Get up! Lift them up! Take them by the hand!

9-8-2019
Connor’s baptism day

There’s a story in Genesis that grabs me.

Abraham and Sarah used their servant Hagar in their unbelief to get for themselves the child God promised. But when Sarah finally gave birth to the son God had promised, they sent Hagar and her son Ismael away into the desert.

In Genesis 21:8-21, the story goes that Hagar and her son are sent to wander in the desert with, “some food and a skin of water.” Basically they were sent away to die or become slaves to someone else. It’s horrible. But it gets worse.

Hagar and Ishmael run out of their meager provisions. Hagar knows her son can’t survive without food or water. So she puts him under a bush and walks away because she can’t bear watching her son die (verse 16). In the distance, her son out of sight, she slumps to the ground and sobs. And there God meets her.

The Bible says God heard the boy’s cries. And God tells Hagar to get up and hold her son. And he promises he will provide for her son.

I think as parents, and maybe more often as moms, we see our kids in impossible situations, maybe situations we fear will destroy them, and our slow-to-believe hearts can’t bear it.

Many times over the past 16 years of parenting I have succumbed to the belief that my circumstances would surely take my boys down. And in my fear and dread, I backed away from them and even wished I could just disappear so I didn’t have to watch them be destroyed. And every single time, the Holy Spirit did a, “Pull yourself together girl!” with me.

When God met Hagar, he told her to get up and lift up her son and take him by the hand. And that’s what God has told me many times. Even this week.

Moms, dads, when the circumstances in our lives seem certain spiritual or physical death for our kids, don’t turn your head and cave into depression’s lies. Get up! Lift them up! Lift them up in prayer. Lift their literal chin if you can. Take them by the hand and lead them to Jesus.

My boys are the children statistically most unlikely to be believers in Christ. Their dad is not yet a believer in Christ. They have been drug through three separations that almost led to divorce every time. They go to a public school system where they don’t learn Christ. They’ve been hurt by their friends, tempted to drink alcohol, do drugs and live for their own pleasure. And I’m sure they will go through more trials and testings, failures and successes. But just when I feel like I can’t handle watching the pain or confusion or bad choices they are enduring, God is there saying, “Get up Sheila! Lift them up! Take their hand and walk with them through this.”

Don’t give up on God with your kids. Don’t withdraw. Press in. Cry out to God, take your kids by the hand and follow Jesus.

 

How Josh Harris and I Fell

silhouette of a man standing on a mountain
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Elevenish years ago I was ready to die on the mountain of the issue of women not working outside the home.

Today I read this tweet from Jared C. Wilson:

A few years back, I significantly reduced my exposure to Christian influences that prove more passionate about “issues” than Christ & I’ve been better off for it. If that voice you listen to isn’t regularly stirring your affections for Jesus, how loud should it be in your ears?

Reading that I remembered my proud stay-at-home-mom years and cringed with embarrassment and regret.

The recent public announcement of Josh Harris’ divorce and statement saying he no longer considers himself a Christian, has brought up an issue for me. The issue of making issues the big deal and not Jesus.

It makes my gut ball up in knots at the thought that Josh tasted the goodness of Lord and walked away. I pray it isn’t so. I pray like Jonah, he’ll find himself hearing Jesus in the belly of a stinking situation. But this whole story about Josh makes me think about my own humbling, and friends I’ve watched fall while we stood tall, holding the issues we were passionate about high- the banner of Jesus’ love forgotten under our feet.

When I had a 3 and 4 year old at home I honed in on these verses

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. ” Titus 2:3-5

Whole ministries are formed based on these verses. And in the conservative Christian circles where I learned of Jesus, these verses have been central to teachings in all kinds of women’s ministries. When my boys were young I clung to them. I clung to them so tightly that I remember standing outside my garage one day thinking that I’d be willing to loose my marriage so I could, “work at home” and not have to go get a job outside my house and leave my kids in daycare.

I moralized a woman staying home as righteous and working outside of the home as sinful. Makes me nauseated remembering those days. If you search my blog far back enough, you’ll probably find all kinds of posts about how Christian women shouldn’t work outside the home. Thank God he humbled me, showed me how wrong I was, and used those same verses to draw me to the heart of Jesus and true homemaking (which has nothing to do with having a paying job outside your home and everything to do with serving and loving the people under the same roof with you).

I don’t know Josh Harris. But the fact that at one time he stood tall and wrote a book on the mountain of the purity issue and now is not only walking away from his marriage but his proclaimed faith makes me think he and I share a similar humbling. Both of us, and many others, have fallen on the mountain of issues in Christian teachings. We didn’t take heed like Paul warned, and we fell. I pray like me, Josh will find Jesus in the place he’s fallen.

The only hill worth dying on is the one where Jesus laid down his life for hypocrites- blind, wretched and pathetic like me and Josh Harris. Jesus is the banner we should be raising high. Not issues. Lest the very place where we think we stand tall and right, we fall.

 

Night sky speech

photo of half moon
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The moon looks like your gaze
blazing light through the dark
veil of night
but I know it’s just an illusion.
I see the moon
but I can’t see you.

You must be gazing brighter
in a night darker
tearing the veil
cause I don’t know another way.
I can’t see your light,
but no one else has the words of life.

Numb

 

black and white girl whitespace jacket
Photo by Craig Dennis on Pexels.com

“Help my unbelief!”
Is what I pray most often.
Because I don’t see you,
I can’t feel you,
and I seem to be the recipient of
decreased sensation to your work.

Chris was onto something,
because I can’t smell the color nine either.

There is this whiff,
this glimpse I get like
when a hummingbird whizzes by
in all her green, gold, blue and yellow glory.

Maybe I can smell the fragrance of Christ.
Maybe I have caught a flash of his beauty.

Like the man with neuropathy whose nerves
have replaced the sensation
of wet sand between his toes
with a dull, tingling pain-
I want to feel you.
But there’s something wrong with me.

Please help my unbelief!

3 Reasons I Got Up on Sunday

black ceramic cup with smoke above
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I woke up this past Sunday feeling heavy, tired and unmotivated. And honestly, I wake up that way a lot.

On the energy scale of Eeyore to Tigger, I’m a notch or two above Eeyore. And my goal when I wake up is to just make it to the coffee pot.  There, I usually catch myself spacing out, listening to the 2,000 thoughts nagging me to not forget to do this or that. When I realize I’m holding my breath, picking at the dry skin on my cuticles, I usually stop and exhale, “Have mercy on me Lord! Apart from you I can do nothing!” And I wait for some remembrance of God’s word that gives me hope.

This Sunday was like that. The 2,000 voice-secretaries reminding me of all the things drove me to plead with the Holy Spirit to remind me exactly why I get up on Sunday mornings early to go to church, sing with toddlers and hear the preaching of God’s word.  This Sunday Moses came to mind.

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses reminds the people of God’s command to love him with all they are and to teach His ways to their children. And then in verse 20 through 23 it says:

When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.” -Deuteronomy 6:20-23

This is what came to mind on Sunday when I couldn’t remember why I was up.

As a mom, kids ministry leader and member of my local church, I am responsible for more than myself. I’m responsible for those looking to me for leadership and the why behind what we do.  And if I don’t have the why bubbling up out of me, I’m not going to be able to lead them in the why.  That’s basically what Moses told the people. He told them first they had to love the Lord their God with all their heart; they had to have all God had done had for them on their hearts before they could ever teach it to their children.

As parents and leaders and members of the body of Christ, we need to know the why behind what we do so we can cast a vision for our kids and those we serve and minister to.  Moses’ instruction in this passage in Dueteronomy is a good guide for remembering the why.

First, the reason we have church services, and small groups and classes for kids, and talk about the gospel, and the way of Jesus with our kids when we sit, walk and drive is because we were once slaves. Not in Egypt like the Israelites, but to sin. I was once a slave to my appetites that lead to death. But now I’m free. That’s why I gather with the local church corporately and in small groups and teach preschoolers the name of Jesus and talk with my kids about the love of Christ on the way to school.

Second, the reason we sing, and pray, and raise our hands, and clap, and celebrate special days, and have devotions with our kids despite the multiple interruptions and inconveniences is because the Lord brought us out of slavery to sin into the freedom of the children of God by the mighty act of bearing our sin in his body on a tree; absorbing the condemnation coming our way. That’s why we worship. Because Jesus has done a scandalously gracious thing for us.

Third, the reason we make plans, live missionally, seeking to lead others to Christ is because God has shown us his faithfulness. We’ve seen him change our hearts and give us new desires. We’ve tasted of his goodness and experienced his love. That’s why we plan special outreaches, and make phone calls to meet with strangers who are becoming friends about Jesus. That’s why we make a big deal out of the resurrection and invite our friends to follow Jesus with us. Because we’ve tasted, and we’ve seen that the Lord, he is good.

And we press on through our lives, and as a church throughout history, moving forward in the race set before us, eyes fixed on Jesus, looking for the day when he makes all things new, because He promised he would never leave us or forsake us. He promised to give us all we need to do what he calls us to. He promised to return. And we believe him.

When you feel like you’re endlessly marching around a wall

architecture black and white blur bricks
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“Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. But Joshua commanded the people, “You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.” -Joshua 6:1-4,10

This story has always caught my attention.  If I had to put it into my own words: God told Joshua to tell all the people to march around a wall where a bunch of strong and powerful men had locked themselves inside. He said, “Don’t make any noise, just keep marching until the day I tell you to yell.”

I mean of all the things God could tell his people to do to get at a prostitute and her family out of a city of proud and strong people.  March around a wall?  How mundane. How boring. How redundant.

I’m sure there were conversations back at the camp at night after days of walking around the wall of Jericho in silence.  I’m sure there were those who wondered, “Why in the world are we doing this?”

Do you ever feel like you’re living this life of faith, doing what God tells you to do, and it seems like you’re walking in circles?  Do you have a person or people in your life that you long to see surrender their hearts to Jesus, but year after year goes by and there’s no response? No change. No desire to come to church with you. No willingness to talk with you about the gospel. They seem perfectly and firmly shut in, keeping your Jesus out.

I do. And I start to get weary.

Today, I drove into the driveway of my house, the grey skies and dormant yellow grass leaving a dull hew on the visage of my normal veiw of home. I shut the car off and sat there for awhile, looking up into the thick cloudy skies, and muttered a prayer of fatigue.  “Lord, how long?  How long am I supposed to keep…”  My prayer was interrupted by the verses above ringing in my ears.  “Yes Lord, how long am I supposed to keep marching around these walls?” I surrendered.

The Holy Spirit searching my thoughts before I spoke them, knowing my doubts and slowness to believe, helped me remember that eventually those walls came crashing down and Rahab and her family were saved.

I love a man who has resisted my desire for him to know Christ for 25 years. And for 25 years the Spirit has continued to give me my marching orders: Keep dwelling with him. Keep loving him. Keep bearing with him. Keep serving him. Keep worshipping me while he watches what the King James Version of the Bible calls, “… the conversation of your life.”

One day the walls are going to fall. Just as Jericho’s walls fell, one day the walls around the heart of those I love, those God has commanded me to stay the course with, are going to crumble at the sound of the instrument God choses to bring them down. And on that day I am going to be overjoyed.

So now, while I sit in my driveway on a cold, grey day, feeling weary of not seeing God bring down the walls yet, I chose to praise him.

Beloved, don’t grow weary in doing good.  God is using your life to save others.  Keep marching. Keep following Jesus. At the right time, whether he uses your mouth or another’s, he’s going to destroy the proud walls that are keeping the guilty from their rescue.

 

God’s sovereignty and bridges

couple walking on gray bridge at daytime
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We went to the gym as a family today.  It’s a new stage of life for us.  Both of our sons are now tall young men.  My husband is the resident personal trainer and all things fitness in our family.  If it were up to me, we’d all just put on flip-flops and go for a long walk with the dog, stopping frequently to notice tiny flowers growing in crevices. I’m not a fitness junkie by any means, but being married to one, I’ve learned to enjoy the benefits of exercise.

My husband and are polar opposites in personality and we don’t share a worshipful response to Christ.  Sometimes it feels like we have nothing in common.  But after 25 year I’m learning to see the common grace and bridges between us. Places we can meet and enjoy together.  The gym is one of those.

Last week I declared Sunday nights family night.  An action in response to the convicting words of my sister.  In telling me a story about a family member, she brought up eating together once a week at the dinner table.  She wasn’t aiming her suggestion at me, but it was aimed right at me.  We hadn’t eaten a meal together at the table for years.  Here we could surely find a 6 by 3 foot bridge to bring us together.

I easily fall into the trap that says, “There’s no point in saying anything. Nothing’s going to change anyway.” So telling my husband and teens Sunday nights are to be reserved for our family at the dinner table at 6pm, was an invitation from my familiar enemy, reminding me he was set, ready to snare me when my plans all fell apart. But thanks be to God, they all showed up at the table and we actually laughed and had a meal together.  It was really good.

Today’s sermon at church was about this very thing: the sovereignty of God.  It was hard to hear to be honest.  My 25th wedding anniversary is approaching and through much turmoil, my husband and I are still married, but he continues to reject Christ. “I’m just not interested in all that Sheila….” I’ve heard it many times. I cried most of the sermon. My pastor talked about Jacob wrestling with the man of God.  I thought about God’s sovereignty, my husband’s unbelief, our 25 hard years together and my heart swelled with grief.  “How come you won’t just do it Lord!” I pled.  “Why won’t you set your love on him now? What if you never do?”

My anger was exposed at the proclamation of the gospel of the all powerful, pierced hands that saved me.  My angry heart threw a fit and raled against my Savior’s power and omniscience. And then I felt the place where he makes me limp.  I felt the pain of knowing I can’t wrestle with God and leave unchanged. He is God.  I am not. I don’t understand.  I want to give up, but what in the world does that mean?  Give up what? Hope? For what? What I can do in my limp to make things the way I think God should make them?

I left church with puffy aching eyes and burning throat.  Sunglassess covering my anger before I got out the door.  I couldn’t come up with an answer that satisfies by the time I drove home so I laid down like a child and slept.  I thought, “God, what else can I do?” as I resigned my body to the helpless state all flesh requires.

I woke up thinking about the bridges between my husband and I, and that today is Sunday- family night- my enemy mocked my hopes. God hadn’t poured out any magic while I slept.  He’s not my genie in a bottle.  So I got up and went for a bridge. “Let’s go to the gym guys.”  Everyone balked.  It’s become easier for everyone to stay in their own elelctronic-device corner. But they came.  They got in the car and we went to the gym.  We all did the same workout. Together.  At the end, my husband frustrated with our youngest because he wouldn’t do the exercise the right way, threw his hands in the air and said, “Son, you don’t know what you’re saying.  I know the right way to do this. You don’t.”

And that was it.

That was God’s answer.

“I know the right way to do this daughter.  You don’t.”

In the car on the way home I turned to my angry son and said, “Do you believe dad wants what’s best for you son?  Do you agree that he knows more than you about working out?”

He nodded a surrendered yes and then threw in a, “But he’s not doing what he’s telling me to do!”  Still wanting to get a satisfactory answer for his complaint.

“But if he knows more than you, and he wants what’s best for you, can you just trust him and do what he says?”

And then I took the while-you-drive Deuteronomy 6 opportunity.

“It’s the same with God son.  We don’t understand why he’s doing what he does or why he tells us to do or not do certain things, but he’s God. He knows more than us.  And he’s good. He’s got our best in mind. So we can trust him.”

That’s when my husband piped in, “One thing though son, I’m not God.”

Hello!  Hello Sheila!  Dope slap to the forehead moment. Are you listening??!!

I guess I’ll keep going to the bridges and trusting that my Dad knows more about men’s hearts than I do.  And he’s good.  I can trust him.

Lord, you know. You heard me this morning. You met me in that car. You taught me through my son.  And you spoke through my husband.  Please let the words sink in. 

prayer

man looking green trees under blue sky
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I always look up when I talk to you
The dark sky
speckled with stars-
so far.
My little words
from this two foot plot
don’t travel much.
Certainly not way up there.
I hang my head.
Do you hear little speck-of-dust me?
I close my eyes.
You seem so too far.
But the word is near,
even in my mouth and heart.
You feel closer in the closet of my closed lids.
I don’t need to see the stars.

I was a dog. He became a worm- A short story inspired by the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15

Short almost-true tales

I watched all night. My daughter’s body thrashing. Her mouth yelling vile words. Words she should not know. Her young body was evidently being abused by evil. Something foul was possessing her. Oppressing her. Perverting the beauty I could see in her. I looked away. I needed a break from the visage of my precious daughter’s torture. I looked outside, up at the dark sky pierced with tiny lights. So many, like the light might just rip right through the blanket of darkness.

My mind wandered back to one night as a child when a section of the southern sky did tear open. The brightest light I had ever seen shone down on the area where the people of Israel lived. I asked my mom what was happening. Was the world ending? Were we going to die? She pulled me up onto her lap, looking to see if anyone was listening, and then whispered, “It’s the prophecy of the coming King of Israel, the Son of David.”

My people, the Canaanites, have a long history with the Israelites. They were supposed to drive us out of this land. But they didn’t. Some of them married us. Some of them used our prostitutes. Some of them made us slaves. Some of them worshipped our gods. And through the years we Canaanites have heard the prophecies of their coming King. We wondered if when their king came he would finally do what his people had failed to do and drive us out.

A buzz had been circling that this Son of David was in Israel. People were saying he rebukes his people’s priests and eats with prostitutes and tax collectors. They said he heals the blind, touches lepers and even drives demons out of their victims. I wondered if he would free my daughter.

A racket of breaking jars shook me back from fantasy. I ran to my daughter, blood everywhere. She was cutting herself with the jagged shards. I scurried to her, pulled the shattered ware from her hand and scooped her into my arms. She thrashed, pulled a fist-full of hair from my head and scratched my face. I dropped her on the ground as she gave a shout of violent anger. She curled up in the shadows. I cleaned her wounds while she screeched. My heart ached. How could my daughter live like this? I picked up the bloody, broken mess. We were a broken mess. I laid down, closed my eyes and pictured that bright light I had seen as a girl in the southern sky. “Maybe he’ll come here,” I whispered and succumbed to the exhaustion of trying to keep my daughter alive.

“Get up! Get up! He’s coming!” My sister and aunt looked excited. “Gather her up! Let’s go. The one they call Israel’s Messiah is coming our way.”

“He is? How do you know?” They talked over each other in excitement explaining that a traveler had seen him walking towards the border of Tyre and Sidon where we lived. “Come on! Let’s go! What are you standing there for?” I was in a daze. Part of me thought there was no way a Jewish man, much less a Jewish King would give me a second glance. But why would he come our way? Maybe he was coming to drive us out like his people were supposed to. But maybe, just maybe he would have mercy on me and my daughter and heal her as he had others.

I saw him in the distance, a band of Jewish men around him. No horse. No pomp. No guards. Just a simple-looking man with a bunch of simple-looking men kicking up a cloud of dust as they walked. Maybe it was a hoax. A rumor. I shrunk back behind some desert shrubs as he and his men approached. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was a light piercing through my dark world. I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t know why, but I knew, this was the prophesied Son of David. I knew I was nothing. But I knew he was something.

I ran out to the road. “Have mercy on me O Lord! Son of David. My daughter…” I pointed to the shrieking girl under the shrubs, “My daughter is severely tormented by a demon.” He kept walking. He didn’t say a word. Why should he? I was a Canaanite dog. I pleaded again for mercy and again I got silence. “I’m not going to give up! I can’t give up!” I thought. I ran to catch up and continued to cry for mercy. I’d follow him until I could walk no more. The men around him looked at me with disgust. “I know, I’m a dog. I know. But I’m not going to run away with my tail between my legs.” I argued with them in my head.

It was just his voice, but it sounded like water to my parched soul. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Though his words were not for my benefit I was drawn in by them. I wanted to hear him more. I wanted to get close. He said he came for lost sheep, maybe he would have compassion on two dogs. What could he do, kill me? What did I have to loose, our life was a living death. I ran to him and fell at his feet, “Lord! Please help me!”

“It’s not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the puppies.” He responded with a tenderness that captivated me. He didn’t call me a dog like the Israelites. He called me a puppy. A scandalous thought occurred to me, “He walked all the way out here for my daughter and me…” I dared to look up. I looked in his eyes. I knew it was true. I knew it was him! I knew he was the promised Messiah the light had torn through the darkness to shine on all those years ago. I would be a puppy at his feet for eternity if he would let me. There was no place more full of hope in my life than right there in the dust at his feet.

“Yes, Lord, but even the puppies eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” I reasoned. His eyes glowed. A warm smile lifted his olive cheeks. He beamed. For a second I thought the light that ripped through the sky when he was born might rip right through his gaze at me. He looked at the cautious Jewish men around him and then to me as though I was the most important person in his presence, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be as you desire.” I trembled. He called me a woman as though it was a title of great honor. As though I was royalty. I looked the direction he motioned. There was my beautiful daughter. Not thrashing. Not cursing. Not cutting herself. Just slowly walking towards me with light in her eyes.

They say he died bludgeoned and bloodied on a Roman cross, bearing the sins of all who believe in him. They say after three days he overcame the perverted schemes of hell’s demons and walked right out of that dark tomb. His light ripped through the darkness. I had thought he was coming our way because he was going to drive us out. But he came our way to draw us in and drive the darkness out.

My daughter and I were brute beasts before him. I was a dog, returning, time and time again to the vomit of my ways. There was no hope to be found in the Baals, or temple prostitutes or abusive men, but I kept running to them. I turned away from all that and took my chances on him that day. And he brought me and my daughter up from under his table and stood us in a place of honor. He had come for me- a dog, and his people- lost sheep, and walked away to become for us a worm, not a man, though he is a King.

 


This historical-fiction tale was written in response to a writing contest from Fathom Mag. I was inspired by Francine Rivers historical fiction novels and John Bloom’s Not By Sight.