Treacherous Gain

Sometimes I’m a liar liar pants on fire. I will straight up lie the first time you ask how I’m doing. And maybe the second and third times too. I’m fine, it’s fine, everything’s fine. I have quite a few patient friends, who put in the hard work of getting to know me. I’m slowly learning that the perceived danger of being known and loved is worth the apparent risk. It’s a long, slow, painful turning in the right direction and I’m thankful to have my people who are willing to stick with me.

One friend has a question that I know is coming if we’ve talked long enough for me to skirt the issues sufficiently… “How’s your heart?” A couple of weeks ago I was waiting for it. In my brain I was debating how to answer. I decided to inform her of where I was in a way that would make us laugh but be abundantly clear about the state of my heart. I told her I was listening to the Indigo Girls album Swamp Ophelia circa 1994. There’s a lengthy backstory to where this puts me, but let’s just say she knew I was not fine. It was not fine. Everything was not fine.

Ignoring her advice to find something that might pull me out of a pit instead of push me deeper into it, I listened to that album on repeat for days. Just like I did in the mixture of deep darkness and flat out fun of my college years. Feeling all the feels. When I hear those first few notes of the first track, I am flooded with memories both good and bad. In many ways that album stirs up deep regret, but it also makes me long to live and love better. One of the verses of that first song, Fugitive, keeps playing over and over in my head.

Now it’s coming to you / The lessons I’ve learned / Won’t do you any good / You’ve got to get burned / Well the curse and the blessing / They’re one in the same / Baby it’s all / Such a treacherous gain

Such a treacherous gain. As I struggle to walk this Christian life, to walk in a manner worthy, to learn to love as Christ has loved me, to listen and learn with humility, to move with compassion and grace, my flesh cries out: “This is hard! And uncomfortable! And I can’t like it!!!” My sinful heart recoils in the face of the unpredictable dangers and betrayal of self that being a disciple of Jesus promises. At the very least the gain of Christ is a loss of my comfort. In the truest sense, life in Christ is a call to death, a death of self and flesh. That feels so very treacherous

The path Christ has set us on isn’t exactly a path of ease or safety, with its dangers and trials of many forms, battles raged around us, as well as within us. We travel along the edge of a precipice that makes our hearts race and our stomachs plummet. All too often, our feet slipping along this narrow path. We have a call to die to self, to put aside the old fleshly desires, to fight against the sin that enslaves us, to in essence betray our sinful selves by turning to Jesus. His words ring out: “Take up your cross – this shameful instrument of death – and follow Me”. We face opposition and persecution from the world that hates our Savior, and we share in His sufferings. We battle our own flesh that clings to control, runs its own way, and fights to the death, The gain of the Gospel feels treacherous to our sinful hearts, because it is.

It is treacherous, but it is all such a treacherous gain! Jesus calls us to continue on in a world that will be full of trouble, and yet He has overcome that world. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat how difficult following Him will be, but He promises His presence in it and through it. His presence and power are our gain. Our great benefit. What we have because Jesus has us is more weighty than all the treachery we face.

The gain of grace is hard for our finite souls to fathom. Just read Ephesians 1 and experience the fire hose of grace to the face – chosen, loved, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, and given an inheritance. It is lavish, abundant, more than we could ever think or ask. Though we are called to die, we have new and everlasting life, and every spiritual blessing in Christ. And the greatest gain of all is that we have Jesus Himself!

It sounds weird to say it, but part of what feels so treacherous about this Christian walk is the call to love. If I’m honest, loving others well is filled with the possibility of danger and opportunity for betrayal. Reading through I Corinthians 13 confirms this feeling. Loving others means opening ourselves up for wounding. It requires laying our lives down as a sacrifice. Loving others is about seeking their good not our own, giving up our preferences. But the good news is that in Jesus we have been perfectly loved, and that love enables us to turn and try to do the same – albeit imperfectly – for others. His love changes us, it changes our hearts and our desires. It squashes our pride, and gives us empathy for others. It moves us with compassion towards those who are hurting and needy. His love allows us to face the promised danger and treachery without fear, and the greatness of the gain makes it all worthwhile.

Jesus endured the treacherous, both danger and betrayal, to bring us unfathomable gain. My prayer is that we will fix our eyes on what is true and lovely and worthy of praise, in the middle of what is frightening and hard and uncomfortable, and trust that He is with us and worth it, so that we can faithfully walk along the path He has for us. 

Love y’all,

Elizabeth

The Bounding Line

You know that thing, when you’ve got so much to do, that you sit on the sofa and do absolutely none of it? Sometimes the weight of all that needs to be accomplished is paralyzing. As I think about the circumstances of the world we live in and the parts of my own life that are in need of change and growth and healing and repentance, I’m borderline overwhelmed. At times I just don’t know how to put one foot in front of the other. The mingling of fear and doubt, a love of ease, and a feeling of hopelessness threaten to keep me where I am. But, underneath it all, something stirs the waters of my soul. Someone inclines my heart, stretches it beyond its limits, and creates a longing to move forward in love.

Not too long ago, I told y’all about this podcast interview of poet Malcolm Guite. I’m still thinking over all of the things he talked about. It was so rich and beautiful. At one point Guite was discussing a famous letter written by poet William Blake (you know the ‘Tyger, Tyger burning bright’ guy) who was also an engraver. His thoughts are so poignant

“…he’s talking about learning the art of being an engraver, and he talks about how the most important line, the first line you draw in an engraving, is what Blake called the bounding line. And I remember hearing the poet Geoffrey Hill once years ago lecturing about Blake, and saying that “bounding” was a really interesting word for Blake to use. He didn’t say “boundary” or “binding,” either of which were available. But “bounding” is one of those English words which has a double meaning. It can either mean bounding in, or bounding with energy, grace abounding. And he went on to say that it is precisely the “bounding line” in Blake’s poetry, which gives it its creative energy.”

Ever since listening to this interview several months ago, I’ve been mulling over the idea of a “bounding line”. This lovely image of at once being hemmed in and set out. The control of a thing, creating and unleashing its energy. Not so much a forceful coercion, but instead creating a joyful and energetic moving forward. As I feel stagnant at times, convinced of the need for change, overwhelmed with not knowing exactly what that should look like, this double meaning is helpful and hopeful. There is something, or more accurately, Someone at play who is doing both. He is reining me in and causing me to burst forth.

The verse that comes to mind over and over is 2 Corinthians 5:14. The ESV says it this way: “ For the love of Christ controls us…” The KJV, if you’re into that sort of thing, uses the word constraineth. For so long, in my brain, this verse has mostly been about keeping me from doing sinful things. A legalistic approach of don’t do, don’t look, don’t touch, don’t taste. But that ain’t it. Most other translations use the wording “the love of Christ compels us”, and the context is a life of living for God, laboring for the good of others, because of the love God has shown me. Yes, the love of Jesus sets limits on me. I am called to lay down a lot, to fight sin, but just as importantly I am called, compelled even, to action. Action that is founded on, and formed by the love of Jesus Christ my Redeemer, and is therefore not burdensome (1 John 5:3)

In the past I have been often constrained, whether from love or duty I can’t tell, but rarely compelled. Whereas previously I might have been inclined to sit on the proverbial sofa and do no harm, Jesus isn’t settling for that type of comfort. He is stretching my heart in the depth of His love, and drawing me out to faithfully walk in the good works He has prepared for me.

Maybe you’re feeling it too. The world around us, so painfully in need. So much brokenness, it’s overwhelming. But there’s a nudging towards movement. And that, my friends, feels like hope and help.

Jesus is the bounding line of the faithful story of our lives. It is Jesus, Grace come down, Love personified, that hems us in and sends us out. He sets the limits of the path to be walked and creates the inertia that sets us on His way.

I’m praying for each of us, that the heart of our compassionate, pursuing Savior, would warm our hearts to move towards people and lay down our lives in love.

May the Lord who is our refuge and our strength, enliven a desire in us to bear each other’s burdens as we consider others as more important than ourselves.

May the kindness of our Redeemer, who has forgiven us more than we can imagine, lead us to be quick to repent and quick to forgive.

May the God who rejoices over us with loud singing, and who sits and weeps with us in our sorrow, pluck our hearts to humbly listen to and reverberate along with the laughter and the tears of those we find along our path.

May the lavishly rich, unfathomably vast, abundantly hope-filled love of Jesus focus and inflame our hearts, to move out of the comfort of complacency or the stagnancy of being overwhelmed and into the pursuit of His Kingdom come and His will be done in our lives and in the world around us.

Love y’all,

Elizabeth

To Salvage and Be Replenished

Over the past few months our pool has become useless. The liner is in need of being replaced. Again. Ill-fitted, and ripping away from the contraption that is meant to hold it tight. Emptied of water and torn apart at the seams to properly measure for a new one, this pool has come to nothing. My procrastination resulted in a longer wait for repair than my kids would like during a warm spring with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It seems as if this hole in the ground will never be brought back to its former glory. We can barely imagine splashing and enjoying and being refreshed again.

Listening to the Habit pod cast recently I heard Jonathan Rogers and Malcom Guite discussing a bit of Seamus Heaney’s poem Station Island XI, in which a kaleidoscope has been ruined by muddy waters. This part hit me:

      “Spoke again about the need and chance

          To salvage everything, to re-envisage

          The zenith and glimpsed jewels of any gift

          Mistakenly abased …

          What came to nothing could always be replenished.

‘Read poems as prayers,’ he said,”

It’s so hard to trust that the things that have been abased, things brought to nothing, can always be replenished. I’m almost too much of a pessimist for that. But, we have the need and the chance to try for it to be true. That is a hope I want. 

     I’m working my way out of a time in which my faith had almost been brought to nothing. In my struggle to see God’s goodness through years of difficult things, I was losing hope. In the doubts and fears and inability to grasp something tangible, I mistakenly abased my trust in Who God is and what He is about. Even still, the Lord loves to salvage the broken. God is in the business of replenishing what has come to nothing. I’m opening myself up to seek the face of the One who loves to remake what is no longer or never was whole. My heart is being tuned to the truth that Jesus is the careful Shepherd who restores the soul. I’m beginning again to delight in the Savior who rejoices hearts as He reveals Himself. I’m praying that my spirit be revived as the power of His Spirit dwelling within applies His righteousness and His word.

Maybe, in the past few months, it seems to you as if this world has come to nothing. Everything coming to an ugly, festering head in another case of injustice, another instance of our fellow image bearers being held down and harmed, even killed. How can it be salvaged? It seems too broken, too far gone. But, even still, we serve a God who is in the business of redeeming, reconciling, repairing, and replenishing.

We followers of Jesus, we partakers of grace have been given the chance, we have a need before us, to join Him in salvaging all that has been, mistakenly or intentionally, abased. We know that this world is broken, and we know that Jesus is making all things new. One fine day, all injustice will be done away with, all evil eradicated, all oppression will cease, but what do we do until that day? We can search our hearts and invite the Spirit to search our hearts to show us any hurtful way within us (Psalm 139:23-24). We can repent, turning away from sin and clinging to Christ. We can “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). We can “learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17). We can love the Lord our God with all of who we are and all of what we do, by loving our neighbor well and with intention (Matt 22:37&39).

In another The Habit pod cast I heard Scott Sauls reference N. T. Wright’s definition of hope as “imagining God’s future into the present and acting accordingly.” Isn’t that beautiful? We have the need and the chance to join in the work that is ongoing. As we gain the vision that Jesus has for this world, we get to pray for and participate in “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

     This is a long hard process. I run the risk of being too pessimistic, but this is a hope I want. We have to be vulnerable, opening ourselves up to wounding, in order to be made more like Jesus. It may feel as if we are being torn apart at the seams, and laid open, in order to be measured and renewed and replenished. It will be uncomfortable, it will require risk, it will create friction… but it can lead to greater unity, a greater beauty, a greater realization of His Kingdom come, here and now. 

This is my prayer for us as we move forward, imagining the future into the present. As we seek to be ministers of reconciliation by preaching the Gospel to ourselves and the world around us. As we move towards the broken and the oppressed with the humility and compassion of Jesus. Lord give us eyes to see where You are working to redeem, reconcile, and restore. Strengthen us to be participants in Your Gospel because we have been partakers of it. Open our eyes to see where we can join You in caring for those who suffer injustice. Give us hearts that long to listen to those who have been silenced and feel they have no voice, and help us to listen with the intent of understanding not defending. Give us souls that weep for those who are suffering and have been suffering and don’t see a way out. Give us the courage to work, to do, to repair, because like You we delight in practicing steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth (Jeremiah 9:24). Lord, help us to see the need and take the chance to be salvaged, to be replenished.

Love y’all,

Elizabeth

A Care-full Heart

For quite a few years now, one of my favorite online writers has been Lore Ferguson Wilbert. Her blog Sayable is a favorite. The way she writes — with beauty, gentleness, and love — has caused me to consider and contemplate, and has encouraged me to labor with care for others in the same way. Every year Lore leads a 9 week Sayable Writing Mentorship course. This year, once all the applications were in, she decided to allow all who applied to take part in the course, instead of whittling it down to twenty participants.

I threw my name in the hat for this mentorship unwilling to call myself a writer and not believing I would be accepted. I had no clear goal for myself or my words. These past three years, I have been using words typed out in this space as a way to process my own faith, in the small hope that I might somehow encourage the faith of others. I’ve never really enjoyed the process of writing, but I have felt a sort of compulsion to do so as a way of caring for the people I love. Truthfully, I applied on a whim, but with a deep gratitude for the ways Lore and her writing have impacted me.

It’s a bit of a struggle to convey how intensely formative this mentorship has been. It was a difficult nine weeks, in the middle of a weird set of life circumstances. It pulled me out of my comfort zone, stretched me to do things I had never done, and pushed me beyond where I would have ventured on my own. In many ways I didn’t feel like I belonged in that space, and was afraid to trust my instincts. Maybe, on some level that will always be the case. But, I was encouraged through the process. I now believe that my heart for my reader is one of my greatest strengths.

There was so much talk of being careful with our words, and being careful readers, so that we can care for the souls who are reading us. This was my motivation as a writer (look I said it!) before entering the mentorship and it remains my goal, both short term and long term. I want to be a writer who is full of care for the hearts and souls of my readers. Whoever they are and however many there may be. I don’t want numbers to be my focus, though admittedly I can get fixated on how many people have read or given a thumbs up or shared what I’ve written. I’ve never really aspired to be published outside of hitting the publish button on my own little blog, and still it isn’t my main goal. Ultimately, I want to write with beauty that points to Beauty. I long to speak truth that directs hearts into the Truth. I hope to pour out words of love that draw souls closer to Love Himself. My deep desire is for whatever I am writing to encourage the souls of the people I care about in ways that are full of humility and compassion.

There were so many things I learned and practiced through this course that could help me to be that type of writer. I’m processing how authority and vulnerability paired together lead to flourishing. I’ve realized that risk and friction cultivate growth. I’m working on being able to use words to show and not just tell. I’m striving to have a life and a body of work in which faith is integrated. I am thinking through the tension of creating good and beautiful art (it still feels weird to call what I do a type of art) of my own, by building on the work of those who have created before me. I’m learning to give and accept feedback with humility. I’m figuring out how to self edit. All of these skills and practices, all of these muscles I worked and flexed, they weren’t done just for the sake of doing work or getting better. The purpose was greater and more others focused. All of it had to do with developing a deep concern for you, my reader.

     If my audience never grows beyond the tens of people that read my words now, I’m totally content. My greatest desire is to love well by writing well. My aim is to continue to work those muscles, even though they are weary. My hope is that I can eek out a body of work that speaks beauty and truth, that encourages faith and compassion, through humble dependence on the Word who perfectly cares for His people. 

I am truly thankful for y’all. You are in my heart as I share my heart. I pray that my love and care for you is evident as you read my words.

Love y’all,

Elizabeth

Lamenting To Get To Joy

Hey there friends. It’s been a while.
How y’all holding up?

It’s Holy Week, by far a Holy Week unlike any we have ever experienced before. One full of fear, isolation, sadness, worry, doubts. Truthfully though, in a weird way, this Easter has the possibility of being the most meaningful Easter we have ever experienced, if we do the counter intuitive work of acknowledging the pain, naming it, and lamenting it, so we can then cling more tightly to Jesus.

I’ve been listening to a podcast called The Place We Find Ourselves by Adam Young. It’s hitting all my nerd buttons…. faith based discussions of healing from pain and suffering, but tied to the science of psychology. So there’s talk of the Gospel mixed in with things like the neurobiology of repairing and creating neural pathways in our brains. It’s been super interesting and also quite helpful after years of stuffing emotions and not letting myself process hard and sad things properly.

Several episodes from a few years back have discussed Cathy Loerzel’s U-diagram. The premise being that in order to truly heal we must descend into the depths of the emotions that suffering brings. The diagram follows the pattern of Jesus’ experience from the torment of Good Friday, to the Hell of Saturday, to the Resurrection of Easter Sunday. Suffering, to death, to newness of life and joy.

Jesus’ followers went through this same process as they watched Jesus be crucified, sat in the crushing sadness of Saturday, and then experienced the absolute surprising joy of His resurrection on Sunday. Can you image what Saturday felt like for them? Despite Jesus telling them, they didn’t know that His death wasn’t the end. All they had was the knowledge that He was no longer with them. They had watched Him suffer unspeakable torment. They had witness the One they had set all their hopes on die an agonizing death. He was buried. Gone. Three years wasted. Love lost. There was no hope for them, only pain and disappointment, fear and heartbreak.

We have the benefit of knowing the whole story. Which, don’t get me wrong, is fantastic. We know what happened on Sunday. We know that Jesus is not dead, that He is alive and reigning. But I think we miss out on something in our rush to get from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. As soon as we hear Jesus utter “It is finished” and give up His spirit, we skip on over to Sunday’s coming. I get it. We need that hope, and it is so important to cling to that hope. We have the benefit of Truth to get us through the pain. But maybe we would experience a greater joy, a more robust faith, a more tangible reality of newness if we leaned into and named and actually cried out to God in the death and hell of Saturday.

I’m sure this might seem like a depressing exercise. I know I always want to get through the pain to the joy on the other side. But lamenting, crying out to the Lord in sorrow, is alllllll over the Bible. It’s just that this is all new to me, I don’t have the answers, I don’t really know how to do it well or what it looks like, but I think it makes sense and could be beneficial for us. Especially considering the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We don’t know what the future holds, we are in the middle of great uncertainty and sadness. Mourning the loss of so much. If we practice lament in the context of Good Friday and Easter and the Saturday in between, maybe that will help us with clinging to real hope when we don’t know the outcome and the trials linger.

So I’m praying that we (and please pray for me in this too, because it is a for real struggle for me) would acknowledge the sadness on Saturday, not to wallow in it pointlessly. But instead, to name the sadness or the pain or the worry, to take it to Jesus, and practice rehearsing truth that addresses the pain and sadness. Let the truth of the hope of new life coming, bring healing to the death of current pain.

• in the loneliness, call out to Jesus that you feel alone even while surrounded by family, and fight to remember the promise that He will never leave you or forsake you
• in the fear, cry out ”How long O Lord will I be surrounded by danger”, and hear the Lord say “Do Not Fear, I Am with you in the fire and the flood and the sickness and the death.”
• in the sadness, admit to the Lord that comfort seems far away, and trust the promise that He catches every tear in a bottle, He weeps with us, and one day He will wipe every tear away and sadness will no longer exist.
• in the doubt, admit “Lord I believe, help my unbelief,” and hear the invitation offered to Thomas to come close and touch the actual wounds and believe.

Maybe that will help make the joy of Easter so much more tangible. A joy that was fought for in the trenches. A hope that does not disappoint. A healing that brings wholeness despite the brokenness of the world around us.

Love Y’all!

Elizabeth

All The Yets

Tuesday November 27th 2001. Right smack dab in the middle of the season of giving thanks and celebrating family. It’s a time that few think of or remember. I rarely speak of it. It was a day full of pain and sadness. A day of actual death and the death of my hope for life to persevere. And yet without that death, without that pain, without the loss of those two lives struggling within me to thrive, I would not have the three lives that bring me joy and life right now. 

Miscarriage was a strange experience. That doesn’t feel like the right descriptor. For me, the experience combines my greatest pain with my greatest blessings. It brought a year of grief, and emptiness, and a longing for something that seemingly everyone around me had or was getting. I am not thankful for it, yet I am grateful for what followed.  A recognition of need, a newfound clinging to God in faith, and eventually the hope for life and children fulfilled. I know not everyone’s experience ends the way it did for me. For some there is only pain and disappointment and hopelessness. This year it has been on my mind even more, as these kiddos I have are simultaneously a source of great concern and worry and anxiety, AND a fountain of joy and laughter and silliness. What if I had been spared the pain of that miscarriage but then they had  never happened? 

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking of the way life is full of… paradox, maybe? Full of holding two seemingly opposing truths at the same time. We just have to sit in that tension. Life is full of yets. God is sovereign, yet we are personally responsible for our actions. God is compassionate, yet He and His people have experienced immeasurable physical and spiritual and emotional pain and suffering. God is perfectly just, yet full of mercy. God is holy and righteous, yet He pursues rebellious and sinful people and offers them redemption and forgiveness. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, yet He rejoices over His people and delights in doing us good. We as followers of Christ join in His sufferings, we experience heartache, we are crushed, yet accepted in the Beloved we belong, we have security, we have significance. 

I would never have asked for a miscarriage, the darkness and death and pain, yet that experience brought forth light, it brought life both spiritual and physical, and eventually joy. It is both one of the worst and one of the greatest stories that has formed my life. 

In the same way this season of Advent is full darkness and light, waiting for life in the experience of death, aching with hope. It’s full of sitting in the tension of opposing things.  It is full of yets. Jesus has come, yet we wait for His return. There is great darkness, yet the Light has dawned. We are a weary broken people, yet we are rejoicing in the hope of all things new. 

I used to think being a good Christian meant there was no tension. It’s a relief to me now to be able to sit in that tension. To begin to trust in the middle of all the yets. To see how the yets don’t negate His goodness and care and love, but prove them.

So my prayer for us in this Advent season as we look to:
the One who created, yet entered creation…
the One who is Judge, yet came to be condemned… 
the One who is Love, yet came to be despised…
the One who chose a people, yet was rejected… 
the One who was pierced, yet brought healing… 
may we ache with hope, rejoice in the middle of sorrow, and rest in Him as we prepare for His return. 

Love y’all,

Elizabeth

Experience the Beauty

There ain’t nothing like a middle school retreat if you’re looking to doubt your own salvation. Kidding. Mostly. A few weekends ago, being a leader on one such retreat, brought to a head a few months worth of a growing coldness in my being.  A realization that I feel like I’m losing the fight to worship and adore Jesus. Life, and some of the hard circumstances of it, have worn a callous on my heart. And so, how can I speak about and point these girls to the beauty of the Gospel when I’m struggling to experience the truth and beauty of it myself? 

I know the beauty is there, my heart recognizes it’s nearness and aches for it. But knowing isn’t enough. Knowing is surface level. Knowing is just the beginning. My heart longs to experience the beauty in ways that break through the dam of darkness. I so want to interact with it in ways that warm the coldness of my heart and bring awe and wonder instead of a rote understanding of facts.  I want the Beauty to penetrate my heart and plant seeds of love that blossom into compassion. I want all that is lovely to seep in and erode the hardness, to wear away all that weighs me down and keeps me from running free and participating in the Grace I’ve experienced.  I deeply desire a heart that is reflecting the Beauty of the One who lovingly Redeemed me. 

I reckon that desire is a good sign. A spark of life. A prick of hope. The ache is a sign of grace, I’m sure. But I want the warmth of interaction, and sometimes that’s a battle. Sometimes the beauty is just too familiar. And then sometimes it’s just super hard to see through the fog of difficulty.  It’s a moment by moment fight, and I’m coming to realize that’s just how it is. And really, that’s ok. 

So, friends, in the event that I’m not the only one, (I know I can’t be) I pray our eyes would strain to find the beauty that is all around us. I pray our souls would feel the ways in which beauty gives us hope for newness and life. I pray our hearts would reflect that Beauty in the spaces we inhabit, by creating little versions of that One Big Version of Beauty. I pray that by seeing and feeling and creating beauty, we and the people around us, even the middle schoolers I feel ill equipped to disciple, would be close to Hope and Newness and Life in Jesus. 

Love y’all,

Elizabeth

Mourning with Hope

“The grace of God means something like: …Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us.”
~ Frederick Buechner

This world, this created space we inhabit, is a beautiful expression of the glory of our Creator. It is breathtaking, truly. But it is broken. All too often life is swallowed up in death. And death is absolutely horrible. It steals. It breaks hearts. It wreaks havoc in the lives of the people we love. It is unfair and unnatural.

I don’t know why, but I feel like sometimes in some Christian circles we are trained to placate each other concerning death. We try to give pat answers. We speak platitudes. We say death is just a part of life. We insensitively throw Romans 8:28 in the face of the broken, wishing to make it all better. In an effort to avoid dealing with the sadness of it all, we tend to rush past the pain to get to the comfort. Even in acknowledging that it is part of the reality that comes with the fall, we sometimes diminish how unnatural it truly is. (I’m thankful for my Christian circle that has not treated death this way) 

But it is unnatural. It’s not right. It hurts. People are left behind, crying out in pain and confusion – Why, Lord?!? 

Yes, we know and cling to the truth from 1 Thess. 4, that for those who are in Christ, the sadness of death is mixed with the Hope of Eternal Life. We don’t grieve without hope. We know there is more to the story. Actually, there is more joy and goodness to come than there ever could be in our lives here on Earth. 

But mourning with hope does not mean we deny the pain and sadness of a world ripped apart by death. Mourning with hope means in the middle of the sadness, we cling desperately to the God who mourns death with us. We fix our eyes on the very One who, knowing He was about to raise His friend from the dead, wept real tears with those that loved Lazarus.  We intentionally ground ourselves in the promise that nothing separates us from the love of Jesus, not even unexpected death. We trust that He cares about and catches every single tear that is shed for and by His people. He lovingly promises to never leave nor forsake us, so we don’t have to fear what will happen as the world moves on without those we love. He is in the process of making all things new and we can stubbornly believe that one day there will be no more death and pain and sadness. Today is not that day, but it is coming. As sure as the sun rose this very morning, Jesus is going to return and in His presence the pain of loss with be turned into the fullness of joy. 

Hope doesn’t make life in the face of death easier or less sad. It doesn’t erase the truth of the brokenness and pain. But Hope, carries us through.  Because our Hope is a person – an actual, God in the flesh, living Savior, who has defeated death, and whose arms are lovingly wrapped around us. The Hope of Jesus that we possess by faith is what sustains us in this world were beautiful and terrible things are mixed together. 

So my prayer for us, as we walk through a world of beauty and pain, a life filled with great joy and utter sorrow is that we would be people who fight for Hope. For ourselves and for each other. In whatever circumstances we face, wether we mourn together or celebrate together, may we cling together to the One who mourns and celebrates with us. 

Love y’all,

Elizabeth

Re Member

img_1099

I’m a fairly nostalgic person. I love the feeling of remembering a moment in time. A story, a song, a flavor, a smell, a quote, they can all trigger an actual feeling of being in that past moment. If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that it brings me great joy to relive my glory days. Just kidding. I don’t really have any glory days. But, I do love to recall, with others, past memories we have shared, or share with others past memories that have shaped me. I’m not alone in this. I think it’s human nature to want to remember, to recall past experiences, to feel those feelings again.

A large amount of my childhood memories involve being at the beach with my Dad’s family. We still go to that same beach to this day. That old house is gone, but the old walkway and gazebo remain. If I pay attention, I can still hear our little feet pounding against those splintered boards as we ran down to the beach, full of excitement and joy.

I have vivid memories of my dad and uncle, at that beach house, sitting at the table – surrounded by my aunts and cousins and siblings and mother and grandmother – crying with laughter, retelling the same 6 or 8 stories, year after year. We all laughed til we cried, partially because they were funny stories, but mostly because their telling the tales through laughter made the memories real and funny to those of us who hadn’t experienced the stories ourselves. The way they remembered gave the stories life. For me, they put flesh and blood on a vague memory of my grandfather who died when I was very young. Those remembered stories affected joy in all of us.

I was listening to a pod cast last week ( think it was this Finding Holy podcast) and (maybe) Hannah Anderson brought up remembering and described it as re membering. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this, but some how it hit me in a fresh way. Re. Membering. Putting back together. Giving body to things from the past. This made sense to me with a newness that was exciting. It gave a deeper meaning to my nostalgia, and provided a clearness for why I so love to re feel and re experience and re live the joy of the past.

It also gave me a different, fuller vision for what it means to preach the Gospel to myself and to others. I now have a more striking visual about the purpose of reminding each other of Truth. Re membering the Gospel. Putting flesh and blood and real life meaning on the skeleton of the Gospel. Putting back together the Truth so it’s personal and applicable to you and me and the people we love.

When life gets hard, or maybe even when we are coasting along, we don’t just forget the Truth of the Gospel, we often dismember it. We separate it’s meaning and effects from our actual lives. We sever ourselves from its power, and are sort of floating around, not abiding in Christ, not availing ourselves of all the grace we have in Him.

As disciples of Jesus we are called to be salt, to help preserve each other, to season each other by bringing the Gospel to bear on each other’s lives. To point each other to Jesus, and fit the Truth of who He is and what He’s done into all the circumstances of life. We are called to embody His work of grace to each other in the way we speak to each other, and through the things we do with each other and for each other. We re member the Gospel by being the Body of Christ for each other.

What a beautiful privilege we have to get to love each other well by putting flesh and blood on Truth.  What a fantastic way to love each other well by knitting the Truth back together in our hearts when we’ve forgotten or dismembered it.  What an absolute joy to get to re member with and for each other the glory of all that Jesus has done and is doing to bring redemption and restoration to this beworld. I pray that we would be people with hearts that love to re member Jesus together.

Love y’all,

Elizabeth

Compassionate Holiness

I do believe that holiness has gotten a bad wrap over the last 15 to 20 years, at least in my mind it has. The pendulum swing, for me away from legalistic Phariseeism, has made me wary of a call to holiness. Obviously, it’s not that holiness is wrong. It’s just that sometimes my heart behind the striving for holiness is and was marked by pride and self sufficiency.

The flip side to this bad wrap for holiness is I really and truly don’t see the seriousness and heinousness of my own sin. I’m soft on my sin, if I see it at all. Even while I’m judgmentally tough on other people’s sin. I’m blind to the way my sins are not only a rebellion against God, but are hurtful to my soul and the souls around me.

My sinfulness is a deep heart level brokenness. I so often forget that sin brings death. I tend to see the Lord’s commands as keeping me from good instead of being a revelation of His goodness and His perfect framework of goodness for the people He loves. My sinfulness leaves me broken and needy, yet blind to my brokenness and need.

There’s good news though, even and especially for people like me. Jesus moves with love towards the broken and needy. This week in bible study we looked at the account of the rich young ruler, who ran to Jesus to ask what he could do to inherit eternal life. As Jesus mentions a few commands to be kept, the young man claims to have kept them all from youth. Jesus doesn’t scoff at his self righteousness claims of perfection. Jesus doesn’t get angry at his prideful blindness. Jesus doesn’t attack his lack of understanding the heart of the Law. But Jesus also doesn’t leave his self righteous, prideful, mis-understanding heart alone. He feels love for one who thinks he isn’t in need of spiritual healing. Jesus shows that love by addressing the sinfulness of heart that is denied.

We are all sin broken people. I am a sin broken person. My brokenness isn’t just because of the sin of others. My sin sick heart is my biggest problem, and I am altogether blind to it. I self-righteously claim obedience, sadly, thinking I have kept all of the Law from my youth. When, in fact, I treasure myself and my way and everything else over and above the greatest Treasure of all. The longer I’m a Christian the more glaringly obvious this becomes.

Jesus looks at my sinful, delusional heart and feels love. He looks at you the very same way. This is the Redeemer who willingly came down to die for His people. This is the King of kings who left the glories of Heaven to suffer unfathomably for the very ones rebelling against Him. This is the perfectly Holy God of the Universe who is moving towards His completely broken people. Our sin is a rejection of the character of Jesus and a rebellion against His perfect Goodness for His people. The Lord addressing our sin and calling us to put it to death is a loving act of bringing His people back into that Goodness. Jesus diagnosing the sin in our hearts and calling us to radically fight, is a loving touch from a merciful Savior. 

So my prayer for us, as we see the seriousness of our sin and feel the prick of the Holy Spirit’s convicting, is that we would see Jesus for who and what He is… the embodiment of Compassionate Holiness.

 Love y’all,
Elizabeth