Mercy Will Follow You. I Promise.

mercywoman

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Psalm 23:6

I opened my laptop and found two post-it notes on the keyboard, scribbled in handwriting I know so well. I’d wept in front of my daughter about something beyond my control. And later that day, her spirit met me in the solitude of my kitchen.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4. God will comfort you. And will walk through this with you.”

She’s eleven, and I’m supposed to be reminding her about God’s forever presence. About the One who doesn’t fear the valley full of shadows. About the Rescuer who doesn’t stop rescuing. But there are moments that turn into seasons when you’re so in touch with your weakness, with your realness, you’ll drink grace from a child without shame.

Have you walked the valley shadowed by the inescapable? Are you plagued by crevices of unanswered questions?

Mystery without hope shackles you to valleys deep. Are you convinced you’ll never make it to the mountain? I’ve been there, too. We know death is unavoidable, but headlines and conversations with friends and faces we love the most all point toward the unraveling whether we’re ready to see it or not. The winter branch, a fading flower — we can’t escape the reminders that death is on its way.

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

Look over your shoulder. Can you see the mercy? Surely, the Author says. Surely, goodness and mercy are right there following you. Can you feel goodness pursuing? Can you see mercy running after you, chasing you down?

Whether you’re stumbling in the valley or you’re running away, surely grace and truth, forgiveness and relief are on the forever pursuit.

Are you crawling because fear won’t let you take another step? Stumbling because you’re reliving all those regrets? Slipping because your heart is so tired that Exhaustion has become your identity? Running away because it’s easier than risking…easier than reading your story and finding hope unfulfilled?

If I don’t search, I won’t be disappointed. And the classic “push you away before you push me away” leaves us desperate in our cynicism. Leaves us lonely in our doubt.  What if I come up empty-handed? Yes, sometimes it’s easier to carry a weary heart than hope.

And you may be almost to that mountain, ready to breathe deep and climb new heights. You may have endured the struggle and have quite a story to tell.

But those of you in that valley, I see you crawling and clutching and wondering how in the world you got there. You think you’re hidden in the shadows, and I know there’s no view. I know there’s no air to breathe. I know you’re dying in the monotony and routine of stumbling.

But when there’s no view, there are no distractions. And your eyes have no choice but to risk and look for goodness. And when you can’t breathe, His Spirit floods your being because that’s all you’ve got. And when you’re angry from the monotony, His mercy carries you when you least deserve it. Carries you to that place of safety, that place you could never crawl to on your own.

He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land, assured Dr. Martin Luther King.*

Many have gone before us. Many have crawled to the mountain and discovered it wasn’t about the mountain at all. But that’s another story for another day.

Hope does not disappoint. But if you just can’t go there yet, if you just can’t risk quite yet, turn around. Surely, goodness and mercy are following you.

Photo by Luke Palmer
* I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When You Want Your Life to Mean Something (Dr King’s Last Sermon)

Dr. Martin Luther King., with son Dexter, Atlanta, 1964
“… And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

…By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant…” Martin Luther King, Jr., “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, 1968

This weekend I’ll watch King’s “I Have a Dream” until tears spill from my eyes. It happens almost every year.

There are his speaking skills and his commitment to nudge the world and his ability to get off his couch and do something. Justice and equity. Truth. I’ll celebrate progress with you, and I’ll weep with you, too, over how far we have to go.

We want to advocate and uncover and impact our generation just like King, right? We want our lives to matter, too. But this man’s identity was grounded in something deeper than being a change-agent. King embraced the messiness of being like his Redeemer. He focused his gaze on the Servant King who descended into the fragments, stripped Himself of glory, and started washing feet. 

While shouting equity he challenged his followers to whisper humility. So counter-cultural that Martin was… more counter-cultural than I ever realized.

While thousands were holding out their hands in hope, King challenged them to look beyond their oppression and bravely study their own hearts… is it even possible? This last sermon he preached would have touched us today because we all have an insatiable desire to be important. We all crave significance.

King dared them to live their lives differently. Can you abandon living beyond your means? he asked. Can you stop name-dropping? Can you resist the need to be known, the need so powerful it can change your personality? Yeah, he hit the big ones.

He must not have been a people-pleaser.

The ache is still here in the 21st century – the ache to be known and valued and recognized. I stand here today wondering how to navigate it all — making a difference, generating awareness, drawing attention, self-promotion. I’ve been on that downward spiral. Maybe you have, too.

Brokenness weaves the lie into our lives, distorting our definitions of greatness. Take it back, King shouts. Take back the God-given hunger to be great by loving others more than yourself. Be radical by humbling yourself. Do something with that drive that has nothing to do with yourself.

And I wonder about all the pages of King’s story we’ll never know… the chapters read only by his close friends and family before the world knew his name. I see him maybe changing his kids’ diapers… or frantically helping his wife tidy their home before guests arrived… or pushing a neighbor kid on the swing. Busy man he was. I can imagine most of his down time was ordinary just like mine. Or was it?

Your Refugee Heart


refugees

I’m one of those. Unashamedly, I’m one who puts away Christmas as soon as I can. I’m not eager to sweep away the mystery or the miracle, but I’m hungry for new and will get there as soon as I can.

There is, though, a crude little sculpture I can’t box away into months of darkness.

Glance quickly and your mind plays a trick on you. You did, after all, see numerous Marys and Josephs and Babies last month.  You can almost dismiss this clay as just another Nativity scene, but it’s not.

Mary is on a donkey, yes.  But she’s holding the Baby in her arms, and her womb is empty. The hope and wonder has been replaced by an overwhelming sense to rescue her son so He can rescue the world someday.

See them fleeing Herod’s insatiable greed and insanity as they race to Egypt.  Joseph and Mary – and the Rescuer of the world – are refugees.

Tired. Misplaced. Unsafe. And not in control.

Are you not in control? I know. It’s terrible, isn’t it?

Dear, dear Joseph has had quite a couple of years. Just a year or so ago he was well into a career designing and producing in his carpentry studio. And now the Master Artist is radically carving his life into something else.

Does your life look different than you planned? Is your heart being carved?

And Mary. Bless her. Her days were clearly not her own, either, and this escape to protect the Son of God must have seemed almost wrong. Did we misunderstand, Joseph? Truly we didn’t hear Yahweh clearly… Her journey to Bethlehem had been full of Hope and Promise kicking inside her. What life was she giving the toddler in her arms now?

Have you ever felt inadequate? Do you maybe have regrets?

Friend, look at the refugees, holding the Hope of the World in their arms, furiously determined to do their part in helping God heal the world.

I love change. I’ve craved it. I’ve sought it many times. I’m simply fond of new.

But I do see how much of my yearning is steeped in discontentment.  Lord, quiet my restlessness. My infatuation reaches only to the point when I’m in control… when I’m the one dictating the change.

I bow to the idol of control as I resist the Author’s twists on my story. I simmer in anxiety and drown those around me with it. I scorn brokenness without noticing the Carpenter wants to reform my heart. Wants to carve away the ugliness I crudely patched on myself.

Have you ever felt the need to be repurposed?

He’s calling you to bravely live in the unpredictable. (Life has a way of shifting what we hold dear, doesn’t it?) He’s calling you to radically embrace the unknown. For in the unknown, we’re no longer pushing our own agendas. There, our purpose becomes much grander. And really, it feels so good to be part of something big instead of starring in our own little mini-dramas. (You know your own story and can read it if you want.)

But you are a chosen people… Beloved, remember you do not belong in this world. You are resident aliens living in exile… Live honorably. I Peter 2:9-12 

And though we’re refugees — tired, scared, numb — ultimately His plan is for us to travel right into His presence. Away from choices gone bad, away from insecurity and regret, away from misplaced treasures. 

Journey with me?

When You’re Scared to Write in Pen

pens

I’m not sure what I was thinking.

I love writing and have for quite some time. I should have revealed it’s therapeutic qualities to my daughter months ago.

My daughter, the writer. She’s organically etched her words in dozens of journals stuffed into drawers and under her bed. She has a lot to say. She listens to her Rescuer, and she’s not afraid to speak back.

It’s an interesting season, for she’s stepped onto that roller coaster called “almost middle school”. Bless her. Like anything in this unraveling world, I’d bear her angst if I could. But my job is to lead her, equip her, in daily finding her own story.

Yes, life is hard, even as a kid, when your mind and heart boast maturity one day but are bound by a child’s perspective the next. It’s hard, too, to hold your confusion as you’re riding that roller coaster without it spilling onto the person next to you.

Have you caught someone’s wrath before? Have you spilled your pain onto another?

“Here, my dear. Here’s a notebook. Write out your hurts and let your journal catch your anger. Take a breath, and then we’ll talk.”

“Will you read it, Mom?” she risks.

“No. But I will if you want me to.”

She assures me she won’t. The job of Savior is already taken, I remind myself.

So the first day in our new routine, she came into my office after school and grabbed her journal. She clenched her jaw and focused her gaze and wrote and wrote and wrote in silence. She wrote until we packed up to leave. Homework would have to wait that day.

The pen she grabbed from the depths of her backpack was a beautiful gem of an instrument.

“You know,” I said, “I love that you chose that pen to write out your frustrations. It’s so beautiful. It’s sort of a reminder God will redeem all the ugly stories of your life someday. Don’t you think?”

She nodded slowly. “I like it… because I’m writing in… pen.”

She narrowed her eyes and stared off into her heart, nodding ever so slightly, until she brought her gaze to mine.

She nodded again in silence with a question on her face as if to discern if I got her message.

I got it.

“Yeah, pen,” I whispered. For a moment, we traded roles again. I was the student, and she was wise beyond her years. She was the one moving me forward. You see, I will choose to journal in pencil every time. Pencil is safe and subtle and unthreatening. It’s changeable when you’ve risked too much. If you’ve been a bit too honest, well, you can erase your boldness and try again another day.

Not with pen. My daughter’s words were out there. They were raw and brave, and no one could erase her honesty. And she was okay with it. My goodness, she was okay with it.

It’s tough to create an image you’re proud of. It’s even more exhausting to maintain it.

Maybe we don’t like our truth, but it’s ours. And it’s real. And how can miracles happen without having something to restore?

The pen, it’s a starting place. It’s a bold, bold stroke onto a page of hope. There’s no denying what’s on your heart.

“There can’t be growth without pain,” a Brazilian mom told me one day. They were here for just a few months, and her five year-old cried every morning when she dropped him off at school. Confusing language, different routines, new school culture. My comfort place was her son’s fear. His growth.

Pedro’s mom would have chosen pen.

When we dig deep and harvest courage, the fragments boast honesty and the exposed heart whispers, “I’m real”. And there’s something welcoming about a person who’s truly lived, isn’t there?

Yes, where is redemption without something to redeem? Where is healing without the wounds? Where is wholeness without the shards?

Will you lean into your truth in Twenty Fifteen? You know, that truth that’s spilling over from last year? Can you grab the pen instead of choosing to be safe? And together on December 31, 2015, maybe we’ll ponder the healing and freedom this year has brought us.

I really can’t wait.

* Dedicated to my daughter’s teacher, Miss Hauser, for suggesting the journal. 

photo source