Not Easy, but He is Good

Gentle Reader,

…a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance…

– Ecclesiastes 3:4 (CSB)

Time is linear. Ever-moving forward. Marching toward a specific end.

It’s also wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff. (Thank you, Doctor Who).

In each of our timelines, there is good and bad. Weeping mixed with laughing. Mourning combined with dancing. It’s not easy to separate our experiences, and the emotions that arise from those experiences, into discreet parts. Perhaps that’s why someone coined the word “bittersweet” ages ago. That, I think, is an apt description for life.

And so, the truth is (and I remind myself here that truth is what I’m meant to be focusing on this year), we have to learn to accept whatever comes our way. There is very little that we can control. Really, most often the only control we have is in how we respond to events. Will we choose bitterness and fear? Or will we choose to exercise the gritty kind of faith that takes shape in the cauldron of adversity?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not telling you to be a doormat. I’m not telling you to say, “Yay! I have cancer!” I’m not telling you to paste a placid expression on your face when your heart is breaking.

What am I telling you?

To ask Jesus to give you eyes to see Him, even on the worst days. To seek God at all times, in all things. We can accept whatever comes our way when we learn to embrace the Lord who loves us first and foremost. When we are wrapped in His arms, we can breathe deeply, despite the torrents of tears, and resolve to put one foot in front of the other, knowing that He will never let us go.

It would be nice if life was simple. It will be, one day, when the feet of the Savior touch the earth again and all is renewed and restored. That, we look forward to. But for now, it’s complicated. It’s messy. The destructive tentacles of sin, that of the first people which fundamentally tainted and twisted our souls, reach out and with a sickening thud glomp onto everything. Every person. Every relationship. Even down to the bits and pieces that make up the atoms. The entire world blew up at the first bite of forbidden fruit.

We blew up.

And we keep blowing up.

Thank God that He’s not like us. Me, if I were Him I’d have called it quits a long time ago. Heck with all of it. Heck with this chaos. But He’s not me. He’s Other, Unique, Mystery, Holy, Just, and Good. He is Love. He keeps working, patiently. He knocks down walls, breaks through doors, shakes the mountains, stops the rivers. There is no depth to which we can descend that His arm does not reach further still.

The author of Hebrews calls this saving “to the uttermost” (7:25).

Maybe we won’t see that uttermost in this part of the timeline. Maybe that will wait until Eternity. Maybe we won’t understand all that He is doing right now.

What is definite and assured is that we will continue to have wave after wave of tribulation wash over us. Some, we cause ourselves. Some, we’d never ask for or anticipate in a million years. What is also definite and assured: All storms can be navigated by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. His light continues to guide us to the safe shore.

Perhaps you cry today. Perhaps the news never seems to be good.

But then you see the first faint buds of spring. Just the barest wash of green upon the trees. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds. And you remember: Blessed assurance. Jesus is mine.

And you raise your hands to Heaven as the tears drop to the ground.

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Burn Up the Memories

Gentle Reader,

When someone’s home is destroyed by a fire or flood or some other catastrophe, we hear that they are most devastated by the loss of cherished items like photographs and other mementos of special occasions. A television can be replaced. So can clothes, shoes, books. That picture of Auntie Sylvia and Uncle Ernie on their seventieth wedding anniversary? Gone.

A unique kind of pain.

One I realize I’ve inflicted on myself.

No, my house hasn’t burned down. Four walls and a roof, still here.

But my social media, that cloudy place that brings out the best and worst in all of us, that I’ve burned to the ground more than once. Deliberately lit the match. Watched years of thoughts and memories crumble into ash. Gone are the photos of an impromptu summer dance party in my dear friend’s backyard. Lost are the silly, pain-soaked words I shared from the hospital bed. Thoughtful discussions, memes, moments of growth and sharing – vanished.

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love.

– 1 John 4:18 (CSB)

The Beloved Apostle wrote these words to encourage Christians. We are not meant to quake in fear at the thought of meeting our Lord.

Absence of fear (boldness) derives not from a sense of self-sufficiency but from the relation of child to Father. Love and fear of punishment are incompatible. This does not imply flawless behavior on the part of the child; any claim to perfection at this level can result only in bigotry. Rather it is God’s full and free acceptance and the believer’s trust in His love that elicits a full confidence that excludes fear and uncertainty.

Asbury Bible Commentary (emphasis mine)

Love. Fear. Incompatible.

As I seek to dwell in truth this year, I see just how bound up in fear I’ve been. Perhaps a, “Well, yeah,” moment for someone who doesn’t know what it is to live without anxiety due to her misfiring brain, but because God is good and promises to complete His good work in us, there’s always a new layer waiting to be revealed, a new space in which He desires to move. And I can’t stop the tears from stinging as I realize just how deep the fear of people goes.

Fear of their anger. Of their rejection.

You see, when I walk into a room, I don’t assume that I’ll be embraced. There’s always this wall. This wariness. This wondering. The last few years have done little to move me to a new perspective. I’ll own what I need to own here; I haven’t always spoken in love, used the best words or chosen my moment wisely. And the reaction to that – lack of grace, lack of love, lack of seeking to understand…

Burn up the memories.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you’ve always had to be. Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know… (Thanks, Elsa).

It’s deeper than that, though. Because I’m human and, smart as we can be, we are profoundly stupid at times. I know that God is nothing like people. I know that He is love. I know that I am chosen, redeemed and accepted in Him.

But…

The unholy torture of the “but.”

What if God is like them? What if He isn’t that loving? What if I’ve gone too far this time?

Just goes to show how muddled our thinking can get. Fearing people, fearing God, full of doubt and shame. So, hit the “delete.” How I wish I hadn’t. Hadn’t given in to that fear. Hadn’t erased all those posts. Hadn’t been…frankly, a coward. We do that, you know. Justify acts of cowardice, frame them as self-preservation.

I have more to say, but, for now, I invite you to sit in this discomfort with me. Maybe you haven’t gone so far as to erase the online evidence of entire sections of your life. Maybe it’s something smaller than that. Something closer, that eats away at your joy. Whatever the source of your fear and doubt, I know it’s there, because, you and me, we’re the same. Different faces, different backgrounds, same drive for safety and acceptance. Where it counts, our minds spin in sync.

So park it next to me. Sigh as I do, amazed anew at both how quickly lost you can get and how much more quickly the Father comes running. Lay your head against His chest with me, allowing your hands to release their white-knuckled grip. Fear has no place here. We are loved.

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The Wednesday Writers: Stephanie Thompson (Again)

Back Door

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today I’m happy to welcome back my friend Stephanie Thompson.

A Place of Unexpected Hospitality

Last year, something exciting happened around here. After living here for nineteen years, we bought a new back door! It is a beautiful white door with a small window. No scratches or marks of age. New.

As a child, I could have never expected a door to be a source of fulfillment. But once you reach adulthood, you set your eyes on different “toys.” A new dishwasher? Yippee!

Our home is small and quaint. Originally we bought it as a “starter” home but due to a lot of factors since then, we are still here. And truthfully, we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. This is the place our stories have unfolded. We have hosted Bible Studies, birthday parties, dinner parties, brought new babies home. These walls have witnessed despair, sorrow, hope, celebration. God has weaved our lives together here.

The distance between the back door and the front door is fairly short. Yet, as you know, there exists a cultural nuance about house entrances. Typically, the front door is used formally and the back door for more intimate relationships. Things like:

The neighbor coming over to ask to borrow a cup of sugar (yes, we are fortunate to have those interactions in 2016!)

My kids’ friends looking for a playmate

The dogs, coming in refreshed and a bit calmer after some time in the backyard.

The Summer Parade of kids going back and forth between the inside for refreshment and the outside for watersports (hopefully not dripping). The glorious breeze and the waft of grass coming in with them.

Because our home is small, there is not a lot of space for storage. Coats and shoes find their place on hooks and a shoe bench immediately after entering the back door. And it opens right into my kitchen. Let’s just say there is always something “cooking” in there.

I’d like to say that the “mudroom” was always organized but it wasn’t.

Once I even lost a bike helmet there in plain sight!

In the summer, flip flops, packages of sparklers left over from fourth of July and swimming goggles are stored (loosely!) in this space.

In the winter, it becomes cluttered with boots. Not just our boots. The boots of those who grace us with their presence. Whose interactions are woven into our life stories. Which brings me to what I have learned from my back door.

You see, I used to be embarrassed for guests to use it. Even if I tried to cue visitors to use the front entrance, which is so much more elegant and clean, people still chose to use the back door.

Sometimes, my father-in-law would pop over on a Saturday morning to have coffee. There would be a knock on the back door. Yikes! Pancake batter adorned my counters. Dirty breakfast dishes stacked in the sink waiting to be bathed in the dishwasher. I tried to be gracious but inside I was swallowing my pride. He was seeking relationship with his son. I was focused on logistical details.

And then there was the next door neighbor girl, seeking a place of refuge from the insecurity in her own home. There would be a knock on the back door. I saw the door opening to the array of boots and coats strewn about. She didn’t focus on that. Our back entrance provided affirmation that she had value and was loved unconditionally.

So last year, when we bought a new door, there was a feeling of accomplishment on our part. Everyone likes to make their home more appealing and welcoming.We saved and bought a door that added aesthetic value as well as heat efficiency. It was nice to have something new.

But nothing else about the “back door” has changed. Except my perception of it and what it means for us.

I have learned that when people use that door, they feel comfortable. Intimate. Our front door is for people like the UPS carrier, a girl scout selling cookies, trick or treaters, or guests with whom we haven’t developed much of a relationship.

The back door crowd sees us in all our “nakedness”, and still choose to enter our home. And I need to let down my guard and accept it.

For, despite what my door may look like, it represents something beautiful.

What area of your home has become your unexpected place of hospitality?

********

mudphotoStephanie is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She writes about sensing the voice of God and encountering the Holy Spirit in the midst of our everyday routines. Her pieces have appeared at Mudroom, The Mighty, Altarwork, as well as other sites. She is a writer for the Redbud Guild. In addition, her passion for those affected by mental illness finds itself woven into her writing. Stephanie lives in Mokena, Illinois with her husband and three teens.   .

A speaker as well as an author, you can connect with Stephanie at her blog and on social media (Twitter  /  Facebook).

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Five Minute Friday: Secret

Reach

Gentle Reader,

It’s been a month since I last participated in Five Minute Friday. Missed the chat tonight because I put off exercising until 5:15 p.m., which I rarely do, because as much as I hate mornings, I hate exercising at night even more. As often as I’m able, I roll out of bed, slide my feet into my shoes and get the job done. The sweaty, annoying job.

So. Anyway.

Kate says: secret.

Go.

I am not a health nut.

When I talk about my exercise schedule or the way I have to eat (which is pretty much vegan at this point), some assume that I’m an amazing gym rat or that I spend my days crafting fabulous, quinoa-based recipes. No. Not at all. Not true.

What I am is a lazy junk-food addict. I love Pepsi, chips, cookies, Arby’s and bacon. I don’t like getting up and doing burpees or hefting weights above my head. I want to binge-watch Netflix all day while sitting in a barrel full of Doritos. I want to take as many naps as possible. I want to become one with the couch. If I believed in spirit animals, mine would be the sloth.

So what’s my secret? How did I manage to change my diet? How do I keep up with the exercise?

There is no secret.

Taking care of our bodies to the best of our abilities falls under the realm of stewardship. We don’t own these flesh-tents. God made them. They belong to Him, just as our hearts, souls and minds do. Being the humans we are, we easily slide toward laziness, as I do, or toward obsession, spending hours and dollars crafting the “perfect” body because we hope that a beautiful outer package will fill the inner void. Neither is healthy.

Stewarding our bodies really is as simple as “eat less, move more.” We don’t like hearing that. We want the quick fix. We want the diet fad. Having to make deep, lasting lifestyle changes? #nothanks

So if there is no secret, and the route to success is truly simple, why is it so hard? Why do I (and maybe you) have so much trouble aligning our attitudes, thoughts and desires with the actions we know we must take?

Because we forget the spiritual aspect.

…let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

– Galatians 6:9 (NKJV)

This verse is eschatological. Paul draws us to keep our eyes on what lies ahead, knowing that serving Jesus now is worth every effort and toil because in the end we will receive the great reward of being with Him, face-to-face. There is a broader principle, though: sowing and reaping. In verse eight,

…he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

– (NKJV)

Again, eschatological and broad. We have everlasting life by “sowing to the Spirit,” meaning placing our faith in the saving grace of Christ. But the kingdom is not just “then.” It is also “now,” within us, by the indwelling of the Spirit. We are to live as people who see things differently, who comprehend a new reality.

So I pray, Jesus, help me. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to make a salad. I don’t want to do push-ups. You’ve got to enable me to do good. You’ve got to empower me to listen to the Spirit instead of myself. 

And He does.

Stop.

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