730 Days

I sat in the grand ballroom of a fancy Houston hotel wearing the nicest clothes in my closet.   Black lace A-line skirt.  Pale pink chiffon blouse.  Patent leather heels.   Chris and I ate dinner and caught up with old friends while images of the barren East African landscape flashed on screens around us.  Mud hut homes with thatched roofs.  Hand dug water wells.  Women balancing bright yellow jerry cans on their heads.

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Every year about this time, Chris and I gather with many of these same people to lend support to Every Village, an organization which spreads the gospel and assists in community development in South Sudan.  We spent 10 days in South Sudan with Every Village in 2011 and the Lord has turned our hearts toward that nation and the organization that took us there ever since. One of the main focuses of this year’s gala was the need for missionaries on the ground in South Sudan.  As I sat in that ballroom and listened to the organization ask for people willing to commit to two years as long-term missionaries, I decided to take the invitation personally and posed myself a question that every Christ-follower needs to ask:

“Am I willing to go?”

If God asked me to pack up life here in the States and move my family 8000 miles away to be a missionary in one of the least developed nations in the world, would I be willing to go?  I honestly didn’t even have to think about it too hard; the answer was yes.  Deciding I needed to make the announcement formal, I told God as much right then and there.  I resolutely said (out loud in my head), “God, If you call us to South Sudan, I’ll go.”

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Maybe I was fooling myself, sitting in that nicely air-conditioned ballroom with a plate of unfinished dessert in front of me.  Maybe I’m still fooling myself, sitting in my suburban home typing away on my Mac, but I don’t think that I am.  Here’s why…I’ve experienced the peace that comes from obeying the Lord in the difficult places.  I’ve seen His faithfulness in my life.  I understand the reality of a heart and life transformed by His love.  Perhaps I’m being naive, but if He called me to go, I believe I would go.

As I sat there contemplating the notion of even the possibility of such a call, I began considering the implications that such a shift would carry.  Two years of my life.  730 days.  What on earth might the Lord be able to do in me if I could say yes to those 730 days?

If I could leave my comforts behind?

If I could train my eyes steadfastly on my King and His kingdom?

If I could love His people more than I love myself?

What might He accomplish if I would do those things for 730 days?  By the time we left the gala that night I had settled the issue in my heart.  I was ready to pack up our boys and whatever pieces of our lives that would fit into a few plastic crates and make haste.  As we climbed into the car to head home, I turned to my husband, “So what do you think?  Should we go?”  He looked confused for a second as if he wasn’t quite sure what I was referencing.  When the realization of what I was saying dawned on him, he shook his head without skipping a beat.  Smiling at me he said, “Nope.  That’s not our place.”

He was sure of it.  Confident of his answer.  And he was right.

God’s call on our lives is not long-term missions in South Sudan (at least not at the moment).  God was not asking us to sell our home, store our things, quit our jobs and leave our extended family.  I know this.  However, I was somewhat disillusioned nonetheless.  All that mental brouhaha, the emphatic, “Yes, God, I will go for you!”, (whilst scenes of Isaiah 6 played themselves out in my head, starring me as the heroine, of course) and God hadn’t even made the call.  It was a spiritual false start.  All the possibilities those 730 days held dropped with a thud and kicked up a cloud of disappointment that lingered in the air.  I breathed it in and exhaled it out.  I wanted those 730 days.  I was positive that those 730 days could change me, maybe even the whole world.

It’s now days later and that number is still rattling around in my head (730 days, 730 days, 730 days), but the disillusionment has cleared and here’s what I know. The fact is that God has called me to those 730 days.

He has called me to leave my comforts behind.

He has called me to train my eyes steadfastly on my King and His kingdom.

He has called me to love His people more than I love myself.

But He has called me to do all those things right here.  Right now.  Right where I am – amidst 3 young children running amok, as a stay-at-home mom, wife, would-be writer and hopeful Bible-study teacher.  He is asking me to live those 730 days in the exact place He has already called me to be.

Which leads me to the next question that every Christ-follower needs to ask, “Am I willing to stay?”

Although going is huge, there’s no winning if you don’t stay.  Life is lived in the staying.

Maybe you can relate…some part of me wishes for the clarity of a call that I couldn’t deny, such as…I don’t know…missionary work in South Sudan, or whatever.  Because maybe then, if I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what God’s one, big, grand calling upon my life was, then somehow all the other pieces would fall into place.  Maybe once I was comfortably positioned in the pocket where He wanted me, I would struggle less and be content more.

The problem with that theory is that God doesn’t exactly have the reputation of one who positions those He calls comfortably.  (Think Daniel in the den, Isaiah naked in the streets of Jerusalem, Paul in chains, John in exile.)  The truth is, comfort doesn’t breed contentment, it breeds boredom.  So I’ll choose to sit uncomfortably in the calling to which I’ve already been called (stay-at-home mom to 3 young boys, wife, would-be writer and hopeful Bible-study teacher), and I’m hoping you will, too. Listen, friends, the most challenging call for you to live out is always the one to which you’ve already been called. I’m sitting dead-smack in the middle of where God has called me to be and although it isn’t South Sudan, it gets uncomfortable here.  I doubt, I second guess, I question, “Really, God?  Am I doing this right?  Is this where you want me to be?  Are you sure you want me here?

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And with His yes, I’ll give these next 730 days to Him from right here where I already am. Since He’s called me to stay, I’ll stay…for at least another 730 days.  And who knows?  Maybe in that time He could change me.  Maybe He could change the whole world.

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Linked up today at #TellHisStory

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The Gospel-Centered Mom: Book Review

Let’s get the first and most obvious reason I adore this book out of the way right now: It comes with it’s own pen.

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I repeat…This book comes with it’s very own pen.  Come on, people!  Those who know me well know that I am a sucker for well placed organizational tools.  When I first laid eyes on this pen, I may have squealed with excitement.  Obviously, this Gospel-Centered Mom lady knows her audience well enough to understand that finding a pen at the exact moment we need it is one of the constant struggles of our lives.  I was only a few pages into the book when I read something I wanted to underline – “There is only one response to the gospel: gratitude…Obedience is an act of thankfulness, not a payment on a debt.”(p.13) Yes!  Certainly a sentence worthy of underlining, but practically speaking, I needed a pen first.  I felt a familiar panic rising within me as my eyes darted around our office, where pens should live in abundance, but come to disappear instead.  Seeing as I read in two-minute increments in between trouble-shooting my children’s problems, I did not presently have time to spare for a pen-hunt. But wait. What’s this?! Lo and behold, I had a pen right there!  Attached to the very book I was reading – just waiting to be of service.  I may have squealed again.  I mean, a book that comes with it’s very own office supplies?  Perfection.

Now that the ingenious idea of the attached pen has been sufficiently applauded, let’s dive into some of the more substantive areas of the book.

The first thing I appreciate about Sara Wallace is quite simply this; she gets it. (As evidence by the inclusion of the pen, which I have already discussed ad nauseam.) This is a women who had four babies in four years.  All boys.  Hats off to you, Mrs. Wallace. I had three boys in four years and there were days when I was sure I was going to die.  I assure you, this is not an exaggeration.  Had a brand new baby infant been thrown into that crazy mix at any point along the way, I’m fairly certain the children would have overtaken me.  As far as credibility goes, our girl Sara’s got it.  This is a lady who understands what it is to live in the trenches of motherhood.

When you add Sara’s experiential credibility to her adept understanding of the simplicity and intricacy of the gospel message, you get a book that meets Christ-following mamas right where they are and gently points them to the sufficiency of a Savior who is right there, too. In The Gospel-Centered Mom, Sara Wallace explores motherhood with heartfelt realism – not from a place of Pinterest perfection, but from a place of gospel accessibility. She explains the simple beauty of the gospel and seamlessly applies the truths of that message to motherhood and parenting in a way that will change the way you think about and do motherhood on a daily basis. There was not a sentence in this book that I did not need to hear, or a long-known truth that I did not need reiterated.

One of the things that struck me most deeply about this book was that Sara’s concern seems not only to be for the hearts of our children (although that is such a worthy cause in and of itself), but for the hearts of their mamas as well. As Sara says, “When the grace of the gospel is at the forefront of our minds it will be at the forefront of our parenting.” (p. 49)

Mamas of littles, this book definitely deserves a place on your bedside table. My suggestion? Grab a gaggle of mommy-friends and pick one day a week to meet in someone’s living room for a Gospel-Centered Mom bible-study play-date. That’s right, don’t even worry with childcare.  Bring your little mess-makers along and you mamas dive into this book over the noise. As Sara so beautifully points out, “The Bible isn’t just for times of stillness. It’s for real life.” (p. 50) And who knows? Perhaps the chaos of life with young children will put you in the perfect position to understand the beauty of the gospel even better.

So what are you waiting for?! Buy Sara’s book here.  This would be such a sweet gift for mother’s day or a baby shower.  But before you do, I have a copy she sent me to give away to one of you! (Another squeal!)  Comment below for a chance to win.

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Identity Crisis

March is a big month in the life of our family. With our two oldest boys being born 5 days shy of 2 years apart, there is one week each March where a whole lot of growing up is done in not a lot of time. On March 12th, I had a 3, 4 and 6 year old. By March 18th, I had a 3, 5 and 7 year old. For a lady who’s perhaps just a weeeee bit sentimental about the idea of her babies growing up, this is a lot to take in. (If I’m sentimental at the mere idea of my children growing, then I’m a flat out mess in face of the reality of it.)  I’m still breathing deeply to help cope with the situation.

I know what you’re thinking and I get it, alright? Children grow. It’s an inevitable and obvious part of life. I knew when I got them that they would grow bigger with each passing day, so is it really all that life-altering that they are doing what I knew they were going to do in the first place?

Actually, yes.  It most definitely is.

Sure, I knew in some vague, hypothetical way when that first baby was placed in my arms that eventually that baby would turn into a full-grown man.  But to actually see it happening right before my eyes?  I mean who, as a parent to a newborn baby, is able to see themselves -at that point in time- as a parent to that baby when he is a full-grown adult?  WHO HAS THAT POWER?!  So while, yes, I knew they would grow, I had no inkling of what that entailed.  No clue that they would grow in such massive leaps and bounds. I could not have fathomed how having a child would so deeply affect the way I experience the passing of a lifetime; How having a child would so intensely alter my perception of each imaginable increment of time.  Seconds have felt like days and years have seemed nothing more than a few short moments strung together.

Quite frankly, the notion of time has long since eluded me (I mostly blame The Wrinkle in Time series for this), but I don’t even know how I’m supposed to deal with this incessant passing of time now that I’m a mother. I have a 7 year old. How did that happen? I’m not a 7 year old’s mom. I’m the mom of tiny babies and toddlers. The mom who manages the mass chaos of having 3 boys in less than 4 years. The master mom who nurses the baby, opens the 2 year old’s juice box, and puts the 4 year old’s tennis shoes on as he returns from being sufficiently perfectly supervised (by me) at the Chick-fil-a playground. I can do all these things simultaneously and with ease. That’s me. I’m that mom.

But this little scene right here? I can barely stand it.

Why is my tiny baby son riding a bike with only two wheels?!  What neglectful parent bought him a bike ramp for his birthday?  Thank God someone at least had the sense to put him in a helmet (I bet that was his mother). Yes, my tiny baby son is now 7 entire years old now, and I’m afraid the mommy-era may be coming to an end. I have this image in my head of my mommy-self being left in a trail of dust barely visible in the rear-view mirror of a car traveling onward at break-neck speed.

All this growing begs me to consider, who am I going to be in this new stage of life? What happens to the baby-mama me? I was so dang good at the baby-mama part! I don’t mean to boast or anything, but I kinda rocked the infant stage. Babies don’t scare me. (Ok, the first baby scared me maybe just a little but not for long.) I had stellar advice on the infant stage from moms who went before me – such gems as “As long as he’s crying you know he’s breathing which means he’s obviously still alive”, and “Don’t worry, he won’t remember any of this”. Those 2 pieces of advice alone got me through most every baby-to-toddler situation my three little men threw at me.  Yeah, I pretty much had that stage down. That was a stage of life in which I thrived – as if I were somehow built for it.  So as that stage comes barreling to a close, I sometimes find myself not recognizing who I am.

Who is this woman without a baby on her hip? This strange woman who has time to do things like bathe, paint her nails, wear jewelry and make new friends? I barely recognize the woman staring back at me in the mirror. Wait…Are those skinny jeans?  WHO ARE YOU?! We swore with all our might that we would never wear those things!  The other day I wore a patterned head scarf and big, hoopy earrings (gypsy-chic, if you will) and a friend of mine told me that I looked so cute she almost didn’t recognize me. She emphasized this by saying it twice. “Seriously. So cute. I didn’t even recognize you.” (Umm, thanks?)

But I get it, I barely recognize myself.  Wasn’t it just last month (year?) that my daily uniform was confined to maternity jeans, black t-shirts and spit rags? (breast-feeding chic, if you will.)   I’m obviously experiencing some sort of identity crisis at this junction in my life.  Too late to be a quarter-life crisis (thanks for nothing, John Meyer)…it couldn’t possibly be a mid-life crisis quite yet…So, what?   I’m looking at maybe a three-eighths life crisis?  Do life crises even come at the three-eighths interval?  Is this even possible?

Or maybe it’s not a life crisis at all.  Maybe it’s just a mama crisis.  A dear-lord-what-do-I-do-at-this-new-stage-of-motherhood crisis.  So once again, it’s time for me to re-learn some of the truest truths.  It’s time for me to focus intently in on the only one who never changes.

My identity as a mama of littles may be in crisis, but my identity as a follower of Christ holds strong. The sands of time may be shifting predictably beneath my feet, but there is a rock just below the surface that stands firm.

As our family evolves, my role in it will morph and adjust to meet the changing needs of my guys.  It has to.  But my main purpose as a mama will always remain the same:  I will continually point my children to Jesus.  The methods will no doubt change, but the message will not.  When they were infants, I pointed them toward Jesus by holding them tight.  As their physical, mental and emotional abilities grow, much of pointing them to Jesus will involve my letting them go. (Thus the bike ramp, people).  

I may have to wrestle a bit with my ever-changing identity as their mama, but I suspect that as time marches on I’ll somehow adapt.  I’ve seen evidence of this in my friends whose children are now preteens and young teens. I see no indication that they hole themselves up in the house all day, sobbing over the lost infant and toddler years of their young while their practically adult children are in school all day every day.  Surely, I will not be as strong as they. Surely, my heart will crack into a zillion pieces when all my babies leave me and I will die.

Or maybe not.

Maybe I’ll just keep on keepin’ on, looking back in gratitude for the good gift of time that God has given me, and forward in eager expectation of the stage that comes next.  All the while, totally rocking that gypsy-chic look.

Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!  Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children…Lamentations 2:19

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So happy to be linked up today at #TellHisStory

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Listen to Your Mother

I remember the overwhelming feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach as I boarded a plane to Venezuela my sophomore year of college. In fact, I can still recall exactly what I was thinking as I looked over my shoulder to give one last goodbye to my mama as I climbed aboard, “This is the stupidest thing I have ever done.” Months prior, I had signed up for a study abroad program that landed me in South America for 6 weeks during the summer of 1999. It was the first time I had ever gone anywhere by myself. At the time I registered for the course, it seemed like a brilliant idea:  As I flew away from everything and everyone I knew that day, I was terrified. It was the scariest thing I had ever done.

Funny how the scary brings out our brave.

I learned a lot about life in general and myself in particular during those six weeks abroad.  Lessons I’m still re-learning as each year pulls me further and further away from that first scary thing I ever did.

I learned that I was capable of doing things I never thought I could do.
I learned that comfort breeds stagnation.
I learned that the world was a bigger and much more varied place than the little corner of it that I inhabited.
I first began learning that I could trust God.
I learned that you should never drink shots of gin in a bar in Venezuela (still thanking God for that little nugget of wisdom).

Needless to say, it was an amazing, perspective-shifting experience. On the plane ride that returned me home at the end of that six week jaunt, I reflected on how terrified I had been in the first place.  How I almost called the whole thing off.  I promised myself that day that I would never stop doing terrifying things. That I would never say no to something because it was out of my comfort zone. That I would refuse to avoid things simply because they were different or unknown. That from time to time I would actually seek out those scary, uncomfortable, risky endeavors so that God could grow me in the way that He can only grow you in those uncharted territories.

Two weeks ago, I walked into an audition {audition?!} with a story I wrote about motherhood. I was terrified. I fumbled through my reading. My hands shook with nervousness. I stood when I should have sat. I laughed at the wrong times and forgot to laugh when I was supposed to laugh.  It was a mess.  I was a mess.  As I returned to my car after the audition that day, I thought, “I can’t believe you just did that. That you just auditioned for something.  That was kinda a disaster.” It was a disaster.  But disaster or not, I was glad I did it.  I remembered how all those years ago I had promised myself that I would never stop doing scary things.  That audition was scary.  I can only assume the actual show will be terrifying.

I am thrilled to do this next scary thing. If you’re anywhere in the area, please consider joining us – the cast of Listen to Your Mother Southeast Texas – this Mother’s Day Weekend as motherhood is given the microphone.  We’ve got mamas telling stories about being a mama, non-mamas talking about their own mamas, and a host of other stories all centering around the topic of motherhood. Bring a car-full of mamas with you and call it a girl’s night out. I’d love to see you there!

This time, I’m doing my scary thing in front of an auditorium full of people.  What could be scarier than that?!

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In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? Psalm 56:10-11

A People Marked by Remembrance

Ash Wednesday. I shuffle in a few moments late and take a seat in one of the back pews of the Episcopal church. I’m clearly a first-timer. I haven’t the faintest idea what to do in an Episcopal church service. Unfamiliar with the customs of the denomination, I fear sticking out like a sore thumb. I quickly scan my surroundings so I can gauge what to expect. I see Bibles. Ok, feeling good.  Bibles I know. Other books – a hymnal, no problem there; Book of Common Prayer, hmm…heard of, definitely…pretty sure I can figure it out. Kneeling rail in front of each pew, seems self-explanatory. Everything looks mostly…normal. I begin to relax. “It’s a church.” I tell myself. “A church. You can do this. You know church.”

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I do know church. Just maybe not as well as I thought. After over a decade of church attendance, I was a little caught off guard by how hesitant I felt visiting an unfamiliar denomination. I was reminded of how all churches felt to me in the beginning – foreign.

I didn’t grow up a part of a denomination. As a child, church attendance wasn’t a part of our family life even on the occasional or obligatory basis. I had no inclination toward one type of church over the other because I had no idea whatsoever – all denominations were equally unknown. A girl growing up in a suburban city of the Bible Belt, where there is a church on every corner, had no idea what was going on inside any one of them. When I became a Christian later in life, church long remained part of the equation that completely mystified me. In fact, I did my best to try and get around it. I remember thinking, “Lord, if there’s a way that we can keep this thing that we’ve got going between just you and me and avoid the whole church business, then could we go that way? Please?”

Yet try as I did to stay away, the Lord inevitably began pulling me in. So in I went. Although I didn’t know quite what to expect, I was certain I wouldn’t fit in: Church seemed to me to be a place for the people who were raised there. But there I was, an outsider coming in – not even knowing enough to know how to fake it. The fact that I so love His church now is a testament to how forcefully the Lord moves through the imperfect people who love Him:  I haven’t met even one perfect person in the years since I first began attending – not even the ones who were raised there.  It turns out I fit right in.

The longer I have been in church, the more fascinated I have become by it’s long-held traditions. Baptism, Communion, Advent, Lent. As an outsider, these traditions were always so strangely curious to me (maybe even a little weird). But, just as a decade ago the Lord began beckoning me into His church, these last few years the Lord has been beckoning me deeper and deeper into the traditions of His church.  As a young Christian I had always been put off by the rote nature of tradition.  I now feel somehow stabilized by it. My faulty assumption early on was that because these traditions were religious, then they must have been lifeless.  I associated such tradition with Jesus’ words to the Pharisees

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27-28

Jesus could levy such harsh criticism against the Pharisees because He had insight straight into the heart behind their actions.  My criticism lacked such foundation.  Their religious acts were lifeless, but they didn’t have to be.  By throwing out religion, I was throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  I’m not sure if my beliefs stemmed more from ignorance or arrogance, probably a little of both.

As God has been full-on attacking some of my flawed thinking in regards to the church, he has been correcting the notion that the observance of such church tradition is necessarily dull and defunct. To the contrary, these traditions are packed full of the collective heart and wisdom of the generations of believers who have come before. Some of them dating back to the very first believers who actually heard these words come out of Jesus’ mouth, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Remembrance would be a trait that would mark the people of God.  And these traditions serve the necessary function within the body of Christ of teaching us to remember.  They remind us to remember.  Jesus took the wine and broke the bread, saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)

IMG_7389Remembrance. Back to Ash Wednesday.

It didn’t take long for me to begin picking up on the call and response format of the service; A truth is uttered by the officiant, a response is given by the people.

Truth.  Response.  Truth…Remembrance…Response.

Within the context of the service, the truth spoken by the officiant triggers remembrance in the people, which elicits a response from the people.

God’s people are a people marked by remembrance.  So on Ash Wednesday the Reverend reads from the Book of Common Prayer: Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant us that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior.

As each believer in the sanctuary makes their way up front, we are marked with ashes on our forehead and these words are spoken over us…

Truth:  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I make my way back to my pew and sit down.  Just behind me, an old man rasps, his breathing heavy, labored and uneven.  The truth resonates.

Remembrance:  I begin to remember. {You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  James 4:14}  {“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” 1 Peter 1:24-25}

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Response: With that elementary fact remembered, the playing field is suddenly so level.  You and me, we’re both flesh and bone.  Whether Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal or Pentecostal.  Stay-at-home, working, or working-from-home.  Tall, short, slender or curvy –  we’re all made of the same stuff and one day our earthly bodies will disintegrate right back into it. It may not be the most glamorous view of life, but it does a pretty good job of reminding me that it’s not about me. And it’s not about you. We’re nothing but dust.  It is only by His gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior.  So this Lenten season let’s be bold enough to lean into remembrance – remembering the path He took to bring a people who were once so far away, so very near.

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:12-13

 

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The People of the Cross Look Towards the Cross

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“Mama?” Jacob whispers, “Can you come help?”

I was awakened at 4am by a coughing 4 year old boy who had accidentally wet his bed. I’m aware of his little presence at my bedside before my groggy consciousness can put my surroundings in their proper place. Blurry-eyed, he and I shuffle down the hallway together and back to his room for fresh pajamas, a clean blanket and medicine for his cough. He’s all fixed up for another several hours of sleep. I get sweet kisses and one last hug. With Jacob back in his bed, I head back down the hall towards mine. I settle back in to rest, but can’t find it. My thoughts start bouncing off the sides of my brain, colliding and reverberating until finally, they begin resonating. You see, I tend to hear the Lord best in the dark. Just as you can see the light most starkly against a dark sin-stained backdrop, you can hear the light most clearly against the pitch black backdrop of the dead of night. And at 4am on this Tuesday, February 17th, the darkness of the world is blaring full blast.

As I lie in bed looking for sleep, I am haunted by the knowledge that on the other side of the world 21 families feel the heavy weight of this broken world to the point that it crushes the breath from their lungs.  They ache, they long, they mourn, and in my nice, comfortable bed with all my family tucked in tight, every one of us safe and sound, I somehow feel less safe than I ever have before. But it’s not the palpable hate of the executioners or their assurance that there is more to come that has pulled the safety net out from under my feet – oh no, we must never give them that right.  To the contrary, it is Christ’s love that beckons me into the deep, roaring waters of the dangerous. Against every instinct of mine to stay in the shallow area of belief where it seems safe, he calls me out further and further. His voice is so clear amidst the chaos. He beckons, don’t stay where it’s safe.

You’re not safe where it’s safe.

Our idolatry of safety is putting us in harm’s way.

In a world where the darkness presses in tight, who among us doesn’t long to be safe?  But we mustn’t make the mistake of mistaking safety for security.  Safety is an illusion that doesn’t exist.  We claim to have the right to feel safe in our homes, in our schools, on our streets. We buy hand guns (I’m in Texas, y’all), install security systems, practice lock-down drills and move to the best neighborhood we can afford in the hopes that those provisions will keep us from harm. But by guarding ourselves with all these safety measures, we’re building a wall we can’t see beyond.  We’re contributing to the illusion that safety exists.  We hide our eyes from evil, but that does nothing to hinder it’s existence.  Is it possible that as a people, we have confused our longings?   Maybe we long for more than safety – more than just a temporary shield from the flesh and blood dangers of this world.  Maybe our real longing is for security – an eternal protection against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12).

We must not confuse the two.  Playing it safe will never bring us security. Security is only found beneath the banner of His perfect love and there is no safe way to get there:  The security of His perfect love can only be accessed through the cross.  The cross – the antithesis of safety.  No matter how we try to sanitize it and normalize it and intellectualize it, the cross refuses to clean itself up. It is not a shiny, gold charm worn on a dainty chain or a silver James Avery ring. It is rough and wooden and soaked in the atoning blood of Christ.  Those who trust in the cross must not dare try to make it more palatable than it actually is.  There is no security in a cleaned up cross and if safety is what you’re seeking you won’t find it there.

Don’t give up your security in Christ for safety in this world.

There was no illusion of safety for those 21 men whose lives were taken on Sunday, but rest assured that at this moment, they stand eternally secure because He who hung on the cross refused to play it safe.  In the wake of their deaths, the people of the cross look earnestly towards the cross.  Tomorrow, on the first day of Lent, the people of the cross will stare hard, refuse to look away, and intently dial in on the road that led to Calvary.  We remember the thorns, look close at the nails,  examine the spear that pierced His flesh.  We give not just a passing glance, an occasional thought, or an obligatory devotional on our way out the door, but a prolonged concentration on the necessity of the cross in bringing resurrection.

I don’t know where your heart is towards Christ this season of Lent.  But maybe you’re a lot like me.  My faith wavers, my affections ebb and my walk sometimes feels so downright feeble and clumsy.  I struggle and I yearn and I long for the comfort of safety, too.  But this Lent season, I’m going for broke.  For 46 days, I’m setting my eyes intently on the cross.  I’m trusting that He’ll meet me there in all my imperfections and waverings and misgivings.  Encouraged by the lives of those 21 who loved Him, even to death, I’m leaving the shallow safety of the shore.  What might He do in us these next 46 days if you joined me here?

 

 tellhisstory-badge I’m linked up today over at #TellHisStory.  Go check out more of God’s stories there!

Love’s Labors Lost

Today’s the day. Today masses of people ponder one of the most precious gifts God has given with more intensity than on any other day of the year. Today people ponder love. Say what you will about the necessity or validity of this commercially produced and sponsored holiday.  Perhaps you’re a Valentine’s Day hater like myself, or maybe you adore everything about February 14th – heart shaped pancakes and all. Whichever way your sentiments toward this holiday lean, the net effect the day has on each of us is the same, it begs us to consider love.

And because love is so certainly a gift worthy of consideration, I decided to lay my cynicism towards Valentine’s Day aside so I could do just that. While I was at it, I also gave some thought to why this particular holiday – a holiday built around the notion of love – has always given me such pause.  The conclusion I’ve reached is really quite simple: Love can be downright terrifying.

Even from a very young age, I never carried any illusion that love could exist without the strings of heartache attached. I didn’t have to look any further than my immediate surroundings to see the interconnectedness between love and loss. My little family was crushed beneath the weight of the lost labors of love. Divorce, division, brokenness. The after effects of my parent’s separation can still be traced to this day. Battle lines were drawn, allegiances were formed, possessions were divided and the house was sold. As my parents’ relationship dissolved, I looked on as twenty years of their love’s labors were lost.

And that wasn’t lost on me.

I came to fear that I would lose in that same way. That I would work, invest, plant and labor in my affections for another person, only to end up with a loss.  I couldn’t find a way to guarantee against this happening.  In fact, it seemed much more likely than not.  And that terrified me.  This predicament is not mine alone: it is universal in it’s scope. It’s been a consistent theme throughout the story of mankind since almost the very beginning.  So much so that you can feel the weight and devastation of the lost labors of love all throughout the gospel narrative.  Not just between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, but much more significantly, between man and God.

Adam and Eve turn from the Lord God their creator at temptation’s first beckoning call, and it seemed as though God’s labors of love were lost.

The Israelites neglect the God who freed them from the bondage of Egyptian slavery, and it seemed as though God’s labors of love were lost.

Judas betrays Jesus into the hands of those who would kill him, and it seemed as though God’s labors of love were lost.

Peter denies all affiliation with Jesus, and it seemed as though God’s labors of love were lost.

Yet despite the consistent turning away of this people from their God, there remains an undercurrent of hope all throughout the gospel story – a promise that one day love will win.

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20

No matter the betrayal, the passivity, or the idolatry committed against Him, God’s labors of love would not lose. So bent was our God on bringing a hell-bent people home, that he would enter into death to redeem them there. And God’s motivation?

For          God          so          loved           the         world, that he gave his only Son… John 3:16

Love.

Despite all the times love’s labors were lost on us, God continued on in His pursuit of us. Until finally at the cross, love’s labors won.

So, yeah, love is a costly endeavor.  And you and me?  We’re never guaranteed a win when we love another person.  We’re all flawed and fallen, carrying suitcases of baggage behind us, and sometimes the best we can do is just limp right along.  People leave and betray and deny each other and we can all be so fickle in our affections.  But there is something about loving another person that teaches us something about His love for us.  And His perfect love, which never loses, is able to cast out our fear of love’s labors being lost.

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