Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An airplane and a cave: lessons in courage and compassion

Photo Credit: (c) 2012-2014 Paullus23 on deviantART.

It was the last place on earth I wanted to be.

I’d always loved flying, but this airplane, with all my worldly belongings crammed into the luggage compartment below me, symbolized the death of my dreams. I’d scored a job as an editor on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., but a 3:00-a.m. trip to the ER had changed everything.

Now suddenly I was on my way home to California minus my health, car, and job. I looked out the window as my dream life vanished beneath me.

In the midst of my daze and despair, God began stirring my heart to chat with the girl sitting beside me. I discovered that Rachel was a Jewish girl from San Francisco and was deeply skeptical of Christians....

Join me over at Kindred Grace today as I share how life's disappointments can be turned into divine opportunities to courageously, compassionately share Christ. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Loving someone in their mess

Her message left me shaken. She said if we had just thirty minutes together, she could get things off her chest; she was angry and needed to tell me the specific ways I'd hurt her.
We'd had this same conversation a couple years prior, so I knew that another venting wouldn't liberate her. I'd tumbled off the pedestal she'd placed me on, and she'd discovered that the woman she considered her mentor was, in reality, a mess.
What she wanted was my perfection, but what she needed could only be found in Christ.
Yet what my heart longed for her to do for me—to love me unconditionally—I've so often failed to do for others. I've demanded their perfection. I've wanted to extract profuse apologies from those who have wounded me. I've itched to unload the silent rant that's been playing on repeat in my head.

And while I knew all of this in my head, there was still a tender space in my heart that longed for her to look past my faults, to realize I was just six weeks a mom, rendered useless by exhaustion and illness. I wanted her to love me in spite of me.
I've actually expected others to make me happy, to help preserve my emotional equilibrium....

Join me over at True Woman today as I share what I'm learning about love....in my own mess, and in others' mess.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

To the barren one (on Mother's Day)

Photo credit: Wallpaper by Tamila. 2009.

This Sunday, you will not be far from my thoughts, dear one.

I’ll wake early to my son’s voice, “Mommy? Moooooommmmy!” and my heart will spill over with joy as I welcome my third Mother’s Day. But mixed with that joy will be a keen awareness that you are still waiting. Longing. Aching.

With every fiber of your being you long to be a mom. You were made for motherhood, and everything within you cries out against your barrenness.

I remember.

I was 35 when I gave birth to my first (and only) child. If I’d scripted the story of my life, I would have had my first at 22 (he’d be 16 now) and at least two or three children after that. But instead, my fruitful years were spent celebrating everyone else’s babies—one shower and birth announcement after another. I often felt empty, left-behind, a misfit.

Whatever could I do with empty hands that were made to hold children?

God met me in my emptiness with strong words that forever changed me. He sang Isaiah 54 over my longings, and as I clung to this Scripture through those waiting years, its truths were engraved into the marrow of my soul.

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor.

For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married, says the Lord.

Could my childless life truly be as rich and full as my friends who had children? Could I sit through yet another baby shower or Mother’s Day assured of some glorious purpose in my pain?

God said so, right there in the pages of Scripture—so I took Him at His Word.

I poured out my life and love into my students and teenage and college-age girls. Over the course of my single years, I opened up my heart and home, discipling countless women, counseling kids in crisis, and leading Bible studies where God showed up in spectacular ways.

I wasn’t always faithful to invest well, and sometimes my sorrow and longing overshadowed my ministries, but by God’s grace I began to feel the weighty truth of Isaiah 54: although I was not yet a mother, I had dozens of spiritual children. I felt rich… unspeakably, filthy rich.

But there was yet another aspect of Isaiah 54, a far scarier aspect that compelled my heart to continue hoping for children of my own. While I felt wealthy with spiritual children, the longing for marriage and motherhood wouldn’t go away. I didn’t quite know what to do with these words:

Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your
habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords and
strengthen your stakes.

For you will spread abroad
to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations...

Although God wasn’t signing on the dotted line, promising to give me my own flesh-and-blood, I wanted my heart to be full of faith that He could. I wanted to hope past the taunting tick-tock of my biological clock. I wanted to believe that with just one word He could turn my barrenness into fruitfulness as He had for Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Ruth, and Elizabeth.

Hope is scary, but it is our lifeblood.

So I fought to cultivate hope first and foremost in HIM, and then a lesser hope that He would one day fulfill the longings of my heart for children.

The years passed by, and while I continued to “bear” spiritual children, marriage and motherhood still eluded me.

Isaiah 54 sustained me again and again:

Fear not,
for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded,
for you will not be disgraced;

For you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood [singleness, barrenness]
you will remember no more.

For your Maker is your Husband,
the Lord of hosts is His name…

I have a friend who waited till she was 41 to become a mother. I have other friends who continue to wait, well into their thirties, forties and even fifties. I had a lesser wait at 35. But those lessons learned while sitting in church every Mother’s Day, as long-stemmed roses passed me by and I sat alone while seemingly every other woman stood to be appreciated—those lessons will never be forgotten.

And so this weekend, I’m thinking of you, dear sister. Although we may never meet on this side of eternity, I’m praying that your Maker, who is your Husband, will grant you hope in Himself, faith that He can do the impossible, and a quiver-full of spiritual children.

Sing, O barren one… for you are precious and fruitful and honored in His eyes. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Risking and Resting

Photo source: Srininja Appalaraju Photography.

I'm an obsessive thinker. I can get stuck in my own head for weeks at a time. But I'm also a textbook Feeler. I feel everything far too intensely.

So when God is carving convictions into my soul, when His hand is at work preparing and impassioning me to do something uncomfortable and risky, or to love others at great cost, I tend to over-think and over-feel the whole process. What He is doing in power, for infinite good and glory, isn't improved by me trying to work it all out in my head and heart.

But I want to make sure I make the RIGHT decision. I want God's very best. What if I misunderstood Him? What if this isn't the right trajectory? What if I fail? What if I hurt or offend dear ones in my life by doing this?

It's a little like watching a master carpenter build a beautiful house while the future resident keeps dropping by, anxious to see that every nail and board is placed just so. He loses sleep over the stucco and wonders whether the neighbors will mind the daring design. 

Have you been there? Have you wasted thoughts and feelings and energies on trying to improve designs God has already perfectly planned out?

Psalm 127 is a familiar Bible passage, but its truths can seem elusive to me if I don't press myself into them to believe them:

"Unless the Lord builds the house, 
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil,
for He gives to His beloved sleep."

Yes, there is a time and a place for me to wrestle deeply with issues and questions and ramifications. But there is also a time when God says, "Colleen, be still and know that I am God."

Sometimes being still and believing is the hardest work I can do. Isn't that crazy? I have to work so hard at quieting my heart before God and trusting Him. When He's calling me to walk forward by faith to places I've never walked before, where neither past experiences nor present pragmatism can offer safety or guarantees, I need a ginormous view of God to hold me steady and press me forward.

A prayer from The Valley of Vision cared for me so tangibly over the course of this past week:

"Grant that I may never trust my heart,
depend upon any past experiences,
magnify any present resolutions,
but be strong in the grace of Jesus."

Dear one, Christ understands how nerve-wracking obedient faith can be. (Remember the Garden of Gethsemane?) He is intimately acquainted with our weaknesses; He meets us with His compassion where we are tender, fearful, tired, or anxious. He stands ready with resurrection power to strengthen us for the task at hand. We don't have to strive and stew over the plans He has for us (nor over what others think of those plans.) Rather, we learn to echo the psalmist's words:

"O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me."

May God grant us the grace to quiet ourselves before Him today, to hush our insatiable thoughts and feelings in His love. "The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it."

In what area of your life is God calling you to walk by radical faith? What is one way you can quiet yourself and trust the Lord today?

References: The Valley of Vision, ed. Arthur Bennett; Proverbs 3:5,6; 1 Peter 3:4; Psalm 131; 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Friday, April 18, 2014

The day Death died

I walked among the gravestones, mindful that the soil under my feet was rich with history. I wept, not for any one person past, but for the ache in my soul. For a few fleeting moments, I felt like I could reach out and part the curtains of eternity.

As I walked, my eyes scanned epitaphs while my heart filled in untold stories….

Two toddlers, taken just months apart.
A beloved mother.
A faithful brother.

The wealthy were marked by ornate and gaudy monuments; the poor with simple gravestones and few words.

But they were all dead. The rich, the famous, the poor, the uneducated, the celebrated, the beautiful, the ugly—they all shared the same end. Only their names etched in stone and a small plot on a grassy knoll proved that they’d once lived and breathed.

True, a handful of historical figures have defied death’s amnesia—their names have out-sung grass and gravestone. Their achievements are remembered in history book, holiday, and song.

But only one man defeated death. Only One stared Death in the face and said, “Game over.”

When God came to earth as man, in the form of His Son Jesus, He came to die—and by dying, to kill Death. He was the only one who could do it. The rest of us were powerless, at Death’s mercy from the moment we drew our first breath.

I’ve stood at many a graveside in my short 38 years, attended too many funerals to count. I’ve gathered under the black canopy, watched the closed casket descend into the ground, then walked the long silent walk back to my car, through grass checkered with stone.

But that’s not the end. It’s not the final word.

While man spends his life trying to outsmart death, Christ walked straight into it. While His closest friends were dozing off, drawing swords, and denying they ever knew Him—while His enemies were taunting and torturing Him—He resolutely gave Himself over to the cruelest agony ever known to man.

It wasn’t just the cruelty of crucifixion.
Christ took the full measure of our sin upon His body… and became sin.
He bore, in both body and spirit, the full wrath of God that we deserved.

And the earth shook, the sky went black, the curtain was torn in two.

The Son of God gasped for three final words, “It is finished,” and surrendered Himself to death.

…that He might defeat it once and for all.

Death could not keep Life in the grave. A large immovable stone and highly trained soldiers could not silence the Son.

Critics and naysayers and atheists have spent lifetimes trying to rewrite history, trying with all their might to force Jesus back into that tomb.

But He would not stay there. He could not.

Like the dawn brushes off the night, Christ brushed off death and walked out of the grave. And Death, with all its sting and despair, no longer had the final word.

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Cemetery walks remind me that death (with all its grievous pain on this side of eternity) is not ultimate reality. Stone slabs compel me to live more fully the Life that is in me…

…the Life that Christ gave me because He died for me… and rose again.

Scriptures referenced: John 1, 1 Corinthians 15, and the crucifixion accounts from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Photo credit: Jessica Nunemaker. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Your greatest ministry flows from brokenness

Dear sister....
  • Have you been pushed beyond what you feel you can handle?
  • Are you experiencing life-altering illness or physical pain?
  • Has your wait for a godly husband or precious child felt too long? Far, far too long?
  • Do you feel insignificant and unskilled when you see the people in ministry around you?
  • Is your heart weary and numb? Are you in a spiritually dry land?
  • Have you failed miserably?
  • Are you hurting deeply, unspeakably?
Join me over at the True Woman blog today as I share how I'm learning to turn my brokenness, my sins and weaknesses, into ministry for the kingdom of God....