The Land of Opportunity

This is a repost of a blog I wrote four years ago…right after I returned from Thailand to visit Hannah while she was on her mission trip around the world.  It is still accurate.

IMG_9772 I have spent the last year learning about the world. Through the eyes of my daughter, I have seen amazing and sometimes heart wrenching stories of poverty, slavery, and abandonment. I have gone half way around the world to see them for myself. Looking into hopeless eyes causes you to see things differently. They are like mirrors which show you your own reflection. What I saw there was disheartening to me. My ungratefulness for my blessings, my assumptions, the opportunities I have squandered away, all of it became crystal clear in the midst of the futility that blankets the red light district in Thailand. The traps, cycles, and living conditions are beyond anything I have ever seen.   To the people who live along this street it is how life is. There is no striving to make a different way. There is only life as they have known it, life as it is.

The ‘Land of Opportunity’ took on a whole new meaning for me this year. I guess I never thought about what the lack of opportunity would look like. It is built into our culture that you can be whatever you want to be if you work hard enough. You are only limited here if you lack vision. In other countries, you are born into your life. There is no question as to what you will do. To break away and do something different is rare. I have seen some beautiful stories of resilience among the poverty, but they are the exception not the rule. It is hard to describe how much appreciation this gave me for my own country. Don’t get me wrong, I know we have our problems…our divisions, and poverty, and social issues. I get that, but the choices we have are unending. We argue with one another because we are allowed to think for ourselves. We are a part of the process of deciding how we live our own lives. We have a say. Poor people here have TVs, bathrooms, and refrigerators for the most part. Our children are not usually sold into slavery. We do not have their kidneys harvested for money. We do not abandon them to the streets. Little girls are not forced to have sex night and day while being held captive. There is a chance that if you are born into poverty here you can get out of it. Hope lives here.

ImageI see why America seems like a beacon of light for so many who long to move here. They love our country without even knowing it. In America, we are free. In America, you can be anything. America is powerful. America is the Land of Opportunity to anyone who dares to dream of such a thing. People flock to see the “Americans” when you walk down the street in other countries. You have superstar status just because of where you are from. They ask questions about our clothes, our homes…our lives. They dream of having what we have…not necessarily in a material sense, they know well how to live without…they long for the freedoms we have. To speak freely. To pursue happiness. To gather. To worship. To be whatever they choose.

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All of this made me wonder what have I done with the opportunity I was born with. It also made me so very grateful for those men and women who have fought to keep us free. Have their sacrifices been wasted on me? Has the blood they spilled been in vain? It is Memorial Day…a day to honor those who died in battle, or as a result of their service. This year I get it. I have always attempted to pay my respects, but this year I see the true cost…and the benefits I have reaped my entire life from the price that was paid. My eyes are open in a new way. I cannot tell you how blessed we are. I cannot tell you how different life could be if I had been born in a different place on the globe. I cannot tell you how petty many of my complaints are, and how childish I am for not fully grasping how amazing our country is. Today I thank God for my country…and for those who knew this long before I did…and gave their lives in hopes that one day I would SEE it.

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God, bless those men and women…bless their families. Strengthen them. Show them the fruits of their sacrifices. Thank you for this land of opportunity. Thank you for hope, and choices, and freedom. Thank you for the men and women who died to give them to me…even when I didn’t get it. Amen.

Shafts of Light

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The light spills through my window.  It pours across the room illuminating the tops of candles as if they are lit.  It falls on the wall creating a secret golden window that leads to another world.  A world where light surrounds and permeates.  Where uncertainty is banished and heaviness is lifted.  A place I long for.

Outside my window shafts of light tumble through the trees.  The mist filters graceful beams through shades of green, which glow.  The arms of the trees reach for me, and beckon me to breathe in the light, only I don’t know how.

My chest is constricted.  Stomach in knots.  Sleep flees.  Exhaustion, my companion.  My only companion.  The one who understands, but does not relent.  Shafts of light beg me to pay attention.  Invite me into the secret world through the golden window.  Walls and doors all close.  The window is open.  Breathe the light.  If only I could ride shafts of light…

Repurposed

This is a continuation of a story I posted yesterday entitled Repurposed. To follow this post you first need to read part 1.   

A Story (Part 2) 

At dawn, The Father rushed to the workshop to see the completed work. He stopped in his tracks.  Never had he been so glad to see his son, who was carefully polishing the wood.  The Man embraced The Father in a bear hug.  The two stood there, until The Wind blew them apart with a gentle breeze.  They circled the finished work, admiring the sheen.

“I can see your reflection,” said The Father.

“That was the plan,” replied The Man.

Looking at the scars of The Man, The Father asked, “Was it worth it?”

“Absolutely.  Just look at the result! A masterpiece. It takes my breath away,” beamed The Man.

“Shall we send the invitations then?” asked The Father.

“Yes, Father.  Let’s prepare The Table!”

garden table

With that, they carried The Table out into the garden among the trees and flowers. It stood within an open-air glass gazebo in the center of the garden. When the sunlight hit The Table, it nearly glowed.  The warm crimson color was rich and full and deep. It was ablaze with a luminous radiance that made The Man burst into laughter with great joyfulness.  The garden erupted in song as the birds danced on The Wind which encircled The Table. As a centerpiece, The Man set a loaf of bread torn into bite sized pieces, and a cup of wine.

“Where is the rest?  If there is to be a wedding, we need a feast!” proclaimed The Father.

The Man smiled and said, “Consider this the appetizer.  The main course is yet to come!”

bread and wine

Oh my Beloved,  Do not think you are worthless, set aside, and abandoned in the dark corners of your life. You cannot be hidden from me under a tarp in darkness.  On the contrary.  You are seen.  You are loved.  You have great purpose.  You do not belong in the barn, do not let The Owner convince you otherwise. (He is not really The Owner…his real name is The Deceiver, and he does not truly own anything! ) You are bought and paid for.  I bathe you in my word to remove the ilk that has covered you.  I disassemble you in order to see you better, sothe healing will be complete.  I scrub down through the layers peeling away each one, removing the old colors that were so unbecoming.  Beloved, there is no need to hide them with another layer, when I can remove them altogether.

The sanding of your life takes time. The roughness of the grit smooths out the gouges and scrapes, and it hurts.  Each successive rubbing feels less intense though, and the resulting dust is evidence of your progress in the process. What remains is a life which is raw and real, and covered in dust. I wash you in my word to remove the vestiges of the old wounds and scars. It feels refreshing to be clean, unencumbered and beautiful, but I am not finished.  You will be a masterpiece when I am done, because I always finish what I start.

I will cover you with a protective coating before I begin to reassemble your life.  The pounding seems harsh, I know.  It seems as if it will never end, and as the nails go in you feel as if you are being crucified…because you are. But without the nails you will fall apart.  Without the nails, you remain in pieces.  The nails are the key to holding you together.  I do not take this step lightly. Brokenness is never easy, but it is necessary. It causes me pain to think you might not understand the necessity of such work.  I sweat more with each nail inserted, but I want you to know each one is important to your purpose.  I do not add them frivolously or needlessly.

Once you are reassembled, The Father stains you with my blood.  I was happy to give it up for you, my love, so that all the richness of your life could be displayed.  You are worth every drop. The Father covers each piece one by one, saturating your life. The result is depth and fullness.  Restoration and renewal.  Hope and healing.  The Wind of the Spirit seals the work by breathing on you.  As The Wind blows, the sheen on your life increases.  Soon my reflection is clear in the finish, and it serves as an invitation to others around you.

Do you not believe I can repurpose your mess into beauty?  Give you beauty for ashes?  It is my specialty to locate messes and create masterpieces out of them.  Masterpieces which draw others to come and enter into communion, as well. Then communion gives birth to community and my bride grows in beauty.  Right now, you may doubt I can do this for you, or that I will.  You do not think yourself worthy of such artistry, but I disagree.  I know your worth, Beloved, even if you do not.  I say you are worth every drop of my blood, sweat, and tears.  You are worth the cross and the tomb.  You are worth resurrecting!

Resurrection is simply death… repurposed.      

Repurposed

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A Story (Part 1)

A Man arrived at an old barn in his faded jeans and flannel shirt.  His kind eyes were piercing.  His smile, quick to surface.  He had a purposeful gait, but was not in a hurry.  As he stepped into the barn, he waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light.  The Owner caught up to him, as he perused the junk within.

“May I help you find something, sir?” asked The Owner.

“No, thanks. I will know it when I see it,” replied The Man.

He continued his quest, stopping to look at each piece as if it were the only one.  He slid his hands across desks to feel the grain of the wood.  He pulled the drawers of dressers out to see if they were stuck.  Wardrobes were opened and closed and opened again.  His eyes scoured the wood for imperfections, but also for character.  He made mental note of scratches and chips as well as the richness of the grain.

The Owner of the barn grew uncomfortable with The Man’s attention to detail.  It was obvious he knew furniture, and even more so that he was familiar with each type of wood. The Man rubbed an old trunk with a cloth he had in his pocket, as if to polish it, when The Owner spoke up with a sneer.

“Sir, I must insist that you not do that.  It makes the old furniture look new and folks come here for antiques.  Now, what can I help you find?”

“I am merely looking at the potential of each piece by removing the grime and dirt,” answered The Man.

“Ah, so you refinish furniture then?  I have just the piece for you, sir.  What about this old dresser here? Isn’t she a beaut? Of course, being in a barn with the humidity the drawers are stuck closed, but they would do better if it were inside,” said The Owner.

The Man gazed at the piece.  He noted the wood and the sticky drawers.  The hardware was missing, so there was no way to get into them. He smiled at the smooth talking Owner.

“Not refinishing exactly, I prefer to think of it as repurposing…taking an old beat up piece and giving it a new purpose,” then he continued, “It would take more than moving this inside to get the drawers to open.  This is quite a project.”

“Is it beyond your ability, sir?  I am sorry.  I have some easier items to deal with which do not require such work.  I pegged you as a carpenter with great skill by the way you were looking at each piece.” Moving deeper into the barn, The Owner pointed out a bookshelf against the back wall.  Brushing the cobwebs from it, he told The Man, “This requires a simple sanding and a coat of paint.”

“How would you know?  You do not repurpose furniture; you merely sit it in here to decay.  And why would I paint that beautiful wood?” asked The Man.

“Well, sir that just shows what you know,” The irritated Owner said.  “This shelf has scrapes and scratches in it which need to be covered over.  Paint is the way to make it look like new. You can see I am right by the layers already on it. Obviously, I am not the only one who paints to improve a piece.”

The Man just shook his head, refusing to argue with The Owner. Instead he replied, “No. This is not the piece I am looking for today.”

His eyes caught a glimpse of a shadow in the corner of the barn, but as he moved towards it, The Owner jumped in front of him and said, “Sir, allow me to show you another piece.”

Undeterred, The Man continued to move towards the shadow, his piercing eyes fixed upon it.  The Owner chattered incessantly, trying every technique to dissuade him from his path.  Once standing in the shadow, The Man saw the item was covered with a tarp.

“What is under this tarp?” he asked.

“Nothing sir.  I have many more items for you to look at.  A man such as yourself cannot be bothered with a project such as that.  It is too much for you,” The Owner stated.

“I beg to differ, there is no project that is too much for me,” said The Man. As he pulled back the tarp, dust flew in a million directions.  “This is the piece I have been seeking.  It is perfect for what I need.”

Incredulous, The Owner replied, “Sir, how can that be?  It is just a pile of wood. It is completely undone. Nothing much to look at, and even less useful.”

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“In its present condition it is true.  But I see beyond the mess.  This is exactly what I am looking for.  I’ll take it!” proclaimed The Man.

“But wouldn’t you like something better suited for you?  This is so much work.  It will take all of your efforts to repurpose this one,” whined The Owner.

“I determine what I am willing to give, not you!  I will do whatever is necessary to complete this project.”  The Man picked up the shabby pieces of wood.  He headed towards the door, but The Owner blocked his way.

“Sir, I cannot let you have that piece.”

“Step aside.  This piece belongs to me.  I do not care the condition, or the amount of work required.  I will be taking it with me.  It is already paid for, as is every piece in this barn.  Do not stand in my way, or you will regret it,” The Man said, with fire in his eyes.

Swallowing hard, The Owner stepped aside as The Man carried the wood into the blinding light of the day.  He dared not step out into the light, instead he stepped back into the dim barn, sliding the door closed with a bang.

When The Man got the piece to his workshop he opened the doors and windows to let in the fresh air and sunshine.  He began to look over each section of wood.  It was true that the piece was a mess.  The dust alone was enough to make the shafts of light dance, as it floated down to the floor.  Pulling each plank of lumber into his hands, the man carefully examined it for blemishes. He was not intimidated by what he found. He took a washcloth with warm water and began rubbing.  When the water in the bucket got too dirty, he simply refilled it with fresh and continued bathing.  Once he finished, he stood back to determine just how to proceed.  The wood had layers and layers of paint that was chipped and scratched.  It was in rough shape.

“It’s going to have to come off,” he said to no one in particular.  He knew to pull out the true beauty of the wood he would have to strip it all the way down until it was completely unfinished.  He began the work of stripping all the old layers off.  It was an arduous process which took days to complete, but he was not once discouraged.  He even hummed as he worked, because he knew what it would look like in the end. The scraping created a bigger mess than it was the beginning.  Each layer seemed to cling to the wood, refusing to let go.  Each time, he used force to scrape away the dross.  His hands blistered, but he continued in his pursuit.

Once the layers were gone, he smiled and whispered, “That’s much better.  Now you can breathe again.”

“Talking to your wood, again?” asked a voice.

“Ha ha, yes, Father, you caught me talking to the wood, again,” said The Man.

“This piece has kept you busy, but I think it is going to be worth the effort, don’t you agree?” asked The Father.

“Yes, I do believe it will be worth it, in the end,” smiled The Man.

The father gazed at his son and looked deeply into his eyes.  “You’re sure you want to finish it?”

“I have never been more sure, Father,” stated The Man.

“Good.  Let’s get on with it then.  Let the sanding begin!”

The two of them began, The Man using everything The Father had taught him. The Father was happy to be working together on this project. The rough paper created dust as it scratched and ground the wood into powder. The two worked together side by side, for hours on this piece. The Man ignored the splinters which found their way into his hands. He continued to work into the night, refusing sleep.  The Father smiled gently as he left The Man to finish his work.

Each board was handled separately three or more times, from rough to fine, until it was smooth as silk.   Another bath to wash off the dust, and it was ready for the next step.  The first coat of stain was wiped on with great care. Lovingly even.  Each piece was checked and rechecked for complete coverage. Even though The Man was exhausted from his work, he still paid very close attention to details, while humming a slow haunting tune to himself.

As he reassembled the piece carefully, his hands were bleeding.  Each plank was like the piece of a puzzle and had to be put in a particular place.  Each nail was pounded in a specific way. Drops of sweat covered his face while he worked.  It was a grueling process, and a stranger might have wondered if the pounding was ruining the work.  However, there was no stranger watching; The Man was all alone. He knew, without the nails the whole thing would fall apart.  No, the pounding of the nails was essential to the finished work. Finally, when it was ready for the final coat of stain he stood back, smiled, and cut off the light.

In the morning, The Father came into the workshop.  Alone.  He carried a bucket of stain with him.  He opened the workshop door with a solemn look upon his face.  He gently rubbed his hand over the work of his son and a soft smile curled his lips slightly.

“That boy.  He sure knew what he was doing.  This is going to be spectacular.  His best work yet.” he said to no one in particular.

The Father dipped a cloth into the stain, and allowed it to become saturated.  He placed it on the piece, and the crimson tint soaked into the wood like a sponge.  Each dip into the bucket brought a deeper red color which he rubbed into each board.  As he worked, The Father grew more and more sorrowful.  Before long, his tears were mixing with the stain as he cried.  The circular rubbing motion spread the tear-filled red tinge to every grain in the wood, it covered every pound mark and every nick.  Everyplace he put his hand was filled with crimson, and he continued to work until the entire piece was completely covered and the bucket was empty.  Poured out.  The Father stood back and wept.  The beauty was unsurpassed.  The Man was a master craftsman who had created a masterpiece.  The Father was in awe.  At dusk, he opened the doors and windows wide so The Wind could come in and seal the stain.

When darkness fell, it was finished.

I Am in Remission!

michelle-in-front-of-yonahRemission.  In Cancerland, it is a wonderful word.  A word which is coveted by every person in the chemo room, doctor’s office, hospital, or lab. It is every patient’s goal to hear that word, and every doctor’s desire to say it.  It means the diminution of the disease…the cancellation of cancer.  The origin of the word comes from the Latin remit; to send back or restore. Pardon me, but I like to imagine sending cancer back to hell from whence it came. For me, seeing life restored, after this dreaded disease tries to steal it, is a beautiful thing. Skin begins to glow again. The blood counts rise, resulting in energy and effortless breathing.  Hair returns in baby-like softness creating fluffy wavy curls.  The eyes lose their hollowed out appearance and regain sparkle. Bruises from the abuse of this disease, fade away.

Bigger than the physical changes are the mental/emotional ones.  The survival-mode-mentality fades, as the hope in the future is restored.  Gratefulness is the emotion of choice, and it bubbles up through tears and laughter at the same time. Every small detail of life is noticed and appreciated.  Colors are brighter, faces more detailed, trees more beautiful, family more loved, the sun shines brighter, and every single thing seems to be pulsing with life.  It is a fabulous feeling to be a part of the heartbeat again, instead of feeling life ebb away daily.  Healing, health, wholeness all collude together to bring hope and happiness.  All this because of one word.  Remission. What a glorious term.  To say ‘I am in remission’ is to say ‘death did not take me, I am alive!’  It is a defiant word which is said with heartfelt conviction and all the hope of the future behind it, while standing tall and breathing deeply of life. It is a proclamation that requires an exclamation point!

I am sure my understanding and experience of that word and the emotion intertwined within it are the reasons it jumped off the page at me this week as I was reading in Matthew 26.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sin.  But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:28

Wait.  What?  Remission of sin?  The diminution of the death-causing disease, the cancelation of the cancer of sin. When Jesus remitted sin, he sent it back to hell from whence it came.  He restored life.  This passage is about his last meal with his friends and he knew it.  He knew the bread he broke and the cup he poured, represented his body and blood which were about to be riddled with sin-disease.  He knew the pain that would come just hours after this meal.  He knew the life would drain from him, because sin-disease would ruthlessly steal it, pull out his hair, drain his blood, zap his energy, rip his skin apart, bruise his body, and ultimately stop the life flow.  He would no longer feel the pulse, and life would ebb out of him until it stopped his heart. (He also knew it would not stop his resurrection or ours, but that is next week’s blog.)

JESUS-EYES-Ed-Unitsky

He painted the picture for them, even though they were unaware.  Bread made from crushed wheat, wine made from crushed grapes. Ingested, or I should say, infused. To fill or pervade; to soak in healing properties. Jesus became the chemo.  His body and blood the medicine, to rid us of the sin-disease that was killing us. He submitted himself to sin in order to bring us the antidote.  He is the cure that brings our glorious remission.  When we submit to this infusion of his life, everything is brighter.  Hope is fanned into full flame.  Life pulses into us through gratefulness…to be free from disease, to be whole, to be healed.  Tears fill our eyes even as we laugh with joy at our great fortune.  What was killing us, riddling our lives with death and stealing from us, has been reversed and sent back.  We are restored to health because the disease has been cancelled. Forgiveness is ours and so too, freedom from death.  We stand, breathe deeply of life and proclaim “Because of Jesus, death did not take me and I am alive.”  We are infused with his crushed body and blood which results in our healing. Our heart cries out for all the world to hear, “I am in remission!!”

Lessons in the Storm

michelle-in-front-of-yonahThe storm rages.  The thunder rolls, bounces off the mountains, and returns like a boomerang.  The ground is moving. My usual porch writing spot does not feel safe, so I withdraw into the house.  The walls tremble and shake at the vibrations. Pictures rattle. Even as a lover of thunderstorms, I am on edge with the intimacy of this storm.  When they get this close, my stomach ties itself into knots with the memory of the destruction one lightning strike can do. In minutes, life as I know it can be undone.  Burned up.  Flooded.  Damaged beyond repair.

I push those thoughts away.  They lead nowhere.

Instead, I settle in by the window to watch the storm.  The trees blow and appear to be dancing to some unheard beat.  The rain is steadily creating puddles in the grass so that after the storm, the birds can more easily retrieve the worms. The thunder rolls away after a few anxious moments and the wind dies down momentarily.  The rain is steadfast as it slides off the trees which creates the hissing and pattering sounds I dearly love.  The trees are partially dressed, just changing into their green gowns for spring.  The leaves unfurl and turn their faces up to receive the gift of water from the heavens. They open themselves up fully as they drink.  I can almost see them expanding as I watch.  The newborn leaves, which appear to be so fragile, are in actuality quite strong.  They play in the storm as if it were a gentle shower.  I would never know from watching them there was any danger at all.  I want to be like the baby leaves; open to receive gifts from heaven provided to me in the midst of the tempest and trusting the storm will not destroy me.

The next round of thunder arrives to taunt me and laugh at my silly notion that there can be peace in the storm. It rumbles and shakes.  It knows the power all its loudness has over my heart. The rain picks up into a downpour and with the deluge comes the wind, back to display its power with the swirling and bending of trees.  The lights flicker as if to bow to the pressure of apprehension which is rising once again.  The storm is forcing itself on the mountains, creating a battle-like volley of sound.  What I realize is the back and forth noise isn’t back and forth at all, it is all coming from one source.  The echo is what makes it feel as if there is a battle.  In reality, there is no war, only thunder puffing itself up to be heard. The infant leaves know this.  They are not afraid of the bully.  The birds know it too, and they wait for the thunder to blow itself out.  It seems to me that all of nature knows and patiently waits for a new day.  Am I the only creature who does not know the truth, which is that storms come and go in cycles?  Or do I simply forget that after the destruction comes resurrection?  Always.

Lessons in the storm.

How Do I Fight?

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I believe there are two worlds.  The natural one and the supernatural one. The natural one is what I see with my eyes and experience with my senses.  I live here, in this place where I interact with others and the natural environment.  Day to day decisions, my thought patterns, and my feelings, all make up the natural world in which I live.  My soul either thrives here or shrivels up depending upon the things that happen to me.  I am comfortable with this world because it is familiar to me.  It is not always consistent, but it is predictably unpredictable which makes change the norm.  I live here and have spent my life walking through this world and trying my best to manage things so that I have the best outcome possible for myself and my family.  It is what I do. There are differences of opinion on what that looks like for each person which cause division among us.  What I believe is best for me, may not be what you believe is best for you. The discord that results shows up in our political system which is known for its constant struggle.  I participate in it because I want control of my surroundings.

There are many people who don’t believe in the supernatural world, but I am not one of them.  I have seen and felt too many unexplainable things in my lifetime to say the physical world is all we have.  The supernatural is unexplained by scientific understanding and operates beyond natural laws. It is the spiritual realm.  It is where my spirit interacts with God.  It is not something I can touch or feel, but it is more who I am.  It seems mystical to some, yet I sometimes feel it is more real than reality.  An unseen God.  A Spirit who leads.  A Son who lived in both worlds to show us it can be done.  All of that seems quite unbelievable, and yet I believe it. Different people have their own versions of this supernatural world and the differences of opinion cause great strife. Men have set up religious systems to try to explain this spiritual place, and the passionate arguments between them have led to unending conflicts about what peace looks like and who God is. Once again, controlling my life is the goal, and I reach for any system that will allow me the illusion that I can alter things which happen along the way.

If life has taught me nothing else it is that control is unattainable, and therefore should not be the goal…in either world.  Instead of control, love is the objective. Not seeking it for myself, but giving it away.  This requires some countercultural thinking.  In the natural world, I am fighting politically for what I deem to be the truth.  Ultimately, I believe that my way is the best way for everyone. When put like that, it becomes a bit clearer the arrogance of my position. Pride is a supernatural foe which operates in the natural world.  Its goal is to keep me fighting you. To do so, it makes me think it is imperative that you take the same position as me.  No matter what, I will not lay down what I believe as a matter of principle. I stand on my truth and dig my heals in. I am ready for a big battle.

humility.jpg But what if I am using the wrong weapon?  What if, instead of using my pride I choose humility? What if I take a modest or low view of my own importance?  In this day and time, I do not hear many speeches on meekness.  I hear a lot about boldness, about taking things, about charging into battle.  Humility is the opposite.  In the supernatural world I believe in, the way up is down.  I look to the example of Jesus who bridged the worlds.  Servanthood was his mantra.  Laying down his life for his enemies, was his way.  He was meek, and in his meekness lay his strength.  He endured injury with patience and did not speak a word on his own behalf.  He did not harbor resentment against those opposed to him. He submitted himself to the will of his father, but also to the will of men. He allowed them to take him, when he could have taken control at any time.  Why would he do such a thing?  He knew that love would win. He knew that the supernatural weapon of humility would be the most powerful force with which to obtain his objective, which was not control but love.  Pride is a supernatural force which takes up residence in my heart.  It is an enemy of my soul in the natural world, but it also quenches my spirit.  It prevents my spirit from communion with God’s spirit in the intimate way he desires.  Humility is the way to vanquish pride.  Once it is put to death, my thoughts and ideas become of little importance to me. All that matters is expressing supernatural love.

dinner partyThere is another powerful weapon which is often overlooked in the battle between the natural and supernatural worlds.  It is hospitality.  The friendly generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers, may seem an odd weapon of choice when trying to battle pride.  Yet, I believe it is effective because it is in the natural world but has a supernatural result.  To me, having a party seems an odd way to fight.  Inviting in strangers and even enemies, seems the opposite of what I think.  In the natural world, there would be no reason to talk to those who want nothing but to control or harm me.  However, in the upside-down spiritual kingdom, being hospitable is one of the most powerful weapons used.  I believe it is because when I share a meal with someone they become human to me.  My eyes are opened to see them as a person with needs, just like mine.  When I share space with them I open my heart a bit and that drives the nails into my pride.  I listen and laugh and share and reason with them.  I pour into their spirit and they pour into mine.  We become like one another and from there the differences between us diminish.  The care for one another increases.  Compassion is born.  The love shown impacts not only this world, but also the spirit world because our spirits are lifted up.  Do not underestimate the power of kindness.  Do not dismiss the influence of inviting someone into your life.  A simple meal can change viewpoints, and open eyes.  It can save lives.  Jesus ate with sinners, not so he could preach to them or somehow make them his project.  He did it because he loved them.  He wanted to manifest God’s heart.  It was a natural way to communicate a supernatural love.  Over a meal, at a party, while at a wedding, in an upper room, around a table…hospitality expressed. Love personified.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have supernatural power to demolish strongholds. 2 Cor.10:4

I don’t know about you, but pride is a stronghold in my life I would like to see demolished.  I would rather BE in the spiritual world, than DO in the natural one.  I would rather relinquish my attempts to control, and pick up the contentment of the Lord no matter the circumstances. My desire is to follow his example, yet I have been battling using pride as a weapon.  How crazy is that?  I choose to lay down pride and pick up two weapons that are far more powerful.  It may be counterintuitive, but the best way to deal with politics and religion is to change objectives.   For the objective of sharing love, humility and hospitality are my weapons of choice.

True North

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A star peers through my window as I drive.  It is luminous, and for the past few nights it has been capturing my notice…almost calling me to pay attention.  Whispering a message through its repeated appearances throughout the countryside, I pull over to listen. I gaze at the seemingly stationary star, and as I do, I think about the old world ships which navigated uncharted oceans by starlight.  While there were no maps for the sea, the sky was charted in great detail.  With the North Star as a guide to true north, all the other directions were easily discernable.  Find Polaris, and you could find your way.  When the captains needed direction, they looked up.

Sitting under the tutelage of my star instructor, I get the message as clearly as the night sky. When my world is off balance or when things are unclear, I need to find my true north.  If I fix my eyes on the stresses and uncertainties of my life, I will get lost in the darkness.  There is a vast sea all around me that is not marked and the only way to navigate it is to look up, and keep my eyes on the one who knows me better than I know myself…the one who created the star he uses to instruct.  Suddenly, I find courage that hadn’t been there moments before.  It rises up, like the heavenly hosts above me as I gaze into the night sky.  I realize I cannot lose my way when I depend on him and therefore, I commit to fix my eyes on the Lord, who is my true north.

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It occurs to me then that I am not the only one who needs this reminder.  Our world is divided.  Our friends and families are tearing one another apart.  There is chaos. Negativity oozes off of screens and into the streets. Disrespect has a stronghold.  It seems a storm is brewing and the future is uncertain.  The swells are growing bigger on the ocean and we have lost our way.  We have forgotten that the sea is uncharted, but the map we need has been provided. We have only to look up to the heavens to find our bearings and remember where we are. One star of hope directs us. He is the unchanging one…the one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  As long as we can see him, the waves can churn and crash all around us, but we will not lose our way.  We can fix our eyes on him and find the courage we need to get us through the storms and darkness. The Ancient of Days is not movable by the whims of men.  The rest of creation revolves around his stability and faithfulness.  Sometimes the winds blow hard, and other times the sea is like glass.  He is not surprised by either, nor is he moved from his throne in the heavens. He has not forgotten or abandoned us.  We need only look up at our star instructor to remember how to find our true north.  From there, courage leads us home.

True Love

love.jpgLove does not always look like roses, chocolates, and candlelight.  It is deeper than that.  In fact, until the storms of life come along, I would say that love isn’t tested.  New love is more infatuation than sacrifice.  Do not get me wrong, there is a glorious awakening of the heart when new love blooms.  It is why we celebrate Valentine’s Day, why we write songs, poems, and stories about it. It is the feeling which movies portray as “the real thing.” All of us who are romantics, rush to watch lighthearted love play out on the screen. We go to weddings and smile as big as the groom does when the bride walks down the aisle.  We see young lovers who glow while gazing into one another’s eyes, and we remember our own whirlwinds of the heart. It warms and fills us with good feelings.  Yet, this type of affection is a beginning…a glorious one…a fun one…but still only a beginning.

Anyone who has been married for any length of time can tell you that the romance fades if you don’t stoke the fire.  Even with intentional effort it is sometimes difficult, simply because life gets busy. Careers, kids, and all kinds of activities fill up the spaces that used to be reserved for only the two of you.  Still, love grows.  The pace slows down, but the roots begin to spread out and encompass more ground.  This expansion enlarges the heart.  If caution is observed not to spread too thin, the busy seasons create a love that appreciates the little things.  Things like quiet.  And sleep.  And Saturday morning pancakes.

Then hardships come along.  If love is to survive, the roots have to go deep. This is where you learn that true love = sacrifice.  Hardship in a marriage is the crucible of fire that burns away the dross and purifies the love.  It is not easy, nor is it pretty.  It doesn’t usually come with warm fuzzy feelings, but it is real just the same.  Not every love survives the fire, because it takes two people willing to surrender.   It is beyond personalities and common interests.  It is spirit to spirit contact where hanging on to one another is the only way to make it through.  This results in a bond that is too deep for words to explain.  This kind of love hurts.  It is an ongoing choice, which is worth all the effort and heartache.  It may not sound too desirable, and you won’t find to many people lining up to be included in the hardship line, but the result is a love story of epic proportions…the kind of love that endures. It is not blown around by the winds.  It does not crumble with changes.  It is steadfast.  It is true.  It is more romantic than a card or a fancy dinner.  It is a deep love, with roots that hold it steady in the storms.  It is a gift, for which I am grateful every day.

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Heart Friends

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Sometimes you just need time with your heart friends.  I have been blessed beyond measure in the heart friend department.  Every season of my life has its own set of people who live in my soul.  They know me.  They get me. I have found that when things seem upside down in life, heart friends can set things right again.  Yesterday, we had a 2-hour-lunch-turned-6-hour-visit with some of our tribe from college.  There was laughter.  There were stories.  Memories were in abundance.  Updates were shared all around.  It was like a shot in the arm.  It boosted our spirits, and bolstered our courage.  It reminded us all of who we are, and where we came from.

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These are the kind of relationships that pick up as if no time has passed, though to see us, you can definitely tell that it has.  Our hair has grayed, or disappeared altogether.  We’ve added wrinkles and pounds, but the spark that bonded us all those years ago still resides within our eyes and smiles when we are together.  The joy of sitting and spending time together is nourishment for our spirits.  Berry College has always been its own little world; we even call it the Berry Bubble.  But its uniqueness wasn’t just the beautiful campus, it was the people who shaped our lives while we were there, from professors, to work supervisors, to the other students all around us.  It was a formative time in our lives filled with the adventure of spreading our wings for the first time.

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Now, we exchange aging parent stories, plan the upcoming weddings of our children, and discuss possible career changes in our 50’s.  We go back to our core beliefs and question what following God looks like at this stage of life, and in this cultural climate so different from the years that have passed.  We laugh at not understanding Netflix or participating in social media, because we realize we sound like our own parents.  We find that we care less about so much of what we thought was important back then. We swap life changing moments, be they health related or otherwise, that have allowed us eyes to see in new ways.  A theme arises that freedom comes when you learn to let things go.  We are wiser now, but still in need of people in our lives who remember us from the beginning, before careers, before children, before marriage even.  Back to when we were hashing out our belief systems, discovering our values, and pursuing education in our prospective fields of study. Back to days of ultimate Frisbee, air bands, saunas, antique grandfather clocks, catacombs, broken jaws, kidnappings, and reflection pools.  Back to when we prayed together, studied the Bible, and worshiped fully, under the arch, until the presence of God was so strong it was tangible in our midst. Full hearts. Even now, when the time comes to say goodbye and return to our lives, we linger for hours, desiring to bask in the acceptance and soak in the heart connection that comes from souls knitted together by shared experience. When we do finally break the spell, we leave with smiles and a lighter step because we have been with those we love.  Bonds like these cannot be broken.  They stand the test of time… just like heart friends.