Saturday, December 15, 2012

We Cry to You


We cry to you, Lord.
Our tears run down and
Hurt climbs from our throats.
We need you, you alone.
Remind us you are healer.
Remind us you are reigning.

We search for you, Lord.
Our eyes turn to heaven and
Souls tear top to bottom.
We seek you, you alone.
Remind us you are present.
Remind us you are here.

We reach for you, Lord.
Our feet sink in wet sand and
Knees collapse to the earth.
We long for you, you alone.
Remind us you are near.
Remind us you are coming.

We rest in you, Lord.
Our hearts beat still and
Hands open in surrender.
We hope in you, you alone.
Remind us you are victorious.
Remind us you are love.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why I Celebrate the Birth of Jesus


When I was a kid, I celebrated Christmas because my family did.  When I became an adult, I celebrated Christmas because it was fun and festive and warm.  When I became a follower of Christ, I began celebrating the birth of Jesus because his birth was the beginning of life instead of death, hope instead of despair, and light instead of dark.  

In history, Jesus was born during the Roman Empire.  In my life, Jesus broke through on December 20, 2008.  By that time, I was a life-long sinner and I knew it.  But I couldn’t pull it together, clean up my act.  For years, I tried to be better, to be stronger when temptation came.  I tried to love easier and work harder.  I tried to be more patient and less resentful.  I tried to stay when I wanted to leave and be present when I wanted to dream.  I kept falling short and could not make any progress.  One step forward, three steps back.  The desire to patch up old hurts, cover over shame, and prove my worth drove me to dark places literally and figuratively.  And, an un-fillable hole threatened to swallow me body and soul when the room was quiet and I was alone.  

I had heard about Jesus growing up of course: Jesus was born in a stable to Mary and Joseph, and he was the Messiah for whom the Jews had been waiting for hundreds of years; he was Immanuel, "God with us;" “three kings of the Orient” brought him gifts when he was born; he was a carpenter; he performed miracles and lived a sin-free life; he was beaten and crucified; and he rose from the dead.  The thing I didn’t know was what any of this had to do with me (or anyone else, for that matter).  As I grew up, I always believed in God, but again, did not understand how to relate to him or who he was.  I pictured a white-haired, bearded guy in the clouds who peers down on the earth from time to time with an air of disinterestedness.

In 2006, at a point where darkness and sin and self-loathing grew in me like an internal, spreading disease, I decided to cry out to God.  I was not sure if God heard things I said or wrote or thought.  I did not know whether he would respond to me or how that might happen.  I sat down at my computer.  My fingers moved across the keys without stopping and by the end, I was exhausted and tears streamed down my cheeks, but I had written this poem:  

My Plea

Oh, God!  Where are You?
Why can’t I see You?
Why can’t I feel You?
Where are You, oh God?

Oh, God!  Where are You?
I cannot see You!
I cannot feel You!
Please, God, hear me!

Have You ever seen me?
Will You ever see me?
Will I ever feel You?
Where are You, oh, God?

Why do others see You wherever they go?
Why do I see You nowhere?
Why are my eyes closed to You?
Have You been here?

Was it You, God,
Who created the light of my life,
My blue-eyed angel . . . it had to be You.

Are You testing me and I’m failing?
What happens if I fail forever?

What happens when I’m standing at Your gates
And I see You for the very first time?
Will You let me in, or forsake me because I
Could not and cannot find You?

I’m trying . . . or am I?
What takes control of me so that I am blind to You?
Greed? Vanity?  Lust?  Self-indulgence?

I have never known You, and I’m
So sorry this did not occur to me until now.
Have You abandoned me?  Have I lost You?
I will continue searching, please forgive me.

Oh, God!  Please, please find me
Because I cannot find You.


Then I turned off my computer and I waited.  Not for hundreds of years, but for two and a half years.  Then one day, he came.  The day seemed like any other when it started.  I was still a sinner.  I had not changed.  I had not pulled it together.  But that day would be the day, and my life will never be the same.  On that day, I was saved from the sin and shame that had begun to overtake me.  On that day, Jesus was born in me, and I was clothed with his goodness.  On that day, Jesus began to transform my life.  My poem this time was one of thanks:  

My Thanks

You found me!
You found me!
I feel you!
Thank you, God!

I have been lost,
But now You’re here.
And I’m found .
Oh, God, I am found.

Now, I’m among those who see You,
And You are within and without.
My eyes are open,
My heart is bursting.

You love me!
You will use me!
You will guide me!
You will help me!
You have saved me!

You sought me out and
Though I failed,
You saved me!
You saved me!
You have taken me, just as I am.

You knew all along
And you never stopped searching.
You searched me out and
Now, I am found.


God heard me.  He answered my cry.  He is changing my heart and my desire is for him.  My sin is forgiven.  My shame and fear dissolves in the power of his love.  The darkness fades in his light.  My old hurts are healed by his grace.  His peace is within me.  My worth is proven by his death on the cross.     

For me, celebrating the birth of Jesus is not about decorated trees, eggnog, and Santa Claus.  And it’s not about presents.  For me, celebrating the birth of Jesus is intensely personal because he loves me, saved me, and changed my life forever.  His grace and mercy and love are beyond my ability to understand.  I celebrate him, honor him, worship him, live for him.  He is worthy. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I Want to See

Yesterday as I was going up the escalator out of Union Station, where my daily commuter train arrives, my path crossed with a man I haven't seen in at least a year.  His name is James.  He has the darkest black skin I have ever seen.  He is rail thin, has a round nose, and gray, skin-short hair that is usually covered by a hat.  He has giant, watery, dark-brown eyes.  He is homeless and a heroin addict.  I used to talk to him frequently and when we talked about his hunger and need for shelter and warmth, I felt God between us.  The last time I saw him, I asked him how he was and he wrote me a note in shaky hand-writing, telling me he had fallen and hit his head, resulting in brain damage and brain surgery.  He pulled up his hat, revealing a long, healing scar.  He could no longer talk.  Yesterday, as we passed each other, me on the rising escalator, him walking down the stairs, our eyes locked and I turned my body as the escalator continued up to keep eye contact.  I said hello to him, asking him how he was, over the rush-hour sounds.  He just nodded and stared at me without a voice, all of his pain and need and ache carried in his watery eyes.  There was no smile.  

As I kept walking to the office, James' eyes haunted me.  They reminded me of something or someone, but I couldn't quite place what it was.  Something inside me was disturbed too.  Was it that he had no voice in a world of sounds?  Was it just that I was filled with compassion for this man whose one and only life is this way?  Was it guilt that I couldn't possibly provide help that would last?  Was it that I passed two other men as I walked who I also know to be homeless and addicted?  For an hour I wrestled with why this time, this brief encounter stuck so deeply. 

And then I realized this with startling clarity: James' eyes, the seemingly endless need in them, reflected, in the second or two that mine met his, the need I saw in the eyes of a white, accomplished, respected, wealthy lawyer when we talked in a conference room last week.  It was a chance encounter, the end of a meeting on work-related topics.  His eyes, though lighter in color, also carried a seemingly endless need, water and emotion ready to spill out at any moment.  These eyes had seen things far different from James'.   They carried their own pain and need and ache.  If you passed him on the street, or on an escalator, you wouldn't know.  It would not be obvious.  When we talked, though, and he acknowledged the deep longing of his soul, a kind of hunger and need for shelter, I felt God between us.

These men's eyes and the hunger I saw in them, I know these eyes.  Sometimes I see them in the mirror.  Not all the time, but sometimes I look into them and somehow see more deeply than science could readily explain.  They are calling out, reaching desperately with all their strength: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Then a question comes; it is in the tears holding up the watery eyes, so clear, so true: "What do you want me to do for you?"  The only answer that can be mustered then, so clear, so true: "Lord, I want to see.  Heal me."  (Luke 19:35-42)

Friday, November 2, 2012

When a Daughter Kneels and Washes Your Feet


On Saturday, I was out doing a few things in the morning and my daughter stayed home.  When I returned, she came to the door and pulled me into the living room where I saw a stool covered in lotions, creams, and bath salts.  In front of the couch was a pink basin filled about halfway with water.  In front of the basin was another stool with a towel next to it on the coffee table.  She asked me to sit down on the couch, take off my shoes and socks, roll my jeans up to my knees, and put my feet into the basin of water.

With some hesitancy, I did as she asked.  You must understand: I do not do this.  I have a hard time relaxing and I don’t let anyone touch my feet.  The water was hot and sent a shot of warmth through my body.  I looked up at my daughter, who was now sitting on the stool on the other side of the basin.  She poured bath salts into the water and asked me to soak my feet for five minutes.  Something in her eyes told me it was okay and I took a deep breath.  After five minutes passed, she kneeled before the stool and asked me to put one foot up on the towel now covering the stool.  She put an exfoliating cream on her hands and began to massage it into my left foot.  I almost started to cry.  The intimacy was overwhelming.  She lowered my left foot back into the basin and asked for the right.  She massaged the right as she had done the left.  I stared at her with wonder.  We said nothing.  She lowered my right foot back into the basin.  Then, she got back on the stool leaned down, bent in half, and cupping her hands, she rinsed my feet.  By this point, I was not just speechless, but breathless too.  I stumbled out repeated “thank you’s” but really just sat quietly, feeling her hands on feet that no one had ever cared for this way before.  The only thing I could think to do was to take a couple pictures in the hope that I would always remember this moment.  This washing and treatment lasted nearly 40 minutes.  Most of it was spent in silence, the movements and touches of the body saying all that could be said. 

At the end of his life, Jesus kneeled on the ground and washed his disciples’ feet with cupped hands. Just before he began, Scripture says of Jesus: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  (John 13:1)  He cradled a left dusty, calloused foot, and then a right one like the left, of each man, looked into their eyes, and loved them.  I got a glimpse of what these disciples must have felt in this moment of intense intimacy with the Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace, God-with-us.  They were confused at first and then looked into his eyes of grace and were overwhelmed by the power of his love.

“[W]hen the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing and rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”  (Titus 3:4-7)

I wonder if I have ever received love like I did Saturday with small hands rubbing and rinsing my sensitive, self-conscious feet.  My daughter’s love overtook me and I had no opportunity to accept it or reject it.  It just was.  I was so humbled by this love, powerless to it once I allowed myself to feel and receive it.  It was gentle, gracious, and pure.  It reminded me of my salvation.  When a daughter kneels and washes your feet, God breaks in.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Billboards and Reminders of Grace


(photo from Dragonfly Creative Marketing)

On Saturday, my daughter and I drove to Michigan.  Billboards line the highway and most of them are for car dealerships, shopping centers, and gentlemen’s clubs.  I have driven this way many times and have become a bit numb to these signs.  This time, though, I glanced up from the road at one point and saw a sign that said:   “If you die tonight….Heaven or Hell?”  I knew my answer, but thought I’d ask my daughter.  I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw her sweet, life-filled, 12-year old face looking at me. 

“Did you see that sign?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t.”

“It asked this question: 'If you die tonight, are you going to heaven or hell?'  What would your answer to that question be?”

“Heaven!” she said.  I smiled.

“How come heaven?” I asked.

She looked at me, raised her eyebrows, and said: “Because I’m good?”  As the words came out of her mouth, I wondered immediately if I had bitten off more than I could chew with this one.  How could I look at this sweet girl who owns my heart so completely and is genuine and loving and courageous and tell her, “No, you are not good.  You are full of sin.”  I did not say this.  But, of course, I also could not say and did not say, “Yes, because you are good.” 

“No, my love.  Not because you are good, but because of Jesus.”  Now, the idea that eternal life is our future if we would only receive the gift of forgiveness from Jesus, is a tough idea for adults to accept.  After all, we have been taught all our lives that being good gets you where you need to be.  From very early on, we get affirmation, pats on the back, allowance, rewards.  So is it any doubt that we would believe the same rules apply when it comes to obtaining eternal life – that is, that we must achieve it?   

I know from experience, not to mention Scripture (Romans 3:10-12), that this sweet girl in the backseat will grow up a sinner.  She is already there in ways I don’t even know.  It’s a difficult reality to face.  I would prefer to think that she is good and always will be.  But as difficult as it is to think of her as a sinner, it is nearly impossible to think that she would spend her life seeking to earn her way to heaven and somehow overcome her sinfulness by trying hard.  I have been on that road – what a hard, guilt-filled, and ultimately fruitless road it is.  I want her to live in freedom in Christ, not in bondage to unending ladder-climbing.  So, I will remind her as often as I can that the work has already been done and now she is free to live and to do the good works God has prepared for her.

As I thought all of this in the car, and as I think it now, it brings me to tears.  I thank God every single day, often multiple times a day, for saving me, for what Jesus did for me by taking on my sin and clothing me with his righteousness.  And every day, I thank God for my daughter and all that she is.  I pray that he would reveal himself to her during her day.  I pray that as she walks around school, she would feel deeply, unendingly loved.  I had never thanked him for saving her, though.  Until Saturday.  For the first time, it sank in: we share a Savior!  Oh, how I love this!  For as long as I have breath, I will fall on my knees in thankfulness that his grace reaches her. 


Thursday, September 27, 2012

When Fast Food Starts to Seem Like a Good Idea

 
 
This Tuesday, I was on the run all day and by about 7:00 in the evening, I realized that I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast.  I was on my way to serve at the Legal Aid Ministry and worried that if I didn't eat something, I wouldn't be at my best.  I would be distracted and impatient.  I started fantasizing about eating pizza, or a cheeseburger and fries.  I was not imagining eating a salad (although I rarely do that under any circumstances) or fruit.  I wanted something substantial that would immediately satiate the hunger.  It was one of those times that stopping for fast-food started to seem like a good idea.  I could just drive up, think little, and eat in the car on the way.  Later in the night, I would likely feel bloated and in need of some kind of cleanse.  I would also have consumed too many calories and fat.  But at the time, I was willing to undergo such things in the long-term if my short-term hunger could be satisfied.  Of course, had I snacked during the day to keep my energy up instead of letting myself get to that place, I wouldn't have wanted to gorge on anything that came my way. 

If I go a day without reading Scripture, I start to feel famished -- like it's 7:00 p.m. and I haven't eaten all day.  I am not at my best; I am distracted and impatient.  And as the days add up, I begin to starve and will reach for anything that even looks like food.  I want a quick fix to satiate the hunger and longing that disturbs my soul.  I will fill myself with almost anything that comes along.  I begin to believe that I can be satisfied by eating a great meal, or drinking a glass of wine, or flirting with a dangerous relationship, or buying a new i-Phone, or, fill in the blank with whatever it is.  Not everything I seek to fill the longing with is bad or sinful in and of itself, but it is, at best, unsatisfying.  The short-term hunger may be assuaged, but it returns and the longing remains.  The more time that passes, the more I lose track of God all together and I can convince myself that fast-fixes are the only fixes, that they aren't that bad, that I can stop when I need to, and that I will just push through until I have more time.  You know what I mean.  Fast food starts to seem like a good idea.
 
Do not be deceived.  The longing you have is for God.  And it can only be satisfied by the presence of God.  Not even an i-Phone 5 will touch it.  The person you don't believe you can live without doesn't come close to satisfying.  You know this.  I know this.  Because we cannot touch and see God face to face right now, the only way to reach our longing is to be immersed in the Word of God, the bread of life.  (John 1:1; 6:35)  He is the only one who can satisfy the hunger.  You wouldn't go a day without food by choice.  You don't actually believe fast food is better for you.  What if you ate the bread of life every day, three times a day, all day?  Life-changer.          

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dear Politician:

September 10, 2012

Dear Politician:

I'm writing to let you know that I will not attack you personally if you run for office.  I will not make disparaging remarks about you or your family.  I will not call you names.  I will not put bumper stickers on my car that insult you.  I will not attack your supporters and label them as one thing or another.  And even if you attack an opposing candidate personally because he disagrees with your stance on a particular issue, I will not do the same.  Even if you disparage, stereotype, or categorize me because I vote for your opponent, I will not trade you insult for insult.  Instead, I will choose to bless and pray for you and your family.  I will choose peace, encouragement, and building up instead of war, insult, and tearing down.  I will extend grace, love, and mercy.  I know that you are someone who matters to God and for whom Christ died on the cross.  In this regard, you are just like me.  God seeks after your heart just as he does mine.  These are just some things I needed you to know.

Kellye Fabian 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Harbingers




I saw this Monarch butterfly a few days ago and a friend reminded me that these butterflies are harbingers – they announce the coming of a new season.  A new season of cooler weather, orange and yellow leaves, school supplies, pumpkin spice lattes, and long sleeves.  There is still a full month of summer, but fall is on its way.  It comes every year and although some years it stays warm slightly later or gets cold slightly earlier, it always comes.  

Once you’ve lived for a while, you realize that life has seasons.  They don’t trace nature’s seasons.  They don’t always come at predictable times.  You often don’t know what to expect.  They don’t seem to repeat regularly.  But they always come.  And like nature’s seasons, they too are preceded by harbingers, delicate announcers of a new season.  Sometimes we see them.  Sometimes we don’t.  

I have been in a season characterized by death to self, uprooting, tearing down, weeping, letting go, searching, throwing away, tearing, silence, and war.  At times, I have begged God to bring a new season, to make this one end.  This season has been so hard, but so defining.  Never in my life have I faced so many of the deep hurts scarring my heart.  Never has a light exposed so fully my darkness.  Never have I held my hands as open and been more sincere in asking God to take my life, all of it, for his purposes. 

Have you ever noticed (maybe only in retrospect) that suddenly, metaphorical Monarch butterflies are all around you -- underfoot, peppering your path, and rising on arriving air currents?   You know what I mean.  New people, open doors, personal insights.  Sometimes they are warnings, sometimes signs of hope.  A few weeks ago, maybe a month, I began to notice harbingers of a new season.  A new season is coming.  Who knows what it will be.  I pray it will be a season of healing, building, laughing, dancing, embracing, mending, speaking, and loving.  But whatever it is, I am surrendered and given over because I am convinced to my toes that God has made everything beautiful in its time.  

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beloved




Last night I was reflecting on the undeniable reality that my daughter turns 12 years old today.  After getting over what that means about how old I’m getting, I started to think about how with each passing birthday, we either get further away or closer to the person God made us to be.  As we get older, more things in the world pull us and tempt us.  Although with each passing year we become more able to take care of ourselves physically and emotionally, we become more vulnerable spiritually, more susceptible to buying into the notion that we must earn the right to be loved and valued.  Maybe this is what Jesus was getting at when he said: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  (Luke 18:17)  As I consider this little girl God has entrusted to my care, I am acutely aware that with every birthday, she is more capable of taking care of herself and yet more vulnerable, because of the messages she will receive from this world, to becoming convinced that who she is depends upon what she can accomplish and how she looks.  And so, I wrote her this letter to remind her of the truth about who she is in the hope that she would get it today, but even more so that she can remind herself whenever she needs to.  It turns out that this letter was as much to me as it was to her.

June 27, 2012

Dear my sweet love, Jamie,

Tomorrow you turn 12 and this year I decided to write you this letter.  I love you so much, more than you could ever possibly know or understand.  I love who you are and who you’re becoming.  You are so important to me and I am so proud of you.  You have a curious, loving, and lively spirit.  You are beautiful.  I love that you love to read, that you know every line ever spoken on Friends, and that the truth is central to you and your relationships with others.  Every time you smile or laugh, my heart leaps with love for you and every time I see you go, my heart leaps for the experiences you might have without me.  You are such a compassionate friend and a wise soul.  You have a creative spirit that allows you to write, and act, and dream.    

I want you to remember something:  God made you this way and he loves you even more than I ever could.  You are his beloved.  You are precious in his eyes and he knew and loved you before I ever did.   I want you to remember as you grow up that God holds you close through every moment of your life.  He thinks about you and knows everything about you, all that is on the inside, and all that is on the outside.  He loves the way you laugh, the way you love your friends.  He loves the way you love your brothers.  He loves that you are so compassionate and empathetic to everyone you know.  He loves that you forgive, even when it would not make sense to anyone else that you would.  He made you just this way.  And when you are all these things, you are fulfilling who he made you to be. 

I have told you this before, but I really believe it: God has a special plan for you and he will use you in ways you can’t even fathom.  He is preparing you for this plan.  He will work everything you experience in your life for your good because you love him.  And no experience, no person, no choice you ever make can separate you from his love.   As you grow up, you will notice that choices get harder and temptations get stronger.  We have talked about how hard it is to follow Jesus in our world because everything we see and hear wants to pull us away from him.  When this happens, cling to love and to what is good.  If you do this, you will always find your way back to who you are.  Jesus will strengthen you when you feel too weak; he will whisper to you the way to go when you feel lost; he will encourage you when you feel sad.  Even when you are alone or scared, he is there and you are never beyond his reach.   Even when you make poor decisions or the biggest mistakes, he will never withdraw his love or leave you.  

You can always talk to me about anything in your heart, any feelings you have, any doubts or fears.  You can tell me when you’re angry and when you’re struggling.  You can ask me any question.  You can always tell me about your smallest or biggest triumphs and disappointments.  I will walk with you through them all.

I pray for you every single day and always will.  My prayer is that you will flourish in your love for God and for others.  I pray that you will remain rooted in Christ and his love for you.  I pray that you will feel his presence and love every moment and it will bring you immeasurable joy, so much that you will want to dance!  I pray that you will remember God’s grace and mercy when you are hard on yourself or make a mistake.  I pray that you will not worry or be anxious, but that you will pray and ask God for help and for peace.  I pray that you will remember to thank God for the way he has blessed you and given you good things.  I pray that you will stand firm when tested and be still when you need to.  I pray that you will give your money, your time, and your gifts to the poor.  Most of all, I pray that you will feel the freedom that Jesus has given you through what he did on the cross and that nothing will hold you back from the wonderful, amazing plans he has for your life!  


My sweet love, I love you.

Mom

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jesus And The Rules Of Evidence


There is a story in the Bible about a time when the religious leaders of Jesus’s day confronted him with questions as to why, contrary to the religious tradition of the time, Jesus’s disciples ate before ceremonially cleaning their hands.  In response, Jesus said, among other things: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them.  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  (Mark 7:20-23)  

I have never fully understood this story until I began preparing for a trial recently.  Odd, I know.  But, I was considering whether certain evidence would be admissible at trial or not and had to analyze this evidence under the hearsay rule.  Hearsay is any statement made outside of court, and is generally not admissible at trial, with certain exceptions, because it is inherently unreliable.  For example, if I go to court and seek to testify about what my friend Joe told me as to whether the traffic light I went through was red or green, this testimony would not be permitted.  Joe can testify about what he saw, but I cannot testify about what Joe told me he saw.  Similarly, if, just after I ran a red light, I said to Joe: “The light was green,” I cannot testify about that either.  That is hearsay – an out-of-court statement.  You can see why this is the rule.  After all, if I’m on the stand and could bolster my case by saying: “Well, right after the accident, I told Joe the light was green, and therefore the light must have been green,” I would have a motive to lie. 

There are exceptions to this hearsay rule, though, for certain types of hearsay evidence that has the mark of reliability and can be trusted.  One of these exceptions is the “excited utterance” exception.  Under the excited utterance exception, a statement relating to a startling event or condition, made while the person testifying in court was under the stress of excitement that it caused, is admissible.  Such statements are considered inherently reliable – in other words, when we yell something in the midst of some stressful or startling event, it is likely to be true. Accordingly, such statements would be admissible.  In our example above, let’s say I had been driving with Joe, drove through the light in question, and just before a car side-swiped me, I yelled out: “My light was green!” That statement could be admissible under the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule.     
Thoughts of the excited utterance exception led me to remember riding in a van almost three years ago with a group of people from Ndola, Zambia to Lusaka, Zambia.  A now dear friend of mine, Lawrence, was driving us along a two-lane road and we were probably going 65-70 miles an hour.  Frequently, we would come upon cars or trucks carrying large objects, or people, or animals that were going slower, so we would go into the oncoming traffic lane and pass that particular vehicle. This happened on the other side too. Constantly, we were heading straight for another car that was passing.  At one point, a car using our lane to pass cut it too close and was heading right for us.  It didn’t appear that the car would get back to its side of the road in time and it would hit us head-on.  The car got closer and closer and was not getting over to the other lane.  I clenched my body and my heart began to race.  Lawrence yelled out: “Father in heaven, save us!”  The other car swerved back into its lane just in time and we were safe.  

I have not forgotten this experience.  Not because it scared me so much (which it did), but because of what Lawrence yelled out at this time of incredible stress.  His words revealed something remarkable about him that I could not and did not grasp in the moment.  The words he used were not the words that came to my mind first and nearly found their way out, as the car headed toward us.  You know exactly what I mean.  

And now I not only get what Jesus meant, but I get why there is an excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule.  What comes out of us, particularly in such stressful, startling moments, reveals the inherent truth about the condition of our hearts.  Indeed, what comes outside in these moments is a trustworthy reflection of the state of things on the inside.  We don’t have the presence of mind to pretty ourselves up, straighten our shirt collars, and present ourselves for inspection.  What we see of ourselves in such times should remind us of what God sees and seeks to transform – the inside, where the evil and sin live.  Imagine.  

The next time a car is heading straight for me, I want to cry, in the midst of my stress: “Father in heaven, save me!”  And so I pray, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  (Ps 51:10)  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Colored Pens And A Comfortable Chair




I woke up in the middle of the night recently because of a loud boom of thunder.  The first thing that came to mind upon waking and hearing rain pour down from the cracked-open sky was whether my basement would flood.  I twisted and turned under the covers almost whining in my worry over a basement filled with water.  I knew that nothing I could do could stop the basement from flooding.  No amount of worrying or hoping.  Indeed, even if I had been standing in the middle of the basement with the lights on and my eyes open, I would have had no ability to stop the rain from seeping in, no ability to save the carpet, or keep the drywall from ruin.  And this, strange as it seems, brought me face to face with grace and God and my own weakness and lack of control.  It would only be by God’s grace that the basement would not flood, and only by his grace that it would.  

I am in a season of life in which I am fully aware, almost on a minute-by-minute basis, of my utter lack of control of things that really matter.  This is not to say that I have been in control of such things before, but only that I am now understanding my lack of control in a real way.  And, I am not sure I can say that I have ever felt more uncomfortable.  It is nearly unbearable to sit in a place of vulnerability, to sit with the knowledge that I cannot make the rain come or go.

Experiencing extended vulnerability, for me, means coming up with ways (mostly without this intention) of seeking to manipulate God.  Here’s an example:  I had this great idea that I could pray better and more effectively if only I had a more comfortable chair.  I looked on-line and in catalogs.  Would red be good?  Bomber-jacket brown?  Orange would make a statement!  If I had one of these chairs, perhaps my prayers (which, if analyzed would reveal themselves to be polite requests to restore control to me) would be heard and answered quickly.  More recently, after having had a friend describe that she writes prayers in different colors and in drawings rather than words, I realized that what I really needed was colored pens.  Orange, green, blue, red, purple.  For sure, if I had these colored pens, my soul would spill onto paper, God would really know of my desperate need for control, and I would again feel safe and sound.  

In my healthy, honest moments, I know that even armed with colored pens and a comfortable chair, I cannot manipulate God, cannot “regain” control I never had in the first place, and am simply a naked soul dependent on God’s grace and mercy.  And so, I hold on to this grace, believing when he says it is sufficient for me, even when, or perhaps especially when, everything inside me wonders if it is otherwise, longs to rely on my own ego and strength, and aches for my will to be done instead of his.

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Profession

Lord, this is my prayer,

To live a life surrendered to Christ.  A life whose reference is Christ – all moving toward him and all moving out from him.

To live in the present, in celebration of the good that you created, but also in full recognition of my own sinfulness.

To know that the Christ I follow was crucified.

To know that Christ is present with me here and now, in my earthly life, in my earthly body.

To step into the life of the oppressed and not fear the death of self that comes with that step.

To find community that is grounded in Christ and that prepares all in that community for engagement with the world through disciplines of prayer, song, Scripture, silence, confession, and celebration.

To have the strength to look in the mirror and ask not what my thoughts are or what my talk is, but what my life is.

To have the courage to obey your call on my life even when it contradicts my own longings and desires, and even when it seems contrary to reason or my own ethics.

Though I may not know your will for every circumstance I face, to act boldly and rely on the assurance of your mercy and grace.

To develop a liturgy of desire for the Christ-centered life, a liturgy that rejects the desires that the world calls me to, like consumerism and promotion of self over others.

To have the courage to make decisions from inside of pain and suffering and not just from a place of security.

To always hold my reason in obedience to Jesus Christ, the crucified and resurrected.

To believe your demonstration through Christ that you are utterly for humanity, utterly for me.

To view my life through the lens of Christ instead of viewing Christ through the lens of me.

Not to fear going into the world with the gospel because I know that Christ has already gone before me.

To see Christ hidden in the oppressed, the sick, the imprisoned, the hated, the illegal immigrant, the hungry, the unloved.

To love with action, to love when it is hard, to love the one who irritates me, imprisons me, slanders me, and mistreats me, to love in the way that frees, instead of controls.

To see Christ between me and any other.

To know that the way your grace works is not to sweep me up and pull me out of the world and into a far-away place called heaven, but rather, to meet me here and restore, as if never broken, the parts of me that I would call forever damaged and silenced by my own sin and the sins of others.

To rely solely and completely on the righteousness of Christ.

To ask not “what does this have to do with me,” but instead, “what does this have to do with Christ?”

To ask not “who is this person to me,” but instead, “who is this person to Christ?”

To be available to you.

To live a life that is yours alone.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The One He Loves

For the last four months, I have picked up my daughter from school almost everyday.  I have never been able to do this until now.  Every single day, I pull into the “car line” and wait for her.  She has trouble with her locker and so she is often one of the last kids to come out.  So I wait and watch for her.  And then, every single day, when I first see her walking toward the car, my breath catches slightly in my throat and I think, “There she is!”  I am so full of love and excitement that I would run to her if I weren’t in the car.  Every. Single. Day.  Really.  It’s not planned, it just happens.  “There she is!”  She opens the back door, puts her trumpet and backpack inside, and then climbs into the front seat.  And there she is, so full of life.  I want to know what she learned, how she feels, what she saw, what she had for lunch.  I want to know everything.  I hug her and kiss her.  There is a reason for all of this, of course: she is the one I love.  She is my beloved.  Of all the kids that walk out of the school doors, she is mine.  She is the one I love in the sea of faces.  If you have more than one child, you have this reaction to each of them.  When you see yours, something inside breaks open and your heart leaps: There she is! There he is!  There is the one I love! 

This experience seems like a small thing.  It is just 10 minutes of my day, between 2:39 and 2:49.  It happens on days when it’s sunny, days when it’s rainy, days when it’s snowy, days when it’s windy, days when I’m sick, days when she’s sick, days when I’m stressed, days when she’s tired.  But, it is in these 10 minutes that I see everything so clearly.  It is in these 10 minutes that I know for sure what holds everything else together.  It is in these 10 minutes that I am reminded that my reaction to seeing my daughter as she walks out of school is the same reaction God has when he looks at me.  His breath catches in his throat and he says: “There she is!”  He looks at me and says: “You’re the one I love.”  He runs to me and wants to know what’s on my heart, how I feel, what I saw, what I learned.  This is because I’m the one he loves.  I belong to him.  I am his beloved.  His heart is overwhelmed with love for me.  

But it’s not just me. It’s also the person I gossiped about the other day with friends.  She is the one he loves.  It’s the homeless person I walked by on the street.  He is the one he loves.  It’s the politician who gives rise in my chest to anger and near hate.  He is the one he loves.  It’s the person on their cell phone in line.  She is the one he loves.  It’s the person I think made the worst decision possible.  He is the one he loves.  It’s the person who has hurt me deeply.  He is the one he loves.  It’s the person I have hurt.  He is the one he loves.  God is like the parent who has more than one child.  

He has this same reaction to you.  When he sees you, his breath catches in his throat and he says: “There she is!”  “There he is!”   He runs to be close to you, but not to scold you or condemn you.  Not to tell you of the ways you fall short, but to throw his arms around you, kiss you, and celebrate you.  (Luke 15:20-21)  He wants you to tell him what’s on your heart, how you feel, what you learned, what you saw, how you loved. 

And there is a reason for this: You are the one he loves.  

-- inspired in part by Jason Gray's song "Remind Me Who I Am"  [watch video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSIVjjY8Ou8

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What The Rain Brings

It has been raining in my life for several months.  It started with a violent storm, but was followed by a dripping, dreary, persistent kind of rain.  There were some days of sun, but a charge in the air made me know the rain was not done yet.  Then the storm came again, unexpectedly, with thunder and lightening, followed by a relentless downpour.  The kind where the wind whips you in the face and the waves threaten to sweep you away.  The kind that floods your basement, makes you climb into the bathtub for cover, or curl up under a blanket wishing someone stronger and braver were there.  In the middle of this storm, all I can think about is the storm itself, and the damage it is causing and will cause.  I cannot see its purpose, its meaning.  I cannot predict when it will end or where it will lead.  I am powerless against this storm.  There is nothing I can do to stop it.

I want to run, to find shelter or painkillers.  I want to be delivered, not experienced.  I don’t want the temptation and doubt and self-pity.  I want to be strong, capable, undoubting.  I just want the storm to end, and if it doesn’t, then I want to know where it’s heading, what it is planning, what the damage will be.  And yet, I don’t know any of these things, I cannot find shelter, and nothing makes the hurt go away. 

I was praying about this a couple days ago as I paced my living room, sobbing in a somewhat unarticulated pain.  I was crying to God that he would take the hurt away when this came to mind: “Jesus wept.”  I believed this was in the Bible, but did not know where, and could not remember in what context it may have happened.  (Turns out, this is found at John 11:35 in the story about Lazarus.  I had to look up “wept” in the concordance to find it.)  Scholars could debate and have debated the reasons Jesus wept.  But what God apparently wanted me to know as I prayed for relief from the pain was simply that Jesus wept.  I began to say this aloud.  Jesus wept.  Jesus wept.  I had been saying it for days, but could not arrive at any resolution or solace.  

Last night, when I put my daughter to bed, I heard rain pelting the window.  This surprised me and then it occurred to me that I had forgotten what the rain brings.  As I leaned close to my daughter, who was tucked under her warm covers, I could pray only what was on my heart at that moment:

Lord,
        Thank you for the rain.  It reminds us that Spring is on the way, that you are making things new and that life and sun are on the horizon.  We love you.  Amen.

I remembered then that after Jesus wept, he raised Lazarus from the dead and all who were present saw the glory of God.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nothing Else To Say, Nothing Else To Do



There are times when there is just nothing else to say, nothing else to do.  A time to circle the wagons, lock the doors, hang on tight, and trust that what he says and all he is, is true.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Way Before Good Enough

Not too long ago, I ran into a woman who saw me with my Bible and asked me why I carried it.  Her question was so direct, it took me slightly off-guard.  I said something like, “I never know when I might need it.”  She looked curious and so I sat down next to her and asked her what she knew about the Bible.  She told me she didn’t go to church, but knew about Jesus.  I asked a few more questions: “What do you know about him?  How come you don’t go to church?  Do you have a Bible?”  Then she told me that she can’t go to church yet.  I was struck by this word “yet,” so I asked her what she meant.  “I still do bad things.  I’m not good enough yet.”  

It is easy for me to forget the state of my life when God’s grace first appeared to me.  I look back now and see the destructive road I was traveling.  At the time, it seemed like the only road.  I don’t remember seeing any exits, or rest stops, or caution signs, though I’m sure they were there.  I catch glimpses of what God watched me do and heard me say, and I am so ashamed that to bring it to mind is almost too much to take.  He saw everything I did, everywhere I was.  He saw the very, very bottom.  

But it was there, at the bottom, that I was first overcome by his grace.  I had never seen it before.  I had not been aware I needed it.  I had not been aware of its power and its gentleness.  It did not wait for me to stop doing bad things or to clean myself up.  It did not wait for “good enough.”  It was just suddenly there, mysteriously closer than my own breath when I was at my worst.

I must encounter people in my day-to-day living who, although they might not say so explicitly, are at or very near their bottom.  They are starting to see what they are capable of and how their own hearts can lead them to do things they are ashamed of when they are alone in the dark.  I might be the one God will use to show his grace to them in this very moment at the bottom.  I might be the one, if I would only be available, that God will use to reveal how his love and grace can cover every deed, every word, and every thought.  I might be the one that God will use to show that his mercy simply knows no bounds and reaches in when we are at our worst.  I might be the one that God will use to say that Jesus saves now, when we are not good enough, when we still do bad things.  (Romans 5:8)     

The only way for me to be someone God uses to show that his grace doesn’t wait for “good enough” is to never forget where grace came to me:  way before good enough. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

On The Inside

Last week, I took my daughter and her friend swimming at the local park district pool on a Saturday afternoon.  I swam some laps and then sat on the side in a patch of sunlight that was pouring through the windows.  I watched them play and talk while holding onto blue kick boards.  My daughter's hair was slicked back by the purple goggles perched on her head, the girls' laughing was swallowed by the high ceilings, and splashes of water echoed like intermittent waves on the shore.  The undeniable beauty of this moment struck me suddenly and I realized how much I loved the slowness and smallness of it.  I often think of God in big moments and great tasks.  I often think of Him on the outside.  But here He was inside of this little moment at the pool.  Here was His grace and love, strong enough to conquer even death, on the inside of the laughing and splashing.  Here He was on the inside of my family, the inside of my life.  And, for some reason then, I began writing a list, a list of other small, slow moments that I want to experience with Him on the inside.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I Know, My Love. I Know.


Psalm 139



I heard it from my bedroom, a violent retching from deep down in her soul.  I ran to her room and saw her sitting up, crying, shaking and looking at me with teary, apologetic eyes.  “I’m sorry, Mom.  I couldn’t make it to the bathroom.”  It is true, there was a mess I hadn’t experienced before, but what I noticed more was the way she shook and the way the pain overtook her.  “It’s okay, my love.  It’s okay.” 

I lifted her weak body off the bed and escorted her slowly to the bathroom, where she sat in front of the toilet.  I whispered to her that it would be okay and she was going to be better soon.  She shook her head, disbelieving my words because they were so obviously inconsistent with her current state.  After hours of cramped legs near the white porcelain and the yellow bath mat, I still rubbed her back and closed my eyes from tiredness.  I opened them at one point and looked at this sweet, pained girl who had by miracle of all miracles come from my body. 

She sat slightly hunched, shivering, and mouthing words silently.  Curious, I tried to read them, and leaned in to hear if any sound came so I could share in what she whispered into the dark.  I couldn’t make out the words, and so I asked if she had been praying.  “Yes,” she said quietly over a now-sore throat.  “What did you say?”  She said, “Lord, have mercy on me.  Have mercy on me.”  My eyes welled with tears and I brushed her hair from her face, realizing that I hadn’t prayed.  I hadn’t asked for God’s intervention.  I wondered why this hadn’t occurred to me, and at the same time felt endlessly thankful that it had occurred to her.  I echoed her prayer, knowing that this was the only thing to do: “Lord, have mercy on her.  Have mercy on her.”  Then, I noticed a tiny vein on the outer part of her ear; a small mole near her hairline; eyelashes that could sweep the floor they are so long; her warm, feverish skin; her fingers that look like my sister’s fingers. 

She cried every half an hour or so, “Mom, I don’t want to throw up.  It hurts too much.  Why do I have to?”  All I could do was to rub her back and say, “I know, my love.  But there is something inside that your body knows it needs to get rid of in order for you to get better.  Once it’s out, you will feel better.  I promise.  And I’m right here.”  She leans into me.  I couldn’t have loved her more in those hours by the toilet.  I couldn’t have felt more heavy-hearted as she got rid of what was making her sick.  But I have seen this before, experienced it myself, and so I knew, even though she couldn’t see it, that she would get better.  I knew that the only way she would begin to heal was to hurt.

There is something deep in my soul that needs to come out.  It is hurt from so long ago, when I was about my daughter’s age, and just recently, it has begun to sting my insides, to occupy my waking thoughts, to invade my sleep.  This injury prevents me from trusting anyone but God with all of who I am.  This old hurt emerged just as suddenly and unexpectedly as the stomach flu.  And I make the same protestations and ask the same questions of God that my daughter asked of me: “I don’t want to feel this.  It hurts too much.  Why do I have to?”  I say the same prayer that she whispered into the dark: “Lord, have mercy on me.  Have mercy on me.”  These are the only words that come. 

God sees my tears, hears my cries, carries me gently where I need to go. His heart breaks for the pain, but he will allow it to come, all the while, rubbing my back, hemming me in.  He knows that once the toxins are out, I will feel better.  He promises me this is so and he sits next to me holding me fast.  I lean into him.  He studies the hands that he made, the eyelashes he planted, my inmost being that he created and that he alone knows.  He sees light where I see only darkness.  He could not love me more in these painful hours.  He could not feel more heavy-hearted as old hurts arise and are exposed and expunged.  But he sees what I can’t see.  He knows, even though I disbelieve because it is so obviously inconsistent with my current feeling, that I will get better.  He knows that the only way I will begin to heal is to hurt.  And so, he leans close and whispers, “I know, my love.  I know.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Local Church

The hungry orphans from the local community.

The chicken feed.

The chicken coop.

The baby chicks.


The teenage chicks.

The chickens to sell and to lay eggs.

The money.

The crops.

The food.

The fed orphans.

The local church.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  James 1:27

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You Said You Would Be There

The problem was that I wasn’t quite ready to let go of that.  All else, yes.  I had already realized that I lacked control over those other things, so they were easier (not easy, but easier) to let go of.  This was the last thing it seemed.  I knew I was on the verge of turning it over.  You felt so close.  And I could foresee the day when I would relent, and release it to you.  I wasn’t sure how it would happen though.  My grip was so tight and there were so many unanswered questions that I needed answered before I was willing to even consider loosening my hold.

Then things began to look a little less like I thought they would.  From the outside, the expected and the real did not match and the more I walked, the less lined-up it all seemed to be.  Where I was headed, was where I was sure you wanted me, but not where I had come to understand someone like me should go.  So, deciding which path to take, felt, not paralyzing exactly, but hard.  Almost impossible, actually.  The one way, the status quo, was defensible, perfectly acceptable.  I could continue marching with some slight modifications.  People would say: “You did the best you could.”  I would say, “I was smart, cautious, rational.”  The other way, the way to which you were calling, seemed at first like giving up, or heading the wrong way, backwards even, risky.  

But you said you would be there.  You said we would not be separated.  You said that if I trusted you with all my heart, you would direct my path.  As I took the first tentative step forward on the road to which you pointed, a dam inside my soul broke open and I saw that this was the only way worth going, and I realized I knew this all along.  Anxiety and fear and anger and sadness rushed out, and joy, peace, goodness, and grace fell lightly like snow, covering every inch of the newly opened space.  I don’t know where this road leads.  I don’t see the next step ahead.  And there are all these questions, mostly from without, about where I’m going and what the future looks like.  Yet, I don’t need the answers like I did before to keep walking.  In fact, I haven’t heard even a single answer to the questions I had been asking, or the ones that pop up unexpectedly in the day, but everything I see has your touch and it is impossible to ignore.  The eyes of my heart have been enlightened.  Within, there is stillness, and time has expanded.