The Scars We Share (A Preview)

lookingintotheidstanceSome scars are worn on our skin and we often swap stories of how we got that scratch or how many stitches we had there. We say things like, “that one really hurt” or “this one healed kind of funny”, but the stories don’t go far beyond. Others mark our hearts and these are the ones we try so very hard to hide. We don’t swap stories of heartscars…we hide them. We lock them away in the depths of our soul hoping they never find a way out and that no one ever finds a way in. We keep our relationships superficial and our conversations mundane. It is far easier to talk about the weather outside than the turmoil inside. It is often easier to pretend all is well, slap on a smile and spend our time claiming victory over our enemies and never have to face the reality that the Lord, in his wisdom, has allowed a trial to come our way that will benefit us and be an encouragement to those around us. Why would I deny the pain that could be the unfolding of a miracle – if not for me, perhaps for someone else? After all, the Bible does tell us that there is no greater love than if a man lays down his life for another. Jesus did not endure the lash and cross while denying they were happening. The only path to victory was through the pain and our need was far greater than the suffering required.

You see, scars are not solely for our benefit but also for the encouragement and strengthening of others. They are our testimony; a common ground from which to help those who may be in the midst of similar struggles. The scars we share are a light in their darkness and offer hope in their hopelessness. When all seemed lost, Thomas was confused and frightened then Jesus showed him where the nails and spear had been. Those were the scars he shared that gave Thomas a reason to believe. Beyond these and the other physical scars that Jesus bears, there are heartscars that he shares as well. He wept over Jerusalem, his friend Lazarus, and that night in the garden as his followers slept. He named those who would betray and deny him. He was enraged in the temple and kicked out of his hometown. These and many other familiar stories are heartscars that were written down and shared with us in order to give us hope and courage and show us compassion. They are meant to instill in us a belief that if he can endure these pains then, in him, we can as well…and maybe even more. To that end, I have shared some of my scars. What I have written is by no means a complete list of my wounds; there are some hurts that I haven’t yet let go of but that is another story. I am sharing what I am able to with the hope and prayer that it will help someone…maybe you.

I am the youngest of 9 children who was born to a stubborn, legalistic, sometimes abusive father and a compliant, go-along-to-get-along mother. One taught me fear, the other to have little confidence. Through them the Lord taught me the difference between a frightening fear and a reverential fear and in whom I can and should place my confidence. Being the youngest child, I was often thought of as the “baby of the family”. That phrase was sometimes meant, (most often taken), literally. I grew up believing I was smaller, weaker, dumber, and not as ‘good’ as the others. The Lord has taught me through these scars that we are all in the same place apart from him. We are all small and weak, not so smart and not so ‘good’ without him. Most importantly I’ve learned that in him, we are all equal.

I have been used, abused, taken for granted, and taken advantage of. I have been labeled unworthy of God’s favor and had the faults of a church tied to my back then sent away as a scapegoat and marked as one who had ‘fallen away’. This experience caused many scars and some served to reinforce those from childhood: “You’re not good enough”, “You’re weak”, “No one really loves you”. I learned again that apart from him we are all users, abusers, and seekers of our own advantage. We are all unworthy of his favor and have all, at one time or another in one circumstance or another, fallen away – or at the very least, taken a step back from the Lord out of fear or confusion or pride. There is not one of us who is righteous…apart from him. Most importantly, the Lord taught me that my faith is to be placed in him alone and not in any man or organization, and what may seem like ‘falling away’ to some, is often ‘falling forward’ into a greater plan he has for our lives.

 

Few know…in fact only 2…that I have written a book. The above is a very small portion, but gives the overall gist of what it is about. I am currently on the third revision/edit and hope to have something publishable within a year. I began this process  almost a year and a half ago and recently life has gotten so very busy that this little project has just been simmering on the back burner. Sharing this is me testing the waters and turning up the heat on something that I believe has been planted in my heart…to share with others.

A Different Year

Happy New Year! It is my prayer that 2015 is a different year…less about me and more about Him and those he wants to reach. I’m not perfect, never have been – but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a purpose. May my eyes be open and my heart be willing and my will be surrendered. That is my prayer for you as well…

Bebo Norman – “The Broken”  (This song makes a great ringtone!!)

2015: The Year We All Give Up

praiseAll I can say…and the very best thing anyone could possibly say to you as you enter 2015 is “Give up!”

I’ve spent much of the last few days trying to write something that would be encouraging for those of you who make resolutions or sentimental for those of us who like to be reminded of what has happened in 2014 and how it has changed us. I’ve scrapped several beginnings that spoke about me and the things I’ve been through and what I am looking forward to…but that seemed a bit too self-serving. I’ve tried to write about what is important when planning for the future but I kept hitting a wall of unknowns and maybes and what ifs. I tried to write down encouraging quotes and phrases that might help those who are beginning a new challenge but it all came out cliché and sappy. This is at least my 8th attempt at something profound and memorable, and the very best thing I can come up with is “Give up!” (I know this may seem to contradict some previous posts, but please keep reading…)

Wait a minute…that doesn’t sound right…did I forget a word in that familiar phrase? Ah, I should have written, “Don’t give up!”…right? I mean, we need to be willing to put in all the effort we can in accomplishing our goals and pursuing our dreams, right? We are all told to not quit and to keep pushing and press on, especially when the going gets tough. Then, here comes a wannabe writer and mediocre blogger telling whoever reads to just “Give up already.” – However, this is exactly what I’m saying…

Most of us have convinced ourselves that we can do anything. If we work hard enough, run fast enough, eat right, give enough, live, laugh, and love more, whatever we set our mind to can be accomplished. While this often may be true, I do not believe it is entirely by our power and determination. There is a power at work in each of our lives that motivates and moves us. There is something that keeps us breathing while we sleep and keeps our hearts beating. There is a plan in place for each of us and a desire down deep to do what we were created to do. We have been knit together for a purpose and each of our days has been numbered. Not one hair has fallen off my balding head that was not counted.

Everything I have done, am doing, and will do is simply because the Good Lord has empowered me. He has given me tools, provided me with a body to use them, and placed me in an environment where they are needed. Imagine what might happen if I finally gave them back up to him instead of trying to use them for my own will and purposes. Imagine what might happen if I said the words, “not my will but yours be done”, then stepped out in faith – as I am with what I’ve been given – and let him work through me. What if I gave it all back to him…my talents, abilities, wants, needs, desires, gifts…what if I gave up…what if you gave up?

What if 2015 is the year we all finally give up?

Try

climbingI have never been a fan of the phrase, “Failure is not an option!” Or in the words of the wise and wrinkled puppet Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” With all due respect to little green men and Gene Kranz who was the flight director for the Apollo 11 moon landing, I happen to disagree. It’s like saying if you don’t succeed then it’s over and you might as well chuck it all. Failure has such a negative connotation but it is not the end of any story. I completely understand the sentiment that Mr. Kranz was expressing about the moon landing. Failure would have meant certain death for those on the moon; but failing in their mission was a possibility. The reality is, all those brave men at mission control and on the moon could do with all of their training and expertise…was try.

The New Year is upon us and, no doubt, many are thinking about making resolutions or planning out what they want to do differently in the months ahead. I’m going to lose that 10, 20…50 pounds. I’m going to spend less time at work and more with my family. I’m going to be a better husband, dad, and friend. I’m going to lay off the Diet Coke and drink more water. Coffee has got to go! Exercise!! I’ll finally read the Bible through in 2015. Sunday will be a day of rest and not a honey-do catch up day. I will pray every day…maybe more than once. These are some of the things I’ve resolved in the past and I’m sure you would have your own to add to this list. Some of them I have been successful at and others…well, let’s just say I’m still trying.

Life is full of trying and in my view true success is not so much in achieving but in trying again after failing. We are all frail and fragile beings who have physical limitations and mental barriers that cannot be overcome by sheer will-power. I could not run a marathon next week, but with practice and training I probably could in a few months, (maybe years). It took a few years of trying to read from Genesis through to Revelation…no matter how you look at it, Numbers and Leviticus are not the most captivating books. Success was not a guarantee and it never is…not for us, anyway. All we can do, in everything we do, is try.

I have always believed that there is a certain kind of success to be found even in failure. It is called learning. I have gotten very good at trying, and in the process have learned a great deal about what I’ve done wrong and how to do things right. I have learned where my abilities end and where the Good Lord’s begin. I have eventually found success in many things and learned that apart from him I can accomplish very little but through him all things are possible. I would not have found success had there not been failure and then trying again with newfound wisdom…and then again…and again.

So, for those of you resolving to be or do something new or different in 2015, understand that you may, (probably will), have setbacks and you may, (probably will), have to get up and try again…probably more than once. Don’t give up! Breathe…figure out what you did wrong…pray and ask for strength and wisdom – then try again. And for those of you who just can’t let go of the “Do, or do not. There is no try” mantra – call it ‘practice’ instead if it helps…we know what you really mean. After all, practice does make perfect.

The Keeper of the Inn

for unto usNo one in the house knew what would happen that night. The whole town was rife with activity as people from all over came to the little village. There had been a decree that a census be taken and that meant each person had to travel to the town of their birth to be counted. It was an unexpected event and the little inn at the edge of the town was not prepared. There were too many people and too few rooms for them to occupy. They were short on linens for the beds and had to cut food portions in order to stretch what little provisions they had. Some travelers were complaining but most were understanding and all were less than comfortable. The house was crowded and the town was overcrowded…there was little room left for anyone.

The little inn had filled up by mid-day and soon the patrons would be clamoring for food and drink. The master of the house had already used up what was in the house and had begun to take from the stores in the shed out back. He went out for one last time to try and get one more milking out of the cows and maybe find a bit more food. There wasn’t much left but he put what he could in a small box and set it by the door of the shed. He had also found some bits of cloth but they were not nearly big enough to be of any use to his guests so he just left them on the shelf. He then went over to milk the cow one more time. She was not very happy about it. The first chance she had she gave a swift kick just missing the master’s chin and knocking over the bucket in the process. He patted her side and spoke kind words hoping she would understand. She had made her point and gave a little more milk and then went back to chewing.

As he carried the bucket of mild over to where he had left the box he looked around knowing his job was not done. The shed needed to be cleaned for the night before the sheep came back in from the fields and the mangers needed to be filled with hay for them to eat. He stood for a moment and sighed knowing he had a job to do here but hearing the guests in the house clamoring for service. He put the bucket down near the box of food; the guests would have to wait. He swept the floors and cleaned up the gutters from the night before and filled the water troughs with clean water. He grabbed some hay and filled all of the mangers and gave the old cow an extra helping while patting her on the head. He had a bit of hay left so he put the extra in a little manger back in the corner near the storage shelves and gave the floor one last sweep. With a grunt and a sigh he picked up the box and bucket of milk and headed back to the house.

As night fell on the tiny town, the guests began to quiet down and settle in their little rooms for the night. There were a few still lingering and talking among themselves as the master and his wife finished cleaning up for the night. Just as they were finishing there was a knock at the door. The master shook his head hoping he had heard wrong…he had turned many away already and was tired and frustrated. There was another knock, this time a bit louder. He went to the door and opened it a bit knowing he would have to turn someone away. There was a young man on the other side with a young girl astride a donkey. The young man explained how they had been traveling for days and that his wife was about to give birth and begged for even a corner of a room that they could spend the night in. The master was overwhelmed. He knew he had no more room in his inn but this young couple was very much in need. He could not turn them away but he had nowhere to house them either. He thought for a moment and then mentioned that the only room he had, and likely the only room anywhere in the town was back behind the inn in the little shed with the animals. The young man grabbed his hand and thanked him with a warm and relieved smile then quietly led the donkey with his young wife to the shed.

Finally, with everyone bedded down for the night, the master could crawl into his own bed and get some rest. As he blew out the last lamp he looked out the window surprised at how bright the night sky was. There seemed to be a star shining right above the little village. He looked over to the shed and noticed a dim lamp glowing among a few shepherds who had just come in with the sheep. He let out a sigh and slipped on his shoes and went out one last time to make sure everything was alright. As he neared the shed he noticed that the animals were all sleeping quietly and the shepherds were kneeling. As he came near he also noticed that the young man and his wife were cooing and cuddling their newborn child. They had found the bits of cloth he had left on the shelf and wrapped the child in them and then used the tiny manger in the corner to lay him in. He caught the young man’s eye and gave him a quick smile then walked back to the house with a feeling that something in the world had just changed. That night he had the best sleep of his life.

The Christmas Choice

believe.pngThe shepherds were amazed at the angels in the sky. The three wise men read about him in a book and were curious. Herod was unwilling to give up his power. The innkeeper didn’t have room for him. Elizabeth was overjoyed while John in her womb was excited. Zechariah laughed in disbelief that his son should prepare the way. Joseph was fearful, duty bound, and humbled. Mary was obedient.

It is amazing to me how each one had a different reaction to the news of the coming messiah. And each, in their moment of encounter, made a choice to believe and accept or scoff in disbelief. The shepherds found the manger and knelt before their king. The wise men followed the star and presented their gifts to the king. Herod tried to manipulate the three kings into telling him where the child was so he could kill him. The innkeeper treated them as vagabonds and sent them to where the animals slept. Elizabeth was overcome with joy when she saw Mary while her husband laughed at the thought of having a son of his own who would prepare the way for the messiah and was muted for his unbelief. Their son John leapt with excitement when his mother and Mary embraced. Joseph was afraid but comforted by the angel and Mary was obedient from day one.

We are so like them. We each have our own encounter with the Almighty and we each make a choice. We are all confronted with truth and decide whether to accept it or reject it. Some of us are just curious and want to see what it is all about and others become angry and are unwilling to give up control. Some of us have read all of the books and know all of the promises and have an intellectual understanding of the Good Lord but will not truly give in till we see him with our own eyes. There are others who meet him and then brush him aside…we just don’t have the time or room for him in our lives right now. Some of us laugh and scoff that the Good Lord would do things in such strange and impossible ways and are quickly silenced when we realize the truth. There are many who are fearful and doubt but follow anyway because the truth leaves no other choice. Some cannot contain their joy and would swing from the chandeliers if they could reach them and then there are others that are quietly obedient, fully accepting the responsibility and honor of knowing the King. Often our spirits are quickened even before we meet him.

We have all been each of these people at one time or another. I know I have leapt for joy in one moment and then scoffed in disbelief in another. I have been obedient and then refused to give up control. I have read many books, given in to fears, ignored the obvious, and even seen an angel. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about and would have your own stories of encounter. We all, like sheep, have gone astray. Christmas is a time for coming back; a time for accepting the impossible. A gift was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger offering salvation for all who would believe. It’s your choice, what are you going to do?

The Christmas Gift

ornamentNestled beneath the branches of the big blue spruce were packages and presents of all shapes and sizes. Some were wrapped in shiny foil and others in brown paper tied with brightly colored ribbons of red and green and gold. Scattered among the gifts were baggies with tissue spilling out the top and smaller trinket sized boxes hinting at the hope of big things coming in small packages. Each one had been shaken and squeezed in a vain attempt to figure out what was wrapped inside. A good guess could be made for some but most would have to wait until the grand unveiling on Christmas morning.

The wait had been long – nearly a month already – and I could hardly sleep the night before. I went to bed early on Christmas Eve thinking that the sooner I could get to sleep the quicker the morning will come, but it didn’t really work out that way. I spent an hour or two tossing and turning thinking about the day ahead and then the rest of the night waking every half hour or so and checking the clock to see if it was too early to get up. At around five in the morning I decided that I had been in bed long enough and could wait no longer. This was it! The time had finally come! Christmas morning was here at last!

I made my way down the hallway into the den where the big blue spruce with all of the presents was waiting. No one else was awake yet so I reached behind the end table to plug the tree lights in hoping to sit and look at the tree and all the gifts one last time before everyone else woke up. This is a once in a year moment and it lasts for a very short time. All too soon the neatly stacked presents will become a massive pile of torn paper and scattered bows and empty boxes. I cherish this calm before the storm.

The lights came on and as I turned to sit on the sofa I saw something unbelievable. There was not a single present under the tree! Each and every package was gone! There were no big boxes, no baggies, and no trinket boxes. I looked behind the tree and behind the sofa and found nothing. I walked back down the hallway and peeked into each room on my way and then went into the garage but they were nowhere to be found! I walked back to the den think I must be missing something, rubbing my eyes as I went hoping I had just not seen the gifts. No such luck…they were indeed gone. I stood there for a moment in disbelief and then slumped down onto the sofa wondering what in the world could have happened.

I lifted my hands to my face and leaned my head back rubbing my eyes one last time. Through my fingers I caught a glimpse of something high up in the branches. I stood up and noticed an ornament that I had not seen before with a little card attached. I took a few steps forward and leaned in to see what it was and tears began to flow as I realized that not all of the gifts had been taken away. What my eyes beheld was a long rusty old nail tied with a red ribbon with a card attached that read…

I woke with a start, sitting straight up in my bed! I looked at the clock to see what time it was and it showed 6:30. It must have been all a dream, I thought at the sound of little feet running down the hallway and giggles in the air. I sat for a moment then put my slippers on and wrapped myself up in my robe and made my way down to the den. I was the last one awake and the unwrapping had already begun. I smiled a sleepy smile at my wife, reached down and tussled each of the kid’s heads then, as I stood up I spied an ornament that I had not seen before. I took a step forward and squinted as I leaned forward. There, hanging on the tree for all to see was a long rusty old nail with a red ribbon and card attached that read,

“The greatest gift you will ever receive was hung on a tree for all to see.”

Give and Take

presentOver the years I have received many gifts, some great and wonderful and others not so useful and then a few that even though not what I had expected or would have chosen have great sentimental value because of who had given them and why. These are the kinds of gifts that keep on giving. You come across them in a drawer or on a shelf somewhere, inconspicuous and out of the way, and they bring to mind that person or that event and bring a smile or tear as you receive the gift once again. I love these kinds of gifts.

There are other gifts that seem to keep taking…taking your time, taking your money, taking your attention. They may be useful and even necessary at times but they always seem to take you away from the more important things in life. I’m thinking about all of our gadgets and toys, computers and video games, phones and tablets. These things are useful but more often than not the isolate us from each other and take from us those things necessary for strong and lasting relationships. They take our time and attention and thoughts away from each other…constantly.

The second thought that has been on my mind is the idea giving gifts. At Christmas time we all think about what to give to whom and what we’d like to receive. We go to parties and bring a gift for the host or share goodies and treats with our coworkers. We do this because over 2000 years ago some kings brought gifts to a baby in a manger, hailing him as the King who was to come. We remember and celebrate this event by doing the same for each other. But this event was not just three kings giving gifts to a babe, there was an exchange happening. The child in the swaddling clothes was a gift from the Good Lord to all mankind. Each were offering to the other the very best that they had. The Lord of creation offering salvation to all of mankind and mankind as represented in the three kings offering what was most valuable to them as a gift for the true King.

Wouldn’t it be great if each of us received the gift of salvation, (the gift that keeps on giving), and gave back to him our time, energy, talents, love, attention, consideration…the very best of ourselves? If we did, I believe that a few more of the gifts we give each other would be the kind that keep on giving as well, rather than the kind that keep on taking.