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Best of 2011: When you need a New You

I received many emails in response to this post. In different ways, many of us relate to the life-themes presented here. Thank God, who gives us all the same message of hope and restoration!

 

Five kids, one dirty dog, one messy house, and one demanding husband into life, she lost it.

Took her daughter to the ER one day ~ I remember sitting in the van while we drove her there ~ and she walked out of that ER loony.

She went missing and even after they found her and her frightened daughter, it took a while for us to really “find” her.

It was just like her mom before her…and her mom before her. Just like generations of moms past as far back as I can trace. I come from a long line of women who’ve up and gone crazy, lost their minds, gone stark mad.

It’s terrifying.

My own mom would use it as a weapon. “You remind me of your Aunt Levale,” she’d tell one of us, and it was meant to mark us, wound us.

It did.

I learned there were some hidden things, terrifying things, measures of darkness that no light could reach.

Hopelessness existed. And if I wasn’t good enough,  I just might be headed straight for it.

When this is the disease that runs through your blood, you start looking for answers. Oh sure, maybe there is a time when you’re optimistic. You think you’ve beat the odds. You’re young and strong and you’re sure you’re the one the infection won’t touch.

Then life piles up. The symptoms start showing up.

And shopping trips can’t cover it and friends can’t make it go away and make-up can’t camoflauge it and that last hope religion? Can’t fix it.

And then you know the truth. The truth that we can only pump through our veins the blood inherited from the forefathers and we’re all children of Adam and there is no one righteous and this disease, with the specifications of your lineage, it’s not going anywhere. It’s under the skin. It fills every cell. It’s you.

That’s when the question becomes “How are we going to deal with this?”

Strangely enough, it’s a question many Christians never get to. Rather, they spend their lives trying to treat or cover up the symptoms, stacking nightstands and filling ipods with strategies and tools to live the best life possible for whatever life remains.

We try to prove if only ~ finally ~ to ourselves, that infected blood hasn’t seeped all the way through. That we aren’t what momma said about us. We aren’t our worst fears. We aren’t “Aunt Levale.”

We’re going to make it.

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news? It’s that bad. It isn’t a nightmare and it isn’t Aunt Levale anymore, it’s you.

The good news? “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Jesus, Mark 2:17)

And there is One Name given among men by which we must be saved. ONE NAME (and it isn’t the name of our best loved authors, teachers, friends, or pastors, by the way.)

He didn’t come to salvage our lives. He came to give us new blood altogether.

Someone give me a breathing mask because I’ve got to start gulping new life in. I need the blood transfusion ASAP.

And it strikes me one day, why so many of God’s people never breathe it in. Why we never let the Physician do the full work He offers us: Some of us are content to stay on the other side of the Jordan.

Like the Reubenites, Gadites, and half tribe of Manassah, we are happy with the land just short of the Promised Land. (Josh. 22:1-4)  We decide our symptoms aren’t that bad, the prognosis is tolerable, and there are far fewer risks involved. Who wants to spend their whole lifetime fighting to gain territory, anyway?

We’ll settle for stuffed bookshelves and too-busy lives and the intake of so much caffeine that it needs it’s own budget….we’ll take what we can get and make the best of it.

But then there’s folks like me, folks so sick with the sin-disease that you puke it all over your kids. Daily. hourly. Some days you can’t even get your emotional self out of bed you’re so sick, can’t plug in to the life around you. And you know you’re infecting everyone in your path.

Something’s got to be done. There’s not enough caffeine and the workbooks leave empty and you’re so worn and weary of performing. So you stop pretending and you decide, even if it kills me, I’m crossing that Jordan.

Those people of God who stay on the other side of the Jordan have just as much of God as I do. They are not inferior or unloved. They may even be able to make a nice little picket fence life for themselves.

But crossing the Jordan? Well, that’s God’s plan all along and the Promised Land is “God’s land” and I want all, every little bit, of what He intended. (Josh 22:19)

The truth is, I can’t survive on the other side of the Jordan.

My blood runs too perverted, my resources too few, my prognosis too bad. I’ve either got to enter in or die in the wilderness.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

 

If it’s the Father’s good pleasure (and it is) then why shouldn’t I enter in?

There is no real good reason.

Because even when the darkness is  within your own soul, pumping through your own veins, under your own skin, He says He’ll give you the kingdom and the kingdom is within you.

.And I get it: There is no such place as hopeless.

There is no darkness impenetrable, even when it’s within.

Even when there are giants bigger than Aunt Levale in my promised land. It’s my land, not theirs.

And the King, the One by whom comes salvation, has just declared war.

 

Related Posts: Injecting Mud

How to Really Change

Best of 2011: What if I’m an Esau?

This was one of the most visited pages this year. If you relate to being an Esau, my prayer is that you find comfort in the character of our God.

 

“We’re sending you guys to a bed and breakfast for two nights… will even take care of childcare too.”

Our pastor told us this three weeks ago and we were shocked and delighted and so Friday we dropped the kids off and packed our suitcase and drove an hour to the B&B.

It was while standing in the kitchen with our host, Eric, that we knew. We weren’t here simply for a getaway. God had sent us on a mission.

“My friend Woody is here,” Eric told us. “We won’t get in your way. He stopped by here to say goodbye…he’s on his way out to the mountains of Colorado. He’s got hot spots all over his body and he’s headed out there to die. Alone in the Colorado mountains.”

We tried to connect with Woody all day Saturday.  Mr. Woody made himself scarce.

Come Saturday night, we ordered Chinese take-out and sat on the bed with paper plates and chopsticks and talked about what we should do. “I say let’s go down and just tell them we don’t believe in coincidence and ask to pray for each of them and see what the Lord does,” I suggested.

My husband, he’s more direct. His fire is burning and he wants to just go down with his Bible and lay it all out.

Either way, if we want to talk to Woody, we’re going to have to be obvious and direct. No casual, “natural” opening is happening.

We finish up takeout with fortune cookies and husband cracks open his cookie and reads, “Don’t wait for others to open the right doors for you.” We laugh. There you have it, we have to go knock on some doors. The fortune cookie said so! {smile}

We go downstairs with our Bible tucked under arm and they aren’t inside and the two men are outside talking where it’s dark and cold …and we go out and chat and ask if we can share breakfast with them in the morning because we’d like to pray with them and talk to them about God.

Um hum. We did.

They said sure and it was clear they were just being polite and we wonder if Woody will really show up at the breakfast table. Did we do the right thing?

8:30 Sunday morning the four of us sit down together for breakfast.

“This is only the third or fourth time I’ve ever sat down with guests,” Eric tells us and we share some missionary stories and language blunders and we all laugh pretty good.

Then we get down to business. We ask Woody about his relationship with Jesus.

“You know,” he begins. “I used to have faith. But some things happened in my life that made me wonder if what I had was real. People done me wrong…I’ve lost absolutely everything. The only thing I have left is a guitar and my old truck…and now I have to sell my guitar.

He continued.I read through the Bible in search of some foundation…I needed to know if what I thought I had was real. I came to conclude that I don’t have real faith.”

What he said next caused my eyes to well up and I didn’t really fight against it because it was the love of Christ within me coming out and didn’t he need to see it?

“I think I’m one of those that have to be slaughtered for someone else to be saved. You know…like in the book of Job, all his children were killed for Job to see and know God better. God’s going to do what God wants to do and I’m one not intended for His blessing.”

“I’m okay with that if that’s the way it’s supossed to be.”

…And my heart is shattered and I can’t believe what I’m hearing…

“I’m not one of the elect,” he says.

Eric chimes in. “I feel the same way,” he says. “What if I’m an Esau? You know, ‘Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.’”

And husband turns to me and says, “Do you want to share anything?”

Yes, I do want to say something. It’s burning within me. It’s so close to my heart that I’m breathing shallow and my pulse is pounding and oh, I get this.

“There’s a reason he asked if I want to say something,” I begin, breathless.

“It’s because he knows I’ve struggled with the same things.” And I wonder how I can boil everything down to a simple conclusion. How can I talk about stumbling and distrust and wondering if God really loves you…about dark nights when you think you had something with God and then you are shaken to the core and you wonder if you were ever founded on the right foundation?

I take a deep breath. Everyone is looking at me. The weight of responsibility for my words is heavy on my shoulders. How can I ever say the right thing?

“The conclusion I’ve come to is this,” I tell them. “It comes down to knowing and trusting the character of God.”

They’ve read the Bible before, so I explain. “You know John the Baptist? How he spent his entire life preaching Jesus and then he was arrested? And while he was in prison, waiting for his head to get cut off, he sent friends to ask Jesus, “Are you really the One?”

“His faith was shaken to the core. He was doubting and in a very stormy place.

“What Jesus said is very interesting.  He told John to evaluate things on the basis of scripture, not circumstance. But then He said something very important and insightful. He said, “Blessed is the one who does not stumble on account of Me.”

“And I looked up that word “stumble” and did a word study on it, because that’s where I was at: a doubting, stormy, afflicted place in my faith.

“And this is what I found that changed everything for me…”

{Click here for Part II of our conversation }

Best of 2011: You’ve Got a Friend

This post tells the powerful story of love and forgiveness. If you are looking at reading some life-changing books during 2012, make sure you add The Heavenly Man to your list. Also, check out ‘The Bookshelf” for other reading recommendations.

 

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…

 

Best of 2011: The Beautiful Wounded

 

The man, I notice him when he walks through the doors.

I’m placing toilet paper and laundry detergent on the conveyor belt of the local Dollar General. Before she even rings me up, there he is- in line behind me. He’s holding two quarts of car oil in his dark, worn hands.

I nod and smile and turn back to my cart and kids now bubbling all over the front area of the store.

He speaks to my inner place and I hear Him quiet, “This man needs to know I love him.”

“Okay, Lord,” I say. I turn back to the man with sunken face and smile again. “How are you today, sir?” I ask.

“Good, good, just hot.”

This is the South and it’s always the weather we fall back on when we talk small. Never mind the man is shrunk up to nothing, that his lip is bleeding, that his teeth are all gone, that he is literally wasting away for all to see...no, there is only the weather to tck tck at.

Youngest keeps reaching for the toys near the register and oldest is pushing on the cart to play with Little Bit inside. I’m trying to use coupons and pay the cashier and keep the buggy from running into my heels while instructing daughter to put that back already.

“Let me get out of this caldron first?” I ask Him as I grab my sacked paper goods and round the kids up and herd everything towards the door. Sometimes its all I can do to think straight.

We get outside and I park the cart.

The man is already out the door and I try to bargain with God. “If he comes by here on his way to the car, then I’ll tell him.”

I glance around and notice he is already at his car- on the opposite side of the lot. He won’t be coming my way. A lost sheep has to be found. I’ll have to be a shepherd and leave the fold.

For a split second I consider forgetting it, going my way and excusing myself. But I don’t want to miss what God is doing, and I don’t want to quench that Voice, that Spirit that I crave so much in my life.

“C’mon, kids,” I round them up. “I want to go speak with this gentleman.”

They listen quickly. Grace.

I approach the man and his van. He’s got the front hood up and is pouring oil. “Sir?” I ask. “Do you need to make a phone call? I have a phone you can use.”

It feels so lame, so silly, so moronic. But it’s the opportunity given and I take it.

“Oh no ma’am.”

“Well are you from out of town? Is there something I can do to help?”

“I appreciate that, but no, I just need to put oil in every now and then. We live out in the Acres and we’re moving today to be near my brother.”

I glance inside the van and notice a woman in the passenger seat, window down, asleep.

“Well sir,” I turn back, “I just want to tell you that God loves you.” I reach out my hand and place it on his frail shoulder. “God loves you.”

We are strangers and I hope I’m giving dignity to the man and not taking it by being so bold as to touch him, but all I can think of is how Jesus touched the untouchables. Up close, the man’s bleeding lip reminds me of the leper. Or hepatitis. Sometimes the greatest way to love is to touch.

“Yes, well….” the man trails off and shifts on his feet. He doesn’t know what to say to that.

I look back in the van again, trying to speak with the woman. I never want a woman to feel threatened by me, oh no, I’ll be quick to wash feet.

The woman is still asleep. I am aware of the kids around my legs. “Momma, why did we come here to talk to this man?” Youngest daughter asks. The man is listening, probably wondering himself.

“Because God loves him and maybe he needs help and we can help him,” I tell her and glance at him too. He’s wrapped up and ready to go. I turn to take the kids back across the lot when I hear the voice.

“Ma’am! Ma’am!” It’s a woman’s voice and I turn to see her awake and sitting up.

“Are you a believer too?” she asks. Ups and yells it out the window.

“Yes ma’am. I am,” I say.

She does a little jig in her seat and stretches her arms out the car window. “Oh! Oh!” She is downright giddy. “I am too! It’s so good to meet another believer!”

I walk over to her and take her hands in mine. I smile into her eyes. “Oh, it’s just so good to touch another believer,” she says.

She is as frail as her husband, but she’s beautiful. And witty. I know that maybe she’s strung out. Or maybe she’s trying to work me. Or maybe she’s a little off her rocker.

But what if she’s for real? What if she really has met Jesus and she doesn’t get the chance to go to church?

I squeeze her hands like there’s no tomorrow and we talk. She is visibly moved. I can’t believe this is put-on. Her husband, the man Jesus loves, is growing antsy. I’ve about worn out my Southern welcome.

“We’ve got to go, hon,” he tells her. I invite them to church tomorrow and we exchange names and she is such a beautiful Jan.

“Well let go of her,” beloved man tells her, already in reverse with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake.

“I’m trying,” she says and laughs, eyes twinkling. We give one final squeeze and release each other.

“God loves you,” I tell her and she almost cries. We turn to leave and they pull away and I wonder what just happened.

I buckle the children in and as I pull out of the parking lot I ask Him, “Why is it that I feel such an affinity with people like these? Why do I feel such at home?”

I think of the Good Samaritan and I wonder if there was a reason why he stopped to help the wounded man. Had he been wounded at one time himself? Did he know? Did he serve from experience? And did the wounded man heal and go his way to help other wounded?

I wonder.

“That’s why,” He whispers to me. “You belong because you’ve been the one wounded and left for dead. And I saved you.”

And it is later, when others turn their nose at sordid past, don’t care to hear of dark nights and imperfect days, as if Barbie is real and makeup covers more than wrinkles… It is when others can’t see beauty in scars that He reminds me:

“It’s not the well who need a Physician, but the sick. I came to save sinners, not the righteous.”

I ponder the man in John 5, who after he was made well tucked his invalid mat up under his arm and went his way. That mat, it was his past. He carried his scars as a reminder. He remembered what he had been. He remembered what Jesus had done. And he remembered those who still lay at the pool, waiting for Someone to pass their way.

And aren’t we His hands now? Aren’t we His feet? Aren’t we His body? Can we not go to the wounded and weak?

Isn’t He within us compelling us to go?

I get on my knees and I thank Him for beautiful Jan, for marks and reminders, for nail scarred hands that reached and touched and anointed us to do the same, for imperfect days that remind me I’m the kind He came for.

The Beautiful Wounded.

 

For the rest of this week, I will share some favorite posts from 2011. These are some of the most commented on or most shared.

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