Posted in Living this Life

Mr. Wonderful

I called him Uncle David – but in retrospect, I should have called him Mr. Wonderful.

It was his answer every time you asked him how he was doing – I can still hear his gentle voice tinged with joy, “well, I’m wonderful, darling!”

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And it’s how he made us feel. Just plain wonderful.  So this morning, as I process the news that Mr. Wonderful is now with His Savior, I find myself rejoicing in that beautifully gentle spirit he carried – but I have so many questions…

I didn’t know my Uncle David in his younger years. I didn’t know him when he fought in Vietnam, and I don’t know the horrors he lived through there. Those were memories he didn’t want to re-live, and that’s where it stayed. And I didn’t know him well as I was growing up – he was my Uncle, but I was on the other side of the world and saw him only every few years.

But as life weaves a beautiful tapestry around us so often, it brought my life and his closer, and I was blessed over the past few years to get to spend more time with this amazing man.

Uncle DavidHe called my kids silly names like “McGillicuty”. He made them laugh and brought so much joy to all of us. He poured life and love and goodness out on us in unending measure. And that’s what my heart can’t get over this morning as I sit here grasping for words in the midst of my tears. That impossible joy in the face of a life filled with much sorrow. How does that happen? I know it’s not an accident.

Because we all know the natural course of a human heart. Pain causes us to close up and grow hard. Life hurts, so we grow a shell around our spirits to protect us. Anger begets anger and we so often find ourselves in a vicious cycle of pain. So when you see a man who exudes joy and gentleness in the midst of such hardness, you have to stop and ask “why?” Or maybe the better question is “how ?”

He endured much pain. Marked by a hard a brutal war when he was young. He tragically lost his grandson a few years ago. His own beloved son died suddenly just last year. He suffered physically, carrying effects of Agent Orange in his body as well as many other struggles. When life hit hard and seemed to overwhelm, he would simply hug me and say he loved me. I would ask him how he’s hanging on, and he would say, “how can it help to be angry?”  He knew the best protection of a soul comes in staying open – but how?

He must have known a secret. A life giving, beautiful secret that the rest of us need to remember. How do we best remember Uncle David? By making sure his spirit is carried on. He was a special man – and the greatest tragedy would be to let that special spirit die with him. Because what keeps flooding  my heart and mind is this: the secret he had is available to all of us. And we honor Uncle David best by finding it and preserving it and letting it mark our own hearts.

In light of a hard life, he responded with gentleness and peace. It makes me think of these words, “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These words mark how I remember my Uncle David, and I think this is the secret that he would want to pass on to all of us. How did he do it? I see the answer in the next few words… “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:22-25) I believe Uncle David made a choice to let the Spirit of God shape his heart, and though he wasn’t perfect, he kept in step with the Spirit of God. He reflected a different Spirit than the world has to offer, and we were all marked by that.

I can’t quite stop the tears from flowing this morning. I’m thankful my precious Uncle David is no longer living in such pain, however I will desperately miss him and the light he carried. But I also know it’s not completely snuffed out. Because the Spirit of God that lived in him is alive. And there is no darkness it cannot enter and no hardness it cannot touch. And I know the best way we honor the legacy of this amazing man is to let that Spirit change us in the same way.

So here I sit at the foot of the cross. Here I reflect on the words that offer freedom – “if you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) and this – “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) Oh! and these beautiful words that many know but it takes a lifetime to fully grasp – “For God so loved ___________________ (put your name in here) that He gave His only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life!” (John 3:16)

The everlasting life is what Uncle David is experiencing right now. The changed life is what we got to experience through him all these years. I find myself sitting here on this rainy fall morning asking my Jesus anew to form and shape this spirit that gets twisted by circumstances into a spirit molded by Him. Knowing that in the midst of the unbearable pain life brings us at times, there is freedom on the other side. Uncle David is seeing it unveiled with his own eyes for the first time, but he tasted and reflected the beauty of it all these years. And I want to reflect more of it today and tomorrow and the next. In honor of Uncle David. In honor of the Savior he loved so very much.

Oh – and Uncle David? Say hi to grandma and grandpa for me!!

Posted in Living this Life

Walk on

I just can’t get over this story.

I close my eyes, and I can see him.

Face dripping with mud, eyes blind, feet walking… groping, feeling, falling, stumbling.

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I wonder if he hears laughter from those around.

Or if it’s just silence. That awkward, long silence when no one knows what to say or do.

And I don’t know why I’ve never seen it before in all the times I’ve read this story, but there is a detail hidden here that has changed the face of it for me. And brought it to life in a whole new way. John 9 tells about a man born blind. Jesus is leaving the temple after a toxic confrontation by the spiritual leaders, and here sits this man. Many who study this think Jesus’ encounter with the blind man happens as He is leaving the temple grounds. I’ve read many commentaries and discussions about Jesus strangely making mud with spit and rubbing it on the man’s eyes. But what follows is what has captured my mind lately.

After making the strange mud paste and applying it to the man’s eyes, Jesus tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. Having never been there, I had never realized how far away that was. Jesus asks this man to walk 1,000 yards, or more easily understood, one half mile! Picture in your mind something that is ½ mile from where you are sitting right now.  Try to imagine what it would be like to walk that entire distance – with everyone watching while the mud drips down your face, not sure of what is actually happening.

I wonder what he’s feeling. Is he hopeful? Embarassed? Or just plain confused? I’m sure he’s heard the mocking before. He knows what everyone’s thinking – but right here, right now, he walks on. This walk must have seemed unending. One half mile of walking in the darkness towards an unknown future with hope alone carrying him.Hope in the form of mud. He must have walked this road many times before – but today, 1,000 yards must have taken forever!

I think about my own long walks toward healing. Times when the road seemed too long and there was no guarantee of what lay on the other side. When my own swirling thoughts threatened to keep me trapped in a darkness of my own making. The voice of Jesus was so quiet – but it was there. Speaking through the mud, through the confusion, through the pain – saying “walk on”.

I think about a long walk of obedience – down the longest jetway of my life onto a plane to take me to Amsterdam. I had never felt so alone in my life, but I could hear that still small voice whispering in my ear, “walk on”.

I think of sitting in a NICU ward by my baby boy – scared, confused, unsure of where this calebroad was taking me. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

Or times when I couldn’t even see a road, and the darkness screaming at me threatened to engulf me – but still His voice was there. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

So the blind man walks on – and so do we. Towards our Pool of Siloam – our pool of healing.

I can’t get over this story. Because it’s my story.

I don’t understand the mud. Many people smarter than me have pontificated long and hard about the meaning, literal and abstract, of Jesus using mud to heal a man’s blindness. I don’t understand His messy ways in my life either. I have tried, and I’m sure I will continue to try. But when the dust settles, I think the greatest truth comes from the mouth of one simple man who was born blind… “I don’t know. One thing I do know – I was blind, but now I see!”

What long hard road are you on?

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Do you feel the heat of the stares of those around you? Does the mud sting your eyes and confuse your senses?  Please don’t stop on the way to your healing! Listen – it’s His voice, saying “walk on, my friend. Walk on.”

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16

Posted in Living this Life

Sinkholes and Chickens

It rained a lot around here recently. Like, a lot. State of emergency type rain – flooding in towns all around us.

And in my town – a giant sinkhole opened up in someone’s backyard.

So, you know to do when a giant sinkhole opens up in your small town? You go take a look, of course! And as we drove by, the realization hit me and my husband at the same time – this was a house that we had looked at possibly buying a few years ago when we were moving. In other words… this could have been our house, with a sinkhole for a backyard!

sinkhole

I have thanked God many times for the home He has blessed us with – but this time I thanked Him with an extra degree of awareness. Because I saw what He had saved us from.

It all kind of got me thinking. We all know how sinkholes work. There’s something wrong under the surface. Unstable soil, a cave or a hole underground faces sudden or unpredictable pressure. And the surface gives in – the pressure takes advantage of the weakness and causes a collapse.

Sinkholes happen all around us – everything looks fine on the outside, but inside where no one sees, our souls are slowly being eroded in immeasurable ways.

Confidence seeping away in the barrage of lies thrown at us by the world.

Mired in insecurity because we can never seem to measure up to what is expected of us.

Trapped in a life we never thought we would live. Decisions we wish we could change, but how does one undo the mistakes of the past?

Paralyzed by fear and choking on darkness.

Most of the time we can keep up the façade. No one can see the gaping hole inside threatening to consume us.

And then I think about Jesus. As He laments “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Mt 23:37.

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Jesus sees her guilt, her sin, her filth. And He longs to gather her up and protect, heal, nurture. “But you were not willing,” is His cry.

Does He not weep even more over our stubborn hearts? The pride that keeps us from letting Him gather us close? The stubbornness that keeps us broken when He is so eager to heal? Hear His heart for you… let it sweep over you and fill in those empty places in your soul.

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.” Deuteronomy 33:26

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:25

I don’t know what you see when you look over the landscape of your life today. Maybe everything looks okay, but you sense a sinkhole coming. Maybe you see what you’ve been healed from (or saved from) and are holding fast to the One who keeps your life intact. Or maybe it’s all you can see when you look out of the portholes of your soul – sinkholes scattered like landmines, leaving you trapped and isolated.

Hear this, my friend. There is no chasm too great for Jesus to bridge. It all starts with one step – letting go and letting Him in. To those places you can’t admit are there. To the gaping insecurities and holes that you have spent your life trying to fill. And let Him gather you close, and heal those broken places.  Nestle in tight under His wings, and He will give you rest.

Jesus hen

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91

Keep reading – His promises are true and so beautiful!

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” Isaiah 49:16

“But this is what the LORD says: “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. Isaiah 49:25

 “The eternal God is your refuge, and His everlasting arms are under you. He drives out the enemy before you; he cries out, ‘Destroy them!’” Deuteronomy 33:27

“And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11

 ““Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

Posted in Walking it out

Belonging

I went to the local park the other day with my kids. We had some bread with us, so we decided to feed the ducks nearby. That’s when I saw this.

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I’ve seen a lot of Canadian Geese in my life … but I’ve never seen one alone. I’ve read all the stories of how geese travel in a group, how they take care of each other, look out for each other on their annual migration. So seeing this guy mixed in with a motley assortment of ducks struck me as odd.

But look closer. His wing is dragging. goose wingHas this guy been injured? Suddenly, it makes a bit more sense. He obviously couldn’t continue his flight with the rest of his flock, and had to be left behind. Moments like these prompt me to think strange thoughts – like, “what is it like to live as a Canadian goose among Arkansas ducks?” Does he feel out of place? He certainly looks out of place to me… And how does he feel about being left behind?

It kind of made me think of myself a bit. Almost everywhere I’ve been, I have felt out of place. My light skin and blonde hair certainly made me look out of place among my Liberian friends where I grew up. On the outside, I fit in much better among my friends in Los Angeles, later during my high school years – but my heart still beat African. I definitely didn’t “belong” there. In fact, the first time I ever felt that sense of “belonging” was among an array of nationalities, languages, and cultures in the center of Amsterdam … a bunch of misfits that found belonging among each other.

And how many of us have felt that horrible “left behind” feeling? There goes the rest of the world – they have their life together and are moving along just like they “should”… and here I sit with a broken wing. The loneliness can smother at times like this.

But this goose wasn’t alone. And though his new “family” was a strange assortment of creatures that didn’t look like they belonged together, I found it a beautiful picture of the church. Not the building – the church as Jesus referred to it. What could have been more out of place and clumsy to the outside observer than the motley crew of disciples Jesus gathered? And to the loudest, most impulsive, He said, “You are the rock on which I will build my church” (Mt. 16)

And here we are, 2,000 years later, still clumsy and out of place, but being together. Jesus gave us each other for these broken wing times, when all your expectations and dreams and longings seem to fly on without you, and you’re stuck with a bunch of strange ducks. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11).

Is Jesus trying to tell us to release the yoke of expectations, our self-inflated notion of who we should be, our habit of comparing ourselves and our lives with everyone around us? We all have our yokes – things we have done, things done to us, shame we hide in the dark places, things we wish we could erase. What if we really lived this – and set it down? His yoke may involve a cross, but His promise of true freedom can’t be shaken. Galatians 5:1  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. you will be free indeed                           Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Proverbs 1:33 “But whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

If this is what it means to have a broken wing, let it be. And let me be free!

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But I don’t think I’m unique in this. My story may sound different – not everyone grew up in another country – but I’m guessing your desire to “belong” is as strong as mine. And I’m also guessing that you haven’t always felt like you fit in.

I realize that there is nothing new in this. And we’re in pretty good company. Hebrews 11 talks about great heroes of the faith – Noah, Abraham, Enoch, Sarah, and many others … and then it says this: “they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Paul says it this way: “Therefore, I urge you as foreigners and exiles (aliens