Saturday, February 13, 2016

A PLACE OF GRACE

Six years ago, our little family of three stepped on an airplane and took our seats.
Exhausted. Confused. Disappointed. Overwhelmed. Emotional.

The specific details of that day are here, but basically,
it was a travel day from hell.

Fog shut down two of the airports we were flying out of and snow shut down the cities we were flying into.  We booked new flights only to have them cancelled.  Our luggage went one place and we went another.  In a last ditch effort to catch our flight out of Washington DC, we flew to Baltimore, knowing that they only had one lane cleared throughout the city, and took a taxi to DC.

We were headed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with nothing more than our backpacks and carry-ons.  That day, that travel day from hell, was just the beginning and we would never again be the same.  We simply had no idea.

As I sit here, remembering that stressful day, I am just as tearful and just as tired.

I still get confused.
I still get disappointed.
I still get overwhelmed.

We flew home from Ethiopia with big dreams for our new family of four.
And we have spent the last six years grieving the loss of those dreams.

I never thought.  In the middle of this six year journey, when I was convinced God had made a massive mistake in choosing me to be Miles' mom, I never thought.  I never thought that God could redeem all the doubt, all the hurt, all the dark, all the pain.

Even though our circumstances haven't changed, in fact, in someways it's harder than ever, I am not the same.  To be in a place where you welcome hard and messy because you know that is where God dwells is such a beautifully place to be.
It is a place of grace.

I love the way Greg Lucas describes this exact idea in his book, Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace

“My experience is that God will place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot possibly carry it alone. He will break your back and your will. He will buckle your legs until you fall flat beneath the crushing weight of your load. All the while, He will walk beside you waiting for you to come to the point where you must depend on Him. ‘My power is made perfect in your weakness,’ He says, as we strain under our burden.”

He goes on to say…

“Grace enables us to thrive in the presence of this world’s sufferings while magnifying the One who breaks us with affliction – that He might equip us with comfort, compassion, and strength to give others.”

Photo Credit
God, in all of His wisdom, in all of His power, in all of His sovereignty,
used a little baby boy - born half way around the world, born to a different Mom, born with a disability - to help me to see how much He loves me and to help me internalize the life-changing truth that EVERYTHING I need I can find in Him.
EVERYTHING!

“His divine power has given us everything we need to experience life
and to reflect God’s true nature through the knowledge of
the One who called us by His glory and virtue.”
{2 Peter 1:3, VOICE}

Everything I need (love, acceptance, security, worth, approval, forgiveness, purpose, hope, intimacy, respect, etc.) is freely given to me in the person of Jesus Christ.

Think about that for a second.

What would it feel like to love and serve others without needing ANYTHING in return?  What would it look like to give all of yourself away without needing applause, approval, or acceptance?

Doesn’t that sound like true freedom?
Doesn't that make you want to throw on a kilt, paint your face blue and yell FREEDOM!

That is the true message of the Gospel!
That is the true message of Grace!

God gives God.
And when you get God, you get "everything you need to experience life and to reflect God's true nature..."

When you take your eyes off of Jesus, you are forced to look to others to meet all of your needs.  You love, serve, and give of yourself trying to satisfy that place that only Jesus can satisfy.  When others don't come through, you are left hurt, disappointed and empty.  But you keep trying.  Eventually, you become so dependent on everyone around you to give you what you need, it strains your relationships because it's never enough.  They are never enough.  Not only is that exhausting, it is the exact opposite of true freedom.

So I sit here today, six years into our new normal, praying that I can live daily in that place.  That place of freedom.  That place of grace.

Sweet Miles,
You're a gift I never would have asked for.
You're a gift I didn't know I would need.
You're a gift I thank God everyday for.
You're a gift I'm so humbled I received.


Soli Deo Gloria!
{Glory to God alone!}

“Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God,
this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.
Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advise?
Everything comes from Him;
Everything happens through Him;
Everything ends up in Him.
Always glory! Always praise!
Yes. Yes. Yes.”
{Romans 11:33-36, MSG}

Monday, February 1, 2016

MAKE SPACE

When Keith and I started our Small Group, we read this story as a way to help our new friends see our vision for, not only our little group, but for the church as a whole.  This story, found in three different books of the Bible [Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5], challenges us to be different, to live eyes wide opened, to create space, and to relentlessly pursue Jesus.

One day Jesus was teaching in a home and a large crowd of people gathered to hear him speak. The power of the Lord was with Him to heal. The house where He was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no place to stand, not even outside the door.

While Jesus was preaching to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.  They tried to bring him and put him down before Jesus, but there were so many people that they could not find a way.

So they [the four friends] climbed on the roof,
dug a hole above Jesus' head, and lowered the mat into the room
so that the crippled man was lying before Jesus.

Jesus said to the paralyzed man,
"Stand up.  Take your mat and go home."
The man immediately stood up in front of everyone.
He picked up his mat and walked home, praising God.

Every time I read this story, I find myself asking the question...
Who am I?  Am I the crowd, the friend, or the paralytic?

THE CROWD.
They came from all over the area filling the house inside and out.
They heard Jesus was speaking and they wanted to hear what He had to say.
They knew Jesus could heal.

The religious leaders claimed their front row seats closest to Jesus,
but they were shallow in their thinking and blinded to their own needs.
The people filled the house to listen, learn, and see,
but they didn't notice the crippled and hurting people around them.

They shared space with Jesus, but they didn’t have an encounter with Him.
They witnessed four grown men lower their friend from the roof and place him the feet of Jesus, but it never dawned on them that they are just as needy, just a paralyzed.

FOUR FRIENDS.
They were going toward Jesus.
They had a friend who was paralyzed that they wanted Jesus to heal.
They knew getting their friend to Jesus would be hard, but they refused to leave him behind.

They didn’t get discouraged when the crowd refused to make room for their friend.
They were willing to go the distance, carry the weight of their friend, destroy private property, and not stop until their friend was lying at the feet of Jesus.

They were tired and exhausted from carrying their friend, but their hearts were full as they look down through the roof at their friend laying right in front of Jesus.
They did their part, had faith that Jesus would heal, and watched their friend walk home, worshiping God.

THE PARALYTIC.
He was paralyzed and needed help.
He was unable to get to Jesus on his own.
He was needy, struggling, and messy.

He was carried on his bed mat, the mat he lived on.
He and his mat were not able to get cleaned up before meeting Jesus.
If and when he got to Jesus, he needed people to be willing to make space for him.

He was blessed with friends who had their eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus.
He was immediately healed by Jesus and obeyed by getting up and going.
His encounter with Jesus forever changed him.

Who am I?
Who are you?
As a church, who are we?

It is so easy to be the crowd.  It is a role that, if we take our eyes off of the gospel, we innocently slip into.  We can get in the routine of going to church, claiming our seat, saying hello to the familiar faces around us, and without realizing it, go completely blind.

Blind to the lost.
Blind to the hurting.
Blind to the messy.
Blind to those very things in us.

If our Small Group is full of the crowd, the group becomes so inward focused that we make it hard for outsiders to come in, to feel part, to meet Jesus.  They have to work at it.  They have to be willing to keep coming back week after week and to make the hole in the ceiling big enough to fit through.

“How tragic it is when spectators stand in the way
of people who want to meet Jesus.”
{Warren Wiersbe}

To be a friend, like one of the four, is tough.  We have to make our relationship with Jesus our number one priority.  We have to commit to keeping our eyes on Him.  We have to purposefully take a step toward Jesus everyday single day.  If we are going pick up a hurting friend and carry them to Jesus, we need to already be walking in that direction.

It takes love, grace, and mercy.
It takes patience and determination.
It takes faith to trust that Jesus is enough and it provides unspeakable joy when you see your friend stand up and go, praising God.

Photo by Kelsey Tice Photography

The paralytic is a role we will all find ourselves in at some point or another.  When life gets messy and we become paralyzed by our hurts and disappointments, we have to humble ourselves and ask for help.  Lying down, paralyzed, acting like everything is good is just crazy.  It's pride.

There is nothing shameful about needing help.
There is nothing shameful about life being messy.

We often feel defeated because we have an enemy who preys on the hurting.  Satan wants to make us think the mat is comfortable.  He can even make us resentful if the people in our lives refuse to keep carrying us around.  We have to remember that the goal is always to be carried to Jesus.  We are suppose to be left at His feet.  After we've been on the mat a while, getting up is hard.  But we are suppose to get up, take our mat, and begin walking the path of healing, which can be painful.  But, the quicker we get up and go, the quicker the pain and suffering can be redeemed.

I pray that our church looks and acts like the four friends.
I pray that the messy and hurting feel safe in our groups.
I pray that we will make space so that it is easy for people to meet Jesus.