Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The One Who Wipes Tears

On Sunday I got to sing with the praise choir at church.  It was such a beautiful gift.  During one of the songs we sang the chorus to the Christmas Hymn "O Come All Ye Faithful."  It took me back to another time and another place, singing that simple chorus.

I was in the fall semester of my first year in seminary.  Tim and I were attending a Mark Lowry concert.  Oh he is such a funny man!  After an evening of laughing our heads off, the comedian brought a single chair on stage, sat down and sang "Mary Did You know."  It was the first time I had heard that song.  As he finished he invited the other musicians who had shared the evening to join him on-stage as they led us in worship.  We stood shoulder to shoulder singing "O come let us adore Him," over and over, the splendor of God's gift to us heavy on our tongues.  The worship just kept pouring out.  Can you tell it was an extraordinary moment?

It became a moment I got lost in.

Let me just say that my experience of God's presence in my life has often been through my thoughts, my feelings, and all the neurological stuff that connects the two.  I especially see Him in the ordinary.  And while I'm very expressive about all that, it's wrapped in the usual, the expected, the everyday experience of being alive.  God just helps me see it in an unusual, unexpected, and rare way.  I'm just not the girl that has mystical experiences.  And if I was going to have a vision, this is not the one I would go looking for. 

Sometimes visions come looking for us.

Standing there singing those sweet songs, I closed my eyes as I often do.  In my mind's eye, I "saw" standing before me a robed person, sturdy, substantial.  But I could not see the face.  Just hands outstretched before me.  As I looked at these hands I saw that they were pierced.  I knew immediately Who was with me.  We stood there holding hands:  His hands holding mine; my hands grasping, and touching, then tracing the scars in His.  I was so overcome I began to weep. 

For all of my life up to that time, I knew God's Presence.  I could sense the Invisible Power of God's being all around me.  And the Holy Spirit was familiar too, empowering my love, my speech, my service.  But this Jesus?  So hard to relate to.  Somehow the physical manifestation of God's glory was too difficult.  And it's not that I didn't try.  I gave my heart to Him a hundred times growing up.  I just couldn't make the connection.

But there I was that fall evening in the middle of a Connection I never imagined.  As I wept, so overcome with emotion to be in the presence of Jesus, those nail-pierced hands began to wipe my tears away.  "No," I said, "there are too many!"  The words that entered my spirit came gently:  "There are never too many tears for Me to wipe away."

And that's it.

Eventually the music ended.  The concert was finished.  We all went home.

I had no idea at the time what lay ahead.  The coming year would bring despair like I had never known.  A dark depression would settle over me, choking out joy, leaving those around me wondering whether I would emerge.  Oh the tears.  So many tears.

During that difficult time I wondered often at the vision God gave.  I was angry that all I got was Jesus wiping my tears.  I did not get miraculous deliverance.  The pain was real.  The tears were real.  Healing seemed so elusive.

I understand so much more about healing and miracles now, years later.  Tears and tears later.  What a sweet gift that vision was.  Because what I now get, is that the tears we weep are part of God's mercy washing through us, helping us go through what is impossible to go through.  He designed us to be able to move through unspeakable heartache and pain without getting lost in it.  Simply by crying our way through it.  And as we weep He heals.  And helps.  And He is there wiping away our tears, and saving them.  There is not one that falls to the ground, escaping His notice.

Christ's very own words to us:  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4).  We have His promise of comfort, in the very middle of our grief.  Do we have the courage to allow His comfort to come?  Do we have the courage to feel the heaviness of hurt, and pain, and disappointment?  Do we have the courage to allow the waves of loss and heartache to pass through us?  Sometimes the only way out is to cry. 

When I reflect on Lot's wife, I believe this was her problem.  She kept looking back.  Instead of letting go, and weeping out the pain of having to leave her home behind.  She kept looking back.  Refusing to release a life she could no longer have.  And so she became imprisoned in the very salt that was supposed to be her deliverance.  If only she had wept as she walked.  She could have found new life.

I have thought of the vision God gave me that fall often since the shootings in Connecticut.  I have wept as I consider the indescribable pain those families are experiencing.  And I look at the sweet faces of those kindergardeners passing through my facebook news feed, thinking of my own kindergardener playing in the next room.  Sweet Jesus have mercy.

I am comforted when I remember the words of scripture:

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.  Are they not in your record?  (Psalms 56:8)
These tears we cry mean something.  Of course they mean something to us.  But they mean just as much to Him.  JUST AS MUCH!  His promise to us is that we never weep in vain.  Every tear that escapes our eyes, allowing us to release the pain, leaves its mark in His heart.  He remembers each and every one, and every reason that caused it to fall.  And He saves them for us.  For that day when we will see that He makes all things right, all things new:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I head a loud voice from the throne saying, "See the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."  (Revelation 21:1-4)
Until that time, all we can do is keep weeping, knowing that in His keeping our tears are helping us find our lives again.  And we must keep praying.  Every night when I put the boys to bed I pray Jesus's prayer over them.  Those familiar words fall fresh on my heart in this season:  "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven."  I pray those words because I know.  This is not the way it's supposed to be.  This kind of loss, this kind of pain.  It's not what God's Kingdom looks like, and it's not what God's will looks like.  Our tears are testimony to that.  And I will keep on praying until my Sweet Jesus comes to make all things right, all things new.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Great Reversals

One of the things that I have often pondered is how God shapes our hearts and fashions us for the work He calls us to.  Have you ever noticed that He doesn't automatically give us aptitudes and attitudes for the job?  I've learned over the years that instead He crafts our circumstances and desires to form us in just the specific ways He needs.

Ten years ago I was heartsick and heartsore, longing to be a mother.  The irony of it all was that parenthood did not interest me for so long, until one day it mattered more than anything.  And Tim and I discovered that becoming parents was not going to be an easy journey.  I was about five years into ministry at the time.  I remember entertaining the thought that perhaps God gave me a mother's heart so I would be a better minister. 

Here I am ten years and three boys later, swimming in a sea of testosterone. 

I'm not in full-time ministry for the time being.  I know this is by God's Hand.  I wonder at His plans for me, even as I learn to be joyful where He has planted me.  Plans and Plantings are not always the same thing.  Sometimes one is part of the crafting and forming for the other.  So I wonder in this time of being Planted, Crafted, and Formed:  Did God give me the heart of a minister so I would be a better mother?

Over the past few months I have wrestled with the reversals in my life.  All those years I spent in full-time ministry I struggled to bear up under the expectations of others.  But recently, in the absence of those expectations, I also discovered a deeper truth.  I had wrapped up my identity in the ministry part, failing to know or see or value myself as a child of God first, without the wrappings.  So I've been learning all kinds of valuable lessons about what it means to be me, simply me.  Without title, or vision, or purpose, or drive.  What is most important is close-by, wrapped in the intimate details of feeding, correcting, washing, and loving.  No mission statement.  No vision statement.  Just the faces of little ones who look to me to order their days with love.

I've noticed that Christmas also is wrapped in Great Reversals.  God's sense of humor is that I am deep in the study of Daniel and Revelation during this Advent season.  My heart and mind and soul are full of this picture of Jesus, Son of God, revealed in His Glory and coming to us in His Power, the consuming Fire of His BEING that we often dismiss, ignore, fail to see, or just plain deny.  It's easy to have Jesus in a manger.  Harder to see Him hang on the cross, but still it's manageable.  But oh we avoid seeing Jesus coming as the Consuming Fire, the King who Conquers darkness with Inescapeable Light.  There is absolutely nothing manageable about this King of Kings and LORD of Lords whose tongue is Sword and who reigns with an iron Sceptor.  Oh Mercy!

This is my personal study.  Then I go to lead chapel and preach the Word to preschoolers and Jesus is once again a baby, precious and sweet, and sleeping peacefully in Mary's arms.  At the same time that God fills my imagination with Jesus the King, God purposefully shows Him delicately wrapped in the swaddling clothes, cradled by a manger.  This is the King at rest on Mary's breast!  THE KING!!!!

In our world people of power only occupy places of power.  And if the place is not powerful they do not occupy it.  Powerful people, in the worldly the context, refuse to sit anywhere less than what they believe they are entitled to. 

So here is REAL POWER showing up in the manger bed, sung to by a humble peasant girl, guarded and reared by a carpenter, a day laborer.  The only truly POWERFUL MAN is born not into prestige and position, but without either, in any imaginable form we could recognize.  In fact, His beginnings are so humble, and so particular in their humility, we would totally miss them if God hadn't sent the heavenly messengers to spread the Word.

I've pondered this juxtaposition of Majesty laying in a manger.  It challenges me in a way I've never been challenged.  Because it does what nothing else can do.

It makes my own experience of particular humility--Holy.

God chose the lowest common denominator as His resting Place, so that every place and every person would know they are included in His Plan.  Every one of us.  Every place we find ourselves.  Every station of life.  Every noble and ignoble pursuit we find ourselves in is the birth-place of His Presence when we invite Him in.  Oh Sweet Jesus!  It is so hard to issue the invitation!!!!  We want Him to take us to His Glory and instead He reveals His Glory by showing us His Poverty!  We want Him to make our lives great, and instead He asks us to die again and again to self, that thing in us that covets greatness for ourselves.  He refuses to be made over in our image and continually asks us to be made over in His.

Here is what I have learned.  The sleep is much sweeter in the manger than it is in the palace.  And when we let Him lead us to that simple place of resting in His Hands we too can sleep in Heavenly Peace.  Because the KING of Kings, born in a manger bed, is the only ONE powerful enough to give us Peace that surpasses anything positions of power can give.

Sunday, December 02, 2012


In this heart
of who I am
is the beat--
the rhythm--
of a woman
to dance
in breathless wonder,
in love with life,
walking strong,
head up high,
hope - full,
hope - bringer.

Oh she is in me!
Oh she is!

I hear her
faint whisper
as I whimper,
"Jesus let her out--"
Oh Sweet Jesus,
that's who You
created me to be,
this mess that I am now.
But I believe she comes
from the messiness of life,
the messiness of birth,
being born again
into the plans
my Sweet Jesus has.

So wait upon Him,
sweet reflection of
His Heart
within me,
shining with
the brightness of
His Glory,
reflecting the
of Him.

And as I am waiting
I know--
I am being