little faith is better than none

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IMG_1650“I can do it” is the phrase that comes to mind when I think of my youngest daughter, Maisie.  At 2 years old she is smack in the middle of the “independent” phase.  Whether it is putting her shoes on, pulling up her pants, climbing into the car, or opening /closing just about anything, “I can do it” is her motto.   It always takes longer and often requires adult help (or at least supervision) but she is determined that she can do it on her own.

Until she is forced to utter those dreaded words, “I help” (Meaning I need help of course). Yes, that’s right sometimes Maisie just has to admit that she cannot do it on her own, that she needs help . . . and at times she needs saving from her failed attempt to do it on her own (i.e.: falling over with one leg stuck in her pants and the other only half way in).  She has to turn to Mama (or another adult at times) and have faith that she will take over and get things done.

As adults we face the same challenge in our walk with Jesus.  Sometimes we forget that our faith should be in Jesus, not ourselves and our own abilities, but in him alone.  Sometimes we have to admit that our little faith isn’t enough to get us where we are going, but that our Savior is.  It seems like the disciples had to learn this lesson a number of different ways.  One story comes to mind from the Gospel of Matthew . . .

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

littleBefore we have little faith we have to have some faith.  Peter got out of the boat and walked on water as a response to Jesus calling him.  He had the faith to respond to Jesus when he commanded Peter to, “Come”.  Now along his journey, short as it may have been, his faith wavered, it was little.  He took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the pending threat, the wind and I imagine the huge waves it was causing.  When he took his eyes off the One who imparts faith and placed it on the thing that threatens that very faith, then his faith became little.  But when he took his first step out of that boat, and onto the water, his FAITH was big and it was real.

In order to have “little faith” you have to have some faith.

And maybe that is where we start when we feel lost, when we appear faithless.  Maybe we need to go back to the first time we heard Jesus say, “Come”.  We need to return to the first step we took out of the boat.  We must go back to the time we walked on water.  We then insist on looking past the little to the FAITH, so we hold onto the truth of the One who gave us the faith to begin with, remembering that it is about Him and not about us alone.

Jesus took Peter’s little faith and made it big.  Because unless your Bible says differently, Peter made it back into that boat.  He walked on the water, through the wind and the waves, and he climbed back into the boat through the rescue of his Savior.  But he didn’t do it on his own.  It was not about mustering up enough strength to be able to get to the boat, nor was it about breaking down and swimming (something he could have done on his own).  No, it was not about him or what he could do.  Instead, it was about Jesus and what he could do.  He took hold of the hand extended to him by Jesus and climbed into the boat – where he worshipped the true Son of God.

One thing I noticed this time when reading this familiar passage is that Jesus took Peter back into the boat.  He called him out into the water but then he took him back to the boat.  Jesus used Peter’s little faith to show him who he was and then placed him safely back in the boat with his friends.  Jesus didn’t force Peter to have faith he couldn’t yet grasp, he didn’t throw him into the waves and insist that he face a danger he wasn’t yet ready to confront.  He took his hand and led him to the safety of the boat.
And it was in the safety of the boat, with Jesus, that Peter and the disciples worshipped the True Son of God.  The wind ceased, the waves with them, and there in the calmness of that boat Jesus showed Peter, and those with him, exactly who he was: The Son of God.

mydesign.pngJesus met Peter where he was, a believer with little faith, and he saved him from drowning and put him back in the boat that he first called him out of, out onto the water.

In order to have a little faith, you have to have faith.  You have to start somewhere, and you have to do it with Jesus – trusting that he will meet you where you are (drowning in the ocean or walking on the water) and he will take your little faith and show you exactly who he is, and how much you need him to reach out and save you.

Who has time to be still?

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FullSizeRenderMy 5 year old, Adeline, never sits still.  This little girl is on the move all day and for this reason at 7:45 she knocks out the minute her head hits the pillow each night. She is what one might call a “high energy” child, not hyper but busy busy busy.  Right now as I am writing she has finished breakfast, colored 3 sheets for friends at school, and is now painting her nails.  It is 7:49 in the morning.  She has accomplished more before 8am than some adults do before noon.  There is too much to do each day, she doesn’t have time to be still . . . she has to keep on moving.

How many of us can relate to Adeline?  I am exhausted when I put the kids to bed and the house is quiet at 8, but often I find laundry to fold, dishes to wash or put away, toys to pick up  . . . way before I find myself plopping on the couch and getting an hour of “us ” time before I go to bed (aka, time with Robert when kids aren’t awake and dominating our lives).  Who has time to sit and be still . . . . you gotta keep moving.
After a little tv time to unwind off to bed we go.  Then of course, as most people do, the alarm wakes us up before we are really ready to step out of bed and start the day.  Time to get up, grab a cup of coffee and meet with God in my worn down floral print chair with iPad/Bible in hand.  I read and pray and start my day with God, well I try to.  But the tasks of the day, the sound of Adeline climbing out of bed, the thoughts that distract me, the people I worry about, the meeting that evening, the couple I am counseling, the hurting people on my heart . . .  who has time to be still . . . your mind has gotta keep moving.

be still bible“Be Still”

  • and Know that I am God
  • Before the Lord
  • and Wait Patiently for  Him
  • My Soul
  • The Lord will Fight For You, you only need to

“Be Still”

But who has time to BE STILL?????????????????????????  I am busy people.  Aren’t you?  I am too busy to BE STILL.  So stop telling me to BE STILL!

But maybe the reason we have “so much” to do is because we are doing too much and we are forgetting to do the one thing we were all created to do, to KNOW God.  We are neglecting the one thing that keeps us sane and focused, our relationship with the Lord.  And we can’t hear him say stop or don’t take that on, or commit this to me, or I want to help you, or I love you, or come to me  . . .  because we are so busy moving that we forget we were created to BE STILL with our Creator.

be still baotSo here you go, the boat is empty and the water is still. But is the boat empty because you need to climb in and BE STILL?  Or is it empty because you have moved around so much that you flipped yourself right out of the boat and now you are under water and out of the boat?  The boat is still but you are drowning because the only way to stay in the boat is to BE STILL. It is true that you have to keep  moving.  But running in circles is not moving.  Because really, the only way to keep moving is to stop and rest, to be still, to quiet our souls and wait upon the Lord.  Because if we are not still then we are not listening, and if are not listening then we cannot follow, and if we are not following the Lord, then we are not moving any where good.  We are lost, we are under water and out of the boat.  So get back in the boat, because my friend — God is in the boat and he is calling you into his stillness and peace.

Be Still . . .  sit in the boat, take a deep breath, and trust the Word of God when it breathes life into your soul and speaks truth into your heart.  Trust and obey your Father when he commands you to  . . .be still 2

 

Wait . . .

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34010_Vertical_Advent_CandlesAdvent.  Any decent Presbyterian (pastor at that) blogger has to mention Advent when blogging during December, right?  It would almost be heretical not to, or at least really bad.

But actually it is fitting.  Waiting.  That is what we practice during this part of our liturgical calendar.  We remember Israel waited, for the Messiah to be born.  We sit with Mary as she awaits the birth of her son, and the Savior of the world – no biggie. We wait, with anticipation, with hope, in joy.  We celebrate the greatest gift that was ever given, as we remember that we are a waiting people . . .  people who wait on God to fulfill his promise.

Advent.   It is beautiful.

IMG_0272In different ways we remember waiting, even trying to teach our kids this part of our faith during Advent.  I mean isn’t that what Advent calendars are all about?  Adeline and Maisie have one, of course Adeline is the one who really gets it at 4 and 1/2,  Maisie not so much at just a little over  at 1 and 1/2.  Every day Adeline pulls out the drawer marked with the day of the month, discovers the ornament, and decorates her advent tree.  She knows the last drawer, marked 25 of course, means Christmas is here and she can put the star at the top of the tree.  She is eager to see what type of ornament the drawer holds each morning, and the to find its perfect place on the tree (who’s daughter is she again???).  But for now, she waits, and waits, and waits – not always patiently of course –  until the last day when she gets that star!

But hold on, is it us alone as God’s people who wait?  Or do we too often forget that God, too, waits on us?  Does God wait?  Is that even possible?  Is that theologically okay to say?  I mean can’t God of the universe make things happen, any thing, any time – like when he wants to???  I mean, God never really HAS to wait . . .but does he choose to wait?

waitingThe father of the lost (prodigal) son, he waits for his to return.  We are not really sure how long, I mean its only a paragraph or so when you we read the story, but no specific time frame is ever used to describe the time he spent squandering his inheritence.  The son partied, he spent, he wasted, a famine set in . . . but was it weeks?  Months?  We don’t know.

What we do know is that the father never shows up at a party to tell him, “Enough son, I am taking you home.”   We know what doesn’t happen.  We know who is not mentioned.   Like what about the character who is missing from the story – Mom?!?!  You know, the many scenes us mothers are left to  wonder about that involve the mother begging the father to go out after her son, to save him, to get him, to drag him home kicking and screaming – and then the scene where she finally resolves to go get her son back on her own, since her husband seems to want absolutely nothing to do with it!

Yet, these scenes do not exist.

UnknownEven without such scenes it is pretty safe to assume the father and mother waited, in agony and in love, wondering and hoping, anxious at times, maybe even uncertain.  We can imagine sleepless nights for that Mom, and long days checking the road to see if a figure appeared in the distance, the silhouette of her lost son.

They waited.

The lost son, his mother waited for him.  His father waited.  Even his elder brother waited.

And then finally one day, Scripture tells us the son made his decision to return home.  And his homecoming looks a little something like this:

 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

The waiting was over.  The son had returned.  It was now time to celebrate.

father-hug-son-2And the celebration began, but even before the son arrived.  The father saw him “while he was still far off” and he went to him, “filled with compassion”.  It is the waiting father who runs with open arms to his lost son, and kisses him.  It is the waiting father who meets him on the road home to embrace him.  It is the waiting father who skips right past the sons plea for forgiveness and declaration of unworthiness to a song of celebration . . .

“Let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found!”

The time of waiting is transformed into a time of celebration upon the return of the lost son.

Of course I have imagined Mama dearest right there with their son, slapping the back of is head while asking him, “What the heck where you thinking? ” as she accounts all the ways she tried to come after him and convince his father to do so.  Then hugging and kissing him, near to death, while in her own motherly way welcoming him home.

But bottom line: the waiting is over.  The son is home.  The celebration begins.

Now, you have to pause and think about this for a minute.  As a father, now I am talking human not heavenly, there had to be times where he wanted to go out looking for his son.  But he waited. It was never easy for this Dad, but he waited.  We can imagine it was painful, hard, tiresome, and just down-right exhausting, but  — go ahead, you can say it with me —  he waited.

hopeYet even after all the waiting the father doesn’t grow weary, but remains hopeful.  In this anticipation and in this hope, he meets his son on his way back home to grab him, hug and kiss him – and initiate the long awaited celebration.

He waited, and he waited well . . .  because he waited in hope.

Advent reminds us we are God’s waiting people, the Israelites waited for the Messiah, and now we wait for His return.  We wait for his Kingdom to be fully realized.  We wait for the New Heaven and the New Earth.  We anticipate and we hope.   But still, we wait.

So the story of the lost son not only speaks to the son’s waiting but also to God waiting on us, to the Father who waits for his children.  We are not alone in our waiting on God, because he waits on us too.

Why?  I have no idea.  All I know is that he chooses to wait for us, but with open arms ready to celebrate.  At times he waits for us to hear it, to see it, to understand it.  He waits for us to grow, to change, to get it.  He waits for us to wake up, to “get it out of our system”, to care enough . . .  he waits for us to come home to him.  He waits to find us and declare in celebration, “You were lost, but now you are found.”

But the incredible part to me is that when we finally come home, he doesn’t even make us walk all the way.  Instead he meets us right where we are . . . on the path . . . and he embraces us with joy.

The “Coming Home” is the best part of the story.  Because it reminds us that God’s idea about grace and compassion blows our ideas out of the water, speaking the truth that God has been waiting on us all along.  The “Coming Home” is where expectant, hopeful waiting is transformed into a joyful celebration — what once was lost is now found.

Telling the story of my time away is not half as enjoyable as telling the story of my coming home.  Why?  Because in the latter God is at center stage and his compassion and grace are the main players.  Trust me, this stuff is way better than when the party girl steals the spot light.  Because this part of the story points to the Father who waited, never giving up hope, anticipating that day of celebration, that day his daughter would come home.

What are you waiting for?  Whatever it is, God waits with you, but also for you.  Not because he must,  but because he wants to.

As the hopeful people of God, we are called to wait.  And the beauty of Advent is that it reminds us of this truth, and encourages us to wait with hopeful expectation.  The way we wait matters.  Just like the father waited for the son to return, with expectation and in hope – prepared for a joyful celebration.  We too, are called to be people who wait in hope, ready to celebrate.  All Sons & Daughters articulates it so well in there song “We are waiting”, give it a listen by clicking on the video below.

 

 

you can’t erase history

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FullSizeRender 4Fall is no doubt my favorite season.  I love being outside on a cool day when the sunshine is enough to keep you warm yet not make you sweat, as turning leaves cover the sidewalks and yards.  In the fall we take a lot of walks, slash bike rides.  That short time between arriving home from the sitters with the girls and dinner we will often walk around the block because it’s just too nice not to.

Adeline often rides her bike out ahead of us, while Maisie and I follow in her “car”.  She lasts in the car for awhile and then she insists on walking or pushing her car so she can explore the things around her, like leaves and bugs and flowers and pretty much anything.  She loves pushing the car herself.  As you can imagine, this adds quite a bit of time to our walk.  It also adds all sorts of games to the mix as her and Adeline battle it out, bike vs. car – competing for the “most stubborn child” award.  The winner is yet to be determined.

FullSizeRender 5Often we are about 200 feet from the house when Maisie exits the vehicle to walk on her own, which converts the 2 minute ETA to a 20-minute one. Maisie creates her own path home as she heads the opposite direction of our house, goes to pick every flower in sight, or stops to crunch the leaves below her feet.  Her path home becomes very different than the path set our for us, you know, the sidewalk for example?!?!?

But as her Mom, I lead her back to the path and eventually home.  That is my job.  When she walks on to someone’s grass, I guide her back.  When she heads up a driveway, I turn her around.  When she books it for the street, I grab her and reposition her on the sidewalk.  I redirect, refocus, and remind her that her path is the sidewalk and it will lead her back to our house – it will take her home.  Unlike the neighbors yard, driveway, or our street – the sidewalk will get her back where she belongs.

This is exactly what God did with me during my 8 years away from home.  Way before I acknowledged it and headed back intentionally, God was redirecting my path back to Him, where I belonged.

pathLast week I mentioned that the prodigal son’s plan was very different from his father’s.  He tried to take his own path in life when he left home.  But even when he was coming home, he attempted his own way a few times too.  First, by hiring himself out to a citizen of that country in order to survive. Fail. Second, he intended to ask his father to take him back as a hired servant; to return home with the idea of begging for simply a place as a servant, not at the table as his son.  Fail again.

At this point in the story of the Prodigal Son it becomes very clear that he has a little something to learn about the grace of his father.  He has a lot to discover about the father’s love, and even more to comprehend about what it means to be his son.

Going away was a choice the son made.  It was a choice I made.  The choices we make are not always the ones God wants us to make.  The choice to walk away from God is not his idea of the best decision for us, or his heart’s desire for his children. But God gives us the space to do it because he has a plan for our time away, and a set path for our journey home.                                                                                                                         choice11To be clear, I don’t think the Father wanted the son to leave.  It wasn’t his hope for his son.  But he could see the bigger picture.  He knew all that could happen to the son while he was gone, the many attempts he would make to “fix” things himself, and how he would welcome him home, meet him on his way back to embrace him on the day his path brought him there. 

Just like the lost son, I too had my own plans, my idea of the best path back to God or of how to “fix” things in my life. The thing I know now, that I didn’t then, was that God already had me on a path, guiding me home, steering me back every time I wandered off distracted by something along the way.  Just as I gently guide Maisie back to the sidewalk to make sure we arrive at the house before sunset, or in time for dinner — exactly when we need to be there, God patiently set me back on track more times than I can count.

In 2004 I got engaged.  I was in my second year of teaching and coaching.  My fiancé and I bought a house together, moved in, and began planning our wedding.  My life was on schedule.  I had everything you are suppose to have: a good job, a fiancé, a dream wedding on the horizon, friends – things were good.

is-something-missing-pg1-a6Yet, something was missing.  I wasn’t truly happy.  I knew it deep down, I just didn’t want to admit it.  I even remember trying to go back to church a couple of times over that first year of living together.  This was my version of the plan, a halfway attempt at my faith, a possible reconnection with a local church, and of course convincing my Buddhist fiancé to go to church with me.  This would fix things.  It would make it all better.  I could stay right where I was in my comfort zone and solve my own problems.  The unsettling feeling would go away, a simple reconnection with church would vanquish the anxiety and bring peace.  I was sure of it.  Just like the son’s attempt to hire himself out in order to afford food, my plan intended to keep me where I was and make a minor change in my life that would bring forth what was missing.

God had other plans.  Bigger plans.  A different path. A crazier path.

It took my relationship hitting rock bottom, along with my life in many ways, for God’s plan to take effect.  I was devastated after calling off my wedding only months before the Big Day, my life no longer made sense, I was hurt and alone.  So my sister and I planned a trip to the Dominican Republic to get away from it all.  7 nights and days in an all-inclusive would take care of us.  Little did I know, God was gonna use that week to forever change the course of my life.  That trip would lead to mission work in the Dominican Republic, which would carry me to Kenya, which would open the door to seminary, which would bring me to the place I am today pastoring at my home church.

God had other plans.  Bigger plans.  A different path. A crazier path.

His plan, not mine.  His path for my life, and I simply couldn’t get off of it.  I thought I was out on my own, doing things my way.  But God was simply giving me the space to learn the lessons I needed to, in order to truly grasp the grace and love of the Father.

gods pathThe thing about his path, is that it leads to him.    And no matter where we are on that path, the Father can see us, and he is waiting for us.  As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even wait for us to do it on our own.  Instead, he runs to us, throws his arms around us, and welcomes us home.  Just like the Prodigal son who,

  . . . got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Grace.

The son was prepared to barter with the father for a job, but the father was ready to restore the son to his position of honor, to love him, to welcome him home  — to forgive him for leaving, squandering his inheritance, and attempting to live the life he thought was necessary.  He met him on the path, while he was still a long way off, as a demonstration of grace.

This is what God does with us.  He forgives.  He restores.  He lavishes us with love and grace.  He meets us where we are and brings us home wrapped in his compassionate arms.

 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7)

Let me be clear- the things we do and the people we are with, during the time away, they matter and they impact us.  Although the father welcomed him home, the son still had to live with the mistakes he made.  His inheritance was gone.  There was no getting it back.  He now stood covered in grace, forgiven and transformed, but it did not mean the past was erased.  

The past doesn’t go away and the effects of our choices are real. Grace covers us, but we also have to live with what we do when we are away. There is healing, but the scars remain.  At least I have found this to be true.  Many of my scars are still visible.  God brought me home and restored me, and much healing has taken place.  When I look back at my time away, I see God present throughout it, in ways I was unable to see during it.

God’s grace was present in my life even when I didn’t know it or acknowledge it.  It was there when I walked away from an unhealthy relationship and avoided the possibility of a painful divorce.  It was there every time I partied too hard and made irresponsible choices . . .  every time I put my life in danger . . . every relationship I broke because of drugs and alcohol taking priority over friends and family . . . it was there in the face of loved ones who stood by me.

The scars remain: broken friendships, the after effect of drugs, the memories.  The scars are my thorns.  I often think of Paul’s cry to God to take away the thorn that plagued him in 2 Corinthians 12:

“in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

eraseThe past is not erased.  The scars are there.  The memories are real.  The thorns remain. But they all purpose to glorify God because they point to the simple truth that his grace is more than I need. Because only God can use my scars for his glory.  God alone heals enough to restore us, while leaving us with scars that remind us that indeed his grace, and his grace alone, is sufficient for us; that he is all we need.

This is why I am telling my story.  To tell the story of my encounter with his grace and how the love of Jesus saved my life.  To tell the story that points to Jesus who healed my brokenness, leaving me with only scars. Scars that tell a story, a story that points to the Father, and that reveals the lavishing love and saving grace of Jesus.

You can’t erase the past.  But you sure as heck can use the scars in your past to tell a different story. The scars I bear point to God the Father, how he never left me, nor forsook me, but instead how he patiently and persistently guided me back home . . . even if I had no clue he was there doing it all along.

I can’t erase my past, but then again without it I would not have a story to tell.

My way or the highway . . . to something greater

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IMG_9514Adeline started pre-K this year at the public school in town.  She has been in preschool two days a week for two years, but now she goes to the “big school” everyday (half day).  She loves it!  I pick her up in the carpool line each day full of excitement!  And from that point on we are showered with stories from her day.  Her teacher will send messages home to parents each day, that encourage us to ask specific questions about the day that spur on details in regards to what she is learning.

She eats it up.  And even more so, I guzzle it down!

“What color apple did you like best today” or “What did you learn about Sally sneeze today?”

Such questions lead to not only answers to those questions but also open windows to other stories about the day, other kids, who made her teacher “sad” that day or which new friend she played with outside.

Stories!  Lots of stories.  It often takes leading questions to spark her memory, but once things get going . . .

But the point of her story is not the story itself.  It exposes something greater.  The teacher doesn’t send home questions to ask our children simply to keep us informed about what they are learning.  Although, that is part of it.  Even more so, it helps the students recall what they have learned and then reinforces it.  This happens when Adeline tells me something that begins with the letter “A”, followed by a new song she learned, topped off with an account of how another kid responded during that song, which leads into the craft they did and how “so and so” didn’t help clean up, and . . . . you get the point.

Typewriter close up shot, concept of story, Once Upon a Time

Stories matter.  Why?  Because telling them paints a picture, and usually that pictures unveils something greater than the story itself.  For Adeline, each day after school, the story she tells about circle time connects to the learning she engages with each day.  This is why I am telling my story, my story highlights something greater too.  That something greater is Jesus.

As a believer it is impossible to tell My Story without sharing God’s Story.  God’s story becomes the main event as I share mine.  That is what makes my story SO good. It is not my role in the story that makes it worth telling, it is His  It is not about me and what I can do, but instead it points to what he has done in my life – for me and through me.  The something greater has nothing to do with me, but instead it has everything to do with Him.

I would like to interrupt the story of the Prodigal Son to point out something in 1 Peter.  Believers are referred to as “exiles” or “foreigners”.

“To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia . . . Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”

exile1So in the early church believers were sent out to share the good news about Jesus (the resurrection), they were sent into a world that stood in stark contrast to their mission and moral compass.  Therefore, they would live like foreigners, even among their own culture and people.  Why?  Because the Holy Spirit had convicted them to live a life according to the teachings of Jesus, to the Word of God.  The problem was that everything around them would defy that.  This is still the case today.  Following Jesus often contradicts culture and it is not uncommon for a Christian to feel like they are a foreigner in their own culture.

When I was 18 I decided that I didn’t want to be an exile anymore.  I was tired of being a foreigner.  The problem was I thought I could trade in my citizenship and live a joy-filled life belonging to the world.  This would mean I could stop living as Peter describes and start fitting in better with those around me.  I figured I could be content outside of God’s purpose for me, worse off, that I could find peace and happiness engaging in feel-good behavior and attempting to deny my heritage as a daughter of God.

Therefore, I attempted to become a citizen of the world, instead of a “citizen of heaven” as Paul names it, a member of God’s kingdom.  The world would be just fine for me.

This was not true.

I never found joy.  I only found sorrow.

There was no peace, only anxiety and depression.  Even though I denied it for a long time, and attempted to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, I found nothing good in doing it.  I was still an exile, a foreigner, one seeking a place to belong.  Nothing had changed, except that everything had changed.

Much like the lost son, I found myself in great need.  And also like the lost son, I tried to fix it myself, to fill the void, to meet the need, to resolve my own issues.

Last week I talked about the younger son packing up and leaving.  I likened this to my choice to put my faith aside when I went off to college.  Scripture tells us that the son  

“squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.

So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.

He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’”

Crossing out Plan A and writing Plan B on a blackboard.

It didn’t take long for him to be in need, to be in trouble. His need was bigger than he was, and the resources he had fell short.  Still, what did he try to do first? He tried to solve the problem on his own, his way. 

He tried to hire himself out, but that didn’t pan out for him.  He determined to go home and beg his father to hire him as a servant, as he was no longer worthy to be his son.  Still not quite it.

His ideas.  His plan.  His solution to the problem.  The problem, by the way, that he created in the first place.

It is at this point in the story where we see a difference between the parable and God’s story in reference to the “inheritance”.  There was a limit to the son’s inheritence, and he spent it— quick!  It was gone and he was left with nothing, nothing but need.

The inheritance that God gives us is different.  It doesn’t expire or dry up.  It never run outs.  Like I did, we can misuse it when we fail to live into the promise given to us, but we can’t use it up.  Mainly, because it is not ours, but His.  A gift from the Father to us.

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”   ( 1 Peter 1:3)

An inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade can be hard to grasp.  In the story, the son goes through his inheritance and is left with nothing.  So what does he do?  He concocts this plan to return home, beg for forgiveness, and ask to be taken back by the father, but only as a hired hand and not to be fully restored as his son.

Why? Because to be the son gives him a place of honor and importance.  It places him at the table with the father, as part of his family and therefore an heir to all he has. He spent his inheritance and didn’t deserve his place at the table with the father, or so he thought.

His plan verses the plan of his father; two very different ideas.  You see, the son was simply going to ask for what he deserved.  Where as the father planned to give him more than he deserved.  The father would welcome him back with love and restore him to his place of honor.  His father would shower him with undeserved love, with grace – he would show him mercy and forgive him.  Because what the son didn’t realize, is that his father was waiting for him to return home all along.

My plan was different from God’s too.  I thought I could earn my way into God’s good grace.  I thought I would fake my way back in by half-heartedly attempting to re-establish my faith.  I pretended I could find my way back on my timeline and in my way.  God had a different plan. The My way or the highway threat may work with my kiddos, but it doesn’t cut it with God.  His way IS the highway, the only way, and even when we don’t know it we are on it.

Our plans and His can be very different.  Yet, some how we tend to think our idea is the best one, our way will work better, our plan will outdo his.  At least I did.  But through the prophet Isaiah, God reminds us he is bigger than we know.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”

IMG_9689God is the one with something greater in mind, greater than we could ever imagine, a plan beyond comparison.  The God of irrisistable grace and unending love, not to mention mercy and patience.

I was on the highway and I didn’t even know it.  Amidst pretending to determine my own destiny, God already had the plan worked out.

This is the “something greater” my story speaks to.  It is not about the fun I had as a wild child or even my journey back to the Father.  It is about more than the mistakes I made, the bad choices, or the irresponsible decisions.  Those are the necessary details in my story, but not the point.  If we focus on those we miss the something greater.  We miss the saving grace.  We miss His story.

Hidden in Adeline’s recollection of daily events at school is something big: she is learning each day more than she knows, and she is loving it!  Her stories lead to this.  I don’t want to miss this.

My story leads to God’s story.  It uncovers the undeserved love and unearned grace, and exemplifies God’s faithfulness in spite of my unfaithfulness.  It reveals the something greater: I thought I was off squandering my inheritance in wild living, far from the Father, when in reality he was right there with me, all along, waiting with open arms for me to not only decide to come home, but to be embraced by the very one from whom I ran.

I thought I had it all figured out, the perfect plan in place.  But God had other ideas, ideas I could not even begin to imagine.  Grace and love I had yet to discover.  But I was still a few years away from this part of the story.  My journey back takes awhile to recount, but it’s worth the wait.

The Wild Child

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IMG_9341Maisie is our wild child.  At just shy of 17 months she has already made it clear.  She is the daredevil climber, the jumper, the explorer, and the one who demands what she wants and won’t stop until she gets it.  This little girl could scream for an hour, while pointing at the proper location of the item she desires, without even blinking an eye . . . real tears and red faced-rage.  She is one strong-willed little girl, and we love her (although I am pretty sure she is responsible for most of the grey, um I mean blond, hairs on my head).

Adeline can be a tough cookie and she is a strong personality, and don’t get me wrong she can be brave – but she usually takes her time getting there.  Her method involves using caution to try new things, mastering them first, and in this manner she bravely, but carefully conquers fears and attempts new things.

Not Maisie, she just dives right in without a thought or plan, or care about the consequence.  Our cute little Dominican beauty has redefined “strong-willed” for this Mama and Popi.

If we are at the park Maisie wants to climb up the slide, dive head first into the mulch, stand on the seesaw, and fly high on the swing.  And no one is gonna stop her!  She is our explorer and no doubt one day her boldness at the park will transfer into other areas of her life.  This is the part that puts the fear of God in me, and the daily reminder to trust Him because she is his daughter first.

12029845_10153548982011327_8717189117240193459_oMaisie knows what she wants and goes after it.  She doesn’t take no for an answer and once her mind is made up, well it is made up!  And she is quick to make up that little mind of hers.  She makes a decision and goes for it.

Decision made.  And usually this means, NO TURNING BACK!

It was much like this for me when I made the choice to “leave home” and walk away from the Father.  Without a lot of thought (and definitely no prayer) I chose the college party lifestyle and moved comfortably into a posture of self-reliance and self-searching, a position I would maintain for awhile, a place where I would stay for quite some time.

I left Messiah and went to JMU for the spring semester of ’99.  Decision made.

I cut contact with many friends, fellow believers who might try to sway me back to my “old” life.  Decision made.

I put aside my faith and headed out for a more normal life.  Decision made.

I slapped on a new identity, Party Girl. Decision made.

The Prodigal son moved quickly, didn’t he?  He made his decision and that was that.  His father gave him his inheritance and he took it and left town.  In Scripture the story says this, immediately after his father gave him his inheritance:

““Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.”

He decided.  He went. He spent. He needed.

It happened quick.  Maybe.  We don’t know for sure, the time line that is.  I can tell my story in a matter of minutes (the short version at least).  But I spent 8 years “squandering my wealth in wild living”.

vintage-suitcase-vintagesI took my inheritance and ran with it.  The inheritance”  that God had given me.  If we see God as represented by the father in the story, we know that the Father gives the son something he didn’t earn or deserve, something he felt entitled to but had no real business possessing.  I would say this is also true for me.  My inheritance being the grace God gave me, undeserved by me, his forgiveness, his love, the promise of eternal life and a relationship with Jesus, my identity in him  – all part of my inheritance.  It is as if I packed it all up, put it in a suitcase, took it with me, and squandered it for 8 years.  

I pretended I didn’t owe God a thing, that what he gave me had no real value (it didn’t really matter), and even worse that I didn’t need it . . .  or really, that I didn’t need Him.

I could handle things on my own for awhile.  After all, I couldn’t sow my wild oats by staying at home with the Father.

Just like the son I took 3 simple, but life-altering, steps:

1. got together all I had

2. set off for a distant country

3. squandered my wealth in wild living

First thing I did was get together all I had: who I was in Christ, my identity as the Father’s daughter, the truth about his love and grace, my faith, my relationship with Jesus, and even the trust of people in my life.  I checked them all off the “packing list” and headed out.  They became disposable when I left town with them in a suitcase.

Second, I set off for a distant country: JMU (from Messiah to JMU).   But not just there because after college my life continued the same as I moved back to NJ and taught and coached down the shore.   After all, the distant country is not an actual place in our story, although it can be represented by one, or by many.  But really it is anywhere we go as an attempt to get away from the plans God has for us, to flee his presence, his love.  The distant country for me was choosing to live outside of the will of God.  The distance was spiritual, not just physical.  

party girlThird, I squandered my wealth in wild living.  I wasn’t that different from most college kids, I was your average 18-year old, until I took it too far.  Partying and the wild life became my identity, I slapped a brand new self-made identity on and began living right into it, in plain sight for everyone to see.  I was more than happy to be the party girl as I searched for meaning, acceptance, and affirmation (mostly unknowingly).

Casual drinking turned to insane amounts of alcohol, black-outs, drinking games, and excess galore.  Alcohol lead to pot, that opened the door to coke, that exposed ecstacy, that lead me to meet more people just like me.  Partying.  Having fun. Searching and seeking for an identity, happy to give ourselves one that would make us a thrill to be around.  Eager to fill a void and willing to use anything that felt good to do it.

I was so comfortable in this life that I kept on going, teaching Monday-Friday and partying all weekend.  Varsity Field Hockey Coach, “coach of the year”,  all while abusing alcohol and drugs on the weekends.  Putting my life in danger, and those around me, seemed like nothing – it was part of any normal weekend.  And my colleagues and peers had no idea who I was outside of school.  When would it end?  What was the point?  Maybe it was normal at 19, but now at 26?

welcome-home-greenI take no pride in this, but until recently great shame.  It has taken me a long time to give that shame to God and then decide to tell my story publicly.  I never wanted to glorify my time “away”, or send a message that it is okay to go crazy and wild because you can always come home.   To say it like that would be oversimplifying the story and twisting the truth to justify poor choices for 8 years of my life.  Although God always welcomes us home, and it is His greatest desire for the lost, coming home and recovering from my time away has not been easy.  There are lasting effects from my “wild living” that I still deal with today.   It took me a long time to see that God embraced and welcomed me home with joy.  It was difficult to accept his grace for me personally, to receive his forgiveness, and to admit that he spared me: from death, from addiction, or even worse from harming or killing someone with my reckless lifestyle and poor choices. I squandered friendships, family relationships, finances, but most importantly I shattered  myself.  My party girl identity was not working out all that well.  I wasn’t as “happy” as I thought I would be.  I was empty, depressed, alone – in need of something I couldn’t even name, or begin to understand.

I started to see that my plan left me with much need, little hope, and even less joy.  But the good news centers around the fact that this is not the end of the story.  As a matter fact, it is not even close.  It is where the story shifts from being about the son, to being about the father . . . from being about me, to being about Him. Because leaving home tends to be the quick and easy part of the story.

But the coming home, well this is where things get good.

Going Away

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Woman with a suitcase takes on a rural road

In order to come home, one must first go away.  Too obvious? Maybe.  But if I am being honest, I tend to focus more on the “coming home” stage of my life than the one “away”.  Yet, I believe that in order to really get the beauty of coming home, you have to know what it was like to go away.  So let me start from the beginning – going away.  Well, let’s start with the decision to go away, the first step.

It has taken me sometime to understand how it all happened; how I got where I am; where God was in all of it, His role and my role, and why it happened.  Many of the questions remain unanswered, at least in full or to my complete satisfaction.  Yet, the mystery contributes greatly to the grace in my life because it reminds me how small I am in the scheme of God’s big plan.  But I am thinking either you, or someone you love dearly, can relate to the “going away” part of my story.

We all have a “going away” or a “leaving” part of our story, it lies somewhere in the story we have to tell (whether we talk about it or not).  Some are still “away”, others get what it means to “come back”, and maybe for some this part of the story is yet to come.

8-14-2010 Cowtown Rodeo - 001-MQuick review: I grew up in south jersey, raised in a Presbyterian church, went to a small high school, surrounded by farms (and a rodeo) – all of this with two loving parents, two incredible sisters, and a number of amazing friends.  I was a straight A student, Varsity athlete, Girl Scout, youth group attender, peer leader, part of the Drama Club, Babysitter, Lifeguard – – you name it I did it . . . and I did it well most likely.  I was “that” girl in high school.  The homecoming and prom courts were filled with my best friends, or those I played a sport with . . .  things were good.  Bottom line: I had a great (and pretty easy) life.

4982_1178358536168_3962220_nIn high school my Christian faith sprouted through participation in the youth group of neighboring town’s Baptist Church.  Sunday night, a bunch of my closest friends and I did the youth group thing.  We did the winter retreats, some were baptized, and we even invited friends to be part of it.  I think it is safe to say that, at least for grades 10-12, Jesus was at the center of my life.  Enough so that Senior year I resolved to attend a Christian College.

Messiah.

I lasted one semester (this is a story for another blog entry).

By Spring semester of my freshman year I had transferred to (JMU) James Madison University.  This was my official send -off, into a long anticipated journey “away from home”.  You see, I got a taste of supposed “freedom” after graduating High School in June.  No longer an official athlete or committed Peer Leader, I felt the need to experiment with what so many teens had done for years.  Why not (I thought)?  It seems to be working so well for everyone else.  They all seem so happy living the party lifestyle.

So I made my own choices that summer after graduating.  It was normal.  Wasn’t it?  It broke down barriers between me and my non-Christian friends (who had been begging me to join in for years).  I was simply doing what everyone else around me was doing.  I was making my own choices and putting God aside.  I was doing what I wanted.  I was being normal.

jmuI very clearly remember saying something like this to God when I left Messiah to go to JMU, “I’m gonna do my own thing for awhile.  I just don’t feel like including you in my decision-making anymore.  I want to live for myself.  I’ll be back.”

I’m going away, I’ll be back.

I’m going to spend my inheritance. I am choosing the world, over you – but you’re cool with that, right God?  Right, Father?  I mean it’s just something people do.  It’s normal.  And remember, I will be back . . . . . . . . .  maybe.

So off I went, with my inheritance in hand, to live as the world lives.  To get my moral compass from the world, to live by its standards, and do what is deemed appropriate.

It helps here to pay attention to the very beginning of the parable of The Lost Son.  This comes immediately after two parables about lost items, a coin and a sheep.  But with the parable of The Lost Son, Jesus goes a little deeper and speaks into a more specific situation.  He speaks to the one who leaves home, the one the Father lets go.  This story speaks to the one who started at home with his father, journeyed away, and then at the end, returns home. I find it important to note that it is the father who gives the son all he needs to go – his inheritance.

leaving11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not lon
g after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.

The father (God) let his son go, he gave him his inheritance.  It doesn’t say, but I think it’s safe to assume, that the father didn’t think it was wise or that it would work out for the son, but he let him go.  He gave him exactly what he asked for, what he thought he wanted.  He let him make his own mistake. A big one.  A costly one. A life changing one.

We never see the father try to talk him out of it, or change his mind, or even give him advice about what he should do with his inheritance.  Not this father.  Maybe some, but not the father of this son.

What does this say about how God interacts with us, how God loves us? 

One thing it says to me is that God knew better than I did.  Maybe he knew the only way for me to really get who the Father is, and who I am as his daughter, was to let me go.  I had to see for myself that the freedom I so desperately sought after was found in Jesus, not in the world.

I had to spend years in “the world” trying to fill an emptiness in me that God alone could fill.  I needed to experience the harshness of life without God in order to really grasp the depth of His grace.  I had to attempt to flee his presence in order to know the true peace found in His midst.

And for me, of course, it had to be a first-hand experience.  I couldn’t learn these truths any other way . . . than to go through them.  Personally.  Painfully. Permanently.

god-the-fatherWhy?

I have no idea.  God does.  Maybe he will tell me one day, or maybe one day my desire to know won’t be so important (it is already fading quite a bit).  Questions remain somewhat, but being back in the arms of the Father has a way of silencing them.

And here lies the first part of the story: the decision to leave, to go away, to spend my inheritance out in the world – far away from the safety of the Father.

EXCEPT, as it turns out he was never all that far away.