Once Unruly Moods, Now Fearless Choices

(Circa 2000) My unruly mood. That small 4-letter word whose power— depending on the day— was either a game changer or a potential hazard to the smallest of audiences. A female, I received the time-honored “gift” of emotions. This distinctive DNA, once erupted, usually caused a volcano of words to descend on helpless victims in my path. As a young mother in a new city, emotions carved themselves into the #1 spot on my list of causes for regrettable behavior. My moods were more of a liability than an asset in early 2000, and if left unchecked they could alter the happiness of my relationships into deep sorrow. And yet, God’s word said: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14) Often scratching my head, I would re-read that verse. Fearfully and wonderfully made…hmm I wondered to myself if fearful was understood as another’s experience of my moods? And wonderful? Did that word fit in the world of hormones? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? (Romans 9:20) I understood the omniscient God did not make mistakes. He knew exactly what kind of deep feelings he put in the hearts he created. Daily, I reminded myself of these unshakable truths before setting my heart to confession. (Fast forward, 2017) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his...

The Widow Lamp of the Journey

(photo credit) Each year on the first Sunday in March, the Iditarod Trail Committee lights a small gas lantern and hangs it from the Burled Arch. Called the Widow’s Lamp, it remains lit until the last musher is off the Iditarod trail. The extinguishing of the lamp by the final musher signals the official end of the race. (https://iditarodoutsider.wordpress.com/tag/widows-lamp/) Life is full of journeys. Physically, emotionally, or mentally we all experience periods that require endurance, patience, and growth.  The tendency to rush a process that refuses our advances and takes its natural time to develop, often unfolding longer than we expect or hope, is familiar to most of us. For some, the start and finish of the journey is perhaps the toughest. For others, the long stretch in between,  feeling alone on the trail, exhausted, with no real sign of advancement, is the most difficult stage. Seasons of transition or waiting can be a big part of a journey where there is little light or knowledge of what is to come. Every winter in Willow, Alaska, dog sled teams start the beginning of March on the toughest marathon trail with whiteout conditions and blizzard temperatures. It is not unusual for mushers (dog sled drivers) and their dogs to push through inky Alaskan blackness, unable to see clearly what lies ahead. Yet, on the final stretch of unforgiving ice after days of remarkable journey, competitors realize the finish line is attainable with the vision of one small hanging lantern: a symbol of completion. I imagine for the musher and his team, sight of the widow’s lamp is an unparalleled prize...

No Ordinary Love

Matthew 27:45-46, 51-53 From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I began the week wading in thoughts of the selfless love of Christ on the cross. The time between the famous “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” and his last mortal breaths was where I dropped anchor. I pondered the suspension. It is a picture of unprecedented darkness. A place where God seemingly abandons his son by placing humanity’s plight on his back to burrow. The darkest of dark. Abject abandonment and withdrawal of God from earth.  As I sipped my morning coffee, I let it sink in. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[c] went into the holy city and appeared to many people. A probing question circled up from my warm cup: “Why did Christ (who was above reproach) at the stygian hour continue forward in what must have been a most unusual experience for the Trinity— something completely unnatural— an unbearable separation?” As the only place in scripture where Christ’s words imply triune separation, I imagine it was a new experience for the Godhead. And I presume no person since has experienced that kind of complete withdrawal of God on earth. Hebrews 13:5b And God has said, “Never will I leave...

In silence, God’s love still remains

One of the reasons I love the Psalms is because of their raw, poetic emotion. The writer David laments, sings for joy, prays openly against his enemies, and confesses his sins all in back-to-back chapters. It’s good material for a TV mini-series; and I guess, with a heart fraught by important sentiments during middle school, it resonated deeply with me. It was during this time in life that I understood writing as a practice of authenticity. Today, I see a comrade spirit in the Psalter, one whose reactions are real, strong, and sometimes manic. David’s expressions of justice, assistance, praise, and regret are validated by a God who calls David “a man after His own heart.” Raw responses. Real questions. Battlefield praise. Authentic worship. Often vocalizing an uncomfortable faith, the Davidic heart is known by God and deeply loved through its courageous emotional investigations. Because of the writer’s open relationship with God, he does not parse words. David knows God can take his direct and unabashed communication. In the 22nd Psalm, David’s cries typify a common theme of God’s silence found throughout the book. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. If the first part of this Psalm sounds familiar, it should. These exact words were spoken by Christ in his dying moments. God’s own son, on the cross, cried out to his father in a way that indicated he felt abandoned by...

If given a choice, would I choose better?

Do worrisome life situations seem to follow you around? Do cycles of anxiety find themselves recurring in your life? If stressful moments have turned into recognizable patterns creeping up every year…. Then, don’t feel bad. You are not alone. It’s not hard to look around and find worry and anxiety. The data reports it is affecting even children with 1 in 5 kids suffering from anxiety, and 30% of those being young girls (source.) Sometimes the culprit is a lack of choosing well, or a loss of appetite for things of true value. In the dawn of technology and uber-consumerism, chasing after happiness with the next best thing has become a way of life. Our need to stay technologically current is a given and with it comes benefits. It’s less time-consuming, easier, and safer to communicate behind round emojis than in face-to-face conversations. I know because many times I have chosen to text rather than talk. There is deep value in connecting with family and friends, and I am thrilled to live in an age where technology allows us to do this with such ease. But sometimes consumer trends leave me searching in counterfeit places for things of sustenance. The next iPhone, a big screen TV, the perfect app all to create the best jobs, cars, schools, and bodies. Together, I am told, they produce happiness. But do they? While consumer striving grows louder, the authentic voice for what will genuinely make my soul happy grows quieter. And therein lies a tension. Living alongside this tension begs a crucial question: If given a better choice, would I choose it? Jesus...

Listen up— today, there is good news and a reason to celebrate the future

The book of Isaiah captures a beautiful, and yet foreboding, story of God’s judgment and redemption for His beloved nation of Israel. In it, the southern kingdom of Judah has a long track record of making choices that consistently focus on present danger; they eventually end up in Babylonian captivity. One of Judah’s idolatrous sins is short-sightedness concerning their current situation: they are fixated on present woes. Even on the precipice of invasion by the Assyrian army, Judah’s looming fear prevents them from listening to the prophecies of Isaiah urging hearts to return to God. Ironically, 500 years earlier, when entering the Promised Land, God actually warned Israel of this nationwide trap: Deuteronomy 6:10-12 10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied,12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. The nation of Israel forgot God. They forgot much of what He had done for them starting at the Exodus. So, through prophets over the course of 100 years, God reminded them to examine their ways and repent so He could once again lead them. Yet they fell captive to the snare of idolatrous thinking: deeming the woes of tomorrow as more powerful than the God who had already proven Himself a fortified defender even through hopeless...

May Our Feet be Quick to Move in Peace

  Hebrews 6:13-17 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Most all the armor items in this verse are straight-forward: breastplate, helmet; shield and buckle; sword. When I read this verse I imagine soldiers standing upright as their commanding general walks down the line yelling out preparations. Each item’s roll call is met with a collective and guttural “Yes sir”, indicating a battalion ready to be part of a respectable war. But when I get to the word peace my mind comes to a screeching halt. Confusion fills my head like smoke at a NASCAR race.   PEACE?!   I mean what in the world does peace have to do with a formidable fight!? My thoughts go from the valiant Braveheart to Goofy at Disneyland. Understandably swords, shields, helmets and flaming arrows make sense to me as requirements for a war. But then I ask myself, why would God cover the body with armor and then stop short at the feet? And why mention the word peace on the checklist for such undaunted combat? There are 52 bones in our...

Harvesting Quietness

One day last month, I found myself chuckling during a moment of self-awareness in front of the kitchen sink. As I sipped some morning coffee, the prayerful chattering of my mind was in full gear, even though my body struggled to wake up fully. My thoughts were already in communication with the Lord before my feet had hit the floor, and as I crossed over to the window I saw two squirrels in our backyard. They were clamoring non-stop and jumping wildly across the tree limbs. Suddenly everything got quiet. A soft hush filled the air and that is when it hit me. It was as if I heard God say, “You see, even creation practices silence. You should try practicing it too." Now, I have grown very comfortable in my relationship with God. I am completely myself as I go through my day with God by my side as a trusted companion. I talk, mostly, never running out of things to say. But, this particular day God wanted me to practice self-control. He had something to say that required my full attention. It was important I stop my tongue-flapping and listen. It was important I be silent.   Mother Teresa In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you.   Harvesting quietness during the day is not always easy, especially in the hectic pace of our 21st century lives. Silence doesn’t feel natural to us. It is not a widely practiced discipline in our culture, so its importance goes demurely unnoticed. But God’s Word says that...

God’s grace— a stark and rewarding reality

The other day I saw a mother whose son had acted out at school. The boy snapped and made some poor choices in words and attitude toward a classmate. He was emotional about what happened, as was his mother. Taking him by the arm, she pulled him aside where she spoke to him quietly and then hugged him tightly. As she returned to her group of friends, she sheepishly started her Rolodex of excuses. He did not have enough sleep the night before. The classmate who started the argument is not a nice kid. A strong sense of justice is inherent in her son’s demeanor. He really likes his other classmates. The list was received by caring faces who coddled soft excuses for her son’s behavior. Haven’t we all been here? The inexcusable child. The coddling mother. Friends who struggle with telling other friends the hard truth. Enter, grace. Ah, amazing grace. Such indelible grace makes us feel better about our lackluster selves. [Pause] But God’s grace didn’t hide in the shadow of excuses for our behavior. It stood on a hill in our shame, bloodied and naked for the entire world to see. God’s mercy came to earth for our deeply depraved souls. So, if we minimize our personal “crud” as a way of feeling better about ourselves, the sober awareness about our redemption gets sidelined in the process. We miss out on why grace was so amazing. Romans 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself...

Keeping the shutters of our hearts open

I Corinthians 3:16  Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? Every morning after making my bed, I open the white plantation shutters above the headboard in our bedroom and I stand in the sun’s light that brightens the room. As I slide the anchor bar upward, I call to mind something my mother told me 5 years ago. She and I were in a conversation about the heart and the spirit of God. She said to me, “keep the shutters of your heart open. Let the light of the spirit of God come through and touch those around you while it simultaneously comes back and touches you. Keep your heart an open conduit.” Every time my fingers move over those shutters, I clearly see the image my mom spoke of: the image of God’s spirit in me flowing out around others and then returning back into my life. In my mind, it is the quintessential picture of how God’s love flows through and in all situations. Also in the picture of that motherly advice, I am reminded of a certain role I have to play. That role is to open, and keep open, the shutters of my heart in order to allow His presence the room to roam. Oftentimes, especially with relational conflict or struggle, my desire is to shut down my tender heart as a way to block uncomfortable conflict or vulnerability. It is quite natural for me to do just that in difficult situations. But my mother’s gentle advice held the idea to leave myself open, still allowing God to move during those...