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After the Steam

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I woke up earlier than usual this morning, determined to get a head start on the day. Didn’t expect to start my day with this. And what is it? At first glance, it is the obvious, a fogged up mirror where steam has revealed all the smudges and writings left by little hands writing messages after their shower on the perfect canvas they saw. But this foggy, smudged up mirror reminded me this morning of a verse from 1 Corinthians: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Sometimes our actions in “steamy” moments write messages that we don’t even realize we are writing. Our raw emotions cause us to act so far off from the person God created us and knows us to be. In those moments, this Christ-like image that we are supposed to have, it becomes foggy, messy… Marked. Those who are around us lose sight of Christ in us, and to get down to the heart of it, so do we. It’s hard to look yourself in the mirror after you know you acted out or spoke out in ways so far from who you truly are. You lose sight of yourself. You start to just see steam, messiness… Marks. But friend, this morning as I looked closely at that mirror I saw clearly one message circled by a little hand, “A+.” It had been written over yesterday’s message, “God’s love.”

(Those little hands had no idea how God was going to use these markings to touch my heart. Friends, you have no idea how the little things you do can touch a person’s heart.)

Looking in that mirror, I could not see myself. In the steam all I could see was God and “A+.” That is what God’s love does. When we smudge our image and the image of Christ, Jesus takes his hands, the same hands that were nailed to a cross for moments just like these… Jesus hears that heart cry for forgiveness, and he answers it. In our brokenness and in the aftermath of the steam, Jesus writes two words over top our image: “God’s love.” And then, incredibly, he writes “A+.” That is forgiveness.

One day we will see God in his fullness. We will see ourselves in our fullness. But for know I pray we can catch an image of how God sees us and others after the steamy moments have passed and our hearts are made clean by confession. And I share this picture because something tells me that image looks a whole lot like a fogged up, smudge up mirror with the words “God’s love” and “A+.”

Confess. Repent. Ask and receive forgiveness. See that you aren’t a smudged up, steamy mess. You are a son or daughter of God, loved, forgiven and atoned for. God’s love writes your grade. He gives to you the full credit that Jesus, the perfect canvas, earned. Child, your grade is his grade. And that grade, incredibly, after all the steam and smudges, was written as “A+.” May you know that today should you be struggling with the image in the mirror.

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Covering Grace

I stepped outside and took in the beauty of the many trees in our backyard covered in ice.

You could feel it really, God’s grace covering everything.

Icicles hanging from outstretched limbs, each seemed to testify of a grace that covers every cold and dead place, even those places in our heart.

Those outstretched limbs, with raindrops frozen in time,

When you looked at them you could feel it- the wonder of the outstretched arms of Jesus.

He hung on a tree.

His love poured out to cover me, to cover us.

What kind of love our God is?

He whispers in the cold through frozen raindrop,

“I see every tear.

Every one.

I cover you in those cold seasons.”

And I’ll just say it flat out- sometimes life is so cold and so hard you just want to be numb,

But looking up at the beauty in those trees,

You could just feel it- this isn’t about becoming numb.

It is about becoming beautifully still in the cold, awaiting new life.

His words, “My grace is sufficient,”

They are felt in the still, cold air.

You could absolutely feel it.

His covering grace.

Icicles hanging from outstretched limbs…

Testifying today that covering grace always comes back to a tree.

May you feel his grace covering you today.

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In the Stink

So it was the Christmas week church service at my in-law’s church. Hubby was in Germany. The kids and I rode with dad and mom, my sister and nephew. We met up with my brothers and sisters and their families. Most of the kids went into their own classes. Our two youngest stayed with me in main service. There we were all lined up in the church seats.

Worship began and soon baby fell asleep in my arms. Worship ended and we all sat to hear the message. The pastor began reading the account of Jesus being born in the manger. “And you know, there were animals all around him… A donkey… Now don’t go looking around you, but perhaps you have been surrounded by some stinky…” (He pretended to be sniffing.)

I can’t tell you what he said next because at that moment I looked over to my right and their is mom, bent over, sniffing around like crazy… I thought she was kidding around at first until I realized it was no joke. She had smelt something. She reached down to grab her handbag, lifted up her hand, and her face took a sudden look of both curiosity and horror. There was brown stuff on her hand. She shows me her hand, gives it a sniff, practically gags and mouths “Pooooop!”

Now people, I am not one to be disrespectful in church but I was struggling. My eyes filled with tears and a laugh pressed so hard in my throat that all I knew to do was bury my head into our baby who was in my arms, bend over and attempt to look moved by the message.

More sniffing. More searching. More tears.

There was poop on the purse.

There was poop on her shoe.

There was poop on our sleeping baby’s shoe, and on the chair that his foot had brushed up against.

Poop was all around us… Dog poop to be exact. We had strolled into church with poop all over us.

If a sermon ever hit close to home, this one was it!

Because there we were, listening to this account of Jesus being born in the middle of the stink, and in the middle of our stink, all I could do was laugh.

Because the pastor warned us, not to go looking around… And sure enough when we did, there it was. My niece said she had smelt something from the start. But I hadn’t. And it wasn’t our poop! We had just been walking along trying to do right and stepped in someone else’s poop.

Aren’t stinky situations so often like that?

But here is what God showed me in that moment, that stinky situations don’t need to steal our joy.

Jesus came to bring joy. He came in the middle of a stinky situation.

So my prayer tonight for anyone who may be in a stinky situation is this: May God cause you to be filled with tears-flowing, belly-hurting-because-you-laughed-so-much joy in the midst of the stink. Know it will all get cleaned up. It will. And yes- you may have to get your hands more in it than you would prefer to get it cleaned up, but isn’t that what Jesus did? Took the cross to clean us up? It wasn’t his “poop.” It was ours.

Know you are loved by God. Know that God is still faithful to bring new life and joy out of the stinkiest situations.

 

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When Hope Dies

We were driving home as we usually do. Pulling down the last stretch of our street, I noticed a butterfly that appeared to cross our path. I hoped I hadn’t hit it.

We get home, the boys started to make their way into the house, walking past the front of our van. Suddenly they stopped. I heard a gasp. I became fearful, immediately thinking that I hit one of our children. I called out, “What is it? What is it?” The boys replied, “It’s a butterfly.”

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Our oldest son grabbed her from the grill of our van. “She’s hurt, mama. I think her legs got burned.”

Indeed she was hurt, and three of her legs were completely missing. He gently held her in his hands.

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He walked around with her on his finger for sometime. Her wings would open and close. Her head would lift up and down. “Do you think she will be okay, mama?” “I really don’t know. She has lost three legs and I don’t know if she can fly. I really don’t know if she will live, but she sure is beautiful..”

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Seconds passed then minutes, and after sometime of him being outside just holding her, our son came in the house with the butterfly in a box. “I named her Hope.”

And hope he did.

He stood there just watching her. “I wanted to shield her from the wind. The wind was knocking her over.”

She seemed worse off inside in the box. She was trapped and probably cold. Her little wings barely moving now.

I stood there watching her and watching our son. Tears filling his eyes his voice crackles, “I don’t want her to die, mama.”

It was then that it hit me so hard, the overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t just looking at a boy hurting for a hurt butterfly, I was catching a glimpse of a savior. Oh that we could only see how Jesus hurts when we hurt.

And so I asked him if I could take his picture while he cried, explaining to him how he reminded me of Jesus in that moment. He just nodded, and tried to wipe away the tears.

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There was our son. He was so much larger and so much more powerful than the little bug in the box. His lifespan would most likely far exceed that of any bug, let alone this bug. Why did he care? Why did he hope? Perhaps because Hope had touched him.

And perhaps it was Hope’s fault for crossing into where she shouldn’t cross. But that is what hope does. Hope intersects us. Hope collides with us. Hope holds on to us in the middle of the gravest conditions and makes us want to hold on longer to life. And when we feel the hold of hope, we feel the heart of God.

Hope was looking weak. I suggested our son take Hope outside back into the sunshine to warm up, and so he did.

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Our son gently opened the wire fencing that was placed to protect Hope from predators. He carefully coaxed Hope from the box onto his hand and removed her from her cage.
He held Hope once again in his hands.

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Our son knelt there next to her open cage with Hope in his hands. I stared at him for some time, moved.

Because isn’t this what Jesus does? He finds us in our brokenness, holds us, protects us, and then sets us free. I imagined Hope flying off right there from his hands. But Hope did not fly. All Hope did was hold on. And after nearly two hours of Hope holding onto our son, it became more and more clear, that Hope was dying. The slightest wind would knock her over. Dying hope is often knocked over by the slightest wind.

Our son placed Hope on a flowering bush in our yard. She rested there for sometime. Come evening she was still alive but hardly opening her wings anymore. Our son left her on the bush overnight hoping to find her gone in the morning.

In the morning, gone she was, but not as our son had hoped. Her body was lifeless. Hope had died.

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Our son began to cry. He began to question and get angry, “Why did she have to die? Why does everything here on this earth have to die? Why couldn’t she live?”

Oh, that I was wise enough to answer all of life’s mysteries. I closed my teary eyes and responded, “I don’t know. Sometimes the hurt is so bad, that the greatest way to be healed is to die. That is what the cross is all about. Jesus took on all our pain and shame, our sickness and infirmities, and there on a cross he died so we wouldn’t have to… At least not physically… But when it comes to people, the hurt we are stuck in has to die, in order for us to truly live. As for your butterfly, Hope isn’t trapped in a body that is suffering anymore.”

“You mean she can’t feel this?” He asked opening her wings.

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“No. She isn’t in that body anymore.”

He thought on the hard truth for sometime. I found myself thinking long and hard on it too.

There we were, the two of us, staring at a dead butterfly. And yes, I’ll admit it, I was also struggling a bit, “Lord, really? You let a butterfly named ‘Hope’ die? My son hoped so hard for it to live and still it died. How does that build his faith? How does that build his hope?”

His answer?

It was written long ago. I was reminded of it as I walked in our kitchen after watching our children bury Hope:

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Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
New King James Version (NKJV)

All the things we hold here will eventually flutter away.

And if we place our hope only in them, and make them the center of our joy, our hope and joy will flutter away as well.

All we can do is care for the things that have been placed in our hands while they are in our hands, understanding that eventually we will have to place them back in the hands of The Lord. In Him is our Hope. In Him is the promise of life eternal.

When Hoped died we placed her body back into the dust from which we all were made.

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We gathered rocks and a beautiful flower and laid them above where her body was laid to rest, as some small way to make a record of the gift that she was for the short time we had her… Some small way to say thank you. We imagined her flying in heaven above where true hope is found.

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Should something you placed your hope in be gone today… Should your heart be hurting and your soul wrestling, I am praying for you… Writing this to remind you, that when hope dies, hope still lives.

May you give those hurts to Jesus and make room for new life. May you be filled with hope today.

 

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To My Husband

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It was supposed to be a beach, sunset wedding… That is what we planned out over the course of six short days. And we weren’t even going to have a ceremony. We were going to go to the courthouse, get married and “make things right in the eyes of The Lord.”

That is what we were told we needed to do, by the mystical, “tennis court angel.” That is what I like to call her, even though you and I both know she wasn’t really an angel. And she wasn’t really “mystical.” She was just a woman who followed what she called the “leading of The Lord” late on a September night and found you exactly where The Lord told her you would be. She led you to salvation, and you then led me, but there was one thing she mentioned that we needed to do in order to “make things right”… Get married.

And it sounded crazy, stupid even… Believing some random woman was truly “Led by The Lord”…. “Having” to get married to “get right with The Lord”?

But we went with it. You followed the leading of a woman you truly believed was placed by God to intercept our world and forever change everything. You made the choice to follow Jesus and “make things right” as you felt you were being led to do. And I… Not so convinced… Simply made the choice to follow you. If you were going to follow Jesus, so was I. I would follow you anywhere… God knew that .

So we went to the courthouse on a Monday morning in order to “make things right,” if only on paper.

We walked out of that courthouse, ages nineteen and twenty-one, with a marriage license in hand. It was surreal to say the least.

And we would have gone to the court, but Tia and Tio said that wasn’t good enough and so we began planning a wedding.

Sunset. On the Beach. Hawaiian style. Standing room only… Lots of room.

We lined up a family friend who was a notary to perform our ceremony. We began thinking about flowers and favors… Little chocolates with our picture on it…. A cake with seashells, which we later learned was a bad idea.

(Mental Note: Real seashells on a cake is a bad idea. Also bad at the bottom of two betta bowls. Our poor wedding fish… Rough start but they survived! And so have we… Taking lots of “mental notes” along the way).

We planned for awesome homemade food cooked by your brother, a reception at Tio and Tia’s… It was all planned.

We invited every shocked friend we could think of and family. But being dead-set to get married soon, many, including our own parents were not able to attend.

We got as much marital counseling as we could in a week and a lot of prayer… God bless Pastor R and K-A for believing in us.

Come wedding day we ran late. Yes, late to our own wedding. Our “sunset” wedding became a pitch black wedding with only the headlights from family cars shedding light in the dark. And then half-way into the thing, it started. Little drops of rain. Wind getting stronger. After we both said “I do” it felt like the skies broke open and the wind came full blast. Sand whipped up from all around us. And our little flower girl, took off running. I can still remember the sight of her screaming and running off. Perhaps my favorite memory from that night.

It was so perfectly imperfect. So unpredicted. Planned and yet nothing really going according to plan. Light in the darkness. A name given. A name taken. Two vows made in the presence of heaven and earth. Holy and beautiful moments, and other moments that made us want to run…

Yeah- that is marriage in a nut shell.

But the secret to enduring the storms has remained the same, lock eyes, lock lips, and laugh in the rain.

And as I write this, it is 13 years. 13 years from that precious day when we “made things right”… So much has changed and yet so much has stayed the same.

To my husband- I love you. I thank God for you. Thank you for being “crazy” enough to step in faith, over and over and over again. Thank you for loving me, truth-be-told at times enduring me, with relentless, crazy, God-given, love. Thank you for locking your eyes on Jesus and leading me to do the same.

 

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To You

To you with problems ahead of you that seem so big… I want to encourage you tonight to listen for Jesus. Listen close and hear him whisper, “I am bigger.”

To you who feels so weak tonight and so rightfully sure that you don’t have what it takes… I want to encourage you tonight to close your eyes and fix your heart on Jesus. Because he is there- right in that place with you. May you feel his peace wrap around your heart and here him whisper, “I have what it takes and I am with you.”

And to you, who has come to know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that on your own, there are so very many things that are impossible, that you simply cannot and will not ever do. Can I tell you something tonight? To you Jesus whispers, “With God all things are possible.”

And to you who wrestles daily with fear, who fights to find peace, who trembles inside at the tribulations ahead. Yes, tribulation will come, just as Jesus said. But listen close to His voice one more time. He spoke it, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Did you hear what he said? “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.” His warnings of tribulation were not meant to scare you, but to assure you… That the only One strong enough to conquer the world is available to you. May you lay your head down on your pillow tonight and rest in His peace.

A prayer:
Sweet Savior Jesus, you are never too far, but all too often, I am. Help me to draw close to you tonight and rest in your presence, your goodness and your love. Thank you. Yes, thank you. Amen.

 

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Ironing a little girl’s dress, Ironing out my heart

It’s 11:30 p.m. as I start to write this. I still have a little girl’s dress to press to get ready for church in the morning… And to be honest I am having a hard time balancing a joyful, thankful heart and a totally broken heart. And I have a feeling, I am not alone.

My mind keeps going back to pictures of little ones whose bodies were being gathered together… Children in Iran who fled to the hills with their families for fear of death, only to starve and die of thirst. I keep thinking about her, that little girl who looked so much like our youngest daughter, limp in a man’s arms.

Our baby girl smiled earlier this evening, held up her pretty church dress, and I started to think of that little girl again, and the many others, children’s heads on sticks, women and mothers being raped, fathers being hung… And meanwhile, elsewhere there are women and children stuck in human trafficking, children and spouses stuck in abusive homes, friend’s who have lost loved ones unexpectedly, hurricanes, and mudslides… Yeah, I think of all those things and suddenly what we are wearing to church seems so trivial. Whether this dress gets ironed out not so important… But instead ironing out my heart.

Because I truly believe that God is not blind to what is happening.

Exodus 3:7
Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress…”

He is not deaf to the cries of his people. But I fear that all too often… We are… And we are by choice.

And somewhere in the mix of all of this it has really dawned on me that while I so desperately want to “save”so many… When I open my heart to the pains of others… It frees ME. It frees me from ingratitude. It frees me from being numb. It frees me from the little “happy bubble” that I like to stay in. And truly we aren’t meant to float around in a happy bubble. We are meant to feel- to take compassion. To cry…

“Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in the Bible and yet perhaps the most profound to me. That the all powerful Savior of the World wept. It was part of his purpose. Part of the reason he came and entered our world. He came to feel our pains, because only by feeling our pain could he free us from it.

We live in a great, big, broken world. And as we allow our hearts to feel it – to be broken for others, cry when they cry, pray when they ask for prayer- I really believe we WILL see miracles- including those that happen within our very own hearts.

I urge you friends- especially those of you who, like me, don’t like to let your happy bubble get popped- start clicking those links: see, hear, feel, fast, pray, cry… Let the heat of the world’s hurt hit your heart and let God iron out the shriveled and wrinkled places. Be moved. Move. And wait for a miracle.

 

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