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.

Stooping to Look Again

From four years ago….

I don’t like to wait. I try to find ways to avoid waiting. Call ahead. Go do something else and come back when the line is shorter. I especially don’t like to wait when I don’t know how long the wait will be. That’s what it feels like to be left, to wait for the unknown. When leaving, I think about the future, to what comes next. It’s exciting. When left, I think about the future, too, but what comes next? I know not.

The tomb scene in John spoke to my heart this week as I contemplate the departures of a few friends and teammates. Mary came to the tomb early and left late. She saw the men come and stoop to look inside and then they returned home. She, too, looked and saw emptiness inside, I suppose. The text doesn’t say specifically. She was left, so she thought, but she lingered anyway, weeping and waiting.

I don’t like to wait or to weep. I don’t like to be left.

But, then she stooped and looked again where others looked before and saw nothing. Amazing. Why did she look again? I don’t know but if I were her, why would I look again? I want to see. I want more. I want a different reality. Maybe I’d think that if I looked one more time, just once more before I left I could leave and go home and start to fill the emptiness on my own, sure that there was nothing left to wait for anymore. The act of stooping to look again is so full of faith.

She stooped and looked weeping and she saw angels…heard angels, spoke with angels!  She saw the Risen Christ, clung to Him, and He gave her a message to pass on.  For others who came and went, the tomb lay empty, just empty.  But for Mary, who waited and wept and stooped to look again, the empty tomb became a place of joy and comfort and hope and purpose.  The emptiness of feeling left by the Lord filled up with so much more.

So, I wait weeping more and more.  I stoop to look in the emptiness and wait for His explanation of the reality I feel so deeply.  He fills the emptiness more and more with the comfort, joy, and hope in His Word.  And, He challenges my view of reality.

I am not left.  I am not alone.  The emptiness of the tomb is the reality but the explanation for what my eyes see is far from empty.

The Zombie Apocalypse is Real

I always flip the channel when the zombie previews air. With three youngish kids around, I notice a direct correlation to sleepless nights and the walking dead. I don’t sleep and I like sleep. They don’t sleep so I don’t sleep. Nobody sleeps and we become the walking dead we tried to avoid by flipping the flippin’ channel! DSC_0153

Ok, joking and sleep issues aside. There is something to this whole zombie apocalypse thing. As much as I want to call foul, evil, and bad every time the walking dead comes on air, it strikes a deeper tone to me.

Whoever conceived this idea of zombies is saying something important. There are the living dead, and they are among us. This show is a major, major hit. This message is resonating with people.

In the show its real zombies and, of course, we all know…hahaha…they don’t exist and you are only really afraid when your brothers prank you after your wisdom teeth are extracted, right?

I think it goes deeper than that, though. Artists write about these things because they think about them. They think about them because they are imaginative. They imagine them, I suppose, because they sense them. People watch this stuff because it is entertaining, and it touches on reality.

There’s some truth in what all this zombie stuff says.

People feel like zombies. I feel like a zombie in the early morning before coffee, late at night when I’m played out, and all times of the day when I’m jet lagged. I can identify physical reasons for my zombie-ness.

Many times I can also identify spiritual reasons for my zombie-like state. I’m mad at God. I’m mad at someone else. I’m sad. I’m grieving. I’m hopeless. Life is overwhelming. We go through the motions and no one notices we aren’t alive.

Some feel like zombies most of the time because their soul condition is fatal and their bodies are still alive. And they know it. And its true. They’ve never seen the cardiologist, they just know. Impending doom. Dead dread.

It’s the opposite of the living hope offered to us. Living hope is life-giving blood running through our spiritual veins, soft hearts of flesh, and woundable bodies because there is more to this life. Living hope comes through the blood of Jesus who died for us and provided the cure for the virus of sin that overtakes us.

My hope is those that feel like the walking dead in their soul and bodies would tell someone who understand the cure and extend it.  It is the antidote to the death that will come to all of us in the flesh.

Our flesh speaks to this death. We all know we will die. It is a horror. It is shocking. And it is scary to watch.

While we will all die one day, death need not come to all of us in the soul. And, when the soul lives, the flesh will live again one day, too.

That is the living hope. Because of Jesus, though we die, yet we live.

The hope is not just for the deathbed, though, it is for the now, too. I may feel like a zombie sometimes, but it is not my true and permanent state.

That’s also the living hope.

 

Green the Grass

We watered our lawn too much. My husband told me this after consulting other lawn experts, otherwise known as neighbors. He talks about lawns like I talk about cooking.

If we water our lawn too much the roots don’t learn to grow deep and seek out water on their own. Who knew? Well, other people is the short answer.  Seeking roots are important when it gets hot and dry. It’s Texas. It gets hot and dry.

So, we backed down on our watering, but not before we felt the pain of our utility bill. Yikes! The first year of home ownership is a year for learning. What that really means is a year of doing lots of weird things because you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Now its summer again and I find I like my lawn to be green and its starting to get a tad light green in patches. I really want to ramp up the watering so it gets dark green again. I’m scared the grass won’t find the water.

What if it dies?

My own life, my kids lives, the lives of students I work with on campus. I see the same truth play out. Surface green looks so good and there’s really nothing wrong with seeing outward growth and health.

The big question is what kind of roots are being trained? Are they seeking roots trained to strain towards sustenance? Am I? Or weak shallow roots that don’t know what to do when drought comes?

When dry threatens, I want to ramp up the watering schedule. It looks good and works fast. And its appropriate at times, too. The lawn gets green pretty quick when I water it more. More attention pays off in the present tense.

But hot and dry always come at some point and not just in Texas.

How have I trained the lawn? How am I training my spiritual life? My children? Am I trying to help so much that I train shallow and weak people who don’t know what to do when hot and dry come in life? Am I afraid that answers won’t be supplied from the depths so I feel I need to supply from the surface?

Watching my kids struggle to stretch roots down to the foundation of things is difficult. Feeling the pain of it myself is confusing.

Searching for depth is just that…a search.

It is a lack of knowing exactly where the sustenance is but sending out feelers, shoots to investigate. It looks like absorbing long passages of God’s word, the Bible, gleaning and sifting for who God is in new ways. Sometimes searching is finding nothing that feels helpful but absorbing more truth. Later it makes more sense. Or, seeking is trying new things to discover where I fit in the body of Christ.  Learning new skills necessary for a new circumstance in life is a form of stretching to new depths.

The assurance I have is that I will find sustenance, and others will too, if we search for that which truly sustains. It may not always seem enough or produce a green enough lawn to look pretty to everyone, but God will keep me growing spiritually when I am connected to Him, the Giver of life.

My lawn may not look as green as everyone else’s. That’s a challenging reality at times. I am learning again to trust that the exterior appearance of life doesn’t always correlate directly to spiritual health.

Next time I will write about the tree that looked dead for months. Spoiler alert. It’s not dead!

Deep roots, searching roots, trained to send out feelers into the depths during the hot and dry times is health more than shallow and green during ideal conditions.

Not all brown things are dead.

 

A Day for Remembering

I lay on the couch in the morning sun flipping through my photo feed. Memories wash through with each swipe. Sunshine to snowfall. Normal to hectic. One life then another. Change after change after change.

Some photos remind me of things forgotten in the crash of my father’s sickness. The dark chocolate bar the writers gave me upon the publication of my first piece. A monumental event, an event eclipsed by news delivered 2 days later.

Two swipes later clouds and snow from the seat of a flight booked last minute. Then, my parents on face time with family figuring out how to process a terminal diagnosis. Hospital photos, prayer meetings, more clouds from more flights all mixed in with children at school events, moving trucks, beach sunrises and meals at favorite restaurants, hospital room views.img_1404-1

All jumbled together in an impossible array of the unbelievable.
I wonder how we made it, and I remember how we made it. It was life in the moment of what had to be done, constantly shoving aside what must wait until later. Daily listening to my gut when it said weird things like go shopping, buy a nice outfit for each kid for the funeral. Or listening to my friends, buy the tickets, don’t worry about the money.

Coming to accept more deeply that life isn’t as neat and clean as we want, and we can’t make things as neat and clean as we want no matter how hard we try.

Somehow we made it. Somehow we cherished the moments given to us and came through. Scarred, yes. Hurting, definitely. Intact, physically, yes.

And missing.

Always missing what was taken from us in this world. Hopeful and waiting for the day of reckoning. The day of returning what we are promised in Jesus Christ. Life, joy, peace, and fellowship with the ones we love.

A day without tears and without missing.

A sunrise from on high.

 

The Doctrine of Production

Wednesday was my day to do things around the house. I started out in a whirlwind of activity trying to make the day count. Of course, by count, I meant produce things, results. My caffeine fueled to-do lists hardly ever leave me feeling satisfied. In my mind, I imagine I possess eternity in the confines of a single day and the strength of Hercules for my tasks.

Later, feeling rather unsatisfied and frustrated, I sat and talked with a college student about grace and how it means “unmerited favor.” Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. Grace is not getting what I deserve. I evaluated my week and realized while I could say the right things, my actions bear witness that usefulness is a central value. I like to merit my favor.

Ouch. What does that mean for the crippled child? For the elderly? For children in general? For the sick? For the needy? For my dad? For me?

It’s easy to abide by this usefulness doctrine when life is going well. When I can produce and when I feel good about my behavior. It’s harder when life isn’t going well for some reason or my production fails to meet my expectations. For some, like my dad, it’s health. For me, it’s been grief and moves.

And, actually, when I stand back and look at my life, I’ve accomplished a lot in the last year despite huge change. So why is this still a monkey on my back?

Striving. Striving to measure up. Striving to find favor when its already been given me through Jesus. So this is a futile striving in that what I strive for is already mine. So silly.

The verse where God calls me to “cease striving, and know that I am God” comes to mind. To cease striving, I need not look to the work of my hands to see if they are enough or look at life and figure out if I’ve met my goals or behaved well enough, but know in a profound way that God is God. His purpose will be accomplished.

And, He accepted me by grace through faith.

 Rest follows. True soul rest in the midst of the chaos of life. Order will come. Because God will accomplish His purpose.

 

Stooping to Look Again

I published this around Easter two years ago. As I read it again, I am struck by how the Lord is calling me, yet again, to stoop and look into the tomb. I reposted it this year. It is still a very current place for me.

I don’t like to wait. I try to find ways to avoid waiting. Call ahead. Go do something else and come back when the line is shorter. I especially don’t like to wait when I don’t know how long the wait will be. That’s what it feels like to be left, to wait for the unknown. When leaving, I think about the future, to what comes next. It’s exciting. When left, I think about the future, too, but what comes next? I know not.

The tomb scene in John spoke to my heart this week as I contemplate the departures of a few friends and teammates. Mary came to the tomb early and left late. She saw the men come and stoop to look inside and then they returned home. She, too, looked and saw emptiness inside, I suppose. The text doesn’t say specifically. She was left, so she thought. But she lingered anyway, weeping and waiting. I don’t like to wait or to weep. I don’t like to be left.

But, then she stooped and looked again where others looked before and saw nothing. Amazing. Why did she look again? I don’t know but if I were her, why would I look again? I want to see. I want more. I want a different reality. Maybe I’d think that if I looked one more time, just once more before I left I could leave and go home and start to fill the emptiness on my own, sure that there was nothing left to wait for anymore. The act of stooping to look again is so full of faith.

She stooped and looked weeping and she saw angels…heard angels, spoke with angels!  She saw the Risen Christ, clung to Him, and He gave her a message to pass on.  For others who came and went, the tomb lay empty, just empty.  But for Mary, who waited and wept and stooped to look again, the empty tomb became a place of joy and comfort and hope and purpose.  The emptiness of feeling left by the Lord filled up with so much more.

So, I wait weeping more and more.  I stoop to look in the emptiness and wait for His explanation of the reality I feel so deeply.  He fills the emptiness more and more with the comfort, joy, and hope in His Word.  And, He challenges my view of reality.

I am not left.  I am not alone.  The emptiness of the tomb is the reality but the explanation for what my eyes see is far from empty.