What two children taught me about my scribbled- up heart

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Teaching kids about Jesus presents many opportunities to remember the love that changes us.

Yesterday I was the teacher to a group of kinder through 5th graders. The kids sat at their places around the tables, red construction paper hearts and crayons in front of them and one of the older kids read aloud our Bible verse for the day. 

Indeed, if you fulfill the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.”

James 2:8 CSB

When the child returned to his seat he found that the child next to him had scribbled black crayon all over his red paper heart. The child Bible reader, now red-faced with anger, picked up a crayon and scribbled all over the red paper heart laying in front of the child offender who had ruined his paper heart. The two boys, now red faced, eyes spilling over with tears, were ready to lay down their darkened paper hearts and take up fists with each other. 

The boys were separated, the class called to attention again, and with the demonstration of messing up each others’ hearts before us, we dove into the question from our Bible reading: How in the world do you love your neighbor as yourself?

I can go to church, read my bible quietly with a cup of coffee in the morning, put my ear buds in and listen to my favorite writers spell out hope in Christ from their stories and songs, and feel like I’m doing pretty good. Then people walk in my room, pick up my one fragile heart and start scratching it black with their selfish words, or cold manner, or inconsiderate acts. And then, I don’t feel so much good. 

I’ll never be able to think of being a Christian as something I’m proud of or good at as long as being a Christian means loving my heart-wrenching neighbor as I love myself. 

By the end of our class yesterday all the kids came to the conclusion that we don’t love very well. Not like Jesus did. We decided we need Jesus to help us. And we need to ask for forgiveness a lot.  

And this is how I know Christ has hold of me. I see how he loves. I see how he turns my heart towards others with a desire to give what I have no power in myself to give. I see the brokenness in those around me, and I feel the self-protective snatching of my heart away from potential scribblers, and I say, “Lord, it’s too much! Send them away!” And I hear Jesus say, “No. Give yourself to them.”  And I watch as he takes my meager offerings of a listening ear, a choice to be quiet, or speak up, or get low or stand up and makes them enough to communicate love. 

At the end of our class the older boy went to the younger boy of his own accord, looked him in the eyes and said, “I’m sorry.” The boys hugged each other and played. 

Jesus can make you want to make it right with the person whose heart you marred in revenge and hug the person who turned your tidy heart into a scribbled-up mess.

Christian, don’t miss what Jesus calls you to this week

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I hit an emotional low this week. Last week I crashed from the adrenaline of responding to this pandemic in my church, community, family and hospital. This week I’ve cried. A lot.

The normal low-level fatigue I live with has become high-level. The irritability that signifies my depression has been showing. Hot tears have been spilling over my eyes and fiery darts of faithless thoughts have stung my swirling mind. I’ve found myself very tempted to hide in a batch of devoured hot brownies. I’ve vacillated between wanting to hide from every day’s grim new statistics of the spread of this virus and the death and destruction it’s brought, to busying myself with organizing my week, writing lists, setting goals and calling on people I care for.

And it hit me today. This is Holy Week. This is a special week of reflection and remembrance. And I’ve been missing it. I’m like the crowds around Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. But today, Jesus got my attention.

My sister called me today and reminded me how God saved her. In her words, “You didn’t give up on me sis. When I was mean, you kept calling, visiting, sending cards and notes. You never gave up. You listened to me. You made me see that Jesus is real, not just a religious idea.” Her words shook me awake.

I believe that the Jesus who entered Jerusalem a couple thousand years ago, setting in motion a series of events that would lead to his crucifixion on Friday and his resurrection on Sunday, is alive. And lives in me. I believe he suffered this week those millennia ago so that I could experience the freedom of the glory that only the children of God experience (Romans 8:20).

This week the world is suffering. She groans. I groan. But as the world writhes under the pain of a pandemic this Holy Week, God’s children look to Jesus, our older brother, gone before to save us.  We share this week with Jesus. We are in him and he is in us. He is redeeming our suffering. And we are sharing in his glory. It’s a beautiful wonder the world longs to see. And it’s a reality the children of God have been commissioned to invite them into.

This week my pastor called his congregation to pray for and specifically tell another person what Jesus has done for them. To be honest, intentionally setting out to tell my friend what Jesus has done for me via phone call or text or video (because doing it face to face isn’t safe) and inviting her to follow Jesus with me feels a little crazy. It feels a little bit like I might look foolish. I might be misunderstood. I might be mocked. I might be rejected. I might be… cut off.  Like Jesus was, for me.

Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to me. And He’s the best thing that could every happen to any of my friends. And if I love them like Jesus loves me, I’ll look all those possibilities in the eye, and like Jesus I’ll set my face determined to go there.

There is no greater love than one would lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). And there is no greater way to lay down my life for my friends than to give up whatever might happen to me if I determine to intentionally and faithfully love them well and invite them to follow Jesus with me.

I pray that like Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem this week, determined and knowing what he had to do to reconcile me with God, I will set my face toward someone else, determined to lay my life down that they could experience the freedom and glory of Jesus.

 

Where the beauty of God is found: Meditation on Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! -Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 ESV

Last summer, after a week long vacation with my family on the Mogollon Rim in eastern Arizona, I found myself pouting as we drove away from the beauty of Pine, Fir, Spruce, hidden lakes, quiet, sites of elk, bear and deer in the wild, and a visiting hummingbird on our cabin porch every morning. I knew we were heading back to the hot desert valley and “real” life where the everyday issues that arise from marriage, raising children, work, housekeeping, bills, friends, neighbors, family, church, etc. were going to have to be faced. My husband drove and I wallowed in pity as I stared out the car window watching the high elevation scenery give way to desert. Hot tears broke through and I found myself giving in to all my faithless thoughts. I squeaked out a prayer, “Help me Lord. I don’t want to go back.”

As I sat there crying and praying, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, “Sheila, you’re looking for beauty in nature and quiet, but I want you to find beauty in laying down your life for others. Relationships with others is where I’m at.

1 John 3:26 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Yes all creation is pointing us to the majesty and power and beauty of God (Psalm 19:1-2), but only in the beauty of laying down our lives for others, being the ones who help our friends up when they fall, do we find the greatest image of the majesty, power and beauty of God: Jesus! Jesus laid down his life for us (John 10:11). He is the Friend of friends. He didn’t avoid people or the messes of relationships to reach some nirvana or peaceful place alone with God. He laid down his life daily in the hard things of relationships and ultimately at the cross giving us an example. And in his resurrection, giving us the power to follow his example.

Sometimes one feels better than two because it’s less messy. But the truth is we were not made to do life alone. In the pain of relationships we have the power of Christ in us, and his love compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14) to lift each other up and walk with each other through hard things. This is the evidence in the church and in the Christian’s life that we belong to Jesus. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).

Father, help me to surrender my life to you. Give me eyes to see your beauty and experience your peace not in isolating myself, but in following Jesus- laying down my life for others.

What my unbelieving friend and I have in common: doubt

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My husband is my friend.  For almost 25 years we’ve shared a bed, a home and all the dirty humanity we can’t groom or hide in those shared spaces.  And although we don’t share a worshipful response to Christ, we do have something very much in common: doubt.

I listened to the end of a podcast called Hinge the other day.  I need to go back and listen from the beginning, but it in essence it’s a series of podcasts where two friends- one an athiest, one a pastor- look to find the answer to the question: Who is Jesus?  What struck me about the last episode of that podcast was how much the two of them were actually alike in their exploration of that question.  They both had doubts.  They both had unanswered questions.  The difference was not that one had all the answers and the other didn’t, or that one even had a strong faith and the other didn’t.  The difference was that one confessed he was captivated by this Jesus he heard about, and despite his doubts, he was convinced that Jesus is who he said he is and the other confessed he was not captivated- he just couldn’t believe.

It has helped a lot over the years to listen to my husband’s doubts and questions and explore my own, being honest with him about them.  I used to tend to get defensive when Jesus got brought up (ususally cause I felt mocked). But the more I have listened to my friend’s thoughts, the more I can say I understand and let go of the things that don’t really matter.

I’m just now learning about the Enneagram, but I’m sure I’m a 9.  And 9’s avoid conflict.  I definitely do that. Being married to a man who gets energy from conflict and challenges all the beliefs I’ve held dear, has helped me to learn to deal with conflict and seek the peace I want for myself and my husband.  It’s good to be challenged by people who don’t agree with you.  And that’s a very hard thing for me to say.

Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Conflict (tribulations) is inevitable. I can’t avoid it. And most definitely in as close a relationship as marriage it cannot be dodged.

If I seek peace by avoiding conflict I’ll never find it.  But in the conflict with my husband there’s a peace, a shalom, a wholeness Jesus gives that allows me to meet my husband where he is.  I pray that these years of work Jesus has been doing in me will be a witness to my dear friend of the realness of Christ.  And I pray Jesus will one day meet with my husband in one of our honest conversations and wrestlings over just who this Jesus is.

 

The Older Woman

person in red coat sitting on gang chair
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You walked ahead
not knowing I was
thirty years behind.

I was nineteen
putting on a ring
promising till death.

You were forty-one
walking through the
valley of the shadow
ahead of me.

Three decades later
a block apart
our boundaries and times
cross providentially.

Silver hair ahead
of my fading blonde
bent over with tears
we cry together.

We bend holding
hand in wrinkled hand
breathing prayers
and petitions.

Kindred hearts
two souls bound by
the One who holds
our times in his hand.

Beauty in the messy business of loving people

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We’ve been home from our wilderness retreat for over a week. While we were there I soaked up the beauty in the nature all around me.  The tall green Pines and Spruce and the shimmering Aspen made me feel like I was tasting a bit of heaven. I intentionally observed the creation around me and enjoyed every second of it.  But I noticed my level of irritation with my husband and kids didn’t decrease as a result of my holiday, it increased.  I’ve been mulling this over.  Depression has her crooked fingerprints all over my attitude of late, but there’s something else too.  A reality that true beauty, real heaven, lasting peace and refreshment come not through escaping conflict and people, but through the cross.

What I mean is, the glory my soul seeks from God is not found in escaping the hard things of loving people.  Nature is a good place for temporary refreshment.  But people- messy, broken, sinful people- are where God’s kingdom dwells.

Jesus didn’t teach us to become one with nature. He taught us to lay down our lives for others. It’s not the path of escape that leads to God’s glory.  It’s the path to the cross.

Creation’s beauty is here to speak to us of God’s manifold beauty. I should enjoy it and praise God for it, and let my observations of it roll up into worship and affection for Christ.  But my soul won’t find it’s healing there.

Jesus calls us to walk through the dark valley of this life, enduring suffering, bearing our cross and following him in loving people and loving God.  He calls us to believe that like him we will experience resurrection life where the fulfillment of all our longings will be satisfied in our unrestricted union with him.

I’m an introvert, but I love people.  I also get tired of them.  In nature I find an escape.  But this vacation reminded me that God has an ultimate rest for me in Christ. And in taking up my cross, loving people and loving God- following Jesus- I’ll experience the peace a vacation and nature can never give.

Nature is beautiful, but the earth is full of people who bear the image of God.  In the messy business of loving them there is a greater beauty.

‘”This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. ‘

John 15:11-12