Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Beauty of Desire


“What do you want me to do for you?”

This is the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus when that blind man approached him on the road. What a puzzling question. It seems obvious to us. Obviously, he wants to see. And, in fact, this is what he says. But, Jesus asked the question anyway. Was it because he really didn’t know what Bartimaeus would ask for? Obviously not. Instead, maybe he just wanted Bartimaeus to be intentional about what he was asking. Maybe he wanted him to be aware of his desire.

I don’t tend to pay attention to my desires as much as I should. If I did, I would know more what it is I am longing for in relationships with others, in my relationship with God, in my own inner being. I would also be more able to weigh out the desires that are born out of sin and desires placed in my heart by God. I could learn to confess and repent and depend on Christ to transform me. I could sit with unmet desires and ask God to remind me that he is enough for me. I could recount all the ways that Christ has given me the desires of my heart over the years.

Instead, I tend to ignore them. To not think too deeply about them. Somehow, I have learned over the years that desire leads to bad feelings. That word, desire, even seems a little dark to me. A little sinister. After all, what if I discover my desires are sinful and then I feel guilty and judged. What if I discover I have desires that will continue to go unmet, and it doesn’t seem like Jesus will be enough for me. Those are thoughts I don’t want to engage with, things I don’t want to feel. It’s easier to see desires in a general way instead of in a specific way. I desire a closer relationship with Jesus, to spend more quality time in relationships with those I love, to be at rest more. If I start to get too specific about those things, then I might be confronted with those bad feelings that I don’t really want to feel.
But here Jesus is, with blind Bartimaeus, asking him to be very specific about what it is he wants. Asking him to be aware of his very specific desire and then to ask for it. And I can’t help but wonder…is that what he is asking me as well?

It’s riskier to tell him that I want to be more aware of His presence throughout the day, to be more tied to him in a way that is unmistakable. It’s definitely riskier to say that I want to be pursued more in my relationships and to be more intimate with my close circle of friends. It’s riskier to say that I want to feel more at peace and more at rest. Because what if none of that happens. Then what? What do I do with the bad feelings that come then?

I guess then I get to come to him with the bad feelings and answer the question as he asks again, “What do you want me to do for you?” I get to walk with him in the midst of feeling bad and learn that he is enough.

Or….or maybe he fulfills those desires. Maybe he gives me all that I want. Or teaches me how to want what is better and then gives me that.

Either way, if I am willing to be aware of my desire, willing to risk asking for the very specific desires I have, I think I end up like Bartimaeus.

No longer blind.

Able to see more clearly.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Dear Young (er) Mamas,

Dear Young (er) Mamas,

I turned 40 last year, and my kids are all in school now, so I guess it's officially time for me to stop calling myself a young mother. There is a whole new crop of you all out there now. You have young children and your days are filled with diapers and snack time and toys all over the floor and rigorous bedtime routines that MUST be followed!  I remember it well. Good times.  Exhausting in a lot of ways, there's no denying that! But lots of sweetness, too. These are the days when you are a constant presence in your child's life. You do, pretty much, everything for them. But here's what I want to share with you about having older kids so that maybe, just maybe, you will remember a little of it when your child is older and it will be a source of freedom for you.

You can't be a constant presence in your child's life anymore. You can't be everywhere all the time and really, it is okay.

See, I think as our children get older, we have this skyrocketing sense of mother's guilt. That's what I call it. And it's kind of gotten out of control.  Maybe it's because as our children naturally make the transition from baby to toddler to school age and so on, we don't always naturally make that transition with them. And so, in our brains, we still feel that need to do everything and to be constantly present.

And maybe also, it is Pinterest. Because Pinterest can drive anyone crazy with all it's perfection and precious ideas. (By the way Pinterest, feel free to hold my recipes for me in a neat and orderly fashion, but can you stop suggesting what pins I might like? Because frankly, you are often way off base. I don't care one bit about how to lose my stubborn belly fat. One more belly fat crack like that and we are likely to break up for good.)

The truth is, we moms are pretty good at the guilt thing all on our own, but it certainly doesn't help that those sweet cherubs of ours somehow know that we feel this way and they are surprisingly deft at using it to their advantage. "You aren't coming to my (unimportant) basketball scrimmage an hour away from town???" they say with those sad eyes. "You aren't going to pay $75 for the whole family to attend the high school's Dinner and Jazz concert where we middle-schoolers are not the main event but sort of more like an opening number or two?" with shoulders slumped. (Well played, band boosters. You play on our mother's guilt like an expert instrumentalist and make thousands for your cause doing it.) Well, no sweet, precious child, I am not. I will, instead, be happy to buy groceries for the entire week with that money, and also, I will listen to you practice those songs every day at home. I will also be thrilled to come to the (FREE) concert that you will give at the end of the year, in which the same songs will be played...and probably with much more skill since you will have a lot more practice under your belt. I am not a sucker.

Don't get me wrong, I love watching my kids do what they love. It's thrilling in a way that only a parent could understand. And I want to be there as much as I can. But, I also know that my kids are moving towards a life outside of mine, and, the truth is, I am also moving towards a life outside of theirs. Ouch. It hurts even writing that. But that doesn't make it less true. We are both learning to get along without the other.  And that is good and right and necessary. After all, those kids will be adults someday and we will need to know how to do life apart from one another. Actually, maybe that's why we mothers hold on so hard sometimes. Maybe that's why we try to be everywhere, all the time. Maybe we can sense it slipping away and we are trying to soak up every moment.

But here's the reality, young moms: we can't. You and I both know that we would never just blow off an event that's important to our kids. We love them too much. But there are just legitimate reasons why we sometimes can't be at all the things. And, instead of owning that mother's guilt as if we deserve it, how about teaching our young ones how another person can't meet all of their needs? Even their mom. How about teaching them that they can be disappointed that someone can't be present while also knowing that it isn't because that person doesn't care for them? How about teaching them that there won't always be someone cheering and clapping just for them in life, but it's still important to do what you love? How about teaching them that even when mom or dad aren't right there, we are still their biggest fans? Those are important lessons. They don't negate our need to be a consistent presence in our children's lives, but they do mean we can trust they won't be scarred for life if we can't make it to the (fake) track meet where our own team is the only one participating.

So, start early, young moms. When you need a night out with your girlfriends, or your husband, go. Leave those kids with a sitter. Hug and kiss them on your way out the door and say, "Bless Mama as she leaves." Teach them to say, "Have fun, mommy." And then, leave the guilt on the doorstep. There are plenty of ways we will fail our children, young moms. But, teaching them to get along without you for a few hours is not one of them.

Bless you, Mama.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Denial



Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross  and  follow me." Matthew 16:24


I nod my head because I believe that is true. I can say, "amen" in gentle agreement because I have preached this and sometimes lived it and know it is a truth that is ultimately good, though not easy. This is the Gospel. This hard thing is a grace in our lives because it insists that we give up those lies about what satisfies and, instead, follow the only One that truly does.  Out of love, Jesus asks us to deny ourselves in order to follow him, because ourselves want things that we don't need and things that hold nothing for us except fleeting pleasure and empty promises. Nothing that lasts.  They are things that I use to replace God with something far less than who he is and what he offers. And sometimes, as a follower of Jesus for many years,  I forget that this is an ongoing battle. I forget that it is a continuous bending low to pick up a cross my flesh doesn't want, a retrieving of that cross that I laid down so that I could have something else that was easier for a while.

How long has it been, I asked myself recently, since I was truly convicted by my sin nature? Oh, not a specific infraction, not a fleeting "oh...I need to do that differently next time. Rely on God more. Use kinder words.  Think more holy thoughts, etc." kind of conviction. But, how long since I have been truly convicted by a truth I live that is contrary to the Gospel, by a lifestyle choice that doesn't match with the "amen" I utter when I hear sermons on denying myself? Truths like: "I need this stuff more than I need God, delicious food is better than Christ, my feelings are truer than scripture."  It's not that I would ever say any of these out loud with any passion or certainty, but my thoughts or my actions seem to confirm their reality. Do I desire something more than Him. Do I find greater pleasure in the created things more than in the Creator? Do I know the truth but just find it irrelevant or too hard in my situation?

This morning, as I read in my Lent devotional about the mobs shouting, "Crucify Him," I realized that the crowds calling for Jesus' death were saying out loud the truth that I sometimes live. Crucify him. He asks too much of me and I don't want to deal with it. Get rid of him. Holy Spirit, go away. I don't want to hear what you have to say this time.  And I can see that there are ways in which I am no different than the screaming mob. I think when I am unable to understand the violent crowds calling for Jesus' death, I am in danger of forgetting my own flesh;  in danger of forgetting that I, too, deny Him, instead of myself.   Maybe I'd rather think of myself more like one of his disciples in the story. Oh...well...I guess that works, too. After all,  it wasn't just the mobs denying him, being swept up in a bigger plan. His disciples deserted him, too. Fled for their lives. Most notably, Peter, who literally ran to save his own flesh.

Following Jesus doesn't mean that we will never do it again...that we will never struggle against our flesh and find ourselves losing the battle. But choosing Jesus means that our experience gets to be like Peter's. That the merciful rooster crows, that conviction that is both painful and good,  and we are reminded of Jesus' words about our weakness.  That we see our flesh for what it is and weep bitterly. In those moments, we are reminded that, to follow him, we have to stoop down and pick up our cross again.  And like Peter as he ran to the tomb on resurrection day, we are surer than ever that denying ourselves holds far more hope and joy than we could imagine. And sure that Jesus is what we need. That He is ALL we need.

This truth settles in around me and it feels good, but it feels hard, also. Jesus knows. He bent down low and picked up the cross first. And He's right there with me, shouldering most of the weight of it, anyway. So I journal and pray and then whisper, "amen,"  and I know I will need to remember it all again soon. Probably even again today.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

I Heard the Bells

Three weeks ago, I sat in my small group from church and cried and babbled, mostly incoherently, about my big feelings. I told my group that I knew, even as I talked, that what I was feeling was too much. I was so sad about how awful people have been during this election season and especially after. I was personally wounded by the attacks on people I didn't even know and there was a heaviness in my heart because of all this pain.  And, I was incredibly saddened by the rhetoric of so many believers who resorted to name-calling and inflammatory language.  It felt shocking and deeply sad. It still does. Afterwards, Loren and I talked about why it had me so captured.  I knew much of it had to do with social media, and with just the regular media. It's hard to navigate the pain that is just a click away on our computers, in the news, on Facebook , in the zillions of blogs that are out there, and still maintain a worldview that is positive. There is a lot of pain. And I felt compelled to keep clicking, to keep reading it all in an effort to be informed, but also in an effort to really understand. I had good intentions, but I was drowning in the sorrow.
Then,  add to this, a slew of things with the kids and with friends that were hard and emotional, and some ministry challenges that were exhausting and tedious. I felt emotionally spent, physically exhausted by the constant processing of it all. And again, I knew it was out of proportion. Were these big feelings a gift or a liability?  Well, probably both.
Then, I had the good sense to go off of social media and regular media for a while. And, though I didn't understand why at the time, I also gave myself permission to quit the gym for a while.  For some people, the gym is their jam. It is their escape.  It has never been that for me, though. I love my gym, but CrossFit is a punishing kind of workout. Usually, I kind of like that. It feels good to work hard and leave feeling spent.  But, because lately, there had been so much hard work in regular old life...a kind of mentally exhausting work....it just felt like too much. And I didn't want to feel like I was punishing myself anymore.  I wanted to do something that felt like it gave me something instead of took something from me. I wanted to walk and listen to podcasts. I wanted to run and think only about breathing. I wanted to do yoga and feel my muscles loosen up and stretch. I didn't need to leave somewhere feeling beaten up and exhausted. I was getting enough of that in my everyday life.
I needed time to slow down and to turn down the volume on the world and the chaos in my own life. I needed to check and see if my perspective was accurate.  And when I did, I could hear the still, small voice of Jesus. There he was, still offering hope, offering peace, offering rest. He is still victorious. He still offers to fill us with the fullness of God.  What grace!
Just this morning I thought about how in the past couple of weeks my heaviness and despair has lifted, and my breath caught as I realized that this despair is what the world feels every day. I am reminded of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, turned Christmas carol, written during the dark days of the American Civil War:
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
This is the reality of those who are without Christ. The end of it all. What a tragedy! With a grateful heart, as a child of God, I am able to sing the last verse with confidence.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
I am grateful that, today, the music of Christ is more loud and deep than the music of the world in my own head. He continues to remind me that he is still working, that he never tires of setting things right. I have no need to despair! And, my glimpse into the heart of those who are lost challenges me to share this Good News. I can't imagine living every day without the knowledge and understanding that what this world offers in not all there is.
During this season of Advent, as we enter into the stories of those saints long ago who were waiting for the coming Messiah, we are being made brave enough to continue to wait for his second coming. I pray that it makes you brave to know that he, very literally, prevails to bring peace on earth and his good will to men and that the music of his victory is loud and deep in your ears. And I am praying that we, as the church, understand that we can be instruments of that peace and good will to the larger world and to those in our own lives. That as he chooses, in his grace, to fill us with all the fullness of God, we are responsible to share this Good News with those who need to know it.
The good gift of Christmas is this chance to remember.
Peace and good will to you, friends.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Election


I saw a meme Saturday that said, "I voted. And now I need a hug." Yes, exactly.

As I sat down to consider my ballot last week, the words below came pouring out of me. And they gave me a little perspective on what really matters. And then we ended our worship service yesterday with the hymn, "Be Still, My Soul"...an appropriate benediction for all time, but especially for these times. The last four lines say this:

Heart of my own heart,
Whatever befall
Still be my vision
O Ruler of all

Yes, and Amen

Be encouraged, friends.


Election
We are not souls who can exist on a steady diet of fear and hate
We are not able to stand up under the burden of our own disdain and cruelty
An eye for an eye is too big a weight to carry
The plank in our own eye is jagged and festering and affecting our vision
We are a people scarred by our own hands, the knives we wield serving mostly to pierce ourselves
To cut us off from each other, to cut us off from love, to cut us off from mercy
Walled in by thick rock and existing in darkness like in a sealed tomb
Wrapped in a shroud of despair
But God...
BUT GOD
In Him, fear is cast out to the far edges of the farthest reaching existence
Fear doesn't hold sway over our decisions, our reactions, our ability to love
In Him, love covers over a multitude of sins, ours and others', too
In Him, the impossible standard of perfection is achieved and placed over us like a mantle
The jagged plank removed from our eye and used instead to crucify a Savior
His hands and feet are scarred, instead
His side and his brow are pierced, instead
And in Him, we are no longer cut off from each other
No longer cut off from love
No longer cut off from mercy
It is in Him that we burst forth, from a grave into freedom
From darkness into the light of His truth
Casting off our shroud of despair and clothed instead as saints, in robes washed white by His blood
In God We Trust isn't just a motto
It is our only hope
And his election, the one that matters most