Teflon and Jesus

“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.”

I’ve wrapped Emerson’s words around my heart multiple times since I first heard them in high school, repeating them while I searched for authenticity and wondered why I seemed always to push others away.  I used to blame the shortness of my friendships on how frequently we moved.  It wasn’t until a few years ago when a trusted mentor began to address perfectionism in my life that I realized that I was culpable of friendship sabatoge.

We live in a time of super-Christians, a product of the social media and technology boom.  We create our image out of words and carefully edited photographs–soundbites of a utopian (or even distopian) reality where image reigns supreme emporer.  This is especially true of those of us involved in ministry.  We have to be so careful not to “lose our witness” around those who we deem “less Christian” than we are, and so careful not to appear inferior to those we deem “more Christlike” than we are.

And I get it.  We have expectations of our leaders.  Pastors and their families are presumed to have the answers, especially during crisis moments, and we’re uncomfortable when we have to realize our leaders are fragile people–even moreso when we have to realize our leaders also battle with sin.

What I continue to have to face in my own life is that my posturing has less to do with protecting His image and more to do with protecting mine.  Let’s be real—the Lord of eternity doesn’t need my help staying on His throne. The “less Christian” versus “more Christlike” debate is simply pride, fear of man, and jockying for position, all of which the Lord detests.  In a way, it’s easier to slap on a smile and say “whatever God wills” than to admit the battle in our hearts, especially when a blinking cursor allows us free reign to invent ourselves; but that’s teflon-Christianity where nothing sticks, not even the oil of the Spirit that would bring healing.  It takes great courage to allow someone else to speak into our lives, to risk appearing less than perfect, to admit someone else may be further in their spiritual journey in an area where we keep failing.  It takes strength to receive the affections of God when our weakness is on display.  It takes divine revelation to cease striving to bring fruit from our own efforts and allow the Lord to prune, to set free, and to bring a harvest in His time.

We’ve cheated ourselves, we super-Christians with our social media world, because you cannot gain image without trading something for it; and in our case, most of us have traded real, raw, deep, heart-level relationship.  Perfectionism is a lonely bubble, and one that keeps us from real relationship.  Have you ever considered that not only did Jesus agonize over the cross until His sweat became drops of blood, but that He did not hide His struggle from the pages of the Scriptures?  His “thy will be done” came at a supreme cost.  The Author Himself allows us into the moment of His greatest conflict, laying bare the tempesting emotions within His heart for generations to see; and millions have found peace in identifying with His pain.

I’m learning that I don’t always have to have the answers.  The greatest gift that Chrystal can give is to be vulnerable, to admit sin and ask forgiveness, to lavishly praise the strengths of others without feeling the secret sting of competition, to be the advocate and encourager rather than the problem-solver, to listen without condescension, to minister from a place of transparency, and to know that the successes of one are the successes of all.  A giant in the faith is not self-named; rather, he or she earns spiritual authority by the blood of the Lamb and a testimony–a story of God’s great strength made perfect a broken life; and that story is better when displayed, not simply told.

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Declarations of a SAHM

You still love me.

When I snap at my kids, burn dinner, gripe at my husband, and forget to fill the dog’s water bowl, You still love me.

When I run into door frames in my fatigue, haven’t brushed my hair in days, and drop the same piece of mail four times in a row, You still love me.

When I get so angry at my lack of control in life that I hurl the empty juice bottle at the trash so hard it ricochets across the room, You still love me.

When I haven’t cleaned the bathrooms and the baby sucks on fists of dog hair from the rugs I haven’t vacuumed, You still love me.

When my husband runs out of clean t-shirts because I haven’t finished the laundry, when I spend too much money buying groceries, when the car is overdue for an oil change by 1,000 miles, You still love me.

When the toddler argues over whether he has to eat his breakfast, poops in his underwear, floods the bathroom from playing in the sink, and unravels an entire roll of toilet paper, You still love me.

When I let the kids watch too much television because I’m desperate for a quiet moment, You still love me.

When I greet my husband after work with a hot dinner on the table one night and shove cold leftovers and a screaming baby into his arms the next, You still love me.

When I look in the mirror and see lines forming, haven’t had a haircut in almost a year, and sabotage my diet by stress binging on chocolate chip cookies, You still love me.

When I grasp at movies or books to distract myself from life instead of finding rest in You, You still love me.

When I resent my relationships because I can’t control the behavior of other people, You still love me.

When my shifting moods make me seem bipolar, unlovable, and unstable, You still love me.

When I feel sorry for myself instead of being grateful for the myriad of blessings You’ve poured into my lap, still Your steadfast love never ceases, Your mercies never come to an end, and Your faithfulness is great.

You love because You love, You are love, You love to love.  You love because You created me for love.  You enjoy the journey.  You know my perfectionism is a weakness in which You gain glory.  You know every gift I have belongs to You, and You love the flawed, broken, utterly human person You created underneath it all.  No striving.  No pretense.  Confession of what You already know.  Acceptance of what I don’t deserve.  No looking to tomorrow to start over.  Every minute is a new beginning.

I am not the sum of my failures.  My circumstances do not portray Your feelings toward me.  Mistakes do not label who I am.  I choose again to embrace the truth that You love imperfect people who keep trying to look like You.  I am loved, and I am Yours.

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Boast in Love

Do you know my Jesus?  Have you seen the furious mercy of the interceding judge?  Have you heard the thunderous whispers of the Word made flesh who raised no protest at the insults rained upon Him?  Look and see Him, the God-Man in blinding white, bloodstained robe; He who sits in Heaven laughing at His enemies, yet weeping along with every broken, “Why, Lord?”  He is the foot-washing King who slept in boats, made waves His pavement, paid taxes from a fish, and conquered death by dying.  Has there ever been anyone like Him?

Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 1:31, “…as it is written,“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”  In this passage, Paul is quoting from the book of Jeremiah:

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24

While it may not be the case for you, I often struggle with an internal ranking system that tries to measure others and analyze whether I should feel superior or inferior around them.  Most regrettably, this has at times bled into my prayer life; I have approached the Father in the subtle security of the Pharisee in Luke 18 and expected to receive answers from Him because I’m “at least a little holier” than _________.  Truly we cannot compare ourselves with ourselves and achieve His calling.

It is interesting to me that God identified our position for boasting by referring to His steadfast love.  The Hebrew word is “chesed,” a word our English translations have failed to fully grasp.  A simple explanation is that it is grace, mercy, kindness, and goodness curled into one.  It is a word of covenant, unshakable and unrelenting in the face of changed circumstance.  It invokes a sense of voluntary compulsion, of joyfully inconveniencing oneself to do extravagant good to another person.  Extravagant.  Like taking the time to create every single snowflake unique even though snowflakes exist for a breath and are gone.  Like creating the world in color even though we would not have known to miss it if we only saw in grayscale.  “Chesed” is the driving force in the stories you hear of people like Irena Sendler smuggling children to safety during the Holocaust; you see it in Rahab protecting the Hebrew spies from the guards at Jericho at the risk of her own life.  It is the attribute of God hardest to understand, for it is the one least like our often fickle, covenant-breaking hearts.

“Chesed” is the fullness of 1 Corinthians 13.  We wallow in our desperation to be in the center of whatever God is doing in our region, jockeying for kingdom position based on who has the most successful inner city ministry or the largest Sunday morning attendance.  However, the more we look at us the less we look at Him; and He is the only One worthy of praise.  “Chesed” fulfills the first commandment of loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength.  Committing to love God with this kind of love gives us the power to say, “He must increase and I must decrease.”  It is the impetus for loving our enemies and doing good to those who persecute us.  It prods us to serve in the house of the Lord when we would rather be sleeping.  It requires us to control our tempers, harness our tongues, and keep our promises.

Why is it so important that we not boast about anything until we understand and know God as He of the “chesed” love?  Because understanding steadfast love changes everything.  Suddenly, our need for validation from others falls to insignificance.  Suddenly, we begin to understand the lengths to which God will go to save a human soul from eternal separation.  Suddenly, we pray with authority not born from our own merit but from the knowledge that we do not have to twist His arm for answers.  “Chesed” dismantles the lie that God is disengaged and disinterested, that He will not do good nor bad; instead it returns us to relationship with the One snatching at any glance we throw His way, the Creator bending down to lock eyes with His creation and say, “I love to talk to you.  What’s on your mind?”

Grace to you today.  May you “have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:18-19)

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Baby Girl

It’s been five months since we received the news that our newborn girl had a heart condition. At two weeks old she had a heart cath procedure and died on the operating table. I’m grateful that the doctors were able to shock her heart and get it going again. I am grateful God chose to send her back to us (although we had come to a place where if He had chosen to take her to be with the sister we’d returned to Him the year before, we would have still called Him just and true). I am grateful that I was able to curl around her in the hospital crib the night after her procedure and count every breath she took. I am grateful her oxygen levels stabilized and her tiny feet finally turned pink again. I am grateful that the procedure and events leading up to it did not end our nursing relationship.

I am also in a recurring war with anxiety. The “why” questions still come on gray nights; they usually precede the “what if” questions that invite me to examine my pregnancy and try to pinpoint what I did wrong to harm my child. The pessimist disguised as realism likes to pop up and remind me that Baby Girl’s diagnosis was a congenital defect that would require invasive surgery down the road. Realism and faith do not make good companions.

How like God to use a seven pound baby to confront the deep rooted fear of being happy in my life. Everyday is now a Mount Moriah opportunity to trust Him. My emotions try to carve out the groove of, “How will we be able to afford doctor check ups all of her life? Will she be able to be active? Will she have to have a transplant one day? God, I can’t do this!” His Spirit responds, “Didn’t I tell you not to worry about tomorrow? Didn’t I tell you My soul does not delight in the one who draws back from confidence in Me? Didn’t I say ‘Do not fear for I am with you’? Keep your heart clean and I will come to you.”

There’s no faking faith. I look down into bottomless blue-grey eyes trusting me to “fix” all that she faces and realize that I am her model of faith. If I worry, she will worry. My responsibility is to give her the most peace-filled, happy childhood I can give her. That means I have to come into a place of Sabbath rest in the love of God, being confident that my circumstances are not a reflection of His love for me.

We have another doctor visit in a few weeks. If all goes well, we shouldn’t have to go back until the end of the year. If you look at our daughter, she’s thriving; she’s just beginning to sit up unassisted, she thinks she should be walking by now, and if you do not watch carefully enough she will snatch food or drink from you and pull it to her mouth. I am asking God to give us a creative miracle in her heart by growing a third leaflet in her aortic valve (making it a tricuspid valve instead of a bicuspid one); but I am also thanking Him for rosy cheeks and chubby legs on a little girl who loves to laugh, play, and cuddle. Most of all, I am declaring to my stubborn, mistrustful soul that He is good, that He is involved, that He loves. It is well.

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Grace Speech or Hate Speech?

Like many, my eyes have been on the Mississippi primary election runoff this week, and the fallout that has come from it.  While others who are wiser and better-read than am I are deliberating legalities, the question I have continued to ask is, “God, what is Your say in all that is happening?”  The Scripture that continues to return to me is Matthew 12:36-37, in which Jesus says, “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”  The word “careless” here can also translate idle or barren.  

In the barrage of words that take place in the realm of politics, we so easily get caught up in vilifying a person with an opposing view.  We toss profanity and venomous name-calling into hate-laced diatribes and lob them like grenades from the safe foxholes of our online personas.  It is no longer enough to dissect ideologies; rather we dissect people created in the image of God and condemn them to hell for daring to disagree with us.  We are the epitome of salt and fresh water coming from the same stream about which James warned. 

Even worse, we glory in judgement.  We exult in the thought of, “someday they’ll get what’s coming to them” without stopping to shudder over the reality of the wrath of God.  We spew out sentiments like, “God hates liberals/homosexuals/abortion-providers/ad naseum” and conveniently ignore that God hates gossip, envy, divorce, and dishonest scales.  

I would venture to say that to condemn sin without tears running down our cheeks is to miss the compassion of God.  If we judge others without a holy dread falling on us, we have no right to wield the authority we are trying to claim. 

While people become increasingly disillusioned with our political leaders and the direction of our country, Christians are strategically placed to have an ear open to the heart of God and speak hope to those who are looking for someone to believe.  No one who trusts in Him will ever be put to shame. However, if we get caught in the tail-spin circle of angry diatribes against those with whom we disagree, we block ourselves from hearing Him and from reaching anybody.  We must bridle our tongues and remember the premium God places on saving a human soul from hell before we decide whether it’s worth it to defend ourselves.

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