Have you seen those gimmicks on social media that ask if the car is blue or green? You plunk in your answer only to learn the car was actually green when you said blue, or vice versa. It’s not a new lesson; either our DNA or our perspective can take us down a completely different path than the person next to us.
At one point I was part of a ministry that emphasized learning Scripture as one of its core values. I learned how to navigate the Bible, to understand the nature of God and how He wants to interact with us. (Confession: I was just a tiny bit of an over-achiever back then. And laid-back was only used in reference to a car seat.) If the Scripture passages were about self-discipline, I was going to be the most self-disciplined. If they were about purity, I was going to be the purest.
Scripture is amazing, and timeless. There are a myriad of teachings that convey God’s heart toward mankind and His standards. The Sermon on the Mount from the Gospels and Jesus’ numerous parables teach us life lessons for relationships, money, time, and prayer. The fruits of the Spirit give the briefest insight into the outcomes of a God-centered life, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Still working on some of those…) The Epistles teach us how to live in community with one another, as followers of Christ, how to love and forgive.
In any culture young adults find affinity in groups and doing things together. It’s an exciting time of life, with new-found independence and (hopefully) income. Everyone dresses alike, group-thinks and adopts trendy catch-phrases to reflect their one-ness. One such phrase we adopted was the pursuit of “God’s best” for our lives. It was sort of a shared core-value, and it got tossed around more than a set of Yahtzee dice. “You could go to New Jersey but you want God’s best for your life, don’t you?” or “You could become the Surgeon General but maybe that wouldn’t be God’s best.”
Whether in this group or some other, catch-phrases or group-think mindsets evolve. Most likely God’s best was originally intended to imply a life surrendered to God’s ways and standards. Instead we inferred a sort of nirvana of a painless future with dreams fulfilled, and problems solved. At what point did fantasy replace an authentic pursuit of godliness? Speaking of which, what would the phrase, God’s best have meant to Mother Theresa? Based on the evidence of her life, it must have meant a life spent emulating the Gospels, i.e., feeding, clothing and loving the unloved, where ever God led her, i.e., Calcutta.
This diatribe about God’s best is only one example but a ginger, truthful examination reveals much. I, for one, bacon-wrap phrases and principles with my own dreams or wounds and then pin it on God with questions, pain or expectations. Suppose my visual of God’s best has always entailed the proverbial white picket fence, a husband, and 2.3 children and a dog. Wouldn’t that be misleading for me as a condo-renting, non-parental, non-dog owning single? It’s a lens that I see through, and one that can lead me to misunderstand God’s abundance toward me.
What if we were to choose authenticity over catch phrases and clarity over shallow communications? What if we were to stand in the midst of what’s done and dreams unfulfilled and took the risk of owning our life, calling it what it is, and reaching toward the One who gave His only Son?
After a drawn-out year I’m finally settling into a home where I can put down some roots, and stay a while. A few treasures had bumped and crunched in this move or that one, and so I found myself with a few repair projects, first a teapot whose handle was now in four pieces. Mr. Hardware was quite helpful and recommended a fancy new cement. I snagged it, and a tube of super glue just in case things didn’t go quite as I’d planned.
This teapot has never been the sturdiest of souls, always the first to burst into tears when something unjust happens. Clearly, this last move had injured it nearly beyond repair. The first product wasn’t adhering quickly enough before the weight of the broken piece would fall out of it’s position. Finally with the super glue I was able to glue all four pieces at the same time rather than one at a time.
I couldn’t help but notice that the restoration process for this teapot was unique just as our own healing journey requires a unique combination of restorative ingredients. I realized my turquoise bit of pottery would never host a tea party again. I’m pretty sure the potter put a rather slinky handle on this chubby and adorable pot, but even with an entire ounce of super glue plotzed in every crack and crevice, it would never be the same.
And so it is with us. Some have been decimated by life’s harsh circumstances. Others are running from the rod which measured them as a child, and found them lacking. So severe were it’s judgments that they mete out penalties against their bodies, or crush others needlessly. With others, an unfulfilled dream or failure to become the man or woman they’d hoped, a yawning ache remains.
The Bible, in Jeremiah 18, contains a beautiful story about the prophet being prompted by the Lord to visit the potter’s house for an object lesson quite like mine. As Jeremiah observes the potter at the wheel, the Lord asks a poignant question of Jeremiah, “Can I not do with you as the potter does the clay?” The more intimate and beautiful friendships with Him come with yieldedness to God, as the Potter.
Lent is a beautiful season for reflection. My question is this, have you come to the place where you’ve reached the end of yourself? The way in which we become unstuck in this life is to yield. Obviously my teapot doesn’t have a will. But submitting to the process of becoming reconciled to our Maker requires a choice. When we get to the place where we stop yelling about our rights, and yelling about how life should have gone, then we will find intimacy with God. It’s when we listen and release our fist into an opened hand that we find Him if we invite Him to speak, and to heal. In the process we may find that – healed – we’ll never become the person of our dreams. Yet, I do promise this, we’ll discover the dreams that our Maker had for us. After all, maybe you were meant to be a thing of Beauty rather than Function.
Tea can be such a plebeian pursuit when you’re a fancy teapot sporting a wickedly cracked handle.
Go in Love.
A gardenia bush blooms by the front door of the house. It’s fragrance evokes feelings of nostalgia. Without thinking I pluck a bloom whose leaves were bruised, and set it on my desk. To my delight, it’s fragrance filled the office, and I thought about something a family friend once told me.
Pauline had a gardenia bush that she kept in her home. In Northern Michigan a gardenia bush hasn’t a prayer outdoors with the weather-ly elements. But year after year, that small bush bloomed in it’s sunny corner of the room. It was Pauline who told me that a gardenia’s most poignant aroma comes from a bloom whose leaves were slightly bruised.
I cannot help but ponder the metaphor about life I’d just stumbled on. When looking at the white perfection of a bloom it seems impossible that bruising would have a purpose or function. Can it be true that the deepest and richest aspects of our lives are borne out of pain and loss? So often we put off grief and keep pain at arm’s length. Our walls stay high so we stay dry. Indeed. I’ve never been so dry, and crackly uncreative as those seasons when my walls were up. Arms flailing and inappropriate, silent gestures to the world at large … my pain. My world. “How dare you rock my boat?” These are words I’ve whispered in the direction of those who have hurt me. The petals of a gardenia are not bruised intentionally. But when it happens a deeper, even more priceless beauty is evoked: aroma.
So often we are desperate to retain that gracious, white perfection in our lives that we refuse to live. We refuse to try lest we make a mistake, lest we be the ones delivering the bruise to another. In order to really live we must learn to allow ourselves to make mistakes.
I live life with a focus on the numerous gifts and goodness that have come my way, but I must admit I have experienced a lot of losses. I identify with Lewis’ train of thought. When so many loved ones have come and gone; so many failures outweigh so few victories. Then there are questions of whether or not the victories are the right victories? After a while it seems simplest to just stay out of it. Stay out of harm’s way. No more bruising. No more mistakes.
And then the priceless realization. Did you know that the oil from a person’s fingertip can cause a gardenia’s petals to bruise? Or the delicate visit of a hummingbird, a falling leaf, a raindrop? And so it is with our hearts. At times there is a truth that we needed to face, a season of maturing, or a chance to become less victimized. It’s a design for life. The elements that we genuinely need to grow and become will find us, no matter how careful we are, no matter how much we surround ourselves with ‘safe people’.
Our task is to receive the moment like the morning dew. Let God do His work in our hearts. We press past the yawning grief and fear, and we become the beauty that the season intends.
I’ve a journal in which I record dreams, visions, ideas. Sometimes people will share words or reflect the way my life has influenced them, and I’ll jot those things down and ponder them. I saw an entry that I wanted to share with you.
In July of 2010 I’d had a picture of concentric circles with my heart in the center. The circles around my heart represented things that I owned which were of value to me: my house with a big grassy yard, my Jeep because it reflected the sassiness of my personality; my cat whom I utterly adored; and other luxuries that I was able to afford at the time, like manicures and pedicures, et al. My life as I knew it then felt hollow. I was working insanely hard to maintain a house whose value was in the toilet because of the housing market crash.
After three incredibly long years of waiting for my house to sell, I rented it out, quit my job, and up-ended all my roots and headed for LA. I had a good job here in LA, and an apartment so it wasn’t a complete debacle. On the one hand I knew and understood the cost of my decision and yet, on the other hand, I don’t think I had a clue. How truly that reflects nearly every choice we make!
Through a convoluted twist of circumstances I lost the house through foreclosure. I sold my Jeep and leased a Mini Cooper. My cat died. And a radical cut in salary from Nebraska, plus a sharp increase in the cost of living in LA leaves me at a place where I can honestly say those concentric circles don’t exist anymore.
What does that really mean though?
I can only speak for myself but my journey was about faith, and letting my heart take on something bigger than myself. For most of my life I’ve struggled in my ability to dream. What do I want my life to be about? I can give you some spiritual sounding answers but I can feel God piercing that lack of sincerity in my heart until I begin to own an idea, and let it become my own.
Here’s what the journal entry said:
Concentric circles around my heart. Things I treasure form walls which block the presence of God in my life. I lean on them instead of Him. In order to hear God more fully I lean on the walls to see if there is a door. I step into the creative process and press the story out from within the circles nearest my heart. The Pearl of a great price. Selling everything that I have in order to gain Christ.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” — Matthew 13:44
So often we think of the man in that parable as Christ, and that we are the treasure. And indeed we are His treasure. But we enter into His same joy when we emulate his decision and consider Him to be our treasure. Our dream.
I would never joke about the price I’ve paid to pursue Christ. I would have moved to London, New York or Sydney but He led me here. A seasoned dreamer learns that when Christ is at the center of the dream no cost is too steep.
Dreamer, I encourage you to buy the field.
Recently I was reminded of wisdom from my friend Julie, “When things are not working in one area of your life just humble yourself with God and let Him sift your heart. Let Him call the shots about where things are out of whack.” Such a relief I felt. I can do that. I can’t fix all the things I’ve broken, but I can repent for the places He shows me, and I can rejoice where He shows me successes.
Lately things are messed up enough that I’ve been content to just look at the messes with Him for a moment. To see things as He sees them.
Others see the outside of us. They perceive that we have our lives together, that we are impenetrable. “What could she possibly need?” The truth is we’re all re-assembling our lives in view of the empty tomb at Calvary. I feel like I’ve been trying (Read: trryyyingg) so hard to keep all the plates spinning. I decided to stop trying. So let the flippin’ plates go. It’s just too much, too confusing. I don’t understand and the pieces seem like they belong to someone else’s puzzle, not mine. Seriously that sky blue piece can’t possibly fit in my puzzle that’s all clouds and stormy weather.
Anyway it turns out when you stop trying there’s some exposure. It resembles the Hoover Dam a bit, unleashed. You didn’t get the job done. You are suddenly not the ideal girlfriend, the most physically fit with the cleanest apartment, the most accomplished. In fact your failures scream at you. Meh. Let it go. Just look for the scarlet cord and take hold of that. The One that matters.
To ask for help does.not.smell.like.failure. It has the fragrance of a rainy day after the sun has come out.
Another friend told me, “Your success at pursuit of the Kingdom is not what is measured. Everything you do, prayerfully intending to obey God will be accounted to you as missional obedience, as righteousness.” — Shun Lee
That statement has changed my life. It’s changed what I do, what I will pursue, and how much of myself I will risk to see Kingdom accomplished.
I look around. I find myself in the land of Canaan, this Los Angeles-land that the Lord told me to confidently enter and occupy. So many words and promises led me here. It all looks so different now.
When I first got the word to occupy the land, to dwell in it, and cultivate faithfulness, I did not see all the ways that I would fall flat on my face. I couldn’t perceive the way my nose would drill into the ground like some kind of woodpecker because my hands and arms would not once break my fall. Somehow the promise that I would not be hurled headlong remains true. Yet the reality of having taken more than a few social, emotional and financial face plants is no less true.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand. — Psalm 37:23-24
From the outer periphery of the vision and His calling me to LA, I peered in saw nothing but fruit. Promises fulfilled. I was called. I believed I would make a difference. Is Los Angeles more beautiful now that I’ve been here? Does her face seem more washed, her edges a bit more soft and loved? Each of us, called to live here and pour out love, takes a hit for our efforts.
We pay a steep price for love … this beautiful City of Angels.
From the yawning city streets that are still lined with trash, I look upward and wonder. The price I’ve paid for this vision cannot be measured. It has cost me everything. I could decorate my walls with the costly parking tickets I’ve paid.
Here I will dwell.
When God chooses Zion as His dwelling place, He selects the choicest of places. We know that He indeed chooses Israel as a nation and a people group, but specifically He chooses Zion… a place within a place. He also chooses to dwell in the hearts of mankind. Our hearts. The choicest place within our hearts. Not the outer edges. Not the crunchy parts of our hearts but the hidden, lush places … here I will dwell.
I have had the privilege of watching specific third world countries change over the course of time; becoming more civilized, cleaner, healthier, all because people choose to invest in the people and in the land. Love beautifies a heart. Love beautifies nations. Love beautifies Los Angeles.
For the Lord has chosen Zion;
He has desired it for His habitation.
“This is My resting place forever;
Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” — Psalm 132.13-14
He has called me here to shout Love! to Los Angeles. And I have. Her streets have received His love, as I’ve poured it out. There have been days and stretches when I have forgotten to tell her that Father loves her. But simply because I am fully and completely loved, I carry love. I carry transformation and reconciliation on my shoulders just as the priests of old carried the ark of the Covenant on their shoulders.
It is our privilege to partner with God to love specific people, cities, nations, knowing full-well that we are not alone. Others walk beside us pouring out their love, investing their talents and and letting their laughter ring in the streets. We don’t always get to see the full transformation of a land. With the new year I open myself quietly to hear His voice, reiterating the words He has spoken or to hear a new direction. Each of us has long since released our control over the how, why, and where of His calling. We have already paid the price … love always costs us everything.
And so it is with the the Zion of our hearts we listen. Where to dwell? Whom shall we love?
The results are not up to us and I’m not measured by my results.
I’m measured by the intentions of my heart.
Each of us has the capacity to lead others to places in the Spirit of God where others have never been. Just as our fingerprints are unique so our experiences of the Spirit-realm bear a likeness of our personal journey with the Godhead.
Reader, listen to the notes and the chords and then slip down in between. I’ll take you to the places where I’ve broken fallow ground. The prunings from previous seasons were planted here. Irrigated with disciplines I’ve cultivated and tears I’ve shed … a vineyard has come of it. First along the edges of our experiences, and then further in. The Glory pierces through us as we plumb the depths of the place where God has made Himself at home.
With the Glory of God covering me as with a garment, I step into the unknown place. I slip through the crease, the weight of Your Presence pulls me into another realm, an atmosphere heavy with Your gaze. Underneath the Everlasting Arms. At once I’m with You, alone with You. You who sees my heart. You that are acquainted with all my ways. There is nothing hidden.
Unwinding, unravelling twisted places. Setting down straight places. Pulling captives from the briars. Pillars of unbelief bend toward the Light. Portals open wider. Glory floods through. Encompassing, engulfing, surrounded by Presence that floods my being with Light. And in Thy Light we see Light. I am laid low. I rest. He’s carved out a place for me. A place that is safe. A deep breath. Rest. Sing to me, Father. Your songs that refresh my soul. I am alive in You. And there is no place that is covered. In all my being I find my safety in You.
Partnering with God for creative miracles. Lining broken places with the Glory of God in such a way that they are recreated. Their design and function are not replaced with something that works, they are completely recreated in accordance with the blueprint of Heaven. Glory is smeared like oil in all the ravaged and torn places. The breath of God finds its way through every crevice.
Hebrews 4:12-13 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
My parents were of the 50’s era. My mother bobby-soxed her way through high school and college, and returned to Michigan sporting cat-eyed glasses and a textile design degree from a prestigious art college. She worked for Sak’s Fifth Avenue as a genuine switchboard operator! “Connecting…one moment please!”
My father stayed close to home and became a nerdy pharmacist with beautiful, longish curls and a full beard, revealing his loyalties to the hippie subculture. They met at a party and I think they were engaged in six weeks, married inside of six months.
When I look at the photos from the years in which my siblings were born, Mother is still wearing gloves and a hat at a baby shower for my cousin. Her hair was still smooth and styled like Jackie O’s. It seems that in spite of the wild 60’s there was still a.way.to.do.things, and that involved white gloves for a baby shower. It may or may not have involved vintage MG Magnets, Jaguars, Martinis and Marlboros. We simply declined to confirm what was actually in the martini glass. We are rather confident, however, It ain’t apple juice for the baby, Sweetheart.
John F. Kennedy’s assassination occurred before I was born yet it heavily characterized my childhood, even a bellwether for other world-changing events that would occur in the next two decades: the ongoing, never-ending Vietnam War in which we had invested 8.7m troops; the Watergate scandal and burgeoning anti-war sentiments. There were breakthroughs, of course. I remember being a little tot standing in front of the snowy, black-and-white television and touching the screen while Neil Armstrong took a “giant leap for mankind”. My Dad, with a pipe always between his teeth said, “Sammy, you need to remember this. It’s world history.” Those were the kinds of things my Dad would say to a toddler. Smile.
There were so many socio-political issues during that era, stated as if to say that there weren’t issues before or after. And there were, but it was the sharp decline of social mores, the requisite white gloves and a hat, if you will, that had smartly guided women and family life right up until Kennedy’s assassination; that disappeared in the late 60’s. Up until that time, women wore the same style of clothing. Everyone wore their hair the same way. As women entered professions, and began to earn salaries that would one day approach the equivalent of men’s salaries, a certain level of predictability disappeared. I remember when I pieced together the realization that my own mother worked full-time, and other kids’ mothers stayed home and made chocolate chip cookies. That’s what this is all about, really. It’s about chocolate chip cookies.
It’s about our need to create stability for our children, a climate and culture they can lean on while they look out at the wavy world around them. In spite of the tumultuous 70’s and 80’s, my parents managed to provide pillars of identity and a foundation of memories and repeated activities. From this we kids formed our ideas and opinions of who we were and what we were to become. There are lots of things to be ‘against’ these days, even more than in the 70’s but I don’t want to be known for the things I’m against. I want to be known for the things that I’m for. The legacy I leave behind will be one of providing stability and consistency for my children and the people around me, a safe and positive culture in which to become someone great.
And He shall be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is his treasure. Isa. 33:6
This train of thought has been brewing with me for a while now. I want to talk with you about unanswered prayer.
Broaching this topic is a bit risky. It’s like saying, “I want to teach you about God.” Hah! And so now you know. I know precious little about answers and the lack of them except what I’ve experienced. But, that being the point, we come into greater understanding by putting little bits together. Sometimes the pieces fit, right? And sometimes we set them aside, and go looking for a piece of blue sky for our puzzle.
But it is a puzzle indeed.
Only you know what life has handed you, and what questions remain unanswered. I’ll never be able to hand you the puzzle piece to fit that gaping hole you are staring at. I know this though, so many times we stare and stare at that gaping hole — that ache or longing for something or someone — and we think we know why it’s empty.
For so many years I thought my prayers had remained unanswered because I had done something wrong. Or that I failed God in some way, or hadn’t had enough faith, or hadn’t prayed right, or sacrificed enough. For real. I have repented, fasted, declared, obeyed, sinned, run the gamut of emotions, and flip-flopped all over the place trying to understand.
I wonder if you’ll hear me when I say this: It’s never, ever been Father God’s intention that you would beat yourself up over this thing.
He’s a super great communicator. If you had done something wrong He would have let you know and once you dealt with that situation, it would be over; i.e., it’s never His intent to punish forever. He’s not mad at you, and holding something over you for what you did in 1985.
He’s a super great communicator. If He wanted you to do something in terms of obeying Him in an area, He would let you know, and that step of obedience would become important to you. I tell you it would. That’s His nature. Scripture says, “… for it is God who works within you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” We are so wired! to be in relationship with Him. Don’t go chasing after legalistic things you think you should be doing in order to find your answers.
He’s a super great communicator but just like any loving relationship worth having, He gently tugs us out of our navel-gazing, and sometimes victimized thinking. At times He gently cajoles us, pulls on our sleeve a bit. Sometimes we’re looking for a direct answer and He just wants to talk. Period. Instead of giving me answers He’ll say to me, “Watch this…” and He’ll show me something or someone that interests Him. Other times He’ll play Hide N’ Seek. We’re after our answers like a heat-seeking missile and He’s dodging behind doors and peeking at us to see if we’ll chase! Why? Because He loves us, and He loves being in relationship with us. Father God gets a great kick out of telling me riddles. Oftentimes I know its the Lord speaking because my next step will be in the form of a riddle. Remember this … no matter how He communicates with you, what He shares with you will always reflect His character and His nature. You’ll see His character and His nature reflected in Scripture. Get to know His ways with you.
My greatest treasure in life is to have had some unanswered questions over the course of perhaps 20 years. There is grace that accompanies any suffering, any lack, and there is an enormous blessing in every affliction. It’s up to you to find it.
Most of the time, with unanswered prayer, you’re not ever going to know why or when or how long or who but you have a wonderful opportunity to know the Holder of the ‘Why’, and He wants to hold you. In the midst of your heartache, He wants to hold you; He wants you to let the “holding it all together” go, even if its for a few minutes. You get so exhausted doing that … holding it all together.
Just let Him carry it for a few minutes. Let Him carry you.
Monkey bars. Do you remember them? They sort of beg you to hang upside down and look at the world from a different viewpoint, don’t they? It’s a structure so you’re either on the monkey bars or you’re not. You are either willing to climb and stretch and twirl. Or you’re not. And it’s okay, really. There’s always the teeter totter that will knock your chin into next week, if you like that sort of thing.
But, really. We’re all grown-ups here. And this is still the playground. And you can either see London, France and Stinky’s underpants, or not.
The big decisions come as little ones. Actually. They masquerade as, “So whaddya think?” And your answer to “Whaddya think?” sets the whole trajectory of your life. Or, at the very least, it exposes what is in your heart.
As a Christian I have at my fingertips the concept of Grace. And Christians are wildly prone to apply grace to themselves but be really super stingy when it comes to other people. We just do this. I don’t know where we learned it. And I’m really grossed out by that, and apologize. Yeah.
Grace, we’ll happily recite to you is unmerited favor. Awesome. Let’s throw a few Christianese jargon-y words in there so you can’t be on the team, once again. We’re still in Junior High apparently and picking teams, and if you know the words and how to use them then you’ll be picked to be on the team. Good grief. What a recollection. I hated Junior High and being the last one to be picked. Late bloomer. Whatever. I’ll need counseling after this.
Using other words I’d say that grace is about open-heartedness. It’s about giving the benefit of the doubt without requiring a person to change, without requiring that they give me, or anyone, all the precise details about how.you.got.here. In the first place.
That’s God’s nature. Actually. If we want to connect with Him in authentic relationship, that’s really how He rolls. Is it because He’s really artistic and does the broad stroke and misses detail? No. It’s because of His Son. And love. You know, love makes us all do really crazy things. And that’s what God is like. It doesn’t really matter where you’ve been or what this is all about. It’s about relationship.
Copeland produced a song called Brightest, and the lyrics are like this:
If you find yourself here on my side of town
I’d pray that you’d come to my door
Talk to me like you don’t know what we ever fought about …
To me, that’s what love looks like. Love just can’t figure out a reason to fight anymore. Like a surfer yields to the next wave, you lean into the equity of what you have together and just drop it. You let it all go, and yield to the covenants that you share with one another, whether its a lifelong commitment between best friends, or it’s a couple, or even siblings. It’s the best picture that I have for the way Father God is with us. Instead of looking at the mess, He just nods quietly and looks over at His Son. He sent His Son for our messes. Christ died the most gruesome death. But there was a purpose, so that Father could gaze at us, eye to eye. So that we could connect with Him. Father and Son. Father and Daughter.
Watch for real Love. Wait for it. Don’t accept the counterfeit. Because real love lets you be you.