Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fear, Love, and Forsakenness

Since the end of January, I have been leading a women's bible study within my church. The series we are doing is on the heart, and I am writing the material for it. Really all that means is that I am using a concordance software on my computer to do a word study of every verse I can find on the heart (there are a lot, go figure) and connecting them with each other. It is, by no means, an exhaustive study--that would take lifetimes. And I am most definitely not a biblical scholar. I'm sure there are countless flaws in my methods of study, but I'm approaching it as a seeker of the Word and asking the Spirit for wisdom and guidance as I search and study. And honestly, I've come to realize it as a treasure hunt, because what I have found has astounded me.

Typically what I do is look up each significant word in a verse or passage and see what sort of discoveries are buried within the root words that aren't seen on the surface in the English translation. This past Sunday as I sat down to do some finishing touches on formatting before we met for our study, I decided to do a couple more searches in one area... and I was blown away by what I found. It was so monumental to me that I couldn't keep it to myself.

The lesson was a continuation from a two-part lesson on "What does it mean to love?" The first part was an overview of 1 Corinthians 13--the infamous passage on love. I had so many amazing discoveries in that as well. But this one was a little different. After a few verses in 1 John 3 we moved on to 1 John 4:18-19:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us.”

The original Greek word for "casts out" is ballō which literally means "to throw (more or less violent or intense)." The implication is aggressiveness. There is something fierce about love casting out fear. There is an intensity behind it that is full of power. So we know that perfect (which literally means "complete") love throws all fear out of the way. This is great news, obviously, because fear tends to really get in our way a lot of the time, right? So I'm glad to know that the perfect love of God can cast out that fear. But the next part of the verse is what did me in....

"For fear has to do with punishment..."

As I was looking over everything at the end I just flippantly decided to look up other occurrences of the word "punishment" in the concordance. I figured, okay, if fear has to do with punishment maybe it would be good to see where else the word shows up so as to have some more insight into the deeper meanings behind this verse.

The Greek word kolasis, which means "infliction: - punishment, torment" only occurs one other time in the New Testament-- Matthew 25:46:

“Then they will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

The only other occurrence of this word speaks specifically to the punishment of eternal separation from God. For fear has to do with eternal separation... Fear is directly related to the absence of God in our lives. Fear has to do with punishment. Fear has to do with torment. Fear has to do with being separated from our only hope. Fear is a feeling that whispers to us, "God is not there with you through this. He has left. You are alone." As Ann Voskamp put it in her book, One Thousand Gifts, "All fear is but the notion that God's love ends." Fear strikes us down deep into our very existence and causes us to question God's love. Because fear is not an aspect of love.

There is no fear in love.
Fear has to do with punishment.
And whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

When we let fear take hold of us, it is because we have not allowed Love to have its way with us.

The wholeness, the completeness, and the perfection of love is what casts out fear. And those who fear have not been made whole, and complete, and perfect through that love because the fear is what has consumed them, not the love.

"...but perfect love casts out fear."

Sin had left us eternally separated from God and forever without a chance at being with Him. Fear--punishment, torment, separation, darkness--had to be conquered by love so that we could get to Him. So that He could come to us. Fear was cast out when Christ went to the cross.

Because when He walked the road of Calvary He forever cast out the power of fear--the power of eternal separation. There are several other words for punishment and torment in the Greek. There is no mistake that this particular word only shows up twice. Fear has to do with being eternally separated from God. What emotion could possibly be worse than this? When we feel fearful, we are experiencing an emotion that a Christ follower should never have to experience. Because as a child of God, I will never... not ever... not even one time will I ever experience separation from God. In Christ, no matter how terrible my suffering may be, I can never be forsaken by Him. Fear says I am forsaken. Fear is a lie. When we are in Christ... fear is a lie.

But fear wasn't always a lie.

Before Christ went to the cross, fear was legitimate. Fear signified my sin separating me from the holy God of the universe, untouchable by sin. But when Jesus bore the weight of the cross, once and for all He cast out fear, and death, and separation.

Fear says I am forsaken. The only reason that fear is a lie is because another has been forsaken instead of me.

Fear has to do with forsakenness.

Fear represents separation from God, but not even fear could keep Christ from going to the cross. As if being nailed to two pieces of wood after having His body beaten and marred beyond all recognition only to have His Father lay on Him the weight of the sin of the entire human race was not enough anguish and suffering... then--horror of all unfathomable horrors--on top of everything else, His Father turns away from Him.

"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

These are words you and I will never utter in truth. We may ask this question in emotion, but it will never represent the truth for us.

The cry of these words from the cross of Calvary represented the one and only true time that any person on this earth has ever known utterly and completely true forsakenness.

So that you wouldn't have to, He was forsaken in your place. God chose to forsake His Son so that He would not have to forsake you. There is no fear in love because God is love, and in Christ, we can never be separated from Him because Someone else already bore that separation, that forsakenness.

If fear represents the eternal separation from God, then love represents the eternal communion with God.

Love triumphed over fear that day, and is whereby triumphing over it every day. You see, the verse says perfect love casts out fear, it does not say perfect love cast out fear. The difference is the tense. And while I'm no biblical scholar and could most definitely be getting this wrong... the tense seems to matter.

To say that perfect love casts out fear is to say that this is an ongoing process. Jesus conquered the power of death, the power of separation, when He went to the cross. But the reality of separation from God is not over for those who do not yet know Him. So to say that perfect love casts out fear means that every day is a new day for someone to walk straight into the arms of his God for the first time and to have all reality of separation cast out forever. Perfect love casts out separation. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Until He returns.

"We love because He first loved us."

The only way you and I can boldly, fiercely, and vulnerably love with abandon is because of this very last phrase. I don't know about you, but one of my biggest fears is rejection. As much as I dreadfully wish against it, I have an underlying terrified fear that my offering of love will be slapped back in my face. So I give in to fear, and I withhold my love. But this... this hope-filling, life-giving phrase shouts to us that we have been given all power to love this world without any regard for a response.... because He loved us first. He's not asking you to take the risk at loving a harsh world that will stomp on your love-- no. There is no true risk here. We are not loving out of our debt, we are loving out of our abundant, overflowing fountain of everlasting, true love. We have the full ability to love because He has already filled up every space and every need we will ever have to be fully loved, fully received, and fully fulfilled by His love.

And yet I still fear.

This verse is ongoing for all of us, because we are still subjected to this lie. Whoever fears has not been perfected in love. This means that my fear is the indication that I have not allowed Love to have His way. To choose Love is to choose Him and to reject the deception of the lie of fear that I am abandoned and separated from my source of life. 

One of the most infamous verses in the bible on love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:8--

"Love never fails."

When we did the first part of this study it was a rough road going through the first part of chapter 13 of Corinthians because honestly, love is made up of some pretty difficult stuff. There is a lot of endurance, longsuffering, patience, and perseverance involved. And that stuff hurts. But at the end of the long list of characteristics there is a beautiful reminder between the lines-- "hey, this list is hard and painful and difficult but guess what... Love never fails." The word for fails in the Greek is ekpiptō: "to drop away; specifically be driven out of one’s course, to lose, become inefficient: - be cast."

Love never drops away. Love can never be driven out of its course. Love never loses. Love never becomes inefficient. Love is never cast out. Love always wins. Love never fails. Love never ends. Therefore, we can never love in vain. Because love can't ever fail. So love will never not be worth it.

Fear says that Love fails.
Fear says that love ends.
Fear is a lie. Forsakenness is a lie.
Perfect love casts out fear. Fear can never cast out love. For love never fails.

How would our lives look differently if we truly believed that fear is a lie, and Love never fails?

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Experience of Praise

It is quite common to suddenly "come to" in the middle of life and wonder where the time has gone. Sometimes a large chunk of time has passed without any real difference taking place overall. Months can pass by, and even years, and when that moment arrives we often wonder if, or when, something may change.

Inevitably, after the long season of sameness there will be a period of time where everything seems to shift, and sometimes the days will be packed fuller of life than previous months combined. I'm not talking about busyness. Activity does not equal progress. A rocking chair can produce a lot of movement but it usually stays in the exact same place at all times. I'm talking about those usually unexpected moments in time when something shifts and growth and discovery begin to pour in like running water. Sometimes those discoveries are unwanted. Sometimes that growth is wrecked with pain and jagged edges and seems like it's leading us straight into our death rather than anywhere near new life. And sometimes... that's exactly what it's doing, and what it was meant to do.

The last seven days have held more of this growth and discovery in my life than the previous four months combined. I set out on, for lack of a better phrase, a spiritual retreat in which I spent three days with literally no one but God. Contact with the outside world was temporarily deactivated and for 72 hours I closed myself up in a room and came out only for the bathroom (and also to put out a small fire, but hey, the house going up in flames is sort of an understood reason to momentarily leave the confines of my small space in order to be the hero... of the fire that I started... anyone see that episode of Boy Meets World? ok back on topic...) Contrary to rumors of insanity or psychosis when being in solitary confinement for three days in the 21st century, this was actually not very difficult, and was most definitely not boring. I didn't set out with an itinerary of how I would fill each minute, but I fell into a schedule after the first day that made me realize how little control I actually had over this time and how much I was really only responding to the One I was with.

Now the last thing I'm out to do in writing this blog is to make myself out to be this over-spiritual "humble" Christian who is willing to do what "no one else" is in order to be "holy"--extremely necessary quotation marks. I did not set out to do this with this blog post in mind. I set out to do this because I knew I was being invited into something and the honest truth is that I could not say no, I could not resist.

We all know what it's like to be going one way for a while when all of a sudden you realize that something's gotta give. This goes or I go. Either way, I'm not moving forward until something changes. And that's where I was. And last Sunday I knew this was next for me.

So Monday morning I turned off my phone and the internet and literally shut the door to the outside world. I don't consider myself "addicted" to technology. I don't mind going a decent amount of time off facebook and I certainly am familiar with the relaxation that can sometimes accompany the dying of a cell phone when away from its charger. Sometimes you just need peace. But I can readily admit that I felt like a smoker reaching for my cigarettes. The first day, every few hours a slight feeling would come over to me to reach for a device. Something that connected me to everything else out there. The thought wasn't conscious, I just felt this need rise up and then reality would surface, "oh right, I don't have that right now." The instinctual dependence that we have come to have upon connection within the ever-advancing age of technology really does battle with our connection with the Maker of the universe, whether we have an addiction to it or not.

I'm not going to sit here and say that I arrived at a higher plane of spirituality, nor was it the equivalent to Moses on Mt. Sinai face to face with God after which his face literally glowed. However, I will say that three straight days alone with nothing but my face in the Word of God, my knees on the floor, and my hands in the air translates to an experience with the Lord that transcends all knowledge about Him in a Sunday morning sermon. When I say "experience" I don't mean "sensation." I did not "feel" God in the room the way I felt that fire burn the tip of my index finger before I dropped it on the hallway floor. But it was not about the feelings or the sensations of each moment. By the second day I was realizing that it was about the succession of moments, the symphony being played out altogether, note by note, prayer by prayer, praise by praise. I was knowing Christ in the intimacy of relationship, and it was not all smiles and warm fuzzies. Some of my most powerful moments of praise and worship to Him in which He felt the nearest to me immediately led me straight into a sobbing session where I literally cried out to Him in anger and confusion and searing pain over life's circumstances that still overwhelm. My times of worship which held waves and floods of soul satisfaction in the truth of who He is to me were sometimes followed by lamenting over the curse of the flesh and the longings that still wage war against me, vying for my life. I'd like to say that I'm being dramatic or exaggerating some of these emotions, but I'm afraid I can't. With all my heart I sang to the Lord and plunged myself into the truth of His promises, only to lash out at Him for leaving me in my pain and feeling so abandoned by Him, then yet again proclaiming His identity and truth over my feelings, and then again sobbing out my hopelessness at His feet, feeling out the fullness of each emotion in each heartbeat. The two opposites can somehow coexist, and somehow it's ok because I just grit my teeth and He just holds the pain and I keep breathing and He keeps revealing, even if the throb is ever-present. Even in those moments where He seemed closer than I've ever experienced, a fleeting doubt could cross my mind asking if all this was even real.... does He even exist? Is He listening? Somehow the absolute truth can coexist with the presence of a lie. But I am commanded to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and it is up to me what I choose to believe in those moments resulting in what seed will be sown in my mind in that moment, and that is all life is made up of--the sown seeds of each moment as they come to us. Every moment I sow a seed with whatever I give my attention to. The mindless distractions that we think are just meant for unwinding at the end of a long day... they are sown seeds. That TV show, that music, that youtube video, that thirty-seventh game of solitaire.... seeds sown. Are they terrible? They don't have to be. But when you spend three full days emptying and filling yourself--your mind, your thoughts, your heart--with the Living Word of God and giving Him praise, you realize all the empty seeds you've sown. No, I am not anti-technology, nor will I judge you if you play that thirty-eighth game of solitaire. But I might be a little sad for you. Not in a pitiful kind of way. But because I've known what it's like to spend hours "relaxing" with Words With Friends and SongPop at my fingertips, and now I've known what it's like to spend hours, days, receiving true rest in Christ.

Does all of this sound bipolar? A little messier than what we've preconceived in our minds a relationship with God should look like? All withstanding relationships are messy. The gospel is messy. Life is messy. Joy and sorrow. Laughter and tears. And everything in between.

If I were to sum up the crux of this experience into one lesson it would be this-- no matter the weight or the magnitude or the enormity of what faces me in this life... I must praise Him. I learned through this time, not by information but by experience, that this is not simply a command to obey... I must praise Him in order to attain any sense of true joy. In order to be happy. In order to bear up under the weight of life's most searing pain, I will not be sustained unless I give Him praise. For that is where all is set right. That is where truth overcomes and overwhelms the lies from the pit that are strangling abundant life out of us. I wrote this in my journal at the end of the first day:

Even if I sat in silence with a humble and reverent heart and never heard a word from the Lord, my offering of hope and expectation would not be in vain. I cannot come to Him in demand that He meet all my needs for the sake of my comfort--all is to be, first and foremost, for the sake of His glory and His holiness. It is not wasteful to offer up all of me to Him simply for the reason that He deserves it, He is Lord, I am not. To give myself over to Him is in itself--worship and glorification. He is not obligated beyond the point of receiving my offering. For it is simply in the giving of it that I can rest at ease. He wants nothing more from me. And after that, I have done what was worth it.

In my moments of purest and most sincere praise, I am doing what I was made to do at the most basic foundation of human existence--worship, giving Him glory. This is not something that will fully register with you simply by reading these words. We've all heard this before. But hear me in this: this is something that will not make complete sense until you have put it into action.

It's all about His praise. It's all about His glory. Give Him praise... and you will find the only true form of relief, comfort, and rest.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess His name. --Hebrews 13:15

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Paradox of Death

There is something intriguing about paradoxes. They don't make sense at first, but most of us enjoy the attempt to analyze them and see how the puzzle pieces fit together. Many of the paradoxes introduced by Jesus in Scripture are not only mysterious but are downright confusing. How is it that the last shall be first? Why must you lose your life in order to find it? When did nature start to turn on itself?

Perhaps the most defining of paradoxes we see is the notion that death leads to life; the old becomes new. As a fellow human being having walked the planet for 24 years I can very well attest to the fact that life leads to death. The new eventually turns to old and what is alive eventually dies. The idea of death leading to life and the old becoming new have strong implications for the faith, and they go against the very fabric of our human nature.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"
2 Corinthians 5:17

"But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions." Ephesians 2:4-5

"You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." Ephesians 4:22-24

"For you died, and your life is now hidden in Christ with God." Colossians 3:3

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20

In every area of Scripture that these notions are mentioned there is a formula given explaining how life is attained and how death will be the default if life does not purposely prevail over it. In each of these verses it is very apparent that Christ brings life while the self brings death. In our natural state we are already dead. But Christ offers life even in the midst of that death. This is truly dumbfounding. We all know that once something dies, it is dead. Almost never at a funeral will someone look into the casket with anticipation that the loved one will suddenly open their eyes and rise up again. There is a resignation that comes with death--we understand its finality. As Christians we know we have an eternal hope, but as human beings on planet Earth even this eternal hope does not remove the overwhelming grief and sadness brought on by death. Why is that? Shouldn't we be rejoicing when a believer is taken to Heaven? Parts of us do, but in an overwhelming sense we are held captive by the searing pain of loss.

"He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:11

Here is the bottom line--even in our acceptance that death is a part of life, we know deep down in the core of who we are that death was never meant to be. We were made with eternity written upon our hearts. Life was always supposed to triumph. Everything within us, even our most sinful places, resists the sting of death and is devastated by it. We are wired to be drawn towards life and to be repelled by death. And yet death is what is asked of us. If we are to grasp the abundant eternal life offered to us, death is first required, and not just physical death.

Throughout the course of a lifetime a person will die many deaths. There is the initial spiritual death we die when we enter into sin and there is the final death within the flesh that leads to eternity. However, there are many commands to actively die and put to death the flesh. Because of the natural response to death, these are not easy to accept. Death brings loss, pain, heartache, withdrawal, even denial. There is often a ripping and tearing away at the heart that can sometimes even feel physical. But there is always an exposition for why the death is necessary. "...if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." Romans 8:13-- If, then.

Over and over and over again these paradoxes flood the Scriptures, paving the way toward True Life. The Life that is only reached through Death.

"What you sow does not come to life unless it dies." 1 Corinthians 15:36

Nothing about this can be easily received with the limited, fallen, human brain in each of our heads. There is no rationalization behind it. It calls for a divine humility of trust at the feet of Jesus that our understanding is not to be compared with His. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" Proverbs 3:5; "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord." Isaiah 55:8

Moving beyond the perplexity of it all and accepting that our finite minds will never grasp this concept in full, it becomes clearer as we choose to trust that each death we die has a reason, a purpose:

"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." John 12:24-25

In the same way that a single living seed can only remain singular, resisting these necessary deaths will only limit us in the hands of God. "But IF it dies, it produces many seeds." The very act of death ushers in new life; a newness that could never have been found otherwise. A life that is incomparable to the life before that death.

Sometimes this newness of life is a brand new life than the former. Sometimes it is a resurrection of that life, more glorious and beautiful than before. This picture is very clearly painted with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Even Christ Himself died a death that was utterly crucial for true Life to ever be an option for us. He is our ultimate example of the death that must be allowed to die in order for the fullness of life to be a flourishing resurrected reality--involving both the death at spiritual conversion as well as the deaths to sin and the flesh that confront us in the midst of our daily lives that we so often resist and avoid. Whatever His choosing--resurrection or a brand new different giving of life--we will always be more satisfied in the newness of life He brings from that death. For He is that Life.

" that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." 1 Timothy 6:19
"Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life....'" John 14:6

I have yet to face a challenge more daunting than this--to seek the Life that is truly life; to seek the face of God in the midst of my deaths. And to know that no matter the pain of those losses, the gain will always prevail over that loss. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the proof exists and we can know who we really serve--ourselves or our Lord Jesus Christ.

"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died.  And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again." 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

No matter to what degree we are asked to die deaths upon this earth, we can place our hope and security in the One who will one day kill Death himself, once and for all.

"Death has been swallowed up in victory... thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 15:54,57

"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Then He who was seated on the throne said 'Behold, I make all things new.'" Revelation 21:4-5

He does not leave us as we are. O Lord, we praise You!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wildflower #2--My Mother

So as you can see, my hopes for becoming a regular blogger have not exactly held up. But here I am to continue with another Wildflower in my life--my Mother.

Imagine a woman with a gentle and quiet spirit, and very little tendencies to control or freak out easily. Imagine her in her fairly laid-back state getting married and proceeding to start a family. Now imagine that she has three children with semi regular personalities and dispositions. She is comfortable in her role as wife and mother, and she is happy. Imagine one day this wife and mother finds out she is to have a fourth child. This news, completely unexpected, somewhat takes her aback, but she pushes through her nervousness and anticipates the arrival of another addition to the family. Now imagine the inconceivable way that this mother's life was turned upside down from the day that fourth child arrived. She was nothing like the former children and necessitated seemingly brand new parenting styles in order to keep under control. 23 years later, I am here to attest to the good news that this fourth child was not put out of the house (barely) nor did she cause any untimely deaths or lost limbs (we hope). And here she is... but only because the womb that she first thrived in belonged to a mother different than most.

My mother and I are very different. Fortunately, it has helped us get along over the years much better than the average mother and daughter. But it's not always been smiles, giggles, and rainbows. Because of my strong-willed nature and extreme determination to push the limits, the challenges I brought to both of my parents were significantly different than my siblings. It has not been until recent years that I've been able to look on my mother with the perspective of an adult and see and understand at least a glimpse of all she went through being the mother of five. Contrary to my thoughtless assumption growing up, my mother is not invincible, nor is she unable to be hurt. She is soft, and tender. And I have finally been able to begin to appreciate the burden she bore for us all our lives and still continues to bear as the mother bird watching her little birdies turn into bigger birdies and flap their wings across the abyss of life the Lord has chosen for them. As she turns from child to child and gazes upon their young adult lives, she continues her post as prayer warrior and still has an occasional worry over how they are fairing away from the nest.

Last week my mom emailed me about something I got in the mail she thought I'd be interested in, and signed off with the usual "Love you!" after a few extra remarks. I was slightly distracted when I read it in the evening and ended up going to bed without replying. The next morning I found myself at work when I received a text from her. "How are you doing today? Did you get my email about the mail? Just wondering and a tad worried about you since I hadn't heard from you. :)" That smiley was fooling no one. It was a busy morning so I couldn't respond right away. She didn't waste any time and 32 minutes later in my work email I received this: "Is your phone working? ...sorry just being a mom right now." The email included two more smileys. I wrote back with something to the effect of "uh yeah... you are being a mom!" :) She's not typically like that so it was laughable to see her get a little worked up after not hearing back from me in only about a 12 hour time frame.

This summer has been more difficult than I expected. I am typically just fine on my own and away from people, but it has taken more of a toll on me than I thought it would. The thankfulness and heart of gratitude I have towards my mother for her intense care and affection for me is not lost in the kidding I may do about her tendency to over-worry sometimes. So many others have no mother to worry about them. So many have not been close with her or have only been manipulated by her to the point that they never experienced a truly loving mother's touch and sentiment, physically or verbally. And sadly those who fall into this category probably do not know they are missing out on such a poignant and piercing aspect of God's design for a family.

For my mother I owe my desire to be gentle and affectionate for those I may take care of. I imagine my future as a mother and I long to learn the ways my mother held and comforted me so I may do the same for my children. There is something very emotional about a mother's love. To be 23 years old and many years past the last time I was held, the depth of the impact of that affection can still bring tears to my eyes.

Life is unimaginable without her present and active in my life. Thank you, Momma, for showing me a healthy life and raising me to follow in your footsteps toward what the Lord designed for a mother to be. May I never take you for granted. You are irreplaceable.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Meet... My Father

What better way to start off this blog series than with the most influential man in my life, Mark Cox. And on the most appropriate day of the year: Father's Day.

Who is this man? To most he's a pastor, a preacher, and a teacher. To some he's a friend. To a few he's a son, a brother, and a grandfather. But to me he's a father. A good father. Me and my dad are extremely similar. Growing up I always hated when people would tell me I looked like him. Both of my sisters look like twins and they are mini-me's of my mother. I got my dad's genes. I always wished I fit in with the girls in the family but I fit in better with the boys. I don't mind it much now, but I hated it growing up. A few things we have in common are our sense of humor, our competitive nature, our tendency to analyze everything, our love for reading, and our passion for learning. Some of the best times I can remember with my dad growing up have been the intense theological conversations that have gone on for hours and hours. I love asking him questions and dissecting and analyzing and mulling things over with him. The passion that I've grown to have for spiritual things and yearning after the Lord I know I owe to him. He has a strong heart and a stable mind. His marriage to my mother has been an irreplaceable foundational security and stability in my life. I long to marry a man with a heart like my father's.

I have found that the majority of girls I have come to know in my twenty-three years have mentioned that they have always been closer, or at least gotten along better with their dad than their mom. Oftentimes the dad is the softy and the mom is the strict disciplinarian, causing the girls to butt heads with their moms and run to Daddy for comfort. However, this has never been the case in my house. The disciplinarian is my father. If we ever really wanted something you never ask Daddy first, you ask Momma. Because then when you get the "I don't care if Daddy doesn't care" it was extra ammo when presenting the weapon of argument to Daddy... "Oh and Momma said she didn't care if you don't!" ...not sure if it ever actually worked but I liked to think it did.

As a Christian and a psych major, I've grown up knowing that the most important figure in a child's life, boy or girl, is their father. I've always found that interesting. The mother carries the child, births the child, and typically does most of the caretaking with the children, but somehow the father's role is the most crucial.

I'm not going to lie and act like my dad and I have always had the greatest relationship, because in all honesty.... it's been really hard. Between the ages of 14 and 20 I would have told you ingesting kitty litter would have been more preferable to having important conversations with my dad (and my mom), and now looking back, I have to say I'm surprised they put up with as much as they did from me. To put it plainly, my teenage years sucked. Big time. For me and for my parents who had to deal with me. There have been many choices I've made in my life that have only constructed wall after wall after wall between me and my parents, but always most especially my father. The man who has loved me so unconditionally and has never withheld his love for a moment was continually pushed away by me. The further I dug myself in holes I was in the more isolated I became and the harder it was to receive any kind of love, particularly the love of a father. The past three years I have been trying to undo the damage I caused over a six to seven year period and I find it still to be a challenge to this day. Why? When so many of my friends are without fathers or with lousy fathers who don't take their role seriously, why would I ever push away one of the greatest father figures this world could contain?

I can't speak for anyone else, I only know my own life and that much I sometimes don't even know. But in my experience, when you have continued to mess up and continued to fall on your face over and over again, it becomes extremely hard to accept and believe that you are lovable. It is something I've had to choose to believe every day and allow the Lord to begin mending and healing in my heart so that I may choose to accept and not to reject goodness. If God, who is my heavenly Father, would choose to love me and to die for me in my sin, why would my own earthly father not also choose to love me and accept me in my sin? This is a lesson I have had to learn. I haven't known many people with my story and with the same familial issues I've had in this area. But this is the essence of my story. It hasn't always been pretty, in fact it's been outright ugly at times. But the love has outweighed the hate, and the light has overcome the dark. And I owe where I am today to a man who decided he would never give up on his daughter.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy. I wish the world could know a love like yours. Thank you. Thank you for representing Christ to me. I love you, because you first loved me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


In order to get myself into more of the writing groove I decided to write a series of blogs that would require writing on a semi-regular basis to hopefully establish a habit. The purpose of this series is to write about the people, few and uncommon. The wildflowers among the weeds. The lovely among the decent. The splashes of color on life's canvas of dull black and gray. These are the people in my life that have shaped me into who I am today. The people who are still actively investing themselves and pouring into my life so that I may grow and learn and be more teachable and moldable in the hands of the Lord.

Those who know me very well at all know that I am not all about acquiring best friends. It takes a lot to be brought into my inner circle, and if I have spent a substantial amount of time with you or have shown explicit interest in spending time with you, you can take that as a sign that I value our time together, because I think highly of you. I'm not the type to fall all over everyone I meet and tell them how wonderful they are. When I do say it, I really mean it, wholeheartedly. And while I do love all people in a general sense, I save the intensity of my sentiments for those who mean the most.

In my own experience there are three types of people in my life:
1. The acquaintances--the people that I come in contact with on a regular basis but have little to no connection with. Sometimes an acquaintance will have a desire for a more in-depth relationship with me, but I am not a person who "humors" people in this way. If it's not there, it's not there. I won't be rude to you, but I'm not buddy buddy with everyone and if you know me very well, you know this.

2. The mentored--the friends that you and I have, not because of what they contribute to our lives but because of what we know we need to contribute to theirs. Any time I find myself with a friend like this I have always been able to credit the connection to God. I hear a whisper in my ear that goes something like, "it's not going to be easy, but you will serve a purpose in this person's life. They may hurt you, but I am using you. Do not give up and do not turn away." These could be the friends you are discipling, or those who have gone through something traumatic that you've been called to help them through. Sometimes it's messy, but there's always a reward in it.

3. The intentional--the relationships you set out to establish and to maintain. This would include anyone in your life that has value and meaning that goes beyond your initial appreciation for people. These are the people that have invested in you and for whom you show a great amount of fondness and deep sentiment. These are those whose presence calls forth the best in you. They are truthful, honest, open, and authentic with their relationship. These are the friends we all hope to find in this life.

This is a start to a series of blogs on the third type of people. The ones who have taught me the most about this life and who I am becoming. The people who have awakened something within me that I did not know could come alive. These are the ones who have refined me. My beautiful wildflowers. They have shown up unannounced with a profound and furious loveliness unignorable. Springing forth unbeckoned and bearing a beauty, fierce and unyielding. All I am I owe to them.

Get ready to be introduced.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tangled in a Web of Glory

***WARNING*** SPOILER ALERT: If you have not yet seen Disney’s movie “Tangled” you might want to watch it before reading this. If you don’t mind knowing a few things going in to it, read on at your own discretion.

One of my favorite things to do in life is to find correlations between the trivial and the important. I love finding analogies between the physical and the spiritual world. And I love watching movies and discovering symbolisms in stories that also present an element of truth in my own life or in something I’ve seen in the real world.

When I saw Tangled, I was immediately captivated with the representation of Rapunzel’s hair. If you’re still reading you’ve probably seen the movie but I’ll give a little recap to freshen your minds. Rapunzel, according to, has hair seventy feet long and a little over ten pounds in weight (that’s one strong neck!) and is prohibited from cutting it because of the “magical qualities that it possesses,” in the words of Flynn Rider. All of her life her hair has had the power to heal wounds and reverse aging effects, which is why her “mother” keeps her captive in a tower and doesn’t allow her to leave.

A ways into the movie Flynn gets a cut on the palm of his hand, and for the first time Rapunzel shows him the extent of what her hair can do. Here’s the clip if you want to watch it:

As Rapunzel sings the healing incantation, the hair begins to glow with a beautiful, magical radiance while wrapped around Flynn’s hand. When she’s finished, the glimmer fades and he unwraps the hair to find his hand completely restored. This scene is filled with mysterious wonder at the enchantment of this young girl’s gleaming long blonde hair. The song is beautifully mesmerizing and you can’t help but get sucked into this magical moment.
Fast forward to the end of the movie. Now, if you’re still reading and you haven’t seen it, this is really going to give a lot away. So be extra forewarned. Here’s a clip for this part as well. Start around 4:15 unless you fancy watching Mother Gothel plunge to her death first:

Flynn has come back to the tower to save Rapunzel. Mother Gothel has stabbed Flynn in the side of his abdomen, and as he takes in his last few breaths in a swift move of heroic fashion he slices Rapunzel’s hair off before she has the chance to heal him. Mother Gothel freaks out then falls out the window to her very, very timely and overdue death (she was probably half a millennium old by then). Flynn and Rapunzel share a moment before Flynn breathes his last. Holding him in her arms, Rapunzel softly sings the healing incantation and a tear falls from her eye, landing on Flynn’s cheek.

Here’s where it matters.

The tear seeps into his cheek and a tiny spark of light glimmers for a second. It lights up again into a sort of flower shape and then travels down to his side. Beams of light suddenly begin flowing out of Flynn’s gaping wound and in a display of brilliance and splendor it courses through the tower, filling empty spaces and flashing across the room up, down, and around them both. Rapunzel is in awe of what she sees. The beauty being poured out of the broken flesh in Flynn’s side is astounding. The scene is truly breathtaking.

The healing of Flynn’s hand was extraordinary and captivating. It was beautiful. It really was. But it was small. There wasn’t much to it. The song was sung, the hair lit up, and a small laceration was restored. No doubt the power of Rapunzel’s hair was experienced in that moment, but comparatively speaking, it was minimal. When the tear fell and an explosion of light burst forth surrounding Flynn and Rapunzel in brilliance and wonder and beauty, there is no doubt this was more glorious than the first. A knife wound to the abdomen brought more glory than a slight cut on the palm of a hand.

So what’s the big deal?

Christ is most glorified when we allow Him to shine forth out of the most broken and shattered places in our lives. Those awful hidden places in our hearts that we’ve buried deep down inside and want never to see the light of day… those are our knife wounds that He is longing to saturate with his healing touch, to claim victory over and to set up a fireworks display within and pour out the glory of His healing power. So often we just bring Him the little hand wounds, let Him wrap them in His proverbial hair, breathe a sigh of relief at the momentary glint of light, and then go on our merry way. But how many of us have been stabbed so deeply by life, whether self-inflicted by sin or circumstances out of our control, and we’re walking around with gaping wounds desperately needing His attention, but we refuse to come to Him. Why? If we try to handle it separately from the Lord, just like Flynn we will lie on the floor in that tower and slowly bleed to death. Maybe not a physical one but a spiritual one. How often we forget that He doesn’t just long to heal us for our benefit. He gets the glory! Your darkest and most deathly area of separation from Him could be the most beautiful and bring the most glory to God, our Savior and Redeemer.

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 2:9-10

We should be glad to bring Him our brokenness. God is glorified in our pain when we choose to bring it to Him. Not only does He promise healing and restoration but He promises Himself. He is the essence of Beauty and all Glory that could ever be manifested in you.

Let Him have your broken pieces.