted

God speaks. I just want to go ahead and say that right off the top because it’s the greatest truth a person can ever attempt to grasp and this truth is so personal and precious to me.

I don’t believe in coincidence. Not at all. I’ve seen too much in my lifetime to back away from that statement: there is no such thing. While it may take years and even seasons to understand the connections, I’ve seen it time and again. Everything is connected and nothing, if we allow, nothingnot a shred or a tear or an experience… is wasted.

This is a ridiculously crazy season of life–wonderful, terrifying and beautiful. I know I seem kinda “spiri-tchool” and  all but lemme just tell you– I can be one HUMAN being.  Ya know? Lately,  I am so full of every emotion you can imagine and sometimes, just for the fun of it, I just go on and experience them all in the same day even at the same time! A few months ago I summed it up like this: “It takes a boatload of endings to make a new beginning.”   Do you feel me here?

There’s that whole “empty nest” label thing (which we are refusing to wear), the “fix up, sell all, finish and tie up loose ends and go” thing and then the real, physical emotions that accompany the letting go as gracefully as possible. It’s the effort required to let things naturally come to a beautiful end so we can embrace the beginning God has set before us. There are a bazillion unknowns and the things that we might be permitted to know are not yet made clear. The only thing— the only thing we can hold fast to at all is our speaking God
THE in our midst,
with us and for us,
Emmanuel…. God.

So when I find myself here… this place that causes me to sit down and start typing it all out… I must choose to cast aside Every. Other. Method or Mode for coping with the emotions and uncertainties. Whatever it takes, I have to choose to lean in to the One Who Knows. Obey. Trust.    When it’s hard… lean harder.

Today is just one of those days. I’m so grateful to be doing ANY of this at all, but sometimes I feel a little loose and crazy. Know what I mean? Like my feet aren’t connecting with solid ground and my heart wants to grab my head and fly out the door hollerin’ “See ya!!” So… I did the very thing I must do: I leaned harder. Asked for GOD’S affirmation and to remind me what it’s all about one more time.  He did.

Remember that story we love to tell the children in Sunday school? The version in Matthew 14 is the one we seem to like best because it’s where Jesus sends the disciples out to the other side of the sea while He hangs back to dismiss the crowds. Then, late at night, He decides to join them… walking across the water to the boat. They are naturally afraid and He says, “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!.

Peter, (we love this part don’t we?) full of bravado says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” Jesus tells Peter to come and well, we know that Peter starts out great.

Then he looks around.
Maybe he looks within?
Maybe he looks down and back or at others…but he isn’t looking at Jesus anymore.
Nope.

We read then that Peter begins to flounder and cries out “Lord save me!” and Jesus, chastising him gently pulls him into the boat with the others who then worship Him in awe as the Son of God.

VOLUMES have been written on this passage and I’ve heard many sermons from many different angles. Oh, but nothing comes close to the deep understanding you need to keep from going under when you’re the one gladly answering the call to “Come.”

Then the wind whips up and the spiritual attacks and distractions begin. Oh man… you’re drifting off center because the logistics are not lining up yet and gee,  it’s getting very lonely out here…There’s just so much to do!  You’re feeling a bit over your head and well, you’ve never been this far out before… and the shoreline still seems so far away. Ugh… now you’re sinking.  Aahh! “Lord save me!”  And He does.

Think about it for a moment–He does.   Bless Peter’s heart, we often imagine that Jesus might be scolding Peter with His response: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” As if Jesus might be pointing to Peter’s doubt more than his faith. Well, I wasn’t there so I’m not sure what Jesus’ words were pointing to…but I can wonder. Imagine…what if Jesus was in effect saying, “Oh Peter… look at your little faith. I’m glad to see it. Did you doubt I’d stay so near to you right now? Why?”   One can imagine…

I’d like to believe that, if the very next day the same scene was reenacted, Jesus would allow for Peter’s little faith to come to Him all over again even though eventually Peter would flounder, cry out and need to get pulled up again. I believe this because Jesus is allowing me with my little faith to do the same.

The beautiful gifts I’ve been given during this season from our Speaking God are sometimes subtle. Today it was deeply personal. In the midst of an inner meltdown, I got a call out of the blue to help a neighbor. Taking our son’s car, I was sure to plug in my phone for the call from Boot Camp which could come at any time. Equipped with a bluetooth thingie, it picked up on my music playlist and randomly played this sweet song by Jason Gray entitled “Nothing Is Wasted”.

Wow. I wanted to pull over.  I first heard that song during a season of deep pain when I wondered if God would ever lead me back out of the wilderness and show us the path of His call. Say what you will but this was a reminder… His reminder that He is near. He is faithful. He is leading and guiding and that nothing… not a shred, or a tear or an experience is wasted in the hands of our Redeemer.      I can lean as hard as I want.

Here: give it a listen.

Those Rumors You May Have Heard? They’re True.

We are told of a man….. a merchant by trade, known throughout the ages as one who can spot something of real and lasting value. More than a skill, this merchant appears to have been on a mission, driven to seek the best and the finest.  Experience has taught him about quality; he knows it when he sees it, perhaps even when others do not, and he’ll spare no expense to obtain it.

That’s all we know for, in just two short verses and one simple matter-of -act statement found in Matthew 13, we’re told simply that this merchant was compelled to search, gifted enough to know what to seek, and led to find a single pearl of great value. Upon it’s discovery, and recognizing it’s tremendous worth, he sold everything and bought it.

Like other parables from Jesus, this one is ripe with meaning. In the context of the discussion, Jesus has been instructing his disciples on Kingdom matters: value, redemption, growth, purpose and perspective. He’s teaching them what’s important to God and therefore what should be important to them… and those of us who follow. While ultimately, we know this parable is about the nature of God, Jesus explains, it’s for our benefit too: 

  • God wants us to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
  • He desires that we should know His nature and have His image marked upon our souls.
  • He wants us to recognize lasting treasure and real value when we see it and to imitate the examples set before us as best as we can— to seek, find and spare no expense to bring our “pearls” into the Kingdom coffers.

You might know that pearls are born over time out of discomfort. A small irritating grain of sand gets lacquered by an oyster (typically), eventually becoming a highly prized gem. That’s a lesson in itself. But Jesus doesn’t focus on the process of how the pearl came to be. Instead he draws our attention to the outcome and the kingdom response to something so precious.

Notice also how Jesus points out this merchant’s success. He was a savvy  businessman with plenty of fine pearls already, yet we don’t sense that it was wrong for him to keep on searching. Something deep inside urged him on, knowing there was something more to be found. He surely valued what he had— a collection so beautiful and fine— but that didn’t stop him. Seeking, he found something of greater worth and had no problem selling ALL the rest to make it his own.

“The kingdom of heaven is like _____ ”. 

Here*  six times in six different ways Jesus expresses the kingdom equation in the simplest terms and the lavish kingdom response that turns our world economy upside down and inside out. This kind of extravagance made little sense then and even less now. Each time Jesus is spelling out further what He’d been teaching about the kingdom earlier in Matthew 6 where basically He says, “Look, your needs are known. Your needs are going to get met. Stop striving to meet your own needs and seek the kingdom first. The kingdom of heaven is like_____ and the treasure is tremendous and all the rest? You’ll be amazed by how those needs are met along the way.” (Some BIG time Lorretta paraphrasin’)

Obviously, I’ve been thinking a lot about these things. As one who’s been brought into this kingdom by a judgement value and price set by God alone, it’s humbling enough to make me put on my merchant’s cap and look for others. Depending on where you find yourself today, a variety of ideas may spring to mind as you mentally “fill in the blanks” Jesus (thankfully) left in these parables. 

For me, today, it’s a little more plain and real than it was even a year ago. I don’t have to look far to see my collection of “fine pearls”: a solid home, a successful business, a loving community, healthy houseplants! The list goes on. Twenty-eight years of marriage, three grown children and a decent 18-year run at self-employment have provided us with a flexible lifestyle in a place we’ve grown to love. As Christ followers, we’ve been privileged to invest 15 years in our local congregation, cultivating our gifts and talents while raising our family. We are about to be “empty nesters”. We are blessed with good health and mobility.

We are comfortable.
We have enough.

By worldly standards— even by the basic American Christian understanding we are considered “successful” and it would be no big deal to keep on as we are without a hitch.

Except, like that merchant,  we have been led by God to seek the Kingdom’s more. This is why, within the coming year we will sort, sell and moderately store all that we have to take a ministry position overseas in January 2019. It’s why we have begun to tell our business clients that we’ll be stepping away by then (not now!) and why Christmas with our children was so precious this year. It’s all about to change: we have found a pearl of great value and we’re selling (most) everything to purchase it.

Lord knows it’s not easy. In fact, once you set aside all the ridiculously romantic ideals of doing such things, it’s downright terrifying. It should be. It’s also the most peace-filled place we’ve ever been.  All we know as we prepare to go is that there is a God who loves us and the world so much that in spite of our sin, He sacrificially made a way for us to know Him and His great love. The kingdom of heaven is like… more than we will ever really understand, more than we will ever really deserve and yet, it’s like… right in front of us at all times and there are others who need to know this too.

As with all  such things of great value,  there’s sacrifice involved— a constant stream of releasing things to God’s care as we seek first His kingdom with the remainder of our lives and step beyond all that we’ve known to acquire this “pearl”.  In pondering these things; the parables, the pearl and the price, I’m beginning to recognize, by God’s grace, that the “pearl” isn’t necessarily a thing, place or position. Ultimately, yes, it’s the prize of the stored up “treasure” we’re promised at the end of time but in practical terms, the pearl of great value is obedience… the “everyday yes” to whatever God has called us— and you— to do.

We are very much in process and the details of how to do such a thing are still a bit hazy. The invitation however,  is clear: “Release. Give up everything to secure THAT “pearl”. And all the rest?  That will be the icing on the cake.  I promise.”

Would you like to know more about what’s going on? Email me at dl@stembridge.us  and I’ll add you to the Facebook page and prayer letter list. Thanks!

* ( six times in six different ways…) I originally wrote “five”– missed one, sorry! 

Inexplicably Enough

Once upon a time, I wrote about what I feel might be the scariest thing in the history of ever. It has to do with unfulfilled potential and going soft on hard dreams.  But I have to confess— even on the cusp of potential hard-dream fulfillment, there are other scary things I’m reckoning with.      For instance:  gapsThey’re everywhere.

Overseas travelers quickly learn that adjustments are necessary when visiting other cultures.  Some are smallish, like the way timeliness is viewed (or not!), while others can mean the difference between life and death— such as which way the traffic flows when you’re stepping off the curb. Signs in train stations caution you to “mind the gaps”— to be aware of the space between solid ground and the moving train, which turns out to be good advice in every area of life.

Outside your comfort zone, you must be hyper-vigilant for a time because you just don’t know when you’re going to face a gap in your understanding of normal.

Gaps can be scary.

Perhaps, it’s due to something I read not long ago where the author wrote, “Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.”   Think about that for a moment: until it happens we’re not able to recognize there’s a gap in our understanding or ability to explain. We can’t totally prepare for it.  We can only be mindful of the potential and keep a posture of humility.

We Westerners like information, answers and resolution— like it’s our God-given right.  We also like safety.  A lot.  To the point of idolatrous worship. There’s nothing inherently wrong with needing answers or seeking safety except when it becomes the overriding impulse of our lives. Somehow society has equated having more answers with being more “safe”. It’s true for Believers as well. We forget that the need for more— or suspecting that God hadn’t given enough— triggered the original sin:

“Did God really say…?  You mean if I partake of this fruit I can be  ‘like God…. Knowing’?” Hmmmm.

And despite this wide-open age of bottomless information there are still some things we can not entirely know and that drives us crazy. As Believers, there are places where we are asked to proceed and not only be mindful of those gaps, but to embrace God through them.  Sometimes, that can be a little……. unsettling.

So…my husband and I are in the midst of a radical life transition that’s filled with more questions than answers. On the surface level, the struggles we’re facing are obvious —ours is a situation crazy-ripe with joys and complexities.

Just below the surface there are layers of potential angst and anxiety over the answers we just do not have yet— or maybe never will. This is combined with the additional challenges of facing off with information that doesn’t totally add up according to the World’s standards. What didn’t need to matter so much before, matters way much now as we let go of our tentative grasp on the so-called “American Dream”.

Seldom before did we have to think about or explain our understanding of the holy mysteries of God in light of the taught-as-true secular theories of origin, evolution and human sexuality. Those conversations don’t come up very often in our little town and if they do, it’s easy to rise, shake it off and move on quickly to something a little less confrontational.

However, when you pull the plug on “status quo” and step toward making the Gospel your life’s ambition, where the trusted hedges of protection are lower or non-existent and the questions aren’t so kind— where the gaps seem like chasms  then you can really feel what you’re up against.

The seemingly simple act of trying to explain Creation to a group of wiggly 3-year olds heightened this awareness in me. It’s not as easy as it sounds! Perhaps because these very discussions are taking place at home as hubby is in the throes of college-level courses in Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology, working to finish his degree. In that secular university setting the answers provided and expected have almost nothing to do with the neat and orderly, 7-day explanation of creation and all that follows.

It’s a challenge we cannot back away from because without a courageous and consistent witness, today’s chubby cheeked 3-year-olds risk becoming tomorrow’s leery-eyed college kids, regurgitating the lies simply to make the grade, perhaps never asking why.

It’s a big deal.

Although created in His image, I continually have to remind myself that God is so very… Other than us and good in ALL His ways and there will simply never be a way for anyone to comprehend that completely. It’s true: God designed us with the capacity to crave the harmony of facts and justice. We were designed with the need to have our questions satisfied but it does’t take long to realize that nothing we see, have or know in our own ability will fill it all in.

Honestly? Being able to fill in all the blanks still wouldn’t satisfy anyone. It’s not a cop-out nor are we backing away from the hard stuff. Lack of answers does not equal lack of God. It’s just as far as we are able and allowed to go. The remainder is holy ground where we can take off our shoes, unbutton our souls and be satisfied that we know enough.

That answer feels inadequate. The lack of “justice” chaps our proverbial hides. We think we need more ammunition or like we’ve been left in the dark to defend areas where the Big-Bangin’ theorists seem to have it all together. Until, upon closer inspection, you discover even LARGER gaps in the record that they’ve filled in with copious amounts of speculation, presented as fact, and held loosely together by self-serving ideologies. At the end of the day, they still have much to explain.

And Believers are not exempt from this frustration because we must live with the realization that the gap in our ability to provide all the answers— to be like God, knowing— is as wide as the chasm He fixed when our first sinning Parents were barred from Eden. This is God-territory and really, a grace-gift to us, which not only keeps us from having to bear the weight of information we can not handle, but also protects us from our pride over the ability to explain everything.   It’s in the spirit of that original sin… the  desire to know all and the overriding doubt of God’s provision, that one would refuse to trust Him and instead demand answers first to questions like:

What kind of God would allow_______________?
How did God__________________?
Do you really believe that God_____________ ?

What my husband and I are finding— if only considering why we’re doing any of this in the first place— is that when we have the courage to live honestly and generously share our personal faith experience, to live and give a reason for the Hope that we have, God is enough in His own defense of those “gappy places” and allows us the joy of being His witnesses, while equipping us to stand in the gap –bridging it– so another may cross over.

Some things cannot be fully explained now. But honestly, as we’ve matured in our journey with God we’ve discovered that He is able, willing and big enough to fill in ALL the gaps. Maybe not with the neat and tidy answers that used to seem so necessary, but more importantly— with Himself— strengthening us to bear witness to this confused, hurting world that it’s not more answers or information that we’re all needing to be satisfied, it’s God and God alone.

And He is inexplicably enough.