Category Archives: God

Give a gift

Earlier this week, I went to a funeral. During the service, the younger brother of the man we were there to honor stood up to speak. As he stood behind the podium, his voice shaking a little as he spoke about his brother, he looked out at the crowd and locked eyes with a group of men who had been his brother’s college teammates.

“You were his friends and his brothers,” he said. “But really, you were his heroes. And because you were his heroes, you were mine, too.”

There it was: a gift.

On this day of all days, he could have stood behind the podium and let his words focus on himself, the depth of his own loss and grief. But in a moment, he gave a gift to men his brother had loved.

A gift of graciousness. Of kindness.

In our world, it’s so easy to become focused on ourselves, our needs, our issues, our problems, joys and concerns that we don’t see the needs of others. To become so focused on what we want to say next in the conversation that we don’t even listen to what the other person has to say. To be so intent on what we’re doing or what we’re interested in, that we roll right past the friend who is hurting, who simply needs someone to notice.

So this week, rather than to focus solely on ourselves, let’s seek to give gifts. Gifts of graciousness and kindness.

The gift of listening before we speak.

The gift of inclusion.

The gift of patience, respect and honor.

When we find ourselves turning inward and our own needs and concerns become our only focus, let’s ask God to open our eyes to the needs and concerns of those around us so we can give gifts.

Lenten Reflections

As winter slowly began to march toward Lent, I knew something had to change in my life. I had grown weary and busy. Most mornings had become a rush to get to work and slowly but surely,  spending time in Scripture had been pushed aside.

I found myself feeling disconnected and distant from God—in my daily life as well as in worship, as I taught Sunday School and as I prayed. Lent seemed like the perfect time to reconnect and recommit. To sink in to the depths of the gospel and wrestle with its truths.

So I ordered a Lenten Bible study and have begun poring over the words of  the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel. Day after day, words of destruction and judgment seemed to rain down, but always there has been a message of hope.

A light would pierce the darkness.

A Prince of Peace was coming.

That despite the coming destruction that sin demanded a merciful God was making away.

Hope.

Finding light in theHope that can’t be found in ourselves, our own good works or actions.

At first the hope seemed faint, but its light is growing stronger with each passing day and each reading. What seemed so heavy and weighty at first is giving way to the hope only found in Christ.

Reminding me that it’s not about my worth.

It’s not about my own innate goodness.

That it’s not about my own plans to handle disaster or survive the worst or even simply make it through the day in a world where all the news often seems bad.

It is about hope that only God gives, embodied in Christ.

And in the darkest of days, I don’t have to depend on myself, my strength and my plans to make it through.

I can trust in the One who is worthy.

The Light Still Shines

As 2016 drew to a close and 2017 began, it definitely felt like there was more darkness in the world than light.

This afternoon, as I walked my dog on our usual route around the complex in the fading light of dusk, my mind wandered over the last few months. An election that created enemy lines. Cancer diagnosis after cancer diagnosis, in my church and among childhood friends. The Friday before Christmas, I sat in the

The Friday before Christmas, I sat in the high school gym where I had once cheered and listened to as one of our former high school basketball stars eulogized his twin brother, who lost a years-long, hard-fought battle with cancer just days before Christmas.

Friends lost grandparents and loved ones. Just days before Christmas, my close friends accepted another foster placement, a 3-year-old child with nowhere to go. A coworker’s brother was badly hurt in a difficult-to-fathom crime.

Darkness. Everywhere.

But as the dusk turned to evening, the sky deepening to navy, my thoughts slowly shifted to a prayer.

Father, in our grief, we trust you.

In our fear, our doubt, when the light seems overcome by the darkness. 

We pray for healing because we know You are a Healer. We pray knowing that whatever happens, You can use it for Your glory. We pray because our hearts cry out for You and our souls need reminders of the hope we only find in You. We pray—trusting by faith, trusting your Word—when our doubts and feelings tell us not to trust You. 

Remind us, Lord, that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). 

The darkness may seem to be winning, but the light still shines. Rest in that hope.

 

Be thankful.

Last week, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and read a post that made me pause.

“The cure to anxiety is thankfulness,” it read.

Nervousness and anxiety have always been a part of my life. I’ve mostly accepted it as a quirk of my personality. I was that kid who quietly worried about the start of every school year, the what-ifs of if this or that did or didn’t happen.

But it’s been as an adult that I’ve allowed anxiety to become something that eats at away at the joy of life. I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that keeps you awake at night or wakes you up in the middle of the night, so that you spend the wee hours mulling over everything and worrying and trying to pray. The anxiety that you can feel welling up in your chest and crushing in on your throat. The kind of anxiety that becomes more than worry or fear, but a stronghold you can’t overcome on your own.

I’ve read lots of ways for dealing with this kind of debilitating worry. Memorize Scripture. Focus on what you know is true, not what you feel. Find someone you can be honest with and share the burden. All of these things are good and useful. But they don’t cure anxiety. They push it aside for awhile.

Don’t get me wrong. I think memorizing Scripture is important. And choosing to focus on it in anxious times or moments when I don’t understand has been life-changing. It’s even better when the Holy Spirit brings a Scripture to mind, reminding you of the faithfulness of God in the midst of your chaos.

Likewise, focusing on the truth of Scripture helps to refocus my eyes off of me and the current anxiety. Feelings lie, and I’m all too prone to listen to and live out of them rather than basing my life on the truth of Scripture. People who can walk alongside you in good and bad times are vital. There’s no such thing as a lone-ranger Christian and the fellowship of believers is one of the greatest blessings of the church.

These things help me to refocus, but they don’t banish anxiety. But they do combine to bring me to a place where I can set aside whatever is worrying me and refocus. They are instruments that bring me to a place of thankfulness. Because when I am thankful, I recognize all that God has done for me. When I am thankful, I can see all the other times throughout my life when God has taken care of me. When I am thankful, I know that every good gift comes from the Father and that I am held in His tender care forever, because He has already paid the price for every one of my sins. Thankfulness calls me to remember God’s faithfulness, to number the blessings He has given me, and to revel in the love He has shown me. When I am thankful, I take my eyes off myself and the things that seem insurmountable and refocus them on the One who has given me so much and tenderly cared for me each step of the way.

And to the anxious, worrying heart, that is like a balm. You don’t have to worry about what you can’t control, He seems to whisper. See how I have taken care of you. Count the things you have to be thankful for. I’ve got this. You can trust Me. 

When I am anxious, I’m essentially telling God that He doesn’t know what’s best or He can’t figure out how to handle the situation. When I am thankful, I know that He is trustworthy and His promises are true. And I can rest.

Be thankful today.

A little grace

Several months ago—maybe as long as a year—I read a Facebook status update that has stuck with me.

It was one of those posts where someone is obviously working out passive-aggressive frustration online in public view. And the writer boldly declared that everyone needed to stop saying they were “tired,” because only people with children or medical disorders could truly say that.

My fingers itched to type a response. I actually started one once or twice but decided that my words wouldn’t be written or delivered in love so I needed to keep my mouth shut—or the virtual equivalent of that.

But the comment stayed with me. And so did the reminder that I’ve so often needed to call to mind when I’ve been frustrated or upset with someone’s behavior:

You don’t know what that person going through. You don’t know what it’s like to walk in his or her shoes.

It’s easy to pass judgment, to see someone’s situation from our point of view and proclaim that they’re lazy, unorganized, or don’t really know what tired (or stressed or depressed or poor or whatever) is because you’ve got the corner on the market.

We go through life making easy judgments about the people we interact with, when we have no idea about the inner workings of their lives. The stress at work she downplays. The marriage that feels like it’s falling apart. The child who is making choices that causes him to stay up at night, praying for God to help and protect that son or daughter. Grief that comes when she least expects it and threatens to drown her in the waves. Fear. Debt. Mistrust.

Instead of passing judgment when someone doesn’t behave the way you think they should, I’m proposing a new option. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Acknowledge that you don’t know the things they are going through that may be causing turmoil under a seemingly calm and perfect life. And instead of getting angry or assuming you know more than you do, commit to show them grace. Grace that they don’t deserve. Grace that is confounding to the world and overwhelming and doesn’t make sense.

Grace.

Like the grace God has shown you.

 

This day in history

On this day in 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, devastating New Orleans and many other coastal areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

As I typed those words into a Facebook status for an account I manage at work today, unexpected tears sprang to my eyes.

2005.

Eight years ago.

Eight years since I sat in my office and dialed my brother’s cell number over and over, hoping the busy signal would fade and that I’d get a few seconds of scratchy connection to know he was OK.

Eight years since he weathered the storm in a small house at a Christian camp outside of New Orleans where he was working at the time.

Eight years since that Labor Day weekend when he drove home to Missouri with all he could pack in the back of his truck and came home to stay.

Eight years since the phone call that my high school best friend’s little brother had been in a car accident.

Eight years since that devastating moment when my mom turned to me and quietly told me my friend’s brother wasn’t coming home.

Every year, when Labor Day rolls around, those memories come back. The joy of my brother coming home and being safe. The heartbreak of a friend and dear family who were grief-stricken in the death of a child and brother. I knew then that your heart could be broken and joyful at the same time.

Eight years. It feels like yesterday and long ago. But I don’t stop the tears when they come to my eyes when I remember. I let them fall as I pray for my friend and her family. So much life has happened in the interim. My brother got married and now I have two nephews—but I want my friend and her family to know that they’re not forgotten.

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Words of Blessing

Your words matter.

It’s a phrase I’ve spoken a thousand times, probably written a thousand more.

Your words matter. I’ve written before about how words can be a blessing or a curse—and we’re the ones who get to decide which one.

I think there’s a reason so much in Scripture involves the spoken word. God speaks the world into being. Fathers speak blessings over their children that can’t be negated even when they discover they’ve blessed the younger son instead of the older. And I don’t think it’s a mistake that in the Gospel of John, the disciple Jesus loved calls Jesus the Word. What God had spoken and promised had become flesh. The Word was alive.

Words matter. They’re important. And over the last few months, when I’ve had few to write and even less time to think about what I’d write if I could think of something, I’d forgotten that. The joy that this blog had once brought me had faded. I didn’t feel like I was writing for the joy of it anymore. . . .just the expectation of having something new on the page.

So, I let it sit silent for weeks that stretched into months.

But last night, someone said something to me that reminded me of who I am. He didn’t mean it as a blessing, but it felt like one. I needed to hear those words and didn’t even know it. They felt like a gentle rain falling on a parched soul.

“I can’t wait to hear what God does with your life. You are so talented, so creative—you know how much I think of you,” a friend who is leaving our church for an exciting new teaching position said.

And I didn’t know until that moment that the reason I hadn’t been able to write or think of anything to write lately wasn’t that I’d run out of words. It was that I’d stopped believing I had any to offer. That I’d begun to feel talentless and uncreative and tired.

And that wasn’t who I was created to be.

Your words matter.

They may be the thing that ignites a forgotten dream, comforts a suffering soul, or reminds someone of the person they were created to be.

Your words matter. Use them wisely today.

Be courageous!

I don’t like to call myself a runner.

Because that seems to imply that you love the discipline, that you’re good at it, that you’re fast.

A runner sets personal records and runs through the pain.

At best, I’m a kind of slow walk/jogger who runs sometimes.

But I’ve run two half marathon and various other shorter distance races. I’ve spent the hours training for a long run and felt the wonderment that you can indeed do something you thought impossible (and various parts of your body did, too).

I know the comarad225282_10150180676017128_564822127_6743799_606274_nerie of the running community, the adrenaline of running a race you’ve trained for, and the joy of completing that goal and crossing the finish line.

Maybe that’s why yesterday’s events at the Boston Marathon have hit me so hard.

Because I know what those runners were thinking as they neared that finish line. They weren’t thinking about bombs or terrorism or terror or any of the words we’ve bandied around in the hours since those bombs went off.

They were thinking about finishing.

They’d been running for hours and most were in the final miles of a grueling race. The finish line was in sight.

Some greeted it with enthusiasm and a rush of adrenaline.

Some probably saw it as the end of a painful race.

Others saw it as the physical embodiment of a dream accomplished. You have to earn entry into the Boston Marathon, qualifying at another race with a fast enough time. For many runners, the Boston Marathon is a dream race, the goal, the pinnacle.

A few probably sprinted to the finish line.

People in the stands and lining the street cheered. Boston schools were closed and the bustle of the city was shut down and focused on the race.

It was a celebration. A happy time. An achievement.

And then it wasn’t.

What should have been a happy moment for so many, suddenly became one of terror, tragedy, and horror.

Dehydration and exhaustion you expect after a long race; shrapnel, no.

But the reality is that in many countries around the world, what happened yesterday in Boston is part of daily life. People head out into their daily lives knowing that everything can change in an instant. Yesterday’s events made me realize a little of what it’s like to live in countries where the threat of danger is never really far from anyone’s mind. Where mothers lose children on a daily basis. Where people bear scars for the rest of their lives.

Boston has sobered me and reminded me that this world is not perfect. That it’s not even home. There are glimmers of joy and beauty and truth, but it is not the hope we’re living for.

And yesterday, I turned to the only true Hope, Jesus, as I cried for the people affected in Boston.

“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” —John 16:33

An Easter thought

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways,” God says in Isaiah 55:8.

And today, as I ponder Maundy Thursday and the darkness of Good Friday, I understand a little more of that.

His ways are not my ways, because if it had been up to me, I would have chosen a way of salvation that cost me very little. Because instead of taking the shame and weight and penalty of our sin on us, God—in Christ—took it upon Himself.

Salvation came a great cost to Him.

And in my selfishness, I would have chosen a different way.

But God didn’t.

His justice cried out for a punishment for sin. His very character demanded that it couldn’t just be ignored.

But His very character also answered in love. In Christ.

I think of Him in the Garden today, the “aloneness” of it all. The heartbroken prayer. The tears. The stress He was under. His friends, sleeping, unaware it seems of the despair and strain He was under.

Alone.

Crying out to God in a Garden with a broken voice and maybe a broken heart.

Despair.

Fear.

Anxiety.

Obedience.

And somewhere in there, the glimmer of hope. Spring was coming. Easter. Resurrection.

If you feel alone, heartbroken, broken, or even a little hopeless today, rest in the fact that Jesus knows how you feel. He has cried out in the dark to a God who didn’t seem to answer. He knows.

And hope is coming.

Today is a gift

Earlier this week, through Facebook, I learned that a member of my high school graduating class (and a member of my extended family, my second cousin) had passed away unexpectedly. He was found in his truck outside a local McDonald’s near where we grew up and the death was labeled suspicious at first. It is now a murder investigation.

It’s been a little shocking to say the least.

In response, a guy in my high school class posted the picture below, taken of our class on the day we graduated. (Yes, my class was small.)

857217_830243923080_191620738_oWhen I look at that picture now, I’m struck by how young we look. We were just babies, but we thought we had the world by the tail.

And as I’ve read the posts on Facebook in the aftermath of Sean’s death, I’ve realized something not so great about myself.

In the years after high school, I went to college five hours away from home at a school no one in my graduating class attended and only one other guy from my school (two years older than me) attended. After college, I moved to Nashville, went to Vanderbilt, and began my adult life.

And I think I wrote off some people in my class, Sean being one of them. Classmates have written beautiful tributes to him on Facebook, and I missed out on knowing someone because I couldn’t see past my own self-importance. I was so focused on myself, and maybe thought I was better than others.

And I was wrong.

Every day is a gift, and every person is made in the image of God.

And today as I write those words, I mean them. I sense their weight.

May I remember them. May I not miss the opportunities to love others. May I fight the tendency to think I’m better than others. And may I live this day as a gift from God, living every moment and redeeming the time.