Monday, March 21, 2016

#Misery Needs Jesus' Company

It was a rough three weeks at my house. From ear infections to runny noses, from croupy coughs to bronchitis, from low-grade fevers to aching bodies, we had it all. As a stay-at-home mom to a two-year-old, I don't have time to be sick, but when the toddler and I are under the weather at the same time. . . 

Don't think for one minute that I suffered in silence. Why would I when there's an entire online world out there waiting to "Like," "Favorite," "Share," "Comment" on, and "Retweet" my misery? So, like any self-respecting social media addict, I grabbed my smart phone between nose wipings and thermometer readings and shared my sickness.

Misery Loves Company

It's a sad fact that far too many of us like to make our sufferings known. If we are experiencing pain, facing a trial/obstacle, or enduring injustice, the world would have us believe it’s our obligation to drag as many others as possible along with us. Because if there's one thing we hate (maybe even more than the suffering itself), it's the idea that we are alone.
Via Dolorosa

Easter is a glorious time of celebration. Sin has been overcome. Death has been defeated. The victory is won. The God of the universe, who put on human skin and entered time and space in the form of Good News and Great Tidings on Christmas morning, completed His earthly mission; the empty tomb attests to that fact. Hallelujah!

But what about the not-so-pretty parts? What if social media had existed at the time of Jesus' betrayal, suffering, and crucifixion? And what if Jesus, like many of us, took to cyberspace to wallow in self-pity? What might that have looked like?

o    Instagram –  a selfie in the purple robe and crown of thorns while blood trickles down His face with the caption, "What did I do to deserve this?"

o    Facebook – Status Update – “My best friends fell asleep on me when I needed them most. Another “friend” ratted me out to the cops for something I didn't even do. I was arrested and gang-beaten. Now I'm on death row. Could my life get any worse???”

o    YouTube – Video upload of the cat o’ nine tails flogging, ending with a 30-second shot of Mary sobbing hysterically that she can't understand how anyone could get away with doing this to her innocent baby publicly.

o    Twitter – @manupstairs, what kinda man sits back, watches this happen 2 his son? ppl wanna know why i am like i am #itsyourfault #letmedie

A Better Way

Jesus' experiences and photos are different from mine, but the sentiments expressed above sound shockingly familiar. Like, maybe I could have written them. Who among us has never felt like we were being abused unjustly, or that our respective lives were at rock bottom and couldn't get any worse, or that we had been falsely accused, tried, and convicted of something we didn't do, or that we were victims of our raising, or that our suffering was so great and so painful that we just wanted to die? I know I have. My guess is you have too. 

The difference between me (and you) and Jesus:  He really didn't deserve it, His life couldn't get any worse, and He was innocent, but he never blamed anyone for anything. If ever there was anyone in the history of human existence with the right to complain and assess blame for their misery, it was Jesus. But He didn't.

What Jesus did say:

·         Matthew 26:42: "'My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away
       unless I drink it, may your will be done.'"

·         Mark 15:3-5: "The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked
 him, 'Aren't you going to answer?. . .' But Jesus still made no

·         Luke 23:34: "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they
   are doing.'"

·         John 19:30: "Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up
   his spirit."

I had a nagging cough, some body aches, bronchitis and a touch of pneumonia (all while being waited on hand and foot by my sweet husband) and I made sure everyone in my house, my contact list, and my social media network knew how bad I felt. Jesus endured the most horrific torture and death imaginable, bore the sin of all mankind, and experienced an incomprehensible loneliness as God turned away from Him, yet the closest we come to even a tiny glimpse of His physical, emotional and spiritual pain is in His final cry from the cross as death came for Him (Matthew 27:46) . 

The world teaches us to whine, complain, pitch a fit, and throw a temper tantrum when pain and trials come our way. It's all about us. If we are miserable, so must everyone else be. Go down swinging and refuse to walk the way of suffering alone. 

Jesus shows us a different way, a better way. He is living proof that there is purpose in pain (John 16:33). May our lives (and our social media) bear witness to this truth!

  • What do your social media posts reflect about your relationship with God?
  • Do they reflect the world as your primary influence?
  • Or do they reflect someone who truly understands what it means to take up his/her cross and follow Jesus?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Let There Be Light

I love words.

You love words too.  Before you argue that you don't, let me just cut you off at the pass.  If you didn't, you wouldn't be reading this blog.  Language - the spoken and written word - provides an outlet for the soul.  Not only are we drawn to words, but we are also attracted to those with the ability to use them in such a manner that it takes our breath away.

Harper Lee and Pat Conroy.  Two truly Southern writers whose insight into the human mind, soul, and spirit pierces me in ways that make me feel shamefully exposed for all to see who I really am, yet, at the same time, is strangely comfortable, like a favorite blanket or a well-worn pair of jeans.  For many years, their use of words has left me breathless.   

In celebration of their lives, revel with me in some their most profound and poetic passages.

April 28, 1926 - February 19, 2016 

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
- To Kill a Mockingbird

"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions...but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself.  The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
- To Kill a Mockingbird

"Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common; they both begin where reason ends."
- Go Set a Watchman

"As sure as time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man, history is the last place he'll look for his lessons."
- Go Set a Watchman

"The only thing I'm afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person it in will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn't be worth living in."
- Go Set a Watchman

October 26, 1945 - March 4, 2016

"My poor boat poked along the waterway with the blinding speed of a manatee."
- The Water is Wide

"Behind us, the sun was setting in a simultaneous congruent withdrawal and the river turned to flame in a quiet duel of gold...The new gold of moon astonishing and ascendant, the depleted gold of sunset extinguishing itself in the long westward slide, it was the old dance of days in the Carolina marshes, the breathtaking death of days before the eyes of children, until the sun vanished, its final signature a ribbon of bullion strung across the tops of water oaks."
- The Prince of Tides

"No story is a straight line.  The geometry of a human life is too imperfect and complex, too distorted by the laughter of time and the bewildering intricacies of fate to admit the straight line into its system of laws."
- Beach Music

"Honor is the presence of God in man."
- The Lords of Discipline

"Love had always issued out of the places that hurt the most."
- My Losing Season

In the span of two weeks, the world has lost two gifted writers; authors whose command of the English language makes me want to read more.  To write more.  To hammer away at my craft until I have perfected it the way they have.  And now, in their passing, their literary legacy is even more precious.  If you've never read one of their books, never buried your face in the pages of descriptions so vivid they paint works of art on the pages of your imagination, and of truths so ripe with wisdom and virtue that you become a better person for simply having read them, may I challenge you to do that?  You won't regret it!

And while I'm issuing challenges, may I ask that ever-so-sensitive rhetorical question - when is the last time you read your Bible?  You know, The Word.  Or, using my emphasis, The Word.  In all of the ways God chooses to interact with us, His voice is most audible in the pages of His Word.  (Now is it starting to make sense why we are drawn to words?)  

There's a reason that words touch us.  Books.  Email.  Song lyrics.  Love letters.  Gossip. Eulogies. Wedding vows.  Text messages.  Rumors.  I love you.  I'm sorry.  In whatever form they come, words have power.  In both good and bad ways, they captivate us, spell-bind us, and leave us longing for something more, taking us right up to the edge of (but never over into) that space in us where the created meets its Creator.  God intended it that way.  After all, the spoken word, by His divine design, brought all of creation into being.

"And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light."
Genesis 1:3

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I Saw God Today

"None so deaf as those that will not hear, none so blind as those that will not see."
Matthew Henry

A young woman is drowning in more than $30,000 in consumer debt because she was an easy target for credit card companies while she was in college.  No one warned her of the dangers of spending borrowed money.  In her late 20's she nearly lost her home, her car, and all her worldly possessions trying to figure out how to pay it back.  A biblical financial principals Bible study, several good friends with money sense, and ten shredded credit cards later she entered into a 10-15 year debt repayment plan.  Angry and depressed, but determined to get out of her financial shackles, she tithed (even when it meant she didn't know how she would pay the power bill) and put every extra penny she had toward shrinking the bottom line. Somehow, none of the bills ever went unpaid.  About three years in, checks started showing up in her mailbox - sometimes just random cashiers checks of various amounts with no identifying marks, sometimes she had overpaid an account, the rules of her student loan changed and she was refunded five years of payments.  From every lucky windfall she gave to God, gave to others, put some in savings and applied the rest to her outstanding debt.  Six years later (not the projected 10-15) she was debt free.

 She gave to God, gave to others...

An anonymous donor paid for the thirty-something woman to go on her first foreign mission trip. Overwhelmed with gratitude she boarded a plane for an experience that would alter the course of her life.  Arriving home from her trip she vowed that she would return the following year, though she had no idea how.  Money was tight and even the most frugal year wouldn't yield enough savings to pay for another trip.  In faith she stepped out on a limb and paid the next year's deposit, trusting God to provide the rest if it was in His will for her to return.  The deadline to pay the balance loomed and she was losing hope.  She wore out her knees praying, reminding God that He, Himself, had spoken to her, promising her she would go back. A few days later some friends invited her to dinner.  After an enjoyable meal and plenty of small talk, the couple handed her an envelope and said they wanted to help her with the cost of her trip.  The young woman was grateful for any amount, but knew she'd be giving the check back to them shortly because, without any other assistance, the trip would not be a reality that year.  Stepping into her front door she paused to open the envelope and, sliding the check out, fell to her knees. It was the exact amount she needed to cover the remaining cost of the trip. 

 She wore out her knees praying... 

A middle-aged woman wanted nothing more than to be married and have a family.  It was a longing that took root in her heart when she was a teenager.  She dreamed about her Knight in Shining Armor; the years rolled by, but he never came. Several Mr. Wrongs and one Mr. Very Wrong came and went, but the ache in her heart lingered.  She wrote in her journal, hot tears soaking the page and, in places, fading the fresh ink, that she was finished. She cried out to God asking why she was being punished (a rhetorical question because in her mind she knew that this was just retribution for the relationship sins of her past), and accepted her sentence of lifelong loneliness.  She made a list that day; a nit-picky, ridiculously detailed, and tauntingly specific list of her requirements in a man.  Almost challenging God, she declared that her track record proved that she was unfit to choose a man, so it was up to Him to provide; and the way she would know this man were he ever to show up is that every single one of her pre-requisites would be met.  Thirteen years later God would deliver, but not in any way she ever dreamed or imagined.  As she tried to distance herself from the man of God's choosing, she found the list, and in near disbelief she checked off the bullet points, one by one, until there were none left.  Her Knight had arrived.

She cried out to God...

Coincidence has been defined as "a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection." It was just random timing that checks began to come in the mail and money rolled in unexpectedly cutting my debt repayment time in half. I had never mentioned to my friends the amount I needed to pay for my trip; they must have pulled a lucky number out of a hat (not unlike choosing lottery numbers) and beaten the odds.  The specific qualities and characteristics of a husband I penned more than a decade before the man would enter my life were general enough that they could apply to anyone. And in this manner, friends, family and strangers alike have all tried to explain away the miracles of my life.

Yes, those are my stories (just a few of them, there's plenty more where those came from). Huge coincidences?  I think not.  If you look closely, the events and circumstances of my life are not without a causal connection as the definition would suggest. I tithed, I wore out my knees praying, and I cried out to God - I gave God reason to respond to me.  But don't be too quick to praise me or give me too much credit, because I also did my fair share of blaming God for the messes I made.  What the causal connection reveals more than anything is His faithfulness and His good plan for my life.  Not a plan without pain, but one in which the cries of the believer in the midst of trials are heard.  Proof of miracles, not coincidences.
"Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
you have done wonderful things,
things planned long ago."
Isaiah 25:1

Albert Einstein is credited with having said, "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous."  I must beg to differ.  God leaves His fingerprints everywhere.  Ink-doused, fresh off the paper, totally and undeniably unique fingerprints.  If our fingerprints identify us, and no two prints have ever been found to be the same, not even identical twins, I think it's pretty safe to say that God is anything but anonymous. 

In contrast to Einstein's musings, I prefer the words of another great philosopher, George Strait.  In the lyrics of I Saw God Today the "King of Country" offers up a profound truth regarding the "King of Kings":

I've been to church
I've read the book
I know He's here, but I don't look
Near as often as I should
Yeah, I know I should
His fingerprints are everywhere
If I'd just slow down to stop and stare
Opened my eyes and man I swear
I saw God today

Where did you see God today?
Dust for His fingerprints; you'll find them - I promise!