Friday, November 11, 2016

be (love)d

I tightened my laces and grabbed my water bottle, shivering a little as I left the warmth of my car for the brisk, fall air that greeted me as I headed for the trail.  Freshly fallen leaves crunched under my feet as I picked up my pace and felt the cool air burn in my lungs.  Colors of burnt orange and dull browns swirled around me as the autumn breeze had it's way with the leaves yet to find their resting place on the ground beneath my feet.  This is unplugging for me.  Choosing to set down what I can't control and choosing to run toward beauty.  Letting it surround me.  Breathing it in until my head is clear and I can begin to remember why I'm here.

Like most I'd imagine, I expected to wake up to something new on Wednesday. The something new I'd anticipated had nothing to do with who would win the White House.  But instead with what would win the day once we got past the ugliness of the past few months.

The worst in him.  The worst in her.  Laid bare for all to see like skeletons cast out of a dark closet, clattering into a heap onto the nation's harsh, unforgiving, spotlit stage.  All sides stared in horror at one or the other, some at both.  But as the camera now pans out and shines it's revealing light on it showing the worst in us?  The best in us?  We all battle those two sides deep in our hearts. Like a Jekyll and Hyde there are two things at war within ourselves.  Which side will win out in front of a watching world?

Will we value hearing above being heard?

Will we require the validation of our own beliefs before we'll love the one who differs?

Will it be an aisle that continues to separate us and ultimately forever divide us?

When last did we choose to BE love?

Is this love that is flooding our city streets and painting our phone's feeds? Because it looks and sounds a lot like hate.  The one we're standing up for, do they feel loved by us?  By our need to put down one to build up another?  The one we say we're loving as we hurl obscenities in the street or pound the keys on our computer or the screens of our smartphones...have we stopped to ask if they feel loved?  When last did we look straight into the eyes of someone hurting rather than from behind our carefully constructed walls of social media that keep us blinded to what true community is...keep us immune to the true need of our brother?  Our sister?  Can we truly love one when we have hatred for another?

It matters much more what goes on outside our own front doors than what happens behind closed doors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Do we doubt our own capabilities so much that we need "our man" or "our woman" at the helm in order to live our lives driven by the passions put inside us?  Can we not stand for what we believe in by reaching out to our neighbors, even when they fall on the opposite side of an issue?  Are we too blinded by our own hurt that we no longer are moved to minister to the hurt in others?  When did we last invite the hurting into our homes?  When did we last allow ourselves to be bloodied by their wounds still so fresh that they wear them for all to see?

When is the last time you let yourself BE loved?

Why do we have to agree in order to accept the hand of the one that reaches out to us?  Since when did it become more about fighting for unity rather than choosing unity?  When we fight for it, it requires that there be both winner and loser.  And we can't feel we've won until we can look at the one across from us and feel we're looking in a mirror.  But what loss has our win created? When we choose unity, we can be loved by the one across from us, not just in spite of our differences, but because of our differences.  How often would you eat a bag of m&m's if they were all orange? Skittles if they were all green?

"A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.  By chance a priest came along.  But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.  A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.  Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.  Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.  Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.  The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, 'Take care of this man.  If his bill runs higher than this, I'll pay you the next time I'm here.'

'Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?'  Jesus asked.  The man replied, 'The one who showed him mercy."  Then Jesus said, 
'Yes, now go and do the same."  
Luke 10:30-37

When is the last time we loved our neighbor like that?  Picked him up off the road where he had fallen and carefully bandaged his wounds?  Took the time to care for him personally at our own inconvenience and expense? Chose to defeat fear with a reminder of what's good rather than propagate it with a reminder of the potential worst?  What would it have benefitted the Jewish man if the Samaritan had run off after the bandits to "make them pay" or to argue with them long enough to convince them that what they had done was wrong? Still, the Jewish man would have lain bleeding to death on the street while we "loved him" from a distance.

I think it's important to point out the historical context of the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans.  At the death of King Solomon, what was once a united kingdom became divided.  A simmering hatred divided a nation of brothers.  Are we content to go the same way?  Can we pass our brother by as he lays bleeding in the street because we've determined that what separates us is too great a cavern to cross? Or will we extend that hand of brotherhood, of sisterhood simply because there's a need to be met and we have the courage to show mercy?  As a country, can we love each other anyway knowing that we all ultimately want the same thing but are driven by different convictions?  Are we doomed to always assume the worst in each other rather than look for the best?  We all desire unity. We've just forgotten along the way that obtaining it comes by a choice and not by a fight.

Let's stop emulating the media's narrow version of how we should treat each other when we disagree. Let's unplug.  Put down the smartphone.  Push away from the desk.  Turn off the TV.  You guys!! People were smiling and friendly on the trail as I ran.  Neighbors greeting neighbors with sometimes just a simple smile or a nod.  And it felt GOOD.  If I went by the online/on-screen version of things, my entire perspective on the heart of my fellow countrymen and women would be irreparably shattered. Are we really so enveloped by our bubble of choice that we forget there's a whole, wide world out there full of people, right outside our door, who care very little if our map is painted red or blue but are just aching for a glimpse of real, human connection?  That is something we all have to offer, no matter the outcome of an election.  Today. 4 years from now.  8 years from now.  1776 years from now.

Let's find tangible, messy ways to love our neighbor.  Let's get outside our respective bubbles and live as if we really believed what we say we do.  Be love.  And let yourself be loved.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Manna for the Morning

From the backseat I heard his 7-year-old voice quietly singing along with the words of the song that has been my lifeline in recent weeks...

"Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wandering
Never changes what you see

I've tried to win this war I confess
My hands are weary I need Your rest
Mighty Warrior, King of the fight
No matter what I face you're by my side

When You don't move the mountains I'm needing You to move
When You don't part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don't give the answers as I cry out to you
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!"

Three years ago if you had asked whether I still struggled with seeking the approval of others, I would have confidently told you that I didn't.  I would have laughed and told you since leaving the halls of my high school that were wall-papered from top to bottom with insecurity that I cared far more about the truth of what my Heavenly Father thought of me than the ever changing opinions of others.

Then came a season of parenting that revealed the insecurities still alive inside that sought desperately for the outside approval that can become the flawed fuel I think I need to make it through another day.

Part of this season felt familiar to me.  After having our biological children, I waited weeks to get that first smile of affirmation...that first look that makes your heart melt because suddenly, in a moment with just the upturned corners of a little mouth all the sleepless nights and bleary-eyed days have somehow crazily become worth it because all that matters in that moment is that she smiled and it was because of me.  It was years before that give and take we find so mutually satisfying in healthy relationships became a regular occurrence.  But this was all expected...because I had done my homework.  I had read "What to Expect When You're Expecting" like every good mom does. ;)  I'm not going to say those weeks and years of waiting were easy, but they certainly were expected.

Cue scene.  She's just run off.  After weeks of stony silence making home feel less like a haven and more like a battlefield rife with hidden landmines, she's decided for the moment that the boundaries you placed around her out of love don't really feel like love.  Years of being her own boss have taught her that life might not disappoint you as much if you only depend on yourself.  Where is the book entitled, "Expect What You're Not Expecting"?  And can I preorder the sequel?

Cue scene.  He's sitting at the counter in front of you after having just finished the breakfast you woke up at 5:45 a.m. to be sure you were able to make for him right when he woke up-- because you know there was a season when he had to wonder if there would be anything to eat when he woke up with an empty belly from the night before.  He opens his precious little mouth in response to your request that he clear his plate and says, "You're my servant because it's your job to do everything I want."  Oh goodness.  You have not had enough coffee or quiet time to field this one at 6:12 a.m.

Whether they're 17 or 7, parenting kids from hard places is...well, hard.  Let me be more clear.  When you're parenting any children it's hard!  When your motive is pure and it's love that drives you, you mistakenly expect that it can easily be interpreted as such by its objects.  So when you're parenting children that, by no fault of their own, cannot express to you the approval you're seeking it's time you figured out where your own development has fallen short and remind yourself that MY EMOTIONAL STABILITY DOES NOT DEPEND ON A "THANK YOU" OR "I LOVE YOU"!

"...Our purpose is to please God, not people.  He alone examines the motives of our hearts."  
1 Thessalonians 2:4

Hello.  My name is Johanna and I am an approval seeker.  While the focus of my need may have shifted from my peers to the ones that call me "mom", it still puts me on the treadmill to nowhere that leaves me empty at the end of the day when I feel I've spent my entire self on loving the ones in my life by way of a sometimes mindless list of tasks that will never win anyone the Nobel Peace Prize or make the front page news.  "Extra!  Extra!  Read all about it!  Mom single-handedly makes 6 peanut butter sandwiches, checks the 'Monday folder', empties the dishwasher to reload the dirty dishes from the night before, provides emotional support because sometimes the simple task of brushing teeth is JUST.  SO.  HARD.  and runs the load of towels in the washer one more time to get rid of the moldy smell that developed overnight ALL while still wearing her pajamas and the make-up from the day before!  (full color photo on pg. 2, viewer discretion advised)"

Yeah, not so much.

So, now what?  If I recognize an unhealthy need still lies in wait down in the very center of my being, how do I begin to meet that need in a way that allows  me to love others without the promise of that love being returned in the ways I'm conditioned to desire?  I don't.  There's the truth of it.  I've often heard the saying that "God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called."  Which is true to a point, but He will never equip us past our need for Him.  And the crazy thing is, He doesn't do this because He has some insecure need of His own to be "needed" by us...He does this because He knows that the kind of love required in order for us to put another before ourselves is something we on our own will never be capable of.  Our very nature daily causes us by default to run through the mantra of, "What's in it for me?  How does this affect me?  Will this advance my career, my comfort, my agenda, my...fill in the blank."  If we are truly to empty ourselves for the benefit of another, it will require something outside ourselves, something other than what comes naturally.  Our nature rebels against paying the ultimate price of ourselves.

In this past month of suddenly growing from a family of 5 to a family of 6 I have grossly missed the mark.  While the prayer of my heart reflected the words of the song above... "I've tried to win this war I confess.  My hands are weary I need Your rest"...  I was still searching for a false sense of filling, a replacing of what I spent by a refilling of the same.  I was expecting to be all I needed as I attempted to live out a life I felt God had adequately equipped me for.  But if I am all I need, am I not setting myself up in the place of God?  He equips me just enough to get me to a place of obedience and then desires that I continue to look to Him in order to be equipped for the next step.  Sometimes the very need we're feeling was put there in order to bring us again to that humble place of recognizing that "I am not enough."

"Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors.  He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."  Deuteronomy 8:3

Yesterday's "manna" is no good for today.  It sustained me yesterday and was just what I needed.  In faith, today I look for the fresh supply that God has waiting outside my door.  Something "previously unknown to me" that He has tailor made for this very moment in this season of my life.  It's not pleasant to feel hunger and not be able to fill that ache.  While I have never experienced what it truly is to be physically hungry, in recent weeks I have been starved emotionally as I kept looking to myself and to my husband and children to gain the approval I thought I needed to keep me going another day.  When all along that very hunger was placed inside of me by a loving father who kept waiting for me to recognize HIM as my sustenance.

"When You don't move the mountains I'm needing You to move
When You don't part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don't give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!"

I was asking Him to move mountains, and the ones I wanted moved were not the mountains He had in mind.  The mountains I wanted moved were the ones standing in the way of me getting the approval I thought I needed to keep moving forward after an exhausting day.  The mountains He actually desires to move are the ones that have settled themselves so deeply in my heart that they obstruct the view of where my true sense of worth comes from.  And guess what?  It NEVER comes from others, no matter who that "other" might be and what a gift they may be in my life.

So here's the truth: I still struggle here.  Amidst the daily grind I do not always feel secure in who I am and my abilities.  So what's the big "T" Truth?  The Truth is that I have already been declared worthy by God...

"But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.  (It is only by God's grace that you have been saved!)  For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus."  Ephesians 2:4-6

"So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call.  May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.  Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him.  This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ."  
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Based on this big "T" Truth, I can turn away from those false things I run to for approval and look instead to Christ and the approval He's already given me.  I can in fact completely spend myself on loving others in the way God directs, even amidst the reality that I may be loving with no earthly return.  My emotion does not have to be tied to someone else's response because my security does not lie in them.  I can literally empty myself because it is in the emptying of self that I can truly be filled.  I can give without the fear of needing to reserve something for myself because what I reserve of self was never meant to be was given to me to be given to others because I'm connected to a Source with a never ending supply.  So, once again (because this is a lesson I don't yet have down) I repent of trusting in my own strength.  Even when I've recognized where that strength has come from I can still put too much faith in what's been given rather than the One who gave it.

"In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it...You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop.  So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion.  For the Lord is a faithful God.  Blessed are those who wait for his help...He will be gracious if you ask for help.  He will surely respond to the sound of your cries...Right behind you a voice will say, 'This is the way you should go'..."  Isaiah 30:15, 17-19, 21

What a great description for where I'd allowed myself to go in recent weeks.  I had certainly felt like "a lonely flagpole on a hill or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop".  And no wonder!  I already knew where my approval lay, where my true worth was found, where to find my strength...yet stubbornly, I ran ahead trusting in something I could attain rather than listening for that wonder I would have to hear it from "right behind".  I'd passed it by thinking the preparation for yesterday would be enough for today.

"It is the food the Lord has given you to eat...Each household should gather as much as it needs...everyone had just enough...Each family had just what it needed.  Then Moses told them, 'Do not keep any of it until morning.'  But some of them didn't listen and kept some of it until morning.  But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell...after this the people gathered the food by morning, each family according to its need."  Exodus 16:15-16, 18-21

How like the Israelites I can be...hearing the command to only gather what I need for the day, and not worrying about keeping any over for tomorrow.  God had promised He would show up again the next day to give them just what they needed.  He was humbling them by creating a need only He could fill so that when life didn't go as planned they would know where their strength lay...not in their own ability to provide but in their waiting on the Lord to provide just what they needed at just the right time.  In my unbelief I make the mistake of thinking that He isn't in control, that He won't provide. This unbelief then leads to attitudes and behaviors that pull me away from Him and further down the path of unfulfillment as I chase after those things that promise everything and leave me with nothing. So often I hold back part of what He asks me to give of myself, selfishly thinking, "I might need that for tomorrow!"  But He provides for the moment just what I need and only asks that I trust Him for be willing to use all He's given me for today for the purpose He's given it and to trust that when he calls me to love with that always-no-matter-what kind of love, He is fully capable of sustaining me--completely apart from my misguided need to find approval from others as well as my desire to hold back parts of myself because I'm too afraid of the risk.  It seems counter-intuitive to empty oneself in order to be filled, yet we are reminded in Matthew 5 during Jesus' Sermon on the Mount that those who are poor in spirit, those who recognize their need for God are blessed.  Unless I empty myself each day of all He's already given me, I am not ready to accept all He longs to give me to sustain me for the next day.  There's a song by Sidewalk Prophets that illustrates this so beautifully:

"Make me empty
So I can be filled
'Cause I'm still holding
Onto my will
And I'm completed
When You are with me
Make me empty

Make me lonely
So I can be Yours
"Til I want no one
More than You, Lord
'Cause in the darkness
I know You will hold me
Make me lonely."

"The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is His faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning."  
Lamentations 3:22-23

Hearing the small voice from the backseat of my car singing the same song that was the whispered prayer of my heart brought to light just how misguided my search for significance and approval had been.  How could I lay the burden on him, or anyone else for that matter, to affirm what I was trying to do?  He didn't ask for me to be his mom.  He didn't ask for any of the things that have happened in his short span of years that brought him to our family.  God asked me.  And He gave me just what I needed in order to be able to say yes to His ask.  Why would He not follow through with each need that arises after?

"You are my strength and comfort
You are my steady hand
You are my firm foundation; the rock on which I stand

Your ways are always higher
Your plans are always good
There's not a place where I'll go, You've not already stood

When You don't move the mountains I'm needing you to move
When You don't part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don't give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!"

Trust In You~Lauren Daigle