Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Cor 4:7-11 (ESV)

My earthen vessel isn’t cracked, it’s smashed.  It’s smashed to dust. And I admit that for a long time I thought there was surely something wrong with me. I felt victimized. I felt wronged.  It wasn’t fair.  It wasn’t right.  I’ve been abused.  I’ve been ravished.   I’ve talked to God about it a lot.  

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8 (ESV) 

If He’s the potter and I’m the clay, then why do I feel like dust? 

Did you know how dust becomes clay?  

“Clays form from millions of years of mineral erosion. Mountains break down into boulders, boulders into rocks, rocks into pebbles, sand, silt and eventually, when the silt reaches a certain size of fineness, an amazing transformation occurs. Instead of just being a loose mix, the fine particles manifest an attraction for water and each other at a molecular level. Clay can be thought of less as a material and more of a behavior, the phenomenon of very finely eroded minerals to agglomerate.” (Webb, Patrick “From Dust We Come: A Look at Clay.” Traditional Building. Feb 14, 2017 https://www.traditionalbuilding.com/opinions/a-look-at-clay)

Today as I began to write and lament about my suffering, the Lord reminded me of a vision he’d given me a few years ago. I saw a beaten and battered up old vase sitting on a pedestal.  Light showed through the cracks and broken places and cast an intricate pattern of spider web designs across the walls.  The room was lit up by them.  

The vision could have ended there for me to know that God was working and making beauty from my brokeness, but God had more to show me.  A huge sledgehammer suddenly came down and smashed the vase, but instead of extinguishing the light, an explosion of vibrant colors filled the room. The walls around it could not contain it, and they crumbled into dust as the light and colors filled the world outside with unimaginable beauty as far as the eye could see.  

As I recalled the vision this afternoon, I heard God say, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

There’s my dust. 

I thought back to the Garden of Eden.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust was a consequence of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had warned Adam and Eve about it, but they didn’t listen.  

Yet I know I’m not suffering the consequences of my sin because I’ve chosen to eat from the tree of life through Jesus instead of the tree of slavery to my own debauchery.  My consequences got paid for on the cross. 

What I’m carrying are the marks of an enemy who hates me.  He hates me because I chose Jesus instead of death.  I chose to eat from the tree of life.  I called BS on the serpent’s lies. 

I think of Jesus, and why He chose to go the cross, and why He called His disciples to do the same.  “And he (Jesus) said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23 ESV) We saw Jesus carry His cross. He couldn’t even do it by himself, he needed help!  It was excruciating, horrifying, and brutal. But necessary.  

Jesus came in the flesh to show us that the pain of this world and the death that it brings doesn’t have to be eternal.  He came to show us that we don’t have to suffer the consequences of Adam and Eve and their bad decision.  We can choose for ourselves to take the fruit of life offered by Him. We can choose life. 

It’s a necessary step, suffering.  It’s the consequence of an evil serpent throwing a tantrum because Jesus has offered us eternal life. Jesus knows that road well. He faced those consequences, too.  He did it for us. He submitted to Satan’s tantrum and said, “Give me your worst!” and Satan obliged Him.  

Jesus’s life wasn’t pretty, and it ended brutally, but resurrection followed!  Jesus gets the last word.  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  And the Word cannot be overcome.  It is life and it is beautiful, and he carries the scars on his own resurrected flesh just to remind us of that.  What a gift.  I’m so thankful for it.  

If I’m to follow him in all things, then I must be willing to accept the crushing with the hope that it will bring resurrection life.  Not because God hates me, but because the world does, and God is not content to let me suffer in vain.  There’s got to be beauty that comes from it, or there’s no point in living at all.  

Jesus showed me that because He experienced it.  He laid down his life willingly so that I could see that all the suffering the enemy could throw at me in this world would not be the end of me.  Because He conquered death, if I follow Him in life, I too shall stand upon the wreckage of death and proclaim eternal life through Him who saved me from it!

Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust. Dust to clay. Clay to life in the Potter’s capable hands.

Hold Me

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Mark 4:35-41

Jesus likes a good nap as much as I do.  But nobody wants Jesus taking a nap in the middle of a storm.  Like, Dude, we know you’re God and all, but hello, there’s a storm and we’re probably all gonna die, don’t you think you ought to take a nap later?!  

I get it.  The disciples were scared.  Of course they were.  Because it looked like Jesus didn’t care about their needs, or their lives, or their troubles as much as he cared about his nap.  

You’ve been there, haven’t you?  In those times where you feel like God doesn’t care.  Like He’s too busy taking care of other more important things, or that he’s so far removed from you that He can’t even see the storms you’re facing, what with all the angels and clouds and harps and stuff being all distracting up in Heaven.

But that’s just not God.  

Jesus and I have been talking a lot about this lately.  Storms are such a common part of my life.  If it’s not one thing then it’s another.  Health.  Finances.  Kids.  Jobs.  War.  Famine.  Strife.  Why isn’t God doing something?!  It’s like He’s asleep on the job.

So, the other night, my husband and I were faced with one of those big scary storms. See, we always get a little stressed out when it’s forecasted to rain a lot.  Back in 2016 our basement flooded and it traumatized us a little bit.  We’ve taken steps to keep the basement from flooding, but we still get antsy when the forecast calls for a lot of rain.  

So I went to the Lord and I said, “Jesus.  Please don’t let our basement flood.”  

His response was beautiful.  He said, “Come and cuddle here with me in the boat.  Let’s have a nap together.”

I admit it wasn’t the answer I was looking for.  Not at all, honestly.  But this crazy nonsense peace fell over me.  I told my husband what He said and we literally decided to just go to bed and stop worrying about it.  I slept like a baby.  And in the morning everything was fine.  No flooded basement.

That’s who Jesus is. Getting us through our storms is what He does.

Jesus asked His disciples why they didn’t trust Him.  He’s God.  He doesn’t need to be awake to calm the storm.  He knows it’s raging.  He’s God.  And we are safe in His arms.  So safe.  But the disciples still marveled over Him.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

So, that’s my question for you today.  Who is this Jesus? The one the winds and waves obey? Will you trust Him to lead you and protect you from the storms in your life? When he offers, will you go and cuddle into a good nap with Him the next time the storm clouds rumble and the waves rock you? 

Who is this Jesus? He is God. He is savior. He is yours to trust. Will you trust Him?

The Persistent Widow

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Luke 18:1-8 

I’ve often thought of the parable Jesus taught regarding the widow and the unjust judge.  For years the Lord told me that when I prayed for my husband to be saved that I was like the persistent widow, who refused to take no for an answer.  However, the Lord just now gave me a deeper perspective on that story, and I believe it is for all of us.  

I always assumed that the unjust judge was God in the story, but what if the unjust judge is the lost person and the unfortunate widow is us, and Christ is the ever present “go between”.  

If we consider the story from that perspective I believe we can see how our persistent prayer for the lost person prompts Jesus to act.  After all it is Christ who does the speaking to a man’s heart.  And the more time He spends speaking to that person, the more likely that person will eventually give in, which in turn brings the justice the widow is seeking.  And that justice, of course, is Christ, who carries justice against sin upon his own body for the widow and the unjust judge.  Wow!

I am absolutely blown away by the thought of this.  Our prayers are of paramount importance!  We must indeed be the persistent widow.  Pray pray pray!  Our persistence is powerful in the work of Christ to save the Lost.  We must never give up on seeking justice, even from the unjust judge.  He needs justice so desperately, and only Christ can truly give it.

Our prayers have power, and so do our words.  We must spend our time learning and growing in Christ, through prayer and petition, knowing that our prayers are being answered even if you never see the evidence of it.

I know first hand how hard that is.  But God is so gracious to give us the faith we need to trust Him in these things.  Our secret prayers.  Our audacious requests for the salvation of many, will never go unread or unheard by God.  Instead, our words, spoken in private to Our Daddy, bring about a gathering of angel armies to stand against the forces of evil that keep the Lost from hearing the truth.  We have that power within us by the Spirit of the Living God.  

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

Desperately Seeking Jesus

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been one of the craziest years in our lifetime!  Political polarization.  Racial injustice.  Riots.  Murders.  Masks.  Earthquakes.  Fires.  Flooding.  Volcanic eruptions. Zoom meetings.  

In times like this, we are all looking to God for answers.  But how do we hear Him?  What do we even ask him?  And what is His response?

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1

Sounds about right.

We desperately seek Him.  We want Him.  We know we need Him.  We cry out to him and yet the air is dry and thick around us.  It doesn’t feel like it’s even possible to hear from God in this mess.

But here’s what David did in Psalm 63:

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.
Psalm 63:2-4

If I can’t feel God now, I will look for Him where I have seen Him.  I will remind myself of who He is.  I will remember that His Love supersedes all fear, all trials, all division.  I will remember and I will give myself to Him again.  Fresh with praise, I will seek the Lord and the promise of His unfailing love.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:5-8

And my praise turns to meditation.  It turns to the recollections of faithfulness that have been the hallmark of my relationship with Christ.  At night my mind stops wondering about the world and rests instead in the peace of God’s unending faithfulness.  

It’s so hard to feel God when we are in the midst of worldly trials.  Pain and conflict or hard to surrender to God because our flesh isn’t going to stop hurting just because we trust God’s faithfulness.  

Yet, in the agony, in the tumult of the storm, God is still with us.  

As David began to reflect on who God was instead of what God could give him, he began to feel a praise-worthy peace in his soul.  God had proven himself faithful to David.  Always faithful.  David could trust that even though his situation was dire and his weary, desperate heart was parched with raw emotion and fear, God would remain ever faithful.

We can trust that, too.  Even with the world falling down around us.

The trials will not stop in this lifetime.  Not until Jesus returns.  So we cling to Him.  We hold onto His promises.  We remember His faithfulness in our own lives.  We look back on our journey and see His provision and salvation.  We see Him.  And we know that in our current struggles he will remain faithful, just as he always has. 

The riots.  The politics.  The fear.  The desolations of this world.  They don’t matter anymore to the one who finds his peace in the shelter of the Almighty.  God’s wings are broad enough to cover all who would seek refuge there.  

But those who seek to destroy my life
    shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
    they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
    all who swear by him shall exult,
    for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Psalm 63:9-11

And so we can rejoice.  God will have his way.  He is speaking.  He is acting.  He is doing all that He has always done.  He is faithful and His steadfast love is better than life.  So reach out your hands to the ones who are drowning, to the ones who are desperately crying out for salvation, and bring them to the Savior.  

Because at the end of the day, most of our questions to God can be paired down to this simple request: “Will you save me?”

And God’s answer is always, “Yes.”

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

The God of Jacob

The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:7

I have put all my trust in the God of Jacob.  But why the God of Jacob?  Why not “The God of Israel”.  That’s the question I can’t stop contemplating.  When you stop and think about it, something very specific is being magnified in that verse.  It’s the God of Jacob who is my fortress.

Jacob came out of the womb holding his twin brother’s heel.  His mother named him Jacob because the name meant to grab the heel of another person, or literally to supplant or trick someone out of something.  And Jacob’s name characterized him from the beginning.

Let’s look at him for a moment.  What is Jacob known for?  He tricked his brother out of his birthright.  He tricked his father-in-law out of his livestock. He was lied to and treated unfairly.  He was terrified and hid from his brother for years out of fear of retribution.  And then he wrestled with God and demanded a blessing.  

So, to recap: Jacob was a liar, a trickster, a scaredy cat, and a control freak who thought it was perfectly fine to make demands of God, steal from his family, and hide and run away from his enemies.

And it’s the God of Jacob that is our fortress.

Is it sinking in yet?  The God of Jacob is our fortress.  The God of the trickster, liar, coward, narcissist, control freak is our fortress.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with God about how unworthy I am.  I get hard on myself.  I’m overly critical.  I’m a perfectionist that fails at perfection on a daily–no, hourly–basis.  To chase a rabbit for a minute, sometimes I think that the only reason God loves me is because of Jesus.  Seems like a fair statement.  

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

So before Jesus I wasn’t good enough for God.  Right?  Not quite.  

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

So, he died for us while we were his enemies, while we were sinners.  Before He died for us He loved us.  And we know that because of Jacob.  (And a million other people in the Old Testament who were equally awful.)  We know that God loves us before and after our salvation.  

The God of Jacob is our fortress because God made a promise to Abraham and God doesn’t break His promises.  

 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram,[b] but your name shall be Abraham,[c] for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Genesis 17:1-8

The next time you think God isn’t with you because of what you’ve done, I want you to remember this one simple fact:  The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  

And who are we?  We are made by God with an offer to accept the rights of God’s promise to Abraham.  God made a way for us (and we know that way to be Jesus) and in that we have salvation from our enemies, even if your enemy is yourself.  

The God of Jacob is our fortress. It’s liberating, isn’t it? 

Be Still

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalms 1:2

I’ve had a season of introspection.  I think a lot of us have.  Isolation in uncertain times does that to a person, I guess.  My thoughts have kept me from some things and for a time I beat myself up over it, but as I talked to others and listened to their struggles I discovered that I wasn’t alone in that either.  

Being alone isn’t as lonely as it seems, I suppose.

I could have gotten lost in my work.  I could have buried myself in a never ending pile of distractifying, unfulfilling, money making.  But I didn’t.  And I kind of hated myself for it.  Being unproductive with no excuse is definitely guilt inducing.

I could have drowned my fear and anxiety in the solace of sweets and baking and endless bottomless glasses of wine.  Let’s be honest, I did that a little bit, and then I felt a guilty about that, too.

I could have plugged my ears and stomped my feet and sang songs really, really loud until everything went back to normal.  Yes, I did that, too, and felt the sorrow of denial in the days that followed.

I started thinking about all the things I had been doing to try and be normal, to try and carry on, to try and adapt and take advantage of my time in lock down.  None of it mattered.  Like the false bravado of a little yapping dog, it had no real power to protect me, or soothe me, or heal me.  

Even the things I thought I could do for God seemed to fall short in my mind.  I wasn’t writing.  I wasn’t reading the Bible enough.  I judged my prayers as selfish and unsatisfying.  I beat myself up for not helping other people better navigate this crazy pandemic.

But I just couldn’t muster up enough of anything to do much.  I just sat there.  In the stillness.  In the nothing.  I didn’t want the fear, the shame, or the guilt.  I didn’t want to be busy.  I just wanted it all to be over! 

I don’t like pandemics, and injustice, and death, and unemployment.  I don’t like any of it. It’s not the Kingdom of God and I want the Kingdom of God more than I want anything, and all I can manage to do is say, “I can’t do anything about this, God!”

But there is value in the stillness.  God is unveiling it bit by bit.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  The treasure comes in surrender.

Beautiful, honest, end of myself surrender.

My meditations have become Jesus focused.  I started reciting Psalm 23 in my head over and over again every night when I went to sleep.  It’s led to better sleep.  It’s led to deeper trust.  Each time I recite it, I pray the words to the Lord.  I meditate on the truth of his love and steadfastness.  

I’m memorizing more scripture.  I just want it all in my head.  I want to breathe it in and live by it.  I know the Word.  I’ve been studying the Bible for years.  But I want more than that.  In my surrender I want to revel in the knowledge that Jesus is my everything.  

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

The Word made flesh became the flesh made words, and in those words I have begun to meditate day and night.  

I need my Jesus and I found Him palpably again in the flesh of His Word.  I’m losing my desire to judge my inaction or the inaction or injustice of others.  I just soak Him up in myself.  I let Him be enough.  I let Him be everything.  His Glory, His Fullness, His Might is coming alive in me in a deepness I have yet to fully know.  

It’s hard to believe that such scary times could bring such a deep closeness with the Lord, especially since I honestly kept thinking about how miserably ineffective I had been in regard to my Christian walk.  I was so caught up in judging my inaction and insecurity, and judging my sporadic moments of faith and action as not near enough to prove my love to my Savior.  And yet His answer all along has been, “Be still and know that I am God.”

I’m working on memorizing Psalm 46 right now.  I’d gotten the first part down a couple years ago and then gave up because, well, memorizing is hard.  I’m back at it now, though, with renewed trust that the meditations of my heart are now drawing me closer and closer to the Lord of Hosts.  He truly is my fortress and my strength.  I don’t need to do anything else.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:10-11

I’m the Girl Who Trusted Jesus: a Glimpse into My Missionary Dating Story

Twenty-six years ago I was a Christian but had never had any discipleship.  I had no growth.  I had no spiritual maturity.  I barely knew the Bible.  I was a good person.  I knew Jesus as savior and when I met a man who seemed to love God more than anything else in the world I married him.  And then I learned that the man I married was so zealous for God he was willing to do anything to prove it to him.  I married a zealous jihadist Muslim with a lust for martyrdom.

Two years later he came to Christ.

And that’s always what people remember when they hear our testimony.  See, I got so desperate for my husband to know Jesus as his savior, that all I could do was pray.  I literally had nowhere else to turn.  I had no background in apologetics.  I had no mentorship in my walk with Jesus.  I had nothing but the Holy Spirit of God within me and a passion to see my husband saved from eternal death.  So I prayed.  And I asked everyone who made eye contact with me to pray, too.

That’s what people hold onto.  That’s the part they remember about me.  They call me a mighty prayer warrior.  And a godly saint who prayed her husband to Jesus.

Yes, I did that.  But that’s not what I want people to know about me.  That’s not my story.  It never has been.

My story is about a girl who fell in love with Jesus when she was 5 years old but never learned anything beyond that.  My story is a girl who in desperation sought the Lord and He answered her.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 34:4

I had nothing else.  Nowhere to turn.  No argument.  No help.  I had nothing but desperate pleas to the only One who had any power to do anything to help me:  Jesus.

I knew I’d made a mistake when I married my husband.  And no one ever wants to hear that part.  People who hear our testimony see the beauty that came from our ashes, but they don’t want to look at the ashes.  They want to see a hero when they see me.  They don’t want to see the broken girl that had nothing more to offer God than a broken and repentant heart and a desperate cry for help.

Sadly, stories come to me all the time from women who want to date or marry Muslim men in the hope that they can be like me.  This breaks my heart.  It should not be! 

Those two years before my husband’s salvation were the most painful and agonizing years of my life.  Dating a Muslim man or woman (or anyone who doesn’t know Jesus) is not the way to win them to Jesus.  It is arrogant and foolish.  You have no power to save anyone.  And neither did I.  It wasn’t me who saved my husband from Islam.  

Repentance and prayer.  That’s what invited my Lord into my problem.  That’s what got my Lord’s attention:  I came to the end of myself.  I gave up trying to fix the problem on my own.  I had a desperate need for His intervention.  I admitted I was wrong and I asked Him to fix it.  And He did.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling
Isaiah 30:15

I was willing to admit there was nothing I could do.  But so many people are unwilling.  The Isrealites referenced above were unwilling. Humbling yourself is hard. It means admitting you were wrong.  It means admitting you can’t do it on your own.

 But I beg you to try!  Humble yourself and recognize your helplessness.  If you can’t humble yourself, ask God to help you!  Only the Lord can save you.  Not only does He save us from our sin, He rescues us from our mistakes.  He guides us out of the pits we throw ourselves in and restores us when we put our trust and hope in Him.

That’s what I want people to know about me.  That’s how I want to be remembered.  I’m the girl who was willing.  I’m the girl who realized I could do nothing without Jesus.  I’m the girl who cried out for forgiveness and asked for help.  I’m the girl who trusted Jesus and I’m the girl who trusts Him still.  

Don’t trust me.  Trust Him.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

I’m coming up to the one year anniversary of my surgery. The surgery that “should have” killed me. God had another plan. But reflecting on the time leading up to it, I can see how God was speaking to me and comforting me. And a year later, I am alive.

Broken Alabaster Jar

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
Psalms 23:4

The thought of dying is scary.  Trust me, it is. No matter how much faith and trust in the Lord a person has, facing mortality is hard.  Fear of pain, compassion for the family and friends left behind, all the things you’ve left undone. It is a lot to carry.

As I’ve endured this very hard season in my life.  (Hard season is what I’ve been calling this tremendous trial of pain and suffering, by the way.)  I have cried out to God in anger, fear, frustration, hope, trust, love. A range of emotions that varies moment to moment.

Dying is that inevitability that we all face. And it still sucks.  I’ve been sick for so long, slowly…

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A Friend of God

People call me a deeply spiritual person.  A prayer girl.  A friend of God.  Someone who is praying continuously.  I’ve been proud of that.  I like that about myself.  And I suck at it. 

I get angry.  I get irritated.  I get frustrated.  People are stupid and most of the time I throw my hands up in the air with aggravation rather than deal with them.  A problem comes up and I try to handle it with love and kindness.  I try to be a peacemaker.  I really, really do.  Yet, I fail at it miserably all the time.  Because people are stupid.  And so am I.

I’m not nearly as spiritual as I think I am.  I’m not near as good of a friend to God as people think I am.  I’m not continually praying, even when I think I am.  I get distracted by emotion.  I get distracted by myself and my circumstances.  I turn into a victim or a tyrant or even a peacemaker and forget to bring God into the conversation at all.  

No wonder I fail miserably so often!

12We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,c encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Abstain from every form of evil.

23Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

The other night the Lord said something to me that I can’t stop thinking about.  With all the kindness and tenderness of the sweetest southern gentleman, the Lord asked if I would invite him into the conversation.  The Lord asked me!  Wow.  The King of the Universe lovingly asked me if He could be a part of my conversations.  All of them.  

He didn’t ask me to be quiet.  He didn’t ask me to stop getting frustrated or angry or self righteous. He just asked me if He could be part of my conversations.  No judgement.  No criticism.  Just a gentle request.

I know I don’t invite Him in because deep down inside I think I’ve got it all figured out.  Either that, or I think He won’t like what I have to say, or He’ll stop me from having a voice at all.  He’s the Creator of All Things.  He doesn’t need me or want my opinion.  

What a filthy lie. 

The truth is, the God of the Universe made me in His image to be His friend.  And He loves me!  He doesn’t want a silent slave.  He wants a full fledged son with all the rights of inheritance He has given His Son.  All of it.

And He had to ask me to invite Him into the conversation.

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:15

Jesus, I confess that I’ve not been very good at inviting you into my conversations.  I’ve tried to figure things out on my own.  I’ve lived huge parts of my life only letting You in occasionally.  And I didn’t even realize I was doing it.  So, I’m sorry, Lord.  I’m sorry for not inviting You in.  I took Your forgiveness and neglected Your wisdom.  Please forgive me.  Help me to do better.  Destroy my fear and insecurity.  Destroy my arrogance and any power I think I can manage without Your input.  It’s all Yours, God.  Every bit of who I am You designed.  It’s Your DNA that made me.  Will You show me how to invite You in and still be me?  Will You show me what freedom in sonship looks like?  Will You teach me how to be in You more fully and trust You more deeply so that You are always a part of my conversations.  Always.  I love you, Jesus.  Help me act like it.  Amen.

Breath of Life

 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature
Genesis 2:7

If you follow my blog, or know me well in person, then you know that I was on a ventilator last year for almost two weeks.  (You can read all the details about it here) I don’t remember it.  Not really anyway.   All I know is that everyone but my husband knew I was going to die.  It was a grievous time.  People flocked to the hospital to give their respects.  To say goodbye.  To offer comfort.  Doctors told my husband to say goodbye to me multiple times.

People say that the ventilator kept me alive.   People are saying that a lot right now because of Covid-19.  Hospitals need ventilators to breathe for people and keep them alive.  But the source of life will never be a ventilator. 

The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
1 Samuel 2:6

When you need a ventilator they have to restrain you so you don’t do something stupid while you’re heavily sedated.  (Like I did when I self extubated and should have died…you can read more about that fun story here.)  And the Church has definitely been restrained.  Public gatherings have been shut down. 

Jesus has shown me the Church as it gasps for breath. In these wretched days, a ventilator seems like the only thing that will keep us alive, whether we’ve gotten sick or not.  Bills need to be paid.  Congregations need comfort and encouragement.  How can any of this happen while we practice social distancing?  Zoom can’t be our new normal, can it? It’s just a stop gap, right?  Until we can breathe on our own again, right?

But, wait a second.  Are we even supposed to be breathing on our own?

Jesus Christ is the breath of life.

When I self-extubated my lungs should have collapsed.  Instead I began to breathe “on my own.”  But here’s a news flash, folks:  I know full well I wasn’t breathing on my own.  Jesus breathed for me.

I pray that the beautiful body of Christ would stop looking for ventilators.  I know it seems logical.  I know it makes sense from human standards.  I know that a ventilator kept me alive last Summer.  But Jesus showed me that He alone keeps me alive.  He alone is my breath.  He alone is our breath.

“Do you think that’s air you’re breathing now?” ~ Morpheus, The Matrix (1999)

 

Maybe being extubated is exactly what we need.  We know right now that we can’t breathe on our own.  We just can’t.  All the things we keep doing are helpful, even encouraging to us.  We want to do something.  We need to do something.  It helps us feel like we are contributing to the life of the Church still somehow.  If we keep those tubes of action in place we don’t have to die.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

Zoom and Facebook and YouTube have been useful and beautiful.  Wanting to live has value!  And these tools have shown us what matters and what doesn’t.  My prayer is that they don’t become just another way for us to live without Jesus.

I can tell you, I shouldn’t be alive. Not by human wisdom.  But Jesus could care less about human wisdom, and so I am alive.  

Can we trust Him in this?  Can we look to the Breath of Life for our resuscitation?  Can we trust Him?  Will we trust Him?  

Lord, thank you for Zoom and Facebook.  Thank you for exhorters and encouragers who say hard things.  Thank you for teachers and pastors who tenderly show us the Word of Life and offer us comfort.  Thank you for servants who weep for our needs in prayer and give beyond their means financially to support the Church.  Thank you, Father, that each member is a part of one body, Your Body.  Thank you that each of us brings something unique and beautiful to this mess that is the Church.  Help us to love one another and consider others higher than ourselves.  Let us love without judgment.  Let us trust that You are working even when we can’t seem to work together or have opposing points of view.  You are on Your Throne and that is something that we can all agree with.  Bring us unity.  Restore Your Church, Heavenly Father.  Bring Jesus back.  Set things right once and for all. Breathe for us, Daddy. Amen.