Leviticus and how God wants you (yes, you) near

This learning curve is steep.

New job, all new terminology, volumes of unfamiliar acronyms and unfamiliar operating systems are a tad overwhelming.

I could chalk it up to a lot of things— age, background, disposition—but it is now a moot point. In the last three weeks I have learned more than I ever thought I would about Georgia motor vehicle laws, chain of custody for a vehicle, weight classifications for truck tractors and straight trucks, millage rates, replacement titles, property taxes and insurance lapses. 

When I try to sleep, the DOS based software I am fumbling through flashes behind my closed eyes.

It is as if I am lost in a scene from The Matrix. The screen is blinking with numbers and codes and to someone insightful they mean so much more. There is so much detail and every inch of it has a meaning whether I fully grasp it or not.

It is as if I am in a foreign land and do not speak the language. I just nod and smile and ask for help over and over again. I plow forward hoping that at some point this will suddenly click and what is now foreign will feel familiar and ways I feel I’m failing and a hindrance will transform into some type of success and helpfulness.

When JP began the current series on the Pentateuch, I loved the overviews of Genesis and Exodus and took ravenous notes reminding myself of the beautiful details of so many stories I have known since childhood. They are a reassuring continuum of God showing his faithfulness to an unfaithful people.

As he turned last week to Leviticus, the foreign feeling I have been grappling with at work came flooding in. So many times I have attempted to trudge through the readings of entrails being washed with water, hands placed on an animals as they are killed, the blood thrown on the sides of the altar and the processes for ritual purity.

The feasts, the sacrifices, the blood shed. Burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings and scape goats—Nadab and Abihu consumed by fire for unauthorized fire. It can overwhelm the mind and, not unlike a code you’ve never seen and are trying to learn, seem like it makes no sense.

This moment in history is yet one more beautiful reminder of the God we desire to know, the God who has called us to love. He chose the people. He chose their leader. He answered their cry while laboring under oppression and slavery. He called them to himself time and again while they chose to turn away.

At the beginning of their relationship, God called to Moses from the burning bush. At the beginning of Leviticus, God called to Moses from within the tent, the tabernacle, He had instructed them to build. Once constructed, however, no one was able to go in.

They could not bear to be in His very Presence.

It is the great divide in need of bridging for every person on the planet. How do sinful people draw near a Holy God? 

The details required and contained within Leviticus seem so foreign and strange, and at times barbaric. But like JP explained, they truly become the most amazing component of it all. In the middle of the details, there is the one detail that matters. The one that amazes.

This is what it takes to have sinful people draw near. 

And this Holy God, He wants them near.

He wants us near to Him.

He wants you near.

Author, Creator, Finisher, Perfector is seeking you. He is seeking a relationship that will change and shape and remake.

Whatever it means to let us into this dwelling place with God, He will prescribe a way. There is a standard, a code, that brings order and ultimately a solution to the sin problem.

If the steps to get there in Leviticus seem monumental and daunting, they are. To approach God, who is like no other in heaven above or the earth below, offers a way to approach, it is no wonder it boggles the mind. It is essential, it is the least that could be done for someone to approach and still survive.

Laws are in place to protect people There are codes that provide order and keep people surviving.

Like a renewal on your car’s registration, however, this type of solution must be repeated. If someone takes ownership of a vehicle, a tax is due. It is the cost of having an ordered society where people can come and go on safe streets and with protection in place.

The sacrifice required to approach, to find relationship is astonishing. It is the cost of a people who continue to choose sin as long as they are bound in earthly flesh. Year after year, day after day, sacrifice and rescue are imperative to continue the relationship. 

But much like dreading going to a job day after day with details I don’t yet fully comprehend and certainly have not mastered, the day in and out of offering sacrifices was wearisome. It was a system that was only foreshadowing a more perfect solution. The One Perfect Solution.

Hebrews brings Leviticus into focus through the lens and person of Jesus.

Leviticus was straining to see the glory of what was to come and Hebrews reflects the beauty of what He accomplished. The context unlocks that mysterious code and ritual:

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him….

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ2 had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:8-14

Like the flashing numbers that are so foreign, and the rituals of blood and sacrifice. There is meaning in every detail. The rituals of sacrifice foreshadowed the One Sacrifice that would put it all in place. His One perfect offering brought an end to all others and relationship is granted, established. 

Here we find rest in a finished work as we move towards greater understanding.

I will move ahead and trust that The Perfect Sacrifice offered in my place will take my fumbling and failings and use them. There is a purpose and He has already accomplished it.

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Holding Fast: When Super Glue Isn’t Enough

My husband will not willingly go to a doctor.

While this is not an uncommon trait, particularly among men, the circumstances that make him actually go are the kind that will mentally and physically undo the normal, average human.

Several years ago I was talking to an acquaintance about her husband’s occupation. He was the guy who is in charge of sending out ambulances to accident scenes during any given shift. Further into the conversation she mentioned an email that was circulating among his EMT friends. It contained a photo of a guy who’s ankle had been split so wide open it didn’t look real. There was exposed bone. It was so garish that those EMTs who deal with trauma every day were shocked by it and thus continued forwarding the email.

That picture was of my husband’s leg.

It was one of only a handful of times I recall him willingly going to the doctor and that meant an ambulance retrieving him from the volleyball court.

The majority of the time, he is a tough-it-out guy. He may tell our kids if there is no blood or bone, they will be ok.

He still may not adhere to that for himself.

He is the one who first explained to me that Super Glue was used to stop bleeding for soldiers injured on the battle field. In Vietnam it saved many a life by allowing medics to stop the flow of blood and get the patient to a hospital.

Super Glue is our friend.

Circular saw cut on the meat of the hand? Super Glue.

Exacto knife slice? Super Glue.

The thing is, it works. It holds fast when there is an injury, a tear to the skin. It stops the bleeding.

It is strong and provides this barrier to keep out the bad and hold together to allow time for the healing.

Once the Super Glue is in place, however, you do not want to try and remove it. That fast hold hurts fierce when stripped away and can take with it skin—only increasing the divide, the injury.

When my brother preached these last three weeks on marriage and its purpose from Ephesians 5, he had us turn to Genesis 2 and God’s original uniting of the first man and woman. The beautiful account of Adam’s deep sleep, Eve’s creation and then their purpose brought me here, what it means to ultimately “hold fast.” In verse 24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

The bond that comes with holding fast makes two into one. Divided, separate parts are made whole. It is a powerful union.

Growing up I always heard the King James version of that Genesis 2 verse and would later often here churchgoers refer to “leave and cleave.” The man and woman would leave their parents and cleave to one another—just another way of saying hold fast.

Cleave is literally sticking to, adhering, gluing if you will.

That is the primary definition for cleave.

It is also the primary purpose of marriage.

Yet somewhere along the way, the secondary definition of the King James kind of word has become the one we seem to know. Most know the cleave that means to split or divide by or as if by a cutting blow.

Somehow those two definitions that are so far apart—not unlike that leg split wide—share just a razor thin difference whether to divide or unite. In a nation, a world, where divorce is more common than staying together, the cleave within the marriage means everything.

The same word has two primary meanings that are entirely opposites. The one implemented will make or break a union.

The end of this month will mark 25 years of marriage to my amazing Chadd.

While there are others I know (one couple in our church in particular who will reach 70 years of marriage this month!) have and will far exceed that number, today I think that is more abnormal than normal.

Our silver anniversary is a profound moment. I contemplate all those years, all that life lived, through five children and five surgeries and 12 homes and deaths and hurts and joys and failures and successes. There is not a secret formula for Chadd and me.

We are holding fast and it is not always easy.

When my eldest daughter tells me that she wants what we have, I smile and love that what she sees is something considered desirable. I also quickly tell her that what we have is hard fought. It has been attacked from within and from without.

Throughout scripture, we are commanded to hold fast to God’s covenant faithfulness to us.

In Deuteronomy we are told to hold fast to the LORD your God—repeatedly. In the Psalms God promises to deliver because of us holding fast in love. We are told to hold fast God’s commands in Proverbs and his covenant in Isaiah and love and justice in Hosea. Hold fast to what is good says Romans and 1 Corinthians and Philippians to hold fast to the word. Hebrews ask that we hold fast our confidence, our confession, our hope.

The mystery boggles my tiny mind. I often tell people that the wisdom I have to share is primarily a warning of what not to do.

I stare at a print in my office of a woman from a shipwreck washed ashore. She is barely out of the waves and pulling herself up by the cross beams of a cross. Holding fast to her rescue.

This holding fast is like that Super Glue, covering a divide, a split, leaving time for healing—a way to stop the bleeding.

Yet much like my husband’s ankle, the wide open breaks and tears will require more than the glue.

Following Chadd’s second surgery on his ankle, a wound care specialist taught me how to pack cow intestines into that wound. Yes, cow intestines. The split was so wide that the skin needed something to hold onto and provide a stable surface—a spot where the cells could adhere and begin to build to close that gap for healing.

There is a lot of holding fast couples can do by sheer force of will, many times the cleaving of their own power may be able to cover a wound. It is the deep and harrowing, the stomach churning hurts that will not be repaired this way.

And many of those wide wounds come within the marriage itself. That is why the One wounded deepest is the only qualified physician for those type of tears and damage.

Without access to this Doctor, to this kind of healing, to this kind of holding fast, marriages do not survive.

Chadd would tell you the same himself. Without Jesus bridging that wide gap, that spot that may have been cleaved (and not with the first definition) there is no unity, no one surviving. The two become one when they are fully reliant on the One wounded on our behalf.

It is a learning process, of the lifelong variety.

I would never have thought to use an intestine to help bring healing to a deep wound, but that is why we looked to someone who did.

When Jesus was broken wide and completely for me, for Chadd, it was His demonstration of holding fast. We look to Him. His willing death meant His own holding fast to a cross He could have come down from. His blood flowed and there was no stopping it. He held fast then and He does it now.

It is like we are just now learning what love and marriage look like—25 years in! Submission is an easy directive when the one to whom you submit has been broken for you. Husbands called to lay down their lives learn that the healing and resurrection follow.

Like the Savior leaving the tomb behind, new life grows out of a life willingly laid down.

The relationship we have in marriage is a clear and perhaps undeserved example of our ultimate relationship. Verses 32 and 32 leave no doubt: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound , and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

When we celebrate our relationship reaching a milestone in a couple of weeks I want it to be clear to those around me that it was bought with a price and that we are holding fast because we have been held fast.

Do not feed the flesh habits

“We can forget: God may not affirm our desires, but He will firmly nail those desires to the cross and affirm the rising of Christ through those desires. And the beauty of Christianity is—what dies will rise. When you’re called to a cross, God is always calling us to our greatest good—and to greater abundance.”
~Ann Voskamp, The Way of Abundance
We can forget God, but He will not forget us.
When the gracious God of love calls us to himself His plans are unlike anything we can imagine and as we begin to make our way further up and further in toward this glorious king, it becomes clear: this is not an easy road.
Over the years I have prayed what John the Baptist said about his own relationship to Jesus in John 3: He must increase, I must decrease. 
We are all too excited when God answers the prayers like please let me child make the team or please let my husband get that promotion, but a prayer like this one is of the dangerous variety.
A faithful God will answer this cry and the answer to this prayer is hard on our flesh. Actually it is the death of said flesh. For John the Baptist, there was imprisonment and beheading at the request of a conniving mother and dancing daughter.
Our faithful God answers prayer and in this one I have found what I ask for may not be what I want, or more pointedly, definitely not what my flesh wants. 
JP finished his two part sermon on Ephesians 4:17-24 and here Paul once again honestly calls us to a new life, something far different than the way we are accustomed to living. A cursory reading exempts me (I think) from the wicked sounding behavior: darkened understanding, alienated heart, callous, sensual, greedy.
But with this prayer I have begun to pray and the patient, gentle revealing from the precious Holy Spirit, it suddenly strikes me as an adequate description of a woman excusing herself in many ways subtle and not-so-subtle.
The heart holds desperately to these—as JP called them—“flesh habits.”
In a world that abundantly and freely feeds these flesh habits, they are prone to grow and loom large in life day in and day out. When left to themselves, they are comforting, delightful, enjoyable. 
We befriend them and invite them into our homes, even brag about them. They are like the big, cushy pillow easing us into a drowsy, dreamy sleep.
In much the same way that delightful dreams can turn in an instant to horrific and scary dreams, once the flesh habits are recognized for what they are, their presence can be far less than comforting. It is a growing understanding that danger lurks here. 
A mom at the end of a long day needs a break and decides its ok to cling to pleasures that will not feed the spirit. When I hold my phone for more hours than a child or use my real face time with a glowing screen rather than with a glowing and growing 7-year-old, that is darkened understanding without a doubt. 
Clinging fast to time for me, “my time,” morphs into an alienated existence. It is easier to live alone and avoid the messiness of real relationship. 
The callouses have come from holding so hard and fast to things I think I deserve. I am my own woman and these decisions, these earthly pleasures have developed into a heart callous of sorts. 
I have chosen the sensual and impure to entertain to try and make me feel better about—shocker—me.
The uncanny thing about that fat, flesh habit of greed? Of course, it is never enough. And apply it wherever, however you like. Whatever it is—clothes, food, homes, cars, money, attention, vanity, affection, it is absolutely, positively, never enough.
So there I am in the ugly part of the passage thinking of G.K. Chesterton’s quote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
It is far easier to leave behind the Christian ideal than the deceitful desires of the former self. Those flesh habits, I am familiar with. 
Yet the harm and destruction that comes from bringing them along is far worse and as verse 20 vehemently exclaims: “But that is not the way you learned Christ!”
What have I learned Christ? That the only true victory comes like the one He won on my behalf—death to self. 
It is the ongoing call to die.
The right way is rarely the easy way and often doesn’t look victorious.
“The cross doesn’t look like it’s winning. More like it’s losing, pouring out, being given—to those who don’t love at all. It conquers everything, but it looks more broken than anything. Jesus’ cross proves it: Love may not seem self-fulfilling, but in actual fact, deepest love looks deeply broken. His cross nailed it down: Love wins when it looks broken. Broken and given and poured out,” Ann Voskamp wrote in The Way of Abundance.
This resonates. What the world likes to feed—the flesh habits—will lead to ruin, spiritual death, but the renewal of the mind will mean death to the flesh habits, death to the flesh. But, like Christ, resurrection follows.
Darkened understanding becomes an enlightened mind.
The alienated heart is welcomed in.
His calloused hands carry a cross, call me in and heal those of my own.
His death, on my behalf, gives me all the love I could ever need.
Greed is swallowed up in that lavish love.
That is why, this day, every day, requires renewal of the mind and I will hold fast trusting that I will be transformed and not conformed.

An open letter to my adult children

For the second year in a row, one of our children is graduating from high school. The eldest just graduated from college and there are two still to go.

It is almost unfathomable the children I birthed are considered “adults.”

This is scary. 

I know so little and think I have showed them even less. 

Just yesterday, Noah was learning to ride a bike while Emma was learning to walk and Seth could barely hold his head up. 

Though they were and are all delightful human beings, that period almost now seems a blur of dirty clothes, diapers, tears, pink eye, stomach bugs, ear aches, spills, and the like. They were funny and adorable and a joy. My mom told me to treasure the time because it would be over in an instant and because this was the easy part. 

I could not fathom how either of those were true, but like almost all insight given by those who have gone ahead, it’s nearly impossible to grasp until you get there.

Seventeen years gone by proves my mother right once again. 

The issues of yesteryear are not the issues of today and while we have many restful nights and far less to clean up, the issues now are, well, life altering.

Then it was easy to know what to do, what to say.

Absolutely do not stick your fork in the outlet. You are not allowed to put your hands in toilet water. Stop pulling your sister’s hair. This is how you tie your shoe. You say thank you when someone gives you something. 

Many, if not all of our directions at that time, were straightforward, common sense that young children have not yet developed. The subtle and scary depths of parenting “adults” is a far different task. 

Just three week’s from Seth’s graduation, my mind will not let go of what I want them to know, what I pray for them every day…

 

To my adult (and soon to be adult) children wanting to make their way in the world:

There are only a handful of things I know that I know after 46 years of living and attempting to grow up myself. Despite foolish mistake after foolish mistake, God has graciously, mercifully pursued me and continued to reveal himself.

I have turned away, He has turned me back.

As you live your own life, I can guarantee yours will include some mistakes of your own. That’s part of it. I pray now though, you will grow through them and learn He wants so much more for you than you can even imagine. 

Remember this!

1. First and foremost, God loves you. 

This isn’t a passing fancy, an “I-like-the-way-you-make-me-feel-about-myself” kind of feeling. This is an unshakable, unchanging, unfathomable love like you have not know known from anyone at any time. As much as your dad and I adore you all and want the best in your life, our love looks like garbage next to this towering miracle of grace. 

I may have thought I was going to die giving birth, but this God died so that you could have new birth. He died to give you life. Whether or not you cling to that now, my prayer is that you will one day recognize and cling to it for eternity.

God loves you. 

God loves you Noah. God loves you Emma. God loves you Seth. God loves you Macy. God loves you David. 

2. We are all broken people. 

Even the best of the best—the top of the class, the star of the team, the CEO, the guy next door, we have things that have utterly broken us. There is no escaping this. Some of it is our own fault and some of it is inflicted upon us, but regardless of the circumstances, none of us get out of this place unscarred. 

Because of this, relationships are hard. We are the broken trying to find ways to piece ourselves back together. There is this somewhat humorous irony: I don’t know that we are supposed to be put together. It is in the brokenness we find the same God who was broken for us. He was broken to know us in our own hurting places and to eventually heal us there. 

It is in brokenness that we can begin to understand and connect with all the other broken people around us.

If we let Him, He is faithful to use the pieces in ways we never thought possible.

3. Life doesn’t get any easier. 

In fact, it is probably only harder from here on out. The living part is just hard.

There is a reason people want to re-live the glory days of high school, cling to the college days. There is also a reason they are always looking to the next best thing. Life will be so great once I just graduate high school, graduate college, find a job, find a spouse, have a kid, pay off bills…

From the moment the lie that God does not love us entered the world, things have only trended toward difficulty. 

It is hard to earn a living. It is hard to find someone to love you (and no one will do this perfectly). It is hard to get along with people. It is hard to see the suffering in the world. It is hard to do the right thing.

Despite a scary world and difficult circumstances, do not be discouraged.

4. There is a plan for you. 

Though there are so many times we feel alone and abandoned. We know and can trust there is a plan in place, in motion more like it. It was established before the foundations of this world and your part, you participation is essential. It doesn’t happen without you moving forward, making choices, finding your way. 

It requires some trust on your part to know you are not forsaken. He will not leave you. He will call you by name and beckon you to Himself. To understand your role, you will need to hear His voice. 

Often we just want to know what to do. We say we would do it if we could see clearly what it is we are supposed to do. I have learned though, this is like cheating on a test. It is being given the answers when we are really here to learn. We learn from the hard stuff, taking one step at a time.

5. To find the plan for our lives and understand it requires communication with God. 

This comes through the written word, spoken word and living Word of God. He is literally the communication and all too pleased to do it with you as much as possible. He delights in it in fact. It is in this communication (communion), you will find Him and find yourself. 

Relish your down time, away from the noise, the social media madness that has swallowed us all. Look for places to find Him. He isn’t hiding from you. He is the one pursuing and there is great comfort in this. 

His written word will encourage every single day. No time in prayer is ever a mistake. Through these, you will know the Living Word Himself.

6. Pursue Him, pursue that plan for your life knowing that He is in it with you and will absolutely never leave or forsake you. 

When you have discovered His call, discerned the sound of His voice, you can wholly, completely, unabashedly follow Him. You will find so much grace you will be overwhelmed by it. If it were possible, you would drown in it. 

Freedom is the gift of this grace. This freedom will give you the joy and peace to pursue His plan, the glorious vision He has for you.

In the pursuit, know you will fail and fall and stumble along the way. It is inevitable. This, however, in no way disrupts the process. It is part of it. Thank God for it and keep on moving toward Him and all that He intends for you.

7. Lastly, when some seasons seem particularly difficult or seem out of control, or even if you doubt any of these reminders, be sure you never forget the first thing.  

God loves you. 

rooted and grounded

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Ephesians 3:14-21

From the first moment I can remember, I loved that feeling of living among my mother’s branches. I could see for miles and see the sunshine and listen to the birds that would rest there. I had friends and siblings nearby and there was nothing to do but soak up sunshine and watch as clouds rolled by.

The Sun he always gave my mom what she needed to grow and survive and provide for those around her.

We relished that time.

We didn’t know what was to come, what, ultimately, we were waiting for.

One cool, sunny morning, the unimaginable happened to me.

My mother shook in a gentle wind and I was torn away and fell. It felt as though I would keep falling in terror that would not end.

When I hit hard on the ground, I cried out, looking up at her beauty and wondering how she could have let me go. I was completely exposed and alone and knew this is where squirrels would come and take others like me.

I was terrified.

Before I could even cry out, I was overwhelmed with that good dirt smell as I found myself atop a moist, dark heap of soil. The Sun enveloped me and I had a glimpse of clear sky.

I thanked him for the comfort and the moment soothed my fear, but it was not to last. Covered and pressed below the surface, I was stepped on. Pressed beneath the dirt I choked and sobbed.

The most difficult time of my life began. That subtle claustrophobia became full blown and I thought I would surely suffocate. Would the Sun leave me here?

Gasping beneath the dirt, I initially sputtered and struggled and resisted. It was as if I was being strangled. As the dirt swallowed me I thought this was the end of all that I am.

The darkness and void of being buried sapped my hope and in the soil I was desolate.

I cried out. Maybe the Sun above could hear me, maybe my mom.

I didn’t even know how to ask for help, but within me there was an urgent pleading. Where once I was surrounded by what I knew and now know that I loved, loneliness devastated me.

What seemed like days went by and I tried to maintain sanity thinking this was all there would ever be—darkness, solitude, nothing but pressure, separation and the feeling of death.

After what seemed like days, the faintest warm bit of moisture reached me there in the tomb I inhabited. It’s warmth was comforting.

Multiple droplets would reach me over the next days and weeks and I began to realize I was finding nourishment in this water that had come from above the surface. I’d even thought I detected radiant heat from above.

My hard outer shell seemed less hard, maybe even soft in a spot or two.

I cherished the nourishment I was receiving as I called out in gratitude for what was given. I took in all that I could eagerly.

The nourishment encouraged me to live, to think that there could be more.

Then came that day.

It was the day when I learned the worst had not yet come. It was a crack that made it’s way from the base of me to the tip top. I was torn and the hurt was unimaginable. I didn’t know I could feel like this.

Broken open I knew I would not ever last beyond this moment. I cried again for help.

The pain enveloped me as the crack spread wider, slowly. It was beyond a deep ache. It was stabbing and throbbing and burning as my outer self was torn away from my tender inner self.

My only covering and protection began to be stripped away. I had relied so heavily on this hard outer covering to protect me and keep me locked away from pain.

Initially those drops that had been a comfort stung so deeply as they found me without my outer covering. They helped separate me from it.

This could not be right. It just couldn’t. Why would the Sun send comfort and nourishment that only eliminated what I most needed—that protective layer?

As I wrestled and struggled trying to find relief and comfort, the warm gentle drops would again eventually become salve to me. They became so sweet and so treasured as I existed in the dark.

My exposed and now fully soft self would bend towards their warmth and the moisture even transformed the dirt around me. It was now soft and almost welcoming. I found it meeting my needs. Maybe I would survive without my exterior.

I also slowly realized as time went by that with my hard shell now removed, I was growing.

Gradually I was getting longer and stronger and could even feel myself moving. Whenever I could I chose to move toward the surface, to where I had last seen sky and sunshine and my mother.

Nourishment came as I focused on gratitude for these gifts of life. One day I realized that it was in fact, day. I was so near the surface and had begun to sprout a leaf. That moment I again felt sunshine on my transformed body made me delirious.

The warmth embraced my tiny leaf atop my single stem as I pushed through the earth.

Breaking through the surface, I was amazed to think that my life was not over but perhaps had just begun. I praised the Sun.

Weeks and months and years would come and go as I grew and strengthened. Now my branches reach far and wide as I work to continue to soak up the Sun.

I have a new covering beyond all I could have asked or imagined. It is strong and powerful and protects me from all that could harm.

Just as when I was a cracked open shell beneath the surface, He was calling to me, sending me what I needed and growing me. He continues to do that within my new covering. 

I could never of imagined what He wanted me to be and now my faith has become sight.

Now I am providing shelter for others and producing offspring of my own. I know what it is to be loved.

who is to blame?

“For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, CHRIST DIED FOR US. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whole we have now received reconciliation.”
Romans 5:6-11
When my mother called to tell me a jumbled story through tears that my brother was dead, I was driving our minivan with my family on a hot August afternoon. 
It was the minivan I was reluctant to get in the first place, the same one that this same brother had told me was cool, that he liked it. That had made it easier for me to drive.
The back was full of my four kids eager to go see a movie. My husband in the passenger seat immediately knew that this normal Saturday was no longer that.
He pointed, as I talked loud and out of control, for me to pull over.
Nearly 11 years later I can’t drive past that spot without recalling the moment.
He got in the driver’s seat and I reeled as I processed what she’d told me.
I told him through irrational cries and screams that Jed had been killed in a wreck.
The rest of the way home left my children disappointed and confused in what was the closest I have come to an out-of-body experience.
Nothing made sense.
I screamed and cried and flailed my arms, scaring everyone in the van I’m sure.
I remember thinking what is wrong with me? Why am I out of control like this? This isn’t even how I cry.
It was unfair, illogical and I could barely understand how it was late in the afternoon and my mom heard from a brother three states away before we knew just down the road that my brother had died in the wee hours of that same morning.
My brother was dead.
All I could think now was that I had to get to my mom and dad. Someone could make this make sense but it was not me.
We would later all slowly assemble the pieces from people there.
A late night with buddies, outside of a bar, resulted in a joy ride in an empty parking lot in a God-forsaken Jeep.
The suspected high and intoxicated driver would walk away barely scratched asking the other passenger from the back seat to lie with him and blame the dying man for the wreck.
When the awful realization hit the driver that not only had he wrecked his car, but that one of his friends would not get up, fear and overwhelming guilt must have wracked his body and mind.
Let’s blame the guy that is dying. The frantic need for escape from consequences, from instant guilt. It was only fitting. He had to hide, to find a cover for this awful mess leading to death.
Suddenly like the Adam of old, in a garden far away, a finger pointed to someone else.
We have all been there.
That moment before sin is extraordinarily tasty and desirable—the excitement, the rush. Letting go of inhibitions for that wild moment of self-gratification. 
We don’t want to admit it, but it’s so pleasurable we go back again and again.
Let’s feel the air as we go little faster and take this speed bump.
Taste this juicy, dripping, ripe fruit with me.
Just one more shot.
Send that message to someone that doesn’t belong to you.
Tell that story that was to remain untold.
Watch those images of uncovered people, filling the mind with sin again.
The moment is so delectable.
That instant after, however, is unnerving like nothing else.
Pain, despair, guilt and fear is like hitting the pavement hard. 
When I let grieving subside for the moment and I want to point and blame I think of this modern day Adam and what he has done to my brother. He was seeking a story that would cover him and free of him of shame and certain death.
Adam of old pointed to Eve who pointed to a serpent cunningly wrapped around a tree.
That serpent began it all by pointing to, questioning God. 
A serpent on a tree blamed the Creator. 
The same Creator who would go on a tree and take the blame.
In sadness and desire to find peace, I want someone to blame. I point to Adam and guilt and sin and realize suddenly that I too am a guilty woman looking for covering and pointing to a dying man. 
When I am looking for someone to blame, I am just trying to cover my own shame.
I want hurt to subside, the kind caused by others, the kind caused by me.
I think of pieces of gravel from the hard ground in a lonely parking lot where lies are told.
It calls to mind a body torn by shards of gravel, rock glass embedded in a whip. A body that was beaten bare. It was the body of the only, truly innocent One and I was there pointing and blaming Him.
When my heart strays so far away and I think thoughts I shouldn’t think, I watch things I shouldn’t watch, I say things I shouldn’t say and do things I shouldn’t do, deep down I am aching in the aftermath for covering. 
So I point.
I make up stories.
I blame. 
I blame Him. 
The only one who doesn’t deserve the rotten end of a made up story still takes it.
He died on the tree for me while I was still a sinner.
He hung there struggling to breathe in a body He created using final breaths to say I forgive You.
As we approach Easter and I go back in my mind over JP’s sermons approaching the cross, I once again see this is all there is.
This is where forgiveness is given and received.
This is where we are exposed and at the same time covered.
This is where blame is given and taken. 
This is where death is swallowed up in victory.
Three guys in a Jeep and Jed was the only one who knew Jesus and the only one who would not survive. 
Someone finally made this make sense.
And yet, Jed did survive. He survived because his own guilt and shame were covered by the One who truly took the blame. 
Jesus took it and when He died, it died with Him. 
And because He rose again, we will also rise.

Do not lose heart

Running is the worst.

I get it if there is a specific purpose in mind—a child is headed for the road and a life has to be saved, a fast break in basketball and you just want to score.

I ran somewhat unintentionally two days ago and I’m still hurting, the good kind of sore they say.

Running just to run is not my thing.

My brain apparently loves running and not the kind that’s good for you.

It’s the kind that starts the moment the light in the bedroom goes off and a weary, worn body is just ready for rest. It is that kind that begins when all else is ready to drift away and find some type of restoration before another day starts.

You might even call it racing.

It is when I purposely try to slow the onslaught of thought, of worry. Every thing that seemed manageable—though perhaps barely—during clear-eyed, daylight hours is suddenly an insurmountable obstacle or an event that will cause my demise or perhaps my offspring’s demise.

In the dark hours be they night or early morning, it is as if my mind cannot see the light, any clear way out. Logical, thoughtful response has scattered and left me groping and fearful in the mystery of all that could be.

I will attempt to focus and quote scripture to myself, particularly that part about renewing my mind. I will pray and grasp for God’s peace. Yet it seems so very far.

My child is not yet home and it is storming and roads are slick. What if there is a wreck? What if she injured? 

My mouth is sore and achy. What if that tooth is infected and I wake to swollen jaw and excruciating pain? What if the antibiotic doesn’t work? What if it has to be removed?

What if the lady from the car wreck decides to sue?What if he doesn’t get this job?What if she’s pregnant? What if he does get that job? What if someone hurts him? What if a dictator attacks with nuclear weapons? What if someone brings a gun to my kid’s school?

I could never win a marathon but my mind will out run the best of them. It is absurdly fast and veers off the tracks of the rational with the flip of the light switch.

Scary hypotheticals abound and my mind won’t stop running.

I want peace. I am asking for it, for just a piece of His grace in that moment. He tells us that He will not give more than we can handle. He will never leave us or forsake us. Why do I feel forsaken?

Last week my brother preached on Ephesians 3.

Paul expounded on God’s mysteries.

I thought of Paul’s joy and grace and love for those he’s ministering to, writing to. He talks of the unsearchable riches of Christ, hidden in God.

I do not want them hidden! Please reveal them to me in the dark moments.

Paul was encouraging, revealing, worshipping. Then I read and remember in verse 1 that he was doing all of this FROM PRISON.

He was there in the midst of tribulations telling everyone else to not lose heart. This is the peace I am looking for. This is the piece of His presence that I need in dark hours.

Not only am I not in prison.

My child was not in a wreck.

My tooth is not infected.

No one brought a gun to my child’s school today.

Fully reliant on God’s presence, he was not sitting somewhere quietly writing about what would happen if he got thrown in prison or if he got snake bit or if he got shipwrecked.

He did. And God was enough, more than enough.

That is how, that is why Paul could write words like these while he sat in a prison cell:

“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;  to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,  in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”

He is asking that his brothers and sisters not lose heart while he suffers.

I am losing heart while not actually suffering, putting myself in the middle of every imaginable scenario.

Oh heart ache.

There it is again. Me, in the middle. A place I frequent so much you’d think it’d be recognizable by now.

One of my favorite quotes springs to mind: “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” ~Donald Miller

What a whopper it is. It is the lie I battle every single day.

This is not my story.

It is all His story.

This is not about me. Putting ‘me’ into every circumstance that I am not actually in is actually pride, vanity.

This does not mean those things could not or will not come. We are in fact promised that the suffering will come. The moments of life that I was in true trouble, God graciously stripped away every earthly solution. When it wasn’t a ‘what if’ scenario, it was the real heartbreak, God was absolutely, unshakably faithful. This is the mystery of what is.

I could bear the moment because I was in it and He was as well. There was no more searching for solution elsewhere, no more self-reliance.

It is the complete removal of me.With that was freedom to focus solely on Him and He has endured it all and then more.

Roman lawyer and orator Cicero said: “There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.” He was talking about crucifixion.

Jesus did not imagine that things were bad. They were. As he approached death, He even asked if there was another way. Stripped, beaten, nailed, butchered mercilessly with forgiveness on his very lips. And His story did not end with death and defeat.

Thank God this is His story and not my own. That He is faithful in the moment. That when it comes time to rely on Him He has endured it all and more.

Paul was free from himself, focused on bringing that same relief to all those who would follow in the faith.

I read on to the final verses of chapter 3 relinquishing the what ifs and holding fast to what is:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,  to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”