Friday, January 30, 2015

Off with the old, on with the new

I'm my own worse enemy. You know what I'm talking about, right? The self-loathing, self-doubt...that voice in my head, always waiting to pounce, is the harshest of critics. I struggle with insecurity just as much as the next person. Maybe that is why the words she somewhat casually uttered in front of our class that day have stuck with me. 

"Every time I walk into a room, I have to  purposefully claim my identity." 

She is petite, but she is powerful. 

She is discredited by some because she is a woman, but she is a doctor of philosophy. 

She is a sinner, but she is saved by grace. 

I am convinced that when she chooses to walk into her true identity as a daughter of God, she pushes back a darkness that is intent on consuming this world...a darkness I have begun to pay more attention to as I look around and engage my sphere of influence. You see, I feel as if I am watching a tragic orphan crisis strike the Church. And as I examine my own heart, I wonder how long I have been living as an orphan. 

Adoption is typically very expensive, whether a child is coming home from across an ocean or across town. Your adoption, though? Jesus spilled his blood to bring you into the Family. He bought you a new identity...And he deemed your redemption to be worth the incredibly steep cost. Yet how often do you and I continue to live the orphan complex? Unwanted, passed over, never good enough...It's the mantra that haunts the human soul. 

As I was reading Ephesians 4 the other day, I noticed in a new way how active the exchange of identities is. Paul talks about "putting off your old self" and "putting on your new self." I read that and imagine stripping off dirty rags, then donning a new, snazzy outfit. While living into our new identities is certainly not as simple as changing outfits, I wonder if Paul knew we needed the imagery of purposeful action to remind us that this identity shift is not stagnant. It is a daily, moment by moment intention to strip off the old and actively put on the new.  

Off with the I'm-not-enough and on with the I-am-chosen. 

Off with the I'm-a-failure and on with the I'm-more-than-a-conqueror-in-Christ.

Off with the I'm-too-far-gone and on with the I-have-been-redeemed-by-the-blood-of-Jesus. 

Off with the old, on with the new. 

Every day, I have to intentionally dismantle the old identity, with its accusations and shame-haunting. And every day, I have to purposefully claim my new identity...because the identity I'm living into shapes every conversation I engage in, every action I take, every thought that crosses my mind. Everything I do is preceded by my identity. 

In the following chapter of Ephesians, Paul says: "Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us..." (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Be imitators of God...ACT in a way that is consistent with who God is. But first, KNOW that you are a dearly loved child! Your identity PRECEDES your activity. Put on your new identity...and live it! 

Some days I feel as if the voice in my head gets the better of me. I get lazy about the stripping and instead allow the accusations to simmer. Some days, though...some days I fight hard to remember who I am now. Some days I step into my identity as a beloved daughter of God and walk in love...being  loved and being LOVE. While this war to slay the orphan complex will not see its final victory in this lifetime, every day battles are being waged and won toward that end. Off with the old, on with the new. 

Won't you join me in the fight?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

For when you are in over your head but say yes anyway

I'm in over my head. I don't know when I realized it...if there was a specific moment when the enormity of it all hit me, or if it has been a gradual dawning. Regardless of how it happened, I'm sitting here today fully aware of my complete and utter inadequacy. Yet, I am pretty sure that is exactly where God wants me to be.

I'm one of those "YES" people that gets herself into trouble. I get blown away in a perfect storm of passion and willingness, without always fully considering and weighing the consequences. God has filled me to overflowing with vision and desire and compassion. My old hesitant, fearful self has been chiseled into an eager and willing, drops-her-nets-and-runs (while often still scared out of her wits) new creation. When my heart beats in sync with the heart of my God, I seem to forget what is sane, rational, or possible. In this case, I laced up my running shoes and took off without knowing where I was going or how I would ever maintain my speed for the long haul. 

Today I read in Luke 5 about Levi, a man who became one of Jesus' disciples. I am fascinated by two verses in particular and how much they DON'T say: "After this [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, 'Follow me.' And leaving everything, he rose and followed him" (Luke 5:27-28). I don't know how many times I have nonchalantly glossed over this passage without really wrapping my mind around it. Today it hit me between the eyes. I immediately thought, "WHAT THE?!?! Did Jesus really just walk up to Levi, say two words, and walk away with Levi tailing him? Having left EVERYTHING?!?!" One minute, he was sitting at his work desk diligently doing his job, the very next he was chasing after this Jesus who  had barely uttered a complete sentence in his direction. SERIOUSLY?! What kind of crazy dude does that?!

I wonder, though, if he was crazy, or just plain transformed by an encounter with the God of the universe. Did Levi witness Jesus not only healing the paralytic, but forgiving the enormous weight of his sin as well (Luke 5:17-26)? Was Levi one of the "them" mentioned in verse 26? "And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, 'We have seen extraordinary things today.'" Perhaps Levi's eyes were opened to the greater story God is penning. Perhaps Levi chose to respond to God's invitation for him to be part of that larger story. Perhaps Levi simply said YES, and perhaps we could learn a thing or two from him.

Today, I am terrified by the weight of my YES. A few people, I'm sure, have questioned how wise it is for me to enter into this journey as a single, 25-year-old who is still unsure what she wants to be when she grows up. Some people don't understand me or what I am trying to do. Most people probably think I am out-of-my-mind crazy. I do know this: Anyone who thinks I am noble is just plain wrong. I am nothing. I am a mess...a sold-out, in-love-with-my-God, hot mess. Apart from the lavish riches of God's grace that are constantly, forever heaped over me in a flood, I would fall flat on my face. Without Jesus, my YES would be stupid and unwise. Somehow, though, God takes my weak YES and uses it. Somehow God's purposes are accomplished and I am in shock watching the fruit my little YES can produce.

Today, my prayer is that my terrified, crazy, unwise YES would make much of Jesus. My prayer is that your eyes would be searching, seeking, pursuing the larger story and how you can be a part of it. My prayer is that, like Levi, we would allow our encounters with Jesus to not simply mark our days but to transform our lives. Friends, may your days, weeks, months, and years be characterized by yeses to the heart of God, no matter how terrified, unplanned, plum crazy those yeses are. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Mirror

He was tired. Bone-deep, soul weary. We didn't know it then, but he was only a month away from meeting Jesus face-to-face. He would say, "This old tent is fading, Ab." The scriptural reference poured out of his mouth as a matter of fact declaration, but he was feeling it in his body. Yet, he sat across the table from me. Pouring, investing his fading-tent-self into me. I, the heartbroken, lost daughter...he, the physically broken but joyfully and deeply secure father. That year we went on so many father-daughter dates, but this would be our last as I tried to capture memories and grasp at fleeting moments. 

When I think of lavish love, I think of that night. He was in so much pain, but he sat and listened to me and so tenderly responded to my heart. He could have allowed himself to be consumed by his reality...the intense pain of cancer, the unknown of the death to come, concern over the family he was leaving behind. He just listened, though, as his teenage daughter rambled and poured out her heart. In his gift of presence, he loved me so well...and gave me a picture of the tender but fierce love of God. 

Sometimes I long for that earthly picture of love...for the tight embrace, the soft words of encouragement, and the intentional togetherness. I remind myself that for now I only "see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1Corinthians 13:12). 

Have you ever been fully known? Deeply, intimately, known? Do you long for that? Even the tender, lavish love my dad poured out on me as he took the time and space to KNOW my heart...even that was but a dim reflection of the kind of deep, all-knowing and yet fiercely protecting kind of love God has for you and for me. While I sometimes wish for the earthly picture, I LONG for the day when I will be FULLY KNOWN and FULLY LOVED. We all long for that, don't we?! To be bare and exposed but loved anyway. 

On days when I wish so much that I could be wrapped up in the kind of love my dad gave me a glimpse of, I press into the uncomfortableness of this reality we live in...the in-between, the gap from now to then. I try to look into the dim mirror, and I tell Jesus just how much I long for the day when that mirror will be shattered and I will KNOW fully and be bare, exposed, and fully KNOWN before my tender hearted, fiercely loving God. It is coming, friends. And what a day that will be. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Facing 2015

I am greeting 2015 with an inward storm. As a self-described melancholy and highly sensitive soul, God has just wired me to feel things very deeply. Today I am feeling the incredible incongruity of life around me. There are weddings and babies born and joyful family celebrations and goals to be made and achieved. All while there is terrible hurt and brokenness, crushed dreams and terminal cancer and homelessness and fatherlessness. I go from one somber meeting in which I am peering into a family's immense shock and tragedy, trying to assemble tender care for a child at the mercy of life's storms, to an exuberant celebration of a longtime friend's new partnership in marriage. I can't shake the weight of darkness while dancing in the light. 

As I have journeyed with my God, one thing I have come to know and understand is that my God delights in entering my messy emotional chaos with me. So today as I dumped all of this confusion in the contrast out onto the metaphorical table between us, I was reminded of the seasons. I want to be "like a tree planted by streams of water that yields it's fruit in its season, and it's leaf does not wither" (Psalm 1:3). A healthy tree weathers storms and droughts and the heat of day because it is deeply rooted by water. It does not produce fruit all year around, but in its season. 

No doubt, as a highly sensitive soul who, for some reason, God saw fit to give a burden and passion for the broken, I will face many storms and droughts in the coming year...Some my own, possibly more alongside others desperately trying not to wither in the face of their own disasters. I long to be planted so deeply by the Source, my Sustainer and Provider, that I do not wither in the seasons of hardship, but instead stand tall and ready to produce fruit in the right season. 

I am reminded that not all seasons yield fruit. Some days and months and years will feel like a great darkness and blanket of snow rests over my soul. Some days will involve the stripping, the leaves falling and anticipating the coming winter. But some seasons will bring new life, buds opening to flowering beauty and a great harvest of sweet fruit. This life is full of seasons, and changes, and facing storms and hardship, and harvesting good things. Yes, there is constantly going to be the good mixed with the hard. But when I am planted by the Source, I am sustained through it all. 

So on this day, when so many are making goals and plans and lofty ambitions for this coming year, I am seeking simply to plant my roots deeper. To cling to my Source and bravely stare down what is to come. I anticipate storms, yes, but I also anticipate a great harvest of fruit in the right season. And through it all, I pray I know my God more intimately in both the withering heat and prolific abundance. Happy New Year, friends.