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How To Afford What Really Matters- Living Loved

We step over gooey gum in the parking lot. Oldest carries the sack lunch and everyone but Little Bit herds to my side of the van to get in.

I call for her to come join us. I buckle youngest into his seat and Little Bit still hasn’t shown up.

“Little Bit,” I call, “Come around to this side and I’ll help you get in.”

Nothing.

I’m afraid she’ll wander into the parking space adjacent us so I go to check on her and there she is, standing at the back of the car, eyes hard, arms tight. For reasons only known to her, she is threatened by my instruction to come to the other side and has decided to resist.

The sight of her standing there like that in full blown rebellion makes my blood boil just about instantaneously. Here we are trying to make a fun family outing and she wants to pull a rebel stunt in the middle of the parking lot over something absolutely inconsequential.

I want to reprimand her. I want to slather her in harsh words. I want to exercise my parental “rights,” and re-iterate my expectations. I want her to know it is unacceptable to ignore instruction and impolite to hold everyone up with her silly games.

I want her to pay for the interruption in our plans.

Except there is something else at work in me. Something that reminds me this way doesn’t work. Something that asks, “Is this really what you want?”

The flesh in me cries out for relief. Yes, it is what I want. I want to lash out and exact payment, all in the bounds and guise of correction of course.

I know this voice well. How often it tells me that I need to teach my children a lesson; that a few well placed, hard words will bend them to my liking and will prevent future mishaps; that in order to get the appropriate response I want, I must listen to my emotions, lay down the law. I surely must address this and nip it in the bud. If not, my child will run wild and I’ll never be able to “control” him or her again. I simply can’t afford anything other than strongarmed parenting.

Except the voice has been proven a liar.

I’ve been down a parenting road or two that I don’t ever care to visit again.

This is one of them.

But how to find the way out? Because it is a dark road, not well marked, and finding your way back isn’t easy.

And just because I’ve learned that Shepherd’s staff trumps Egypt’s whip doesn’t mean I always know what the staff looks like…how it plays out from situation to situation. It can all be so frustratingly ambiguous. What exactly am I supposed to do?

The refrain echos from the chambers of my heart: “Live Loved,” it says once again.

“Be rooted and grounded in love, so that you may be filled up with the fullness of Christ. Be imitators of God, as dearly beloved children. That is, walk in love, just as Christ also loved you. Lay aside the old self and put on the new self.” Ephesians 3:17-19; 4:20-24; 5:1-2

Living loved is what enables one to give love. I can never muster up enough forgiveness, enough grace, enough kind words for parenting my children…unless I live in the love God has for me.

I can never deal well with life’s interruptions and little slights and rejections and hurts…never can I live humble and meek in a dog eat dog world… unless I live in the love God has for me.

But when I live loved, I can afford forgiveness. Generosity. Gracious Speech. Kind words overflowing.

I can afford to take a beating.

I can afford to suffer a wrong.

I can afford costly inconveniences and painful slights.

I can afford to lay down my life, quarter by quarter.

In fact, living loved is the only way I will ever be able to afford to give my kids the things that really matter.

I’ve tried holding it together myself, being a good mom, being morally and spiritually impeccable. And I’ve flat out failed so many times that I’ve come to the realization that I’ll never be my own Savior. It is not in trying harder and being more spiritual that I have a hope to be a better mom. No, only in receiving the Love He has for me do I have a hope of giving grace, pouring kindness, taking risks, letting go, bearing it all.

Isn’t this why both Colossians and Ephesians couch the “put off the old/ put on the new” passages with instruction to live as beloved of God?

It’s the only way to afford love: live loved.

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (I John 4:12,16)

I stretch out my hand and take Little Bit’s. “Come on, Little Bit,” I tell her. “We are going to have a picnic and I need you to be my big helper. Can you do that?”

I lead her around from behind the van to the side door.

The flesh and the law hates to let go of the inner tirade it wants to spew out. But I see little lips tugging into a smile and I know I can afford oh, so much more. How well I’m loved!

“Silly ol’ girl!” I tell her and reach down to tickle her belly.

She laughs and I’ve just lived and given.

And deep within, I can almost feel Love being perfected.

 Reposted from archives as I’m reminded to be rooted and grounded in love…

She Who Believes {Living Well Watered}

 

My friend Liu Lian and I walked the street to see the widow.

It was hot like usual, and the streets were crowded with hawkers and bicyclists and taxis. People milled around the newspaper stand and the noodle shop. We stopped at the produce stand to buy some apples for the widow.

“I want to get her some milk powder, too,” my friend told me. “She is pregnant and last night when I was there, she only had two vegetable dishes on the table for dinner.”

We ducked into a small shop for the milk powder before continuing our journey.

It was so hot my feet were sweating in my sandals and mixed with dust from the streets, I had a sudden urge to take up pedicures the next time we returned to the states.

We reached the apartment complex where the newly widowed young woman lived. Liu Lian talked us past the guard and we walked down the gravel road towards her building. Liu Lian pointed out painted red markings that ran along the ground at the side of the building.

“See that?” she asked. “That’s the line for the departed spirit to follow home. In case he gets lost…”

We followed the paint up the stairs to a second floor apartment. The door posts were covered in slashed, dripping red. A candle burned outside the doorway.

Her mother was there with her and they invited us in.

The room was somber and dark and I could sense the air thick with spiritual activity. On the table was a shrine to the murdered man and incense burned and filled the apartment with a pungent smoke.

They looked at me strange, eyes hard and distrustful. I was the foreigner, the outsider. What right did I have to intrude upon something so painful, so deep as sudden, violent death? And I’d never met these people before.

Yet I was compelled, yes, I was commissioned.

Aren’t we all?

My friend asked how they were and then began speaking very quickly, beyond my ability to understand. She gestured at me and waved and they smirked and nodded and I knew they’d just agreed to tolerate me.

She turned and looked at me. I was up. “I’m so grieved by what you have experienced,” I began. “And I know there is nothing I can do to change things or make things right again. But I came here today to tell you Who can heal your broken places.”

I made a simple gospel presentation and I quoted the scripture I had memorized: John 7:38

“He who believes in Me (who cleaves to and trusts in and relies on Me) as the Scripture has said, from his innermost being shall flow (continuously) springs and rivers of living water.”

It was the only scripture I had memorized and I had worked for weeks to get it just right. Liu Lian had coached and tutored me.

I could see the desperation in the widow’s eyes. She was truly without hope. She asked me if I could help her get to America. I told her no, I didn’t have the means for that, but I had the good news of Jesus and He was better than any good life America might offer her.

She fell into a numb silence and I gave her a Jesus film and a gospel tract as we excused ourselves.

Past the dead man’s photo with incense, past the painted doorframes, down the stairs with their screaming message of despair.

Outside, Liu Lian turned to me. “Her mother told me she is pregnant with twins. She is six months along and doesn’t know how she will take care of them. She is seriously considering abortion because if she waits much longer, she will be too far along to abort legally.”

My heart broke and I immediately began praying for the lives of these two unborn babies.

I returned home but couldn’t get the woman off my heart or mind. The next day, I enlisted another friend, a local believer, to go with me to talk with the woman.

The guard was a bit more troublesome this time. My friend reverted to using the local dialect to convince him to let us in. He did, but the widow and her mother did not come to the door.

I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving without speaking to her.

We asked some neighbors if she was at home.

“She went out a couple hours ago but she should be back anytime.”

We waited.

Shortly, we saw the two women walking slowly up the gravel road, the young woman clinging tightly to the arm of her mother.

We greeted them and they were cordial and we asked to speak with them inside and they hesitated, but then acquiesced.

“I know you are struggling with so many decisions,” I told the widow. “But please, please don’t abort those babies. They are the children of your husband and there has been so much death and sadness already. You don’t need even more. Please!”

My friend also gave her advice and made many words about keeping the babies. I told her that if she needed anything, please call me or come see me and I gave her my address.

On our way out the door, the mother pulled my friend aside for a moment. We left and with tears in her eyes, my friend relayed the message to me that the widow had already aborted the babies. At the abortion, the momma found out what gender they were.

They were twin little boys.

And it had just happened that very morning. They were just returning from the clinic when we caught them on the gravel road.

We were too late.

I grieved those baby boys. “I’m so sorry,” I told them again and again~ like they could hear. “I’m so sorry.”

Grief has a way of messing with your faith. Pain and trauma and hardship all viciously attack your trust in God. There are some things that just aren’t supposed to be.

But they are.

And I’ve been through loss and grief and trauma and when I feel someone else’s, it all comes back, that innate tendency to close up and shut off because faith seems too risky. It seems downright foolish. It seems Sunday Schoolish and fairy tale and who needs that?

And yet…

It wasn’t a fairy tale when Jesus told Mary and Martha “This illness does not end in death” in John 11…and then Lazarus died. No siree, there’s nothing fairy tale about that.

Who could deny the cold, hard facts? The reality was that Lazarus lay decaying in a grave.

But didn’t Jesus also say to Martha, “If you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So on the one hand we have the reality of death. On the other, we have the promise of God. It’s pretty clear that Jesus set this scenario up so that we would all know that faith isn’t a fairy tale. It isn’t some good-for-Sunday School-only concept.

He made sure the stakes were as high as they could possibly be, the reality as dark and the fate as sealed as possible. Then He turned around and taught us a profound lesson: that reality may be hard and cold and deathly but there is a reality just as true and real and concrete …and that is His word.

Because hadn’t He told them it wouldn’t end in death? After it was all said and done, Lazarus, the one who died, was. not. dead.

And doesn’t He say to me and to you that even though our reality may be empty and dry and spent and cold and inadequate…but there is another reality just as real and true and sure and that is His word?

She who believes will see the glory of God.

She who believes will have streams of water gushing from her innermost being.

Perhaps God wants you and me to learn what faith really is: a transferred focus from the reality I can see to the one I cannot. A faith that asks and correctly answers the question, “What is real? What I can see laying up in that tomb? or what God has said?”

What God has said is the truer reality.

 

[Most] blessed is the woman who believes in, trusts in, and relies on the Lord, and whose hope and confidence is the Lord.

For she shall be like a tree planted by the waters that spreads out its roots by the river; and it shall not see and fear when heat comes; but its leaf shall be green. It shall not be anxious and full of care in the year of drought, nor shall it cease yielding fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

What hard reality are you facing right now?

What has God said about it?

Which reality will you believe?

 

“I, the LORD, have spoken.” She who believes the word of the Lord will live well watered.

 

 

 

Friday’s Father

It’s Friday, and everybody chants ”Thank God It’s Friday”… with plans for the movies or the mall or the local corn maze if it’s October.

Come Friday night, Husband drives downtown into the setting sun.

This is how we spend many Friday nights. While other teenagers are doing silly things they shouldn’t, and other couples are going on dinner dates, and other families are having game nights in their warm houses… Husband, he parks his car at Juvenile Court and checks his belongings at security and gets ushered past the cold steel doors with the loud clicking lock that rings in your ears.

He goes to talk with teenage boys who’ve given up fun Fridays for gangs, theft, and drugs instead.

He enters the small room and waits. The guard makes the announcement to the boys- turned- men-too-early. Some of them are fathers already, themselves barely into adolescence: “Anybody wanna see the preacher?”

And usually 3 or 4 out of the hundred plus say yes and thank God that someone is there, even if it is only one night of the week and oh, if there were more men for other nights of the week, for these boys who’ve never had a father in their lives.

He never asks why they’ve been arrested. He just lets them share what they want. He’s been a deputy sheriff~ in the past, before the call to ministry. He knows how hard a heart can become and he knows how to help soften it.

He shares how Christ can change their lives. He gives these boys hope. He tells them, “Son, you’ve got to decide what direction your life is going to take. You’ve not had anyone to show you the right way…but that doesn’t mean you can’t find it. Jesus is your answer. He’s the life rope that won’t let you down.”

He shares his story, of how he was going down the same road, getting into all sorts of trouble. Then at 21, God intervened in his life and he surrendered to Jesus and that’s when life really began for him.

And sometimes the boys are ready. They do business with God. Sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they are confused and still searching…but always they listen.

“Preacher, can you explain to me the grace of God?” the boys ask, time and time again.

Husband, he comes home broken.

He aches for the loss these boys have experienced. They’ve not seen or known a father. They’ve not been given the chance to see the Father…and isn’t it through incarnate flesh that we really see what the Father looks like?

So he goes and for an hour or so, he is Father’s hands and feet, Father’s words and touch, Father’s breath and life.

He stretches…reaches…touches…

He breathes hope… and then hopes it catches.

And we wonder what more we can do and why is it always so little?

I look at my own four little ones and I wonder, am I explaining to them the grace of God? Does my life, my responses, my energy, my presence, my availability explain God’s grace? Do they know deep that God is good?

Do they daily taste and see that the Lord is good from the home structure and environment I lay out for them day after day?

Am I a Father-mother to them?

No, this isn’t about bashing myself up for all my failures, for they are many. It is about praying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your Name…”

Because to hallow His name means to live in accordance with His character. It means to abide in His love. It means to be the instrument of His nature, to allow His very essence be expressed through me. And we are to live “hallowed” because He is hallowed. We express His very divinity.

So I fall to my knees and I beseech “O Father, Hallowed be Your name!! ”

Husband comes home on a Friday night and the kids are in bed and I ask him how it went and he sits on the couch and says, “I only got to talk to one tonight. They were so busy, so busy. So many boys coming in….”

“But he listened and he asked me to tell him what God is like.” His voice cracks and who can bear such a weighty task of reflecting God’s glory? Us? We are all but jars of clay…

“I think he understood, I really do. I think he saw Jesus.”

And in heaven, a prayer is answered. Grace given to the sons of men, a response to sinners saved by grace. A Name is hallowed and a life is changed and joy, it rises; and I can’t wait to beseech on knees again.

O Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your Name.

The Director of our steps

I head into town with the 3 little ones in car seats. It isn’t often I take them all with me on errands; I’ve learned not many errands are that important, but this one is. We’re getting vaccines.

Husband calls because he is at school and he’s close to where we’ll be and he suggests we meet him at the park after we’re done.

After shots we park at Chick-Fil-A and walk down the path to the nature reserve. Not ten steps down the path we see an Asian woman with two young children. The children with her are meandering, lagging behind. Mine are running ahead, looking for nuts and colored leaves.

Husband greets the woman in the language we’ve learned and she returns the greeting…she’s from our people group!

We start talking with her and she tells us where she is from and why she is here. “I can’t speak English,” she tells us. “I’m here to help with the grandchildren while my daughter finishes university.”

She says she wants to return to her homeland. “America is very beautiful, but it is not home.” We nod and relate our first experiences in a new country. “I’m 65 years old!” she exclaims, indicating she is too old to change much anymore.

I smile at her and tell her she looks so young…she really does…and Husband asks her if she has ever heard of Jesus before.

She looks baffled. “No,” she hesitates, not having a reference point. Is Jesus a place? A food? She doesn’t even know He’s a Person.

I tell her, “Since you are in America, we must share with you! Jesus! He is the most precious thing we have.”

She nods her agreement and Husband begins with creation, and the fall, and the broken relationship between man and God. As I look at the treasures the children have found, he tells how Jesus, God’s own son, came to restore our relationship with God.

Later he tells me he felt like he bumbled the whole thing. We are so out of practice using our second language! “You did great!” I encourage him. He is so much better at sharing the gospel than I am, and so bold.

While the kids are playing at Chick-Fil-A, Husband and I talk about the encounter. “You know that’s why we were at the park today,” he said to me, and I fill with awe. “He wanted that lady to hear the gospel in a language she can understand…”

“…and He sent us here to tell her,” I finish.

It is so amazing, so God, that I have no more words to say. We just look at each other in awe.

It doesn’t seem like we are doing anything “important.” We aren’t preaching to hundreds or leading Bible studies or writing books or even going overseas right now.

We are spending our days tired and I’m chasing a lot of children around and we’re doing a lot of studying and reading. And making a lot of trips into town for things like vaccines and diapers.

Yet today God directed our steps to a park where a woman from the other side of the world was, a woman who had never heard the name of Jesus...and couldn’t understand it anyway, if it was spoken in English.

“God looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From His throne, He observes all who live on the earth. Nothing in all of creation can hide from Him. He sees every step I take. I know the Lord sees all that I do; therefore, I will not be shaken… for He is right beside me.”

Surely it is God who ordains the steps of a man.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” Psalm 32:8

 

Wherever your paths take you this day, friend, may you know His counsel is upon you, His instruction in your steps. May you walk confident.

 

 

For the Exhausted, Fatigued, Overwhelmed Believer~ Let’s Have Church, Shall We?

Night after night, husband works late at the library.

And I cook dinner and do homework and bathe the kids alone and try to sing instead of sigh and by the time husband gets home the clock blinks 10:33pm and I’m in bed, exhausted.

Furlough does not mean rest this time. It means long hours, hard hours, lonely hours, unceasing drive.

I wonder how much he can take, how much I can handle, preparing to go back to a people we’ve never lived amongst.

But this I know…those wonderings are the devil’s bait. If I bite there, I’m caught in the old doubting patterns. I’m the prey on his hook and he reels me in by feeding me line after line about my insufficiency and everything I’ve got to do and my limitations and all the barriers and potential pitfalls and soon I’m in his boat, out of the Water of Life.

A fish can’t live out of water and I can’t live without breathing in Living Water.

There are some roads we each have to travel down before we learn how to avoid them.

If we are weak… and aware of it… our enemy will try to keep our weakness ever in front of us. He knows we will never discover our life hidden in Christ if we are focused on our flesh-limited lives.

I’ve been caught on that bait so many times it isn’t even possible to number. Getting out of the trap, that destructive habitual pattern of thinking, seems impossible.

But with each new day, there comes another chance, another hope, another possibility: I can stay in the Water today. I can live from my identity hidden with Christ.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3″1-3

The only way to live beyond myself is to focus my mind beyond myself. The way to live in the heavenlies is to put my mind there. This is a spiritual discipline Christ wants each of His children to learn. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

What will I meditate on? My problems? My feelings? My limitations?

No, “I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your  wonderful works.” Psalm 145:5 It is a vow I’ve made before the Lord.

Perhaps the place for the weak and fatigued to start meditating is on the opposite, contrasting characteristic of God? Can the weak really say they are strong in Christ? Can the feeble truly experience the unfaltering power of God? Can the young man who stumbles really rise up on wings like eagles?

The Bible says it is so.

Therefore, I will Ponder the Power of God. Here are the scriptures I am bringing to mind as exhaustion and fatigue set in. When I feel overwhelmed, I recite Psalm 145:5 and deliberately focus my mind on God’s power. If you friend me on Facebook, there’s also a link there to an inspirational video on God’s power.

“He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power…” Hebrews 1:3

“Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone.” I Chronicles 29:12

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.” Isaiah 40:28-29

“Man goes forth to his work And to his labor until evening. They all wait for You, To give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.” Psalm 104:23,27-28

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know…the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe…” Ephesians 1:18-19

“So that you will be…strengthened with all power according to His glorious might.” Colossians 1:10-11

“For the eyes of the Lord roam throughout the whole earth that He may strongly support all those whose heart is completely His.” II Chronicles 16:9

 

As I bathe wriggly, tired children, I ponder the sun, that blazing body of energy. It burns day and night, giving light and heat to first one side of the globe, then the other. It is held together and sourced by the Sustainer of Life, just one average expression of His burning power.

As I intervene in a sibling scuffle, I meditate on the “black matter” in space. There is nothing there yet  a gravitational force still pulls. Scientists are baffled; but Christians are not. I ponder the mighty upholding Presence of God in places billions of light years away. His presence that can’t help but draw and pull close.

And I hear Him speak to me. “You’ve asked to know Me, My child. Let’s begin here, with My power, shall we?” 

“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…” Phil 3:10

“And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Romans 8:11

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us…” Ephesians 3:20

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Phil 4:13

 

Comments Are Open and Some Coming Events…

I can be a pretty closed person and the Lord and I are working on that :) and one way I need to open up more is to allow comments on my blog. So comments are open again on Arabah.

I have been so encouraged by the notes you guys drop in my inbox, it’d be a blessing for everyone to read them in the comment section. (But you are always welcomed with open arms and a hug via the inbox!)

The Lord and I are working on an upcoming series. I believe He wants me to share some very personal details of my life, struggles, and triumphs through Christ. As far as I can tell, He wants you to share your stories too (that’s the tricky part!) during the series. I’m not sure how it’s all going to work, but for now I think it’s a good start to open comments so we can share stories and hope. We’ll let the Healer of our souls take it from there…

You are dearly loved, friend.

Arabah

How to Stop Self-Protection

Right there in Bible study I ask the stupid question.

I feel eyes turn to me, trying to hide their shock, but really, I want to know. And there is someone in this room that might be able to tell me.

I want to know how we are to live like Good Samaritans.

I mean, really…past being “nice Christians,” past the the Sunday school story we so quickly spout off and the back-pats we give ourselves for not being like *the Levite*…past the pithy little statements we give about loving others as ourselves, there still remains the question: how do we live generously and sacrificially towards those who dislike us, even despise us and despitefully use us?

We are women. Women are notorious for playing it safe, not taking risks. It doesn’t take many times of being burned before we decide we better look out for ourselves.

And I’ve been burned by those closest to me and I’ve been rejected and despised by my own people and left for dead in a dark room where they let him have his way with me.

And I learned I better self preserve and self protect and try to be reasonable and smart and look after my own security and safety and before you know it, aren’t I only loving myself?

But the Good Samaritan stayed up all night with a man who’d been taught to despise Samaritans. He allowed himself to be detoured on his journey… he set aside his own plans… he gave up his money and his provisions…he put himself out. And all for an “enemy” man he didn’t even know.

And everyone looks at me in silence after I ask the question and I feel like it just went over everyone’s head and am I the only one who wants to know how to stop self-protecting?

Really?

Some sins are cute and socially acceptable but this one of mine is the Big Bad Wolf: ugly and destructive and I’m asking my sisters for help.

I want to know how to live poured out when I’ve been so badly used up. I want to be the Good Samaritan. I’m ready to give myself for others, even to those who despitefully use me. I just need some guidance on how to disarm the self-preservation responses.

I need to get over myself.

The leader of the group, she says, “We’ll get to that,” and I nod okay and I wonder if that is a cop out answer because no one really knows the answer.

But God, He knows the answer I need and He meets me there in that place and He does something so amazing.

He tells me how. “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:18

He tells me I am to forgive and that is how to overcome self-protection and He tells me I can forgive because He is Yahweh. Every need or want or expectation I have, He is sufficient for…and He’ll never let me down. “You can forgive others because I’m your All.”

Every time someone else let me down, He held me up.
Every time someone else used me, He filled me with His sustaining power.
Every time someone else rejected me and abandoned me, He never left me.
Every time someone else led me astray, He left the 99 safe in the fold and pursued me, the one lost, and brought me back.
And for the rest of my life, every time someone WRONGS me, He is there to give me abundant measure of RIGHT.

His right over-compensates for a life-time of wrongs.

“You can forgive because I AM. I Am all you need, my precious child.”

And the Truth and the Way and the Life flood my spirit and I know how to forgive.

I drive home from Bible Study and His word instructs me and there are some wounds that fester self-protection, some deep hurts buried long, and I know it is time to let them go, once and for all.

I’m ready.

I AM and I have a ceremony, something real, something tangible, a stake in the ground. When hurt feelings and memories return, I will recall the day when the Lord and I specifically dealt with the wrongdoing and I will remember that this person is abdicated of their debt towards me.

The Lord and I have a Forgiveness Ceremony.

I go get the stack of index cards. On one card, I write Leviticus 19:18. On another card, I write the name of one who wronged me. Below the name, I write the wrongdoing.

I sit on the floor before God and I place the scripture card and the “debt” card side by side.

I read the scripture out loud and then I pray, “Lord, I no longer hold Tammy’s grievance against her. I forgive her for hurting me through rejection and abandonment. I forgive her for the shame and condemnation she has heaped upon me through the years, and I do so because You are Yahweh…You do not condemn and You do not abandon and You do not reject. Lord, I forgive Tammy because You meet all my needs for acceptance and belonging.”

Then I turn over the index card and re-write Tammy’s name on the back.

The card is now blank, the slate is wiped clean.

It is a choice to allow I AM to fill the hole and heal the hurt another has left on my soul. It only happens by letting go. Forgiving.

I move on to another name, another card and I forgive in the same way.

I experience freedom.

“Practice being a professional forgiver,” He tells me when we are done. A professional forgiver is one who forgives on the spot, totally, immediately, and uni-laterally.

Isn’t this the way to disarm self-protection, by total, immediate, uni-lateral forgiveness?

And I make a commitment to Him, to become a professional forgiver.

Like when I’m cut off in traffic, I practice being a professional forgiver.

When I’m overlooked by someone at church, I practice being a professional forgiver.

When husband uses the last of the butter I was saving for my special recipe and I have to run to the store at the last minute for more, I practice being a professional forgiver.

Using Ephesians 4:26 as my guide, I practice forgiveness every evening, prayerfully letting go of anger and hurts before the sun goes down.

For many years, I asked “how?” How do you truly forgive someone who has hurt you so deeply, when the pain is ongoing, the wrongs fresh? That one little scripture, that one little phrase has the fullness of “how.”

“I AM Yahweh.”

We can forgive because with God, we really aren’t out anything. He is I AM and He is ours, He’s given Himself to us fully and unconditionally. That means no matter what others do to us, we aren’t the worse off.

Actually, we’re the better.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all manner of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Matthew 5: 11-12

You’ve Got A Friend {How Jesus Loves}

 

When I shook his hand back in early ’02, I had no idea that needles had been shoved under those fingernails, that an electric baton had been placed in his mouth, that he’d shrunk up so small his own family didn’t recognize him.

It was his mother who finally confirmed his identity through a tiny birthmark on his shriveled, malnourished body.

Husband and I were standing in the parking lot of the missionary training center. “They are headed to your country,” our mutual friend said and a translator interpreted the introduction. Husband and I beamed, fresh and inexperienced, ready to change the world for Jesus’ sake. Ready to forsake it all. Ready to give our lives.

I had no earthly idea that I should have dropped to my knees right then and there and washed this man’s feet.

He shone Jesus. He oozed Jesus. He was filled with the joy of the Lord.

It wasn’t until later that I read his story, an absolute incredible story of a life filled with Jesus and poured out for Jesus and used by Jesus so powerfully and I couldn’t put the book down!

It was in those pages that I read of Brother Yun and a crazy man named Huang:

One morning the director of the prison called me to his office. He courteously offered me a cup of tea and asked me to sit on a soft chair. He said, “Yun, I know you believe in Jesus. Today I’ve decided to give you a special assignment.”

I thought he was going to ask me to report on other prisoners, but the director continued, “In cell number nine is a murderer named Huang. Every day he tries to kill himself. He is crazy and tries to bite the other prisoners. We’ve decided to send him to your cell. From now until the day he is executed we want you to watch over him and make sure he doesn’t harm himself or the other prisoners. If you don’t remain alert, and he kills himself, we will hold you fully accountable.”

When I heard this news I immediately felt Huang was a precious soul the Lord had given us to rescue.

When Huang was brought into our cell the next morning, I thought he was like the man possessed by a legion of demons, in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. He was handcuffed behind his back and had chains manacled around his ankles. He spoke filthy words and kept trying to mutilate his body by cutting himself with his ankle chains. He was ferocious and full of hatred, and just 22 years old.

In cell number 9 the prisoners had treated him like an animal, kicking and punching him. They’d refused to feed him for days. Instead, they mocked him by deliberately pouring his food over him. His clothes were covered with food stains.

One day, out of sheer desperation and pain, Huang waited until nobody was watching and rammed his head into the wall as hard as he could, in a bid to kill himself. He survived, but left a dent in the wall.

…For many days he had not washed because of his chains, so he smelled terribly. Because of the love of God in our hearts, we loved Huang. The cell mates pointed to me and told him, “This is Yun. He is our leader and a Christian pastor. Do not fear. We will take care of you.”

I asked everyone to give Huang some of their precious drinking water. We filled a basin and I carried it to Huang’s side. I tore off part of my shirt and dipped it in the water. Then I gently cleaned the dirt and dried blood from his face and mouth.

After drying his face I tore off part of my blanket and cleaned the cuts formed by his handcuffs and foot chains. I used a little toothpaste to disinfect his raw wounds, then carefully bandaged them.

Huang didn’t say a word. He just sat there with his eyes wide open and stared at everyone. I knew the Lord was already touching his heart.

At lunchtime we each gave some of our rice to our new cell mate. I used a spoon to feed Huang…

Dinner that evening happened to be the time for our weekly mantou (a small piece of steamed bread). All the brothers looked at me. I knew they were so hungry. I told them, “Today we’ve already shared our rice and water with our new friend Huang, so we can eat our own mantou tonight, but I hope you’ll share some of your soup with him tomorrow.”

I fed Huang first and then started to eat my own meal.

When I took the first bite of my mantou I felt like crying. A tender voice welled up inside me, saying, “I died for you on the cross. How can you show me that you love me? When I am hungry, thirst, and in prison, if you do these things to the least of my brethren, you do them unto me.”

Immediately I knew God wanted me to sacrifice what was left of my mantou and give it to Huang. I bowed down and wept. I said, “Lord, I’m also starving. I feel so hungry.

A Scripture from the Bible came to mind, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35)

I wrapped the rest of my mantou in a handkerchief and placed it inside my clothes, saving it for Huang. Immediately peace and joy returned to me.

The next morning’s breakfast consisted of watery noodle soup, containing just a few strands of noodles. We all shared with Huang, but he wasn’t happy even with his larger portion so he shouted to the guard, “I’m going to die! Why don’t you give me a good sized meal? Are you trying to starve me before you execute me?”

Right then the Lord told me, “Hurry, take the mantou from your shirt and feed him.” With my back turned towards Huang I broke the bread and placed the pieces of mantou in his soup bowl. Immediately Huang’s stony heart broke.

Huang dropped off his chair, knelt down on the floor, and wept. He said, “Older brother, why do you love me like this? Why didn’t you eat your bread last night? I am a murderer, hated by all men. Even my own parents, my brother and sister, and my fiance have disowned me. Why do you love me so much?”

I knew this was the time the Lord wanted me to share the gospel with him. This hardened criminal tearfully accepted the love of Jesus into his heart.

~From Brother Yun’s biography The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun, one of those books that will change your life. Brother Yun also tells what happened to Huang after he received Jesus. Truly amazing.

 

And this man reminds me of the tender love of Jesus and how we are to owe no man anything but love and do I love like that? Do I allow myself to be loved like that, to know the love of Jesus that deep?

To experience the deep, tender, passionate love of Jesus means I allow Him to use my body as His means of expression, as the vehicle of His demonstration. “God is love and the one who abides in love abides in God and God in him. By this, love is perfected…” I John 4: 16-17

Perhaps my body goes hungry. Perhaps my body grows tired. Perhaps my arms ache and my feet blister and my heart hurts. By choosing to love, God’s love is perfected in me.

So when I hear of a mom and son in our area for medical observation, I jump at the chance to be His hands, His feet, His expression of love. Will He really allow me to play such a part? Amazing! 

It’s not much, but it’s a Holy Spirit prompting and I follow it. I print the card and glue it onto construction paper and write on it, “You’ve got friends in Memphis.” And I attach it to cookies and deliver it so they know that Jesus is with them and Jesus people are here for them and even if they are far from home they are never far from His arms and we are ready to make sure they don’t ever forget.

So I want to say the same to you, dear reader: “You’ve got a friend.” Jesus is with you and Jesus people are here for you and even when it seems like you’re all alone, the love of Christ is there, compelling another to express His love to you.

You are loved and you’ve got a friend.

Can I express it to you, dear friend? Here, take my mantou and know the love of Christ…

**Such a blessing to meet this blogger friend in person. Jennifer has mentored me in so many ways through her testimony and her family’s faith walk. An honor to meet her and son Nathan… And please…consider reading Brother Yun’s story? I promise you will be glad you did.

Gaining Mileage from Pain

It’s been nearly a year since she up and left the relationship, our relationship. A sisterhood friendship.

It still aches and hurts and I see her and we work together at church and even laugh together…but she’s made it clear that a working relationship is okay, but a friendship is not.

Not anymore.

We’ve been friends for a decade and a half, ever since Husband and I led her and her family to the Lord.

But a year ago, she saw how deeply adoption has affected our family. She saw what it looks like in real life to “enter into the distress and affliction” of another. She saw raw pain, a stark broken heart. She saw family life not tied up in a neat little spiritual bow and it was more than she could take.

It was more than her Christianity allowed.

And I learned a thing or two. I learned many Christians want to have $3 worth of God and keep their SUV’s and their houses in the country and their tidy little Christian lives and know nothing of the hard faith that visits the orphan and widow in their distress.

There’s no way to visit another in their distress without getting dirt under your nails and salty tears on your shirt and blood smears on your skin.

I learned most American Christians don’t know about entering in, and that I don’t either.

We know about birthday bashes for our kids and camping trips with the family and working overtime to have nice things and entertaining ourselves silly, but we don’t know about entering into the distress of another.

We know about Bible studies and women’s conferences and sharing over coffee…but do we know about rushing to the side of another bruised and battered and left for dead? Do we know about giving up our provisions and our promising outlooks and our rest and our schedules for another who has no other hope?

And when I’m parenting a Little Bit of a girl who stretches me everyway imaginable, I wonder what it really looks like to enter into the affliction of another? What does it look like to make myself the bread she needs, the water she craves, to satisfy the oppressed soul within her?

Then it’s Friday night and I stop for gas on the way home with the kids when oldest son calls. He’s in the other car with his Dad.

“Mom, we stopped to help someone with a flat tire. Dad just wanted me to let you know.”

“Okay,” I tell him, thankful for a man with living faith, a man who enters in. “I’m not home yet, do you need me to come help?”

He asks Dad and Dad says yes, come help because we might need to give this lady a ride and it would be good to have a woman there, so I turn right at the light instead of left and I find them on the side of the road several miles down.

Her name is Dominique and she’s got a curly haired baby girl named Amaura who blows bubbles and makes the funniest noises in the backseat of our car.

My kids eat that baby up.

“Dominique,” I speak firm, trying to be more confident than I really am. “Now anytime I’m in a situation like this where I have a few minutes with a stranger, I know it is an opportunity from God.”

“Perhaps He wants us to be a blessing to each other?” I suggest.

Amaura has stopped blowing bubbles and has started crying now. Louder and louder. But I press on.

“Is there any way I can pray for you?” I ask her.

“Oh yes,” she says. “I’ve been interviewing with Walmart for two days. I work two jobs already, trying to provide for Amaura and I’m trying to get my own place, you know? Just trying to make it.”

Her phone rings and it’s her boyfriend. He’ll meet us at the shopping center in town. They talk about the flat tire and about where she left the car and we pull into the parking lot and the time has gone and what blessing have I been?

I pull up beside the white truck waiting in the parking lot. A big, rough looking man is standing beside it, arms crossed.

“Dominique, before you go can I pray for you?” I ask her.

“Yes,” she says and I reach out and put my hand on her shoulder and I bless this woman who I don’t know and I pray God’s favor upon her and that sweet fatherless baby in the back.

Then they get out and the man thanks us and we say it’s because of Jesus and He loves you and we all go our seperate ways.

I wonder why? Why would God allow me to touch another’s life… even in such a tiny way? Why would He allow me to be His hand on her shoulder? His voice of love? His expression of care and concern?

Me so messed up and mind-numbed and simple and plain. Me rejected by a sister-friend.

And He reaches deep and speaks kind and I know that to enter into the distress of another is a gift.

I weep.

I weep at the God who gives chance after chance and blessing after blessing and who blessed me through a woman named Dominique far more than I blessed her… and who gives me morning after morning to enter into the pain of another, day after day, gift after gift.

How could I be so blind? So tired of it all? So faithless?

Little Bit comes to me and this girl who looks opposite of me, she calls me momma. She holds up her finger. “I hurt my singer,” she says. “Can you kiss it?”

And I kiss her finger and rub it and cup her close and pray. “Forgive me, God,” I say. “Forgive me for seeing how others have left me in my pain more than seeing the gifts You give to enter into another’s pain. Forgive me for not seeing the means of entering into fellowship with You. Forgive me for becoming oh so tired in well doing. Oh, forgive!”

And I pray for my friend, the deep loss. “Bless her, Lord. Bring her opportunities to know Your love and grace in fresh and powerful ways. Allow her to be an instrument of Your grace.”

The ache, it’s still there. The tear stains and blood smears and dirt under nails. But within, I feel the sun rising.

 

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