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?