The Power of A Gentle Lead

Lily is a lunger. I stopped walking her for a week because a back muscle spasm left me doubtful I possessed the strength to control her without incapacitating myself. Its embarrassing really, an indictment on our dog parenting skills, to have such an ill-behaved dog.

She seems ferocious with her heavy chain collar we bought to walk her. Don’t judge y’all.

It helped a little but didn’t keep her from pulling when she approached the big Collie she dislikes. Some dogs she likes and some she can’t stand. She can’t stand that glorious Collie. It’s hard to know how she judges or what they’re saying to her that sets her off. We just walk past, heads hung, sheepish smiles of apology on our faces as our dog barks her face off.

Our neighbors wouldn’t know she spends most of the time in our home sacked out on a couch or bed, completely docile. She behaves like an attack dog in public. I’m sure we’ve avoided a break in just due to her behavior on walks in our neighborhood.

We went to the pet store to look at lizards, my son’s absolute favorite category of the animal kingdom. We wandered into the leash aisle and browsed a bit before spotting a box with an idyllic picture of a cute dog on a walk.

What must that be like I wondered?

We agreed it was a lot to spend for a thin cord contraption but I’d seen other dog parents using it. Their dogs did what I wanted Lily to do. They walked beside their owner and generally behaved themselves. I admired their behavior and thought I’d like to walk my dog in a similar, calm fashion. My son convinced me the purchase was inevitable.

So, I bought the new lead and wondered what would happen when we put it on Lily. Could this little cord really hold back 35 pounds of dog torque? Ok, you’re laughing but it’s a lot when she she sees a deer and imagines the kill.

Here’s an example of what brings out the killer instinct in our dog…Bambi.

I was doubtful. I saved the receipt and my son and I expressed gratitude that the box wasn’t one of those contraptions that needed a box cutter to open. We opened it without losing a finger and raised our eyebrows. It was small and thin for what it claimed it could accomplish.

We finally figured out how to put it on Lily and everything changed.

Immediately.

She went wherever I led her. A new problem emerged, our leash dragged on the ground and got under her paws. Trucks went by, she hardly noticed. Bunnies jumped and she just glanced at them. We walked by the yard of her arch nemesis, Cujo we call him, and she reacted not a bit.

Lily was a new dog.

A tiny bridle-like leash brought her to submission in an instant. She’s going to get more walks now. She will make new friends. People might break into our house but at least we can show our faces in the neighborhood without folks checking to make sure she’s up to date on her rabies vaccine.

I’m going to look like a queen with my medium sized dog walking right beside me.

Being a city girl…ok, a suburb girl…I never saw the power of a bridle quite so clearly until now. And, of course, it reminds me of more than just controlling animals.

Small things can control big things. Small things can turn powerful things. Small things can do big things. James, Jesus’ brother, connected this phenomena to our personal lives. Our tongues. Our speech.

It wreaks havoc in our lives, sets things on fire. The only way out, the only way to bring it in check is to submit our whole selves to Jesus Christ’s gentle lead.

This year I can’t believe some of the things said by people I used to respect. Insults that were off limits in the past got plastered across social media. I grieved the evidence of what lay in the hearts of so many. It became evident we couldn’t control much and tongues wagged, set things on fire and burned relationships to the ground.

I can’t believe things I’ve said in my life, things I deeply regret and needed forgiven. When I begin to see the power of my words it is sobering. How can I have such power to speak words that hurt so deeply? Yet I do, we all do.

It became so common place to breathe out angry words, it was held up as being brave and honest. I think, in reality, it was just a power play, a stab at controlling…something.

Now here we are, divided, suspicious, and scared because we did not put on that bridle and submit ourselves to God who gives the power to resist those forces that tempt us to try and control what we never could control.

I know the arguments.

What if He leads us on a way we don’t want to go? What if it hurts, what He wants us to do for Him? What if we suffer? What if we’re not the winners in this world but we look more like losers.

Jesus told His follower, Peter, what to do under such circumstances…you must follow Me.

Peter, you follow Me and you will lose earthly power and reputation, you won’t even get to dress yourself or decide the next place you sleep.

And Peter submitted to Jesus but somehow I sense we forget. I know I forget.

I forget that life with Christ was never about power but about sacrifice. It was never about my way, but His Way. The call to follow Jesus was never about being in control and it was always about making disciples.

So if I submit to Him, maybe my tongues will stop lunging at other people and I’ll look like Jesus a little more. He’ll seem a little more like who He is because I display who He is a little more accurately.

At least, that’s what I hope for myself. I’m not sure I’ll ever get comfortable with the bridle this side of heaven but I know I need it…desperately…and I know I’m not alone.

Re-entry

We walked around the busy grocery store, my sister-in-law and I, carefully following our list and eager to escape back to the quiet lake house retreat. She just returned to the US after 2 years uninterrupted overseas. You know why, pandemic.

Grocery stores are among the most overwhelming re-entry experiences. The choices are different, the quantities are measured in different scales, and in America the abundance can be overwhelming. Choices become more difficult. Mentally tallying the dollar signs from the foreign currency taxes the brain. At some point, you just give up and dump it in the cart resolving to care another day.

America is the land of opportunity. The opportunity to have it your way. To customize. To choose. To never see the back of the grocery store shelf. To not have to rework your menu mid shopping trip because multiple things are unavailable. To not experience as many social restrictions or curtailed freedoms.

Except for this past year and a half.

In many ways, 13 years of life overseas prepared me well to encounter a lack of toilet paper, a reworked menu, an acceptance of social restrictions, and jumps through bureaucratic regulations. We signed up for difficulty when we made the decision to live overseas.

We painted a lot of things this last year, including our front door, a portal to a different place…like re-entry!

Life in lock down reminded me of some aspects of life overseas and I relished the time to jump off the treadmill of the busy American lifestyle so many warned us would come when we moved back to America. After 5 years of life on this side of the Pacific, we’d definitely become increasingly busy and committed. And not just us, but our kids had commitments on top of ours.

Jumping off the treadmill was a gift in many ways. I read through the Bible a couple times because I didn’t have to get anyone off to…well…anywhere. We spent a lot of time together as a family, something which I ached for as our kids got older and busier. It felt like a gift.

But we also lost friends, grieved the unfairness of life, felt guilty at times for having enough, wrestled with how to relate to others during a particularly divisive time in a country that we already struggled to fit into after 13 years living away.

Now life is picking up again. We are faced with re-entry in a wholly different form than ever before in our lives. Alongside an entire world, we are all wondering what we are entering.

Because its not really re-entry. Its entry.

I feel this push and pull about what is to come, what we are entering. I don’t want to go back to the insane schedule that challenged us trying to find time together as a family. But it’ back. The school extra curriculars are laying out time intensive schedules.

Everything is starting up and I’m feeling a little like my sister-in-law in the grocery store. Overwhelmed. Stressed. And feeling like I just need to dump some stuff in the cart of life and try to figure it out later.

But this isn’t cereal or potato chips. Its time and energy and cultivating a life in dependence to God in ever changing circumstances.

Re-entry and entry take time…mostly time to think, feel, and align ourselves with what following Jesus looks like in new seasons of life. And besides a world opening up…kind of…I also have a daughter a year away from graduating. That alone is catching my attention and heart.

Another sign that I am entering, not re-entering. My life will change drastically soon.

So maybe you can relate to me on some level with our current times or maybe not. I have a feeling that many of us may need a little more time to do things we once did so effortlessly before a global pandemic.

For those that have not experienced the grocery store scenario of the newly returned expat, let me tell you it’s ok. It’s normal. It will take time. It will make you angry, sad, confused, insecure, and probably many other things to navigate the new world with its new challenges.

But in all that unsettledness, I’ve learned that following Jesus is the surest foothold through rocky life transitions. Something that all that reading the Bible brought into focus this past year.

If you’re looking for a first step, I suggest the Gospel of John and reading about Jesus who pretty much shook up every life He encountered.

As always, thank you for reading my thoughts and musings! I’ve struggled to write this year in the midst of so much…well…just so, so much of everything. I resolved today to write and break the silence and I’m so thankful you got to this point in my ramblings!

Death by Paper Cut

Wearing a mask. Answering another Covid screening question. Missing life milestones. Not getting to chaperone that school trip. Another zoom meeting.

These are just a few of the thousand little things that are piling up right now in this season of immense change and suffering.

I hope you enjoy this post from a few years ago. It seemed relevant in this age of radical upheaval…


One of the most difficult things about life anywhere, and life lived across cultures for sure, is that often it’s no one big thing that slays me…at least not yet.

It’s all the small things that add up and threaten to take me down.

Taken alone, each cut seems relatively minor and superficial, like a paper cut, but they sting. Each and every cut stings and there’s no time to put on a Band-Aid before the next cut comes.

Talking about what hurts seems silly.  It’s just a paper cut, why am I so upset about a paper cut? I minimize and compare. I don’t want to complain. I don’t suffer like that other person who really stood up for their faith in a stressful situation of direct confrontation.

No one really hurt me, right? I’m still alive, aren’t I? I discount the cut and fail to treat it.

Again and again the cuts come. Forgetting my passport. The person who cut me off again just this morning. The man who makes me re-park my car so that the nose faces out warning me that I am breaking the law if I don’t. He doesn’t understand that at least 5 people on the road endangered my very life and parking my car in a “cultured” way is the least important thing to worry about now. The lady at the store who will not even try my credit card even though I know it works. I did not bring cash. Smog.

Here in Asia it’s called “eating bitterness” these paper cuts. It’s an old saying about the difficulties of life and just taking it. It results in kick the dog syndrome, though. People just lose it for no clear or sufficient reason.  But I know why they lose it because I lose it too.

Unseen cuts cover us all and then someone pours salt on the wound. The salt without the wound is nothing but with the cuts…it brings sudden pain and I react.

Kick the dog syndrome spreads like a contagion. A woman picks up a brick on the street to throw at a man. I’ve seen that. A family fights in the apartment above us. Furniture shakes and screams keep me awake.  I’ve heard that too.

I wish for a formula to combat the paper cut plague but it doesn’t exist. I know more now to look at the cut and say it hurts…to cry even if it seems silly to cry over a paper cut. I know that real life seems more death by paper cut than death by some brave act of martyrdom though those stories also move me to tears.  DSC_0064

Death by paper cut is not as futile as it seems when I count the Lord’s view of suffering. He calls me to die to myself as He died for me…even in the smallest things. He calls me to persevere and endure and even do it joyfully because He gives me resources I just cannot muster myself.

As I contemplate more on this concept and acknowledge the cuts, I do find more joy because I find grace and mercy. I still kick dogs some days…not real dogs but proverbial dogs. I do a lot of apologizing. It is coming easier to apologize because I get a lot of practice.

But His grace and mercy, this is the salve that allows my soul to lay down and rest.

Open Your Mouth Wide

School begins in a couple weeks…maybe. Who knows in all this uncertainty? The one thing I’m told to accept in this season is change. So. Much. Change.

I cannot think of many things that are certain besides what we will have for dinner…if the grocery store has all the ingredients, of course.

I wish this what I made for dinner but we can’t be happy ALL the time, can we?

As the pandemic continues my tolerance of change is wearing thin. I want to know things. I want to be sure of something. I want to be able to tell my kids a piece of information I’m certain will not change.

Right now, I want to do something normal. I want to buy school supplies. I want there to be a list and I want to buy everything new, neatly packaged and put it in a backpack because it feels normal.

But I don’t need all the things on the list. I don’t know if my kids will darken a school door in a historically “normal” way. But I don’t really care.

I want the order to calm the storm that is happening around us.

When I check the news or social media, it provides mostly grief. We are all trying to latch onto something certain like desperate people drowning at sea.

Maybe its a politician, a plan, an ideology, or conspiracy theory…but we want a life preserver.

And when we think it will save us, we latch on hard. So hard.

One phrase in my readings of the Bible comes to mind often when I feel so much want that I don’t know what to do with it. Where do I go with these impossible longings for a life that looks different than our current reality?

Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.

God wasn’t just talking about food. He is talking about total reliance on Him to fulfill our needs, wants, and desires. In the context of this verse, God’s people are going to many, many other people for stability.

It’s worth noting who they were going to:

Spiritual leaders who promised peace when God was promising captivity.

Political leaders who promised power when God’s power was with other nations.

Foreign leaders who promised alliance when God said rely on Him.

Material objects that promised fulfillment when God said only He could fulfill.

And nothing has changed, has it? I still want to go to these things and claim a place of power, of agency over my circumstances. More than many other turbulent times in my life, this era is unique in its universalism.

The whole world is scrambling.

The whole world is longing for the same things. But will we go to the One who is truly capable of providing for us?

I don’t know. I hope so. I labor towards that end.

And I open my soul mouth wide, naming all my hungers, and I wait and trust that God will feed me.

Somehow. In some way. Because He promised He would.

I don’t know how He will do it, but I am eager to see.

Exposed

Shopping is exciting these days. I’m used to empty shelves from time to time from my life overseas. Like when a rumor floated around in Asia that salt would undo effects of radiation after the Fukushima plant melted down. Then, overnight, there was no salt at the grocery store. None.

Or when I found Dr. Pepper overseas and cleared the shelf myself. I mean, why not?

Right now, shopping is a little too exciting, like a hunt. I’m not used to that in the US. I’m used to hunting food overseas, going to multiple shops, making expensive trade offs. I’m not accustomed to needing those skills in the land of plenty, America.

It’s unsettling.

Anyone buying a bidet soon?

Because it used to be that when I encountered such difficulty and lack, I knew that Asia would not always be my home. Someday I’d be back in the well stocked stores of the US. Now that I’m experiencing this here in America, I’m faced with another stripping away of the security I’ve placed in lesser things.

And the exposure of the pillars of my security is rather startling. I didn’t realize I placed such a large degree of confidence on the stock market until it started its roller coaster dips and rolls. I didn’t realize I relied so much on being able to control my schedule until my kids schools said don’t send them back to school…for who knows how long.

Early on, there was some talk that the disease spread correlated with national hygiene habits…and now America is pretty much proven unclean by that standard. And I didn’t realize how much I trusted my in my national identity as better than…until it was challenged.

All this upheaval and exposure brought about by a teeny, tiny, microscopic tenacious virus we can’t even see. Rather startling. Rather humbling that something so small has brought pretty much the entire world to its knees.

I’m still a bit stunned, wondering along with the rest of the world how this will all play out. There’s no escape hatch this time to a different land…a land of relative plenty. I’m pressed in to my circumstances and forced to look at what God exposes in me.

So, I wait, and trust, and do what I can do while I hopefully realign my heart more to depend on the Lord.

Humility: Lesson #1

Most days I pass through a 4 way stop near my house. I’m on my way to drop off a kid or pick up a kid or go to work or the store or…anywhere.

It gets busy around rush hours and becomes more of a 4 way pause instead of a 4 way stop. People honk sometimes. I could be included in the word “people”.

I usually tap the horn when someone has not appropriately observed the law. They should know, right? I’m preventing an accident. They are in a hurry, they should slow down and pay attention.

Well, a couple days ago I pulled up behind a car at the 4 way pause. A million things were floating through my mind that first full week of school and crunch time in ministry.

As I pulled through the stop, I noticed a car start to pull out even though I was in the intersection. How dare he! I thought.

I didn’t tap the horn but I gave a look. You know, the get-in-your-place look. I may not be a police officer but I wish I was at times like these.

The driver did that Texas thing where you keep your hand on the steering wheel but wave your fingers around in a way that says what’s up with you lady?

As I completed my turn I realized I was still pretty close to the car that had been in front of me.

Huh.

Why was I so close to them?

It slowly dawned on me that I had tailgated the driver in front of me through the stop! A cascade of thoughts poured out of me…

I was wrong

I deserved a ticket

I did what I hated other people doing

My behavior warranted a honk and a dirty look

I am a hypocrite!

And I was totally unaware of it.

I also wondered how many times I condemn others for something and fail to see clearly my own behavior that’s worthy of condemnation. I can name a number of times that I encountered this in my life. This incident reminds me that there must be so many more that I still do not see.

I will always need grace and mercy for ways I mess up that I have not figured out.

So will you. So will others.

That other driver I thought so arrogant now seems so merciful. He didn’t blast his horn at me and I deserved it! How many times have I taken the opportunity to come down on something I felt justified in condemning instead of letting it roll on past? Instead of showing mercy…

I really want to thank him for showing mercy! So, if you’re reading this and were driving a nice grey suburban when a lady in a grey minivan gave you a dirty look while breaking the law…thank you for showing mercy.

To me, pride seems like one of those really stubborn, kind of hopeless character flaws. I’m usually very blind to it so how can I possibly grow in humility?

And then humility! The minute you say you’re growing in humility it reveals you’re not! Catch-22.

Here’s my hope straight from Proverbs 29:

A person’s pride will humble him,

But a humble spirit will gain honor.

So, through my pride, I’ll get humbled. Fun! But, I don’t need to dread this beat down. Even more encouraging is that my pride is not a hopeless condition. The joyful paradox, though, is that by the time any honor comes I won’t even care about it anymore!

Humility is content without the honor it engenders. It has its own internal reward.

And I’d love to know what that’s all about!

White Stones and the Deep Soul

My daughter tried to get my dad’s attention by calling to him in ever louder shouts. Poppy…Poppy…Poppy! He wasn’t standing far away and he wasn’t, yet, as deaf as he got later on. So, he really had no excuse.

She kept on shouting Poppy to no avail. Then, MIKE!!!! And Poppy turned his head. We all laughed pretty hard. I think we leaked actual tears.

Ok. He deserves a break. He was less than 2 years into his career as a grandfather. We lived overseas and my brother’s kid couldn’t even talk yet so he didn’t have a lot of practice with his new name, Poppy.

And, I feel this resonate with who I am as a person too. I don’t always know my name. It’s not that I don’t know my given name, its that I don’t know who I am as a person.

So I search. I take personality tests. What kind of animal am I? What are my strengths. My MBTI. A Birkman. Am I a “D”? What number am I? What’s my wing and do I only have one? Is adaptability really a strength?

I was once called a tornado for a certain combination of “strengths.” Tornados are strong, I get that. But a tornado? I’d only find fault if it wasn’t true. It is true, so I have to own that one.

I believe all these assessments can have a place in honing in on how God made us and how we can serve Him more whole heartedly. They can help us understand where we might be blind to sin. I’ve benefitted so much in recognizing certain strengths and sin patterns and learning to honor and trust God for them.

We’re a pretty fascinating thing, we humans. Gazing into how we’re wired and how we are raised and how God made us can get pretty consuming and pretty twisty. Looking into the soul without the guiding light of God’s Word and His Spirit, is like looking into a deep well. We can’t see the bottom. We keep asking our name and keep hearing an eerie echo of our own voices coming back from the void.

When my dad was dying, he talked of the white stones in heaven that have our name on them. It’s a brief verse in Revelation but what great hope is communicated through it. We will finally know our name, know ourselves as God knows us. That separation we experience in our souls due to sin will finally be closed

Can you imagine what that will be like? To have God, our very creator, lean in and smile (I just know He’ll be smiling) and whisper a name that’s just between Him and me. And it will be true, and right, and without shame, and without want, and have nothing to do with any other ill-formed, incomplete opinion.

It will finally be known to me what God has known all along.

My soul. My name.

So, all those efforts we put into knowing ourselves? If they are not united with what He already tells us about ourselves in His Word, they are woefully incomplete. They’re not a complete waste of time but just know, they will never be able to tell you all of who you are.

Only God can do that. And He will do it.

On a Date with Jesus…

Friday in my day planner contained an enormous, bold X encompassing all the hours from 8 until 3.

But not for vacation, a shopping trip, or bingeing on Netflix. Friday’s assignment from 8 to 3 is time with Jesus. It has all kinds of names but on our ministry team’s calendar, it is marked DWL or Day With the Lord.img_7624

What a gift, right?  A whole day to spend with Jesus. Who doesn’t want that? My daughter commented that it was a vacation. And it certainly looks like that, and feels like that sometimes. I’m thankful that our director sees that we need to be refreshed to pour into the lives of others.

But it is also a challenge. A whole day with Jesus confronts my distractive tendencies, it stands against my desire to produce something, and it reveals the state of my heart. After about 2 hours, I start to squirm, wanting to do something else, wanting to check that phone, the social media, accomplish that task. All the while knowing and wanting to delight in Jesus longer. Ack! The Civil War of the Soul.

Spending extended time with Jesus is a discipline. Meaning, we gain capacity for more through practice and training. So often discipline conjures up a harsh experience that is no fun at all. Discipline…like eating limp broccoli or cleaning up your room when you don’t want to…gets a bad rap.

But what about discipline that trains us for more joy, more capacity to receive from God, more faith? Like training for a 5K, discipline allows us to go farther and experience more delight because we trusted God for more and got to see Him provide.

So, how do you develop the discipline for spending an extended time with Jesus? Here are a few things I’ve discovered that have helped my capacity and enjoyment of Jesus expand during a longer time spent with Him.

  • Be a hedonist. Hedonism has negative connotations when it pertains to seeking after our own pleasures apart from God. But what about seeking pleasure in God? By definition hedonism is the doctrine that pleasure is the sole or chief good in life. Well, pleasure in God, loving God, is the chief good in life, so go for it!

How I live out hedonism with Jesus:

Read what I want to read in the Bible as long as I want to read it and as slowly or quickly as I want to read it.

Journal whenever I want to journal

Enjoy a cup of coffee, a candle, or the warmth of my down comforter

Appreciate the ways God has brought good into my life

Indulge my creative side by writing a blog post which I always post on a different day due to the following reality…

Wear comfortable clothes.

  • Own my weakness. Days with the Lord have been part of my life for a long time. Years. I have experience with this discipline. Experience doesn’t mean good experience. It means I’ve had good days and I’ve had bad. Since we’re going for good and not regret,

Here are a couple of things I take into account:

I will desire to “produce” instead of “be”. I combat this by planning the whole week to eliminate as much temptation to be productive by completing what I need to complete or surrendering what I cannot complete in time.

I have a limited attention span. I will get to the limit. At that point, I can choose to tap out or change my routine and keep going. Changing my location, what I’m reading, or how I’m interacting helps. I will go to a coffee shop or to another room in our house. It helps to know I will need to face this reality and have a plan for how to adapt.

  • Ruthlessly Protect. Time with Jesus doesn’t just happen. There are too many things begging for my attention. Jesus invites but He doesn’t ever seem to shout or twist my arm or force me to connect with Him. I must choose to follow Him. So, I must choose to pattern my life to enable following Him not just for a Day with Jesus, but every day too. For a Day with Jesus, I find I must diligently protect that time.

Here are a few tips:

Dedicate the day in advance. How much in advance is up to you and up to your spiritual needs. Maybe you’re spiritually crashing and burning and tomorrow needs to be the day. Let folks know, cancel appointments, carve out the time.

At least a week helps to give the time to complete necessary work, eliminate distractions, and gather an idea of what you want to read or focus on.

Guard the Day. All week my mind was set on protecting Friday. Guarding against saving an errand for Friday, scheduling an appointment for Friday, leaving a text to answer on Friday.

Silence your Phone. This is a hard one for me as a mom. I feel that I cannot always do this with kids in school. If you can do it, do it.

  • Surrender. As a mom of three, I’ve had to accept that there are times when I cannot indulge a Day With the Lord in the way I dreamed. A kid gets sick and needs care. A house repair or errand just really cannot wait (think overflowing toilet, or power outage). Or, when our kids were babies and we lived overseas, my husband and I traded out halfway through the day. There was always a very awkward interchange about who got to go out in the morning and come back in time for nap time!

Even while I may have planned, God might have other plans.

On those days, as disappointing as they are, I began to begin to recognize that I could enjoy Jesus’ care for me in a different way. He sees me and He sees my plight. He can meet me where I am even if I don’t get to spend the day with Him like I wanted to. Sometimes I can rearrange and choose another day and try again. Sometimes I can’t.

Always I have every morning at 6 that I can wake up and spend time with Him.

A Day with Jesus will not make up for every day walking with Him. So, don’t wait for a day in the distant future to spend with Him, answer His invitation every day.

 

Come, Follow Me!

It probably looks really sweet to the observer. My boys with a hand around my waist and close by my side guiding me. Little do they know this action is totally self-serving and only happens when they think mom has talked to enough people and we really need to get home and eat, for goodness sake.

My boys seriously detest waiting around while I talk to people. Schools, grocery stores, on a walk, in church. There are so many places we see friends and I do what most women do, I seize the opportunity to gab.

They’re pretty effective at moving me along while I’m talking to them about poetic things like the gift of community.  But, they’re not buying it yet. I get it. I grew up waiting in this big room called the narthex (what kind of name is that?) staring at a world map while my parents spent hours, I’m sure it was hours, talking to people at church. I’ve always been pretty good at geography.

Sometimes I wish it was possible to do this for people in their spiritual lives. Escort them a little forcibly to the next destination. But it is not so. My husband pointed out to me simply, God is on the move and people have to leave stuff to follow Him.

I should know this. It’s not like I haven’t seen it time and time again in the Bible. Come, Follow Me! But my eyes have skipped over this passage so many times, I began to miss it.

Each person He invited had to leave something. A job. A task. An appointment. A lifestyle. Friends. Family. A home. To answer the call, they had to move physically from their present activity and start walking. img_7629.jpg

Jesus didn’t come over and force them. He didn’t escort them around their waist along the road. He invited and only the willing accepted the invitation. They left what they were doing, and followed Him.

Sometimes I find myself trying to do a little more than just invite. I smooth the path extra flat. I try to make an offer they can’t refuse. I bend over backwards to wait around and hope they start moving towards Jesus.

But I can never make the choice for someone. There is no detour around the fact that we must leave things to follow Jesus. And the truth is not everyone will answer the call to become a disciple, a learner of His way. Some people will not leave their way to follow Jesus’ way.

It saddens me as it must have saddened Jesus. They’re missing out. There’ll be a price.

But I cannot ever force someone to be a disciple. I can only invite. They must answer the call themselves. They must make the decision to put aside what they’re doing to move with Him. Only then can they be with Him.

As a former youth pastor said, wherever you go, there you are.

So stupidly profound.

Before Surrender

We stood there on the tallest point overlooking a historic town, an historic river. Clouds puffed in the sky and I snapped pictures of the scene before me. Rolling hills, a picturesque river, quaint buildings, and boats on the water. All was at peace that warm summer day.

That tallest point? A fortress more than 500 years old. That town? Passed back and forth between warring kingdoms for most of its existence.

The people who faced each other across the river were not always part of the same kingdom either. The vacation boats on the river now used to be vessels of war, of conquering. Hence, the need for a fortress to fight off invaders.

Surrender is a word that comes up frequently in my spiritual life as a Christian. Surrender. Surrender anything that stands between me and the Lord. Surrender my way for His.

Recently, I’ve sensed that my romantic view of the word (picture hands raised and a white bird flying up to the blue sky while sunlight shines down ready to accept the glowing bird), fails to grasp the brutal reality that surrender is more a battle front term.

Back track a little and before surrender comes division and a battle of two or more opposing forces. Similarly in my own life, a battle usually rages until I face that I’m losing, big time. My way, my army, my kingdom is weaker than the one I ultimately fight. God.

Then, there’s an honest reckoning, a realization that I will not win. I cannot win. I will be defeated. At this point, I face a choice. I can continue fighting a losing battle out of pride or I can make some tough calls.

I can be…

A Captive: I lose the battle but think I should have won it. I nurse the idea that I could have won it if I’d just done a little something here differently or fought a little harder there. My allegiance has not changed. I’m still fighting. Life is full of strife as I live in rebellion to the King, constantly seeking a way of escape.

A Deserter: I turn and run from the battle. I live to fight another day thinking I can still win. I live on the run not knowing when I will need to turn and fight again. Life is about escape and hiding from the more powerful and ever pursuing King.

A Defector: I change sides because I reckon that the other side is better, more worthy of allegiance. Now I use my weapons for another King and His kingdom. I live at peace in the protection of the King’s fortress, guarded by Him and sent to do His work. My former identity as an enemy combatant is known, yet I am not sidelined out of suspicion or fear. I’m fully accepted.

The choice to surrender now starts sounding more like a laying down of arms than a moment with a dove.

Sometimes I figure out things fast and lay down my weapons before serious blood is shed. But there are times when I don’t and I come in wounded to my own surrender, a little beat up in the battle. A bit chagrined that I misjudged my allegiances so poorly.

This week it was about a kid’s homework, surrendering a better grade to preserve our relationship. A few weeks ago it was about choosing to happily do a task I didn’t fully want to do.

Every day it is choosing to step out and follow Jesus, rather than stay on my own path, fighting for my own way.