I give myself back

Last night I watched “The Passion of the Christ” again and just like the first time I saw it, had a visceral response.  Even though it’s a film, it’s hard to watch someone I know be beaten and flogged for my sin.  Each time I hear/read/watch the story, I’m reminded of what He did for me and how badly I’d like to do something, anything in return.  But what do I have?  Today, the day between Good Friday and Easter, seems like the ideal day to reflect on giving back to the Lord for all He’s done for me.

George Macdonald wrote, “The last act of our Lord in thus commending his spirit at the close of his life, was only a summing up of what he had been doing all his life.  He had been offering this sacrifice, the sacrifice of himself” during His entire time on earth.  And, I’m reminded, He didn’t do it because he had to, but because he wanted to, which is why He’s called a Servant King. How does one give back?  What could possibly be good enough?

I’ve recently been frustrated with all the things I can‘t do because of a condition that sidelines me – this year more than most.  But this year, I have begun two new volunteer opportunities.  Guess that’s God’s way of telling me that even with less time, I still have time to give.  And He knows I love it.  It’s probably because I grew up with a volunteering mom.  When I was in 6th grade we spent dozens of hours each Christmas holiday wrapping presents at the mall for our school.  It was so tiring but we loved it.  I remember Wednesdays was the day she volunteered at the hospital and later, a number of other organizations over the years.

I’m not sure how intentional she was in thinking that her time was the Lord’s but I believe that strongly now.  He gave me gifts and inclinations.  He’s shown me that when I use them with people who give me a joy-jolt, it’s super fun.  Recently I read about a man who told the Spirit, “All that I am I hand over to you for you to live in it the life you please…Help yourself to it.”  When I’m volunteering, that’s how I feel.  ‘You gave me the desire to be here, you opened the doors and on top of it all, it feels good.’

Now before anyone writes that I don’t have to perform for Him, I know.  No one can ever accomplish or do enough to earn His love.  But because He loves me, I give my time and talent back to him.  So Happy Easter, Lord.  I give myself back to you this year.

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A Buddhist and a Christian walk into a room….

I met a new friend a few years ago who I liked instantly.  I hoped that we would be able to know each other for a long time.   Then she shared that she was a Buddhist.  Oh.  I have no problem with that; it’s just that I’ve never known a Buddhist before.  This was new and it was a good new. We talked openly about things and what was most appealing were these words: “I’m not going to judge you.”   How refreshing!

I know all about judging because I feel like an expert some days.  It’s so hard for us NOT to judge and we do it so sub-consciously that it becomes our default setting.  Granted, some are better at this than others, but I’ve also heard from some amazingly honest people lately about how opinionated they are, how they find it easier to gripe about people than listen to them and they seem to have more fun with friends with they’re criticizing others. Hhmmm….

After thinking about these comments, I prayed about trying a different approach with people:  to assume the best more often, and to not judge but ask about what else might be going on so I can have a more complete picture than the one I knee-jerk guess.  Or, just praying for them. As a Christian, I have prayed for forgiveness many times for my critical spirit and my lack of grace with others.  There’s no excuse when Jesus has been generous to the point of giving His life for me.  But I also know I’m a sinful woman who can look Him full in the face and His mercy covers me anew each day.

And to that end, this morning my Buddhist friend called and left me crying when I hung up.  Not tears of sadness but from a weight of compassion.  She asked the right questions, listened compassionately and understood my vulnerability generously and accepted my honesty graciously.   That kind of love brought me to tears.  I don’t claim to understand a thing about Buddhism; and I have a long way to understanding the complex mysteries of my God and Father, but I know for certain when He brings two women together to bless each other.

So here I am, a committed Christian, wanting to be a little more like my Buddhist friend in her acceptance and openness of people.  It makes me think of others who aren’t Christians but have something about their natures that I want to emulate.  Speaking only for myself and not for Christians at large, I know that I live in a bubble of my own making.  To my shame, I can’t rattle off a list of non-Christian friends.  It’s not because I’ve intentionally avoided them, but because my orbit is a little too small.  I’m working on that – and excited about it.

When we first met, my friend asked me if it would be a problem for me to befriend her and I said No immediately.  For one, I rarely think of her religion and, I also believe God can use anyone and He clearly is using her to bless me.  As we approach Easter, I’m reminded of the new life that He gives us and I’m thankful that sometimes a new turn of heart comes from unlikely places and people.

Jonah’s gift is mine

One quiet morning recently I was blessed to have some time to read my Bible and as I often have in the past, asked the Lord where He wanted me to read.  I was thinking Mark; He had me open Jonah.  Okay, I thought, this is super-familiar but I’ll read it quickly and move on.  Rude, right?  Well, He can work around my presumption.

And work He did.  My eyes landed on one word and my brain lit up from the verse,  “the Lord provided a great fish…” (1:7) Did you catch it?  He provided.  That word evokes goodness and graciousness – two aspects of God’s very character.  It makes me think of how He answers prayers.  Many years ago I kept a list of all the ways He answered our family’s prayers.  It happened so often I was compelled to note them all.  And although I shouldn’t marvel at a Father loving His children, sometimes I do.  Harder still, is when He answers in another way.  And He’s done that in my life, too.

I don’t think Jonah thought, “Whew!  I’m so glad this fish came along!”  Maybe he did, but he might have seen his situation going from bad to worse.  Similar to when I’ve said,  Really, God?  I’ve been feverishly praying and now this?  This is the exact opposite of what I think is best for me!  See that presumption again?  I know, I know.  I’m working on it.  The ‘great fish’ in my life has taken many forms and I have scarcely recognized them as such.  But I’m starting to gets wisps of hints of inklings that challenges and pain are my fish.  They swallow me, to be sure and I lie quietly in my bed thinking, ‘Is this my fish?  Is this the Lord providing for me?’  I certainly feel thrown overboard but remember what Jonah said after that: “I sank down;  But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.”

Sometimes we think since we’ve read something in the Bible many times before, we know exactly what it says.  I mean, Jonah ran, was swallowed by a fish,  was spit up, and  all in a page and a half.  I knew that in preschool.  But I realized that more often than I want to admit, my understanding of God is in pre-school too.  However, sometimes He brings us to something very familiar and enlightens us.  Just because He loves us.

My eagle story, pt. 2

(please read part 1 before reading this post)

In October of that year, my son (a third grader) was in the hospital with a nasty virus and during his stay, I was very calm, even though we didn’t know what was wrong for the first three days.  We had some beautiful prayer times and our pastor came and read a story that he said showed God’s nearness to us.  Well, the first morning home, I went out to our driveway to speak to someone who’d come to visit and there, in the field next to our house, were two eagles.  Now, mind you,  these are the only times in the year when I’m seeing eagles!  I was more convinced than ever that God was showing me His nearness and was reminded of Deuteronomy 4 where He says that if we look for Him with all our heart and soul, He will not abandon us.

Going back inside, the phone rang within minutes, providing the job I had prayed fervently for, including all the parameters that only hours ago had seemed impossible.  Months earlier I shrugged off any hope of seeing any signs or wonders and then He used all kinds of signs and wonders to show me His love.  He redeemed.  And while He was at it, He renewed my spirit.

A few years later, I was driving to a speaking engagement in which I’d be delivering four talks to women I’d never met, knowing little more than the city I was going to.  As I approached the ferry terminal, a huge eagle flew right next to my van, taking slow, even wing-beats as it kept pace with me, about 5 feet off the ground.  I knew exactly what He was telling me: “I’m right here and I know you need to see that right now.”

In the years since, I have seen other eagles at times when my eyes are too often on the problems in front of me.  I am reminded anew of His love for me and the need to nestle under His wings.  Numerous people have found tremendous comfort in these words and have been uplifted when they see an eagle, too.  But I ask, Why does He do this? I think I know:  It’s because it’s who He is and it’s what He does.  His daily message to us is of His unfailing love and presence.  We so often can feel alone and unloved but nothing could be further from the Truth.  He is our advocate, our encourager and so much more but some days I just focus on His wingspan and that there’s plenty of room under there for me.

My eagle story, pt 1

If you’ve ever experienced a spiritual high after a retreat or vacation, you also know that spirits slag between those retreats and vacations. In 2004, I was in serious need of renewal. Our women’s ministry director had chosen the theme “signs and wonders” for Bible study year and I had never thought much about those.  But oh well, I thought.  As she’s encouraging women to pay attention to the signs and wonders God will send our way, I thought other women could do that; she’ll never know if I don’t.

That was the year I was working on my most transparent speech ever. I could only write it because other areas of my life had been really difficult and I was asked to speak about it. It was quite personal and as is always the case, when you’re moving closer to the Lord, Satan wheedles his way in there and starts causing trouble.

It was the beginning of February and I woke up early in the morning & immediately felt a strong sense of anxiety.   I don’t remember dreaming and I had not been awake long enough to think of something that made me anxious…but I felt the pull to go out to the living room.   I grabbed my Streams from the Desert book and turned to that day’s selection. From the first words, I had the chills.  “My child, I have a message for you today.  Let me whisper it in your ear that it may gild with glory any storm clouds which may arise and smooth the rough places upon which you tread.  Use them as a pillow on which to rest your head: This thing is from me.”

It then mentioned school, money, sorrow, temptation, pain and weakness, being hurt by people…every topic  that had been weighing on my heart.  I’m here to tell you the air in the room was electric. After wrestling with anxiety, I was given such a peace and all those months of fear and worry dissipated.  My heart felt so much lighter!  Later that day, I was driving home and saw four bald eagles within 1/4 mile of my home.  It was the first time I’d seen an eagle since living here and I could feel God telling me that He was showing me His nearness.  It was so comforting!

In April, I again awoke with anxiety and then I grabbed my Bible and turned to Psalm 91 and read, “He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings will you find refuge.”  I once again was comforted by those wings and soon I was standing on the driveway watching my daughter get on the bus when I noticed, in the tree in our backyard, a beautiful eagle.   He sat there for over an hour thoroughly unruffled by the neighbor’s barking dog underneath him.  I went back to my bed and spied him from my window and he looked directly at me.  I knew this was no coincidence.  God hears prayers.  He covers us with His wings and He knows some of us need visual reminders of that.  Again, I felt His nearness.