Sunday, January 27, 2008

say what you need to say

Recently, as I was getting my hair cut, I began to think about the part of the Bible where Jesus says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." When I was in high school, someone brought to my attention the fact that, whenever the apostle Paul wrote letters to struggling Christians, he usually began with "grace and peace" - a phrase that, were we to consider it closely, we'd see operates somewhat like an equation. Grace must first be received before there can ever be peace. As it turns out, Scripture is packed with these riddles; each word is placed precisely, meant to deliver an exact punch, so to speak. I became a little obsessed with this idea and, over the years, whenever a particular verse strikes me as poignant, I try to "plug it in" and decipher it. Most all of it seems to be more than what you see on the page.

So since Jesus says we should love HIm with our hearts first, I'm guessing that kind of loving is most important - or maybe the hardest. I sat in the chair and wondered what loving with our hearts really looks like. To say that you love someone with all of your heart is a pretty heavy statement, even more intentional than simply saying "I love you." It seems to have a desperation, a passion, a windswept feel to it. If I love God with all my heart - really, truly - then I love Him deeply, tenderly, unabashedly. I love Him so much it hurts me. If He were here, I'd want to take Him for a ride in my car to see the pastures behind my house. I'd play some John Mayer on my iPod and take Him to dinner at the local restaurant with the best crusted Tilapia. I'd want to look at Him in the eyes and hear His laugh and ask Him to tell me stories about His childhood and feel the weight of His hand in mine. Mostly, I guess, I'd want Him to love me. I'd want to know, without a shadow of a doubt that while I followed Him around like a puppy dog, hanging on His every word, He was doing the same. The kind of love that loves with the heart has no worry of being unrequited. Maybe that's why the Bible says that perfect love drives out all fear.

And yet, though He isn't here for me to touch or see or hear, He's present. And most of the time, my love for Him is anything but from the heart. It's practical, convenient, disinterested, obligatory. It's angry and unforgiving and selfish and holds quite a few grudges. It's formulaic. I'm always looking for the equation, for the variables to plug in so that I can "figure Him out." Not really the picture of a romance.

Perhaps I must love Jesus first with my heart because until I do the soul and mind stuff is a little irrelevant. After all, knowing and understanding someone aren't worth much if you don't love them. We scramble around a lot, trying to decipher a God who just wants us to give Him the time to reveal His heart. Maybe your time with Jesus would look more like several hours in intense therapy. Maybe you'd take Him to the house you grew up in where you felt unloved and insecure. Maybe you'd remind Him that while you went to church every single Sunday for ten years straight and prayed for the same things over and over again, you're still lonely.

I still don't understand why Jesus took Copeland from me. And I don't know what He's doing with my life. But I can say that, despite the moments when I want to scream at Him and throw a few mugs, I'm pretty in love. He wins me over. He reminds me of the ones He loves, like the Mathenia family, who are suffering and agonizing over this crazy, confusing, love-struck God of ours who would still allow us to, well, suffer and agonize ( He reminds me that, as someone mentioned the other day, if our galaxy could be shrunk to the size of the North American continent, our solar system would fit into a coffee cup. I'm insignificant. David said it best: what am I worth that You, God, even think about me? And yet - He does. Constantly. Every single thing about us matters to Him. And He wants to hear about all of it.

John Mayer has a new single out called "Say." It reminds me of my dad because, when I was growing up, we were always taught to communicate. Don't let the sun go down on your anger. Get all your crap out on the table. The Bible is filled with men and women who were totally screwed up. And yet God kept pursuing them, kept revealing bits of the fantastic story He had for them, because even if they were yelling at the top of their lungs, they were still talking to HIm. Maybe that's ultimately what loving someone is really about. Saying what you need to say. The vulnerability that comes from sitting down with someone and saying, "Well, here's the thing. I need You to love me. I love You. Something about You makes me feel like I don't suck. And yet I'm coming into this conversation just about as messed up as anybody can get. I've been hurt and abused and pushed around. Take me as I am, because it's all I've got."

Loving God with all your heart is just like everything else in the God-plus-us equation. If you take us out of it, He's still enough. He can give us the love we need to give to Him, and He can provide all that Love requires. We just have to be willing to ask for it.

Say what you need to say.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

pray for nathan and tricia

Sometimes God wants to remind us to get a grip. I needed that today. I needed to hear that there are people out there in the world who are suffering, and their heartache is different - and perhaps heavier - than my own. Sometimes it's good to remember that what we are facing, these trials and tribulations we are handed, are not uncommon to man. I read in David McCullough's masterpiece, "John Adams," a beautiful biography of one our founding fathers, that Adams and his wife, Abigail suffered the loss of two children in infancy. History will remind us, over and over again, that those who've gone before us have tred a path marked with many similarities to our own. There has always been joy. There has always been suffering. What triumphs to know that only one will remain.

Having said that, I ask you to pray for Nathan and Tricia. I don't know their last names; I don't even know where they live. I encourage you to visit the blog Nathan is keeping on behalf of his wife, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, and their newborn daughter, Gwyneth, who is herself in perils related to an early delivery. Every day, a new trial, a new sense that perhaps some terrifying report will bring on greater sorrow - or that news of a brighter nature will lift their hearts a bit. To live like this, to wonder what's coming next, is perhaps a kind of suffering in and of itself. Beacause I do read each comment that is made on this blog, I know how incredible it is to feel loved and prayed for. So I ask you to go and leave your own words of encouragement for this precious young family. Visit

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

dwell in possibility

"I love You, O Lord my strength!
You are my Rock, my Fortress and my Deliverer;
You, my God, are my Rock, in whom I take refuge.
You are my Shield and the horn of my Salvation,
My stronghold. I call to You, O Lord,
Who is worthy of praise,
And I am saved from my enemies!"
-Psalm 18:1-3

The night before Christmas, Conor and I drove to my parents house for dinner. As we rode in the car (how strange is it that so many epiphanous moments hit me then?), I began to weep. I hadn't cried much in months. Months. And suddenly, without reason or even explanation, I began to sob. Conor looked at me and asked if I was all right, why I was crying? I remember what I felt then. Looking at him, I said, "I guess I'm emotional because, unbelievably, I feel so delivered." That moment will be forever etched in my memory. How is it possible that, after only a few months since my precious daughter passed, I feel delivered? How does that work? Only God knows. Only He is sufficient enough. Who is worthy of praise? Only He.

Last night, shortly after I fell asleep, I woke in a fit of terror, screaming at the top of my lungs. I've never done this in my entire life. When Conor finally got me to calm down so that I could articulate what was wrong, I told him that, in my dream, I had seen someone - a man - standing beside the bed. And I was practically clawing at Conor trying to get away. We prayed together, prayed over the house, but I woke this morning reminded of one thing: "...our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the authorities of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12). I am delivered. I am walking in the light of hope and promise and joy and victory. Let me make no mistake in saying that this is a threat. It's a threat to Satan, who wishes to deceive us, to convince us that whatever bondage we're in is permanent -- there is no deliverance to be hoped for. And where there is a threat, attacks are sure to follow. To paraphrase a British theologian, the stronger the faith, the surer the assails will be. Many of you have said that you felt compelled to ask the Father to allow you to carry some of the burden Conor and I were meant to carry during this trial. I have felt that load lifted; I have felt the weight and the agony of it taken away so many times, so unexpectedly. Now it is my heart that is aching, because I know that my desire and my innate sense that this is a story I'm supposed to share is only evidence of the fact that many of you are in bondage. My heart is heavy because of it. I am here to proclaim to you that you can be free. As Daniel was fond of saying, "There is a God in Heaven", and as David said, "[from Him] comes deliverance." Do not think your situation too bleak, your mistakes too many, your own heart too lost..

That night, Christmas Eve, Conor looked at me, after I had said I felt delivered, and spoke words that had more power than I could've anticipated: "Isn't it amazing that you can feel that way even when we don't have another baby?" Amazing, indeed. Let me be clear that having more children is the great desire of my heart. I cry out to the Lord every day, asking for His provision, reminding Him of His own Word which says that "a hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Proverbs 13:12). To endure every day not knowing, wanting, longing, is often so burdensome that I truly feel its effects physically. I can imagine many, many, share this bondage with me - a bondage that we could easily call "what if?" What if what I most long for is never fulfilled? What if I spend the rest of my life in this place? What if God forgets me? What if He doesn't desire to give me the desires of my heart? Perhaps the bondage is really about control, or discontent, or anger. Whatever it is, I must surrender every day and ask that God help me. Not to quit questioning. Half the Psalms are questions! I imagine Jesus loves to hear us ask what's going on in His mind! I need help believing that, even while the questions remain unanswered, God loves me. He can deliver me from bondage without giving me the desires of my heart. He can fill my spirit without filling my arms with another baby. What a mighty God we serve! May He pour out the fullness of who He is continually, on you and I, that we may experience a deeper, richer, more abundant life - no matter what our hands may hold.

Emily Dickinson wrote, "We dwell in possibility." Truer words may never have been spoken! On this side of heaven, we are continually breathing in the sweet fragrance of hope. There's no telling what God may have in store! We can rest assured it is more and better and sweeter than what our eyes can see or our ears can hear.

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