Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cardboard Blessings

It happens in life that you come to a place of reckoning, where everything is stripped away and you come face to face with the stuff of who you are. It is like the heavens open up and you see yourself unvarnished. The supports fall away and the bare-naked truth reveals itself: We really are dust. Or cardboard. That's the way I came to think of it at a particularly pointed time of unvarnishing in my life. Through those somewhat painful moments I began to see how human I really am, that without Grace filling me up, my life is more like cardboard than crystal.

That "moment of truth" was quite a few years ago. While it was quite a shocking revelation at the time, I've come to accept, make friends with, my cardboard-ness. After all, though it is not very pretty, cardboard is not as fragile as crystal. And I kind of like the anonymity that comes with being deeply ordinary. I am comfortable there. Don't get me wrong: I try really hard to give my best. But I also know that in my quirky expression of self, my best is not often pretty. It just is what it is. I jokingly tell my dear prayer partner, "At some point God has to take credit for my ineptness; after all He made me this way, and only He is able to make me into something different." Sometimes I feel like I need one of those cartoon bubbles over my head filled with words: "Please forgive her; she is cardboard." Or dust. People may need the explanation, but God never does. I love the scripture that says, "He knows how we are made; He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). Even cooler is the verse right before that: "As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13). So I just recklessly abandon myself to the Lord's compassion. I know that He gets me.

The coolest thing happened the other day. For months I have been frustrated with my little boys clothes chest. It has shelves in it where we stack his clothes, but as he sorts through them they often become a tangled mess. There is no order, no neat stacks, just the chaos of wadded pants, shirts, and shorts. For a while now I have wanted to get baskets that we could use to separate the clothes in this chest, but it always seemed like such a frivolous expense. And then the other day I happened to think that the boxes that hold the baby wipes and diapers we use for our six month old are just the perfect size! Sure enough they fit perfectly, neatly holding pants and shorts, with shirts nicely folded and stacked in between. I even cut the fronts off of them so that we can easily see what is where, making everything easily accessible. After the fury of activity that made the mess manageable, my sons and I stood back with awe and appreciated our hard work. Instead of chaos there were simply stacks, neatly contained by, you guessed it, cardboard.

It took me a couple of days to realize what had happened. Not so much in the "my son's room is messy" arena, but in the "my soul's room is messy" arena. For the purpose we needed fulfilled for little boy clothes, those cardboard boxes worked perfectly, better than fancy baskets that would have cost alot. And I realize now, for the purposes God has chosen me for, exaclty who I am is exactly who He needs. This cardboard self that I am has Divine purpose. And I don't have to be crystal to fulfill it. And even if I were crystal, I never could be and do the things He needs me to be and do. From His perspective, no apologies are needed.

From my quiet time today the scripture reading is this: "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God's servants, working together" (I Corithians 3:5-9). This is all to say that God uses us according to His own wisdom, working through our lives in unique ways that ultimately bring glory to Him alone. So don't worry about not being something you are not. Sure you may not look like Apollos or Paul. Your life may be more cardboard than crystal. But God has a purpose for you that absolutely will be fulfilled when you surrender your self to His love, boldly trusting in His awesome compassion. He love you, and dear one, He also loves through you.

This is me full of trust,


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fourteen Years Ago Today . . . .

My husband and I play this game. It's called, "Do you know what you were doing _________ years ago today?" Sometimes it goes by, "Do you remember where you were?" Or "What did you eat for dinner?" Or "What clothes were you wearing?" It's mostly him asking me, but I like it. It's a fun game.

Mostly because it helps me mark milestones in my life, and the sign posts can often be missed because they are so ordinary. But on special days, even the ordinary has significance. I remember fourteen years ago today waking up and trying to take a bubble bath in a hotel room with a fancy jaccuzi tub. For some reason I couldn't figure out how to make the plug stick, and all my bubbles kept running out. By the time I found a solution, all the hot water was gone, my bubbles had disappeared, and I had used up my time to leisurely enjoy a bubble bath tinkering with the drain on a crazy bath tub that required a PH.D. to operate. And I wanted my day to start out special because one of the most significant events of my life was getting ready to take place: I would marry Tim.

As a pastor I have learned to tell couples getting married, "Don't worry about what goes wrong; ten years from now you will laugh about it." I think that is one of the greatest lessons I have learned, laughing makes everything better. Rarely does anything in my life match the scenarios that I invent in my head. But time has taught me that life is good anyway. On the day of my wedding, the fancy tub didn't work, I took a cold bath, my hair didn't do what it was supposed to, the candles weren't lit for most of our pictures, and my dress didn't fit down the aisle. Yet despite all the pitfalls, we shared a lovely worship service with beloved family and friends. Tim and I sealed our promise to one another at the same place we began our relationship, the altar. I was walked down the aisle by one of the most precious men I have ever known. And my sweet father blessed our marriage as the one who performed our ceremony, preaching a beautiful message on the power of God's grace to overcome all obstacles.

The scripture for our wedding was Romans 8:35-39. It says:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

My Dad spoke of God's never failing love, and the power of the love of Christ to redeem everything in our lives, no matter what we experience, no matter what mistakes we make. In fourteen years Tim and I have discovered that to be true. Perfection doesn't exist in our lives, but grace is lavish. Through all the ups and downs, heartaches and heartbreaks, we have found a Love that holds us, even when we are too human to hold each other. And somehow that same Love gives us the strength to love one another better than we could simply in our own strength, amazing both of us sometimes.

I share all this as my celebration, captured in a very ordinary day, in remembrance of another ordinary day filled with significance. Today my hair didn't do what I wanted it to, my toe-nail polish is chipped and fading, I somehow got toothpaste on my shirt, I forgot to pick up something at church, my quiet time didn't quite happen the way it was supposed to, and I haven't gotten anything on my to-do list accomplished. But today is filled with significance. Because I am still in love with the man I married fourteen years ago. He is still the love of my life. And perhaps more extraordinary given my incredible self-doubt and insecurity, I know he loves me. Wrapped up in the craziness of my ordinary life is wonderful Grace, mysterious Grace. Grace that makes ordinary beautiful, expecially in its commonplace insignificance. I am so thankful for God's love that keeps me so much better than I can keep myself, and helps me to appreciate the best gift He's ever given me . . . . Tim.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sweetly Broken, Still

I've spent the week still pondering the whole sugar bowl incident, and what it means to live my life with an open heart, even when it means that my heart might sometimes be broken. I have been pondering the connection between brokenness and love. The most powerful connection for me is Jesus, which the song "Sweetly Broken" is all about. Specifically I am considering the weight of love revealed in His words, "This is my body broken for you." The words themselves add a whole new revelation to the phrase "sweetly broken, wholly surrendered."

When I was in seminary I had what some would describe as a vision. All I know is that I had a powerful experience of Jesus that filled all my senses in a way I had not known before. And what is funny is that, although I had given my heart to Him a hundred times in my adolescent life, I had never had that experience of His presence. Now the presence of God, or the Holy Spirit, both of those were very real to me. But feeling Jesus as a part of my life was so hard for some reason. And then there was that night in seminary. I was in a worship service, my eyes closed, my voice raised as I sang a love song to the Lord. In my mind's eye I saw someone standing before me, hands stretched out to me. The face was obscure, but those hands had been pierced. I knew exactly Who it was, and in astonishment, joy, and relief I grasped the hands held out to me. I was so overwhelmed at finally having a real encounter with Jesus that I began to weep. Ever so gently those nail-pierced hands lifted to my face and began to wipe my tears away. "No," I said, "There are too many." And the voice of Jesus spoke to my heart, "There are never too many tears for Me to wipe away."

Jesus always appeared to His disciples after the resurrection with the scars of His death intact. Even in His glorified self, His body held the evidence of His love for the world that He died to save. So when He says to us, "This is my body broken for you," we can believe Him; He does not erase the cost of loving us from His person, as if it didn't happen, as if we had ceased to exist for Him the moment He enterend heaven. It is immensely comforting to me.

Because a broken heart is not the only risk that love has demanded from me. My body has been broken as well. I am the mother of three boys. Each one was delivered by C-section. For the first two I have a fairly well hidden horizontal scar on my abdomen where they cut a hole in my body to pull my children out. I begged my doctor for this third time to just let me have another incision like that. But she did not give in; the scar tissue inside my body was far to bad. As it turned out, having a vertical incision probably saved my life. Without it, she told my husband afterwards, I would have been in trouble. And so now I have a red scar that stretches up my belly.

In the month or so after giving birth to Jeremiah, I grieved for my body. I wanted the old one back; the new one looked ugly to me; the new one made me feel ugly all over. One morning I simply sat in the middle of my closet and cried. In the midst of terrible physical pain, a breastfeeding nightmare, hormonal overload, and kidney stones to top it off, I just broke down and wept. Every part of me hurt: body, mind, spirit, and soul.

As I sat there crying, my sweet three year old came in. With a gentle touch he cupped my face in his little hands and looked intently into my eyes. "Mommy, you're a princess," was all he said.

As I have pondered the words to that worship song the last couple of weeks, the meaning of "sweetly broken" has gone deeper and deeper. I am beginning to make peace with my body. I am immensely grateful to it for giving me the gift of motherhood. I love being a mother, and I love my boys with all that I am. Now when I look at my scar, I try not to think about how unflattering it looks, but rather about how those three boys are so worth it. It is worth it to me to bear a scar that brought my children into the world. I guess that is how Jesus feels about His own scars. It is worth it to Him to bear the scars of bringing His children into eternity.

I still don't feel much like a princess, at least not the image of one I carry in my head. But I know I am one to my son. And I believe I am the daughter of the King. He died to bring me home to Himself. So being a princess is not about unblemished perfection. It is not about being untouchable and unreal. Instead it is about being boldy accessible, vulnerable and bendable, willing to enter in to love, even at the price of suffering. I continue to learn that love truly does conquer all. But it is only His love that makes real love possible or plausible.

This is me full of trust,


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sweetly Broken

Monday I got to go to Camp Loucon for Youth Workers Sabbath. It’s one of my favorite things. I look forward to it each spring. It gives me a chance to reflect on where I am at the end of another school year, to renew some precious friendships with youth pastors who have been opening their hearts to kids for years, and to just be refreshed and renewed in some forgiving space for awhile. This year the theme song for our worship was “Sweetly Broken” by Jeremy Riddle. The chorus goes like this:


I was very moved by the song and really felt a connection to it. I left my time away with those words pressed into my heart. And so I returned home to the busyness of finals week, and the preparations of our Ladies Tea Party. Replacing my hiking boots with strappy heels, I prepared for the end of year celebration soon to take place at my house.

The thing is, I love tea parties. In my first place of ministry my dear friends introduced me to the practice. Anytime one of us had something to celebrate we gathered around fine china and crystal, being very intentional about making our time special and the guests honored. I continued the tradition when I became a campus minister. I wanted my girls to know themselves as special and honored too.

Last night I got out the server pieces from my original china set to serve sugar and creamer in. It is beautiful to me with its delicate curves and filigree handles. The china is a pristine white that is transparent when held up to the light. It was part of the pattern I registered for as a new bride almost fourteen years ago. As I went to fill the sugar bowl with sugar, the unthinkable happened. It was too close to the edge of the counter and accidentally got pushed off, shattering as it hit the floor. And “sweetly broken” began to have new meaning for me.

Two of the young ladies who joined us last night will be moving on to new adventures soon. One is graduating, and the other is transferring to the University of Louisville. It was a very bittersweet celebration. On the one hand I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to know and love them. On the other hand, my heart is breaking as I say goodbye. Like my sugar bowl, I too am sweetly broken.

Jesus warned His disciples that they must count the cost of discipleship: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:27-28).” I don’t think He says this to scare them, but simply to let them know that there is a cost in following His path. Jesus heads straight for the path of love, and love leads Him to the cross. It leads us there too.

Like a sugar bowl (even a fine china sugar bowl) was made for sugar, my heart was made for love. It would be so easy to keep my china and precious tea cup collection safe. I could just go to the store and buy disposable everything. But then our tea parties wouldn’t be so special. And all that beautiful china would simply sit unseen in a cabinet, never fulfilling its intended purpose. I too could protect my heart from loss. I could go through the motions and never risk getting hurt by never opening my heart. I could keep my life an unopened book, never sharing its mysteries, struggles, and triumphs. I could never share the story of who I am, never listen to the story of who you are, and never allow those stories to shape each other in eternal ways. I could lock up my heart and never allow the presence of a student to live there and never suffer loss when they leave. And I could live a miserable, joy-less, empty life, bereft of laughter, flat, without any vibrant color or candor, simply a barren existence. I could do that, but I would forever forfeit who I really am. My heart was made for love.

And I am a pastor whose flock always leaves. As my sheep, I will love you, nurture you, pray for you, wait for you, patiently tend you, gently guide you, and always worry over you. But if I do my job right, you will always leave me. And if I do my job right, your departure will always leave an ache in my heart. Loss is the cost of loving you into the fullness of God’s intention for you as a sheep in my care. Still I would not have it any other way. After eight years of being a campus minister, I have discovered that I was made for this ministry of loving students into fullness. It is worth it to me to suffer this loss. You are worth it to me.

Because we are all worth it to Him. On the cross Jesus answered Love’s call and laid down His own life so that He could take our brokenness and sin into His own heart. It was worth to Him to die there so that the power of sin would be broken in our lives, and so that we would know without any doubt that we are forgiven. When scripture says that nothing can separate us from the love God has for us in Jesus Christ, it speaks the truth. He removes the sin that separates us from God’s holiness by His death, and then He removes the death that sin breeds within us by His resurrection. His gift to us is eternal life, peace with the Father, and love that cleanses us from all un-love. Praise Jesus.

I know what I was made for. Do you know what you are made for? Part of my purpose is to help you discover that, to love you into it. To walk beside you until some day you walk into the destiny God has prepared for you, designed you for. The thing you would suffer loss for because nothing else fills you up quite the same way. And that is what you are to me.

So I love you, because He loves me and chooses to love you through me. In ways you cannot know you have been grafted into my life. And when it comes time to let you go my dear ones, it will always break my heart. But I am so grateful to be sweetly broken.

This is me full of trust,