Finding Freedom

**make sure to watch both videos in sequence.

We struggle under the weight.
The failed relationships.
The strained marriages.
The wayward children.
The painful life not quite left behind.
The job we hate.
The words we can’t take back.
The words we can’t forget.
The sorrow of letting go either through death or circumstances.
The forever tight finances.
The hounding health issues.
Sometimes, we shove all of it, all the burdens, into our briefcases or purses or backpacks and lug them around.
We become accustomed to their mass and bulk.
Even comfortable under the load.
We don’t see that after a while, they don’t just burden us, but everyone around us.
Failure.
Disappointment.
Unmet expectations.
Unfulfilled dreams.
Past mistakes haunt.
Past abuses cling.
Careless, painful words echo.
Fear hangs.
We weave our tortuous way along life’s path with burdens strapped to us like extra appendages.
Or tumors.
We hide.
We fight.
We run.
We labor.
Eventually, we will buckle under the weight.

Is there hope?
As Easter approaches, I’m reminded that yes, Hope exists and my belief is renewed.

Writing about Jesus, the prophet Isaiah brings Hope:
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Then a few chapters later, he wrote more about Jesus:

He has sent me to tell those who mourn    
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,  
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning,    
festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks    
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins,    
repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them,    
though they have been deserted for many generations.

We do not have to live, breathe and move with our burdens defining us and disfiguring us. 
There is Hope.

Healing balm

I just finished reading The Hunger Games at school with a few sophomore students. Two times, Katniss faces injury and needs medical help, once for herself and once for her partner, Peeta. In both instances, help arrives just in time. Both times, she’s provided with a goopy balm that brings both relief and healing. Both times she knew she needed help. She knew the situation was beyond her and both times she had no choice but to wait for someone to show mercy.

It’s been a whirlwind week and weekend. Graduation, parties, wedding stuff, end of the school year busyness and daily life kept us all on our toes and living moment to moment. We made it. We celebrated milestones and enjoyed it all. But honestly, most of the time, I was one step away from a wreck. Trying to hold it together emotionally and stay on top of home life and work and all the extras felt overwhelming. At each moment when I didn’t think I’d make it to the next without a meltdown, help arrived. Not in the form a beeping, parachuted tin of balm like Katniss received, but  in the form of people. Calming words, reassuring hugs, and surprise guests eased my burdens. My kids and friends and family stepped up and stepped in and provided an amazing graduation party for our daughter. My sisters and sisters-in-law threw a spectacular shower for my other daughter. My sweet mom did my laundry and dishes and held things down on the homefront. They were all a healing balm to my weary soul and I’m beyond grateful. I could not have walked through the last week without them.

And then, in the middle of it, we got the late-night call every parent dreads.  Our son and his girlfriend were in a car accident. Thankfully, mercifully, both my son and his lovely friend were miraculously unharmed but somewhere on CR 38 is a concussed deer who got the better of the 2005 Honda. In the dark, rainy night, Brad and I drove N & C back home and in the midst of relief, I worried. Although they were safe and sound, I could tell they were both shaken and my son was beating himself up over the accident. I tried to speak reassuring words. I tried to bring comfort, but it was still fresh and scary. Then, when we arrived home and walked in the door shortly before midnight, all his siblings were waiting to give hugs and listen to the stories. They provided relief that I could not. As a parent, it was an absolute joy to see and hear them surround their brother and friend with love and support and laughter. They were healing balm to an injured spirit and it was beautiful.

IMG_7078Paul says to the Roman people “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other.”  The entire weekend was a beautiful picture of community. At every turn, friends and family were sharing our joy, lightening our load and comforting us in our pains, insecurities, and shortcomings. We experienced servanthood and mercy and generosity and grace upon grace upon grace. Thank you, you beautiful souls, who lived life with us this weekend. Thank you for your selfless giving of time and talent and resources. Thank you for setting up and taking down and serving food and cleaning up and filling in the gaps and taking photos and making runs to the grocery store and planting flowers and giving hugs and speaking wisdom and for bringing joy. Thank you, my own dear children, for being there for one another and for providing a healing balm to one another in a fallen world. I love you all and thank God for you.

And to those reading, let this be an encouragement to show up for people. Be community for others. Share their burdens. Lighten their loads. Be generous with your gifts. Be a healing balm to a weary soul today.

Connections

A Noiseless Patient Spider

BY Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

 

Every day, walking the halls at school, wandering the aisles of the grocery store, sitting in the chairs at church, endlessly perusing social media–whatever the activity–people are desperate for connections. People universally search for meaning, significance and a place to belong. The need for community encompasses young, old, and middle-aged. Loneliness–or the fear of it– does not discriminate based on race, religion or socioeconomic class.

Love, encourage, and speak kindly to whoever is placed in your path today. It may be inconvenient. It may require a sacrifice of time and energy on your part. It may even feel uncomfortable. But, if you claim to be a Christ-follower, this is not a suggestion or a theoretical idea, but a command.


Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.  But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. ~1 John 4:7

So encourage each other and build each other up…~1 Thessalonians 5:11

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.  Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. ~Ephesians 5:1

Open your eyes today. Someone in your sphere needs to connect with you. There are tiny filaments being launched in your direction. Get out of your own youniverse, and respond.

At Mercy’s Door

A beggar poor at Mercy’s door, lies such a wretch as I;
Thou knowest my need is great indeed, Lord, hear me when I cry.”
~John Newton

Throughout my life of faith, grace (or rather Grace) has meant everything to me. The knowledge, belief and experience that Grace is real, has been a bedrock for me. Grace: being given something I didn’t ask for and don’t deserve that’s more than I could imagine. I’ve been given saving Grace, sustaining Grace, guiding Grace, and forgiving Grace. It’s all a gift.

Lately, another reality of God ignites my soul: Mercy.
Grace is all about Love…free, unconditional, pure, saving love.
Mercy has a quality that’s different. Mercy suggests being spared from something. There’s an element of judgement in Mercy that makes it even more wonderful. I deserve A but am shown Mercy and get B instead. Beautiful.

The words above by John Newton, who also composed “Amazing Grace”, grip my heart each time I hear them.
I show up, beggar poor…nothing to offer, nothing to give…at Mercy’s door. He opens the door and instead of sending me away empty-handed or throwing me some scraps then slamming the door in my face, He invites me in. Essentially, because of sin, we’re all strangers to Him. And yet, even as a stranger, because of His Mercy, He opens the doors wide open. He asks me to live there…in this place of Mercy.
But here’s the thing, if I leave Mercy’s door, I leave beggar poor once again. I can’t go there, fill up and expect to distribute the wealth I’ve been given as if I were Father Christmas. No, I come a beggar, and if I leave, I leave a beggar. So often, we, as Christians talk about being “filled” in such a superficial way. It’s as if you can tank up on God like you would gas and run for a while until you’re empty then go back for more filling. He’s not a cosmic gas station. I come to God with nothing and I leave Him with nothing.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” ~the apostle John

Beauty Defined

I have a sister who is beauty defined.

A hard-fought faith, her humility refined.

Compassion and empathy ooze from her being,

Providing shelter for the hurting and balm for the healing.

Consistently loving, constantly seeking, purposefully living,

is this beautiful sister of mine.

She traverses her days, well-read, well-schooled, well-taught,

Her wisdom and discernment, continually sought.

Her gentle words of grace, always perfectly timed.

I have a sister who is beauty defined.

Happy Birthday, my dear Kameron!  I wish I had better command of the language and more refined skill, because I feel like there’s no way to convey to you my deep love, respect and admiration for who you are and what you mean to me.  I love you with all my heart!

Celebrating a Legacy

My dad left a lot when he passed away. He left a house, a car, clothes and his beloved books.   He left co-workers and friends who loved him. He left children and grand children who adored him. He left a loving wife who deeply misses him. He left a legacy of life-long learning. He left a legacy of faith. He left a legacy of curiosity and adventure. But I believe one of the best things my dad left, was a legacy of blessing.

My dad was known for his bright, easy smile and quick wit. People liked him and liked to be around him. But beyond the winning smile, keen intellect and great personality, people were drawn to dad because he loved them. I saw my dad love and bless each person he met–literally every person no matter how minor or brief their encounter. His life exuded encouragement and mercy and grace and blessing. I remember one time he and my mom were traveling to Iowa and stopped at a Hardee’s for ice cream. While in the line, dad struck up a conversation with a younger guy. Within minutes, the man told mom and dad of his rough past and new-found faith and his desire to change. There, amid the rushed customers, mom and dad prayed with him, gave him words of encouragement and blessed him. This is one example among many; his life was a life of giving. He took time to listen and bless.

So, my dad’s love for others wasn’t just philanthropic or born out of a general love for humanity. His love  and passion to bless people came out of his love and passion for his Savior, Jesus and out of a deep gratitude. His love and blessing were intentional. Dad struggled with depression. Dad struggled with his past. Dad struggled with self-image and worth. Dad struggled with an addictive personality. Dad struggled with pride. He would readily, easily and quickly share with you that Jesus was his only hope and without Him, he was nothing. The introverted scholar, who could easily have holed up in his man-cave forever, chose to leave the safety and quiet and comfort to bless and love others because of the Love he’d been shown. He loved others well because of the great Love he’d been given.

I’m confident that his legacy of blessing reaches far beyond what we know because of this Love.

Would you do something for me today, in honor of his birthday?

Would you love people wholly and intentionally today?

When an interaction devolves into gossip, will you be the one to bring the grace and love and turn the conversation around?
Will you be the one to show kindness and grace to the person who bugs you (and perhaps everyone else) the most?
Will you greet each person you meet with kindness and openness, expecting the best instead of the worst?
Will you step out of your comfort zone, putting your own fears, busyness and agenda aside, to bring encouragement to someone else?
Will you pray with someone who needs it today?
Will you put your needs on the back-burner and live self-sacrificially today?
Will you refrain from the snarky comment at someone else’s expense?
Will you show restraint and grace when you don’t agree with someone else’s political or religious beliefs?
If you work in a school, will you look for the kid who tries to hide and try to make a connection?
If you’re a student, will you bless your classmates with kindness, respect and actual attention–yes, even the weird kid who picks his nose–in fact–especially the weird kid who picks his nose?
Will you be the one at the water cooler who brings words of life instead of criticism?

Will you plant seeds of kindness instead of selfishness?
Will you make today about blessing instead of cursing? Loving instead of ignoring? Boldly sharing grace instead of standing in judgement?

Will you intentionally share a legacy of blessing today?

Imagine the beauty in this day if we choose to live like this!

Unexpected Joy

Please welcome my dear sister-in-faith, Tiffany, to my little corner of cyberspace. Tiffany lives in Uganda with her husband Jander.  Today, her beautiful, tragic story of her visit to a Juvenile home both convicted me and gave me hope. Hope that true joy not only exists, but can thrive even in the midst of great pain.

Joining the Celebration

by: Tiffany Talen
Life for me has been a million miles from easy. I was born into an extremely poor family in Northern Uganda which has suffered for decades from periods of war and famine. I was just a few years old when that man with the smile dressed up so nicely came and convinced my desperate mother that he would provide for me a future that only existed in her dreams, dreams which had nearly faded completely away. I cried when we drove away.It was only a few hours later that the man with the smile lost his smile. It was only a few days later that he dropped me off to another man who beat me and forced me to sit in the blistering sun on the dangerous streets of Kampala with my hands together, open, as if I was catching drops of invisible water.At night I longed for my mom. In the morning I longed to escape. At noontime I just wanted food. In the afternoon I dreamed of water, real water falling into my hands and all over my body. In the evening I longed to die. But they provided me with just enough to keep me alive to collect coins for another day.

A few months later a big truck came by with bold letters written on the side. A man in a uniform stepped out, picked me up, opened the back door, and placed me inside. My eyes adjusted to the darkness as the truck slowly pulled away. There were other kids like me, wearing rags, eyes wide with fear, sitting silently inside.

Hours later we were all unloaded and the big truck with the bold letters drove away. There were old white buildings around me and many other kids staring at us in disgust.

The next few days, which turned into weeks, which turned into months consisted of waking up every morning on a dirty floor usually embarrassed by the pool of urine around me. One nice lady would try to clean me up and find something clean for me to wear, but she had many other kids to care for and often didn’t have enough time for me. Eventually we would get some food but sometimes there wasn’t enough. The days were boring, but I was thankful I didn’t have to sit on the streets. Even though some of the big kids were mean to me, I was also thankful that I didn’t get beat as much as I used to.

I would fall asleep at night on a dirty mat trying to picture my mom but her face was hard to find sometimes. I would try to keep myself awake as long as possible because I was scared of the dreams that would come of the men who lost their smiles. As I tried to stay awake, I’d pray that tomorrow would be one of the days that the people in the grey van would come.

—————————————————————

Actually I’ve never experienced any of this, but I met a few dozen kids last week who’s story could fall closely into this outline. Nikita and I piled into that grey van and went to visit the children living at a juvenile detention center (a government run children’s prison) where some friends of mine run a ministry called Sixty Feet.

When we arrived, children crowed around the van wanting to hug each of us as we stepped out.

There were other kids there too… about 200. Most of the big kids (around ages 10-18) were there either for committing a crime or simply because a parent or relative just didn’t want them anymore. And most of the little kids (ages 2-10) were there because they had been picked up off the streets of Kampala by the “street cleaners.” These little ones all sleep on the floor of one large room. They don’t have mosquito nets. If they’re lucky, a big girl might let them climb into bed with her.

Sixty Feet is working to help these children in a variety of ways- such as medical care, counselling, finding foster families, family resettlement, and even clothing and mattresses. There are many challenges with this work and just when it might seem like they’ve helped so many, another load of kids are dropped off.

We spent the day helping and learning. We read, coloured, skipped and played.

 I have to say, the most incredible part of the day was the time of worship which was organized by Sixty Feet volunteers. It was so amazing to see these children clapping and singing and dancing! Even most of the older children had joined in. It felt like a big celebration. But what’s there to celebrate when you’re a child or teen who lives in a prison and has literally nothing- no toys, no treats, no family?

When I looked over and saw some of the older boys sharing a drum, pounding together, singing with faces so full of joy, I thought of Paul and Silas praying and praising behind the bars of their prison cell (Acts 16). I pictured them all together- Paul, Silas, rough teens in Uganda, young children from Karamoja, all praising God through their suffering. I was incredibly moved. In the midst of what seemed like hell on earth, these kids were celebrating the love and grace that they have in Jesus which was shared with them by the Sixty Feet staff and volunteers.

These kids and teens could have stood there, stared into our faces, and told us to get lost, because to be honest, we don’t and really never will be able to fully understand what they’re going through. But instead, they chose to celebrate.

Maybe we can too. Maybe when days get tough, or feel barren or heavy, when we’re feeling imprisoned by the difficulties of live…  we can choose to join these captives in celebrating the incredible love and grace that we have in Christ. If these kids can, maybe we can too.

  
     
Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Isaiah 1:17
Thank you, Tiffany and Jander, for ministering far away from home and family and comfort all for the cause of sharing Christ’s love. May God bless and keep you make His face shine upon you as you serve.
You can read more of Tiffany and Jander’s adventures on their blog: The Talen’s Treks

Never Once

A year ago we filed into the church pews, sang hope-filled Truth-songs, heard words of love and legacy and faith, and said good-bye to my dad. Hundreds came to the funeral. Many I didn’t know and had never seen before. People of all sizes, ages, colors, nationalities,  and social classes. People came to honor dad and grieve with us. For my own family, personally, we were blessed, touched, uplifted and comforted by several of our dear friends who traveled to share our sorrow and honor my dad. They didn’t have to come. They didn’t have to rearrange schedules, miss work, and travel from other states to minister to us, but they did and a year later I am still moved to tears by it.

My friend sent me Matt Redman’s song “Never Once” yesterday and, although I already know the song, God’s faithfulness struck me again. I know the song is primarily about God never leaving us or forsaking us, but I realize over and over again that He shows us that enduring love by sending others to be there physically. “Never once did you ever walk alone.” His love and grace and mercy are manifest in the love and grace and mercy tangibly displayed by the people in our lives. Sometimes the people are highly intentional–like my friend sending me the song–but often times, God uses prayers, phrases, songs, hugs and merciful words without the people realizing the enormous impact of their actions.

Thank you, lovely friends, for walking beside our family for the past year plus. Thank you for the grace, mercy and kindness offered through your physical presence at the funeral, through your life-giving words, through your constant reminders that you are with us in our hurt, and through your encouragement and prayers now, a year later.

I hope, dear reader, that you’ll be spurred on to offer life-giving encouragement to someone today. I *know* someone in your life is hurting and needs to know love and grace. Will you be the one to offer it?

Never Once by: Matt Redman

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far weve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much Youve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore well be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Not Alone

The older I get, (and as we approach the 1 year anniversary of my dad’s death) the more I see how imperative it is to walk through grief and pain with others.  Grief is intensely personal and yet needs to be communal. I mean, it’s personal–my grief isn’t the same as my sister’s or mom’s or my kid’s grief– but it can’t be private. If we keep our grief private, we suffer. In the midst of our personal pain, we need community. We need others around us to remind us that life and death are shared experiences and we’re not alone.

I am not alone.

You, dear reader, in whatever pain you face today, are not alone.

Sharing life and death and hurts with others is hard isn’t it? It’s hard as the grief-stricken and hurting to share something so personal. And as the comforter, it can be inconvenient and uncomfortable to reach out to those in pain. It may mean rearranging our schedule or spending money to travel or stepping out of our comfort zone to bring comfort. Yet, we need to do it. I mean, we’ve all experienced hurts right? We can all relate on some level to feelings of loss and loneliness and pain, right? When we remember our own times of trouble, we can empathize and be present for someone else in their hurts–so they know they are not alone. But that’s where some of us get hung up. We don’t always want to revisit our own painful times, especially if the wounds are fresh or haven’t healed. I believe, though, as we live in honest community sharing one another’s sorrows, we can continue to find peace and healing in our own hearts.

I wish I could say more, write more, and expand more, but I think I’d only be doing it as a purge for myself, and that’s not the point to this blog. So, what is the point of this post? I guess it’s a reminder and hopefully a prompt that if someone in your life is hurting and specifically grieving, just simply let them know they’re not alone. You don’t have to fix them or take away their hurt, just be present in their lives.

Always speak blessings, not curses.
If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration.
And if others are weeping, join in that as well.

~ Paul to the Romans

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,

who comforts us in all our troubles,
so that we can comfort those in any trouble
with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
~ Paul to the Corinthians

Ally, advocate and friend

Most burst into her room full of youthful energy and raging hormones. Some slink in silently, trying to avoid eye-contact, wishing they were invisible. She greets each the same: with a big welcoming smile, hearty hello, and cheerful word of encouragement. She’s there to help them; it’s her mission and they know it. She wants each to succeed. She’s their ally. And when they do succeed, they happily share their joy with her. And when they fail, she offers life-giving words of future hope. She’s there, day after day, reminding them that they are not in this alone.There is help and it comes in the form of a lovely, resourceful, energetic ally who won’t give up on them.

If she’s gone, they ask endlessly when she”ll be back. Playing games around the table, going for walks, during class time, even when tough situations arise, it’s clear she is their first choice.  Daily, someone different comes to her for advice, counsel, and encouragement. She listens and the compassion washes over her face as she hears their words. And that’s why they come: she hears them. She truly listens and hears not only what they speak, but beyond the words, she hears their fears and insecurities. Her tender and passionate heart toward these oft’ times pushed-aside souls proves steadfast. You can see her eyes flash with anger when she learns of injustice and flicker with humor when she jokes with them and rim with tears when she hurts with them.  She is loved and beloved. She serves as mouthpiece for those who can’t always speak for themselves. She’s there, day after day, reminding them that they are not in this alone. There is help and it comes in the form of a caring, funny, passionate advocate who won’t give up on them.

They show up at her door–at all hours– and she invites them in, both with warm words and a sweet smile. They’re mostly young women and they need a wise word and a shoulder to cry on and she’s there. Despite her incredibly busy life as a mom with young kids, she makes time and takes time to listen and nod and pray. Her kind heart draws them out and there’s safety in her presence. She offers herself to them in patient humility. She’s there, day after day, reminding them that they are not in this alone. There is help and it comes in the form of a tender, wise, kind friend who won’t give up on them.

Day after day, I come. Sometimes bursting, sometimes slinking. Some days I come in tears, weary and insecure.  Some days I approach boldly, in confident faith and hope. Day after day I run to him, scared of the future, weary of the past and trying to live in the present. Day after day I question and search.  Day after day, I come with begging bowl in hand, needing grace. And day after day, He hears and listens and offers. His patience and kindness astound and amaze. His infinite resources boggle my mind. His passion for my heart cuts my complaints off at the knees. His tenderness in my hurts move me to tears. He’s there, day after day, reminding me that I’m not in this alone. There is Help and it comes in the form of a Wise, Never-changing, Never-failing, completely trustworthy Ally, Advocate and Friend.

 

My soul finds rest in God alone, my rock and my salvation
A fortress strong against my foes and I will not be shaken
Though lips may bless and hearts may curse
And lies like arrows pierce me
I’ll fix my heart on righteousness, I’ll look to Him who hears me

O praise Him, Hallelujah, my Delight and my Reward
Everlasting, never failing, my Redeemer, my God (Lyrics From Psalm 62 by Aaron Keyes)