Getting Lost

I almost didn’t take the book off the shelf.

To read Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness would affirm, I was certain, the fact that I am a human being consumed with myself and my own affairs.
A truth I did not desire to face.
For I knew the truth would hurt me, wounding my pride and shattering my fragile ego, this nagging creature that is constantly drawing attention to itself.

Yet, I declared the war on my flesh, as I must each day, and reached for the book collecting dust. And I’m glad I did, for it eased the pressure of my pride, swelling to a size so unsustainable that it was painful and sensitive to the touch.

This is the thing of pride, as Keller explores. We are so tempted to give in to our ego, craving attention by puffing ourselves up empty with worthless accolades or by sitting in the shallow pool of self-hatred and defeat. We’re either agonizingly swollen or deflated and starving.
Both empty. Both unsatisfied.

Yet, what else do we expect when our purpose and peace are determined by our performance?

We are a people constantly putting ourselves on trial. Constantly twirling, twirling, twirling before an audience, begging to be seen. Constantly nailing ourselves to the cross that Jesus already bore in our stead. How it must break His heart to watch his children push past closed doors to return to the stand, exhaust ourselves from the endless dance that only copper coins seem to validate, and senselessly hammer nails through our weakened flesh to a tree that won’t save us.

Our performance fixes our eyes inward.
But Christ’s performance calls us to shift our gaze upward.

His evidence closed our case.
His performance deemed us worthy.
His cross declared our salvation.

Do you know what happens to the tumor of our pride when we rehearse this Gospel story? It shrinks.

Because the story, my dear ones, is not about us.
It is, and always has been, about Him.

When we proclaim His goodness over our wretchedness, it shrinks.
When we declare His righteousness over our feeble attempts at good works, it shrinks.
When we rejoice in His victory over our defeat, it shrinks.

We do not realize, that in its shrinking, we find true, unwavering confidence.
For we thought our pride was good. But it demanded our every breath.
Huffing and puffing it up so large that it became a spectacle.
Ego’s ultimate desire.

What we failed to notice was how ugly it was. We only drew attention to something hideous. We were distracted by the empty praises of others to recognize how painful it was. We were only masking the infection.
We begin to find that our ego, this massive growth, this parasite, is making home outside of us and is stealing all peace that is within, until both are empty and longing.

What is the cure?

Getting lost in God’s truth, about Himself and about His children.

Stop striving.
Put down the gavel.
Stop twirling.
Put down the hammer.

Let us trade the futile attempt at puffing ourselves up for the lasting assurance of being filled by Jesus.

And do you know what we’ll find when we do?

The empty cravings of puffing up our pride will fall short in comparison to the joy of being wholly filled, mind, body, and soul, by Jesus.

This is our peace. Our confidence.

To be less concerned about what others speak of us.
To be even less concerned about what we think of ourselves.

But to be so saturated in the truth of the Gospel that we lose ourselves in Christ’s goodness.

It is there, when we are utterly lost in Him, that who we truly are will be found and secured in Him as well.

Let us not fret over others. Let us not fret over self.
We’re already affirmed. Our identity is secure. Our name is chosen.

So, let us go. Forget ourselves for a while. And get lost.
Wade in the depths of His grace. Wander through the caverns of His lovingkindness. Lay beneath the canopy of His marvelous glory.

And we’ll find the cravings of self aren’t nearly as sweet as the goodness of the Lord and His abundant love for us.

This is the freedom of self-forgetfulness.

Genesis

Here’s to beginnings.

My feet, still shaky from the unknown terrain of a wood I never imagined I’d drift far, far into, are walking out. Onto new ground.
Ground that is lush, instead of a murky mess.
Ground that is steady and beckons onward, rather than shifts and confuses.
Ground from where new life is born.
New springs well up.
New fruit blossoms.

How timely this spring equinox has been.
Praise the God of seasons, both of the heart and of the earth.

I recall a memory from a little over a year ago. A friend and I put on Disney’s Fantasia 2000, letting our nostalgia run wild with color and sound. And the best was saved for last, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Not only is the music breathtaking, but the story that accompanies it will forever be etched into my mind.

From the breath of the mighty stag, a beautiful nymph is born. The heartbeat of Genesis is present from the very beginning of the piece. He leads her out into the barren land, and she awakens as her very life is creating the masterpiece of spring all around her. Flourish. Abundance. Glory. Words that come to mind as the picture is painted to the sound of the composer’s handiwork. But, a fiery being, the “firebird,” stoops down to spread his wings of destruction over the creation of her new life. What is left is ashes and dust. The heart of Genesis beats on.

Tears begin to build behind the dam of my eyes. The film swirls together picture and symphony to ultimately point to the ancient story. A true story. The one of a mighty God. Of His creation, breathed into life. One of a garden. Of a snake. And the darkness that followed him. That followed us. Tragedy.

But, just as Stravinsky’s piece is unfinished, so is the story it shadows.

The stag searches through the rubble to find the nymph lying amidst the ruins. He breaths his life back into her fragile body. But she is weak. Stricken by grief. And unsure of what to do. Where to go. How to begin.

From there, he gently lifts her from the ground with his antlers, onto his back. As he carries her through what is left of the forest, her canvas of spring now devastated, she begins to cry over what has been lost. But her tears are soaking the scorched ground, and where they fall, life begins to sprout. What follows is the most beautiful and glorious unfolding. Regaining her strength, her hope, she soars over the land, her canvas. What was dead is now exploding with the color and fragrance of flowers and lush, green trees.

The dam holding back the flood of my tears gives way. And rightly so.

What the enemy left ravaged in my heart, my Heavenly Father is restoring. Is redeeming. Is making new.

Like the nymph, my tears are not wasted. They are kept. And not just to be remembered, but to be poured out over the dry places, so new life can spring up. I’m beginning to see the green emerge from ashes.

And as I do, I begin.
I dream again. I create again. I write again.

And if this is you, too, if you find yourself in the ruins, and you see the face of your Heavenly Father bending low to lift you from the shambles, take hold and begin again.

This is spring. This is genesis.

He Will Do It

I’ve thought quite often about writing again, curling up on my bed and letting my heart spill over with stories of the weathered seasons.
But the seasons felt dreary, and I had yet to walk through them entirely.
I hadn’t reached the other side of them, with beautiful truths wrapped neatly together to offer others. With triumphs to tell. With prayers heard and answered.
No, it was still grey and murky, so my heart kept to itself.

But, now, I’d like to share, still a little lost, still a little tattered and worn.

I was looking over a journal entry from early September of 2015, and it began with,

“I have good things for Mary, but the Enemy is going after her heart.”

My mother had called me, impressed by the Lord to share these words, feeling and knowing them in her soul, meant for me to hear.
And so has been the words over the past year and half of my life.

Good things are on their way, coming like clouds over scorched and barren lands, but not without a fight. And, friends, the fight has felt long.

I had battles in my heart to be waged, and ultimately won by my King, Jesus. I had branches that were beyond pruning, needing to be entirely cut off, if there was to be hope of future fruit.
And the battles, the barren branches, the empty, dark caverns of my heart were the Enemy’s finest work. He probably had them framed and mounted on his wall, each one named.
Disobedience. Faithless. Discouraged. Failure. Hopeless. Coward. Shiftless.

While the Lord in His kindness had allowed my feet to tread barefoot through green pastures along the way, seasons of refreshment and renewal to strengthen my weary spirit, I found myself back in the valley, in the dark, again. And again. And again.

Over the months turned years, my heart has wrestled with the Enemy, throwing weak punches, only to cut through thin air, leaving me stumbling and open to every blow.
I fought disbelief that the Lord would provide in my immense need.  Encountered failure to stand against the Enemy’s scheming and lies toward me. Fell prey to apathy that left me spineless and tossed by waves. And was paralyzed by crippling insecurity that questioned every truth until certainty in anything was entirely lost.

When your mind becomes a warzone and your heart a battlefield, life loses its zest. Joy gives way to survival. Rest turns into striving. Grace isn’t enough. And works are your stepping stones to the Throne.

This wasn’t me. This had never been me. Distressed and striving to fix what my weak soul never could.

My friends knew me as the biggest advocate of Jesus’ grace. It was the song in my heart and my lips spoke of it often. But the Enemy sold me a lie and convinced me to trade the grace of my Savior for the burden of works. And like Eve, I ate and was deceived.

But, here’s the thing, I was never good at working. It was like I had a devil on either of my shoulders. One telling me to work my way out of the pit and the other telling me I never could. At least one was honest.

So, I looked at the canyon between my sin and God. I’d stack a few stones and give up, weeping. I could never reach Him. Not with these pebbles. And I’d forgotten about grace at this point, so my only option was to sit, stuck in the mud and mire. Pathetic. The Enemy is good at what He does.

The Bible compares us to sheep. And I experienced why, here. Like those little lambs, we’re helpless without a Shepherd. Unable to turn ourselves around when we’re lost. Incapable of getting up when we’ve fallen. Powerless against ravenous wolves.

Over the past several years, throughout college, I’d really come to terms with this sense of weakness, learning to boast of Christ’s power in it, and allowing it to press me firm into His arms. I was asked a while back what I was grateful for, and I answered, “My weakness.”

My words were heard by the Lord, and He wanted to test that answer. The past year and half has been that test.

Now, good news.
The Enemy is crafty, but God is the ultimate Craftsman. The Enemy is alluring, but the Father’s pull is stronger still. The Enemy can wreak havoc, but cannot ever wreck the secure plans of the Almighty.

When Psalms 73:26 is the banner waving over me, claiming, “my flesh and my heart may fail,” my Heavenly Father sings, “But I am the Strength of your heart forever.”

And I’m learning this.

The Lord is allowing me to come to end of myself and discover just how reckless, foolish, and inadequate I am apart from Him. To see sin for what it is, how it destroys us, and how much God hates it. To weep over stacked pebbles trying to fill the spaces between Him and I. And it is there that the Lord draws near, very near, revealing the relentless devotion He has to His people, covered by the blood of His Son.

God was, is, and always will be more fiercely committed to my holiness and to my wholeness than I ever could dare be. Even when I give up, caving into the lie that I never could come close, God remains ruthlessly faithful, proclaiming,

“I will sanctify you completely, keeping your entire spirit, soul, and body blameless until my Son returns. I, who call you, am faithful, and I will do it.”

He will do it. He will do it. He will do it.

Friends, I’m still in the mess of it all, but the gaping canyon is filling with waters of His grace, sailing me back into His arms. The Lord is training my eyes to see the severity of my need, and rather than pull away in despair, to look up and draw near in hope.

In hope that He alone will hold me fast.

He who calls us to this life of holiness is faithful to fashion us and sustain us in that calling. And because of Jesus, who covers our rags with His robe, we can hold God to that promise.

Those who are fighting, failing, falling, hold Him to that promise.

When you need an answer to the cry of your heart, whispering, “How can I ever be made right?” Remember.

He will do it. He will do it. He will do it.

Open Wide Your Mouth

 

“Open your mouth wide and see if I won’t fill it. You will receive every blessing you can use!
Oh, that My people would listen to Me! Oh, that Israel would follow Me, walking in My paths! How quickly then I would subdue her enemies! How soon My hands would be upon her foes! 
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before Him; their desolation would last forever. But He would feed you with the choicest foods. He would satisfy you with honey for the taking.”
Psalm 81

I received a text message from my best friend, who is too far away from me at the moment, telling me that Psalm 81 showed up in her devotions for that morning.
Having not read my bible yet, I flipped it open to this Psalm of Asaph.
My eyes welled with tears as my lips mouthed the words, unraveling a song that sounds like a prayer my soul had been longing to pray.

These were the words of a man who knew, really knew, His God.
Who had tasted the sweetness of His goodness.
Who had seen the faithful hands of His provision.

I prayed with quivering lips,
“Oh Lord, I thirst for faith like that.”

In that moment I was both humbled and ashamed by my impeding lack of belief, much like Simon Peter when he found himself face down before the feet of Jesus in his fishing boat.
Let this story paint itself before you.

Simon and the other fisherman had been working under the heat of the sun until the sun began to escape them. Not one fish had been caught.
Exhausted, Simon was given the honor of lending his boat to Jesus to preach upon.
There was at least one good use for the boat that day.
After teaching, however, Jesus looked at him.
“Simon, sail out into the deep waters and let down your nets for a catch.”
Let down the nets?
The nets that produced nothing that entire day?
“Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.”
The nets dropped and caught what seemed to be every fish in the lake, spilling over and tearing the ropes.
Simon fell to the knees of Jesus.
“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”
Simon saw the power of God’s providing hand and could hardly be in His holy presence.
Not with his sin.
Not with his doubt.
But he was called a disciple.
And he won something far greater than fish that day.

Friends, God invites us to let down our nets and watch with expectancy.
Watch the good He will bring.
Watch the people He will put in our paths.
Watch the assignments He will give us.
Watch the abundance of life fill us until we are bursting at the seams.

What would it look like if our prayer life was saturated and shaped by that faith that God is capable of doing whatever we humbly ask for and more in His name?
Now, this is not to be said that He will always answer with “yes.”
He may still answer “no.”
He uses noes for far better things than we can imagine.
But, like the Father that He is, He desires to hear the requests of His dearly beloved children.
Can’t you just hear him?
“Oh, my child, would you tell me what you want?”
He longs to hear your heart. Won’t you share it with Him?

Your life may not seem to be fruitful at the moment.
All you see is dry.
All you hear is silence.
All you know is failure.
But, when Jesus calls you to something that seems beyond your reach or impossible with your given circumstances, would you do it anyways, just because He said so?

Would you open wide your mouth?
Cast deep your nets.
Stretch far your hands.
And watch. Expect. Receive.
And when you receive whatever He brings, would You praise Your Father from whom it was given?
He who loves you with a relentless love is worthy of it.

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”
Matthew 7:1

Sparrows and Lilies

I love peace.
Peace and quiet. World peace. Peace signs. A piece of cake….Oh, wait.
And I like to believe that I’ll gain this sought after tranquility when every square inch of my life is in order.
When the work is finished. When my to-do list is checked off.
When I’m sitting on the beach, listening to waves, sipping on a cup of tea.
Yeah, I’ll take a piece of that.

But what happens when the work is not finished? What happens when my to-do list is left unchecked? What if my very best effort and all my spare time is not enough to accomplish what needs to be done?
Can I find peace in that?

Joyce Meyer, a woman I’ve grown to cherish, whose words have quieted my anxious thoughts and led me to Jesus’ cross time and time again, says yes.
She says yes.
In one of her books, she describes two paintings in which the artists were asked to paint “peace.” One of the paintings portrayed a scenic mounting view, complete with a glassy, smooth lake. The other, however, displayed a “raging, rushing waterfall.” On a branch that hung in front of the waterfall rested a bird in its nest.
She asks, “Which one truly depicts peace?”
The peace of Christ. The peace that passes all understanding. The peace Jesus gives His disciples, not ever something this world could dare offer.
That peace belongs to the second painting.

Dependent, confident rest in the middle of chaos.

Sweet friends, that is the peace that is ours for the keeping in Christ.

In Luke 12 we find Jesus preaching a parable on worry.
The Message version says this,

“Look at the ravens, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, carefree in the care of God. And you count far more.”

“Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don’t fuss with their appearance—but have you ever seen color and design quite like it….If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don’t you think He’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do His best for you?”

I love this parable. I was reading it one morning on my back porch while observing the birds in my backyard trees. Have you ever watched how they fly about from branch to branch, singing melodies as they go?
Jesus’ promise of peace means that we can live even more carefree than that.
Jesus’ promise of peace means that we can live like that bird resting in its nest in front of the waterfall.
Resting with confidence and dependence in the midst of chaos, knowing that our Savior values us even more than the birds. Even more than the wildflowers.
And if He provides even for them, how much more will He provide for His own children?

When you ache from the weight of fear and you long for peace, remember that “He’ll attend to you, take pride in you, and do His best for you.”
Remember those words, those promises, and rest in them. The Lord, God over the birds and the flowers, is God over your very life. A life that He loves. Saved. And is using for His beautiful purposes.

And, my friends, that is the promise that brings true peace, peace that will sustain you.
That is the peace that will quiet your weary soul.

And maybe a piece of cake, too.

The Answered Prayers of a Contrite Heart

Have you ever found yourself in the beautifully awkward predicament of having an encounter with the Lord in a very public place? You know, when your sniffling isn’t cute anymore, and you’re probably distracting the family behind you, and your running mascara (by now, I should know better than to purchase anything other than water-proof mascara) has successfully ruined both your makeup and the sleeves of your shirt?

This was the predicament I found myself in that Sunday morning…and it wasn’t the first time. Although tempted to be a little frustrated by my properly functioning tear ducts, I was reminded that my tears were the natural response to an answered prayer. And my prayer went something like this.
“Lord, break my heart.” 

I walked into Sunday’s service unaware of the scripture we would be diving into, but as the time of confession during worship approached, I began to feel the weight of my sin, leading me to pray.
“Lord, break my heart.”

I realized how quickly my receptive heart had turned from willing obedience to selfish contentment the past week. I knew how I was supposed to respond in certain situations, how I should have treated other people, and how I was needing to be spending my time, but I simply became uninterested. I constructed idols out of my desires and offered them my thoughts and devotion. With every nudging from God, convicting and encouraging my heart to respond to His call, I turned my head. While at first I recognized the sting of refusing God to pursue my own selfish ambitions, with every turn away the sting reduced until it was barely there.
My heart became nearly numb to God’s nudges.

However, I believe God had faithfully answered my prayer before I even uttered a word that Sunday morning, placing a mere crack in my heart just to recapture my attention. I began to desire that crack to give way to the complete shattering of the stone inside my chest, longing to feel His pull and hear His call once again in my life.
“Lord, break my heart.”

That Sunday’s sermon was on Psalm 51, a Psalm of contrition.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart You, God, will not despise.” (vs.1-2, 17)

As the words were spoken aloud, I knew God, in His perfect sovereignty and timing, had orchestrated that moment for me to humble myself in repentance. That He would gently and lovingly lead me to the place where my heart would be utterly broken over my own sin.
It is God’s means of grace that He would break our heart over sin. And I believe David truly recognized the beauty of this truth. For it is the pain of a broken heart brought forth in repentance that reaps the joy of forgiveness.
It is the work of the enemy when God’s children believe in the lie that they are required to be shackled and enslaved by that brokenness, that they cannot be mended, and that they cannot have their joy and freedom restored to them. True remorse over sin is the evidence of God’s handiwork in our hearts, but that remorse is a means to an end. And that end is forgiveness. Forgiveness that reaps praises of joy, freedom, and peace.
On David’s heart was sealed the truth of this forgiveness, which spills over into the Psalm.

“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice” (vs.8)
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (vs.10)
“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (vs.12)
“Open my lips and my mouth will declare Your praise.” (vs.15)

David came before the Lord completely broken. His heart torn. His spirit downcast. But His prayer reveals the hopeful expectation of God’s forgiveness and all that it entails.
God longs for our broken prayers and crushed spirits, for it is in that woundedness that we encounter the goodness of His mercy. His forgiveness and grace that He lavishes upon us when we come to Him in humble repentance is like a cool spring to our desert souls.
The sin that breaks our heart is blotted out. Washed away. Forgotten.
In it’s place God creates a pure heart. He restores to us the joy that comes from Him alone. He renews a steadfast spirit in us. Our lips that once spoke of our shame now declare His praises.
And He does this for us time and time again.

By His grace alone may we pursue righteousness relentlessly and find the courage to allow our hearts to be broken over our own sin.
For when God tenderly breaks our heart, He is desiring to restore it.

When God Throws You a Surprise Party

There I was, sitting in the car, crying over my Chicken Soft Taco from Taco Time, unable to finish it. Yes, I was that upset.
Worry hung over me like a little large black rain cloud, its rain flooding me with doubt and discouragement. I had taken a quick peek at my bank account after a rather impulsive purchase, something I hate doing….Looking at my bank account, that is. I love impulsive purchases. The number was small.  And the enemy decided to use that small number to pick me apart piece by piece.
This is what I began to hear.

“Undisciplined.”
“You won’t ever be able to flourish with such irresponsibility.”
“How can you expect God to work in you and for you when you’re lacking self-control?”

“You’re failing. Falling behind. Look at how hard everyone else is working?”
“Any efforts you make amount to nothing.”

 As I grow, both in years and in faith, I become increasingly more aware of my problem with discipline, or lack thereof. It is this awareness, however, that I have seen God use to humble me, gently convict me, and tenderly shape me more into His very likeness. Most days, I marvel and rest in this truth, thanking God for weaknesses that fasten my dependency on Him, but also for His strength to fight the urge to let those weaknesses define me. Other days, days like yesterday, the enemy rolls in like thick fog, clouding over any light of this truth.
And, for a time, the enemy “wins.” I feel defeated.
In my defeat, I weep at the feet of my Savior, praying that He would wash over my sin, make me new with His mercy, and help me begin again. Help me keep walking forward. Even though I know Christ died for this grace to be freely mine, I doubt, feeling like there will be consequences for such foolishness.
I’ll have to pay. God’s blessings simply can’t be for me anymore.

But then I hear Him whisper, “My grace.”
I get off work today to receive a text from one of my best friends and future roommates that we had found an apartment. This has been an unexpected burden to bear the past several weeks after our original housing arrangements fell through.
After weeks of searching and no openings, God opened a literal door. The door to our new home. The door to a place that meets our unique needs in specific ways.
I hear Him whisper, “My grace.”
After sending in applications and payments, I spend the afternoon with my best friend from Whidbey. She surprised me with a date, very much like The Bachelor, she added. We went to the beach and flew $1.50 Barbie and Cinderella kites till the wind turned our faces red and our hair into a mess.
I hear Him whisper, “My grace.”
We then drove to a little cafe to warm up over hot chocolate. Not only did our friend who worked there give us a discount on our drinks, but she brought us out a scone. For free. I’m telling you, God knew I didn’t have money to spend. He peeked at my bank account with me.
I hear Him whisper, “My grace.”

God’s grace is like the most perfect surprise party you could ever dream to receive.
After what feels like the billionth time I’ve failed Him, He reminds me,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8
Grace is the very gift of God. Unable to be earned and impossible to drive away.
My sin, my foolishness, my unfaithfulness, my lack of discipline, cannot stop God’s grace. Which means my works, though works and growth is to be praised and is God’s mercy through sanctification, cannot earn God’s grace.
It is His gift to give and ours to receive. With humbleness, thankfulness, and an outpour of praise.

So, humble yourself. Repent. Walk in the forgiveness and freedom of God’s grace. And be surprised with what He will do in you and for you.

Thank you, Jesus, for Your mercy, which is new with every sunrise. You are God above the failings of my life, and You choose to not only work in spite of them, but also in light of them. Thank You for singing over me with Your unfailing love, reminding me of the joy and freedom that is to be found when I walk humbly in Your grace.

And thank You for surprise parties like the one You threw me today.
I was, indeed, surprised.