When it hurts

Sometimes things fall apart.

A desire remains unfulfilled.

A dream is dashed.

A hope is deferred.

Death crashes into life with unwelcome abandon.

It’s tempting in those moments to wonder about God’s goodness.

Does He see us?

Does He hear our cries?

Does He know the desires of our hearts?

Does He notice our pain?

I remember talking to my brother not long after the loss of his 17-year-old son, Caleb. He looked at me and said, “Elsa, there is no anesthetic for this pain. It rips my heart out.” And yet a little later he said, “But in all of this, I don’t doubt God’s love for me. He loves me. He already proved that on the cross.”

Jesus gave it all so that we could have life.

He paid a huge price for us.

He gave us a way to God.

To life.

To hope.

To love.

To purpose.

He already proved his love.

So every disappointment we experience, every heartache we encounter, every dream that turns out differently than we expected… instead of running from him, we can run to him.

With our tears, with our pain, with our anger or frustration or fear.

For comfort.

For strength.

For refuge.

For hope.

Because He already proved it.

He loves us.

No matter what.

Hug a Wrinkle!

Everyone tries to get rid of them. Cover them up. Smooth them away. Botox the bejeebers out of them.

I’ve been hanging out with my mom here in Florida. Every sign at the mall talks of the next best treatment to take care of those pesky lines, grey hair, spotted cheeks and aching muscles.

Aging is the big fat enemy—fight it with the big guns, they say.

This month I have five nieces and nephews who graduate high school. They’re full of passion and excitement – they can’t wait to see what the future holds. Big dreams. Great relationships. Best-selling novels. Cozy houses. Beautiful babies.

At the same time, as I look around at the aging gems here in Florida, I realize they were once high school graduates with the whole world before them. Some of them conquered their dreams and did more than they imagined. Some felt they were thwarted at every turn and nothing turned out well.

And they all have wrinkles.

Some have pain.

Some can’t remember the last time they laughed.

Some laugh so hard that their wrinkles twinkle.

But many feel forgotten. You can see it in their eyes, their demeanor, their shuffling gate and downcast eyes.

We honor the young and can’t wait to hear of their dreams.

Then we forget to ask the old if those dreams came true.

So today, this very day, I’m instituting Hug a Wrinkle day.

Pass it on.

Say hi to someone older. Find out their story. Hug their necks and remind them that they (and their dreams) still matter.

And if you hear any great conquer-the-world, dream-come-true stories, share them here.

And if you find out a heart is broken, hug a neck and kiss a wrinkled cheek.

It just might make all the difference.

Six things you do that crater out God’s dimples…

When you first say yes to faith, yes to Jesus and believing in him. (He hits the “replay” and “share” button on that one.)

He sets something on your heart and you choose to listen instead of chalking it up to heartburn.

You fight a temptation in his strength—and win.

You sing loud and off-key (or on key if you’re gifted in such things), smile and worship.

Your heart hurts and you run to him instead of chocolate, alcohol or any other quick fix.

You first open your eyes to face the day and your hair is wild and your breath stinks and your face is all puffy… and you haven’t done a single thing but wake up.

He loves you then.

He loves you now.

He loves you always.

Mile Marker 42

I am so not dignified. Really. It’s mildly embarrassing how giddy I get when I’m about to see my man. When I arrived home Sunday night after a busy run of travel, I had a smile on my face before I even exited the plane.

My grin broadened as I walked through the terminal and climbed on board the train. Random people smiled back.

My joy grew by increments of warm fuzzies and mild goofiness as the train came to a stop.

I nearly bounded up the escalator before remembering, Come now, Elsa, professional women don’t bound.

Finally. I scanned the crowd. Caught glimpse of that smile. Threw decorum to the wind and bounded into my man’s strong arms and melted against his chest.

Oh, how I love coming home.

That was just the beginning. We gathered the luggage, jumped in the car and headed south. With each mile marker, my sense of expectation grew.

Mile marker 163… getting close.

Mile marker 200. The magic number.

Home!

I walked in the door to puppies jumping, and my girl squealing “Mommy!”

Yes, she’s 19. Yes, she still squeals “Mommy!”

Oh, how I love coming home.

As I lay in bed that night, content and warm, the thought came to mind: I have another home too.

And when I get there, my Savior will meet me at the gate. Broad smile, twinkling eyes, ready embrace. Without decorum, I will bound into his arms and melt into his love.

I’ll turn to see my dad, my nephew, my brother and my grandparents.

I’m at mile marker 42.  Not sure where the exit is, but the sense of expectation is growing.  Some day…. One day…. we’ll all be home. And if I’m goofy giddy at the prospect of my earthly home, I can’t imagine how explosive the joy will be when I bound into the arms of my Savior.

 

Oh, how I will love coming home.

Better than rawhides…

I love how God uses all of creation to teach me stuff. Today, He taught me through my pups. Let me introduce you…

This is Sir Maximus

This is Simba Roo (you must roll the r for her to answer)

Max is our brand new pup. He’s full of energy and mischief. He delights in our love, leaps into our arms and smothers us with kisses. He lays on his back for us to rub his belly and whines with abandon when we walk out the door.

In his eyes, we are the greatest thing since chicken flavored rawhides.

Simba Roo loves us too, but it’s with a quiet reserve. Only occasionally does she wag her whole body when we walk in the door. She approaches us tentatively when she asks for our touch… always a little nervous that this whole love thing could go south.

It makes sense. We got Simba Roo at 12-weeks-old from the Humane Society, and they told us that she’d been abused. Someone had kicked her and her hip was dislocated as a result. She was just healing up when we took her home all cuddled up in our arms.

Baby Simba Roo

For years we had to be careful with our Simba Roo. Anytime we touched that back hip, she’d leap away from us and tremble, her big brown eyes filled with fear.

Will you turn on me too?

We get it. She’s scared. And because we love her, we meet her where she is… we don’t scold her for her fear, we reassure her and talk embarrassing baby talk and love on her by the bucketful.

So here’s my thought. If we, as frail and human and goofy pet owners, understand how old wounds can surface and scare our puppy, how much more does God make provision when we are skittish in our responses to him? When we’ve been kicked a time or two by life and doubt his love or tremble at his touch?

I make provision for my pups. God makes provision for me… He makes provision for each one of us who carry wounds that make us fearful.

That reality brings tears to my eyes.

What a gracious God.

Trapped!

I remember when it happened.

I was working at Focus when I read the news article about the young man who went hiking in the Utah canyons—he was an adventurous guy who went off to play and explore. As he climbed over one rock, it slipped beneath the weight of him. Both he and the rock tumbled and when the dust settled, he couldn’t move. His hand was wedged between the heavy rock and the canyon wall. After six days, his only option was to cut off his arm to escape to freedom. I remember reading his story with a mingled sense of horror and awe.

A few weeks ago, we watched a documentary of his painful journey.

On Friday night, we watched the movie.

I went to sleep that night with Aron’s story on my brain. And I woke up rather philosophical. That happens sometimes. Some days I wake up hungry with a need to go potty. Other times I wake up with profound thoughts on the brain.

You never can tell with me.

So I woke up thinking about the rocks in my own journey. As a young woman I was a lot like Aron. I went out to play and explore in life. I journeyed into canyons and clambered over rocks that seemed so cool. And then I tumbled. The very rock I played on became my trap.

I was thinking on that as I got up. I grabbed my cup of coffee and sat in the living room. I had my quiet time. I read about a man who came to Jesus to ask what He needed to do to inherit eternal life. He gave Jesus the list of the commandments he followed. Jesus looked at him and loved him… (I love that. It says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”) And then Jesus asked him to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor. Jesus knew this guy was held captive by something, and He wanted to set him free.

The man walked away, sad.

He was trapped.

A little later that morning, Brian read through some sports news—as is our Saturday morning custom, he read a few stories out loud to me. One story was about a former football star who became a gambling addict. This broken adult, once a young superstar, had been arrested for scamming people out of millions of dollars. As a young man, he had all the potential in the world, but he’d given in to his addiction. His playful pursuit became a heavy rock that pinned him and drained the life away.

He was trapped.

I’m not always the sharpest needle in the pincushion, but I didn’t want to miss what God might be telling me. What broken piece of my life continues to trap me? The danger with Aron was that the huge rock had cut off all circulation to his hand. His hand was dead and that death was creeping into the rest of his body. Now Aron could have given up and let that happen. Like the rich man in Scripture and the gambling guy in the paper, he could have wrestled for a bit and then given up, “I guess this is just my fate. I can’t break free.”

He could have let death seep into the rest of his body…

But he didn’t. He cut off his own arm to know freedom.

I suppose for the rich man and the gambler, it would have felt like they were cutting off a piece of themselves to break free. I’ve felt that. I’ve had different rocks in my life, habits I didn’t think I could change: Smoking, a longing for romance, food… The list goes on. Habits that felt so much a part of me that it felt like I was cutting off my own arm to let them go.

For Aron, cutting free from that rock was excruciatingly painful.

But it was possible.

And ah, the freedom! The freedom of walking the other way, climbing to safety and leaving that rock back in the dust. And then  after he did the hard work of walking away, the helicopter swept in and rescued Aron. He was tended to and cared for – his wounds healed. Yes, he wears the scars, but he is free.

Free!

Talk about joy. Talk about dimpled abandon!

In one scene, when Aron was still trapped, he had a vision of a little boy he knew was the son he would one day have. That vision strengthened him to tear free from all that bound him.

What vision has God planted in your heart? In my heart? That we would go through the painful process of breaking free from the things we’ve come to accept as unchangeable?

Oh friends, I want to take this to heart. Will you join me? Lets not get trapped by anything but the love of God.  Lets not get lost in riches, addictions, poor self image or any other familiar habit that has weighed us down for years, slowly sucking the life from our spiritual bodies.

Will you join me today in asking God what our rock might be? And asking him for strength to tear free and run for his care and mercy?

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23,24).

 

Dance in your jammies (Part 2 to Look at me!)

Ok, so yesterday I talked about my deep need to know I matter, that I’m special to God, my family and at least a few thousand (OK, OK, 787) Facebook friends. I pooh-poohed thinking too much of the good things God has brought into my life or pondering too long on the things I’ve accomplished. There’s a flip side though. I don’t really want to be the person who berates herself either… “I’m just a slimy piece of Twinkie wrapper, a piece of dirt caught in the bottom of someone’s shoe, a smidge of mouse dropping in the corner of the garage… covered by dust… and a 12-year-old bag of fertilizer.”

No, that’s not going to work. If I think of myself as a no-good, rotten ne’er do well, then that’s exactly how I’m going to act.

So how do we do this thing?

Four things popped into my brain as I was thinking about it. One of those four had to do with pepperoni pizza, so we’ll forget that – but the other three thoughts stuck with me. They may not feel all connected, but it’s my blog so I get to break all literary rules that force me to keep it neat anyway.

So here we go:

I’m loved.

God loves me. He loved me when I used to sneak out of the church to smoke a cigarette and when I sat doing that radio broadcast with the big kahuna. He found me downright adorable when I was 3 years old, spunky at 16 and fondly persnickety at 42. He loves me because I’m his own. His girl. His daughter. That’s what defines me and thank God that’s the way it is. When I define myself by things I’ve done, it gets messy. It means when a book tanks, I tank. When 1000 friends de-friend me, I am a loser. It means if half of you unsubscribe from this blog because I don’t follow literary rules, I’m done.

But if God loves me and holds my “success,” then I’m safe. If my journey as a loved woman of God takes a few dark turns, I’m in good hands. If I make some strides in earthly success, it’s his deal. If I tank one day and shine the next, He’s got me.

Ah, the freedom in being defined by his love and not by my works!

But we should still dance in our jammies…

When we get things right, we should still celebrate. When we get noticed at work, when we share a chocolate bar (and we really don’t want to), when we love on our child even after he or she gets 27 speeding tickets in 19 days – we should take some time to boogie. David, in the Bible, knew how to celebrate. At one point he danced in the street in his linen ephod.  What’s a linen ephod? Think Fruit of the Loom, loincloth, tighty whitey. People were shocked, but He could care less, He loved his God and couldn’t contain the wild celebration of God’s goodness.

Now, I am not encouraging you to dance in your underwear. David was lucky. They didn’t have charges like “indecent exposure” back in his day.

Perhaps you could dance in your jammies instead. Although do avoid any main streets….

Listen, when good things come, celebrate. Dance, Smile, laugh. Go out to dinner. Treat yourself on ice cream. Do a jig in your jammies. Good things and our good God are worth celebrating!

One last quick thing – when we do that, live loved and dance for God’s goodness, we point the way to God.

Late one afternoon, I was looking over a lake. The sun was just setting. The rays created a pathway of light on the water. I traced its sparkling beauty from the shore to the setting sun. That jeweled pathway was pointing the way to the source of light.

That’s what we get to do. When we live loved and celebrate God and the good things He is doing in our lives, we point people to him. Like each shimmering wave on that lovely lake, we all sparkle together and point to the same source.

The cool thing? When we do that, others find him easier to spot… and ultimately, get to dance in their jammies too.

God has dimples…

I like to think that God has dimples.

I don’t think I’m projecting… at least not in the way that I used to when I pictured our Jewish Savior as an American with long brown hair and hazel eyes. I mean, yes, I have dimples, but that’s not why I think God has them. I think God’s smile is broad, warm and engaging. I think his Son, Jesus, was the kind of man who won you over with just a look and a smile—not good looks and perfect teeth—He wasn’t really the GQ type, but there was something about him: warm divinity, disarming grace and authentic love—and I like to imagine that those traits were highlighted in his broad, dimpled grin.

Why else would men drop their nets and follow him?

Why else would broken women feel safe in his presence?

There was something beautiful about the look in his eyes and the smile on his face.

Like a grandfather who chuckles as his first grandchild toddles toward him…                   Like a man in love watching his bride walk up the aisle…                                                        Like a new mom, smile on her lips and tears in her eyes, gazing at her precious newborn…

I confess that I forget about God’s dimples sometimes. I forget to sink my feet into his love and imagine his smile. I forget that He loves me, gave everything for me and thinks of me with tenderness.

Life gets hard, loss creeps in and it gets easy to think about all the darkness that surrounds me. Even simple things, like cleaning up dog poo or balancing my checkbook or attempting (in vain) not to eat the chocolate hidden in the upper left hand corner of my kitchen cabinet… can distract me from his smile.

I need to sit in God’s goodness. I need to sense his love. I need to feel his smile. I need it like I need my next breath, for without it I’m afraid I’ll shrivel up into a bitter, old, frumpy ne’er do well.

And  no one wants to hang out with a frump ne’er do well.

So I’m believing and I’m imagining and I’m trusting that God has dimples – and I think you should do the same.

You make him smile. He loves you. He has good things for you. His dimples crater out when you come to him. Believe it, live it, look for it.