Our friend’s baby died. My friend’s mom was cured of cancer and it came back. My mentor’s body has been diagnosed full of cancer. Your classmates were killed in a car crash and on the lake. Our friend was hit by a car and paralyzed.
These stories could represent a really Godless existence where any of us could/should look around in panic and wait for the other shoe to drop on us. We could live in a dismal state of depression and hopelessness and negativity.
Unless. Unless we heard the rest of these stories of how people were changed, healed, comforted. How they experienced God in the middle of these tragedies. How onlookers were impacted by witnessing ordinary people walking with God in terrible times. (I think of Missy, the little girl in The Shack, explaining how Jesus and the Spirit were so very close to her in the most horrible of circumstance.)
God’s goodness is a key factor to whole-hearted living. Without it, we life half-hearted lives scrambling and scraping to lessen our fears. And there is something weighty about this “favor of God” thing. He has been talking to me about favor for 13 years now. It began the day I found out I was pregnant with baby number 3.
I had one healthy baby, miscarried one unhealthy baby and was now pregnant again. I was terrified. Of all the things He could have said, He declared favor. He asked me to believe that I would see His goodness, no matter the outcome. Talk about stretching my faith…Then during my sabbatical, His favor became a foundational lesson to be fully embraced.
Favor isn’t based on circumstances. Favor is based on the heart of God and my willingness to receive it.
The C. S. Lewis quote comes to mind:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
The favor of God is not a magic wand. Or a lottery ticket. It’s our inheritance.
And now we approach college, our newest scary season, with confidence in God’s goodness. Not because you are smart, which you are. Or your dad works hard, which he does. But because God is going to reveal his favor to us through this Abrahamic journey. When we were at orientation it became very clear.
One of the speakers quoted Deuteronomy 8:17-18:
You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”
But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
God gave your dad this verse 25 years ago. Then, it was a message about humility and to remember the Lord in in his work. But in recent years, the verse has been a demonstration of God’s desire to show favor and so “confirm His covenant.” As believers, we are part of an eternal pact.
More than a grade, or title, or worldly notion of success is a very God-centric notion of learning. Our very DNA is divinely wired to learn, to explore, to discover because we were made to create. Perhaps the greatest minds are great because they have mastered the hardest lesson: learning to love learning.
You must know the old story of the student who came to the master.
A talented young warrior goes to the school of a famous teacher, intent on being accepted as a student. The teacher invites the student in, and as they sit waiting for a pot of tea to steep, the student begins to tell the teacher about his enemies, about the battles he has won, those he has lost, and the times victory has been unfairly snatched from his grasp. He talks about the techniques he has mastered, his own students, and most importantly, what he expects this teacher to teach him.
The teacher smiles politely. He watches. He listens. He waits. Finally the tea is ready and the teacher begins to pour a cup for his visitor. The small cup fills to the brim and the teacher, still looking at his guest, keeps pouring. The cup overflows and tea begins to spill across the table, and down, onto the student’s lap. After an uncomfortable moment, the student finally jumps up and yells, “Stop, Master! Stop! The cup is full. You can’t put any more in.” The master, still smiling and still looking at the student, slowly stopped pouring the tea, and says, “Yes. The cup is just like you. Already full. I will not be able to teach you anything until you come to me with a cup that is empty.”
Empty cups can be perpetually refilled, if we are willing to be poured out. Be less concerned about being full and more concerned about using what you have learned to impact the world around you. Then get filled again to pour out. And repeat.
Please and Thank You are still magic words. I saw this on a FB post and smiled and agreed. Wholeheartedly. Please, by all means, be courteous. Thank you. After spending years trying to fight my way through the world, I learned that saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ opened doors and hearts in a different way. Ever so slowly, the Lord made me aware that every person is having a hard time, most of the time. So a little courtesy goes a long way. And…
Never sacrifice the truth for the “Being Nice” Game. This game breeds dishonesty more than it fosters compassion for others. Instead, speak the truth in love. But how?
Through the Holy Spirit’s characteristic of Kindness. It is truly the mark of greatness. And it is not automatically acquired but chosen.
For me, it began with an Amanda Cook song called “Kind.” This song haunted me actually. It’s a calming melody, but eerily charged. Like a war cry ringing out of the shadows at dawn.
Then God used it to rock my world.
My daughter worked late night hours at a job I was not crazy about. I was in turmoil over what I sensed was happening in the spirit. And she and I were doing our then-typical dance of silent and suspicious. One night she texted that she was on her way home. It was 2 a.m. and I was furious over the breach of curfew but the Spirit brought this song back to mind:
“Kind” (click to listen)
You are not a tyrant King
You do not delight in suffering
Your power doesn’t compensate for insecurity
‘Cause You are not a tyrant King
You are not an angry man
You do not treat us with contempt
Your voice is sure, Your eyes are soft, Your smile, confident
‘Cause You are not an angry man
You are kind
You are kind
Your love is a fury all its own
Sweeping the dust and turning feet towards home
Carrying the orphans and resetting broken bones
Your love is a fury all its own
Your love is powerful enough
Without the fear of punishment
I cried as I listened to it over and over. I was struck by the comparison, hearing the Spirit ask after each line:
Become larger to carry more. The idea of capacity may seem so obvious, but I find it often trips people. Growth comes through discomfort. Our capacity expands through deliberate stretching.
The Lord has shown me many pictures about this. The nautilus outgrowing its chamber. A balloon swelling, taking shape as breath fills it. A pregnant woman’s incredible transformation as she grows a new life. In all these examples there is effort, change, pressure, even labor to see the fullness revealed.
God’s primary goal is to breathe His life into us like holy balloons. He desires to expand in us, expand His love, His image, His creativity and wisdom. His kingdom.
Think of Joseph saving the nation of Egypt and even his own people. Mary delivering the Messiah. Peter addressing the Sanhedrin. They had to each be pushed out of their idea of enough so that He might reveal His life through them.
We must be willing to be uncomfortable so that He might increase. So when we see circumstances outside of our control, what is God expanding in us?
Faith instead of fear.
Worship instead of whining.
Healing instead of sickness.
Kindness instead of gossip.
Be mindful of obstacles that would deter this divine renovation.
People lose touch with God, or don’t experience His presence, because they have crowded their lives with “foreign wives.” Solomon was the wisest and richest man on earth, yet he lost his soul because “his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord” and he was led away by his foreign wives.
“As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” 1 Kings 11:4
Make an effort to let go of lesser habits, affections, ideals to make room for greater revelation. Then, allow God to heal and test the revelation. He wants to be sure we own it, to have authority in the revelation He has given.
Pastor Bill Johnson tells a story about repairing a flat bicycle tire. He explains the process of repair is to first hold it under water to find the hole. Once the hole is detected, the tire is taken out of the water, dried and patched. Here’s the kicker. The tire is not put back on the bicycle. Instead, the tire is again held under the water. Why? To see if the patch held.
Bill says some of our circumstances reveal defects. They need to be patched. Some of our circumstances are us being held under the water a second time, as Bill says, “to see if the work of God held.”
It’s a valid question as you go through seasons of stretching to ask God, “are you repairing a hole in me? or are you testing to see if Your repair held?” It will help you so much to know that He is always working for your good. His main goal is that His life and Love will fill you and then flow from you.
We have to be fit to carry the Kingdom. We were born to become like Him.
I love this song as a great reminder. He is always working for us to be fully revealed in Him.
“C.S. Lewis Song” (click here to listen)
If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here
If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary,
then of course I’ll feel nude when to where I’m destined I’m compared
Speak to me in the light of the dawm
Mercy comes with the morning
I will sigh and with all creation groan
as I wait for hope to come for me
Am I lost or just less found?
On the straight or on the roundabout of the wrong way?
is this a soul that stirs in me,
is it breaking free, wanting to come alive?
Cos my comfort would prefer for me to be numb
And avoid the impending birth of who I was born to become
For we, we are not long here
Our time is but a breath, so we better breathe it
And I, I was made to live,
I was made to love,
I was made to know you
Hope is coming for me.
Hope, He’s coming
My first born, Salem, began her college adventure on Saturday. I have to tell you, as some of you mamas already know, this whole season of packing and preparing has stirred my heart on so many levels. I feel like a kaleidoscope of emotions. Turn the wheel ever so slightly and my emotional mosaic shifts into another beautiful picture of memories, regrets, sadness, excitement, pride, and hope.
I find myself remembering the smallest details about her childhood.
I find myself grading myself as a mom over the last 18 years.
I find myself recalling my own teen years, and college years.
I find myself missing her in the oddest of ways.
Walking in her empty room, still takes my breath away. (Yes, I smell her pillow.) But there is, deeper than all these feelings, an overwhelming sense of joy and gratefulness.
God is so big. So kind. So amazingly faithful. He will continue to be that. To her. And To me.
Believe it or not, I didn’t cry as we drove off. We didn’t understand it necessarily, but we were ready. All of us. And there was a very real peace that passes understanding.
Before the big day, God laid on my heart to capture some of the pearls He had given me. I kept getting a holy ping of “have I told Salem _____ yet”? It would wake me up at night.
These deposits, these pearls of wisdom, are aptly named since pearls are something very beautiful created out of great anguish and agitation. They had come at a high price. And although most teens get tired of hearing “one more thing” from their parents, I wrote her letters anyway. Smile. But then, I felt compelled to share with you the modified versions. His pearls are for us all.
The first Pearl was about our gifts poured out on the feet of Jesus in the same way the woman poured out her best from the alabaster box.
The second pearl is about Pressure.
When I was in college I was broke. And alone. And eager to please an incredible professor. I am not sure which of these factors clouded my judgment. Maybe it was the combination of all three. But I took on the formidable role of the editor of the yearbook, the editor of the newspaper, taking full time classes and working at least 30 hours to keep my tuition discount. Don’t be impressed. The story doesn’t have a happy ending.
“We have this treasure in earthen vessels
to show that this power is from God and not from us.”
Unlike the Olympians we are celebrating, I spent years feeling worthless, disqualified and inadequate. All through high school people told me I had “lots of potential,” however, I didn’t really have a clear vision about what to do with this supposedly budding possibility. So years after high school and college, with a life in ruins, I felt all my potential had resulted in nothing more than dried up, broken rubble.
God found me in this broken state. Because He is so kind, He set about to repair me, to mend and heal. Even redefine me. God began telling me who I was in His eyes. His dreams about me. More than just some haunting, ever needing-to-be proven potential, God told me He dreamed of how His power could complete the work He began in me. He was moving through me, with me.
He washed off the disappointment I felt from myself and others. He washed off fear of failure and even the unwillingness to try. He redefined my idea of success. He had to because once I began to produce, my eyes were constantly looking for others’ approval.
God made things really simple for me. He said that all the gifts and callings in me were put there by His hand. Yes, there were natural talents from birth. But He had placed things in me that could only be accessed and released through Him, in relationship with Him.
I told Him I didn’t understand. So He gave me the revelation of the alabaster box.
I so relate to the story in Luke when a sinful woman anointed Jesus. She had been completely overwhelmed and overhauled by the love of Jesus. She wanted to express her love and devotion so she poured costly perfumed oil on his feet and wiped it with her hair. You know the story, I am sure. The whole room was changed by her act of abandoned worship.
But here is what Jesus said to me:
Jana, your computer (it was a white iBook then) is like your alabaster box. Use your computer like oil to be poured out on Me as an act of worship. As you love on me, others may see your devotion and smell the aroma the perfume, but it’s for Me. I love it when you love on Me like this. I’ll change the room. You focus on Me.
What’s your alabaster box? Art. Sewing. Cooking. Math. Engineering. Or like we have seen lately, gymnastics, swimming, or diving.
I can tell you there was a shift from that day forward. It has taken a lot of pressure off my need for approval. Now, when I sit down to write or prepare, I present my alabaster box to the Lord. I ask Him what He wants to pour out of it. Simply put, whatever comes out, it’s for Him.
The oil of my devotion is for the One who gave me a new life. A life that’s not just full of potential, but full of His power.
Verse adapted from 2 Corinthians 4:7
My family and friends were at a restaurant playfully bantering, as is our custom. We are a lippy sort of crowd with (mostly) good-natured jokes and jabs flying often. After one such mother-daughter volley, my Very-Ready-To-Go-Senior turned to her friend and said, “Only six more months. I only have to listen to this for Six. More. Months!” The whole table erupted in a knowing laughter. Including me. Except as suddenly as we laughed, tears started falling from my eyes. I mean, falling. Like rats jumping from a sinking ship. The laughter turned into this weird, awkward “Mom are you okay??”
I looked to Chuck for rescue. I didn’t even know what had happened in this blink of a eye. His eyes softened and he put an understanding hand on my arm. “Mama,” he said in a tender voice, “you gonna be okay?”
Oh, now I see why the rats were jumping! The ship WAS sinking. Sinking. “Sure, sure,” I choked out and immediately excused myself from the table to go cry in the bathroom.
Six months. My girl was going to be gone in six short months. I sat in the stall snorting and snotting and tried to remember the last time I felt this out of control of my own body. Oh that’s right. When I was pregnant. Then, like now, there was a human being inside of me wrestling to get out, and I was trying to maintain my own mental stability while someone else was literally trying pull the life out of me.
I just want to say, very kindly for the record, the parenting books lied. At the very least, they lied by omission. They never forewarned us of the painful parallels. No one ever explained how the birthing process didn’t end at delivery and this grown up launching hurts every bit as much as labor. Liars.
They neglected to tell us that the incredible tension between “within you, a part you” and “outside of you, a part of you” never leaves. Did you hear me? It never leaves. Remember the internal battle? How the warm fuzzy “I love creating new life” feeling warred against the “get this kid out of me” reality. I experience this same supercharged battle every day with my woman-child who is now kicking at the wall of my heart and home the same way she kicked at the wall of my womb.
I catch myself just looking at her like I did when she was a newborn. Of course she won’t let me hold her like I did then. But I try to soak her in, to capture every detail of how she has grown and changed, fully aware she is not done growing and changing. Only from here on out, I won’t have a front row seat.
Whew. There is that lump again. The out of nowhere lump in my throat that keeps catching me off guard. It beckons just like a contraction, a painful reminder that an inevitable life-change is on the horizon. And we are never going back to the way it was. The other day, I was making work plans for the fall when the “contraction” hit. I had to stop and swallow down some maternal wail because, for the first time in 18 years, my plans would not involve my daughter.
Here are a couple of God kisses for you mamas on the same heartwrecking roller coaster I am, and a little heads up for you mamas following close behind.
“There’s No Magic Formula.”
“I’m pregnant.” These words provoke either sheer delight or absolute terror. Sometimes a mix of both. They are words that have caused me to weep before the Lord in recent days. As I prepare for Undaunted and seek God’s face on His opinion of women, my heart has become more and more — what’s the word? — disturbed, burdened, awakened, even explosive with the call that we, as women, must rise up to defend our image of God. We must raise the bar on ourselves so that our daughters and sons might have better role models. Fasten your seat belt, this could get uncomfortable.
I could, and will, talk about the social blight of male promiscuity. I could, and will, talk about the responsibility of men to be protectors and providers instead of predators.
But today, I want to ask you, just how willing are you, as a woman, to protect and defend yourself, your fellow sisters, and the next generation? I see three topics where we are so politically-charged and biblically off-base that women have become more oppressive to women than the men.
Topic One: Let’s talk about abortion. Some prominent female authors I greatly admire speak of God and the beauty of women and yet they promote and campaign for women to have the “right” to their own body. I understand this completely.
It is the woman who is “trapped” by a baby. The woman whose body must “suffer” the contortion of physical changes in pregnancy. It is a woman who must “sacrifice” her dreams and goals because she has been “caught” in the act. It is the woman who often lives in poverty trying to care for children in single parent homes. We have to do something to “empower women globally” is the cry of pro-choicers.
However, instead of empowering women, have we have created generations of cowards? We have so lost our identity in God, so lost our personal responsibility to “above all else guard [our] heart” that we have actually fueled a hellish deception that women are victims and shouldn’t be penalized by sex.