Thursday, November 5, 2015

2015 - The Year of Prayer - Catching Up

From my last post (you can read it here), you would rightly guess I consider tears as prayers at the moment.  If Jesus holds out a one-of-a-kind bottle to catch each one of our tears, that He considers them priceless - so valuable to shed His own blood (even tears of blood) - then I will consider them my glorious sacrifice.

Today is a roller coaster.  I woke up feeling great and was a little concerned I felt so good.  I knew at 10 am, my Mom, my brother and I were to meet to put the remaining pieces into my Dad's niche at St. Luke's UMC's columbarium before they seal it. 
Contents of my Dad's niche

This is where his ashes will be and my Mom will eventually be next to him (although hilariously enough, she doesn't remember if it is the right or the left side).  I even forgot to tell Dave about our meeting.  I was to visit a friend after and then have lunch with another, so I focused on the positive and frankly, felt awesome.

Then as I was driving there, I felt the lead ball form in my stomach.  It is real, it is happening and I'm going to have to deal with it.

I could feel it coming as we stood there looking at his cremains.  A small wave of tears broke on the way to my first visit.  Fortunately I was able to get a hold of a friend.  I just couldn't be alone in the car.  I'm so thankful he answered because it got me through.  I held it together until later when I nearly broke down grocery shopping.

That's when the tidal wave of grief hit me full force in the face.

I shouldn't have been driving because I was crying so hard.  In that moment, as much as I wanted to call someone, I knew it would forestall the inevitable.  I knew this pain would pass but I needed to let it in.  I had to hurt for the hurt to pass.

I am sure everyone could tell when I went into school to get Ella.  It's pretty obvious, even with the waterproof mascara I remembered to put on this morning (THANK YOU HOLY SPIRIT), when I cry.  Ridiculously obvious. 

I've said a lot of popcorn prayers for folks today but mostly I just let my tears speak for themselves.  Jesus wept (John 11:35).  He knows.  I didn't feel any tangible presence of God in those moments but the fact that twice today, at my lowest, the Mercy Me song, "I Can Only Imagine" came on KSBJ, I knew He was with me.  He was reminding me where my Dad is and what he might be doing.  That speaks volumes of God's love and care for me.

Really, my prayer today is not very profound: Lord, This Just Sucks.

I know I'm a writer and a prayer warrior and supposedly this spiritual leader, so I should probably come up with something much more impactful (which my brother pointed out when I said it at the grave site).  But for this moment, it is my truth: THIS REALLY STINKS.  This is my prayer, this is what I'm living.

Everyone has moments like this, leaders are not exempted.  Everyone has those moments or days when we just put our heads in our hands and tell God - in words, thoughts or tears - how much something sucks.  Life on this fallen earth just does sometimes.  And we, in the Body of Christ, need to be available in those moments.  We need to have the openness and authenticity to stand by someone at their lowest, wrap our arms around them if possible, and just agree.  Agree it sucks and don't try and make it any better for a minute.  There will be time for that but take me at my word when I tell you, the pain has to be felt so it will subside.

I'm so glad I am surrounded by people who do that and who I can do it for.

As I posted on FaceBook this morning, I will end this day, this not-completely-but-in-a-few-ways-pretty-crappy day, being grateful.  I'll leave you with the chorus to the song I'm listening to, "Shepherd," from Amanda Cook on Bethel's You Make Me Brave Album.

You will lift my head above the mighty waves.
You are able to keep me from stumbling.
In my weakness, You are the strength that comes from within.
Good Shepherd of my soul, take my hand and lead me on.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tears - An All Saints Day Tribute

As I often do, I'll start this post off with some brutal honesty.

I've never given All Saints Day much thought.  It is a centuries old tradition, especially meaningful in the first 300 years of the Church when so many were martyred.  It still has a place today, and in the Methodist church, on the first Sunday of November, we celebrate the lives of those who've gone home to heaven in the last year.  As a family, we've lost people before now - including Dave's beloved grandmother Mable 18 months ago.  Yet, it's never hit this close to home; so close to pull me out of my self-absorbed reverie to grasp the full meaning. This All Saints Day, the day we put my Dad's ashes in the ground after church, definitely brings the full concept painfully close.

I woke this morning with a song in my head, "Already There," by Casting Crowns (you can listen to it here).  I've listened to that song a lot in the last 6 weeks.  We all have moments where we look at God and go, "What is happening?  Why?  When?  Where?....Huh, God?"  It is immensely comforting for me to be able to say, One day I'll stand before You and look back on the life I've lived. I can't wait to enjoy the view and see how all the pieces fit.

Today, of all days, when I know it will be so hard, I am desperately clinging to that hope of glory.  There will be a day when those questions get answered.  It's funny to think, too, some of those questions I think are so important right now will not be when I'm standing next to Jesus. 

But for right now, just for today, for the next few hours, I'm not going to ask any questions.  I am just going to rest in the comfort of knowing God has me.  He has us.  He has my Dad.  He has the whole world.  He has not lost His grip. He is  present and able, always.  He is kind and gracious.  He loves me.  He loves you.  He knows it hurts and how badly it does.  He is already at the end of my life on earth but at the same time, and I write this with incredible mystery and wonder, He is right here with me in this moment and time.  I know all of that for sure, even if I don't understand it at all.

For anyone out there struggling like me, on this All Saint's Day, I gained permission from my friend
to post a vision she shared with me this week.  It is SO powerful, it shifted my thought-life about the world to come in a major way.  My friend is working through a decade-old grief and recently had a healing experience in prayer which is nothing short of otherworldly.  It's called Tears and will speak to the heart of anyone who's lost a loved one, as well as all those who've wondered what the Lord really does with our tears.  It's precious.  Please take it in and know the Lord indeed provides this level of comfort to all when we ask. 

Lord, You've kept track of all my wandering and my weeping.  You've stored my many tears in Your bottle, not one will be lost.  You care about me every time I've cried.  For it is recorded in Your book of remembrance. - Psalm 56:8

I asked the Lord for a picture and this is what He gave me.  I share it with you.

I saw your tears, I felt my own - I fell to my knees.  Why Lord, why so much pain - who will carry all this pain?

In an instant I was swept away to a place; a weighty place so beautiful that words alone are insufficient.  I believe it was a secret place, for the most magnificent beings I have ever seen lined the room in majesty.  There were more than I could count and each one was holding a bottle.  Was it a bottle of light?  A bottle of gold?  A bottle of glory?  I could not tell.

No one spoke and I knelt, trembling in fear.  When I looked up, one bottle caught my eye.  It seemed to shine like the stars of Heaven.  The angel holding it summoned me toward it.  As I came near I saw its color; iridescent blue mixed with a majestic purple I have never seen on earth.  I could not take my eyes off such a stunning sight - my eyes were fixed, almost frozen as I looked upon this jar of beauty.  What was stored in such a container?  It could only be something worth more than all the wealth of the nations or all the hearts of men.  What could it be?

As I looked at this amazing bottle, I saw a name written on it - it was your name. The angel tipped the bottle and summoned me to look in - I trembled and tried to look away but I could not; I wanted to see the treasure within.  As I looked, I saw you my sweet friend, crying.  There you were, broken-hearted and tears unstoppable.  Before I could reach out to you, I saw your tears dropping, dropping into the beautiful bottle.  Yes, every tear spilling into this jar, not one to be lost.  As I watched the scene before me, I saw your tears turning into gems, diamonds and sapphires.  Each tear that dropped turned into splashes of beauty that were carefully contained so as not to be lost.   

I looked up at the angel as if to ask why but then I saw beyond the tears - it was a great and glorious ocean, iridescent blue and majestic purple splashing upon the beach.  Each splash formed a beautiful gemstone creating the sand.  Then I saw Him - my Jesus - His eyes the color of the ocean, His smile so joyful my heart could barely contain such magnificence.  He was running and laughing in the sand.  He was playing with someone - a family - I looked, it was you.  You were together - all of you - your faces looked happy, joyful yet filled with a peace I have never seen.  I watched Jesus as He carefully ran His hand through the sand.  It was as if the joy were come from the gems that formed the sand.

Yes, the joy was coming from the gems; the diamonds and sapphires that had been your tears.  The ones He had guarded so closely and stored in this jar of beauty were shining with joy.  How could this be - such pain turned to joy?  I looked again and I saw you crying, yet dancing together in the sand at the same time.  Could this ?  Two worlds so carefully knit together?  One of pain and one of joy?


Immediately the angel tipped the jar so I could no longer see the contents but before me sat another bottle.  This one was gold, so bright I could barely look upon it but I saw for a fleeting moment the name: THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB.

I fell to the floor with my face down for fear I would die at such a precious sight.  My Savior's blood - the very blood that was shed for my life.  And then I knew....His blood that come from such a great sacrifice was shed for our tears, your tears, my tears, all the pain of this world.  Those tears were worth more than I could think or imagine and none were to be lost.

In an instant I was back on my knees, tears streaming down my face - tears for you.  The Lord was there holding a bottle - this one had my name on it - collecting my tears; the ones He gave His life for.  At that moment I let go - I surrendered my tears to Him who promised to carry my sadness, my pain, my heartbreak.  I know each tear has a safe place till Heaven and earth are one.  I do not understand but I will trust.

I pray that you will allow your tears to flow freely - for not one is ever lost or wasted and someday those tears will be like grains of sand that look like diamonds filling an ocean that only knows JOY.

I am forever thankful for friend. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I am Mary

Last week, I had to prepare a talk about who I was in the Bible.  It was an assignment for my Bible Study class in which I had to pick the person from Scripture I most identified with, in terms of life and ministry.  I asked a few friends for an opinion, but I didn't necessarily relate to the characters they mentioned.  I think that was more of a case how they related to me.  So, I decided I would pray about it.  I thought I should ask Jesus Himself.

Good idea, huh?  Go to the source.

So, I was praying but not much was really coming.  After the experience I had a few weeks ago when I was touched by the love of the Father (which you can read about here), I was praying a couple of days later.  I was listening to music and on my knees, feeling like I was at His feet.  That's when I felt/heard/realized the Holy Spirit spoke:  You are My Mary.

After I was able to get up off the floor, a long time later, as the weight of this download pinned me prostrate, I was able to process.  It was an identity shift, it moved the fabric of my own personal universe.  I've always thought of myself as Martha - I think most women nowadays too.  I've always been proud of that because Martha, despite her obvious misconception about what Jesus would do for her, she made the turn.  In John 11, she is all the way, on board.  She knows He is the Messiah.  She declares her belief in Him, her belief in Him as the Savior in this world and the next.

Now, He's changed my name.

Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, was perhaps the first official female disciple.  It is remarkable because Jesus choosing her in Luke 10:42 gives us a greater understanding of what the Kingdom should look like.  Paul echoes that in Galatians 3:28 when he writes, There is no male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, in Christ Jesus.  It was completely counter cultural, an upset in the societal order for Jesus to call Mary as a Disciple.  BUT HE DOES.  

It is clear He meant business with her because her role was just as critical to Him personally as well as missionally.  You see, Jesus not only anointed Mary with His authority to minister to others - but He let her minister to Him.  She anointed Him for burial with her dowry, 3/4 pound jar of spikenard oil.  He let her minister to His heart.  He let her care for Him!  Wow.  What a shift for her too, I bet.

I feel both humbled and wholly empowered to do what He is calling me to do, knowing He is with me.  He has put His mark, His stamp on me and will show me the way to accomplish what He wants to do through me.  It's Him and it's Me.  It's a remarkable feeling, a new level of freedom.

In closing, I'll share the opening of my talk, a little imaginative story-telling.  I went on to explain Mary's call and how I relate to her in more detail but I'll have to post that another time.  Just want to leave you with the possibility of what our God can do for you too, as you seek Him and all that He has to give you. 

A long time ago, there was a woman.  She had a sister and a brother, whom she lived with in a small village, not far from the main town in all the land.  They were not rich but they had enough.  One day, a celebrity teacher and his entourage came to their house for a visit.  It was a huge honor to her host and they knew it.  Her sister, the master hostess, began the preparations for a feast for some 20 people.  Even though they were of low to moderate means, her sister knew how to stretch it.  She was an expert on how to create much from little.  Yet, she often wears herself out in the process.

The motley band of the teacher and his buddies were in the main living room.  They were having a great time, telling stories from the road, laughing and teasing each other; and listening to the teacher explain in deeper detail what his plans were.  It was magical and this young woman was pulled into it.  It was not the typical place for a woman to be, as in those days and still today, some people said a woman’s place was in the kitchen.  Truly, that was where her sister would have preferred her to be.  Still, this woman was different.  She would rather been soaking in the presence of this celebrity, this teacher of renown.  She wouldn’t have been pulled away unless by force.

In her heart of hearts, this woman loved the teacher from the start.  There was a special connection to him she could not put a finger on.  It was not necessary physical, as he wasn’t striking or devastatingly handsome, as many popular men even now have to be.  His charisma overpowered her.  It wa his wisdom, his focus that drew her in.  The shape and color of his eyes – the depth of his soul shining from them – it captivated her.  His words made her feel different inside.  She was uncomfortable but not in a bad way.  It was as if some long dead part of her was coming alive, was waking up from sleep as she listened to Him.

It was love that drew her in.  It was a more complete, sacred, holy feeling than she’d ever experienced.  It radiated from him.  He seemed to have a special eye for her too, not just because she wasn’t doing what was expected of her.  She was hungry and he knew it.  More than that, he had the food to feed her.  He admired her.  He saw her devotion and her sweetness.  He saw she cared for him, cared what he had to say – not because she could get something from him, like so many around him.  She wanted what he came to give.  She loved him for who he was, not just what he could do for her.  Their bond was unique and it stood out.

As the woman sat rapt, she did more than listen.  She internalized what he was saying.  She believed him with her whole heart.  The way he talked about his father was so unusual.  The way he talked about their God so unique.  She was completely present in the moment and felt like she could stay comfortable in his presence forever.  In fact, she was so lost in what he was saying, she didn’t notice her sister passive-aggressively berating her to their guest!

She shrank back, fearful of what he will say.  Would he reject her?  Would he send banish her back to the kitchen with her sister?  Would she have to settle for an ordinary life?  After hearing him teach, after sitting so comfortably in his presence…the idea of not being with him, of not being part of what he was doing, was unthinkable. If he told her to, she would go back to the kitchen, but she dreaded it.  She silently prayed to Yahweh to help her to stay where she was.  She wanted what the teacher had and she wanted her life to change.  She wanted freedom and she knew he was the way to it.  He was different than anyone else she’d ever met. 

A word from him would change her whole life.  So she held her breath.  She felt like she was on the teetering edge between life and death.  It all depended on him, on his decision.  He wielded authority like no one else, which is why her sister went to him.  When he walked in the house, he became the head.  He was head of this house, now, too. 

Her future would begin or end with his word.  So, she sat there and awaited her fate……