What’s so good about it?

One of my favorite little people is having a hard time coming to terms with how Jesus’ suffering and dying on a cross could possibly be “good”. And when you look at the cruelty and pain, betrayal and brutality, blood-lust and mob mentality, I think she has a point. On the surface, it’s horrific. It shines a light on just how quickly we can go from putting someone on a pedestal to knocking them off of it in less than a week.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been known to do this. When someone doesn’t come through the way I think they should or when someone hurts me or I’m jealous or I’m…selfish. When I’m threatened, when I’m exposed, when I’m…wrong. I’ve been known to throw the gloves off and come out swinging. But what I often find at the end of that mess is a pool of my own destruction – hurt feelings, regrets and remorse. The slaying is never worth it. Even if I was “right”, it’s a hollow victory.

But here’s where Jesus turns everything on its head. In the most despicable display of humanity, when God’s chosen people turn on him, our God brings peace, healing and restoration. The resurrection can’t happen without the crucifixion. But don’t we want it more sanitized than that?

It’s easier to accept the story the way we share it with pre-schoolers. Let’s take our felt board cut-outs and tell the story in simple pictures. Here’s Jesus breaking bread with his friends. Here’s the mean Judas. Oh, Jesus has been arrested. Now he must carry his cross. Then he died and rose again. Yea! He’s alive!!!

We acknowledge his death enough to get to the good part…in three days he rose again. But I think we need to sit in the death for awhile. I think to really appreciate the miracle of everlasting life and the washing away of sin, we have to sit in what makes me nauseous. To consider for one minute that Jesus took MY punishment, it should give me pause. It should make me cry out. I should be humbled to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Before I knew Jesus, like really knew him, not just, yeah, okay Jesus, he’s the son of God. That’s fine. When I was living my life just for me, and believe me, it was only for me, He was still there, waiting for me to turn to him. I know this now because God gives us the gift of reflection. When you’re in the middle of something difficult it’s really hard to see beyond it. Heck, sometimes it’s hard to see anything at all because you’re blinded by the world you’ve created.

And I have to imagine this has been true since the beginning of time. What should have taken the Jews 11 days to get from Egypt to the promised land, instead took them 40 years. God didn’t hold them back. They got lost in their own mess. He set them free but they held themselves hostage to their past instead of trusting in their future. Have you done this? I have!

In 2002 when our marriage was broken and everything was spiraling out of control, God showed me a little family on the backside of Parson’s Beach. There was a little girl in a white sun hat. I knew when I saw her that that’s what we were supposed to be, not the train wreck we had created. But at the time, I didn’t know God. I knew he was out there but I didn’t know that he knew me. I didn’t know that he loved me. I didn’t know that he longed for me to know Him.

And it wasn’t until coming to Christ in 2009 that I could even say that God showed me that sweet family. But even without me acknowledging it was God, he was there. He was at work in my life. He was putting in motion what was to come, even in my ignorance. It took longer than it probably should have but he was by my side when I couldn’t see him.

I can relate to the fickle mob yelling “Crucify!” That’s really bad to admit, right? But it’s true. I’ve been so lost in my own stuff that I couldn’t see the truth in front of me and certainly couldn’t give credit to the author of that truth.

I think about the Old Testament prophets that told of our coming king. Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah, the Psalmists…all of them told us what was coming, who was coming. But it didn’t make sense in the moment. It’s not until we have the precious gift of hindsight that we can more clearly connect the dots. But God knows that about us. And he loves us anyway. And that’s what makes Friday so good.

God knows we’re a mess. He knows we need him, even when we don’t yet know him. He’s still there. He’s in the room. He’s on the beach. He’s on the cross. But He doesn’t stay there. He endures the pain of ridicule, beating, torture, extreme torture and finally, death. And He did it for me. And you. He did it so we could be free. Free from the mess we make around us. Free from the weight of that mess. He did it so we could know him intimately, personally. And that’s better than good.

Go ahead and sit in it. Take the next few days to really consider a love so great. And then whoop it up on Sunday. Party like it’s 1999…we know how that went down too. The lights stayed on. The computers didn’t crash. And we’re still here. And so is our God.

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Permission for Time Out

You’ve had those weeks right? Where you’re going so fast and you’ve committed yourself to so many things that you can’t breathe anymore? The Yeses that sounded like fun and worthy challenges are piling up and it feels like you’re disappointing everyone, accomplishing nothing?

No? Just me. Okay.

I’ve never not had a job. I’ve worked (and earned a paycheck) since I was 12 years old. Not sure it was legal then but we’ll call it a paid internship I guess. Nevertheless, coming out of college, I started my first career two weeks after graduation. I worked for SuperTarget in Minneapolis for five years. I worked as a Store Manager for Starbucks in Maine for the next seven years. I went to work for a church (by the grace of God, not because I knew what I was doing) for the last four years. And now I’m a stay at home mom.

Stay at home mom. Sit in that for a minute with me. I never really got how it worked. And I still don’t get it because I’m really bad at it. Being a stay at home mom means that my priority is my family. Being a stay at home mom means that I need to give my children and husband the attention I’ve always given my work. Being a stay at home mom means that my work environment is all around me. My “sanctuary” and workplace have collided.

Over the last 6 months, I’ve come to realize just how much stock I put in my job title. I was my work. Sure, I was still a wife, mom, friend, etc. but primarily, I was my job title. And I was good at it. I got fulfillment and satisfaction from it. There was reward both monetarily and emotionally. I was serving, providing and leading in ways I could quantify and understood.

I was totally one of those misguided fools who thought it would be nice to not have to worry about work and just be home. But when the opportunity came along, it terrified me. We had just uprooted our family from everything we knew and loved. We had been in Maine for 11 years and established deep roots with friends and family. It was our home.

But God called us to a new place. We relocated to south-central Florida and my family needed (needs) me to help us stabilize. Our kids were totally starting over in a new school with new friends and new activities. We moved into a one-bedroom apartment then four months later into a three bedroom, three bathroom house. As if the southern culture shock for this northerner wasn’t enough, it’s very bizarre to go from 800 square feet where you settled quite nicely to quadruple that space and feel upside down. I know that sounds totally spoiled and you may have just stopped reading, but it’s my truth. I’m still wigged out by what to do with this place that so I often do nothing with it. Not a good steward and not an awesome mom.

Rather than deal with the uncomfortableness of my unknown, I jumped right back into what I know and love. Work. Paid work? No. But work in a context I understand. By the time it was all said and done, I have volunteered myself for six different organizations taking on leadership roles and major projects in each of them. That doesn’t include the mommy groups I joined and extra-curricular activities for our kids because that’s what stay at home moms do, right??

And, by the time last weekend rolled around, I was crumbling under the weight of my Yeses. I was stressed, not doing the work God gave me and failing miserably in most areas of responsibility.

I really do have the best husband in the world. Sorry girls, but this guy rocks. And he gets me. He gets me better than I ever give him credit. His genius is that he lets me go but he doesn’t let me burn up in the fiery mess I make. As the flames start to lap around me, he grabs the hose, rescue ladder or helicopter basket and pulls me out. He’s brutally honest when I ask what he thinks and listens patiently when I’m ready to spill it.

He looked at me on Monday night during the Final Four and said it was okay to stop. I think I needed that permission to take a time out. He reminded me that’s it’s okay to say no.

This stay at home mom gig might not be an option forever. He reminded me that I’ve been given a chance to be the one who’s NOT stressed. I can be the safe place for my family. I can work out with my girlfriends, read a book, cook food and decorate our house. I don’t HAVE to save the world this week. I can’t really do that anyway.

Why am I afraid of the peace? Why do I not trust that I am enough, just as I am, without the busyness, the titles, the responsibility to others and accolades? I think there are times when the enemy twists what is a gift in me from God and turns it into something more of a distraction and sinful ambition.

So…TIME OUT. I’m taking a time out. I’m not running away. I’m not cutting all ties. I’m not neglecting my commitments. But I am taking a time out. I’m reassessing what God’s really called me to in this time of my life. I’m taking this week to decorate my house. I’m swimming with my kids. I’m not on my computer – except for right now.

I am working out. I am spending time with God. I am intentionally focusing my attention on my family. I even bought hanging baskets for my patio yesterday.

Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

Developing a deeper dependency on Jesus is a beautiful thing. There are so many times when I still cling to the idea that I have to go it alone but God is so good and so patient with us…with me. Matthew 11:28 says, “Then Jesus said, “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This isn’t permission to quit, but it is permission to pause, regroup, and focus in on what God is calling us to at this time in our lives.

Conditional Unconditional Love

Before really knowing Jesus and even before becoming a parent, I didn’t really understand unconditional love. So often, the love I experienced in life up to that point seemed quite conditional…even if I was the one adding the conditions. I thought love was earned or retained based on performance. I thought wit, smarts and abilities scored additional points. I made sport out of gathering up love in all it’s damaging forms. Even love in marriage had it’s breaking point, right? If not, then why did we almost divorce like most of our friends and family? There’s a point at which the love just runs out.

Then I met our son. I had never felt anything like that before. I didn’t know that kind of attachment existed. It was more than beautiful, it was painful, but in a good way. It was the kind of love that would endure even if he poked my eyes out with a stick. No action or inaction mattered. All that existed was love between us and nothing could break that bond.

It took another four years before I began to understand that it was not only possible to give that kind of love to someone who grew inside me but that the God of the universe loved me in the same way. His love for each of us is totally unconditional. There’s nothing we can do to earn it or be worthy of it. We just have to accept it as it is…a free gift waiting for each of us to take hold.

Just take a minute and think about what it means to receive unconditional love.
No strings attached. No if-then. Just love. Just honest, warm, forgiving love. You can’t screw up too much. You can never be too small, too fat, too stinky, too mouthy or too shy. You’re never not enough but just totally lovable as you are, right now and everyday going forward.

That is the kind of love God promises us. John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Seriously, sit in that for a minute. God so loved the WORLD. The world is a big place by our human standards. There are 7 billion human beings roaming the planet right now. We all look different. We all have unique characteristics, thoughts, passions and interests. But God created each of us and knows each of us intimately – For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13

We are not an accident. Not a one of us. And he has plans for each of us. He even tells us so – “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 That is a pretty sweet promise. He knows you. He knows me. He wants me around. He even calls us Beloved.

With a promise of this kind of love, so intense, so personal so absolute, we should be filled to overflowing. Jesus says in the book of John, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 But as much as he loves us and commands us to love, we don’t. We screw it up. We add our own conditions to the love we dole out.

Consider for a moment that Jesus may not have looked just like you. The details of Jesus’ physical appearance are pretty slim in the Bible except for Isaiah 53:2, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” We don’t even know for sure the shade of his skin color. His beauty was never external. So why do we constantly look to the external in others when deciding on love. Those who look like us, think like us, read the same books, follow the same blogs, eat at the same restaurants, listen to the same music…they’re easy to love.

But then there are others who just make it hard right? (FYI…these are NOT my actual feelings but I’ve unfortunately heard them said in my lifetime)

I will love the girl who’s pregnant that wants to give her baby up for adoption but to hell with the girl who just had an abortion.

I will love the cute little blond boy at my kid’s bus stop but that black family should stay in the car. They’ll probably get a full ride to college on a sports scholarship anyway.

That hispanic family has very nice children but we won’t have them over for dinner because they don’t speak very good English and it would be hard. Besides, they’re in America, they need to speak OUR language.

I know that people need a hand up sometimes but look at that welfare family buying filet minion with MY tax dollars. Oh, and of course, there’s beer and cigarettes in their cart too. They’ve got plenty of money for THAT.

I see this mom at the store all the time. Poor thing looks exhausted with all those kids but they each look so different from each other. I wonder if they even know their daddies?

I’m happy to donate money and food to our church food pantry but I always cross the street when the homeless guy is on the corner. He freaks me out.

I work with a gay guy who is actually very nice. It just such a bummer that he’s gay.

Look at the conditions we put on love. By the grace of God, he doesn’t to that to us. But what if he did? Wouldn’t it be funny if Jesus said, “Oh, you’re going to read my Father’s words? Well, you better read them in HIS language.” What is that exactly? Would it be Hebrew? Or Greek? Or Aramaic? News flash people…the King James Version is not how it originally went down.

We want to sanitize every situation to fit our taste and our preferences. It’s easy to keep God in a box like a pet that we take out on Sunday morning and the occasional Bible study. But then we can tuck him back in, every so precious, and go about our day being judgmental and un-Christlike. As followers of Jesus, wouldn’t it be better if we left the judgement to God and followed the commandments of Christ?

And before we go there, let’s just take the phrase “well, I’m only human” off the table. No cop outs allowed. We’re talking about building God’s Kingdom here. If our God is real, then let’s live like that’s true. And if our God is real, we’ve got some forgiveness to seek, mercy to give and humility to learn.

We have the power of the Holy Spirit working through us when we choose to acknowledge Him. But so often tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit means that we need to live differently. We need to love differently. I’m NOT talking about acting as if we’re God’s line-backers. He was in this game long before we came along and He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Eternity is pretty long time. But our time on earth is a blip on the radar. So why not do all we can to follow Jesus’ instructions while on earth? He made it so simple for us but we make it so hard…Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Let’s get in the game. What if our love for each other changed the world? I think it’s the only thing that ever has. I’ll pray for you and you pray for me, okay??