Category Archives: lost & found

God of The Deep End

Hey…did you hear about …..?

The message flashed across my screen with all the annoying cling, static and pop that comes with such well intended gossip info relay. It stuck right to my heart. It was the third such message I’d gotten in the space of a month. It’s hard to go there with the senders because I’m not there— I’m here; halfway around the world. From this distance communications are getting spottier as the space between real, deep and meaningful conversations gets wider the longer we are away.

It hurt to imagine that the information might be true. It hurts to know that there are real people– people I’ve loved deeply– caught in the crossfire. It stings to know how often I could easily be the same sort of “info relay person” and how there are still times I still feel the downward pull in my soul, itching to do the same and just, you know–“share”.

“…yeah, they really went off the deep end.

It’s heartbreaking. When you know , as I do know, you’re just a simple, clay-footed sinner saved by grace, a.k.a. Christian…. and this kind of pain is always personal. It’s always real. If you have ever really loved anyone– especially God, then you can’t help but put yourself in another’s shoes and just imagine having to walk that path….just imagine having to carry that burden. As a community the hurt is always ours- not just “theirs”. And every one of us is always one step away from the deep end. No one really likes to talk about it — but maybe it would be helpful to at least acknowledge that “but for the grace of God there…go I.” or better yet, as Paul understood best:

“… by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” 1Cor. 15:10

Without a doubt, Paul was a man who knew his place of grace before God. In the verses before this, Paul is reiterating only what he knows to be true (my paraphrasing):
– the Gospel he’s sharing is only what he received.
– he was the last to get it.
– and he’s so unworthy.

Paul knows. He uses this phrase: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (8) Untimely born. What a phrase… what a God! It makes me want to cry. Because I can put myself in Paul’s place– unknowingly marching along a dead-end road with orders in hand believing I’ve got God under my belt… having no idea that I’m actually headed straight off the deep end. Then WHAM! The overwhelming…never-ending…reckless love of God pulls me from the very edge and straight into the arms of Jesus. This!

so unworthy…
so untimely born.
so deeply loved.
Can you feel it?

Backing up in history a little bit, to me there are few moments as stunningly beautiful and reverent as one of the last ones recorded for us of Jesus’s life. Paraphrasing, He’s on the cross, hung between two thieves. The crowds are mocking Jesus and one of the condemned men joins them… making his final act on earth that of shaking his fist at God. The other? As Luke records, he says:

Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?  We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” (40-42)

He repents. Right there and then, hanging on the cross with no chance to make further amends, he is completely and totally—- utterly—- forgiven.

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

Is anything more awesome?

I don’t know- I’m not some high-ranking theologian but I imagine that like the first of these men, Paul could have chosen to shake his fist at God when he was struck down on the road that day. He wasn’t only just about to have his life turned upside down- God was going to turn him inside out and it was going to be painful. No, instead, Paul gives us the benefit of his wisdom through the lessons he learned, a bulk of the New Testament, and ample opportunities to understand what having a humble servant’s heart before God looks like. I’m so grateful he did.

It’s these things – the life of Paul and the final moments of three men on Calvary, that I find courage and hope to bear up under the sometimes daily doses of sad news. It’s where I’m gladly reminded that God always has the final word in the midst of life’s choices– right up to the very last one we make. It’s helpful– even hopeful to know that God is still God –even at the deep end and even there…. He can make a way. He is the way. This is what I want to share.

“I couldn’t earn it,
I don’t deserve it,
still you give yourself away.
Oh! the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God!” (Culver/Asbury/Jackson)

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Beautifully Settling Dust

The beautiful Tusheti mountains.

The distance and silence in between now and then was honestly never meant to be. Gosh, one thing led to another and now here I am: more than a year since my last post.  So… yeah…sorry about that.

Oh, trust me— I’ve been writing, that’s for sure, but all my energy and efforts have gone towards a different goal, one that’s been more or less “achieved” as now I’m writing from a totally different place on the planet! As of March we’ve been living overseas and working for a European-based NGO! Talk about a life-change of scenery! Now that’s a long story I will likely be sharing more of in the future. But not yet. 

First I must tell you a quick story about a fast horse. 
I mean fast and maybe even a little wild. 
Probably. 
Yeah.

The shortest version goes something like this: hubby and I along with several others were in a remote village for a language immersion experience. Our hosts planned an afternoon trail ride with a local farm. Like many others we’d seen coming and going that week, we got on our horses and clippity-cloppity away we went. Until four of the horses took a still-unexplained detour and wide-open galloped down the mountain towards home. We were on two of those horses. He and two others got thrown and injured. And me? Well, I swear I’m not bragging, but I just leaned in and held on. 

With every ounce of energy and courage— all my physical and psychological strength— sucking wind, gulping air and prayers—
breathing with the horse because it was really all I could do–
I. Held. On. 

Until… the horse just stopped
I held on until the horse was home. 
It was awful. Thankfully everyone is ok now but trust me, it was not the plan.  Let me be clear: I’m not a rider. It was only the second time I’ve been on a horse in my entire life. I held on because God helped me to. Period.  It’s still a shock.

So I guess you could say the proverbial dust has settled and I’m finally beginning to see things more clearly all around.  While a great deal won’t be seen with absolute clarity until I meet Jesus face to face, it’s amazing how the shadows and lights shift when you are taken out of the “norm” of your life-long, personal existence. 

Some call it
“culture shock”…

I guess it’s an accurate term but for me it’s not the shock of a “here” or  “there”… I mean change— any change is just shocking I suppose.  And you know, shock is sometimes just what we need to get our flat-lining heart, mind and soul to start thriving again.  It’s often what can help us to really see and feel again if we allow it to. It can mean real growth and a complete change of perspective through the bone-deep testing of everything you say and deeply want to believe in.  

And I do. 

I’ve said it a lot recently: the words of those songs I once sang in church, the studies I once freely engaged in and all the places underlined in my Bible were somewhat theoretical…up until now. Now… they are— and had better be— my hoped-for reality and my daily, feeble practice. It all means what it all really means:

Truth. 
Life. 
Eternity. 
Sustenance

There also is nothing quite as shocking as taking in “your” culture’s news from a distance…

I honestly can’t summon up the courage to write in specifics about how I felt about hearing the news of two major Christian personalities and their recent public display of apostasy.  In general I’ll just say it  made me deeply sad but then I must summon the courage to recall the Bible says the last days will be like this. I remember John also said something about the ones who walk away from the Truth.  But I can’t judge their situations.  Jude reminds us to show mercy to them while we persevere. I also know Jesus welcomes doubts, anxieties and fears with open nail-scarred hands and called blessed those who struggle and hang on to the end. It’s enough for me to know how to live today.

Oh and yes… I’m fully aware that it really, really REALLY matters Who and What we’re holding on to. I’ve got some personal experience here—joy and sorrow, success and failure— enough of each to know that THIS matters most of all.  I also know with all my heart: it’s not easy. I’m certain you do as well.

On some days, this walk ya know is going to be your simple average, picturesque “trail ride”. On others, it’s just so hard. Those are the days when you’re just gonna have to lean in and with every ounce of your courage, energy, hope, mind and strength… sucking wind, gulping air and prayers… breathing only by the power of the Holy Spirit… because it’s all you can do…. It’s all we’re asked to do…until we find ourselves on the other side of whatever it was that day…or season. Through the doubts. Through it all.

Holding on- it matters. 
What we hold fast to is important.
Enjoy this life but honestly? Check your grip.
What are you really holding on to? I have to ask myself that question a lot these days. Make sure it’s Jesus.
And then persevere because one day…it’s gonna end. One day… well, like that ridiculous horse… we’ll be Home. 

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How Free Can You Get?

God bless, it’s “Murica” time!

Come on out and wave those banners and flags! Pull out the graphic tee, gather with the Fam, and find a spot on the grass for the annual fireworks display! Let freedom ring from the mountains to the prairies— if only for a day.

I can’t say much about what I knew as a child regarding freedom’s call or price but I surely knew the taste of it. The occasional family gathering at my grandmothers or the local lake seasons my memory with bluefish on the grill, some meat on the whining spit and lot’s of running wild in all directions. Sparklers and fireflies and the nylon-webbed aluminum chairs that clanked together as we took our place on the blanket spread before them. There the musky scent of rotting apples at the base of the tree, some sulphur and magnesium wafting through the air, blended together with the sharp smell of OFF! mosquito spray.

This only happened a handful of times but in my soul I felt cared for, loved and strangely free as I sat with my childhood family eating and watching the bursts of color spread over the sky above and rain down in streams of light.  I could relax in their presence if only for a moment. On that day, we were a family. We were Americans… citizens of “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But the truth of the matter is that none of us was then truly as free as we could get.    Not yet.

It has made me ask: how free is free?  How free can you get? Is freedom based on where you’re born? Where you live and work? What your passport or driver’s license says? Is freedom based on a document? A constitution? A pledge, a vow or a good score on a citizenship test?

No doubt there are some places in the world where documents hold the key to our freedom and security. Those of us born into a world where this is never questioned cannot truly understand the inner workings of the heart and mind of those for whom this has never been true.  However, we owe every bit of our understanding to the ones who came before us, making the journey from wherever it was and deciding to walk towards the light of the freedom they dreamed could be a reality.  A “leave your kin, ticket-punched” kind of freedom purchased, no doubt, using all the guts and courage anyone could ever imagine. Fought for in various ways on various battle fronts both public and private, foreign and domestic, we live life in a “better country” someone else fought for…. and likely died for.

But is freedom an address? Is it simply where we get our mail? How free can you get? Is there still a freedom worth fighting for, sacrificing for, and on many levels, dying for?

Considering the past, the present and the future, I am grateful to know that the Holy Spirit has revealed a greater freedom in my life. The moments of celebration in my childhood were brief, sweet and precious few— shining against the backdrop of deep dysfunction and abuse. The family-styled celebrations of these moments in our nation’s collective history that provided these private highlights grow strangely dim in the light of that singular moment at the age of 12 or 13, when God revealed himself to me through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and showed me how to begin the walk of True freedom.

I was a child when it began. I spoke as a child and understood things through the eyes, mind and worldview of an American-born child. But now I’m grown… I’m growing… and I know that whatever rights and privileges I’ve ever known have only been granted to me in order to serve the cause of the Greatest Freedom there is as a citizen of Heaven.  No matter where in the future I may get my mail, I am grateful for the representative flag and banner I’ve been privileged to live under all my life but most especially, for the freedom it purchased so that the REAL FREEDOM I’ve come to know through Jesus as a result— can frame and foundation my life and future choices. It’s as free as one can get here on Earth at any address, in any capacity.

Free from guilt.
Free from sin.
Free from the demons of the past within.
Free from pain.
Free from loss.
Purchased by Christ’s heavenward cross.

This time next year, we will be living in another place where the 4th of July will merely be a date on the calendar. It will feel weird and bittersweet on some levels. Will we still celebrate? Most certainly. Because while our citizenship won’t change on earth we will still have reason to celebrate our freedom in Christ for, at the end of it all… it’s the only freedom that counts.

How free are you? Freedom is no small matter because God says so.  I am compelled to remember the many times I’ve flown across the continent or ocean hoping to shed some light for myself, but also for others in the name of the Gospel. Each time, the safety speech given about the oxygen mask procedure grabs me. I don’t ever want to use it! But it’s also the part where we’re told to secure our masks first ….then do so for another. Likewise, with our freedom in Christ. Once our freedom is secure, we must  do all we can to secure it for another.

Here. There. Everywhere.
This is the freedom  worth celebrating 24-7-365