Come Close

I sat in the flimsy black chair, exchanging pleasantries with the young doctor at my follow-up appointment. We’d go over my test results; he’d say they were fine—- my new symptoms surely the result of Lyme and then he’d tell me what to do about them. After all, that was why I’d come, for relief from the sudden, new joint pain that was crippling at times, causing my fingers to swell and preventing me from typing or texting, sometimes even bringing tears to my eyes.
But instead, he opened his mouth and formed different words. Words I hadn’t been expecting, the weight of which crushed my soul. In addition to all the other fun I’d been enjoying, the markers for Rheumatoid Arthritis had come back positive. I’d be sent to a Rheumatologist to confirm, but it seemed quite clear to him.
I drove home in a stupor, working up a good cry. What I wanted most at that moment, more than I wanted to unhear those words was for my husband to come close. I wanted him to tell me that we were still going to be okay. I needed him to say that one more diagnosis didn’t change the commitments we’d made or God’s goodness.
He was on a conference call when I came home. (As he often is) I did my best to hold my cry in. But the second his finger touched the “end call” button, tears streamed my face, and I said, “Can you come over? I need a hug.” The rest was a blur of blubber and snot. But I heard the words I needed to hear. “We’re still okay.”
This morning, I stood in the shower, and I whispered to Jesus, “Come close.” I’ve been drowning in a sea of symptoms and struggles, and I’ve just needed to feel the Lord near. I thought about the wonder of the cross. What a bold, demonstrative move of “coming close.” Is there any doubt that he longs to be close to us?
It’s the goal of every marriage, the coming close. It’s why we commit our lives to one another so that we can live all of our days up close to one another. And maybe somewhere along the way, hurts and disappointments come in and crowd out this goal of coming close, but it is the starting place.
And so it is with our walk with Jesus.
The desire on both sides is the coming close to one another. How many times have I heard the still small voice of my Savior inviting me, “Come close“? And maybe somewhere along the way, hurts or disappoints come in and crowd this desire out and we no longer want to come close.
But today, he’s still whispering to you, to me, “Come close.”
What if we laid our hurts, our disappointments, and our busyness down and we let him embrace us? Maybe the rest will be a blur of blubber and snot. I don’t know. But what I do know, is that we will hear the words our hearts long to hear. “We’re still okay.”

Celebrating Progress

I had a moment this weekend. I crossed a mile marker, albeit an unusual one. I was standing in my dark bathroom (it hurt my eyes too much to have the lights on), staring at the reading on a thermometer. I hit 100. For most people, this isn’t much of a fever and fevers are lame anyway. So what crazy person would be celebrating this? Me. Or anyone like me who hasn’t had a properly functioning immune system in years, or maybe ever and their body just isn’t able to rally enough of a defense against invaders to muster a fever. Until now. So while for most people that thermometer might have just said, “You have a crummy fever.” To me, it read, “You are making progress, big time.”

Progress, I’m not sure we give her the glory she’s due. We really like finish lines. And we are great to announce that we have taken on some new feat. But gritty, fight-it-out-in-the-day-to-day progress? I’m not sure we’re that into her. But we should be, because she’s the one that carries us to the finish line.

Maybe you joined a heap load of other folks in committing to some sort of growth or change in the New Year. At some point, you’ll stop and evaluate your success. Have you crossed the finish line as intended? But what about those checkpoints along the way, called progress? What if you never make it to the intended finish line or it takes two years instead of one…but you make progress. Wouldn’t that still be worthy of celebration?

The thing about progress is it’s uniquely ours. What’s progress for me, may well be standing still for you. That’s why if we compare our progress to that of others we’ll only end up defeated, discouraged and ready to quit. This journey is ours alone. Let’s own our progress and celebrate it. We often celebrate those struts across the finish line and we fully recognize that they were hard-fought and well-earned. But what about the progress along the way?

It turns out progress is often hard-fought and well-earned.

I’m typing this piece with my right eye patched. As we work to rid my body of Lyme, the Lyme gets very angry and puts up a fight. Right now, part of that fight means my eye is insanely sensitive to light and hurts like Hades 24/7.

Sometimes progress is hard-fought and well-earned.

And what about the pace of your progress? What if it’s not fast enough for others…or for you? Progress rarely happens as fast as we’d like. But are you following the course that’s been laid out before you? Are you doing your part and letting others do theirs? Then celebrate that!

The other cool thing about progress is that, like a snowball, it sometimes picks up speed and force over time. So your blood, sweat and tears for that tiny bit of movement, in the beginning, may well be multiplied the closer you get to the finish line.

We are often told to keep our eyes on the finish line, but the simple truth is that, often times, the finish line is just too far away. Instead, if we just run this mile, if we just give it all we’ve got until that next mile marker and then the next and the next and the next… We can celebrate so much progress along the way.

Chances are, whatever you are doing is pretty amazing. Others might not see it, might not fully understand but you know that this progress you are making has been hard-fought and well-earned and that’s worthy of celebration.

So celebrate my friend, all the way to the finish line. No matter how long it takes.

Santa Jesus

aliferepaired

Dear Santa Jesus,

I think you will find that I have been a very good girl this year. Check out my church attendance. Spot on. I have even opened my bible a few times in between services. That has to be good for some extra credit points, right? I haven’t cussed much (mostly just in my head, and we all know that doesn’t count). I don’t drink, and I don’t dress like a street walker like those other girls, bless their hearts. I sometimes even put extra money in the offering. I talk at you and ask you to help the people I like, so I know for a fact that we’re in awesome shape, and I’m pretty much the best Christian of them all.

In return, I’m just asking for a few things- because, you know, that’s the deal. I’d really like a better job that pays more money…

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Superficial Success

I went on a trip recently where I couldn’t help but overhear much networking, business card exchanging, sales figure dropping and general success celebrating.

I’m pretty sure I could even smell it on the plane, the scent of perceived success. The bigger the sales territory the more of this cologne they wore. Did they win awards for their numbers? Pile on some more of that perfume. Buy a bigger house or better car because of those commission checks? Better add a couple of extra squirts for good measure.

My life looks much different than these people. I don’t spend my days traveling for work, trying to close the deal and feeling like “the man” when I do. Is this it? Is this what success looks like? Are there levels of success?

I have to be honest that there was a time in my life that I would have been right there with those folks. When closing investment deals and climbing corporate ladders absolutely would have signified success to me.

But something’s changed…

The closer I get to Jesus, the less and less my definition of success has anything to do with stuff, titles or positions and the more and more it has to do with a posture before the cross.

When I begin to evaluate success now, I think about things like: How well am I loving people? Am I stewarding myself and my resources well? Am I growing in Christ?

We are such a results-oriented society. We want them and we want them now. Measurable and favorable, malleable. But what if being successful means learning to leave the results up to God? What if success means trusting God more than you ever have before?

Maybe, like me, when one year ends and another begins, you reflect back on it. Was it a success? What do I want to improve upon in this next year? Each year I find that my definition becomes more and more simple. This year it looks like this: Was I obedient? Did I grow closer to God in the process? If so, it was a success.

What does success look like to you?

Fluffy Faith

Two years ago at Christmas time our family adopted a Persian cat that our big kids named, “Tater Tot.” She enjoys giving us gifts. To obtain these gifts, she must go out into the backyard and kill them. Then she proudly drags them to the back porch and leaves them on display. I’ll spare you the details on the various gifts we’ve found on the back porch but let’s just say she really enjoys her hunting time outside. But her fur does not. It gets matted and tangled and recently we had to have her taken to the groomer for a little trim. It’s funny, Tater Tot has always looked so big to me. In fact, I’ve often given her a hard time about being such a big, fat cat. But because her fur was so matted from her time hunting, the groomer had to give her “the lion” cut, shaving off almost all of her fur excluding head and paws. Besides being just plain hilarious, I’ve noticed something else. Once you removed all the fluff, Tater Tot looks so small, frail even.

It might seem strange to you that the sight of my recently shaved cat, stretched out on my couch, reminded me of faith. But it did, at least of some people’s anyway. Because once you get rid of all that fluff that makes it look so large, it’s really very small and even frail.

There have been a couple of times that people have told me that their faith, their believing, feels small. One is when they’ve had the wind knocked right out of them by some circumstance in life, such as the loss of a loved one, an illness, a financial hardship, infidelity, etc.

The other is when the person’s faith has been chronically malnourished. It usually sounds something like this, “I’m just not sure what I even believe anymore.” Or “I’m not sure I even believe that stuff anymore.”

“Okay, what have you been doing to build your faith up, to feed it?” Blank stare ensues.

We’ve all been told that what feed will grow and what we starve will die.

We are all guilty of this at times. Feeding the wrong things, while starving our faith. But today I want to ask you a tough question. Beneath all the fluff, what does your faith really look like? What are you doing to feed it? Is your faith feeling weak because it is chronically malnourished?

Sometimes when our faith feels weak we ask our friends to pray for us and that’s great. But I hope your friends will also tell you, “Joker, you need to eat.” And maybe even load you up in the car and take you to that faith hospital called church. Because I would hope that if your friend saw you starving to death they’d do more than pray for you. I would hope that they would feed you and get you some medical care.

How is your faith feeling today? Fluffy? Starved? When was the last time you fed it?

After all, what you starve will die and what you feed will grow.

 

Perfect Love

I think we’re going to have to start here—with me saying that I understand that I am treading on dangerous ground, boldly going where many won’t. Many already have and many shouldn’t. But here’s the thing, I have to. It’s part of what I’m called to do.

I hope that though you might disagree with me, you can respectfully disagree with me and we can still love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Have you ever fallen in love? Do you remember that early stage where as Lady Gaga says you were “on the edge, the edge, the edge” but you were scared? Scared of letting go, scared of getting hurt, scared of going here again because remember what happened last time? But then you did it. Because deep down, you knew, love was worth it. Love is always worth it. If you aren’t loving, you aren’t really living. So you let go, you faced your fears and you loved, with your whole heart. And maybe it was glorious and maybe it was terrible but most likely, it was a combination of both.

Because love always cost us something.

The bible tells us that perfect love cast out all fear. (I John 4:18) Here’s how I have experienced this in my life: The closer I draw to the heart of God, the more intense my desire to love others becomes, the less afraid I become. Over time, my desire to love becomes bigger than my fear. Until, I can’t help but love—no matter how crazy it might seem to others, how dangerous it might be, no matter what it might cost me.

It’s this love that sends folks on the mission field to minister in hostile nations. Their desire to love is greater than their fear. They simply have to love people in the way that God has called them to. Please hear me. What I am not saying is that we are somehow sub-par Christians if we are not sharing the gospel in a hostile country because maybe the Lord has called us to share the gospel in our workplace right here in America. And if we are doing so faithfully, praise God! What I am saying is that we shouldn’t ever let our fear stop us from loving in the way God has called us to.

How has God called you to love the people around you? I don’t know. I mean, the bible is pretty clear about feeding, clothing, visiting, caring for widows and orphans, those in prison. What does that look like in your day-to-day life? I don’t know. But you do. You know what he’s calling you to. You know who he’s called you to mentor. Where he’s called you to volunteer your time or give financially. Or maybe even who’s he’s calling you to share your home with.

You also know where you are letting fear hold you back from doing those things. Some of you might be called to do those things in other countries. Maybe you are afraid of what others will say, or of physical safety. Maybe you are afraid of letting go of American luxuries. You fear you are not cut out for it.

God has not given you a spirit of fear but of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). You are no longer a slave to fear. Let your desire to love grow so large that you are no longer afraid.

If we died in the process of loving the least of these, wouldn’t our lives be well spent?

This week can we spend some time asking the Lord to show us how he wants us to love the people in our world? Could we ask him to show us where fear might be standing in our way and then stand on the truth that perfect love casts out all fear?

No Longer Slaves