I’m Always at Eli’s House

I was talking to my mom once awhile back, and she said that she was only joking when she says she is worried about me. Then she said, “No, I don’t worry anymore for you. I remember laying awake at 2 in the morning and worrying and you would come home and say, ‘don’t worry, Mom, I was just at Eli’s house.’ I guess you got your wish. Now you’re always at Eli’s house.”

Oh, the insight of our mothers.PlanB.2

When I think back on what it was like to be friends with him before, I can’t really remember a whole lot of our conversations. I don’t remember much about what we talked about. I mean, I know we talked about the yearbook when we were in annual class and I know we talked about John the 1st when we were in the gas station, but I don’t really remember any specific conversations. I remember snippets here and there of specific conversations. But I don’t really remember much of our conversations or what he said or what he thought about things.

I have a vague recollection of thinking he was just a huge downer, that he saw everything in the worst possible light. He could look at the dark side of the happiest accident. But I remember him being really funny and clever about it. He was trustworthy and full of integrity. He was fundamentally a good person and definitionally safe. I remember he felt the same then as he does now. Seeing him again, after ten years, he seemed no different, not at the most basic level where I feel who people are. More than all of that, though, what I really remember was an overwhelming urge to be in his presence. When I was with him, I never wanted to leave – not even at 3 in the morning, after 6 hours in a gas station. And when I wasn’t with him, I was having conversations in my head. He wasn’t the only person I ever felt that with, but I think I didn’t see it as clearly with him. It seemed to settle into the background.

And, now, it’s really lovely to look back and see God putting that in my heart. Even if I never noticed it at the time. Does that mean that we were supposed to get together back then? Does that mean that this beautiful mess we’re in is God’s Plan B or Plan F? =) I don’t think so. I used to think that’s what that means. But, now, I think that maybe that Eli-shaped hole was forming when I was 17 so that a lifetime later when I saw him again, he would fit so perfectly that I wouldn’t think twice about loving him on sight, marrying him on a whim. After 17 plus years of him fitting so perfectly in my heart and mind, how could I doubt that he would fit just as perfectly in my life?

And it puts me in mind of God’s salvation plan. I mean, we look at the Garden of Eden and we think, oh, look at the beautiful thing that God meant for us. We were supposed to live in the Garden and walk with God for all of eternity in beauty and joy. Then Eve or Adam or whoever you want to blame went and messed it up and then God had to scrabble around for the next few millennia until he finally figured out a way to get everything back in order. But I think God looked at his own love and community and came up with a way to portray that and it was thousands of years of human hatred and sin and violence counterpointed by Jesus’ supreme sacrifice and the gift of the Holy Spirit. And to make it all make sense, he put a God-shaped hole in our hearts even though he knew it would lead us to sin just as – if not more – easily as it would lead us to him. And, after going through life with this God-shaped hole in our hearts, feeling it, trying to fill it with any other thing we can put our hands on, how natural to grab with both hands the thing that finally fits? Fits so perfectly it’s like it’s always been there. Fits perfectly because that space was set aside for him before the beginning of time.

And how could that be a mistake? It’s not a mistake, it’s all part of the plan. So was everything else: Adam, Eve, the Serpent, the Fall and every other beautiful, horrible thing that’s happened since then.

Including all the “wasted minutes” and “missed opportunities” that are my crazy, jacked-up life.

 He has made everything beautiful in it’s time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  -Ecclesiastes 3:11

Why would a good God allow the fall and sin?

FallOfManSistineChapel

(I wrote this a couple of years ago, October of 2012, during a women’s conference. Just a reflection on what we were talking about at the time. I think about this question a lot, but this one kind of blew my mind.)

I was thinking the other night about the fall and sin. I mean, God allowed the serpent to be there. He allowed the devil to go there. One lady pointed out that Satan must have asked permission. Like in the beginning of Job. And I know people wonder why. I know I did. I still do sometimes, when it gets hard to wrap my mind around. I mean, why, if God is all-powerful (and he is) does there have to be sin and the fall and all of human history? If God wants us all with him (and the Bible says he does) why wouldn’t he just make us and not allow sin?

I started thinking maybe we ask the wrong question. I mean, maybe the question isn’t “If he is powerful, why did he do this?” but, rather, “Since he is good, what does this mean?” Maybe this is what it takes for God to show us how deep his love goes, how far his forgiveness will stretch, how much his grace will cover. If he were to just say, “I know you never did anything wrong, but, if you had, I would have forgiven it, all of it. Forever. I’m God. It’s no thang.” We might have believed him (okay, maybe not if he said “thang”…), but we would be left with what we can imagine. This way, we have a very real picture of what God can forgive – and does. And it goes far, far beyond our imaginations. It stretches through thousands of years of humanity, countless lifetimes, endless amounts of unspeakable evil. Maybe that’s the only picture that allows us to really begin to even glimpse the immensity of God’s forgiveness for us. His love for us. To create us so that we can’t take the punishment for our sin so that he can show his love by taking all the sin of human history on himself.

And why doesn’t God save everyone? Why so many souls clearly going to Hell when God has the power to save them all? Why is the road narrow? Maybe that’s the only way we get a picture of how precious it is. Maybe our gratitude needs to be measured not in dozens or thousands or even millions – but in billions and trillions and numbers too big to really fathom. And why do the unbelievers have to be tormented for all of eternity with screams and groans and gnashing of teeth and billowing smoke of endless suffering – forever? Is it because God enjoys suffering? The Bible says no. Is it because God needs vengeance? Well, he is a wrathful God and vengeance is his, saith the Lord. But it seems like there might be easier ways to exact that vengeance and rightly punish the wicked. And even if eternal suffering is the only right punishment for the injury that disbelief does to God, why so public? Maybe the publicity is the whole point. Maybe that picture of eternal torment is the only way we understand the vastness of God’s pain at and the heat of his hatred for our sin. Maybe it’s the only reasonable picture of how much God sets aside to forgive us. Maybe it’s not even accurate. Maybe it’s a paltry shadow of it. Maybe if every human that ever lived burned in Hell for all of eternity, it wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket compared to God’s sorrow and anger and pain from our sin. That is a staggering thought. More staggering is this one: He set that aside to sacrifice himself to forgive us. Bore that to have us with him – because his love is even bigger than that.

But what goes beyond staggering right to soul-shattering is the question that is raised by all this: What should be our response to a God who loves us like that? What is appropriate and what does he deserve?

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?                                                                   -Romans 9:20-24

Breathing out Your Praise

I have been feeling kind of like I’m sleepwalking or in a coma. I mean, I always feel like there is a sort of screen between me and the world. It’s like an extra layer that means that even when I am touching things, I’m not really touching them. It’s like being…removed from…everything. But lately…it’s been worse. I feel insulated to the point of encapsulation. I think it’s stress. There’s just so much to think about and the Brain is done, I think. But my life is not done, so I keep pushing through. It just takes so much more effort lately. All that effort and it feels like nothing gets done. I feel like I’m no good to anyone or for anything.

But then I hear Matt Redman singing Your Grace Finds Me: “So I’m breathing in your grace and breathing out your praise, I’m breathing in your praise. Forever, I’ll be breathing in your grace and breathing out your praise.” And then I hear Mercy Me singing All Of Creation: “The reason we breathe is to sing of his glory.” The very reason we breathe is to sing of his glory. God gives us breath for his own purposes. God gives us the Spirit to live within us. So we can fulfill his purposes.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.                                                                         -Acts 2:4

The Spirit he gives us is the same Spirit that was with him at the Creation of the world:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.                                                                                                                  -Genesis 1:1-2

The word translated as Spirit in Genesis 1 is the same word translated here as breath:

I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it.                                                  -Genesis 6:17

God gives us his Spirit which is also his breath. His breath lives with our breath and compels us to glorify the Lord constantly, just like the Spirit has been doing from before the beginning of time. Even when the heart and the body are exhausted. Even when the brain wants to shut down entirely. The Spirit still works within us so that we can continue to bless his name. It is, once again, all God’s work and none of mine.

Glorifying God is our highest purpose. What satisfaction does one need beyond fulfilling their highest purpose? What greater thing can we hope to do or be than praising his name with the angels and all of Creation? And we can do that just by breathing. So we can rest knowing that we can praise God and satisfy our souls while we do nothing else. And maybe the release from the need to do anything else will allow us to rely on God to strengthen us to do everything else. Maybe that’s how we start to rely on the Lord and not on our own understanding or work.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits–
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
-Psalm 103:1-4

[Oh, and just a little PS for That Weird Kid from the Gas Station: I downloaded your software onto my tablet and used it to do a Bible word study to get this information. I guess there’s a first time for everything. I love you, too. =) ]

It’s not mine, it’s God’s.

My house is not mine, it’s God’s.

My family is not mine, it’s God’s.

My husband is not mine, he’s God’s.

My kids are not mine, they’re God’s.

My aesthetic is not mine, it’s God’s.

My talent is not mine, it’s God’s.

My brain is not mine, it’s God’s.

My intelligence is not mine, it’s God’s.

My creativity is not mine, it’s God’s.

My cleverness is not mine, it’s God’s.

My teaching is not mine, it’s God’s.

My service is not mine, it’s God’s.

My caring is not mine, it’s God’s.

My hope is not mine, it’s God’s.

My plans are not mine, they’re God’s.

My dreams are not mine, they’re God’s.

My grace is not mine, it’s God’s.

My mercy is not mine, it’s God’s.

My forgiveness is not mine, it’s God’s.

My heart is not mine, it’s God’s.

My body is not mine, it’s God’s.

My joy is not mine, it’s God’s.

My love is not mine, it’s God’s.

My faith is not mine, it’s God’s.

My life is not mine, it’s God’s.

 

Love Them Like Jesus

My oldest biological kid recently came out as transgender, at least to us. I get the impression she has been out to others for awhile. I mean, she told us awhile ago, but we thought it was a teen thing. Or a hormone thing. Or an anxiety thing. I don’t know. It was a very stressful time in a number of ways and the discussions were muddled and emotional. Anyway, I am coming to terms with the fact that my daughter, Mae, is now going to be my son, Henri.

I will be honest. I didn’t really want to believe it. Not because I hate transgender people or because I think it’s a sin or anything like that. The thing that made me want to believe it’s not so is that I know the statistics. I know how often transgender people are attacked and victimized. Not just by violence but also bigotry and discrimination. And life is already hard, this seems like it would just make it so much harder. But he is investigating medical procedures and seeing doctors and as soon as we get the money, we are going to get his name legally changed, so I guess this is what it is.

Continuing with the honesty, I’m not really looking forward to telling people. Not because I’m embarrassed, just because I know it will be awkward. How do you say to people, “Remember Mae? She’s Henri, now. Also, she’s a he. Try to remember and not be awkward, m’kay?” I know that lots of people will be confused, I know I am. But I also know that some people will be sad for us and want to console us. Because they will think that we are heartbroken. We are pretty conservative, fundamentalist Christians and we are supposed to be heartbroken by news like this, this kind of parenting outcome.

But, and this may surprise you, I’m not. Honestly. Like I said, I’m a bit confused and every time I talk about it, I kind of feel like a backwards pig or some slack-jawed yokel. You know, like I’m always saying the wrong thing and every sentence out of my mouth just gets worse and worse. Ignorant. Suburban. Positively primeval. But, I am not heartbroken about this. If he is happy, I am happy. And we will get through this period of transition. This time next year, we will be through and good on the other side of it, I’m sure.

When Mae first started talking about not wanting to be a girl anymore, I tried to talk her out of it, I guess. But, at the time, I felt that was the right way to go, because at the time, she was confessing Christ. We believed she was saved. When dealing with believers, we are obligated to try to convict them and help them get out of sin. But, then she told us, later, that she is not saved. Well, that changed everything. I’m reading 1 Corinthians because my pastor is teaching through it. And this morning, I read this:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy or the swindlers, or idolaters. In that case, you would have to leave the world.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?
-1 Corinthians 5:9-10, 12

So we love him like Jesus would and does. We accept him as he is and show him the gospel every chance we get. We let him know that we love him because he is our kid, nothing he does can change that.

My heart is broken; though, it doesn’t have anything to do with her saying she wants to be a man. The day she said she knows the Bible is true, she knows God is real and she just doesn’t believe it, well, that’s the day my heart broke. If he believed, we could discuss the Bible and interpretation and pray and I would have a hard time understanding how someone could read the Bible and still want to live this way. But if he loved Jesus above all else and was doing his best to obey and walk with Him, I would have no reason not to believe that he wouldn’t be with Jesus in heaven. And nothing else would matter.

But he’s not saved and that’s the heartbreaking part. It wouldn’t matter if he came to me and said he changed his mind, he loves the name Mae and she’s found a lovely man and they are going to get married and settle down and have a dozen babies. If she doesn’t love Jesus, my heart is broken. And nothing else matters.

And I think that’s what it means to love them like Jesus.

Timely Messages: We Are No Big Deal

I lead a children’s class in a certain Bible Study organization. I teach 3rd and 4th graders. Tonight was quite a night, I must say. Let’s just say that sometimes nine-year-olds are…nine years old. I mean, for reals. I am not sure they learned anything tonight. I am not sure they ever stopped talking and actually listened tonight. But I can honestly say that I put every effort into it. I tried to follow the leading of the Spirit, but I may have misheard. A few times.

I don’t feel bad, though. I am grateful that I get to teach them and I am grateful that they get to learn and read their Bibles and that they are all eager and enthusiastic about their lessons, even when that means they are more boisterous than I would like them to be. And I am confident that no matter how pathetic my work is, no matter how lame I am, no matter how rowdy they are, God will do a good work in, through and for all of us.

Yesterday, my pastor gave a sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:5-9. One of the points he pulled out of there was this: We are no big deal. Here’s the verse:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.  -1 Corinthians 3:5-9

We plant or we water, but God does all the work. That’s how salvation works, right? God does all the work. God made the sacrifice, God was the sacrifice, God called the debt redeemed. And any truth that those kids learned wasn’t because of my awesome teaching skills, it was because God’s word is powerful and God’s plans are perfect. And it confirms what we already know. We prepare and we obey, but, at the end of the day, it’s all in God’s hands. And in that we can find freedom and comfort. Freedom to try, freedom to mess it up, comfort when we do the latter or do not the former.

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.
-Proverbs 21:31

NaBloPoMo, Day 15

This really is an exercise, this writing every day. I like the obligation, but I don’t like the writer’s block. I think if I was better at planning and thinking ahead about things, I wouldn’t get to 11:00 and have nothing to write in only an hour left in the day. Hopefully, this exercise will help me get better at that. So I once heard someone say that you should end with a good quote because someone has always said it better. So you might as well let them say it. But I think I heard that in American History X. Hm. Anyway, this has been my “life verse,” as they say, for about the past six months, so I’m going with this:

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.                     -2 Corinthians 5:11-21