When Looking Ahead Is Actually Wrong

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There have been just a few times God has spoken directly to me in almost an audible way. His voice is quiet — so quiet I hear him with my heart instead of my ears, but his words echo through my whole chest and head. In that moment, I feel seen and known, and those reoccurring feelings that I’m alone get swallowed up.

There was that time in college I was thinking (again) about a boy, and He told me, “Yes, he’s great, but I am God. Focus on me.” I still remember the sidewalk under my feet, and my dorm ahead of me, and the darkness all around because it was night. And that moment truly recalibrated my focus for the rest of my years at the university. Truth was impressed upon my heart so deeply I carried it into my marriage with a different guy and have revisited it over and over.

I’m sure some of you hear that still, small Voice whispering from time to time — that same Voice that spoke the world into existence but still articulates into your tiny life.

Another time for me was just last week. I’m a dreamer, and I can’t help it. I long for redemption, and while I’m not necessarily an optimist, I’m not a pessimist either. I seem to always land on what could be, and I don’t drown in cynicism if my dream is not happening just yet. I love anticipation almost as much as what I’m longing for. Traveling is my happy place, and planning a trip brings me as much joy as embarking on the journey.

I sort of throw dares out to the world — “You think you can burden me with your brokenness?! Well, take this! I’m grasping for something better, and I’m convinced there’s more than what you have to offer, and there’s no way you’re going to crush me.” I do it a lot.

So last week, when I felt His echo in my heart again, His words took me by surprise: “Stop looking ahead and look around. Stop looking ahead, Christan, and look AROUND instead.”

I immediately stopped, and I knew it was my Rescuer, for what I had been dreaming about for a couple years clearly wasn’t going to come to fruition. But I was still looking ahead. I was still longing for something else, for something that absolutely wasn’t going to happen.

Have you been there? Has your dream died, but there you are still trying to resurrect it?

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” J.K. Rowling wrote. I’ve considered that phrase many times since my kids first read her books, but I still find myself looking ahead — in that wrong kind of way.

See, here’s what happens when I dare to stop looking ahead, and I look around instead: I still find purpose. I see brokenness and beauty, fear and hope, anxiety and trust. I remember again I was called to live in the tension, and I sit there for a while. My eyes are opened to all the work I still have to do in the communities God has placed me in, but almost more so, I re-see all He has to teach me through my present and those around me.

Are you there setting goals, striving and figuring out how to have meaning today? Are you admiring those who know what they want and are hurdling every obstacle in their way in order to move forward?

Friend, I know. I’m your companion wanting to gaze forward into what might be ahead. I’m there dreaming with you about fuller lives and a more significant identity and a purpose that quenches the thirst we can’t even describe. But I think we might need to turn our heads to the side.


Though Jesus wanted solitude, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion
on them
, and He healed the sick and the lame. Matthew 14:14

Though Christ was on a mission that afternoon to find quiet and rejuvenation and rest, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them.

He broke his forward gaze and looked around instead. And what He saw around Him became His ministry for that day. It happened time and time again —  like all His days on earth — His purpose seemed to find Him. And in His grace, He allowed His steps to be re-directed.


I think He offers the same to us: the richness (and comfort) of a purposeful life. Might we dare sit in the tension today and let His purposes find us? Might we bravely stop striving for self-created goals? I bet we’d learn a ton.

It’s different for all of us, for we’re scattered all over the world. Here in St. Louis, what has been simmering for weeks has erupted. London is dealing with more shock and more grief. The Caribbean and Texas and Florida are figuring out how to start re-building. California is sitting in ashes. And we’ve barely scratched the surface.

What do you see when you look around in your corner of the world? When you dare to let your steps be re-directed instead of marching forward toward those dreams?

Might the challenge to throw “off everything that hinders,” and to run “with perseverance the race marked out for us” actually include running to what we see when we look around instead of ahead? It’s time for me to stop reading Hebrews 12 through the lens of the American Dream or American Christianity. It’s time for me to stop making the Gospel about reaching and striving and becoming somebody.

And when I do, my goodness, I might see all I missed by only gazing ahead.

 

Photo by Andy Lee on Unsplash

4 Ways to Confront Your Own Biases

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A year ago, headlines were swirling with the refugee crisis, the #BlackLivesMatter movement and a polarizing election season. This week, the events in Charlottesville have gripped and horrified the nation.

We’re angry. We’re disgusted. We’re in disbelief at the bold portrayal of hate. We’re in disbelief at many white churches’ silence yet again. But dare we advocate for not looking away this time without looking inward first? We may not be lining up with torches proclaiming white supremacy, but what subtle biases are buried within our hearts?

We know we were made to live in community, and we want to. But stereotyping and silent prejudices have us facing the highest of relational walls–even if we’re not blatant about it. How exactly do we uproot biases lodged down deep?

Join me over at RelevantMagazine.com where I’m writing today… 

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A Time to Speak

prophet“And now, Lord, take note of their intimidations intended to silence us. Grant us, Your servants, the courageous confidence we need to go ahead and proclaim Your message while you reach out Your hand to heal people…” Acts 4:29,30

I get confused sometimes.

My heart pounds with empathy as suffering weeps in silence. I reach out to touch the wound that’s not mine to touch. And my fingers linger on the scar as I long for healing to flow forth.

The job of Savior is already taken. 

And I get intimidated sometimes.

Responding to hurt and binding up wounds is often easier than opening up my mouth to proclaim abrasive truth.

Do you follow? I want to be the healer instead of the prophet.

“Christan, you need to stop bringing home your clients’ angst,” a friend told me, the social worker hoping to save my corner of the world. Years ago, I had a 14 year-old client whose story came home with me everyday… whose fragments felt like my own brokenness, for I tried to piece them together in my mind all night long. I stayed awake night after night thinking and pondering and carrying a shame that wasn’t mine to hold. I still think of her.


“Is now the time, Lord — the time when You will reestablish Your kingdom in our land?” (Acts 1:6) Fresh from witnessing the resurrection, Christ’s friends were still feeling oppressed… still feeling taken advantage of… still wanting a political hero to rescue them from Rome… still full of fear at what they might find just around the corner.

Have you waited incredibly long to be rescued?
Have you yearned and longed while injustice rips through the flag of freedom over and over, tearing it to shreds?

“Here’s the knowledge you need: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. And you will be my witnesses, first here in Jerusalem, then beyond to Judea and Samaria, and finally to the farthest places on earth.” Acts 1:7-9

You will speak and reflect Me among what’s familiar
…and among people and cultures just a tad bit different
…and with those whom you fear and scorn and judge
…and with those you’ve never even thought of before.
That’s what you need to know for now.
You’ll open your mouth.
You’ll speak truth without fearing what others think.
You’ll boldly proclaim My love for those right in front of you,
for those that don’t look like you, for those who make decisions you would never make, and for those you’ve forgotten about. (Acts 1:7-9 paraphrase)

“You will speak, and I will heal,” says the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Oh. But I want to do the healing. I want to bind up the wounds and see brokenness transform before my eyes. I want to do something meaningful, and healing seems significant.

But the job of Savior is already taken.


Again…
“And now, Lord, take note of their intimidations intended to silence us. Grant us, Your servants, the courageous confidence we need to go ahead and proclaim Your message while you reach out Your hand to heal people…” Acts 4:29,30

I see the accusers pointing at me. I see their hate …and confusion …and fear. Everyone has a story that’s led them to today. But I will proclaim what’s real without intimidation. I will not wait in silence. I will open up my mouth and exchange shame for courage and proclaim a Gospel-driven message of love and wholeness. For now, I will speak.

And I’ll watch my Savior reach out His hand to heal those I love. I’ll see His hand with that deep, deep scar cover the wound. I’ll see Him touch the scars and bring a restoration I never could.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

 

photo source | john sting, portugal

The Aching Orphan

In honor of World Orphans Day, November 14, 2016…

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The Jesus Storybook Bible was given to my children long ago before their questions were as big as they are now. I read it to them, hoping truth would etch their hearts – enough truth to carry them through middle school and high school with all its drama and doubts and failures.

But it became a love story for me, shouting on some days but usually whispering until streams spilled out of my eyes as we read the last lines of each entry. The Jesus Storybook Bible remains one of the biggest influences in helping me understand the Gospel. Oh, I had known it for years, but this amazing work helped me grasp God’s love for me like never before.

One day I stumbled upon this random picture on Facebook. A boy was holding our Bible.

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Study it. See the orphan. See him tucked in a boring mosaic of mass-produced decorating, locked in a pattern of sameness.

See his name taped to his bed, identifying the only space he calls his own. Known to no one. But not really.

See his hands holding the Love Story of all time. 

Maybe he’s been in an orphanage his whole life and can’t know what he’s missing. Maybe he doesn’t grasp how alone he truly is because he’s never known what it’s like to be a son.  But still, he’s human, and our hearts are created to ache until we give them to Someone, until we surrender to the Rescue Plan.

And His heart just might not ache anymore. The boy, he holds the key to an eternity of being known. An eternity of being Someone’s son.

Hidden to the world by a sea of yellow blankets and identical headboards, the Maker knows his name. And as His heart spills over with love for the boy, God defines his worth different than culture and society.

The Maker, He knows my name, too, as I hide among houses that look the same from the sky. As I spin and race and keep searching for a life of meaning. Yes, He knows my name even when I forget to turn my face to Him. Even when I forget to open His Love Story and read it again.

God sees the boy and me both, made to love Him back. Regardless of how alone and forgotten I feel, regardless of how I stumble awkwardly trying to live in community — by believing I was made for a different world, I can truly live in this one.

Are you stuck in a pattern of sameness? Pacing through the status quo?
Are you convinced you lack significance? Lack a life of meaning?
Have you wondered so long you don’t realize the fullness you’ve missed?

Friend, turn and stare your ache right in the face. Run to it. Wrestle with it. Thank God for the boring routines. Hand your loneliness to Him as an offering. The ache is a gift, for He’s telling you there’s more. Telling you that He’s more.

It’s only in giving our hearts to Someone that the ache will be forever healed. Forever satisfied.


You have the fountain of life that quenches our thirst. Your light has opened our eyes and awakened our souls. Psalm 36:9

The Spirit you have received adopts you and welcomes you into God’s own family. That’s why we call out to Him, “Abba! Father!” as we would address a loving daddy. Through that prayer, God’s Spirit confirms in our spirits that we are His children.  Romans 8:15-16

Forgiveness: A Teenager’s Story

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The Wound

It was a normal school day in fourth hour. Some classmates were joking around, holding their iPads like frisbees. As Lucy bent down to retrieve her backpack, she felt a jab and then saw the blood. An iPad had accidentally been launched from Owen’s* hand, hitting her forehead and cutting through three layers of skin. Almost all the way to her skull.

Have you been surprised by trauma before?
Has your heart been pierced all the way to the core? Deeper than you thought possible?

Lucy found herself in the nurse’s office, full of panic and spilling with tears. She answered some questions and waited for her mom to arrive while her wound hid behind a temporary bandage and ice pack.

Are you doing that, too?
Are you trying to heal your wound with a temporary cure? Trying to numb that pain?

Together, Lucy and her mom raced to the Emergency Room only to wait. Sorting through the internal questions… navigating the tension… wrestling with the “why” — they sat for two hours before being invited into healing. She was terrified, for she knew stitches would be the cure.

Lucy, a seamstress, was no novice to needles. She knew their strength, knew the beauty they could create by piecing something together. She had seen needles penetrate cloth with permanency. And this is what terrified her. She knew the puncture was necessary to create, and in her case, necessary to restore. Pain before wholeness.

“The doctor told me he would have to sew through my skin, layer by layer, and that I’d have a permanent scar on my forehead,” Lucy recalls. “I went home after the stitching and cried and cried. You know how physical beauty is so important in this society? I was so angry.”

You, too? Do you feel like your wounds have tainted your beauty?

The Dialogue
Lucy went back to school the next day which proved to be a mistake. Rumors had already been spread that simply weren’t true: Owen had flung his iPad toward Lucy on purpose…she was suffering from a major concussion…her entire face had been cut open…she was being over-dramatic and nothing serious had happened.

Have people tried to sort through your story?
Have they resorted to lies when they couldn’t quite make sense of your struggle?

Lucy wasn’t prepared for all the questions, either. She wasn’t equipped to give explanations or interpret her feelings for everyone publicly. My goodness, she hadn’t even completely faced her reality in solitude yet. Some would ask to see her wound, ripping away any sense of normalcy for the self-conscious girl.

Despite all the attention, she felt so… alone. “People didn’t make eye contact,” Lucy remembers. “They’d either look away from me or just stare. There was no middle ground.”

To help themselves navigate the awkwardness, some would turn to jokes. They weren’t cruel, but they tried to make light of something very, very real. Lucy faked a lot of laughs to go along. “It was very uncomfortable,” she admits.

The Healing
But the seamstress is also an artist. And she turned to paper and water and color for therapy.

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In something as delicate as a flower, Lucy began to find strength. She discovered her voice and fell into gratitude. “So thankful for how I’ve grown closer to God through this. It could have been a lot worse, and I am eternally grateful to him.”

And as she began to accept her situation, she knew forgiveness and reconciliation were the next steps. Owen had pursued her immediately. He visited her that first day in the school nurse’s office, overflowing with apologies. His friend had come along, too. Trying to comfort her, he shared his own story of receiving stitches once and assured her she would survive.

“He calmed me down and brought me back to reality that day,” Lucy recalls. Freshmen in high school… empathizing… owning a mistake… asking for forgiveness.

While she was engaged in ongoing conversations with Owen and the school counselor, Lucy’s peers were trying to support her. But remember her initial anger? Well, these kids loved their friend and were furious, too. Some publicly declared their rage toward Owen. They wrote hate notes to him and left them in Lucy’s locker, hoping to make her feel better.

“I had made peace with Owen, though,” testifies Lucy. “We weren’t enemies when the accident happened. I had moved on from the wound, but my friends hadn’t moved on. They had good intentions, but their hate notes weren’t supporting me.”

Have you found yourself wanting to heal but needing to comfort your loved ones instead?
Have empathizing friends who meant well kept you from forgiving?

The counselor urged Lucy find her voice again and publicly urge her friends to get over her situation. She wanted to thank everyone for their support but remind them they could lift her up without tearing down Owen. She turned to the canvas again.

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“We all make mistakes.”
“We all need grace, forgiveness, and a chance to start over.”
“Letting go of past hurt changes you.”

And it worked. People stopped sending hate notes, and she continued to forgive Owen. Her story impacted so many, and she recalls the certainty of knowing that many beyond herself were wrestling with God and engaging with Him because of her story. She drank from the cup of closure and was satisfied.

Friends, she’s only fourteen.

The Challenge
On that day in fourth hour, and in the weeks to come, Lucy’s people were reminded how faith and everyday reality do indeed intersect. How quickly we forget. Through the strength of the Healer and Master Artist, Lucy found the courage to forgive, and even reconcile. And an entire community was marked by her courage.

“If you’re reluctant to forgive,” challenges Lucy, “you have to really think about that person… and your relationship with that person. If you’re thinking about retaliating or choosing the “safety” of ignoring, ask yourself, ‘How could God get glory if I took a peaceful resolution?’ ”

So, my friends, what about your wounds?
Is God calling you to more than just surviving?
Is He calling you to restoration?

“He binds their wounds,
heals the sorrows of their hearts.” Psalm 147:3

 “Visualize this: His blood freely flowing down the cross, setting us free! We are forgiven for our sinful ways by the richness of His grace… Be kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through the Anointed, our Liberating King… So imitate God. Follow Him like adored children.” Ephesians 1:7, 4:32, 5:1

*Some names have been changed

photo source | SugarBean Photography