Narrative: Simon of Cyrene

imagesI was in Jerusalem with my family for the Passover. Although I’m from the north coast of Africa in Cyrene I’m a Greek-speaking Jew. When I woke up on that Crucifixion Morning, I had no idea what the day held in store for me. But, that’s life, isn’t it? Our lives can change in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. In fact, It was His eyes I’ll never forget.

I had heard of Jesus. I knew His teaching was considered radical by many. I knew the religious leaders weren’t happy with all of His talk of love and redemption. He had referred to Himself as Messiah. He was the One the prophets had told us would come. Tensions had mounted in religious circles and there was talk that something had to be done with Jesus. Yet, He had such a loyal following. I heard He was kind and gentle. He was knowledgeable in the Scriptures and He taught with authority. People flocked to hear Him teach and many lives had been transformed. I had heard rumors of miraculous things happening in His presence–physical healings, expulsion of demons, people being raised from the dead. It sounded so far out, but it didn’t sound like such a bad thing.

On Passover Friday I was astounded by the number of people on the streets. My sons, Alexander and Rufus, accompanied me into the city. I hung onto them for dear life so I wouldn’t lose them in the crowd. There was something about the atmosphere that day. Everyone was talking about Jesus. Condemned to die, He was to be crucified on Golgotha. I soon learned that we stood within the path of His death walk to the hill.

Before long, there was great murmur among the people. I could hear shouts in the distance, “Crucify Him! Hail Caesar!” As the shouts grew in volume I realized Jesus would be passing our way. I didn’t know whether to run and risk being trampled on in the crowd or stay where I was and hope that my sons would be able to bear the sight of a man being led to His death.

As He drew closer I caught a glimpse of Him. So badly beaten He no longer looked human. So weak and drained of all physical strength, He stumbled and fell, stumbled and fell. Every time He fell the guards would whip His already broken body. I couldn’t see how much longer He would be able to stay on His feet. His frail body was no match for the weight of the timbers He carried on His back. Every time His body plunged to the ground, it took Him longer to get back up.

Suddenly I felt strong arms pull me into the narrow street. A Roman guard spoke harshly to me, “You–carry His cross.” Fearful that if I disobeyed I, too, would be beaten with the strips of leather he held in I looked at my sons and said, “It’s okay. I’ll be alright. Just stay close.”

I got down on my hands and knees beside this man called Jesus. Cautiously and with great apprehension I turned to look at Him. We were face-to-face and His eyes bore into my very soul. I felt as if He knew me. What did I see there? Pity? Love? Compassion? It wasn’t so much the pain of physical torture but something else. The pain of rejection. The pain of love lost. The pain of death. It only took a moment for Him to look into my eyes and I knew that what I was about to do would change my life forever. I didn’t know how. I just knew it would.

I lifted the cross upon my back and groaned with the weight of it. Behind me I heard women sobbing and wailing. On both sides of the street rang cries of hatred. My face was pelted with the spit of angry men. I felt the sting of rocks hurled in contempt. I glanced at my sons, walking alongside me in great distress, anguish written all over their faces. They couldn’t possibly understand why I had been pulled at random from a crowd of thousands to carry a cross meant for another man.

I grew tired. My legs were giving way. I wanted to be strong. I didn’t want my children to see me fail. I didn’t want to felt the whip upon my back, but no matter how hard I willed myself, my knees gave way and eventually I fell to the ground. I heard Rufus cry out, “Father, get up! Carry the cross! Follow Him!”

At the sound of his words something began to stir in my soul. The crowd became a distant roar as I remembered what the prophet Isaiah had foretold. There would be a Redeemer. He would be despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. He would carry our sorrows. He would be pierced for our transgressions. He would be crushed for our iniquities. He would be oppressed and afflicted, led like a lamb to the slaughter. We were expecting a king to relieve us from the oppression of Roman rule, but this didn’t sound like the kind of king we were expecting. We weren’t expecting a simple man like this Jesus. Could He really be the One the prophets foretold?

I looked over again at my sons. With great conviction they encouraged me, “You can do it, Father! Be strong! Carry the cross! Follow Him!” I looked hard at Jesus. He was definitely fully man. Just like me in physical form, but there was something different about Him. I remembered the look in His eyes. It wasn’t the look of man dying in vain. It was the look of a man dying in love. Isaiah had written, “…they are my people…and so He became their Savior…in His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”

With renewed strength and the sound of Rufus’ cries ringing in my ears I carried the cross of Jesus until we reached the place of the skull. The guards took the cross from my bruised back and I felt blessed relief. Rufus and Alexander ran to me and wrapped their arms around me. “Oh, Father. You were so strong and brave.” I let them cling to me, but I didn’t feel strong. I felt weak. I didn’t feel brave. I felt fearful. I watched them drive the spikes into Jesus’ battered body. There may have been relief for me, but there was no relief for Him. I saw them lift the cross to the sky and looked one more time at a man I had never known until that moment on the ground when our eyes met.

My sons and I turned back to the city and hand-in-hand we walked away. In silence, we put one foot in front of the other, but we walked in a daze. Heading somewhere but going nowhere. I couldn’t seem to get myself together. Finally, Alexander asked me “Father, who was that man?”

I replied, “I’m not sure, my son. I’m just not sure.” From somewhere deep within me, though, I knew. From somewhere deep inside I heard a voice speak ever so softly to me, “I poured my soul unto death for you.” How could I be sure? I wanted to be sure. For my sons’ sakes, I wanted to know for sure.

It wasn’t long before the sky grew dark. It wasn’t the darkness of a storm brewing, though. The sun literally stopped shining. It was an eery darkness. Nothing like anything I’d ever witnessed before. There was also an unsettling silence surrounding the city. For three hours the land was cover in this disturbing blackness. Then, without warning, the ground began to shake and rocks split in tow. The tombs opened up and I saw bodies raised to life walking the streets. In fear and trembling, I stood transfixed. Unable to move, I clung to Alexander and Rufus. They were crying out in fear, “Father, protect us! Father, what’s happening?!” Within moments, the darkness ceased and the earth stood still once again. There was no longer any doubt. I knew who Jesus was. Redeemer. Restorer. The Lamb led to the slaughter. Slaughtered for me. Slaughtered for my sons. He was the Messiah.

“Let’s go home, boys,” I said. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

That day, I carried the cross of Jesus. Later, I sat under the teaching of His apostles and they talked about taking up our crossed to follow Him. Rufus’ words still ring in my ears today, “Carry the cross, Father! Follow Him!” He couldn’t have known then just how prophetic his words would be. It was on that dark day that I led my family in a new faith. Three days after the Crucifixion Jesus was resurrected. He lives. It’s true. My family would later be baptized into the faith of born again believers in Jesus Christ. My sons would become pillars of faith in the new church, It wasn’t easy. There were many who still didn’t believe. Many Jews who refused to believe. There was persecution and hatred towards those who chose to follow Jesus. I believe I was chosen to carry His cross for a reason. Bent over with the weight of sacrificial wood on my back is a memory forever imbedded in the hearts and minds of my children. I’ve heard Alexander and Rufus say in encouragement to other believers,

“Carry the Cross! Follow Him!”

And I know they mean it.

~based on Mark 15:21 & Romans 16:13

 

 

From Trash To Treasure

imagesI hate to see the roadsides littered with trash. It’s been driving me crazy since I was a little girl.

I’ll never forget the time my family was traveling to the beach for sumer vacation. The side door of the Chevy van creeping along in front of us suddenly flew open and someone shoved a large garbage bag full of trash onto the road. I was so upset that my Dad recorded the license plate number for me and I wrote a letter to the VDOT in my own words and in my own handwriting. Several weeks later I received a reply telling me how much they appreciated my concern, but there was nothing they could do.

Nothing they could do!!! What about a fine?!? What about a letter of reprimand?!? What about sending the police to their house and issuing a warning of some kind, a ticket, a mark on their record?!? Heaven help us…

Wait a minute…heaven has helped us.

A year ago, on the day before Resurrection Sunday, I donned my sturdy rain boots, my old flannel shirt and some thick rubber gloves and trekked a few hundred yards down the street from my house with a dozen trash bags. The edge of the fields were lined with trash on both sides of the road. It was making me sick to my stomach. How can I complain about it if I don’t do something about it?

I don’t litter. When I was a little girl, my Dad took me to visit a family in our church. I loved going to the Masons. They lived on a farm, complete with chickens and cows. My Dad was–still is–a Baptist minister and I enjoyed going on visitation with him, but the Masons were really special. They lived in an old farm house and there was just something wonderful about the way they loved on me.

On the way to the Masons I rode in the front seat of the car. With my right arm hanging out the window, I held a tissue in my hand because it was so thrilling to me to see that tissue blowing in the wind and feeling it flap back and forth. (It’s a kid-thing.)

My father said to me, “Nina, if that tissue blows away I will not let you get out of the car when we get to the Masons.”

“It won’t, Daddy. I’m holding it very tightly.”

I had no thought that tissue would blow away. How could it possibly blow out of my hand when I was gripping it with all my might? But fly away, it did. I cried because I had to sit in the car while my daddy visited some of my favorite people. To me, that car became a tomb because I was missing the fun. I’ve never littered since.

As I picked up trash along the roadside that Saturday morning a year ago I felt God speak to my spirit, “Behold, I make all things new.”

What an unusual thing to hear from God while picking up trash, but as I pondered I realized that God was giving me this beautiful picture of new life. As I filled bag after bag with broken bottles, crumbled paper and fast food bags I began to see more of the green earth and less of the garbage. Not only did I see fresh new grass, but I saw beautiful dainty, lavender flowers covering the ground and pale yellow flowers growing from wild cress. I also found a few old bottles I cleaned up and turned into flower vases. When I had removed all the trash I stood back and beamed with pride. It looked like a new highway. All that trash distracted me from the real beauty of God’s creation. I wonder if anyone else noticed. How could they not?

I wonder why people litter. I wonder why they can’t wait until they get home to unload their trash. I wonder why they’re more concerned with a clean car than a clean roadside. Do you think it’s because if they keep trash in their car it makes them feel dirty? I wonder…

I love that Jesus came to clean me up. I love that God loved me so much He sent Jesus to wash me white as snow. He did it without leaving a single mark on my record at all, no fine, no letter of reprimand. When I look at the world’s trash and think, “There’s nothing anyone can do,” God reminds me, “Yes, there is. My Son has already done it.”

All of the world’s trash was dumped on Jesus. All my sin, all your sin, all humanity’s sin. In one giant heap. Like a garbage dump. There was nothing beautiful about the Cross. Before Christ was even nailed to those beams He was chained, beaten, whipped, scourged, spat upon and cursed. With every crack of the whip I wonder if He was thinking, “Behold, I’m making all things new.” If I had seen His body I probably wouldn’t have believed it could ever be healed. I wouldn’t have believed He could ever have been made whole again. I wouldn’t have believed something wonderful, something beautiful, something new could’ve come from the Cross.

But it did. I know because to Him I’m something wonderful, something beautiful, something new. He came to me in all His resurrected glory and showed me how to pick up the broken pieces of my life. He came and freed me from sin and released me from the tomb of death. He came to bring me life and I don’t want to hang onto my trash so tightly that I miss the abundant life He offers me.

Who would’ve ever thought the trash of the Cross could be turned to treasure? The treasure of knowing Jesus paid it all with His very life. The treasure of knowing He lives and He lives in me. The treasure of knowing one day this world and all its trash will pass away and there will be a new earth; one where God will dwell among us and wipe every tear from our eyes; one where there will be no more death, no mourning, no crying or pain; one where even now Christ is seated on the throne saying,

“Behold, I make all things new…”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 21 & 22)

 

The Tree

Unknown“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12

A tree once stood on a hill not far from the city. It was strong, big and beautiful. Its branches stretched upward toward heaven.

The tree continued to grow lifting its branches wide for its Creator to see. This tree knew Who had created the world and all things great and small and he was a part of God’s beautiful world.

When the sun shone this strong beautiful tree would stand tall and sing with joy. When the rains came and the winds blew he would sway and clap his leaves giving thanks for living water. This was his calling. He knew this was why he was created.

One day he heard much activity in his part of the forest. He heard men talking loudly, shouting to one another. What were these men shouting about? The next thing he heard was unthinkable. The men were cutting down the biggest, strongest and most beautiful trees with their axes. He was not prepared when the ax began to strike against his own trunk. Before he knew it, he fell to the ground with a great thud.

Along with the other strong beautiful trees he was carried off to the city and cut up into long and short blocks of wood. He thought, “What has happened to me? I can’t sing for joy anymore. I can’t clap my hands. I can’t spread out my branches to my Creator!”

The tree lay in a pile for a long time and then one day he heard different voices coming to pick him up. He wondered, “What good am I in this crude shape? I’m not smooth for a chest or a door post. I’m covered with fine splinters all over my blocks of wood. I’m not good for anything. I’m not fine at all and I’m no longer strong and beautiful.”

He felt himself taken up to a hill side outside the city. It wasn’t a pretty hill at all. It was really just a garbage dump. “Oh, why am I here,” he thought. “I don’t understand what’s happening at all. I can’t live again, never praise my Creator, never clap my hands. Was I destroyed for this?”

Off in the distance he heard a mob. Angry voices. Closer and closer they came. The voices were shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!”

Soldiers took a long block of my tree and put it in the ground. Another block was used as a cross beam. Then, a man was nailed to me! Me…the one who was once strong and beautiful had now become an instrument of ugliness and death. I thought I was created to be strong and beautiful, but look at me now…I’m covered in blood. “Oh, my Creator, please help me understand.”

In the darkness that covered the earth and in the quietness that followed, I heard the still small voice of my Creator saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. He has obeyed me to die for the sins of mankind. You were chosen to hold my Son in His death, high in the air. You, who were strong and beautiful, were chosen to hold a beautiful Savior. The Redeemer. The King of kings and Lord of lords. You were created for this moment. Yes, you once stood tall in the forest. Yes, you were strong and beautiful, but you stand taller now and even more beautiful to Me because you now hold my Son.

I make a promise to you now. Your ancestors, in a different way, will live again. They, too, will be beautiful. A different kind of beauty. In the spring time they will bloom with beautiful flowers to remind the world that my Son lives. He will die, but I will raise Him from the tomb. Those who believe in Him will also live. Well done, my good and faithful creation. You have made me proud that I made you to grow on a hill, strong and beautiful. You praised me, gave thanks to me and I’ll remember you as long as the earth stands…especially in the spring time.”

~Written by my mother, Vivia S. Mattox. I love you, Mom.

 

 

Bob, Bob Bobbin’ Along

images-1Well….spring was official March 20, but I don’t think anybody thought it actually arrived. I wore my winter coat one day last week. Snow has surprised us and rain has besieged us leaving some of us on the moody side. I know God is in control of the weather, but its unpredictable~ness suggests an attitude all its own. I find it completely frustrating. Sometimes winter just seems to drag on too long. Unfortunately, my mood can match the gray of the clouds I see rolling across the great expanse of sky above me. On and on they seem to go with no break between them to shine the light of the sun. I know the sun’s there, but I want to see it. I want to feel the warm rays on my face. I want to wear my cute little sunshades and take a walk around town without an umbrella weighing me down. I want to see the buds on the trees and the birds feeding on the new green sprouts of grass.

I thought of a song this morning that I haven’t heard in years. Al Jolson probably made it the most popular back in the 1920s. No! I’m not THAT old. For those of us who are gettin’ on in years, we had the pleasure of hearing our parents sing it when we were children. Maybe you know it:

When the red, red robin comes bob, bob bobbin’ along;

There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old sweet song;

Wake up, wake up you sleepy head;

Get up, get up, get out of bed;

Cheer up, cheer up the sun is red;

Live, love, laugh and be happy….(Harry Woods 1926)

How can anyone be sad or moody when they hear these lyrics? Listen to Al Jolson or Bing Crosby or Doris Day sing it on YouTube  for yourself and I guarantee it’ll put a smile on your face. The music is fun and upbeat and expresses the way a soul really longs to feel.

Did you know a robin is one of the most abundant birds in the country? Who hasn’t watched a robin bob bobbin’ along the ground in a backyard or hop hoppin’ along the branches of a holly tree? I saw one last week in that ice cold weather, fat and fluffy without a care in the world, it’s bright orange-red belly setting it apart from just about every other bird on the planet. I mean, come on…they’re so plentiful, everybody knows a robin when they see one. Have you ever wondered why there’re so many of them? Why they’re so recognizable? Why they’re so indigenous all over America?  Robins are supposedly migratory, but that doesn’t mean some of them don’t stick around all winter long. They just seem to have a different kind of spirit that makes them strong and adaptable.

There’s just something about a robin…

A robin is one of the first birds to build its nest in the spring after returning home. It’s one of the first birds to lay its eggs and one of the first birds to awaken the dawn. I think that’s what I love the most. The robin rises with the sun, whether it’s shinin’ or not and belts out a tune. It bobs along in life, with a dance in its step and a song in it’s heart because that’s what it was created to do.

“My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn…” Psalm 108:2

I long to be one of those people who rise with the sun, a song in my heart. I long to awaken the dawn not just on bright shiny days, but every day. I know this is possible, but I don’t always live like it is.

Today, the sun is actually shining. Oh happy day. I’m thinking my winter coat is officially retired for the next eight months. Spring is on the loose. The daffodils are bursting forth and the blooming pear tree outside my bedroom window attracts every bird this side of Raleigh to feed on the pods, including the robin.  A word to the wise…don’t park your car under a flowering pear tree in the spring. Just sayin’. Funny how this tree can be so absolutely beautiful but smell so absolutely bad.

Sorta like my mood when it matches the weather, but how much more do I appreciate the beauty of spring after the deadness of winter? How much more do I appreciate the brightness of the sun after the darkness of cloudy skies?

We all have tough times. We all have seasons when life is hard, but one of the things I’ve learned in my faith journey is that even when things seem dark the light of Jesus is always there. God always shines His Light in dark places. Winter seasons do not last forever. More importantly, you can’t have spring without winter. The earth needs to lie dormant for a season to produce a beautiful spring.

“See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come…” Song of Songs 2:11

And some serious singing comes with the robins. When I’m tired and don’t want to get out of bed, the robins still sing their old sweet song, just as they’ve done since the day they were created: Get up! Get up! Laugh and be happy…

So I wake up. I get up. And I laugh. Yes, there will always be cloudy days, but there will always be Jesus to greet me. He’s the Sonshine in my heart. Because of Him, I have a different kind of spirit. Because of Him, I keep bobbin’ along.

Because of Him, I can shine on…

The New Normal

IMG_0439Two weeks ago I had an appointment with my ear doctor who just happens to be my sweet daughter-in-law. How providential that God gave me a daughter (I raised two sons) who truly understands the needs of the hearing impaired. Laura has helped me understand hearing loss in a way no other expert ever has. She may not be hearing impaired herself, but she has her own health issues. Serious health issues that have given her a compassion and tenderness people long to see in their health specialist. She “gets it.” She gets it when someone needs reassurance. She gets it when someone needs understanding. She gets it when someone needs comfort. She gets it when someone needs an advocate.

Can you possibly understand what this has done for my own self-esteem? No longer do I want to hide or retreat. Laura has educated me. As my hearing deteriorates this education has gone a long way in helping me deal with the ignorance of the misinformed. I no longer get on the defensive…I educate. Seriously, I think by the time I’m done with the class lecture the misinformed person is sorry he or she ever said anything negative to me at all. LOL. To those without hearing loss it can be B.O.R.I.N.G.

So Laura gave me an updated audiology exam. I sat in a sound-proof booth and big fat ear phones were placed over my ears. The door to the booth was shut tight and Laura played back a series of sounds in all different volumes and tones to determine what I can and cannot hear. She spoke words to me and I repeated them as best I could. This test helped her determine how to program my hearing aids so that I can hear as well as I possibly can.

Can I just educate all who want to know: Hearing aids are NOT a substitute for normal hearing. They amplify and clarify, but they aren’t really natural. After all, I wasn’t born with hearing aids already in my ears, but I wasn’t born with perfect hearing, either. My hearing is degenerative so I’m always needing updates.

After Laura reprogrammed my hearing aids I was shocked. The change was so completely unnatural to me that at that moment I didn’t know if I would be able to adjust. Laura assured me I would get used to my new way of hearing.

She was right. This is now my new normal.

What is normal, anyway? We all want to be normal. We want normal lives. Normal families. Normal relationships. Normal this. Normal that. Normal. Normal. Normal. Do we dare to believe that normal in the eyes of the world is highly over-rated?

Webster’s Dictionary defines normal as this: Conforming, adhering to, or constituting to a usual or typical pattern, level, or type; functioning or occurring in a natural way.

I don’t hear anything the way a person with normal hearing does, but it’s normal to me. Without hearing aids I wouldn’t hear much of anything at all, but I’ve adjusted to this new change. I’ve conformed to the new program. What was typical for me the past couple of years is now void. I’ve adhered to my new normal. I’m sticking like glue to what has become a lifeline into the world of hearing for me.

God doesn’t want me to get stuck in what was. He wants me to live with what is. Some things God wants to change so my life will be better, but there are just some things that won’t change. Like the fact I hear poorly and the fact I see imperfectly. As a matter of fact, yesterday I had an appointment with my ophthalmologist and guess what? It’s back to the ocularist for me. If you read my post last fall, Sweet Child of Mine, you have a bit of insight into this part of my life. I’m learning that sometimes God wants to do a new thing in me through changes in my physical issues.

“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 desert and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19

When change means adjusting to a new normal, then maybe God wants me to experience Him in new ways…like a way in the desert or a stream in the wasteland. When there’s no path laid out before me in a dry hot desert, God reminds me His footsteps are marked in the sand. All I have to do is follow them. When there’s no water for my thirsty soul in a barren wasteland, God reminds me He’s an oasis of underground springs. All I have to do is pitch my tent and drink freely. I can live in the past if I want to, but why would I when He’s in the new and very real present?

Last night before training began at the Pregnancy Care Center in Rocky Mount (I’m hoping to serve in this ministry. See? God is doing a new thing!) we began with a devotion from Hebrews 4:16,

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” 

Help in our time of need…for you, that means a different need than mine, a different circumstance, a different change, a different adjustment, a different desert, a different wasteland…a different normal.

Yet help is there for us no matter the need. So is the confidence that God supplies the grace straight from His throne….straight from heaven.

Sounds to me like God wants us to experience a bit of heaven on earth…who would ever have thought that there would be a bit of heaven found in each new normal we learn to accept and adhere to as part of God’s plan for each of us. I think this is a very cool thought. I feel educated.

So…I’m stickin’ like glue to Jesus….my Lifeline, my Advocate…the One who gives me all I need to live in the new normals of life.

 

 

When A Mask Hides The Real Me

d3ca19b2258c77da791a9a3e93514413Two years ago I took a personality test, “Wired That Way,”  while attending a weekend retreat at the beach with a fabulous group of ladies. I had never taken one before and was completely frustrated and confused by my responses to the questions as I took the test. My results actually produced “unnatural results.” Figures.

There are four different personality types: Popular Sanguine, Powerful Choleric, Peaceful Phlegmatic, and Perfect Melancholy.

Each of us has a dominant personality type with a secondary personality that compliments the dominant, but…and this is where it gets interesting…there are two combinations that are not natural though they’re often seen together. In other words, they do NOT belong together. They are Popular Sanguine/Perfect Melancholy and Powerful Choleric/Peaceful Phlegmatic. Either of these two combinations indicates misunderstanding the test questions OR a personality mask.

Of course I would have to be one of those who produced an unnatural combination. Finding out that my two personality types are in opposition to one another really did nothing for my self-esteem. Duh. No wonder I’m a mess. My drama-queen-self nearly overloaded from the drama it created in my soul and spirit. I’m thinking identity crisis with a capital I.

And then there was the ultimate question, which personality was the mask and which one was real? Because in all honesty, I really did think I possessed a lot of the character traits in both Popular Sanguine and Perfect Melancholy. Talk about a moody woman.

What I learned from taking this test is that sometimes we let our life experiences build up walls in our persona. We wear masks to hide our pain, our hurt, our insecurities, our weaknesses, our frailties. Life experiences can shape us in ways that are unhealthy, unnatural, undesirable. Part of God’s perfect plan for each of us is that we take our life experiences…the ugliness, the dirt, the trauma, the grief, the loss, the pain…and let Him use it all for His good by shaping our character in positive ways and strengthening our faith.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who know Him, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

God wants to use my life experiences to shape and mold me into His image. He doesn’t want to cover up. He wants to expose because only then will I truly be able to embrace the work of His hands. Only then will I get to see the real ME.

“He makes everything beautiful in it’s time…” Ecclesiastes 3:11a

After some proper instruction and a lot of discussion, embracing the Sanguine in me wasn’t an issue. Putting aside the mask of Melancholy, though, has been a process. I want to be who God created me to be without covering up, without hiding, without wearing a mask I wasn’t created to wear.

I may have adapted well as a child living with moderate disabilities, but as a teenager I reacted differently. I learned to hide what I was feeling in my heart. I wanted to be just like everybody else. I spent a lot of time acting out in ways that weren’t healthy. I don’t even remember when I first put my mask on, but after many years I discovered that acting really is exhausting work.

Ironically, I’ve learned in my faith journey that I’m not to be like everybody else. I’m called to be different. I’m called to be set apart. God made me one-of-a-kind. What a boring world it would be if we were all the same. My disabilities are a part of who I am, but they don’t define me. I’m a child of the King. Saved by grace. And washed in the precious blood of the risen Lamb. This is my mantra. This is my identity. (Repeat as often as needed.)

Oh my, I do believe I hear the Hallelujah Chorus ringing in my ears.  

We have to be careful we don’t re-identify ourselves when life hands us some B-A-D stuff…

…like living in a home with alcoholism, severe illness, or extreme dysfunction.

…like strong feelings of rejection or feeling unloved.

…like emotional or physical abuse.

…like living with domineering or controlling parents or spouses.

…like physical impairments that cause emotional trauma.

(and the list can go on and on and on….)

I really do want God to produce good things in me so I’ve learned to let Him use the bad things that have happened in my life to inspire and encourage others in their own walk of faith by sharing how He makes me, ME.

It’s okay to want to know what makes me tick. It’s okay to want to know why I am the way that I am. It’s okay to want to know how I’m wired, but in the end I want to be as “natural” as I possibly can be. I want to be real. I want others to see the real ME.

More importantly, I want others to see JESUS in ME. Because Jesus isn’t fake. He isn’t phony. He’s real. He’s honest. He’s true. He’s faithful. He’s trustworthy. He’s genuine. He’s all these things and so much more. All the things I want to be.

Jesus is the ultimate in real beauty.

So, here’s to removing our masks.

Here’s to Christ. In whom my identity is sure. If I wanna hide, you better believe I wanna hide in Him.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right head of God. Set your minds on things above, not on early things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-3

So Graced

ee52388ba75604b092e0f7b991357b18Let me tell you how bad my hearing is these days…not too long ago I parked my car in a busy parking lot and went to do some shopping in a pet store. Thirty minutes later I walked back to my car and found my keys still in the ignition with the engine running. I guess I’d been distracted before I got out of the car, but seriously, not even my hearing aids picked up the sound of my idly racing engine. Don’t even mention the stupidity of getting out of the car without my keys. I was so thankful that no one had stolen my car.

And so very thankful for the grace of God.

I quit my job last summer at the town cafe. A restaurant may seem an unlikely place for a hearing-impaired person, but a hearing-impaired person who is also visually-impaired? Definitely not likely. When I applied for the job I was honest with the owner, Mike, about my hearing disability. He said, “I don’t have a problem with that…”

…so graced.

A few days after I began work at this completely charming cafe in small town Spring Hope, I had a slight collision with Mike on the floor. He whipped around a corner on my blind side and I nearly knocked him over. I said, “I guess this would be a good time to tell you that I’m also blind in my left eye.” He didn’t even blink…

…so graced.

I learned to be extra careful as I maneuvered around the restaurant with plates of food, trays of drinks, and dirty dishes stacked precariously at every turn. Like the time I ran into a coworker and knocked a drink out of her hand that made a pretty big mess. She actually laughed…

…so graced.

I learned to be purposeful in the care taken to repeat every order so I didn’t make mistakes. Like the time I misunderstood an order and a customer had to wait twice as long to eat while his food was remade. He still tipped…

…so graced.

I learned to be aware of the activity all around me so I didn’t spill food in unwanted places. Like the time I was talking with a customer and knocked a hamburger and fries in her lap because I didn’t see or hear the server approach. She wasn’t a bit angry…

…so graced.

As my hearing degenerates I’m learning that I have to be intentional in many ways. Like when I get out of the car I have to make sure I’ve actually turned the engine off and my keys are in my purse. I check and recheck…

…so graced.

When I go shopping in a busy store I have to move with caution. Like the time I knocked someone down with a few groceries in her arms and had to grovel at her feet. She forgave me…

…so graced.

When I go to church I have to sit in a seat that gives me a good view of the pastor’s face so I can read lips. Sometimes I have to change seats three times before I find one where my view isn’t blocked. My family’s way over being embarrassed by this…

…so graced.

When I go to the bank I can’t go to the drive-in anymore. Like the time I couldn’t understand what the teller was saying through the speaker so I parked and went inside. She said, “I just wanted to know if there was anything else I could do for you today…”

…so graced.

God is so intentional in the way He graces me. Let’s face it, I don’t hear and see like most people around me, but who’s going to know that if I don’t tell them? If I want to get the most out of life I’m learning I have to be intentional, too. That means I have to let God’s grace do the work it was intended to do in me. My limitations force me to face challenges, but it’s grace that frees me to accept them.

I quit my job at the restaurant partly because the struggle was becoming too great to hear over all the activity and background noise, but God’s grace has no limits. I realize that even people with perfect hearing and perfect sight make the same mistakes I do, but sometimes it wears me out mentally and emotionally to be so intentional all the time. So aware. So cautious. So vulnerable.

Part of my lot in life is making the changes necessary to compensate for my physical limitations, but God will never change the way He extends His grace. It never wears Him out. I can count on it. I can depend upon it. I can expect it. I may be facing new challenges these days, but so what?

So graced, that’s what…

So God, that’s who..

“By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”  1 Corinthians 15:10

And the effect of this grace means my hearing-and-visually-impaired-self gets to shine His light in some of the most unlikely places… 

Strength For The Journey

imagesLife is a journey.

“Happy are the people whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” Psalm 84:5

It takes a lot of strength to travel this journey of life. Setting my heart on pilgrimage implies a certain kind of determination, a kind of confidence that I can’t possibly produce on my own.

How easy it is to lose heart when the journey becomes difficult…

My loss of hearing has degenerated to the point that I wonder what in the world God’s purpose is for me in this season of life. I don’t have the hearing capacity to compensate for the loss of sight in my left eye. I have to let God be my Guide. Happy am I when I let God lead me…

How easy it is to lose heart when the journey becomes uncertain…

My present lack of ministry and lack of job have left me wondering what in the world God’s plans are for me in this season of my life. I have to let God cast the Vision. Change is hard and not always comfortable, but sometimes change is good. Happy am I when I let God inspire me…

“As they pass through the Valley of Baca (Tears), they make it a source of spring water; even the autumn rain will cover it with blessings,” Psalm 84:6

How easy it is to lose heart when the journey becomes painful…

My tears have left me wondering what in the world God’s desires are for me in this season of my life. God’s not afraid of my tears, though. He’s not disgusted by them. He’s not insensitive to them. I have to let God be my Comforter. Happy am I when I’m honest with Him about what I’m feeling in my heart…

“They go from strength to strength…” Psalm 84:7a

Yes, life is a journey. I go from season to season, crisis to crisis, change to change, valley to valley…Strength. To. Strength.

Happy am I when I let God strengthen me…

and with every stop along this pilgrim’s way I find my strength restored, my heart revived, my faith renewed. My road is difficult but not impassable. My journey is long but not impossible. My pilgrimage on this earth has a happy ending. It leads to heaven.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

My strength is not my own. It’s His. And it’s enough.

Refining in the Trials of Life

UnknownI’ve been under a bit of stress lately. It’s true. I hate to admit it. It’s as if The Refiner has put me in a melting pot and turned up the heat. I’m afraid there won’t be anything left of me once all the impurities have been skimmed away. I’m afraid my heart won’t be able to take it. I’m afraid the fire could burn me alive.

I had a dream the other night. I don’t dream often, but when I do it’s usually significant. A man in my dream was actually begging God to give him a trial. He was telling God to “Bring it on. I want a trial! I need a trial!” I woke up thinking, “What kind of fool is this? Who actually begs God for trials?”

Not me. I don’t like them. AT. ALL. And, yet, I know they’re necessary.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-3

Sigh.

Consider it joy? Part of me wants to say…I don’t think so. There’s nothing about what I’m going through or what I’m feeling that makes me want to jump up and down with joy. But the other part of me…the spiritual part of me…the part of me that longs to be a woman of godly character…the part of me that longs to be a woman of great faith….wants to say, Thank You, Jesus.

The truth is, sometimes I really do need a trial. Sometimes I really do need some time in the Refiner’s fire. Because sometimes I get comfortable. Sometimes I get stuck. Sometimes I get full of myself and that’s not always a pretty picture. Sometimes I need a new perspective. Sometimes I need a change of heart. Sometimes I need more Jesus.

Trials come in many shapes and sizes. They’re as different and unique and as individual as you and I. They’re a common experience for all of humanity. I’m almost certain not one person who reads this has  begged God for a trial. Trials are unwelcome. They’re unanticipated and often unexpected. I would no more ask God to send me a trial than I would ask Him to send me to the moon.

BUT….I have asked God to make me more like Jesus. I have asked Him to increase my faith. I have asked Him to remove ugly character traits that aren’t pleasing to Him. I wonder…maybe I’ve asked God for a trial without even knowing it.

The only joy I can find while going through a trial of life is knowing the good that will be produced in me as a result, knowing a purifying quality will take up residence in me. And I can certainly use more perseverance! Who doesn’t want to possess hope in the midst of uncertainty? Peace in the midst of affliction? Power in the midst of temptation? God is the only One who can produce this kind of steadfastness in me. He knows what I need. He knows when I need a trial. Or two.

I want to see trials through the eyes of my Refiner. I want to outlive the pot and survive the heat. I want to know that when the impurities have been skimmed away there I’ll be… a better me. There my heart will be… a purer me. There my life will be…a happier me.

“(This third) I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on My Name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people’, and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’ ” Zechariah 13:9

I don’t think I’ll ever pray for trials to come to me as long as I live, but when they do come–and they will–I’ll trust The Refiner to bring me through the fire because He knows just how much heat I can take. So in the words of Job, the great patriarch of old, I will say, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

       

Thus-Far-God

images-1“I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

Maybe this is why I love the mountains so. My eyes are naturally turned heavenward, where God is seated on His throne, high and lifted up, in all His majesty and splendor, His eyes forever on me…His beloved child. My Helper.

I love that mountains are rock-solid. A reminder that God is unchanging.

“…Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, explaining, ‘The Lord has helped us to this point (thus far).’ ” 1 Samuel 7:12

I love how the Patriarchs of the Old Testament set up memorial stones or altars to remember God’s love and faithfulness; protection and provision. I love that the Ebenezer stone was set upright, it’s jagged end pointed to the sky. The eyes were forced to look up. The heart was forced to remember.

Thus far, God has helped me.

I love it (Yes, I love so many things about God!!) that God is a “thus-far-God.” And if God has helped me this far, I can trust Him to help me all the forever days He gives me on this earth. My Mountain of Help. My Maker, the Keeper and Sustainer of my heart…I think I want to raise an Ebenezer stone of my own.

I was created for a life that moves up the mountain…always striving, always persevering, always moving upward…upward…upward.

Sometimes the way is steep and rocky. I have to climb carefully.

Sometimes the way is halted by a chasm. I have to take another route.

Sometimes the way is weary. I have to rest in the cleft of the rock.

Sometimes the way is blinded by clouds. I have to walk by faith.

No journey is too hard for the One who helps me. No rock too jagged. No chasm too wide. No hill too steep. No cloud too thick.

No. Mountain. Too. High.

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise;

Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above;

Praise the Mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.” (Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing by Robert Robinson, 1735-1790)

Raising my eyes to the hills…remembering…thus far God has helped me…my Mount of redeeming love.