Friday, March 18, 2011
God, in all his holiness and all his goodness, knew we could never meet his standards on our own. And rather than punish and condemn us, he helped us. He bridged the gap between us and himself. We are like little children, and he is the compassionate father who sees that we simply cannot do it on our own and reaches down to help us. We are the toddlers who cannot use the toilet, and he is the parent who gently cleans us and patiently teaches us a better way, helping us move toward the goal.
Because of the grace he gives me, the grace I have done nothing to earn, I am compelled to pass that same grace on to others. Scripture tells the story of the man whose enormous debt was forgiven, yet he went out and demanded smaller debts from other people. This is not the person I want to be. I have been forgiven for so much. I have been given so much grace. How can I possibly have the audacity to be unforgiving and not extend grace to others?
And while God’s grace does not punish us for being unable to meet his standards, neither does it nullify those standards. God is not a punitive God, nor is he permissive. As a parent, this speaks to me. If this is how God has chosen to treat me, his child, I want to do everything in my power to treat my children the same way. In doing so, I hopefully will show them a glimpse of what God is like-- his love for them, the grace he gives them. As someone who has been forgiven and redeemed, I hope God is reflected in all my relationships, including those with my children.
And yes, I fail at this regularly. But even in my failures, God has grace and forgiveness for me. As I walk with my children, meeting them where they are, he walks with me. And unlike me, he never fails. And I am so grateful. His love is amazing, indescribable, beautiful.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Moses doubted himself. “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God promises to be with him. And then God promises Moses a sign.
“This will be the sign that it is I who will send you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
Now, most of us know how the rest of the story went. We know that God did some amazing things in order to bring his people out of Egypt and to show that he was indeed God. But put yourself in Moses’ place for a minute. When he woke up that morning, he had no idea that God was going to interrupt his normal daily life and give him such an enormous job. And now he’s standing here, trying to take in this impossible-sounding assignment, and God tells him he will give him a sign-- after he brings the people out of Egypt.
When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.
I sat and pondered this for a while. If God asked me to do something that I felt totally comfortable and confident doing, obeying wouldn't require much faith. But would I have the faith to step out and do something that sounded so impossible? Something that terrified me? Something I didn't feel confident enough to do? And what if the sign that it was really from him would not come until after I had done the thing he was asking me to do?
Once God has interrupted your life in such a dramatic fashion, you have a choice: You can step out in faith and obey in spite of your fears, or you can ignore what has just happened and try to go back to your daily life.
Moses obeyed. Despite his fears, despite his worries, he obeyed. The only other option was to ignore what had happened to him and try to go back to life as usual. But I suspect that even if he had done that, things never would have felt the way they did before. He would always have that niggling feeling in the back of his mind, down deep in his spirit, that God was calling him to something more...
Monday, March 14, 2011
But the last time that scenario played out, I felt convicted. I had that sinking feeling inside that I knew what I was doing was not okay. And I asked myself, why am I doing this? It’s such a simple thing. A cup of coffee, a short chat, a friendly face. Why in the world would I knowingly, purposely deny him that?
I could blame it on my introversion, my shyness, or my desire to spend some time alone. Yes, I am introverted. Yes, I am shy. Yes, I enjoy spending a little time alone on Saturday mornings. But none of those things made it okay for me to refuse to give this man what he was looking for. The truth is, there really was no good reason for it.
So this Saturday, I made him coffee. He came in, poured a cup for himself and a cup for me, and we talked. It was just a short time. Five minutes, maybe ten. I had given him a travel mug to drink from, and when he left, I told him to go ahead and take it with him and come in for a refill next Saturday.
Perhaps a new tradition has begun.
I like to talk about community and the concept of loving others, but I wonder if sometimes I get so caught up in looking at the big ways of doing it, or just pondering it theoretically, that I miss so many little opportunities. Truth be told, there are opportunities throughout our daily lives to lift people up, encourage them and love them. How many times do I ignore those opportunities? More than I would like to admit, I think.
"We can do no great things; only small things with great love." -Mother Teresa
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
It's not that I feel an urge to go out and try to fix everyone's problems. For once, I don't feel that way. I know that is not my place. But I am left asking myself, what do I do with this? I sat in that room and became immensely aware of people's pain and God's compassion. That is real, and I cannot ignore it.
Empathy is a gift, I think. And I think that is at the core of what I felt on Sunday. There have been many times in my life when I have felt so strongly what other people are feeling. Combine empathy with intuition, and yes, I absolutely believe it is a gift that God wants to use. Not that I am "special" somehow; I think we each have a gift he wants to use. But perhaps this is mine.
But what do you do with empathy and intuition? As with any gift, some people might use these things to manipulate others. But I don't think that is what empathy and intuition should be used for.
I want to use them to connect with other people. When you can "read" people well, and pick up on their emotions, you are better equipped to come alongside them and encourage them or help them through their problems. You can pray for them with a keen sense of what they are going through.
In fact, it hit me the other day that this is part of what Jesus did in his life here on earth. He became human. He can empathize with our struggles, fears, and joys. And Scripture says he intercedes for us with God.
As I look at the life of Jesus, I am so encouraged by what he did with his empathy and understanding of people. He had compassion. He loved them. He encouraged them. He spoke hard truths when necessary. He didn't let himself become completely overwhelmed by the pain of other people. He intercedes for us.
And so while I am still left wondering how, specifically, God wants to use me, I am not anxious and worried about it. I simply feel led to get to know the people in my life better, to spend time developing relationships with them, and encouraging them when I can, and praying for them. And I know I do not have to let myself get overwhelmed by other people's pain; I can be aware of it, let the feelings run through me, and give it to God.
But one thing is for sure; I cannot go on as though Sunday morning never happened.
Monday, March 7, 2011
After the third song, the music continued playing, and those who wanted to share their prayers or praise were free to speak. The first prayer request brought me to tears. I don’t even know the people who were being spoken of-- I have heard their names but we have never met-- yet the words that were said broke me, and I could not stop myself from crying. As others shared their prayer requests, I suddenly felt the heaviness of the pain and brokenness and suffering represented in the room.
I said nothing; I don’t think I could have said anything in that moment, honestly. I had no words. It is still hard to find the words for how I felt. It was as though all these feelings were rushing through me and I felt so much love and compassion for everyone in the room, and this deep sense of wanting to be there with people through their pain. Not necessarily to make it all better or fix everyone’s problems-- but to be there. To be a friend, to help them through it, to show them the love and compassion of Jesus.
The next song began, and we sang these words: All of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory. And I cried again. In that moment, I saw so clearly the beauty of God’s love and grace in comparison to our pain. We are afflicted, and he has such compassion for us. We are afflicted, and he walks alongside us. We are afflicted, and in the midst of all our pain, his grace is washing over us. Pain hurts, it is not fun-- and yet, even in the midst of pain, there is so much beauty. There is the opportunity for hope, redemption, and grace.
In the past, I have prayed to see people the way God sees them, to love people the way God loves them. And of course I am not arrogant enough to assume that I could ever see people exactly the same way God sees them, because I am not God. But I do believe God wants to let us see people through his eyes and he wants us to have the same heart for them as he does. And in that moment, I truly believe I had a glimpse of God’s heart for us. In our pain, our doubts, our brokenness, our fears, our suffering, our struggles-- he loves us, his compassion is overwhelming, he wants to walk alongside us through it all.
And I felt the beauty of this little community that was gathered together. We are all connected, and we are reaching out to each other in love, bearing each other’s burdens together, empathizing with each other, showing love and compassion. It is so beautiful. Indeed, these afflictions are eclipsed by glory.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
I realize I "shouldn't" be discontent. But let's be honest here, sometimes even though you know all the reasons you shouldn't do a certain thing or feel a certain way, you still struggle with it. And that's where I am, so I'm going to talk honestly about it.
I have spent years now looking toward the next big thing, the next life change, the thing I am so sure will make me happy and more complete. Getting married. Having a baby. Graduating from college. Buying a house. Getting a bigger vehicle. Going back to school. Selling the house. Getting a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Having a big house out in the country with lots of land. Having a comfortable-sized house in town so we will be close to friends and family. Losing another pants size, or three. Getting the newest electronic gadget. Making more money. Having a career I enjoy. And on and on and on.
And it's not just that I am always looking for the next big thing to make me content; it's that I'm looking toward life events and situations to make me content at all. I know those things are not where my sense of happiness and contentment should lie. So why do I succumb to the temptation to put too much stock in those things?
Conventional wisdom says you should plan out where you want to go and then take steps to get there. And I think that can be a good thing. But for people like me who too often equate contentment with getting to the next big goal, this is sometimes less like wisdom and more like a millstone around the neck. Perhaps I need less planning and goal-setting, and more faith, hope, and joy in God.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
I remember being a young child and riding with my grandfather in his pickup truck. He was my dad's dad, he lived with us, and I called him Papaw (much to my mother's chagrin; she would have preferred that I call him Grandpa or Granddad, but one of her friends always referred to him as my Papaw, and the name stuck).
Each day he'd go out in his truck and make his rounds: coffee (and perhaps donuts if I was with him) and a drive through the cemetery where his father was buried. I'd ride along sometimes and we'd listen to the radio, country music. There was a Randy Travis song that always made me think of him.
If the story's told, only heaven knows,
But his hat seemed to me like an old halo.
And although his wings, they were never seen,
I thought that he walked on water.
He was a good man, simple and kindhearted, but could have a sharp tongue when angry. I was always amused, awed, and a bit frightened when he would curse. Once when I was about seven or eight years old, I hid a whoopie cushion in his chair, which he very unsuspectingly sat upon. I swear he jumped ten feet in the air. I can still hear his gruff voice, grumbling, "What the hell was that?" as he looked around the room while the rest of us snickered. Our family actually captured the moment on a home video. I found the video a few months ago, watched it for the first time in years, and laughed.
He always wore blue work shirts, and when he was going out, a button-up sweater and his red and white Robinson's Building Center cap. He chewed Beech-Nut tobacco, and he had false teeth but I don't think I ever saw him wear them. He'd be awake at all hours of the night, unable to stay asleep for long because of arthritis pain. He'd sit and read westerns, and was always ready to talk and tell stories to anyone who'd sit with him for a while. He loved to give to others and kept very little money for himself. He never wanted anyone to pay him back; he just wanted people to remember to help others when they were able.
He passed away eight years ago, on March 1, 2003. He's buried in that same cemetery under a dignified old tree.
And I loved him, and he loved me,
And Lord, I cried the day he died,
'Cause I thought that he walked on water.