Thursday, December 28, 2006

pity the man who stands alone

Temptation caught me off guard yesterday. Or rather, a reminder of a temptation which I fear my own vulnerability to. It was one of those almost-opportunities that makes you wonder what you might be capable of in the actual-opportunity. These are times when I am angry to see the things that appeal to me. These are times when I am discouraged that no amount of effort seems to take the struggle away. And sometimes, these are times when I feel afraid that there is no way I will make it through a lifetime's worth of almost and actual opportunities to bite the dust.

Thankfully, a dear friend and mentor called me not long after, saying, "Oh good, I can hear that you're already at the coffee shop. How 'bout I stop by in a little while?" She did, and we talked over coffee for an hour or so, chatting about several things, including my own recent frustration in all its ugliness. As usual, she expressed a not-so-shocked understanding that made me feel at ease.

As I walked back to my car after saying goodbye, my mind wandered back to that same temptation, and suddenly it held no appeal at all. Being in the presence of another Christ-follower, talking about the things of him, and sharing hearts with honesty, had momentarily made the lies look a little more like...well, lies.

I was reminded then of the importance of walking in community with the body of Christ. On my own, I really should fear the lifetime's worth of opportunities to sin, because I probably wouldn't make it. My strength comes with the choice to remain firmly rooted in relationships (even when I feel like running into hiding) that are full of the presence of God, to never cease being fully transparent with all my faults, to always grant those I love permission to speak truth into my life. I needed my friend yesterday, to step into my temptation and remind me of the something better that is the love of Jesus Christ.

We talk about it a lot, but I think we often forget just how much we really need one another. The truth of this become more and more clear to me as time goes on; if I attempt to do faith as a solo flight, I'm guaranteed to hit the ground.

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:23-25)

"If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!"
(Ecclesiastes 4:10)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

the prophet's words become my song

Sing, my daughter,
shout with joy like children do!
Play! Laugh! Dance!

Come out from your hiding,
from all your fearful cringing.
Open your eyes, look up!
I have taken away the hand
that was raised to strike you.
It's over now,
You're safe with me.

Don't hang your head, my daughter,
I am with you!
My strong arms will calm your trembling,
and my deep love will quiet you
until you can see the delight in my eyes,
and hear the songs I sing for you.

All the sorrows you have carried,
the weight of guilt,
the burdens that are all you have known-
I am lifting them from you shoulders;
Rise up, stretch, run without heaviness!
I have seen the wounds you've taken.
I will deal with those who crushed your spirit.
I saw it all, and I am for you.

Though you limp, I will call you to me.
I will gather every broken, scattered piece of you
and you will be whole.
Yes, my daughter,
I will bring you home.
Every place in your heart that has been ashamed
will know its worth.
I will lift up your head
and you will stand before the world as my precious prize.

I have good things for you, daughter,
gifts of love withheld from you by others.
I myself will lavish them on you now,
all your needs and longings will be restored to you,
restored before your very eyes.

This, my daughter, is your Father's promise to you.

(from Zephaniah 3:14-20)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's when he's chasing after me

Someone asked me recently, "When do you sense that God really loves you? When do you believe it?" For a moment I was afraid I wasn't going to have an answer, because there are times when I have a hard time believing it at all. I didn't want to be exposed as the doubter I often am. It was only a moment later, however, when I smiled and knew my answer: "It's when he catches me off guard, when he sends me surprises. That's when I know he's chasing after me."

I've seen this pursuit a lot in the area of encouragement. Years ago, I made a sort of pact with him that, when most discouraged, I wouldn't try to find encouragment on my own. I wouldn't call everyone about my miseries and hope that they could fix my need. Rather, I would wait, and trust that God would initiate the process.

What an incredible journey it has been! I remember the time when he asked me not to write an email of discouragment to my friend, Amanda, and honored my waiting with a handwritten letter from her in the mail that day. Another time, as I chose to wait through my sadness, I received something like six phone calls from people just calling to say hi. Other times he seems not to provide encouragement, and it later becomes clear just how much I needed the time to sit with him, or to soak in a lesson to be learned.

Lately, however, he has been after my heart. For some reason, the last couple weeks have brought about several conversations about singleness. Sadly, I have let much of my desire for romance grow numb and cold over the last few years, moreso than I had even realized. What God knows, however, is that these conversations have heightened my awareness of the whole thing. And so he is chasing after me: comments about beauty I haven't heard in years, teasing about boys that is seldom risked with me, a hundred tiny awakenings. I have laughed to myself several times, shaking my head and saying to the Lord with a smile, "What are you up to?"

He wants my heart, that's what he's up to. He loves me, but he knows I won't quite believe it unless he sneaks up behind me with flowers or shows affection I cannot claim to have earned. That's when I know it--when I realize that, even on the days I don't chase him, my awesome God is chasing after me.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

satan loves four-letter words

But I don't just mean the ones that most of your moms taught you not to say. I have written about one of them several times over the last few months: FEAR. Tonight I am reminded of another: QUIT. The enemy would be pleased as punch if we would all just quit.

My battles with self-esteem can complicate things for me relationally. I find myself haunted by a mild panic, and I often find myself stumbling around through a minefield of insecure comments and unneccesary apologies. It's not always this way, of course. But there are times when the fear of abandonment kicks in, I start acting like a weirdo, and it just spirals down from there. Often times, I can hear exasperation in the voice of a friend, and the self-loathing doubles. When I walk away, the enemy comes at me: "QUIT," he says. "Throw in the towel, give up the battle, surrender any visions of overcoming. QUIT. Save them the trouble of more exasperation. Hide away. You are always going to be too much work. You will never overcome the nervous comments and annoying insecurities. QUIT."

"You are beyond hope. QUIT."

I heard it loud and clear as I drove home tonight. And I was ever-so-tempted to say, "You know, you're right. I'm not worth the trouble. I give up." Oh, how he would have loved that! Why? Because he wouldn't have to be afraid of me anymore. That's right, I said "afraid of me". The enemy knows full well that if I fight for truth and continually let God bring beauty from my ashes, my life will be a spiritual force to be reckoned with. Satan fears me when I say, "I will not quit until I see every part of my life redeemed by him who loves to redeem, and restored by the one who loves to restore. I will not quit until I have allowed him to make me a blessing, because he and he alone is able to do so. I will not quit until I have seen that he can make all things, even me, beautiful in his time. Heck no, you filthy liar, I will not quit."

On nights like tonight, it takes everything in me not to throw the towel in. But I have been given a different four-letter word: HOPE. Hope that God really won't give up on me, and that he will delight to make masterpieces out of my messes. I know that this particular journey is going to continue to be a bumpy one for me. I am going to have to get up tomorrow morning and risk rejection and failure all over again. But I have hope that, if I let him, God will show me yet again that he does not give up on me.

When the people of God choose hope over fear and defeat, we are a force to be reckoned with indeed. When we let him be the redeemer he is, the God who is able to make all things new, then we make way in our lives for God to express himself in a ways we could never have imagined. His incredible power is made perfect in our weakness, and the world is changed.

Unless, of course, we quit.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


I live in Babylon,
a land of riches.
I am presented with abundant fare,
amazing feasts,
only to find each mouthful laced with poison.
I am offered a million pleasures that turn out to be
the slowest kind of dying.
My captor feigns generosity,
appeases to quell rebellion,
all the while slaying
through a million toxic subtleties.

I cringe at times, to see myself
sample the hemlock from hunger,
reach for the pleasure from longing...
embrace captivity
because I know nothing of home.

I have never seen my country-
just postcards and letters.
I sit so many mornings, so many evenings,
staring out at the expanse that separates me from You,
watching until it seems that hope
disappears over the curve of the horizon,
the promises a million miles away.

You sent word once through a messenger:
"On that day, I will gather you..."*
Our captives returned,
our shame wiped away,
the land stretching out, vast and free, before us.
My heart open wide, whole and free before you.
But tonight I go to sleep again
in Babylon.
How long, my God,
until you bring us home?

I'll watch for you,
until you bring us home.

*Zephaniah 3:20