I've always been convinced that when things occur repeatedly in my life, I should pay attention. Whether it be small things, or grand events, repeated themes are usually an invitation to reflect on what I might/should be learning.
This recently happened with tags. An odd theme, to be sure, but still, the multiple recurrences of all things "tagged" demanded my focus like a redundant child begging for treats in a grocery store.
First, it was luggage tags. Simple enough. A sweet gift from my husband, purchased to help make my bags more identifiable when traveling, with my favorite decor yet to boot: leaves. Beautiful, colorful shades of autumn. I used them on a trip about two weeks after receiving them, only to feel the Spirit's nudge to give them away... so I did.
Upon my return, God showed His intentions for that brief journey with the luggage tags. It became the topic of a talk on recognizing the opportunity to show God's grace to others in tangible ways, no matter how small. That talk was given recently on a retreat weekend in which the theme was from Isaiah 43:1-2 with emphasis on God calling us by name and belonging to Him. To reinforce the theme, a "prop" of sorts was used: name tags.
Hello, my name is... tags. Everyone who served at this retreat possessed one. "Hello, my name is HIS," they said. A reminder to ourselves and those we were serving that we'd been given a new name in Christ. We are no longer the names we and others have called ourselves -- unworthy, loser, insignificant -- but as children of the Most High God, we are called "son" and "daughter" and we belong to Him. (Make sure to watch Matthew West's "Hello, My Name Is" video for a refresher on this idea!)
The weekend was fulfilling and those who served were blessed to be a blessing to others, no doubt. My husband and I returned home, exhausted and thankful. We retired quickly that evening, and awoke to the stuff of life the next day. And then it happened again: a tag. Only this time, not the good kind. Our aluminum garage door (along with our whole neighborhood, save for one home!) had been "tagged" with graffiti. What's more saddening, some of the graffiti on two of our neighbor's homes included racial slurs and hateful speech.
While our family was able to keep the incident in perspective -- the vandalism could have been worse, more extensive; no one was physically hurt; we have insurance -- we are grieving more for our neighbors for whom this act is much more personal. My husband went out with our pressure washer and worked for a time to try to undo what was physically done, but nothing can change what has been done emotionally.
So I had to ask, What's up with the tags, Lord? What are you trying to tell me? And what I came away with was this: God has given us a NEW name. No matter what people call us based on our heritage, our skin color, our accents, our attire, our preferences -- we are divinely designed and each possess a tag that is irreplaceable. Not Made in the USA. Not One size fits all. Simply this: Created in the image of God.
The same God made each of us. For this, we wear the same "tag." This is not meant to blur our distinctives; even though we're made in His image, we're very different in innumerable ways. And that diversity is beautiful. But in One set of eyes, we are equal. The ground becomes even at the foot of the Cross; Jesus levels the playing field. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28-29). No more labels. No more name-calling. Just His.
I thought about why I loved my luggage tags so much; they were attractive and carried my favorite emblem. In the end, though, they were about ownership and being known. I owned the luggage to which they were attached. I was known by the information they contained. God's tag on me says I belong to Him, I am known as His.
So despite our vandal's best efforts, they may have tagged my garage, and my neighbor's property, but they'll never tag my spirit. My neighbors belong to the Lord; I belong to the Lord. You do too. (You just might not know that yet.)
Wanna talk about it? Tag... you're it! #nomorelabels #ChildoftheOneTrueKing
"It is hard being in the waiting room."
That was the end of her text message to me. A friend sending words of encouragement in a season of questioning, searching and yes, waiting. A reminder that God has a plan for me (Jeremiah 29:11) and then an acknowledgement that, in anticipation of what God will do, the waiting for God to move according to His plan can be a tough place to be.
It got me thinking about other waiting rooms in my life. An ER waiting room where my grandparents learned they'd lost a son. A cardiac waiting room where we endured hours of time while my father had unplanned, quadruple-bypass surgery because the surgeon said he was a "ticking time bomb." An OB waiting room during my first pregnancy where I agonized about whether some spotting I was having meant what we were most afraid would happen was actually happening. A major university hospital surgical waiting area awaiting word about my father-in-law's cancer diagnosis. Another floor in the same hospital years later praying a spot on my husband's CT wasn't a tumor. A pediatric hospital waiting room wondering if our son had an irreversible kidney disorder. So many, and yet, just a few.
Then there are the waiting rooms where I was waiting with. Like the family whose patriarch was facing significant cardiac surgery and they wanted me to stay and pray. The family whose matriarch was dying and they wanted me to just be there, cry together and pray. The friend who was having her first baby and I was racing to get there on time to wait with the whole gang and pray. The friends whose child was facing the possibility of losing a limb or the ability to walk again and they needed a voice to pray and a hand to hold. Again, so many, and yet, just a few.
So it's no wonder a simple text message resonated so deeply today, when I've landed in another waiting room. With one phrase, I began a series of flashbacks that bring me to my present. Decorate them how you want; a waiting room is a waiting room. So even though today's waiting room is the sofa in my living room and the pillow on my bed, the space is filled with the same emotions and needs.
The emotions are a mixture: anxiousness, concern, hope, joy, fear, sometimes anger. It depends on the things on which we wait. However, the needs are the same: comfort, presence and peace.
Why are both so universal? It's because waiting rooms represent uncertainty. And uncertainty makes us feel uncomfortable because we cannot see or manage the outcome, and we have to lean onto something else for stability. Stability equals comfort and peace. If things feel stable and secure, then I feel better.
The challenge is, for some, there is nothing to lean onto. Stability isn't present because there isn't someone present, there isn't any comfort, there isn't any peace. But for me, I lean on Jesus. I have faith in the God of heaven and what He can do, especially when I can't do anything.
Now, if I'm being real, faith feels much safer when I am certain. But if certainty comes in the things I can see and manage, then it's not so much about faith as it is control. From what I can tell, faith and control are diametrically opposed to one another.
The writer of Hebrews says faith is "the assurance of things unseen" (11:1). Sounds a bit contradictory, yes? Or at least paradoxical. How can I be sure of what I cannot see? How can I have confidence in what I cannot control? How am I supposed to believe in what is out of my ability to manage and dictate? Exactly. I must believe in One who can control what I cannot see. This is the crux of faith.
And faith is why I can sit in the waiting rooms of life, even when they are hard. Because when left to make and manage my own decisions, I cannot always trust I'll choose rightly. I hope I will. But I'm not perfect, and make my share of wrong choices. But I can trust the One who chose to create me (Psalm 139:13). I believe God is in control of my life and circumstances. He has a plan for my life -- and waiting rooms are part of it! He works all things together for my good (Romans 8:28). He knows my name, the numbers of hairs on my head, and every day He ordained for me. He knows what my gifts are, where they are needed, and what will make the most impact for Him.
If He knows all this, I don't have to know it all. I might want to, but it's good that I don't. Waiting rooms can sometimes become places where we make ourselves sicker worrying about not knowing the next steps. Who needs that? I don't.
So right now, I'm just waiting. Trying not to watch the clock. Just waiting. Emotions are vacillating, but all my needs are being met: I have friends that are present, who hold hands and pray and are just there; I have comfort from God's Word, and I have peace knowing someone more powerful than me is in control.
Are you waiting too? Pull up a chair, and we'll sit together.
"Wait on the LORD, and be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart. Wait, I say wait on the LORD!" - Psalm 27:14
Anybody out there ever feel like you'll never convince a certain someone you know that this is true about him or her? (For the record, I'm not talking about myself in the mysterious third person.)
I'm carrying a deep ache for a sweet young man who cannot see the "wonderful" in himself. Forget talking through the promises of Scripture or even the "God don't make no junk" adage (which, while true, is horrific grammar that I don't think God made either). No message seems to permeate the heart core of this one in whom so many see potential but in himself, he cannot. In fact, the only thing that seems to get through are the myriad of negative comments -- spoken by others (just joking) and himself (not kidding) -- that plague his over-saturated mind with untruths that are difficult to erase.
Tough one, right? Platitudes and pithy statements like "He'll grow out of it" and "Just keep doin' what you're doin'" aren't helping him... or me. How do you help an adolescent "take every thought captive" when he can't even process everything he's thinking, let alone what others tell him to think about himself? Especially when his love language is words of affirmation (not condemnation)?
Occasionally, through the lens of punny and playful, I'll hear something that sounds like the truth about who he was created to be. Something about his uniqueness and different-ness that echoes the song being sung over him by his Creator while he was being formed in his mother's womb. Faint strains of a melody composed just for him. Oh, and when I do... how my heart sings too, the third above the melodic line, harmonizing with a less-than-subtle grin that he's found his song and he's content to march to the beat of a different drum.
But those moments feel too distant and disconnected. And I'm left again wondering, How can I help? What can I do? How do you love someone well who can't seem to be at peace with loving himself?
So here's what I've got: Pray. (A lot.)
Seriously, I'm out of my league here. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. (Yes, parenting. I know you've figured out who I'm writing about by now.) I didn't think I could love this child anymore, and each day he seems to surprise me with his wit and compassion, and my heart grows three sizes more.
But honestly, I love him so much that I recognize I cannot make him love himself. Only His Creator can. So I ask the One who "fearfully formed" him to speak to his heart in ways that only the Maker is able. I plead. I beg. God, help him. And I know He will. I am confident of this. Because "He who began a good work in (insert YOUR NAME) will be faithful to carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6).
I know, because He did it for me.
Don't misunderstand. I'm not suggesting I'm complete by any means. Not even close. (And all God's people said... AMEN!) But I am saying that for a very long time, I couldn't hear my song either, until the Father leaned close and sang into my ear.
The love whisperer.
Most days I hear Him singing over me, and despite my imperfections and faults, I feel His love, and therefore I can love as well. But then there are those days, when despite my best efforts, all I hear is noise, if I'm not completely deaf. But the thing is, I've come to the place where I don't have to hear it to know it now. I can trust in His unfailing love and because the One who loves perfectly teaches me how to love others that way, I am learning how to love myself as well.
Last night, this WONDERFULLY MADE child of God said to me, "I know you love me, and I know God loves me, but I don't always love myself. Can you help me?" Help ME Lord, I prayed under my breath. Help me help him hear You. "I can try, buddy," I said. And as he fought sleep and fought himself, these words wafted through his room from his bedside speaker:
"Your songs have never stopped. You've been singing, always singing over me.
Your words are still enough; and You're singing, always singing over me." (Kari Jobe)
Yes He is, buddy. Yes He is.
I just returned home from a wonderful conference and worship celebration this past weekend in St. Charles, Missouri. Gathering together with the National Association of the Church of God's women's and men's groups was an encouragement and a blessing. Perhaps it was more significant to me because I was two days fresh from a piece of news that stirred up a massive storm in my life. Perhaps it was so important because my teaching assignment was about locating our faith in the midst of the storms of life. Perhaps it was because I'd pushed my storm aside to more clearly hear from and experience the presence of God. Regardless, I was reliving moments on a mountaintop and reveling in the best of a tremendous event.
Do you, like me, find that following opportunities or events where you are uplifted and challenged, you return home to challenges of a different kind? That's my story. Enter storm, stage right.
Yet I shouldn't be surprised. Just because I'd left the environment of where the storm started didn't mean it wouldn't be here when I returned. In fact, I carried the story of my storm with me, and was ministered to in the midst of it. I think it's because of life's storms that moments like this weekend are both treasured and sometimes even heralded too highly. Why can't things just stay good? Why do I have to return to the storm?
I can't help but think of Peter's reaction to his own mountaintop experience. In Matthew's gospel (chapter 17), we read the story of Peter, James and John accompanying Jesus to a "high mountain" where, before their eyes, Jesus was transfigured, and Moses and Elijah showed up to share in the conversation. In response to what he saw, Peter says, "Let's just pitch a tent up here and move in, Lord!" He wanted to stay on the mountain and live in that moment. But this story ends with all of them journeying back down the mountain, and returning to the stuff of life.
Don't miss this though -- preceding this account, Peter went through a very difficult storm. I'm not even referring to the literal storm of Matthew 8 when Peter and the other disciples weathered (not so smoothly) a storm on Galilee's sea and wound up waking up Jesus from a sound sleep to smooth the waters. (Ironically, this was a parallel passage to my teaching this weekend from Luke 8!) I'm talking about the moment Jesus utters words likely permanently ingrained in Peter's brain: "Get behind me, Satan!" In a split second, Peter moved from a powerful declaration of Jesus as Messiah to a pitiful disgrace of human frailty.
Keep in mind, Peter was watching as Jesus taught massive crowds, performed miracles never before seen, cast out demons with a word, and preached an upside-down message to His listeners. In fact, just prior to Peter's admonishment from Jesus, Peter saw Jesus take on His own critics who demanded a sign as proof of who He was. Storms were brewing everywhere. Even in the middle of the Messiah's message.
So it's hard to imagine Peter didn't carry all these things in his heart up the mountain with Jesus and his friends. In fact, I'm sure that he did. And removed from the environment of testing, the mountaintop was a good place to rest and recover from a storm. Yes, Peter thought, let's just stay here. But the mountain isn't a place to stay and hide from storms.
Because Jesus commissioned His disciples for ministry and service (Matthew 10:1). And with those things come some storms. Some because of ministry, and some outside of it, but storms nonetheless. The mountaintop moment Peter witnessed wasn't intended to be a parking lot for storm-weary sailors who wanted out of the boat; it was a roadside rest and a glimpse of grace that compels us to get back in.
Peter had to go back down the mountain. He had a Kingdom assignment. And even if it means wading back into waters that are soon to toss and throw the boat around, he needed to go. To get back to the task of serving and following Jesus even in uncertain waters.
I. Get. Peter.
I wanted to stay on the mountain, to soak up His presence, to set up house and bask in the glory of the radiance of His beauty. But I had to come back down, because there's more to do. Jesus is sending me back down. Waves are high, weather is nasty. But I've seen and tasted enough on the mountaintop to know what I'm laboring for in the valley is TOTALLY worth weathering this storm. Any storm. Besides, this storm need not cause me such great concern. Jesus is in my boat (Luke 8:22-25).
Know how I know He is? Easy.
Jesus came back down that mountain too.
A repeat post from September, featured on the Marriage Resource Center Tuesdays@10:10blog. (Visit www.mrcmv.org).
Most people would never start a major project in an area where they have no expertise without consulting someone who’s “been there, done that” before. While many are adept at figuring things out as they go, the more significant a project, the more essential outside input becomes for successful results. What can be helpful is identifying an experienced individual or two to weigh in on the plans and ideas, and allowing that advice to impact the choices being made toward accomplishing the goal. Even those who start a project without input can find themselves needing to call in a more skilled person to help them out of a tight fix.
The same approach has value in preparing for and working through a marriage. Perhaps the biggest “project” you may ever tackle is merging two lives into a new union, where both partners are loved, valued and honored. Marriage mentoring, either before or during a marriage, allows a married couple, practiced in the art of “being married,” to speak into the lives of those just starting out as well as those who have encountered some obstacles on the way.
Imagine the in-love couple with stars in their eyes who may overlook some realities in a new marriage – whiskers left in the sink, a less-than-OK organizational style, burnt dinners, or any other of a variety of unique couple clashes. Brain science says that the chemicals in our brains overload our ability to see (and therefore believe) the possibility that these things may occur. Another married couple, who has lived through the gaga-eyed season of new love, can talk about the need to kindly communicate expectations and extend grace as newlyweds navigate the early months of marriage.
Or consider the folks who’ve been married awhile and suddenly realize they knew less than they thought about what it takes to be married. Enter a mentor couple stage right; the support, encouragement and helpful tools (like this RINGS chat) from seasoned veterans can often help smooth out things in a marriage where a couple seems to be hitting a lot of speed bumps.
If you’re looking for a marriage that will go the distance, considering talking to people who are trying to live the example. Marriage mentors aren’t perfect, but they’re invested in seeing your marriage succeed. Who couldn’t use someone like that on their team?
Jesus follower. Wife. Mom. Daughter. Friend. Pastor. Learner.