It was Saturday. Yesterday was Friday. Yesterday they had watched Him die. Yesterday they had witnessed the sun refusing to shine and the earth quaking because their Creator had lost His life. They had watched him be tortured and beaten. They had witnessed the crowds mocking Him and them nailing Him to die on a cross. They had been there when He cried that it was finished. They had seen Him be buried. They knew He was gone.
And now it was Saturday...they had woken to hopelessness and fear of the unknown that lay before them. This Man they had followed for three years was now gone. His Father had allowed Him to be crucified and now He was lying in a borrowed tomb. They were afraid for their futures for they did not understand what Sunday would bring. They remembered the horror of Friday. Now they were scattered...fearful for their very lives.
Saturday was a day of darkness and hopelessness. It was a day of fear and not knowing what would follow. The hopelessness they felt on that Saturday had to be heart wrenching and horrible. They had been with Jesus for three years and today He was gone...silent...and they were as sheep without a shepherd.
We spend a lot of our time in Saturdays. We have heard the words of our Lord and we know them to be true, and yet we get hit with Fridays that are dark, hard, and desperate. We watch things in our lives fall apart with no hope of them being repaired. We have Fridays when the last thing we ever expected happens and we find ourselves lost for what to do next. There are days in our lives when the sun seems to hide itself from us and our heart feels as if it is being ripped in two. There are days when God seems painfully silent and we feel that He has turned His back on us.
Saturdays can be a time of waiting. A time when we rehearse the events of the day before trying to find evidence of hope or at least a sense of understanding. Saturdays can be dark and long. Saturdays can leave us looking at Friday without any hope for a Sunday. Saturdays are the days when faith comes in and calms your heart. It's the time when you wait on God not knowing how long the wait will be. Saturday is the period between Friday's heartbreak and Sunday's unspeakable joy.
I've spent a lot of time in Saturdays. I've endured the pain of Friday not knowing how long it would be before Sunday would come. But there's a lesson in Saturday. Jesus Himself had a period of waiting. He didn't go straight from the humiliation and pain of the cross to the glory of His resurrection. For there was Saturday. The day creation would wait for her King to rise. The day when Satan felt he had defeated Christ as He lay there in that tomb. The day when His followers would find themselves engulfed in hopelessness. The day when God was silent as His Son slept. Saturday was necessary as part of the process.
We all have Saturdays in our lives. That time in the middle when we wait for God to take our pain and suffering and turn it into something for His glory. The time when it seems that God is silent or maybe even gone. Sometimes Saturdays last a really long time. Sometimes it seems like a Saturday will never end.
But soon enough Saturday becomes Sunday. Hope comes from despair. Beauty comes from brokenness. Love breaks free and unspeakable joy comes out of the very places where hopelessness once abounded. So if you are in a Saturday, hold on. Don't give up in the waiting. For the hurt on Friday will turn to hope on Sunday. The brokenness of Friday will birth beauty on Sunday. The pain of Friday will give you purpose on Sunday. So hold on through Saturday because Sunday is just around the corner.
I've often thought about her, the woman caught in adultery, brought by her accusers to stand before Jesus for judgment. The Scribes and Pharisees had nothing but malicious intentions. They knew that this woman was guilty of sin punishable by death according to the scripture. They purposefully brought her and placed her in the midst of those who knew her in order to publicly humiliate under the pretense of being servants of God. They brought her to stand guilty before the Perfect One.
I think about her standing there alone in her guilt. She never claimed to be innocent. She knew she had sinned. And here she stood humiliated and alone in front of her peers and her accusers. The fear that must have gripped her soul. Not only did she stand before these in her shame, but she had been brought to stand before the Son of God. Her accusers were quick to point out her wrongdoing. They even pointed out what the law said should happen next. I imagine them smiling as they stood there condemning her to punishment by death. I imagine the people in the crowd whispering about her and her sin. I see her with her tear stained face awaiting certain death.
But Jesus, He just stooped down and began to write in the dirt. I have often wondered what He was writing. Many assume that He was writing the Ten Commandments, but we don't really know. Maybe He was writing the names of those who stood there. Maybe He was listing the sins that many there had committed. Maybe it wasn't what He wrote at all, but the way He conducted Himself, ignoring their attempts to force Him to condemn her. Whatever it was, it made all the difference.
When they wouldn't give up in their pursuit to have her condemned, Jesus stood to His feet and stated that anyone there without sin should cast the first stone, and then He went back to writing in the dirt. I can see them now looking at the ground where His finger was writing in the dirt. I see them slowly one by one being convicted of their own sinful transgressions and walking away knowing themselves to be guilty as well.
And so after they had all gone away, this woman caught in the very act of adultery found herself alone with Jesus. He was the only one who stood without sin...the only one worthy to cast a stone. I see Him standing before her, asking who was remaining to accuse her and she said that they had all gone away. Then Jesus, the one who was worthy to cast judgment looked into her guilty eyes and spoke those beautiful words, "Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more."
Here was a woman who stood guilty of committing a sin. The crowd knew she was guilty. What they also knew was that they themselves stood guilty of sin as well, which led them to lay down their stones of judgment and self-righteousness and walk away. Jesus loved her in spite of her sin. She was why He came. He came for sinners. He came to shower us with unconditional redemptive love.
It was late at night when he sat crying at the foot of our bed telling us the news we never expected to hear. Although my heart was breaking and filled with disappointment, all I saw before me was my firstborn...my little blond haired boy...consumed in guilt and shame, feeling undeserving of my love and forgiveness, yet wanting so bad for me to love him enough to forgive...to lay down the stone that I could throw and instead wrap my arms around him in love. And so as he offered to gather his things and leave, it was my chance to forgive as I am so often forgiven.
My son sat at the foot of my bed and told me that his girlfriend was pregnant. I went over it in my head a million times...what could I have done differently? Didn't I teach him right from wrong? Should I have changed churches sooner? Maybe if he had had better Christian mentors? Should I have been more strict? Had he tried to reach out to me and I missed it? But while my head was going through the questions, my heart looked at the tear streaked face of this man who had made me a mom. My heart saw him for who he was...he was still that good kid that I had the honor of raising. He had never been in trouble. He had never drank alcohol, smoked a cigarette, or taken drugs. He never even got a speeding ticket. This man before me was the same kid who stayed with his grandparents when they were sick, who mows his grandmother's yard, who loves little kids and doesn't mind them crawling all over him. And I did the only thing I could do...I took him outside on the porch and we prayed. We prayed for forgiveness and for guidance. We held hands and thanked God for His amazing grace and forgiveness. We prayed for his girlfriend that she would find peace and have a healthy pregnancy. And we prayed for the precious baby that would one day bring us joy.
They have our blessing. our love, and our forgiveness. No, they didn't have to get married, they wanted to get married. It was the plan all along. They have made things right with God and with each other. I am learning to be a mother-in-law and how to love an adult son who is now the spiritual leader of his own household. Her parents are learning how to live with an empty nest while welcoming my son as their own. We are blessed. We are blessed to have two children who chose to be responsible and give life to a precious baby that they could have eliminated without anyone knowing. We are blessed to see two people who love each other make a commitment before God to live for Him and raise their baby in His house. We are blessed to await the arrival of a precious gift from God.
And while you're here, can I just say that I have seen him. I have had the honor to see this beautiful little life that is forming in a quiet hidden place. I have seen his little hand and his fingers. They are so perfect...ready to reach one day and grasp my finger in his little fingers. I have seen his little feet and his little toes, and one day I will kiss those precious little feet and marvel at how wonderfully made he is. I have seen his little heart beating...growing strong for days when he will run and laugh and play. I have seen him...and I have fallen absolutely in love with him. He is not a mistake. He is not an accident. He is a creation of the Creator being fearfully and wonderfully made in a hidden place. His name and form are known by the Most High. His days are all written in God's plan. And yes, God has a plan for this little one. I don't know what it is yet, and I may not live to ever know, but I do know that he is already bringing my heart unspeakable joy.
And so I ask you as you finish reading, to pause a moment and look at the stone you are holding in your hand, for I know how easy it is to rush to grab one. Just look at it before you are tempted to throw it. Take a minute and look at Jesus writing in the dirt. Could He have a message for you there as well? Could He be asking you to lay aside the stone, and instead to take an opportunity to show His grace, mercy, and love to two people who really are no different than you are? Could He be asking you to love them like He loves you? I hope so because I love those two (well, three) with all my heart...and so does God. I am so overwhelmed by His grace and mercy, and I am so thankful that He forgives. His grace really is amazing...and I am grateful for seeing that same grace in the eyes and actions of some of you. May He bless you richly for your love.
Once upon a time a fish named George came to live in a beautiful small pond in the country. George had been moved to this pond by the Great Fisherman and loved his life there. In no time at all, George had quickly made friends with the fish in the small pond. Not only was George a friendly outgoing fish, but he was also beautiful. Most of the fish living in the pond were small brown fish and had never seen a fish so amazing as George. George was a radiant orange color with scales that glistened when the sun reflected off them near the surface of the pond. All the fish in the pond wanted to be like George.
George spent his days sharing his knowledge and demonstrating his skills to the other fish. He told them the story of how he had been chosen by the Great Fisherman. The other fish swam in awe of his relationship with the Great Fisherman. They wanted so much to be more like George. Some of the fish found that if they rubbed themselves against the perimeter of the pond walls that they could get some of the burnt orange color of the mud on their scales. Over time some of the fish actually started to resemble George not only in actions, but also in color. Many happy days were spent swimming along with George in the pond.
Fred was a tiny brown fish who lived in the pond. Fred had lived there his whole life and knew nothing other than life in the small pond. Fred was liked by most of the fish in the pond even though to look at him, he was nothing special. Not only was Fred smaller than most of the fish, he also had a broken fin that made it hard for him to swim. Fred too admired George, but he knew that he could never fit in with him and the others. Sometimes Fred tried to join the other fish as they swam along with George, but he soon came to the realization that he could never fit in with his broken fin. Fred started spending his days swimming alone. He even came to realize that if he swam in the depths of the pond where the light of the sun didn't quite touch, he could blend in with the murky dark water and go unnoticed. Eventually the other fish forgot about Fred and he spent all of his time in the dark murky depths swimming with his broken fin.
One day the Great Fisherman came to the pond. Word quickly spread that the Great Fisherman had arrived. All the fish gathered near the pond's surface so that they could be seen. Every day the fish had learned more and more about what the Great Fisherman wanted from his fish. They knew how he wanted them to swim. They stretched their fins every day to make them stronger. They met often so that they could show each other their progress and encourage each other to continue to improve. The Great Fisherman truly was pleased with their desire to do as he had asked and to see how they had improved themselves individually and as a group.
After gazing into the pond for awhile, the Great Fisherman took a net and placed it gently in the water among the fish. All the fish were excited at the thought of being chosen by the Great Fisherman. All the fish waited in anticipation as the net hovered in the water. It appeared that the Great Fisherman was looking for a particular fish. Although disappointed at the thought that they were not the chosen one, the fish quickly came to realize that he must be there to get George. Who else would he choose? George quickly swam beside the net and waited to be caught up within its grasp as he had been before. The net did not move to catch him. George thought that the Great Fisherman must not have seen him, so he swam inside the net. Still the net didn't take him up from the water. George swam to the bottom of the net pushing on the net in order to make the Great Fisherman notice that he was in the net. Not only did the net not start to pick him up, the net actually turned to remove him from within it..
Slowly the net was lowered below the level of the fish. All the fish were confused. They did not understand the meaning of what was happening. The net was extended down into the deepest depths of the pond where Fred was hiding alone. The net gently closed in around Fred, and he began to be lifted toward the surface of the pond. Fred was sure that he was being removed from the pond because of his broken fin. Although he was hurt, he understood. The other fish assumed that this was indeed the reason for Fred being chosen and went on to swim as always.
The Great Fisherman talked to Fred in a loving voice as he carried him in a bucket along a path. Fred could see his reflection in the bucket's walls, Fred saw his plain brown body. He saw how small he truly was. But more than anything, Fred saw his broken fin. It had been mangled in the storms that had hit the pond. Part of his fin was missing. Some of the fin that remained had thin places and holes where Fred had been beaten against the rocks. No wonder the Great Fisherman didn't want him in the pond with the others.
The Great Fisherman stopped by a large lake. He sat down on a log and held the bucket containing Fred in his hands. Fred could see his face and his loving smile. Fred was no different than the other fish. He too desired more than anything to please the Great Fisherman, but he just didn't know how he could. He was just a small plain brown fish with a broken mangled fin. Fred listened as the Great Fisherman told him about the place where he had brought him to live. The vastness of this big pond frightened Fred. Fred only knew life in a little pond. How would he survive here? Would anyone even notice he was there? The Great Fisherman said something about trusting him and that Fred only needed to be himself, and then Fred was dumped into the depths of the biggest pond he had ever seen.
Fred's first inclination was to head for the safety of the darkness, but he was quickly met by two other fish. Fred waited for the fish to say something about his fin, but they didn't. They took Fred on a tour of the pond. As they swam, Fred saw more fish than he ever imagined existing. There were fish of all colors and sizes. He saw fish with rainbows on their sides. He saw fish with blue gills, long whiskers, and shiny scales. He even saw fish that were orange just like George. So many fish swimming in the waters of the pond. Fred began to notice that some of the fish had broken fins just like him. He noticed that some fish had scales that were missing. A few fish still had pieces of metal in them where they had been able to escape a hook. Some fish were even missing an eye. Fred quickly learned that he had grown accustomed to life in the little pond without much thought of life outside the pond. Fred only knew what he saw every day. He had never given any thought to those outside his pond.
Fred quickly made friends with the fish in the pond, but he formed special bonds with the fish who were broken like him. The fish who were missing scales, had injured fins, or who had narrowly escaped the hook, all were fascinated by Fred's stories of the Great Fisherman. They never realized that the Great Fisherman was interested in them too. They only thought he wanted fish like George who radiated beauty to those around him. They were hopeful hearing how the Great Fisherman had made such efforts to go to the depths of the pond to search for Fred. They were encouraged to hear that they too were special in the eyes of the Great Fisherman.
The injured fish in the big pond were changed forever because a little plain brown fish with a mangled broken fin told his story. And a little fish named Fred came to realize that sometimes being a little fish in a big pond can make a lot of difference...especially when the Great Fisherman places you there. Turns out that the Great Fisherman can use a tiny broken mangled fish to radically change a big pond.
Tomorrow is the first day of March. Those who know me well know that March is a tough month for me. Most of the toughest and life-changing moments happened during the last two weeks of March. It has been said that the weather in March either comes in as a lion or a lamb and then exits as the other. It has been my experience that emotionally March tends to come in as a lamb and exit as a lion.
Sometimes life is just hard. For some reason it seems that March has been especially hard for my side of the family. My uncle whom I adored passed away on March 20 from lung cancer. My aunt, his sister, passed away from pneumonia on March 28 several years later. I was standing by my grandfather's bedside when he passed away on March 27, 2013. March has brought scares of possible cancer, hospital tests, and impending surgery for my daughter. March can be life changing. March brought the experience of my first flight, my first delivery of a eulogy, and my first real experience hearing God's voice. March has birthed dreams for my life and brought brokenness to my heart.
And so tomorrow, I head into March again.
It would be easy to fear March. There is an unspoken revelation that comes when the calendar changes dates and reminds you what anniversary is marked by this day. Little reminders of what you've lost. Tiny glimpses of what you once took for granted and now your heart aches to return there if even for just one day. Painful reflections on where you failed. They all wait for you like snares to trap you into wasting more time, losing more moments, adding more failure.
But then you're reminded of the other side of those memories. The wonderful opportunity you had to love those family members. The awesome memories of soaring through the clouds with your husband and children to go to your favorite place. Those bike rides and late night board games with your uncle. The way your aunt could make you laugh. The reverence you felt when your grandfather's spirit left the room and the smiles that came despite the tears as you delivered his eulogy. The news that your daughter didn't have cancer. And the most life changing dream you would ever dream that continues to open doors you never thought to enter.
And then you're reminded Who you know. You know the Lion of the tribe of Judah. You know the Lamb of God. You have witnessed with your own life the power and the fierceness of the Lion. You have rested in His strength and you have watched Him protect you by His power. You have been to the cross where the Lamb went to be slaughtered, and you have been washed in His blood.
And so you know that this March may bring its own trials and tribulations, but you also know that whether it blows in as a Lamb or as a Lion makes little difference because your life has been washed in the blood of the Lamb. You don't have to worry about how little strength you have because your power comes from the Lion of Judah. My prayer is that I learn from what I've lost and like them leave a legacy, for they too knew the Lion and the Lamb.
Just as March brings the renewal of spring, may it bring forth revival and renewal in me and those around me. For March is also the birth of a calling from the Lion to tell others about the Lamb. And so, here am I, send me.
You are the one who gave me the greatest title I will ever hold - that of Mom. You are the one who taught me what unconditional love felt like. You are the one who gave me so many firsts and taught me so many things. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without you in it. You taught me to love. You taught me what it's means to love someone so much that you truly would give your life for them. You made me laugh, even on days when I really didn't feel like it. You brought me joy.
I was so blessed that God chose you to be mine. I was given a very special little boy to love. I will never forget the way you held the baby ducks when you were only two, being so cautious not to hurt their legs and gently placing them in the water. We would sit you in the grass at the farm and the baby goats would come up to you and you would try to kiss them on the nose. My mind goes back to all those moments I hold in my heart, and each one reminds me of how blessed I am to have you in my life and how truly special you are. .
And now you're getting married. You will no longer sit at my breakfast table. I won't hear you laughing in the loft playing video games with your sister. You won't come in my sitting room just to sit in the chair and hang out with me for no reason. You will no longer sit at the foot of my bed and talk to your dad and me before we go to sleep. You won't yell goodnight from your room. And I can't imagine you not being there...that little blond headed boy has grown into a handsome young man and it's time for you to go.
First, let me say how proud I am of you. I am blessed beyond measure to call you mine. You have grown into the most loving human being I know. I watched you speak at your great-grandfather's funeral and realized how strong of a man you were becoming. I've watched you help your great-grandparents and your grandparents., spending the night, helping with tasks when you had other things to do, and making them smile. You love God. You might not be perfect, but you sincerely try to live life honestly, lovingly, and according to what you've been taught. I never had to worry about you getting into trouble. Even as an adult, you text your mom to let her know you're out of the lake so she won't worry. You are trustworthy and honest. I believe with all my heart that you wouldn't ever hurt anyone on purpose. You love your sister and for that I am grateful. I pray that the two of you will be lifelong friends and support each other no matter what.
And so as you go off to start your own family, my prayer is that you rest in the confidence that I am proud of who you are. I am excited about the wonderful things that lie ahead of you. I pray that you take your responsibility as spiritual leader of your household seriously. My prayer is that you love your bride as Christ loved the church. I pray that she remains confident in your ability to lead and that she is able to entrust her heart and family to your leadership. I want you to feel confident in making your own decisions, yet know if you need advice or an ear that I am always here.
I am proud of you for choosing a beautiful bride who loves the Lord. I have prayed for her for years. It wasn't until recently that I knew her name, but I knew one day she would come. For it is this beautiful young woman who will take my place. She will now be the one you go to with your questions, the flowers you pick in the field, and the one you tell the news from your day. She will be the woman who now holds your heart. I am grateful that my future grandchildren will be blessed with the gift of Christian parents. I pray that the two of you grown in love for each other, and that you learn to spread your wings and fly.
And so my precious boy, it's time to let you go. And that is harder than you realize, for you carry part of my heart with you always. Be patient with me as I learn to love from a new position. Try to understand why I need to hear your voice sometimes, and why I text you just to tell you that I love you. Because while you are starting out with new hopes and dreams, I'm at home trying to get used to your room being empty, to the strange quietness upstairs, and to an empty chair at my table. And so sometimes, I will just need to remind you how much I love you and how absolutely blessed I am to be your mom.
So stretch your wings and fly knowing that I am watching with pride and unconditional love. May your life be filled with joy, love, and wonderful memories. And one day when you become a dad, I hope you understand how much I love you.
I laid in bed last night listening to the sounds of my son and daughter playing video games together in my son's bedroom. As I quietly laid there listening to their laughter, I tried to soak in the sound of it. All these years I have taken that beautiful sound for granted. I never stopped to think that one day I might not hear it anymore.
We do that as parents. We take things for granted. We celebrate the firsts - the first laugh, first word, first tooth, first step. But we miss the lasts. We don't think about the last time he sleeps in a crib, the last time we rock her to sleep, the last time we tie his shoes, or the last night they stay up late playing video games. As my son prepares to leave the nest and begin a new life of firsts with his future bride, I find myself trying to celebrate each "last". Our last vacation as a family of four. Our last trip to the cabin with just the four of us. I wonder will I know when it's the last time he will sit at my breakfast table? Will I know when we are eating our last dinner with him as a single man? Why is it that we focus on firsts and neglect lasts? Because the truth is, we don't know when something will be our last.
We live our lives in such a hurry. We rush on from day to day under the assumption that nothing will change. We don't consider that when our child leaves for school that he might not come home. We leave for work without thinking we might never hear our spouse's voice again. No thought is given to the fact that this day could be our last. No one dreams that tomorrow might bring news of cancer or death. We just move from day to day numbly assuming that nothing will change.
Although I don't always see it, God has spent the last couple of years teaching me that life is about change. If I was honest, I would tell you that I am broken. The picture I had of what I thought my life would look like is shattered in a million pieces. Nothing in my life looks like what I thought it would. I have lost who I thought I was, what I thought I wanted, and where I thought I was headed.
But sitting in the middle of these shattered pieces, sifting through the ashes left behind from fiery trials, I find what I never expected - beauty. It's funny that even though that beautiful picture of what I thought my life would be like is gone, I can see a different image emerging from the pieces, not a picture that I would have made, but a picture being painted by an Artist with a different perspective.
Broken pieces in the hand of a divine Artist come together in beautiful tapestries of light and life. So God has been hard at work rearranging the picture that I created in my head, so that I can see the picture that He has in mind. Honestly, I liked my picture better, but that picture doesn't reflect who I really am. It's not who I'm wired to be.
For two months I haven't picked up a pen and journal to write. I failed to listen to the voice of the Artist. I listened to the voices of others who caused me to question my calling and fear what might come as a result of it. I listened to Satan whispering in my ear that no one would be interested in hearing my story. What could a woman offer to others when she didn't have her own answers?
But in the noise, I hear another voice that beckons me to walk into the light with Him. He arranges the broken pieces in such a way that they catch the light and reflect beauty. He beckons me to walk with Him along the shore even though the threatening waves are never far away. He teaches me to look at them differently, see the beauty in the depths of the unknown, and trust Him.
And so even though I am learning to celebrate some lasts, I am also looking ahead to some firsts. I have learned that although I was in love with the picture that I created, my Creator is in love with me and wants to show me His picture for my life. And so I leave the remnants of my broken dreams in pieces on the floor and I start to walk over to where He is. I can see Him picking up the pieces and rearranging them in ways I never would have dreamed. And even though the new picture has missing pieces, making it appear to be broken, it is those broken places where His light shines through.
I find that this is what makes His picture the most beautiful. My picture might have looked perfect, but it might have blocked the Light. This new picture lets the Light shine through it, creating rays of color that are capable of catching the attention of others with whom I can share my story of Light. Life is about change. It's also about changing lives...and that creates the most beautiful picture of all.
Today is a journey to Bethel. My mind, heart, and soul will journey today to my own personal Bethel for a time of remembrance of meeting with God. A day that changed me and my relationship with God forever. There is an unexplainable reverence associated with today. I feel as though I should take off my shoes for it is holy ground I trod.
Bethel was a special place for Jacob. It marked the place where he met with God. It was a place of spiritual commitment for Jacob. It was a place where God gave him dreams and promises.
My Bethel is similar for it was there that I met with God. It was the place where God made a covenant with me. It was a place where God asked me to dream dreams that I could not comprehend or think to dream on my own. It was a day when He handed me a promise when all my other promises were broken.
My Bethel is the place where the God of glory, the Creator of the universe, otherwise known as my heavenly Daddy, reached down and held His baby girl. In my life I have been blessed to witness the presence of the Holy Spirit, but never in my life have I ever felt like I could touch Him. The Peace that came that day was truly beyond understanding. He was patient as I struggled to see the beauty in the ashes.
For me, Bethel is a place of affirmations, altars, and assurance. It was there that He affirmed who I was in Him. He affirmed His love for me and His presence.
It was there that I erected a spiritual altar. For me, November 5th represents the day that God met with me in a different way for the first of many meetings. Many times I find myself at that altar, thanking Him again for showing me the beauty in the ashes, joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of heaviness.
My Bethel is a place of blessed assurance. A trip to Bethel reminds me of my Daddy's love and unending grace. Going back to Bethel reminds me that He is never too busy to run to me when I call. It was there that He assured me that His promises are faithful and true. He reminded me that the dream was still alive and that I was still to be its dreamer.
So this second anniversary of my Bethel, I approach the altar in awe and wonder. There is no place for shoes here, for it is holy ground on which I stand. I come into the presence of the Most High God with an overflowing heart of gratitude. I find myself kneeling, and then the need to fall on my face in worship to a God who cares about His baby girl enough to run and take her in His arms.
On this visit to Bethel, I must renew my commitment to Him and to His call. I must no longer be a slave to fear, but devoted to the service of my God.
The first week of February 2014 was a week where God would teach me that if He gives the dream, if it is truly His, there is nothing that will stand in your way of fulfilling it except yourself. But before I tell that story, I must take you on a journey.
The last Monday night in January 2014 around 8:00pm, I received notification of my fourth Conference of Concern from my administrator. It was the second to include central office staff. As always with these emails, I had absolutely no idea why I was being written up, and by this point I was exhausted. I had taught fourteen years and had never been written up until now, with four in five months. I was frustrated and absolutely miserable. But that night a phone call would be made and things would start to change.
The next Monday after work, I went to meet with someone, and although I felt better nothing was really different. Less than four months later I would learn that I was wrong. But for now, it all seemed the same. That Tuesday I went to the doctor and was sent home to rest due to dangerously high blood pressure readings. The doctor wrote my excuse for both Tuesday and Wednesday in case I needed it, but on Wednesday I was feeling better and went to work. I hadn't been at work longer than five minutes when I was asked to leave and practically ushered out the front door. I cried all the way home.
By lunch I had reached bottom of a pit that had been growing for a year. Not only was I miserable at work, but there was plenty of other stuff too. I had lost my grandfather who loved me like no else ever had. My mom had been diagnosed with skin cancer, I had resigned my position as a Sunday School teacher which I held for over a decade. I had resigned from directing the drive through nativity at my church which I loved. In August we had left the church I had been a member of for almost thirty years. We had just started going to a new church that I didn't really have any relationships formed that I could count on to help me, I had went from threes and fours on evaluations to ones and twos. By November my marriage was experiencing some difficulty, and the holidays were miserable with the loss of my grandfather. By the end of December, I had close family who was no longer speaking to me which I didn't really understand. And here I sat with yet another Conference of Concern the next day and stroke values for blood pressure.
So I did the only thing I knew to do. I went in my bedroom and bowed by my bed, laid my head against the mattress and cried. You know that verse about the Holy Spirit giving utterance? Well, on this Wednesday afternoon in the first week of February, I had no words. There were no words because of all the hard things I was in the midst of, the hardest was that I had lost my closeness with God.
You see in March of 2013, God had spoken to me in a dream. Not in visions and symbols, but in audible words. I didn't understand it then, but I would come to understand it. I learned about that dream in the loss of my grandfather. I learned about it in my daughter's surgery. I understood it when the evaluations came back showing that I wasn't the teacher I thought I was. I saw it fulfilled in my marriage and family relationships. When God had said to let go and jump, He meant let go of everything and I hadn't.
By October of 2013, God had spoken to me again. This time with a new calling. I was raised Baptist. I was okay with submission and my husband being the spiritual leader of the household. Although I had this secret desire to be an Esther, I had accepted being a supportive wife of a Christian man who would be a leader in his church. I had resigned myself to the fact that being an Esther was for someone else. My job was to be my husband's support and helper. But at this point my husband who had once been Sunday School teacher, Sunday School director, choir director, Vacation Bible School director, and activities director, now just wanted a church where he could blend in with no responsibilities. I understood why, but where does that leave a Jesus girl who cannot be a supportive wife of a church leader, much less an Esther? I needed a purpose. But I wasn't ready. I made the mistake one day of praying, "Here I am God. Please give me something to do for you." And He did. He gave me a calling worthy of Esther. The little girl who dreamed of helping to save her generation and be a life changing Jesus girl, grew up and she told God no. It was my turn for a calling all my own. It was my turn to be the one who would stand "for such a time as this", and I told Him no.
And so He had chosen to break me. And He had. I was about as broken as I could be. Everything I took pride in....everything I thought I was...none of it was real anymore. And here I was by my bedside with no words to speak to the God who had given me a dream. And then the words started to come....
"God, it wasn't that I wanted to say no. I just didn't know how to say yes. God, what you're asking me to do is impossible. Yes, I know nothing is impossible with You, but this has to be impossible right now. I don't understand it. I don't know anything about where you are calling me to. I don't even know where to go to learn about it. And God, that's not who I am. Those aren't my talents. And God, even if I was good at those thing, You have to know that I can't do them right now. This calling could destroy my marriage. Even if I could make my husband understand that this is truly from You....even if he himself knew I didn't come up with it alone. He would never allow it, at least not with his parents alive, especially not his mom. God, I am so sorry. Truth is that I have come to love the dream. I didn't want to love it. But I have come to love it. I think about it all the time. It's part of who I have become. It's from You and I know it. But God, I can't. There's no way."
And after about an hour, I ran out of tears. I fixed myself a snack, and at about three in the afternoon, my cell phone rang. It was a call from a different area code, and I had no intention of answering it, but something in the empty place of my heart said to answer it and I did. It was a stranger, but I recognized his name. His wife is a famous Christian author and speaker. The earthly reason he called me held nothing in comparison to the Heavenly reason. He would spend the next 75 minutes telling me everything I had just told God that I didn't understand. All that stuff I told Him that I didn't know about? All that stuff I didn't know where to look for answers? There it was in a phone call from a stranger. When I hung up the phone my hands were shaking.
"So okay God. There's part of it, but there's still that other part..." The next day was my Conference of Concern which went as well as could be expected. It would prove to be my last. That afternoon my husband would come home to tell me that his mother had been taken to the emergency room, and by eight that night we knew that her cancer was back and had spread. She would be sent home the next day on hospice. A week later she would be in Heaven.
And so here I am a year later. My father-in-law has since passed away, and my husband has come to understand that the dream is God's, but it is becoming mine. Slowly. Ever so slowly. Mine. The obstacles that I pointed out to Him a year ago are for the most part gone. This is where the rubber meets the road. The God of the Universe has led me to a place I never thought I would go. A place I am terrified of, yet excited about. His plan is not what I thought. He didn't mean for me to be a behind the scenes girl. He wants me to be part of an Esther generation. He wants me to dream His dream. It isn't a glorious dream. It is a messy dream. It is a painful, messy dream. But He wants to take the pain and give it purpose. He wants that mess to be my message. He has made me broken in places that can never heal. But it is those broken places, where He means for His light to shine through. And so, again He calls to my heart to follow this dream...to be an Esther. And this time, I tell Him yes.
"Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?" - Matthew 18:33 NKJV
The king had called in his servant to settle a debt. The servant owed far more than he could ever pay, ten thousand talents, which equaled about sixty million days wages. If every member of the man's family worked every single day and gave every bit of their wages to the king for all their lifetimes, they could never repay the debt. The king decided that the man, his wife, his children, and all that he had should be sold to repay the debt. The man was desperate and pleaded with the king to show him mercy and forgiveness. The king saw the desperation in the pleas of the man, and chose to forgive him of all the debt without any additional terms. He had been granted unmerited grace, mercy, and forgiveness. This man in turn sought out his friend who owed him a hundred denarii, about four months wages. He took him by the throat choking him, and demanded that he repay his debt immediately. The friend begged for mercy, but was thrown in jail instead.
The man had been forgiven of a massive debt. A debt that no doubt he owed. A debt that could cost him his family. Although the man knew that the debt was his and that the penalty was fair, he begged the king for mercy. The king knew that the man could never repay the debt. He heard the pleas of the man and was moved to forgive him. This man was forgiven a debt he could never repay, and his family and belongings were spared. What a gift of grace!
We too have been forgiven of a debt that we cannot repay. The wages of sin is death. Death is the penalty for us all. And yet, a merciful God showed us grace and sent His Son to serve as our redeemer, the One who would in turn pay our insurmountable debt. We talk of Him paying our debt for us. We sing about owing a debt we couldn't pay and Him paying a debt He didn't owe, but I wonder, do we really understand grace?
I personally am not always good at giving grace. Sometimes I don't want to give grace. I want to give others what they deserve. But then I am reminded of the grace that I myself was given, and I find myself being called to give the grace that I was given There is a specific area of my life where God has taught me the process of grace. He has taught me that even though some situations are grounds for me to make demands, that they are also grounds for me to forgive. He has taught me to forgive...to give grace as I myself received. I now watch someone who has been given much grace. I am watching this person be much like this servant and imprisoning the one who is in debt and yet begs for grace. I find myself much like the servants in the scripture who stand and witness the forgiven man as he fails to give the grace he was given. I too find myself running to the king and notifying him of the injustice that is being committed.
In the scripture the servants come to the king and tell him how the man who was forgiven of so great a debt is now demanding his just payment from his fellow servant. What disappointment this king must have felt. He heard the desperate pleas of the servant and granted him unmerited grace. The man was given an unconditional chance to continue his life, to keep his wife, his children, and his home. Rather than feeling an awesome sense of gratefulness, he went from debtor to collector.
This man who had made so many bad choices. This man who had made so many mistakes. This man who did not in any way, shape, or form deserve grace, mercy, or forgiveness, received it anyway in spite of the fact he couldn't make it right, even if he spent a lifetime. This man turned around and sought out another man who too had made bad choices, but not to the extent of the choices he himself had made. Yes, this man had a debt too, but it was pennies compared to his forgiven debt. This man could realistically repay his debt in less than a year. His debt was not even of the same magnitude. And yet this servant forgot the grace he himself had been shown. Maybe he didn't understand what a gift he had been given. Maybe he couldn't comprehend what grace truly was. Perhaps his whole life had been spent keeping a record of everyone else's offenses and debts. Perhaps he never had seen the ledger that held his own list of offenses and debts.
To be given grace and yet refuse to give it in return. It's hard to grasp how it can happen, and yet it does. Even when the man was brought back before the king and thrown into prison himself for his lack of mercy, I wonder if he even then understood the grace that he had been shown. I believe that rather than realize his mistake and understand the gift of grace that he had been granted, that he most likely spent his days in prison filling in a ledger of what he must have seen as injustices from the king rather than seeing the grace he had been given.
To be given a gift of unmerited grace and in turn give judgment to those who have less of a debt than you. To have had your own ledger completely forgiven, yet in turn to choke the very life from one you should grant grace. What a sad and dangerous way to chose to live life.
So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him. Luke 15:29-30 NKJV
He had me where he wanted me. Stuck. Paralyzed. Bitter. I knew it was him. I knew that I didn't belong here, but I couldn't get out. I looked around me and saw the blessings of answered prayer unfolding all around me. Things I had pleaded with God for the last few months were now in place, and His promise of comfort was finally evident. Yet here I sat wallowing in self-pity and bitterness while God flooded me with answered prayers. Here I was, a blood bought anointed and commissioned Jesus girl, stuck in a dark place not understanding at all how I got here.
I was desperate for someone to talk to....someone who could understand. I tried, but I finally decided that this was something that I was going to have to move past on my own with God. This Jesus girl knows that He's all I need, but let's be honest...sometimes you just need a human to be Jesus in the flesh. Someone to hug you, pray with you, and text to see if you're okay. I had arranged to meet a friend to talk, but it fell through and we didn't meet. Discouragement was creeping over me more and more when she sent a text...the text I needed.
"You are the 'good son' again in the prodigal son." The thought had never occurred to me. She was right.
Those who know me best know that my least favorite story in the Bible is a favorite of most preachers and Christians. I have issues with the story of the Prodigal Son. I know that it is symbolic of all of us who as sinners came to ourselves and returned to God. I get the beautiful iconic picture of the father running with outstretched arms to greet his wayward son who has returned home from his wicked ways. I understand that I too was once a prodigal and that God welcomed me with open arms through faith in Christ. But I know something else about that story...I know the older son.
The eldest in the story is often portrayed by preachers to be ungrateful and jealous. He is seen as the bad guy in the story. But I don't see it that way...maybe because I can identify with him.
His little brother had earlier decided to ask his father for his inheritance. Now as the youngest, he wasn't in line to inherit what the oldest could, yet he did have an inheritance to claim. Rather than waiting for his father to pass, he boldly requested his share of the estate while his father was living. He then took his inheritance and squandered it away in a far country wasting it and finding himself alone, homeless, and poor. He found himself hungry and destitute, living and eating among pigs. Finally one day he comes to himself and remembers what he left back at home and decides to return. His forgiving and loving father welcomes him with open arms. His father gives him new clothes and a ring, commands that the fatted calf be killed in honor of his return, and that a party begin to celebrate the occasion. Such a picture of unconditional love...but wait a minute.
While little brother is getting cleaned up for the party complete with a new outfit and a ring, someone is missing. The fatted calf is prepared and the merriment begins, but no one goes to get the older brother. He is out in the fields working. While his little brother was living life in the far country, possibly even with booze, wild women, and parties, he stayed home. He now had to help out around the house even more, carrying the responsibilities that his brother neglected. He had spent a long day in the fields and came home to sounds of music and dancing. He had to ask a servant about what was happening.
He was angry. Every preacher I've ever heard makes him sound like a horrible creature, but is he? I understand him. I want to call him over at this point of the story and tell him that I understand. He did what was right. He stayed. He followed the rules. He tried to please his father. All this time while the prodigal followed his lusts and selfishness, this man had stayed home. He had been the faithful one. He had been the one who remained at his father's feet. He was the one who continued to press on through each day keeping it as normal as he possibly could. And what did he get in return? Not even an invitation to the party.
He was hurt and angry, refusing to be a part of it. His father came out, and begged him to come in and join them. He couldn't understand why his son did not share in this joy felt by the others. I can almost close my eyes and see them there. It was probably dusk when the son returned in from the fields. I see him in tears, clenched fists against his chest, pleading with his father to understand beneath the candlelit lanterns on the house. There he stands with tears streaming down his face, needing his father to look at him and see what he feels. He tells him that all these years he has served him as best as he could. He has stayed faithful. He has diligently tried not to transgress against his commandments, wanting to honor him with his life and his heart. He has devoted himself to his father. He could have done the things his brother did. He could have made different decisions. But he didn't. His brother got the fatted calf...he never even got the honor or recognition of a gift of a goat. He wasn't ready to join Team Prodigal. Especially not if he only got to be the water boy.
I looked in the mirror and I saw him looking back at me. I have been that one in the shadow of the lantern light looking through the window at the party I wasn't invited to attend. I know what it's like to feel forgotten for your efforts. I know the struggle and frustration that faithfulness brings. I know what it's like to try with everything in your being to follow Him even when you don't want to, but you do it anyway. I know what it's like to feel like you sacrificed your heart and dreams to honor God in ways that don't come easily. I know what it feels like to have had the chance to make bad decisions too, yet you don't because you love your Father too much to do it, even though you aren't led there by choice but by grace. I know what it's like to be angry. To desperately plead with your Father to see...to understand...to notice.
His father answers him. I picture his father laying his hand against his older son's cheek as he looks him in the eye. The father reassures his son that he sees his faithfulness. He knows that this son has sought to remain faithful. He assures him that all that he has belongs to him. His inheritance is yet to come. But for now they must rejoice in the return of the prodigal. So many things could have happened to him and yet, here he is back home again. He needs to be supported and showered in unconditional love by both of them.
I think that the older brother probably got cleaned up and went in to join the party. I see him hugging his brother while his father looks on and smiles. I see an endless line of hugs and well wishes for the prodigal as guests leave. I am sure that the father rejoiced that night as he tucked his wayward son into his old bed in his old room. I think that night as his father made his way to his own room with a heart filled with gratefulness, that he stopped by the room of the older son. I think he looked in as he slept, maybe even going in to adjust his blanket. I think he smiled as he gently rubbed his hair back from his tired face. I see him kissing him on the cheek, and whispering that he loves him and that he has seen it all and is proud of the son he has been. His father has witnessed his demonstration of love, and he will not forget him.