He Gives Me His Best

In the story of the prodigal son, I’ve always only identified with the disobedient son who goes off and makes all the mistakes. Somehow, I forgot how the Father responds to this son. Upon the sons repentant return, his Father gives him his best. He throws him a party. And this reveals to the returned son not only the depth of his Fathers love, but also the humility it takes to receive such a love. This is, I believe, how God is responding to my return to him. I just couldn’t see it for a while. I’m still processing through all the amazing experiences God is teaching me through but I think I’ve figured this much out:

1. The more I trust God, the more stunning and joyful my life becomes. It doesn’t mean difficult things don’t happen, but the way I feel and respond to them does. And it’s kind of the best thing ever. Instead of woe is me, I ask myself how is God using this for good?

2. God has crazier, better things in mind for me than I could ever come up with on my own. When I took this new job, so much of my vision was full of the sacrifice I was making versus the opportunities God was creating. I thought I’d lose adventure and travel. Yet somehow I’ve got the most amazing job ever which I look forward to everyday and I’ve had more new experiences in these past 8 months than I usually have in years.

3. God is revealing how this season of singleness has been the best thing He could have done for me. I’ve had time to heal from the past and build better, healthier habits. I’ve learned to put God first rather than making my partner my idol. I’ve been placed amongst men who are protectors rather than predators. I’ve learned how to trust and what I find attractive has drastically changed. I have a blast with kids and have gotten to a place where I know I want a family someday but I can also appreciate what Gods doing here, now. I feel confident that the total transformation of my life these past couple years would not have been possible if I hadn’t had the freedom to fully run after where God was taking me.

4. God’s teaching me how to do relationships, and it’s not weird. Surrendering control and being truly vulnerable is one of the most powerful things I can do. The more I let go and have God lead rather than me, the more I discover about his heart for me. A family that welcomes me to their home and their table. An adventure in Old Jerusalem. Officiating a sunset marriage at an outdoor synagogue in Israel. The blessings of a tearful old woman. The amazing testimony of a Believer facing stage 4 cancer. The company of a friend who balances depth of conversation with silliness and hearty laughter. A roommate and friend who serves as a rock and comforter in difficult times. A closeness and affection with my family (and particularly my sister) that few people possess. And through all these relationships I learn not just what God wants for me, but from me: I continue to become a better friend, sister, daughter and (someday?) wife.

5. God wants my authenticity. He designed me with purpose and delights in who I am. I’ve spent much of my lifetime trying to be what others wanted me to be rather than who God designed me to be. That’s ridiculous. Putting others first doesn’t mean I compromise on who I am; it means I give them the best of myself. Learning the difference between this has been a powerful catalyst for building healthy relationships that leave me feeling known rather than isolated.

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Reflections on “Love Does,” by Bob Goff (Part Three)

If you didn’t start at the beginning, I suggest starting at Reflections on “Love Does” by Bob Goff (Part One), although it’s not super important.

Wedding Cake

I used to think being a believer was enough, but now I know Jesus wants us to participate, no matter what condition we are in.

A wedding on a shoestring budget. It might not sound amazing to some people, but it sounds beautiful to me. A family friend cutting them a deal on the cake, the caterer making the best of pasta salad, and his boss hooking them up with a free venue. This is the blessing of community, isn’t it? When he arrived at the reception, Bob saw his high school-aged friend assembling the cake in the parking lot. Four tiers tall, it’s fate was written as soon as he began pushing it across the parking lot on a wobbly AV cart. Responding swiftly, a plan was made, the fallen cake was gathered, and in 30 minutes it was being reassembled with the help of a fresh bucket of frosting. They served it up, tiny bits of gravel and asphalt included.

“Like that cake, my life is full of small rocks, pieces of asphalt, broken and unrepaired relationships, unwanted debris. But somehow God allows us each to be served up anyway. Jesus talked to social outcasts, loose women, lawyers like me, and religious people and said they would not just be so many decorations or window treatments, but He would serve them up as well… The only thing that Jesus said He couldn’t serve up were people who were full of themselves or believed the lie that they were who they used to be before they met Him.” (56-57)

There it is. Conviction.

The lie that they were who they used to be before they met Him. This is a lie that whispers to me in the night, in the times before I speak in front of people, in the moments where I wonder who my friends are and if they care for me. The TRUTH that I am transformed, that I am made new, is one I fight for actively. And I am finally feeling the light of dawn on my face, that I am emerging from a battlefield victorious over this lie. “Yet Jesus continues to select broken and splattered people not just as followers but as participants. He called people like me who can’t even figure out which end of a plastic bag is open His hands, He called people who trip every day His feet, and He called people who can’t figure out which way to turn a screw to tighten it or even stack a cake correctly the ones who would build a kingdom.” (58)

Just Say Yes

I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply need to say yes.

A story of pranks. Bob pranks a buddy and so, when he gets a call from an ambassador of Uganda, he thinks that this is payback. So he tells the guy yes. I’ll meet you in New York. Hello, adventure. Until the entourage from Uganda pulled up and Ambassador Kamuninwire greeted him and he realized it was real. And the Ambassador introduced Bob as the consul instead of counsel. He had all the paperwork ready to make Bob a diplomat. License plates, clearance, diplomatic immunity. Handed to him after being cleared by Ugandan Parliament and the FBI. “I think God sometimes uses the completely inexplicable events in our lives to point us toward Him. We get to decide each time whether we will lean in toward what is unfolding and say yes or back away.” (64) I want to be someone who answers yes to the adventure God calls me into, without needing all the reassurances and explanations. I want to trust fall into God’s story and be swept away. But there is a doubt in me that wonders how such a God as this could have any use for a person like me.

“I don’t think it was because Moses needed Aaron but because Moses mistakenly thought he had to be somebody important in order to be part of what God was going to do.” (65) And this is the mistake I make; God doesn’t use important people. God makes people important. All the time. Because they all matter to God. “We were all meant to save many lives. God is always trying to save lives, and it seems like He usually uses the least likely people to do it.” (66)

The Interviews

I used to think I had to be somebody important to accomplish things, but now I know Jesus uses ordinary people.

In the wake of September 11th, Bob asked his kids, “If you had five minutes in front of a group of world leaders, what would you ask them to help make sense of life, faith, hope and the events that are unfolding around them?” (68) His seven year old said he’d invite them over. His other son said he would ask them what they hope for. His daughter, the eldest, said she’d go to their homes and ask what they hope for; maybe even do a video interview so they could share it. These ideas were eventually put in a letter that they sent to leaders all over the world. Over the coming weeks the kids received the kindest rejection letters, but they also received 29 invitations to visit various leaders they had written. They hit the road. More often then not, it started with the kids having an official meeting with the leader in an official reception room. Once the leaders realized the kids came with only an agenda to be friends, they’d invite them into the private offices. They’d talk about family and hopes. Bob wrote of one Russian leader, “And with that preamble, he shared his thoughts drenched in sincerity about how a friend knows what you need before you ask. He ended his talk with these words that still ring true for our family. ‘You know what it is about someone that makes them a friend? A friend doesn’t just say things; a friend does.‘” (73) And in the end, the kids got exactly that from this adventure: friends that do. This is the kind of friend I am, and I am blessed to have many friends around me who operate similarly. I have no idea where I would be without them.

There’s More Room

I used to think I needed an invitation to get into most places, but now I know I’m already invited.

Sometimes, we get this strange idea that we have to jump through hoops and navigate crazy twisting mazes to get close to God. We have to have the right clearance, pass the right tests, know the right words and act the right way to “get in.” This is a lie that keeps us distracted and busy rather than focused on the relationship offered to us. “When you read the Bible, the people who loved Jesus and followed Him were there ones like me who didn’t get invited places. Yet Jesus told His friends they were invited anyway.” (81-82) This invitation we receive from Jesus isn’t about being a spectator; it’s a relationship that asks us to love God and our neighbor deeply enough to respond. To get in the game. To invite others to come play with us. “They don’t think about their pain or their weakness any longer. Instead, they think about how incredible a big life really is and how powerful the one who is throwing the banquet is too.” (83) I don’t often forget where I came from, but I do sometimes forget that Jesus invited me to the table when I was there. When so much of the world consumed me, Jesus offered me himself. I drank of living waters that quenched a life-long thirst. I ate a bread that nourished and filled me far greater than anything I’d ever found so far in this life. “The one who has invited you is way more powerful than any of the impediments we think we’re facing, and He has just one message for us. He leans forward and whispers quietly to each of us, ‘There’s more room.'” (83)

Wow, What a Hit!

I used to think the words spoken about us describe who we are, but now I know they shape who we are.

This is basically a reflection on words of affirmations, and how they impact and shape us. “…I do know one thing that works every time-it’s having somebody else say something good about you. I think that’s how we were created, you know, to get named by people this way. I think God speaks something meaningful into our lives and it fills us up and helps us change the world regardless of ourselves and our shortcomings.” (87)

I remember the first time that I had 4-5 people tell me they all believed I was gifted in faith. It made me cry. How could they all be so terribly mistaken? They knew my story, my struggle and yet they look at me and saw… a powerful, uncommon faith. Eventually, through their words, I began to realize that this was a gift that God had given me. I did, however, need others to reveal it to me.

When an ex wrote me this over a year after our relationship had ended, I remember being stunned: “There are so many way in which I know I hurt you over the years that at the time I didn’t even realize did to list and for all of those I am sorry.  I know your love and encouragement were always sincere…I know you’re intentions were always sincere and that most of the time (okay pretty much all) you put me head of everything, which is something that I rarely did for you but that you deserved of me.  If either of us needed to apologize and ask for forgiveness it would never have [been] you.”

Even he saw this in me. These are things my sister has said for so long, as well as close friends and family. But for some reason I couldn’t believe it. I thought that there must be something terribly wrong with me that made me so difficult to love. It never occurred to me that the men I dated didn’t know how to love and hadn’t yet developed the capacity to do so well; it was only through how well I loved them that they discovered it in themselves. I allowed the wrong words spoken over me in times of desperation and anger to shape me rather than hearing the truth that people who knew me well offered.

 

Israel, 4 am

The journey was over 24 hours to get here but I managed to steal a few hours of sleep from a couple flights. I was positive I would sleep soundly tonight, yet 4 hours later I’m wide awake and I don’t need to rise until seven. Perhaps some journaling and a sunrise with God is in order (and maybe some coffee too).

I heard children using “Abba” with their fathers today and it brought a whole new context to the word for me. This term, which Jesus used to refer to our Father, is similar to “Daddy.” But today I heard it used by small children, often accompanied by reaching arms and grasping hands. “Abba, Abba!!” they cry, unabashedly asking to be held, or comforted, or protected. Striking out fearlessly, one little one became startled and ran with arms open back to her Abba. It makes me reflect on Jesus’ choice of words and the posture of children with their Abba. Is that how I would describe my relationship with God?

A Vivid Dream

I was at an alt grunge EDM concert, but they were also performing the third part of The Pelleas Trilogy. I was there with my sister and a few friends I’ve made at church (I remember thinking it was not my usual concert going crowd).

I wandered around, immersing myself in the show as I drank from my flask. I’m talking to new people and I start smoking again (and in the dream, I got the sense that this wasn’t unusual for me because it was a concert).

I spot my friends and head towards them. They scrunch to make room for me on this hill and next to them is a guy I haven’t seen since high school. We talk real life, the nitty and gritty, about our struggle and how different things looked from how we imagined. Towards the end he said, “You’ve changed a lot too. You really believe all that holy crap?” I smile at him and lean against a wall. “I went through some dark times, Cass. I found Someone who brought me out. So that’s where I put my faith. Can you blame me?” And he mumbled no, that he wished he had that.

Apparently the concert ended and the sun is starting to rise. My flask is empty and all my friends are gone. We walk to his car and he starts driving me around looking for mine. I keep reassuring him, comforting him because he seems distressed. We finally make it to my car and he said “You’re unbelievable, you know that? You never realize the effect you have on people.” And he’s upset with me, about how oblivious I am. I want to calm him down so I tell him I had really liked him in high school. I asked him if he remembered the art trip and he laughed. All the tension left his body and he replied softly, “Yeah, I remember. And I liked you too.”

Somehow we seemed a bit entangled, so I carefully extracted myself from him and exited the car. I waved as I got to mine but he was already driving off.

My Surrender

Once a heart of stone now flesh

A gift bestowed on one You adore.

My emotions stir afresh

Into my heart Your love does pour.

 

For I know so well this darkness

That I give thanks for that which is Light.

Once trapped in a pit of hopelessness

I now soar to an unfathomed height.

 

It is here I kneel and surrender

where there is no pride or shame

my sin You bore on the cross

and my just punishment you claim.

 

Such love is wonder beyond wonder

such truth I cannot grasp

Your grace I can but ponder

your every mercy makes me gasp.

 

There are no words or songs

Of thanks for the freedom I now know

from the sin and from the wrongs

under whose weight I once bowed.

 

I nearly knelt before my enemy

Who accused and declared blame

But now I choose my own King

Whose sovereignty I proclaim.

 

For my name is written on His hands

and His on the tablet of my heart

and from one another

ne’er shall we part.

A Reflection on Suffering

Stephen Mitchell sees surrender rather than submission in Job after he has endured his trials by the Accuser as well as the confrontation with the Unnameable; “Surrender…means the wholehearted giving-up of oneself. It is both the ultimate generosity and the ultimate poverty, because in it the giver becomes the gift.” (Mitchell xxvii) This is the kind of man Mitchell sees when he reads Job’s words at the end, “I have spoken the of the unspeakable and tried to grasp the infinite. Listen and I will speak; I will question you: please, instruct me. I have heard you with my ears; but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I will be quiet, comforted that I am dust.” (Mitchell 88) Mitchell identifies in this a great humility rather than self-abasement.

Meanwhile Victor Frankl writes of his personal trial, which echoes Job’s, in the concentration camps. Frankl writes, ‘Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.’ These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost.” (Frankl) To Frankl it is not an act of surrender but rather an act of heroism, maintaining a spiritual freedom and independence of mind even in the most dire of circumstances. The possibility that one might not only withstand such suffering but to do so and still retain their compassion and dignity would seem impossible to believe, if in fact it had not been witnessed.

Mitchell writes of the dialogue between Job and God, that “In order to approach god, Job has to let go of all ideas about God: he must put a cloud of unknowing…between himself and God, of have the Voice do this for him.” (Mitchell xix) For Mitchell, this embrace of the unknowing is the critical connection for Job to approach God, yet for Frankl I see love as the very thing which he believes tethers us to the divine; that gives us a glimpse of our salvation. He writes, “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets…The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.” (Frankl)

It is this extraordinary gift of love that allows us to bear the unthinkable and endure the unimaginable in a such a way that dignity can be retained. As the world presses its brokenness in on us we can choose to answer with a love that was defined by Mitchell earlier, as a giver of a gift that is our very selves. “We who lived, in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (Frankl) This, too, we see in Job through Mitchell’s perspective. Confronted with the reality of God and the great suffering he has endured, Job chooses to change his attitude from a lament that he was ever born into praise for an awesome God whose very character is beyond fully knowing for us.

Works Cited

Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. New York: Washington Square Press, 1963. Electronic Excerpt.

Mitchell, Stephen. The Book of Job. United States: Harper Collins Publishers, 1987.

Vulnerability

I went on a camping trip with some friends a couple weeks ago, which I wrote about at that time. I wanted to dive a little deeper into part of that trip; to be vulnerable regarding what I experienced in that moment now that I have processed it more fully.

A few days leading up to the trip God was REALLY driving home being vulnerable and I was feeling so frustrated because I felt like I had grown a lot in that space. For a little background, I’d also been having some lung problems because of my allergies for about a month. All this happened leading up to me on a hike in Hocking hills. We were going to do a 3 mile loop but some of my friends wanted to add another loop (ultimately around 7 miles). I tried to dissuade them but I didn’t want to look weak in front of people I really admired so ahead I plowed, not mentioning to them that it already hurt to breathe. My lungs felt like fists clenching tighter and tighter, and this continued for maybe two hours. I got to the point where I’d lean my body forward and force my legs to respond by catching me. I continue to try to act like everything is okay. Mask the pain. I told myself, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Then, suddenly, no more air. I see my friend beckoning to me and I can’t speak. I gasp and still, no air. A young couple passes me by and I make eye contact with the woman and wonder if she can see my panic.

This is the first time during the entire hike I actually begin to pray. It’s suddenly so quiet. I look up in awe at the tall trees surrounding me and I see spots of light dancing around me and I ask God, “Is this really my time? Will I really die from lack of oxygen surrounded by the very things you created that make oxygen? My God, where is your breathe of life now? I don’t have it. Help me, Abba. I need you.” Tears swell in my eyes and I’m torn between my plea to God and my desire, still, to hide my struggle so that my friends don’t see my weakness.

Suddenly, there is a woman in front of me, the one who had walked by before. She says something about also getting asthma attacks and my brain responds, “Yes! Asthma attack! I’m not dying.” I imitate what she does, following her instructions and slowly, deliciously, air begins to fill my lungs. And as I breathed in I felt not judgment but love from God, paired with what could maybe be described as a mildly disapproving sigh.

After a short rest and a very slow final climb, we made it to the parking lot. As I reached the car all I wanted to do was cry. To break down. To acknowledge the moment and all that came with it. But I locked it down, pulled it together. I laughed and ate Mexican, occasionally wondering if my friends now saw me differently because of this experience and if they would like me less because of it.

As I prayed about it later I felt how silly God thought it was that I would rather LITERALLY run out of air than tell my friends my lungs hurt. That we had talked about this and because I put my fear of rejection ahead of God’s call to be vulnerable with my community, I had to suffer and he had to send someone to teach me how to breath. Later I was talking to someone and they remarked at how lucky I was; that they had known of several people who had died from these kinds of attacks. That they were dangerous and should be taken seriously. It was at that moment I remembered a text someone had sent me at the end of May describing a picture they’d received for me:

…a picture of you rowing a boat with these really wide oars that were like fish fins so you had to do a lot of work to row but when you did you went far. He felt the Lord was saying you were in a season for the next eight weeks of heavy work but it would propel you far. Then on the oars he saw 1) 2) and 3), like there are three areas of focus and a small 4), like maybe you could do a little in 4) but 1.2.3 were the focus. The words behind those were self, health and safety…

I realized how much I had endangered my safety with my unwillingness to be vulnerable. After the trip I went and got allergy medicine and an inhaler and it was amazing the difference this made to my health and even my attitude! And so a big area that God has impacted through this is my health and safety, in learning to listen to my body better and to take care of it. But the third that came with it is my ongoing struggle with rejection.

I shared this struggle with my small group as well as with my co-workers, a moment of sharing my current “mess” that felt both exhausting and encouraging. I have known for a while that my greatest desire is to feel known, and not just known but to still be loved when I am known. This is also the thing I most fear, and the thing God has been working with me to overcome these last few months. Because of my background (particularly with my two longest running relationships), I have this undercurrent in my heart that whispers, “If they really know you, they won’t love you. People don’t stay for people like you.”

I know this probably sounds like a super depressing place to be but it isn’t, it’s just hard. I can continually remind myself that I am already known and loved by a King who adores me, and that if I remain authentic to my God and myself, then the rejection or acceptance by others will not influence the love I have for myself. And so, I am in this eight week season of working on the self, health and safety. Self, that I would become even more free of rejection and the ways that it influences me, making me an emotionally healthier person and leader. Health, in that I am learning to listen and respond to my body and what it is telling me. And safety, not that I would begin operating out of fear but rather that I would truly appreciate how fragile life is and what a blessing it is to be able to experience the moments I do. Lastly, within all these things I need to seek God and listen rather than believe that I can do this on my own.