Friday, April 25, 2014

Come Alive in Me

Those three minutes of waiting seemed the longest of my life.  There had to have been a hundred "Mississippi's" echoed between each second of each minute.  Or so it seemed.  Tick-Tock.  Tick-Tock.  Tick-Tock.  My heart raced.  My stomach flopped.  My palms sweat.  Oh, the eager anticipation.  The longing.  The dreaming, wishing, praying, waiting....all that bottled up hope was just desperate to burst open in fulfillment and celebration.

I flipped the test over and carefully looked to see if that second pink line would appear in the window.  Even if that little pink line was faint, it confirmed so many marvelous things.  Answered prayers.  New life growing inside.  Motherhood.  Oh, how I wanted it so.  Oh, how I believed it to be.  Oh, how I envisioned our future.  All I had to do was stand sideways in the bathroom mirror, gazing at my profile, and before I knew it I had convinced myself that I could indeed see signs of an abdomen swollen with new life.

But, that second line didn't appear.

Perhaps I was too hasty, I thought.  So, I waited another minute.  And another.  And another.  Holding on to hope in the wait.  Still, that second window remained completely empty and bare.  As did my heart at the time.

Unfulfilled dreams.
Unanswered prayers.
Answers of "no" or "not yet."

What do we do with it all?

This whole Easter celebration and this season in life has had me contemplating many things. Perhaps disappointment is much too mild a word to describe what some of Jesus' followers must have felt on that day He died on the cross.  But, they had to have felt it too.  Disappointment that He didn't appear to be the King they had been anticipating.  The Messiah and Savior He had claimed to be.  The One they had longed and prayed for eagerly.

Life around them looked different than they had imagined it to be.  I bet they felt a bit dead inside.  Without even understanding the reality and fullness of truth in their thoughts, I bet they felt that part of themselves had died right up there with Him on that cross.  If they only knew.  If we only knew.
While Jesus was living among them, I can imagine the passion, joy, and excitement that came alive in their hearts daily.  Hope that rose up in a balloon of eager anticipation, reaching higher and higher with each miracle, teaching, and day He was in their midst.  Only to be popped in mid-air on that dreadful day of His crucifixion.  Leaving His followers feeling deflated.  Stuck.  Doubtful.  As empty and bare as that tomb looked three days later.  I can only imagine.

This life is going to be riddled with chapters of waiting and paragraphs of disappointment.
Disappointment in how life is turning out.
Disappointment in others.
And even disappointment in ourselves.

-Perhaps the home pregnancy test won't reveal the two pink lines you are hoping to see.

-Or the scale won't budge (even tilts in the wrong direction) after all of the sweat and self-control you fought hard for the week before.

-Or the mailman fails to deliver that acceptance letter, and hands you, yet, another denial.

-Or the test results point to "fail" even after weeks and months of preparation.

-Or the job/promotion passes you by and lands on someone else despite your effort and loyal work ethic.

-Or the doctor calls with more bad news.

-Or your eyes scan over that list posted outside the principal's office to see if you made the team and you can't seem to find your name anywhere on it; you didn't make the cut.  (We don't have to be a teenager outside a principal's office to understand this.  Even as an adult, I know what it feels like to "not make the cut.")

-Or the relationship you are pouring into fails to bloom and you are suddenly told, "It's over."

-Or this journey of motherhood means you have to put your own personal dreams on hold for a little bit, and you struggle finding passion and joy in the mundane.

-Or that change of heart you were praying would occur in that person you love so much just doesn't. seem. to. ever. happen.

And you find yourself disappointed again.  The waiting continues.  For life isn't turning out the way you had expected.  And those dreams and plans seem to float farther and farther away from you unfulfilled.

Yes, I've been thinking a lot about this"hope" thing and what it means to come alive.  To be alive.  To stay alive when life is stuck in a chapter of waiting and "not yet."   It's the Easter season afterall...a time to reflect on hope and risen life.  We know what it means in terms of the Resurrection Bible story, but what does it mean in our own personal lives?  How do we live this out daily?

How do we come alive and stay alive in the barren dry seasons?  How do we find life in the "not yets?"

It seems that when we are on the brink of an answered prayer, an opportunity, a possibility, a goal achieved, a dream fulfilled, our hearts come alive with hope, passion, excitement, and joy.  There is a newness and an energy that propels us forward and upward.  We envision our future and see things working out as we had planned, and we feel like our hearts are that balloon of hope rising and being carried higher by dream, prayer, and divine favor.

But what happens when this is not the case?  All it takes is an unbudging plateau, a setback, or the delivery of unwelcome news and we can find our hope has been popped out of space in an instant.  Our passion has sizzled.  Our hope springs a small leak, and over time gradually deflates, no longer able to stay afloat.  But rather rests on the floor struggling to keep the little air it already holds.

Oh, I've often felt like that slowly leaking balloon.  Barely breathing and wrestling to stay afloat.   In a place where the air keeps getting sucked right out of me.  I know what it's like to fiercely pedal the wheels of life but feel like I am getting nowhere except a slow descent downward.   Or backward.  I understand that perpetual feeling of being stuck, unchanged, stagnant in a a place where the olive crop fails and the fields produce no fruit...even when I am trying my hardest to plant, sow and water in these lifeless areas.

It's hard to come alive (and stay alive) in those moments.

As I have been contemplating this "risen life" and all it means, it's had me take a closer look at my own heart.  Sunday was filled with hope and joy.  But what happens the following days of the week once the elation of Easter is behind us and we settle back into life and all its glory and wreckage?

Circumstances and dreams can't control our hope, passion, and life.  These things are constantly changing and no amount of hope in them will keep us full of air and afloat.  Even the elation of a dream fulfilled or an answered prayer will soon lose it's air and leave us looking to come alive in something else.
I've been asking myself,
"What is it that elates me and makes me really come alive?"  

If I am feeling stagnant, deadened, or dry inside,
"Is it possible that I am I putting too much stock into worthless things?  
Things that can't hold hope for the long haul?"

-I was elated and came alive when I received my acceptance letter into the University of Michigan's graduate program.  But in the thick of workload, crashing computers, and pressing deadlines, I suddenly didn't feel so elated anymore.

-I was elated and came alive when the man of my dreams chose me to be his forever girl.  But after the vows and the rings were exchanged, the honeymoon phase ended, and that first heated blowout occurred as husband and wife, I suddenly didn't feel so elated anymore.

-I was elated and (literally) came alive when I finally became pregnant, but after that baby boy arrived and I could no longer take a shower or car ride without him screaming to be held, and those sleepless nights and the 6:30pm colic set in, I suddenly didn't feel so elated anymore.

Elation is fleeting.  Joy and passion can't be kept and contained by anything this world offers.  When we look to the world, circumstances, possessions, positions, goals, and dreams as the source of our hope and the way to keep that joy, passion, and life thriving inside of us, we will always end up dead and deflated.  We can keep chasing after these things, looking for that next thrill to lift us up, but it will be an endless search.  A hopeless balloon that will never be able to hold its air, but will eventually succumb to the laws of gravity.

For what comes up, must come down.

But there is One who defies such laws.  One who sustains life and brings new meaning to "coming alive" and "staying alive."    For as much as we are alive, in the sense that our lungs breathe fresh air and our hearts efficiently pump blood through our veins, we don't always feel so alive.  We can still feel very much dead on the inside.

Deadened of joy.
Dried up of passion.
A flatlining of the soul.

I've examined all of these things and it has challenged me.  See, I know that my hope is in Jesus.  I know that to rise above and stay afloat when the winds pick up and threaten to blow me over to "the other side of the tracks," in the neighborhood of doubt and discouragement, I need to be firmly rooted in Christ.

In all honesty,  I don't always live like I believe this.  
I don't always live like one who is fully alive in Christ.
And I want that to change.

A regular prayer of mine is that God will fill me (and my family) with a burning passion for Him and His Word.  That our hope and desire will be in God above all other things.  But for this to happen I need to let Him be the one to put the air in my hope balloon.

I know God wants us to have hopes and dreams.  He desires that we offer our hearts and prayers to Him.  But He wants to be the one who makes us come alive.

Alive with hope.

He is and needs to remain the source of all of these things.

Hope keeps us afloat.  It's the seal that keeps the air in our balloons.

Hope found in this world, will become a deflating hope.  But hope found in Christ will remain a dauntless hope.

One that is fearless and determined.  One that won't float away on a cloud of circumstance or disappointment.

Yeah, that's the kind of hope I want to fill and come alive within me.  To keep that airway open to receive and sustain such hope and life, I think it all starts with me:

1)  Admitting my shortcomings and weaknesses.
2)  Acknowledging my need for Him.
3)  Accepting each chapter, paragraph, sentence and word He writes over me.
4)  Allowing Him access into the fruit-filled and fruitless areas of my life.
5)  Agreeing with His truth and promises.
6)  Aligning my heart and my will with His.
7)  Amplifying a heart of gratitude (more to come on this one).

Habakkuk 3:17-18 gives us wise words to live by.  Words that carry hope and sustain life through our "not yets" and desert days.
"Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord.  I will be joyful in God my Savior."

Those precious words cut and convict.  For even though I've committed this scripture to heart, I know I've exhaled the opposite in thought and attitude.  In Bible study this morning, we listened to a well-known Bible teacher share a deeper truth in regards to this.  Priscilla Shirer mentioned that when our thoughts and attitudes don't align with our actions, it's a form of "impersonated obedience."  And that's a sure way to deflate hope, stunt growth, and flatline the spirit.

I'm learning that when I let gratitude rain down in the desert, it refreshes and reproduces an endless supply of hope.  Hope that rises vibrant with abundant life.  Even after Sunday.

I want this fullness of life.
I know where to find it.
It's available for you too.
Today and every day, Jesus, come alive in me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A date with the devil...and wrestling through.

Have you ever boxed with the devil?
I have.
And let me tell you,

I'm a kickboxing girl and love this sport.  It's empowering, great exercise, a huge stress relief, and emotionally charged (if you let it be).

Unfortunately, our local gym changed the time of its kickboxing class to the time I have to take my littlest to preschool, and I haven't been able to attend this class for a while now.  However, when I was a regular, I had a date with the devil every Friday morning.

I'm being serious here.

We can pull the divine and the spiritual into any moment or circumstance...

Even kickboxing.

Those Friday morning classes were a great way for me to wrap up my week and let loose the steam and stress that had accumulated within.  I literally would spend an hour pretending I was swinging left hooks, jabs, uppercuts, and cross-punches square in the devil's face.  And when I felt I was running out of steam, I'd remember who my opponent was and I'd just let out all my aggression in another elbow jab, sidekick, and gut punch straight to the enemy of my soul.

Take that, ya big bully.

It may seem silly, and I haven't shared this with much of anyone besides my husband, but kickboxing became a spiritual experience for me.  I used this time to declare glorious victories over the one who wants to take me out.  The one who "prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

There are times when we feel we are featherweights in the ring of life up against a heavyweight just waiting for the right moment to proudly declare a TKO over us in the first round.  I think that heavyweight has forgotten that Someone already has won the championship belt and there is no way He's ever letting loose of it.

While every day may not seem like a boxing fight, I'd have to admit that this life seems a whole lot more like a wrestling match. Or a "wrestling through."  For me, there is often a wrestling through discouragement, lies, and my own selfish will.

A wrestling through to peace.
A wrestling through to joy.
A wrestling through to hope.
A wrestling through to perspective.
A wrestling through to truth.
A wrestling through to victory.
A wrestling through to Him.

These things don't often come naturally.  They are sought after, fought for, and ultimately, given mercifully by the One who is all these things.  Though I don't always like it, I'm not ashamed of the wrestling through...for I know that in my weakness, His power is made strong (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I may be weak, flawed, messy, imperfect, and face moments of defeat and discouragement, but there is one thing I do consistently... though my heart is prone to wander, I seem to always find my way back to God, stay with Him, and keep following Him through the wrestle.

I don't think I am alone in this fight.  While it may not have been in a boxing ring, the first book of the Bible tells of a man who found himself in a divine wrestling match.  The story of Jacob wrestling with God.  Let's take a look at Genesis 32:22-26:

Jacob Wrestles With God

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Jacob helped his family across the river and stayed back because he desired to spend some time alone with God.  I'm assuming he had a lot on his mind that night.  See, years prior Jacob had tricked his oldest brother out of his birthright.  His brother was so angry with Jacob that he had been plotting his murder for years.  At this point in Genesis, Jacob was on his way to be reunited with this brother after all those years.  One can only imagine the fears and concerns that were running wildly through his mind at this time.

The text states that a "man" wrestled with Jacob until daybreak.  Some Bible scholars say this was an angel or a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ in the form of man.  Matthew Henry's Commentary reasons that whoever this "man" was, "we are sure God's name was in him."  There's no mistaking this was a divine encounter.

The commentary further explains, "the angel put out his hip to show what he could do, and that it was God he was wrestling with, for no man could disjoint his thigh with a touch" (The thigh muscle is the strongest in the human body).  Furthermore, "the fact that even this injury didn't halt Jacob's struggle indicates evidence that it was a divine touch indeed which wounded and healed at the same time."  (For how could a man continue wrestling all night after sustaining such an injury?  And how could a man with this type of injury continue wrestling and overcome in his own strength?)

Another indication that Jacob believed he was wrestling with God lies in the simple fact that he was asking to be blessed.  "In begging for the blessing he owns his inferiority, for the less is blessed by the better."  Jacob knew Whom he was dealing with and Who held the blessing.

Even after the struggle ended and Jacob was blessed, he acknowledged that this indeed wasn't a wrestling with man, but a wrestling with God.  Jacob asks the man what his name was and he was refused this information.  Jacob goes on to call this place of struggle, "Peniel," which means "face of God." Genesis 32:29-30:

29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place [a]Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my [b]life has been preserved.”

Yes, I think it's fair to say that Jacob knew of Whom he wrestled with all night long.  He had just encountered the divine and made no mistake to memorialize this encounter with a name that rightly fit.

This story encourages me greatly and I think we can learn many things from it.

1)  Despite Jacob's burdened heart, fear, and discouragement, his faith was not shaken.  Life will throw some "doozies" at us, but we do not have to let these things rattle us and weaken our faith.  Jacob continued to wrestle and pray, and he prevailed not in his own strength, but in God's strength.  And we can too.  In our own strength we cannot overcome our deepest struggles.  But in His strength, we can.

2)  Jacob came clean and laid it all out on the table.  He stayed back and didn't cross the river because he knew he had business he needed to take care of with God.  He confronted his past, his failures, his weaknesses, and his sins that night.  He faced God in a hand-to-hand single combat, and was blessed by Him.  When we come to the Lord in humility and good earnest, not holding anything back from Him, He won't hold anything back from us. He desires to bless us.  He will not withhold His goodness or mercy when we get real with Him and come to Him in humble submission.

3)  Jacob would not let go until he received the blessing.  The struggle was long, but he did not grow weary.  He pressed on in the strength of heaven...the strength that we have access to too.  Jacob's success rested in the fact that he kept his ground.  When we find ourselves in spiritual wrestling matches, we are to do the same.  Brothers and sisters, hold your ground and do not let go until you receive your blessing.  It is coming if we hold out for it.

4)  Jacob's blessing followed the struggle.  So many times I find myself wanting to just throw in the towel before the blessing has come.  I even question if it will ever come.  But real growth occurs in the struggle and pain.  It stings, hurts, and sucks the energy right out of me.  But Jacob stayed the course and clung to God in the thick of the struggle.  I am encouraged to persevere in any circumstance without letting go of God.  Jacob wrestled until daybreak, then his blessing came.  Hold on dear one, our daybreak will come too.

So, maybe we won't actually find ourselves kickboxing with the devil every Friday morning or wrestling with God all night, but we know in this life we will have struggles and we have to find a way to wrestle through them.  Let's follow Jacob's lead:  Go forward in the strength of the Lord, be humble and honest with God about where you've been and where you are at, and hold on tight until your blessing comes.

Sweat it out in glorious victory...a daybreak awaits.

Wrestling through,

Thursday, April 3, 2014

To hang on His words

Words. I've talked a lot about them.  I've lacked them.  And as recent as today, I've even lost them.  Seems this very post I started Monday and finished this afternoon, after a week of packed activities and little time to write, never saved to my computer afterall (even though that saved button was clicked countless times in the process). Had to start again from scratch.  Grrr...

Of course with this loss of words, my inner dialogue whispers, "Don't even try to write this post again. You won't find the words or the energy a second time around.  Why bother?  Perhaps these words aren't even worth sharing anyway.  Throw in the towel." Words can discourage.  Lacking them can even paralyze.  

I've replayed the ugly ones like a sad love song over and over again in my own mind.  I know the lyrics by heart.  I could probably sing them in my sleep.  Those words that dig, stab, gnaw, and sting.  Those words that birth lies and all kinds of doubt and insecurity.  Yeah, those words.  Sometimes they come from others; most of the time they fill up the spaces between our very own two ears.  They seem to linger, cling and claw.

Even this morning as I showered, I found myself deficient of words to even pray.  Wondering if the petitions and desires of my heart that have gone months and years unfulfilled are ones I just need to stop praying altogether and accept that "it is what it is."  And as I grappled for strength to push through, I once again contemplated throwing in that old worn towel.  Yet something buried deep inside longs to believe that there is much more than this...if I hang on.  So, I hold onto hope that there is.  I let go of the lies that grip and convince and search for truth to hang onto.  It's made me wonder...

Why is it easier to hang onto words that hurt rather than words that heal?

Why do we hang onto the things that bring pain rather than the things that bring promise?

Starting January of this year our church took on a challenge to read through the four gospels before Easter.  A few weeks back as I was reading in Luke, the last couple of verses perked the ears of my heart...particularly, the very last four words spoken in this book.  I love the sound of them.  They've been echoing melodically throughout me, rolling off my heart's tongue in song.  Let's take a look...

"Every day He was teaching at the temple.  But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill Him. Yet they could not find a way to do it, because all the people hung on His words."
Luke 19:47-48

I admit, sometimes when I read the Bible I will catch my mind wandering a bit and I have to go back and re-read the things I have missed.  There are times when nothing in particular stands out with new revelation.  And there are moments when certain words or phrases cause me to ponder, as if His spirit has held up a stop sign to my heart yielding me to pause.  This was one of those occasions.  I've stewed on this scripture for weeks now, letting it slosh around in my heart in hopes to swallow the fullest flavor of meaning and how it applies to my life.  Here's what I've found...

Jesus' followers hung on His words.
I am desperate to hang onto them too.
His words are air to shallow-breathing hope.
His words are light to storm-clouded faith.
His words are vision to hazed and murky perspective.
His words are our weapon.  Our defense.  Our way.
We need to hang onto them because our souls depend on them.
On Him.

Hanging onto His words gives life to our souls.  Hanging onto anything else takes life from our souls.

Jesus' followers hung on His words...

Other versions of the Bible translate this portion of this verse as,
"...all the people were captivated by His words."
(Holman Christian Standard Bible)
"...all the people hung on every word He said."
(New Living Translation)
"...all the people were hanging on Him, hearing Him." (Young's Literal Translation)

There are many things in life that slowly try to kill us, unravelling our hope and our faith one tiny stitch at a time.  In the book of Luke we learn that the leaders were trying to kill Jesus but were unable to at the time because His followers hung on His words.  Perhaps if I did this in my life too, the destruction wouldn't find a way to so easily destruct.  And unstitch.

For if I was truly hanging onto His words and allowing them to abide in me, I would be able to rise above my circumstances and the struggles of my heart.  I would trust that despite the mess around me, God has me in this season for a reason.  There is purpose to the pain and He is trustworthy because He is faithful to His word that proclaims He knows and always works out His best for me.  I think I hold onto His words but when the storm-winds blow in, I allow them to loosen my grip on all I know to be true.  Somehow, I think they can't or won't apply to my circumstance...that I am the exclusion.

But, He doesn't exclude us.  He is an all-inclusive God.  So very patient and long-suffering.  For if I was Him, I think I might look down on me and say, "Oh wandering one, you of such little faith.  Will you never learn? I wring my hands clean of you."  But, He doesn't.  Nor does He look down on us and throw in the towel.  No, He looks down on us and throws us a rope.  The rope that saves and rescues when Pharaoh's Armies and the Red Seas swarm and surround.  

He is for us.  I know this.  Though sometimes my heart and my mind don't align with His. The forces against us want nothing more than to shake our faith and hope in God.  In a world that is constantly grabbing for our attention and trying to distort and distract us from truth, how can we be like Jesus' first followers and hang onto His words and His voice above all the others?

I looked at several commentaries and found some insight here.
  • John Gill's commentary describes Jesus' followers as, "ready to catch every word that dropped from His lips."
  • The Barnes' commentary states, they "hung upon Him to hear Him."  This act of hanging on denotes "an anxious desire, a fixed attention, a cleaving to Him."
  • Matthew Henry's commentary mentions, "the people paid Him in respect, attended on His preaching with diligence, and let no opportunity slip of hearing Him.  They attended to it with care and would not lose a word."
When I look at the areas in my life I am struggling, I have to honestly ask myself, 
Am I really hanging onto His words here?  
How diligent am I in attending to His words in the places I need them most?
How many of His words are lost on me when I'm lost in myself?
How many opportunities do I let slip by of hearing from Him?

Today I ask you the same question I've asked myself over these past few weeks: 
"Like Jesus' first followers, am I hanging onto His words?"

Or am I hanging onto the words of others?
The words teasing and taunting me from within?
The lies?
The past?
The regret?
The disappointment?
The unfulfilled dream?
The diagnosis?
The label?
The hurt?
The anger?
The wrong?
The doubt?
The insecurity?
The inadequacy?
The lacking?
The "if only________?"

Am I hanging onto these words or the words God speaks over these things?  Sometimes the barrier begins with ourselves.  I'm learning this.

The book of John opens up declaring, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (John 1:1).  Jesus is the Word.  Bible scholars further explain that Jesus is "the total message...Everything God wants to communicate to man He does through His Son."  If I am going to hang onto anything, I want it to be His words. Him.  He is worth hanging onto.  Here are a few more reasons why:

"The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."
(John 6:63)

"And because of His words many more believed."
(John 4:41)

"For the word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword."
(Hebrews 4:12)

"If you abide in Me and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you."
(John 15:7)

"Place these words on your hearts.  Get them deep inside you...If you diligently keep all the commandments I have commanded you, God on His part will drive out all these nations that stand in your way...No one will be able to stand in your way."
(Deuteronomy 11:18-25)

"By faith we see the world called into existence by God's word
what we see created by what we don't see."
(Hebrews 11:3)

"Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path."
(Psalm 119:105)

Life and power are found in God's word.  I don't know about you, but I am ready to let loose the grip of all that keeps me from this, and hang onto all that connects me to it.  I want to live a life that catches every word that drops from His lips.  Cleaving to Him with fixed attention and anxious desire.  Diligent in not letting any opportunity slip.

He hung on a cross to overcome death.  I can hang on Him and His words to overcome life...
(and all the mess and glory it brings.)

Hanging on...(I refuse to throw in the towel),