Five Minute Friday on a Monday: Return

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Gentle Reader,

I was cranky last week. Anvils hammered in my head. Had a “crying mad” moment over something. Opening the laptop to chat with my blogging buddies simply didn’t happen. That’s life, I suppose. And so, this late entry.

Kate says: return.

Go.

I haven’t shared much about my attempt to read through the Bible this year. There’s the fear of sounding prideful – “Well, look at what I’m doing…” – and the fear of somehow jinxing the project – “Well, I told them about it and now I’m three weeks behind so I suck.” And to be real: I didn’t read my Bible last week. As stated above, I was in and out of a wicked headache and what I was feeling kept me from reading. Because that’s a spot that Satan loves to press; I’m feeling angry, condemned, so don’t read Scripture because that will make me feel worse because God, in reality, probably doesn’t like me very much.

Yes, I still struggle with that. Not as much as I used to, but I’m not yet free. I’d like to claim that I was, but does the world really need another liar?

Anyway, I’ve made my way to Job’s story, which I love. Many hate this book because there are no answers. We don’t get to know why God allowed Satan to wreak havoc in Job’s life. We don’t get to know why God chose to test his servant like that. Job is a mystery to us and we don’t like it. We want to be able to unravel the strands of human responsibility and Divine movements. We want to be able to say, “This is what and where and when and – most importantly – why.”

And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

– Job 1:21 (NKJV)

That’s a profound statement. This man has just lost everything. He doesn’t know why. He maintains his innocence and his devotion to God. He puts up with his probably well-intentioned but ultimately idiotic friends spouting hot air at him. In the end, he encounters God, who gives him no answers, instead expressing His majesty and sovereignty. In short and amazingly simple language, the message of Job’s life is: We don’t always get to know.

Will we keep trusting God?

Will we return to Him, over and over?

Stop.

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Not Your Motivational Writer

Fight

Gentle Reader,

I like to kick-box.

Yes. A Muay Thai elbow-throwing pacifist.

It’s not pretty. Nobody who kick-boxes looks good after a bout. She is drenched from head to toe. Her muscles ache. Her voice is hoarse from grunting and even shouting. Her hair clings to her neck, her face. She stinks. She needs a long shower and a good massage.

Two weeks ago, I wrote this.

Last week, this.

These kinds of posts have, apparently, become a hallmark of mine. If my picture wasn’t displayed just to the right of what you’re now reading, you might think I was some no-nonsense, cigar-chomping, former football coach. “Get out there and quit whining” type stuff. Please know: I don’t want anyone to think that I desire to minimize or make light of suffering. That is, in no way, my goal. We have to talk about the things that hurt.

But I am seeing a “stuckness.”

A glorification of pain.

An entitlement.

Unwillingness to let go of the victim identity.

The therapist that I see has told me, more than once, that healing only comes when we are willing to get “un-stuck.” That, of course, doesn’t mean we will never hurt again, and it doesn’t guarantee the disappearance of illness, mental or physical, but it does mean that we are continually looking to Jesus. Continually going forward, no matter if it’s a crawl.

This way that we travel, this road that we walk? It’s a foot-wide ribbon, winding in and out of mountains and valleys.

Fingernails tear off. Keep going.

Rocks scrape. Keep going.

Dust coats. Keep going.

Sweat mingles with tears. Keep going.

When it’s all about us, all about the constant navel-gazing and self-actualization, we aren’t going. We’re staying. Further, when we decide to ditch the concept of “sin,” we end up throwing out endurance, holiness and love, too. When it’s all fluffy and gushy and about the feels and getting mad at anyone and everyone because how dare they not be as perfect and attuned as we want them to be at all times, we lose an essential element of the Gospel: Jesus loves you, yes He does, and that means He doesn’t want you to stay where you are.

See, we don’t know this, because we don’t know the Bible. We either don’t read it at all or we blithely shrug off words like race, discipline, war and battle. We start and end with “come just as you are,” content with a surface-level doctrine that’s little more than spiritual-sounding self-help. It’s bubblegum. Cotton candy. Fluff.

Useless.

The world spent the last month tuned into the Winter Olympics. We marveled over feats of strength and daring-do. We gasped when an athlete fell and cheered when they got back up. We clapped. We cheered. We became invested in the stories of these people who set their sights on the prize and never wavered in their focus.

A theological lesson disguised as human drama if there ever was one.

When we think of encouragement, we think of gentleness. Whispered words and tender hugs. Sometimes, it is that. Other times, maybe even a lot of the time, it is Joses – a man known for being so encouraging that he came to be known by the name Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement” – squaring off with the Apostle Paul, letting him know in no uncertain terms that he would not be giving up on John Mark (Acts 15:36-41). It is grit and guts and cutting through all the bull.

Real talk: We don’t need more motivational speakers or self-help books. We don’t need listicles that tell us the “10 best ways…” to anything. What we need is to get serious. We need to actually struggle, actually engage in the battle, rather than sit and believe that the world owes us something when it very clearly doesn’t.

Again, I plead with you, dear reader, to not read into this piece an intent or motivation that isn’t here. I am an advocate of therapy and medication and doing what you need to do to work through pain and suffering. But there’s the key word – through. You get to make that choice. You are never without agency in how you respond to and handle whatever it is you’re dealing with.

Be a pusher. Be a fighter.

Because you can. You can. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then His very Spirit lives within you. His empowerment is available to you every single step of the way. Ask Him to help you, to push you, even if you have to do it a million times in a day. And when you fall – we all do – ask Him to assist you in brushing off the dust. He will.

Every time.

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Five Minute Friday: Overcome

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Golden-hued light streams through the windows across the back of my house. In the front yard, the color of the maple tree shifts from bright yellow to near-orange. Dark green veins on the leaves flicker and fight on, valiantly drawing nutrients from the rough, graying trunk until the last possible moment. Cold, frost-bitten mornings keep the dogs abed later than usual. Their fur grows thicker and fluffier.

Autumn continues to wind itself around the landscape. The view changes daily, a transformation made almost as if by magic. Blink and you’ll miss it. But the animals, they know. They begin slow down. Their Creator whispers that it’s time for them to rest. Gather up sustenance for snowy days ahead, curl up in a ball and drape your tail across your face.

One by one, the birds will stop trilling. The squirrels will stop darting across busy streets. They will hunker down and observe the turning of the seasons, confident and content in the care of the hands that fashioned them.

Kate says: overcome.

Go.

The technician smeared the cold jelly across my abdomen. I closed my eyes, preparing for the onslaught. Down came the probe. She was just doing her job. But I wanted to kick her or bite her or something. I bit my lips and clenched my fists to keep from screaming. A few tears sneaked past the lashes pressed tight against my cheeks. She pressed harder, moving across the long scar, stopping when she reached the spot that hurts the most.

A tumor hunting we will go.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want…

I’ve written about Barnabas. I want to be like this dude. Without him, the church leaders in Jerusalem may have never accepted Paul. Without him, John Mark may have never gotten a second chance. He got down there, in the hard stuff with the broken people. He urged them on. He stood his ground. This behind-the-scenes servant of God did all that he could to uplift and encourage.

Part of that, I think, included speaking truth that most of us would rather ignore.

So: Don’t wallow. Don’t make excuses. Don’t whine.

Suffering is real. Pain sucks. Illness is the worst. There’s nothing glamorous about malfunctioning bodies, damaged relationships, empty bank accounts, You’re going to weep and doubt and rage at God sometimes. You’re going to hate all the tests and trials. You’re going to want to slap well-meaning people who say stupid things. You’re going to want to sit down, throw your hands in the air and quit.

Don’t.

Square your shoulders and lift your weary head. God didn’t make you so you could lay down in the dirt and die before your time. Grit your teeth. Press onward. Move forward. Don’t allow victimization to turn you into a perpetual victim. Don’t allow yourself to think that the world owes you anything. Don’t waste your time coveting what others have. Don’t waste your energy on black, soul-eating bitterness.

As Eric Matthews said, “Life’s tough. Get a helmet.”

If there’s still breath in your lungs, your race isn’t done.

By the power of the Holy Spirit within, fight.

Overcome.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

– Romans 8:31-39, 1 John 4:4 (NKJV)

Stop.

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Photo Credit: Jason Briscoe

Review: Where I End

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

Jesus…teaches us to put our question in a way which is meaningful. He tells us that we should not ask ‘Why?’ but ‘To what end?’ … Jesus is a true Pastor. For when we understand the change, we are no longer cloaked with terror. We can breathe again. We can cry and not be weary. We can live by the profound peace in our hearts.

Everything changes under our hands if with our hand in the hand of our Lord we are ready to march forward to the great ends of God. Our conscience is stained and we are guilty. But being in the hand of Jesus,we may ask with fear and trembling, ‘To what end?’ and we may receive the answer of Paul: In order that grace may be mightier, the cross greater, and the Lord dearer to us.

Where I End, p. 194-195, 196; quoting Helmut Thielicke’s Out of the Depths

I am tempted to end this review here, for this quote tells you all that you need to know about Where I End: a Story of Tragedy, Truth and Rebellious Hope, written by Katherine Elizabeth Clark. However, if I did this, perhaps you might be tempted to believe that Clark is somehow above it all, a perpetually-smiling, saintly figure who has nothing at all in common with you. Such a belief would drive you away from this book – a book every one of us needs to read.

In our modern, Western, sleek-and-shiny context, we don’t know how to suffer well. Unlike our brothers and sisters in hostile and war-torn countries, we are not daily confronted with dark moments of terror. Thanks to advances in medical science, we don’t have to watch loved ones die of preventable diseases like measles or scarlet fever. We are insulated. Cushioned.

Only two things can shake us out of our rose-colored haze: If we consciously choose to seek out suffering by ministering among the poor and the marginalized (which, no bones about it, we should do) or if tragedy suddenly and inexplicably strikes.

Clark and her family experienced the latter. In the briefest of moments, their entire world was transformed. A game of tag. A child who jumped. Broken vertebrae. Pain. Paralysis.

A young, healthy, active mother could no longer hold her children.

The children had to grapple with looking upon their mother lying in a hospital bed.

A husband and father forced to bear the load.

For better, for worse, we say in our marriage vows, in the covenant we make with each other and with God.

Except we never really expect the worse.

Clark details the journey in a non-linear format, which would normally drive order-bound me up the wall, but this narrative choice worked well, because this book is so much more than a story of sorrow. It is about choices. It is about figuring out how to suffer well. Not denying the pain, not ignoring the anger, but turning again and again to the Lord. Seeking the hope that is found in His presence. Releasing a sigh and resting in His arms, even when nothing makes sense, even when the world screams that He can’t be trusted.

It is a story not of praising God for pain, but praising God in the pain. Learning to sing loudly when the storm rages, the song of worship rising above the howling wind, moving the heart of the Father. Determining to be grateful for little blessings and small progress. Seeing things with new eyes.

Above all, Where I End is a very human story nestled within the awesome story of the God who sees, the God who knows. It is about accepting the very human limitations of physicality and of understanding, then choosing to love the God beyond the limits instead of allowing the limits to turn to bitterness. This is the only way that we can survive the shattering of the cocoons that we make for ourselves without bank accounts and education and white picket fences.

Where I End releases January 2018. Do head over to Amazon and pre-order your copy today.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.