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.

Being Still

I expected Easter weekend to be full of far flung friends gathered for a special wedding celebration—a dear friend united in marriage in the witness of many other dear friends.

A big celebration surrounded by many other little celebrations of a community separated and once again united for a weekend.

As shut downs and shelter-in-places spread across the world, the celebrations are delayed, the wedding postponed as we all wait for the unknown.

Our plans all yielded…

We may never be so closely linked in experience or feeling with the followers of Christ this Easter season. The joys of Spring Break in early March feel like Palm Sunday when life seemed like it was going well. An expectation of wonderful Spring!

The snowball of our restrictions parallel the turn of events during Holy Week as Jesus went from a heralded king to a hunted and betrayed man. Life turned upside down for Jesus’ followers.

A much anticipated celebration season flipped to unexpected mourning.

As they witnessed Jesus’ procession with His cross, this man they had followed everywhere for three years, did they think what we think now about our plans…this should not to be? I never saw this coming?

And, when Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb and the Sabbath began, and they sat in their homes did they sit stunned like we do now?

I don’t know what is next? Life as I know it is flipped upside down. What happens when this is over? When we emerge from our homes to a new reality? The ones passed over and not taken by this pandemic.

We wonder about our jobs, whether our kids will go back to school, what our community will suffer. The disciples also worried about their jobs and their lives… what they would suffer when those in power came looking for them the first chance they could leave their home.

Our world, with so many people, has never been so still as on this Passover, this Easter weekend. I have never experienced alongside so many others such uncertainty about what is next.

With all the unexpected quiet and stillness in my home right now, all the itching eagerness to escape and do something, anything else…I identify with Jesus’ followers in a new way this weekend.

Unlike them, I have the hope of knowing the next part of the story for us as followers of Jesus. The joy of the resurrection. The assurance of redemption and the security of a new purpose as His follower that the disciples would soon discover.

But, this weekend, I can identify with them…a party weekend upset and turned into a weekend of wondering quiet waiting for a new, uncertain day.

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.

That Man, Joseph

In the midst of the Christmas season, I find it hard to rest and engage with the Story of Christmas. Maybe it’s all the presents to buy and send, the goodies to bake, the events to attend. Last year I encountered the same problem! Today I want to take the time to look at another person in the story.

When I found some time last week to take a longer look, I noticed Joseph, a man caught up in an event that centered around others.  Mary, the unwed mother who needed protection.  Jesus, the baby who needed protection.  The Roman government that offered no protection and Herod, the ruler, who pursued Joseph’s charge in order to murder him.

In all of this Joseph thought of himself only once according to the account in Matthew.  Before being let in on what was going on, he thought about his honor in marrying a woman pregnant by who knows who.  But even in that, he meant to keep it quiet and protect Mary from the society they lived in that stoned women in situations such as hers.  He still protected even in that moment…even in that moment when all appearances said he was the wronged one.

Then, an angel came to him and spoke to his heart.  I love this.  The angel first spoke to his fear.  Do not be afraid.  The angel went on and gave Joseph his role in this monumental event.  Take Mary as your wife because she is carrying the One who will take away the sin of the world.  And…he did it at great personal cost to his reputation.  A cost that stayed with the family all their days.  DSC_0093

The story takes some wild turns too.  Learned astrologers and scientists come from distant lands with loads of gifts far greater than what a carpenter ever saw in his life, I assume.  Then, another visit from an angel to the one, Joseph, charged with the protection of the One destined to save the world.  This time, marching orders.  Flee and flee now and then wait.

Joseph’s life again centered around protecting this Child and His mother and this time the cost was leaving their homeland under the dark of night without any explanation to loved ones.  They became sojourners in a distant land.  Jesus became a Third Culture Kid spending the young years of his life in Egypt.  Joseph made a way for them as a refugee. His profession as a carpenter served them all well.

I wonder if they heard reports of the massacre that took place after they left?  How did they feel when they returned and all those other families saw their son, Jesus, and remembered their own sons murdered?  I imagine the benefits of their departure caused friction in relationships. How could others restrain their feelings of jealousy in the grief of a lost son?  I bet Joseph endured a lot.

Joseph disappears from the story by Jesus’ adulthood and most suggest he passed away.  I don’t like that the story goes this way…that Joseph misses the chance to see the fulfillment of the promise the angel told him.  But the legacy this man leaves is truly tremendous.  He protected the Savior of the world at great personal cost but he also raised James and Jude, Jesus’ brothers who became pillars of the early church.

Whatever feuding existed during Jesus’ ministry gave way to broken hearts in His younger brothers’ chests.  I imagine that is Joseph’s legacy as well.  Raising humble men willing to sacrifice their lives for others because of the One who takes away the sin of the world.

That’s the mark of a man, humility.  Mary gets plenty of press, but I still think Joseph deserves more than he usually receives .

That Man, Joseph

I slacked off my writing last week.  My parents dodged snow storms and smog storms to arrive for a Christmas visit a week and a half ago.  Snow storms delayed their departure and smog here changed our travel plans.  When freeways close because of smog I give thanks for trains!  In the midst of the Christmas season, I find it hard to rest and engage with the Story of Christmas.

When I found some time last week to take a longer look, I noticed Joseph, a man caught up in an event that centered around others.  Mary, the unwed mother who needed protection.  Jesus, the baby who needed protection.  The Roman government that offered no protection and Herod, the ruler, who pursued Joseph’s charge in order to murder him.

In all of this Joseph thought of himself only once according to the account in Matthew.  Before being let in on what was going on, he thought about his honor in marrying a woman pregnant by who knows who.  But even in that, he meant to keep it quiet and protect Mary from the society they lived in that stoned women in situations such as hers.  He still protected even in that moment…even in that moment when all appearances said he was the wronged one.

Then, an angel came to him and spoke to his heart.  I love this.  The angel first spoke to his fear.  Do not be afraid.  The angel went on and gave Joseph his role in this monumental event.  Take Mary as your wife because she is carrying the One who will take away the sin of the world.  And…he did it at great personal cost to his reputation.  A cost that stayed with the family all their days.  DSC_0093

The story takes some wild turns too.  Learned astrologers and scientists come from distant lands with loads of gifts far greater than what a carpenter ever saw in his life, I assume.  Then, another visit from an angel to the one, Joseph, charged with the protection of the One destined to save the world.  This time, marching orders.  Flee and flee now and then wait.

Joseph’s life again centered around protecting this Child and His mother and this time the cost was leaving their homeland under the dark of night without any explanation to loved ones.  They became sojourners in a distant land.  Jesus became a Third Culture Kid spending the young years of his life in Egypt.  Joseph made a way for them as a refugee.

I wonder if they heard reports of the massacre that took place after they left?  How did they feel when they returned and all those other families saw their son, Jesus, and remembered their own sons murdered?  I imagine the benefits of their departure caused friction in relationships.  How could others restrain their feelings of jealousy in the grief of a lost son?  I bet Joseph endured a lot.

Joseph disappears from the story by Jesus’ adulthood and most suggest he passed away.  I don’t like that the story goes this way…that Joseph misses the chance to see the fulfillment of the promise the angel told him.  But the legacy this man leaves is truly tremendous.  He protected the Savior of the world at great personal cost but he also raised James and Jude, Jesus’ brothers who became pillars of the early church.

Whatever feuding existed during Jesus’ ministry gave way to broken hearts in His younger brothers’ chests.  I imagine that is Joseph’s legacy as well.  Raising humble men willing to sacrifice their lives others because of the One who takes away the sin of the world.

That’s the mark of a man.  Mary gets plenty of press…and Joseph does too…but I still think he deserves more.

Reading Elisabeth Elliot

I remember hearing Elisabeth Elliot speak in college.  The packed room filled with women and a few men as I sat towards the back with a few friends.  Passion and Purity ranked high among the must-reads of my college crowd at the time.  I thought it a strange book…a bit over the top.  Now, she stood telling me she thought girls should wear skirts.  I’m sure I smirked.

Now, 16 years later I still hold to a different view on skirts but I sit more and more often at the literary feet of Elisabeth Elliot.  I liken her to a spiritual grandmother, a little old-fashioned in some areas but consistently delivering piercing truth.  Truth pierces the heart and draws me into closer fellowship with the Lord…when I listen well…I, the young granddaughter of the faith.

These Strange Ashes, A Chance to Die, and now The Path of Loneliness rank at the tops of my list for the beginning Elisabeth Elliot mentee.  Meat for the soul I call them.

These Strange Ashes recounts Elisabeth’s first year on the field and it still speaks to what one can expect the first year on the field.  I lend my copy out and make it clear I expect it back!

A Chance to Die takes a thorough look at the life of Amy Carmichael.  Elisabeth doesn’t shy away from Amy’s strengths and weaknesses.  Wrestling with the complexity of Amy’s character and her service give me great hope for what the Lord can do through me with all my “complexity.”

DSC_0241The Path of Loneliness required me to choke down a destructive mental barrier as I saw it on a friend’s shelf this past week pondering what book to borrow.  I don’t like to tell people when I am lonely.  I even wanted to hide this book while I read it instead of leaving it on my side table!  Ahh…pride!  Today I finished the book and I just might start at the front and read it again copying down favorite passages.  I might end up copying the whole book.  I do plan to buy a copy… plus a few to give away as I feel led.

Passion and Purity…well…I still need to go back and pick that one up again and rethink it.

I read Elisabeth Elliot now expecting to feel the rub and pull involved in taking a vigorous hike towards greater trust and obedience to the Lord.

As with any hike, the anticipation and joy of the summit compels more strongly the farther I get on the hike.

What author or book challenged you lately?

Summer Heat

DSC_0039If I ranked seasons…and I do…summer ranks last.  Dead last.  For some reason God planted me in place after place that heats up to unholy temperatures in summer time.  The furnace of Texas and now the furnace of Asia.

Because I know it is the right thing to say, I say God must know what He’s doing and somehow the heat will lead to greater sanctification of my soul.  And, because I know a seed must fall to the ground and die before producing anything I can give mental ascent that the feeling of dying in the summer heat might serve a purpose.

Yet…I still enter the heat of summer dragging my feet and fighting a dull, pervasive grumpiness of soul.  For three months makeup slides off my face and I feel ugly.  For three months, my kids want to swim everyday in the blow up pool and spray each other with the spray nozzle set to the “kill” setting.  For three months, the grocery store refuses to turn on it’s a/c until 3 pm.  For three months…

I admit I deserve a prize for being a brat.  We do run our home a/c day and night in summer.  Ice constantly occupies our freezer drawers.  My suffering is slight compared to some.  But when it comes to discontentment, comparing with others rarely nips my disease of complaining up at the roots.

Instead my eyes opened a little this week to my need to come before the Maker of summer and submit to His seasons physically and spiritually.  Is it possible I can grow in the Lord just by being willing to live in the heat that He brings for a while?  To even cheerfully set up the pool for my kids in the heat?  To put on makeup every once in a while to cheer my soul even knowing it’s going to disappear in an hour?  To go to the grocery store and refuse to open my mouth to complain about the a/c schedule?

Learning to come under the reality of my days instead of fighting and wishing and complaining is no small task for me.  I just now begin to accept that possibly my whole summer’s spiritual assignment revolves around cheerful submission to the heat of summer.

I wonder what He holds on the other side as I choose to walk through this barrier to contentment.  I bet it’s good whatever it is.

What season ranks last on your list?  Why?

In the House of Mourning

The sweltering heat presses down on us in the hidden cemetery.  I pass by inscriptions of women, children, missionaries, diplomats, and seamen.

I imagine some died from mosquito-borne illnesses as I nervously slap away hundreds of the pests.  My children flee to higher ground to avoid the onslaught.  I and my daughter remain and wander as the clock hastens towards closing time.

DSC_0040Some inscriptions move me to tears.  The small crypt of an infant inscribed with words of surrender even as grief slays the soul.

Others give my heart pause to wonder…was it worth it?  The sailor whose greatest achievement, the one that took his life, was war to open a port of trade to opium.

Most received their burial in the presence of friends or shipmates, not family.  Etched in the side of one stone tomb I read, “The Tomb Erected by a Mournful Friend.”  Who was the mournful friend?  What does mournful friendship look like in this era?

DSC_0062Then, the lengthy inscription of Robert Morrison who translated the Bible into Chinese and created the Chinese dictionary all in the age before computers.  We stand on his shoulders along with hundreds of millions of others who daily benefit from his labors.  I’m sure my contribution pales in comparison.  Am I content to continue even if my labors never amount to such fame?

DSC_0048Better to go to a house of mourning…this theme echoes in my ears during the season of goodbye gatherings that recently ended.  Do they ever end though?  Goodbye parties and cemeteries…my current houses of mourning.

Walking through this cemetery anchors my soul to the crucified life.  Through the tears I manage to glean something of the realities of a life surrendered.

To conquer?  To serve?  To give my life?  To accept loss that comes to my doorstep?  To be the mournful friend?

Plain Old Pain and Sore Pain

At 20 bucks an hour, medicinal back massages are a steal.  Last furlough I vowed to indulge in this overseas luxury more often.  Cross cultural life stresses the body and the mind.  Massage works wonders…if you can stand the pain.

Massage in America surrounds you in an experience of soothing luxury.  Relaxing smells and soft music with a fountain trickling in the background usher one into an experience of stressless comfort.  Not so in Asia.  A successful massage in Asia uses one hour to hit every pressure point and problem area with torturous force.  No music or fountains…just hard work.  It is not for the faint of heart.  If I scream, which I do, I only communicate a job well done, not a request to stop!

Two words describe pain in this language and we learned them from the masseuse.  There are more, but these two strike me with meaning.  Pain and sore pain.  Pain is just what it means…pain.  No purpose.  Negative.  Undesirable.  Bad.

Sore pain…now sore pain is good.   The masseuse explained that sore pain means new blood flowing to the knotted muscle and washing out the toxins.  Sore pain eventually allows the muscle to release the poison and relax resulting in more freedom of motion without limiting pain.

Sore pain is why I get a massage.  Sore pain serves a purpose.  Sore pain yields.  Sore pain is not futile.  Sore pain leads to loose muscles that enable me to enjoy daily life without as much plain old pain.

As in my spiritual life there is pain that leads to more pain and serves no purpose.  That kind of pain makes me act funny as I protect myself.  And, then, there is sore pain.  The word a friend speaks that brings to light a sin issue I need to face.  Or, maybe it is doing the thing I fear will incur disapproval from others.  Pressing these areas brings sore pain.  But, sore pain is worth it.  Sore pain brings new life.  Sore pain gets out the poisons.  Sore pain eventually brings peace and freedom.

Sore pain still hurts.  I scream when the masseuse hits certain pressure points.  I cry and can get angry when someone pushes on a stiff spot.   But the promise of cleaning out the toxins and moving unencumbered by a stiff soul makes me crave it even as I want to scream.

When I visit the masseuse I always try to go with a friend.  We bond as we listen to the masseurs grump about our physical problems and as we hear each other yelp.  Taking a friend along on the journey of sore pain of the soul helps me endure.

Between the screams, and sometimes through them, we laugh a great deal.

What stiff places in your soul need to experience sore pain these days?