Tag: faith

When He Speaks Your Name

 

I remember it with the poignancy of yesterday. I’m fiddling with the latch on my green Care Bears lunchbox, when Mrs. Nagel gently encourages me to take a step to the left.  It seems I’m the juxtapose member of an otherwise pencil-straight line of kindergartners.

I’m missing my mom like it’s nobody’s business, and this whole mess of leaving her for approximately 3.5 hours a day is just about more than my five-year-old heart can take. I have no idea how I’ll ever get married and leave the house.  But I leave that thought alone and just try to swallow the tears that rise every time I think of her throughout the long half-days in the kindergarten classroom.

The colossal correction from Mrs. Nagel triggers the tears again, and I gulp hard, staring at the Care Bears and the rainbow on my lunch box. That’s when I hear the word.  “Stacey,” she says it gently, and somewhere behind the words, I hear all the love in the world, and something about her voice reminds me of my mom.  But it doesn’t bring tears this time.  I look right into her eyes, and I see a kind of compassion that wraps me comfort.

When she says my name, I know she sees me. I know she sees my heart, and she’s telling me it’s alright.  It’s all going to be ok.  We’re going to get through this, and she’s going to walk with me.

“No tears now,” she softly says, touching my arm tenderly.

I nod. I want to tell her I’m trying not to cry, that we’re on the same page, that I’m on board, and that we’ll get there.  Instead I just nod my little head and clench my lunchbox handle with two hands, eyes straight ahead.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this standing in line thing, and this getting on the bus thing, and this leaving Mom thing.  We’re gonna make it.

We did make it. Mrs. Nagel and I soared through kindergarten together, and by the end of the year, the tears were a rarity.  Her kindness and gentleness walked me through the hard transition.

This is the memory that comes to mind when I read the account of Mary, searching for the body of Jesus at the tomb. Her grief is deeper than that of a kindergartner missing her mom, but it is grief, nonetheless.  She has come to anoint the body of Jesus with oil, and something about the act feels like a comfort to her.  She has lost him, but she focuses on what she can now do for him in his death.

She arrives at the tomb to discover the body is gone. Double grief.  Not only is she grieved over his death, she’s now distraught over the fact that someone has taken his body.  It’s disturbing.  It’s disheartening.  It’s terrible.  Someone is going to rob her of the final consolation of at least giving him a proper burial.

That’s when it happens. A gardener comes to the tomb beside her.  She glances at him, then begs him to tell her where they might have put the body.  Her mind is racing, and her eyes are blinded to the reality that this is no gardener; this is the very Lord she vehemently seeks.

She doesn’t know it’s him until he says it. He says her name, “Mary.”

I imagine the tone. It’s direct, yet filled with compassion.  It’s an assertion that he sees her.  He sees her heart and her desperation.  It’s an assertion that good things are coming.  Surely, he knows the awe that will fall upon her when she recognizes him.  Surely, this brings him joy, and there’s anticipation in the proclamation of her name.

She recognizes him the moment he says her name. She responds, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).*  And from that moment, everything changes.  The redemption of humankind is at hand.  His body was not stolen; he is alive!

The scene reminds me of Mrs. Nagel’s gentle proclamation of my name – of the day she saw into my heart and reminded me we’d get through it. It also stirs in me a deep longing for the day when I stand before the throne of God and hear Jesus speak my name.  It reminds me of the way he drew me to himself as a young girl.  It reminds me that just as he knew Mary by name, he knows my name.  He is watching, waiting, and walking with me through this season.

Jesus knows your name too. Imagine the day he looks into your eyes and speaks your name.  The day will come for each one of us.  Let’s live with prepared hearts, waiting, longing, and anticipating the day he calls our names.

 

 

*John 20:16

The Morning Invitation

 

A fine white mantle of fog rests on the fields at dawn. I went to the deck to retrieve the coffee cup I left outside overnight, and it seems I’ve encountered God on the journey.  I sink onto the damp patio chair in the corner of the deck, and the chill of the dew on my bare legs feels like an awakening.  An awakening to what is uncomfortable and raw – real and tangible.

Dew on flesh. Fog on young goldenrod chutes.  This earth breathing life and promise and hope.

It’s so exhilarating that I fill my coffee cup inside and return to the chair with a jacket and my Bible. I forget the bookmarked app on my computer – the one that tells me what to read each morning, and I open tattered pages to Psalms:

Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy Before the Lord, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness. (Psalm 96:12-13)

I close my eyes and drink black coffee. I consider what it will look like to live this day as a woman who honors God and lives with the expectancy of a bride, waiting for her groom.

I think of the words of Jesus: ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

His words ring true. Loving God must come first.  Have I kept it first?

Before anything else, my life is about my relationship with God. It’s about drawing close to him and growing in relationship with him.  I am deeply convicted as I reflect on what my prayer time often looks like.  I’m convicted that I’ve spent too much time asking for things, praying for direction, praying for ministry needs, and praying over priorities.

While all of these things are important, what is most important is that I learn to rest in God’s love. What’s most important is that we grow in relationship through these quiet, set-apart moments.  My life is primarily about this relationship with God.  The way I carry his love to the world is secondary.

A mourning dove coos, and I realize I haven’t kept the first thing first. I’ve put praying for direction above basking in his affection.  Looking at the fields, it’s all so clear: He wants to wrap me in his tender affection like the fog that shrouds the fields at dawn.  He wants to cover me in the warmth of his love and stay together in this place.

Tim Keller says it like this: “Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. . . . We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence.”

This time is first about basking in his presence. The priorities, decisions, and requests will flow from this place.  I sit long on the damp chair and don’t do much at all.  I rest in him.

I think of the words of Mother Teresa in an interview with Dan Rather.

“When you pray, what do you say to God? Rather asked.

“I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I listen.”

“Okay. When God speaks to you, then, what does he say?” Rather tried again.

“He doesn’t say anything. He listens.”

Baffled, Rather didn’t know how to continue.

“And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.” Mother Teresa concluded.

And so we sit. In the stillness.  In the newness of an emerging day, we sit in silent communion, and I don’t plan a single part of my day or seek direction over a single priority.  When the coffee is gone and the fog begins to lift with the silent chorus of a rising sun, I rise with it, and I’ve never felt more certain of what matters most.

 

 

 

 

Keller, Timothy. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Penguin Books, 2014).

Mother Teresa, quoted in Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005).

 

 

How God’s Love Can Change Any Life

 

 

Bekah was born on a Tuesday, and nothing about the day really went as expected. I didn’t expect my water to break at 4 a.m., five days before my due date. I didn’t expect my body not to go into labor on its own, warranting an induction. I didn’t expect them to wheel me to the operating room after fourteen hours of labor. And when they pulled her from me, wrapped her in her striped hospital blanket, and brought her to me, I didn’t expect the violent flow of love to pour from me like it did. I didn’t know I was capable of that kind of love or that such love even existed.

I cried often throughout our first few weeks together, and while I hear it’s common to cry at every commercial and break down at every sentimental thought, I mostly cried because I couldn’t believe the love we shared. My desires to protect, nurture, and care for her were stronger than anything I’d experienced.

It was during those early weeks of Bekah’s life that the power of the cross captivated me in a new way. There was absolutely no way I’d send my daughter to die in anyone’s place. Ever.

The willingness of God to send his child to die for me completely transformed my perception of his love.

Throughout my life, I’ve battled with the feeling of not being good enough, lies that tell me rejection from other people means I’m less-than, and the ongoing feeling that I simply don’t measure up. Most of us face these thoughts at some time in our lives. Whether it’s the child who made fun of me on the playground in second grade, or the coworker who criticized my fashion sense in my fourth decade of life, the words of other people hold the power to inflict deep wounds.

For nearly a decade, I listened to messages from well meaning Christian leaders who spoke of finding our identities in Christ. They said things like, “You are a beloved child of the Most High God. You are precious and dearly loved.” All these words were nice, but while women around me cried and rejoiced at their newfound identities, it just wasn’t getting to my heart. And I knew it.

Things changed when I held my own child. I experienced love like I’d never known, and I came to the striking realization that God loves Jesus far more perfectly and deeply than I can love my precious child. He feels for Jesus the way I feel for my children — and more – and yet he sent him to suffer and die so I wouldn’t have to receive his punishment for my long list of mistakes.

The heart of my identity is this: God loves me so much that he sent Jesus to die for me (Romans 5:8). We all long for a deep encounter with the love of God, but let’s not get so caught up in seeking an experience that we fail to contemplate the truest thing about God. When I long for an encounter with his love, I simply need to step back and consider the cross. He loves me so deeply that he sent his Son to a place of agony for me. Encountering this truth is the quintessential encounter.

I don’t love anyone enough to send my child to suffer and die on a cross for them. How deep this love truly is. Understanding the depth of his love transformed my identity. When I begin to feel less than, left out, or not enough, I think of how much I love my children. Then I ponder God’s love for me, to send his child to die in my place. I know this is real love.

I know I don’t need to please others, measure up, or be someone others admire, because I am loved crazily by my Father.

When There Are Cliffs on Both Sides

 

The cold mountain wind rips at me like the dead of winter, while the sun scorches my chapped hands with desert-like heat. I spit gritty sand – miniscule molecules of the beige granite surrounding me – and continue my ascent. Glancing upward, I’m only sixty yards from the summit. Sixty grueling yards of rough rock outcroppings and sheer drop-offs of over 1,000 feet.

I’ve barely begun the decade of my twenties, and I’m certain I’m invincible. Certain I’ve figured out most of what I’ll need to know for life. I have no idea.

I claw my way to the summit of the 12,000-foot mountain and lie flat in the flogging wind, the bandana in my hair whipping like sheets on a clothesline. It’s my day off work at AWLS, the wilderness leadership school where I’m spending my summer. Climbing mountains is my greatest passion in life, and I can think of nothing that would ever be more important. I have so much to learn.

I stare at MacLeod Lake, over a thousand feet below, and I plan my descent. There’s no easy way. There’s only a narrow ridge with sheer drop-offs on each side. I’ll have to risk it.

~~~

Much to my parents’ relief, I survived my summer in Wyoming’s mountains. I’m a little embarrassed as I look back at my unwise risks and poorly discerned decisions, but I thank God I’m not the person I was. This all came to mind this morning, as I opened my Bible to my daily reading plan.

Chapter 14 of first Samuel finds King Saul’s son, Jonathan, preparing to advance on the Philistines. Verse 4 reads: “Between the passes by which Jonathan sought to cross over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp crag on the one side and a sharp crag on the other side, and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh.”

Jonathan needed to make forward progress to achieve his goal, but he found himself in a precarious situation. He needed to cross a mountain pass with a sharp crag on each side of the pass. I can relate.

The Hebrew word “Bozez” refers to something that is gleaming or slippery. The word “Seneh” means thorny. On one side he faced a steep slope of thorns. On the other, a dangerously slippery descent.

Despite the risks, Jonathan pressed forward, advanced against the Philistines, and overtook them. He braved the thorns and the drop-off, and he pressed forward toward his goal. Because I’ve climbed many mountains, the analogy strikes me poignantly: When the journey grows perilous, keep your eyes on the goal and keep walking.

Jonathan’s goal was to overtake the Philistines. My goal at age twenty was reaching a literal summit. Our goal as followers of Christ is to love him and make his love known to others.

The lesson from Jonathan’s journey is relevant, regardless of the goal. Whether I’m aiming to start a business, hoping to overcome the pain of a past heartbreak, wading through the deep waters of troubled relationships, trying to parent with love and compassion, or seeking healing in a difficult matter, I do well to keep my eyes on the goal and keep walking.

The slippery slope of fear will threaten to take me down. The thorny path of painful self-sacrifice, slow progress, and failure will threaten to stop my progress. But I do well to keep my eyes on the goal and press forward.

I’m thankful for the author of Hebrews, who reminds me exactly where to fix my eyes when things get tough: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). If Jesus could endure the cross on my behalf, I can endure this trial on his behalf.

Wherever life has you walking a delicate chasm between a thorny downfall and a long slippery slope, be encouraged by Jonathan. Keep stepping forward. It will be worth the journey.