It must die to flourish

I came into 2018 all big and bad, full of hope and excitement, with the word flourish as my guide. With a word like that, which means, to bloom, blossom, grow, or thrive, one might expect things to quickly start coming up roses.

But…

That has not been the case. I’m only two months into the year and what I’m feeling would be better described as apathetic than excited, or motivated. I’m not doing all the things I hoped and believed I would.

Things feel more fragile and cracked and some days I don’t know what I know anymore. Something I’m learning though, is that when we feel God has given us a vision, it’s not always a straight line to get there. In fact, I think we could build a scriptural case to say that it almost never is.

Think of Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David. They all had destinies but they also had a lot of trouble, and a lot of themselves, to work out. I don’t compare myself to the fathers of our faith, but I will say it makes me feel a little better about my own sometimes crooked, sometimes circuitous, path.

The hope that I will live a flourishing life is still with me.

There’s another thing I’m learning: sometimes things have to blow up before they get better. A thing might need to absolutely fall apart, right down to the foundation, so it can be built back up, strong and secure. A seed must fall to the ground and die for the life inside it to begin to grow.

Today I see hope like a nutrient inside that seed. We go around talking about hope, claiming we have it, but usually that’s on our good days. We quote selected Bible verses to others who need them, feeling like we have this hope thing under control.

The thing is we don’t know whether we really have hope until things get hard. When we need hope, is it still there? Do we trust God, really? I think there’s a grace that comes only when it’s needed. Jesus told us not to borrow tomorrow’s trouble. There’s enough for today, right? That’s a way of saying, you don’t have grace to bear what isn’t happening today. When the time comes, it will be there.

The seed has to go down to the dust for life to come forth. We may die a thousand little deaths during our lives because there is so much standing between us and the image of Christ which is being formed in us.

So, while I don’t have answers to all my questions, and some days I’m not sure I know which end is up, what does remain secure is my hope. My hope is the straight line in the midst of what looks like a child’s scribbles on paper.

I am moving toward a flourishing life. He will take me there. God is a good gardener, who prunes, cuts back, transplants, and knows what His plants need. He is cultivating beauty and fruitfulness where things have been barren; there’s a method to what feels like madness.

As He tosses another seed to the ground, and it lays dying, I remember: it must die to flourish. And hope will sustain it.

Out of this liquefied life…

A few days ago, I was listening to the Fun Therapy podcast, hosted by Mike Foster. Mike is a Christian therapist who interviews people about their lives and their stories, going into the deep places in their hearts. It’s not actually fun, by the way, in the traditional sense, so don’t picture an upbeat theme song or fast paced conversation.

In this episode he was talking to Annie F. Downs (author, speaker, and host of the That Sounds Fun podcast), making an analogy between us and caterpillars in the process of metamorphosis. In case you don’t know this, when a caterpillar goes inside its cocoon, it uses enzymes to digest itself, eventually becoming mostly liquefied. Some organs remain basically the same, some are restructured, and some, which had previously been dormant, are awakened for use (i.e., the imaginal discs which become wings).

If you’ve been a Christian for long, you’ve no doubt heard that the word for the transfiguration of Jesus, and for the transformation that happens to us, as followers of Jesus, shares it’s root with the word “metamorphosis.” For instance, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” We are changed/transformed/metamorphosed from one thing into another glorious thing.

My experience tells me that the liquefied caterpillar is the perfect analogy for what happens to us, as Christ followers, as we are changed “from glory to glory.” Step by step, we become something completely different.

As Mike went on, he said something like, “out of this liquefied life comes something beautiful.” It stopped me in my tracks when he said it. I’ve been feeling a little disintegrated myself, lately.

A writer named Joseph Campbell (who I’ve not read, beyond this quote) said this:

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” I have found this to be true and I have a feeling I’ve got more caves to explore.

In the cave of pain, the cocoon of transformation, lies our hope. We all have our ways of dealing with pain, with conflict, with shame. We mitigate it in whatever ways that were most natural to our personalities when we were children. Or we handled it in the ways our parents or adult leaders taught us: hide it, cover it, let it all out, become a doormat, pretend you’re fine, put on a mask, become a bully…whatever. It’s all a means to avoid feeling pain.

Numbness, anger, codependency – pick your poison. Because that’s what it is: poison to your soul, and to the life God has given you.

It’s only in the cocoon, where all the things we have used to survive on our own are dissolved into a useless sludge, that we begin to come alive as new creatures. All the bits and pieces we need are already there, lying dormant, because the spirit of God is in us.

The seeds of the life of Christ are there.

He has breathed His life into you. And because of that, and because he loves you, and because He loves the people around you, He will allow things to come which make you feel like you are dying. Like everything has fallen apart in an irreparable way.

All those tools that once worked for you, that got you through, are not needed anymore. They aren’t the best tools, or the best ways. And, let’s be honest, they didn’t really work before…they just carried you for a time, until He could get to you and begin your transformation.

Understand this: no matter what things look like, if you are a Christ follower, His spirit is in you, and you ARE a new creation, right now.

But you are in process. We are all in different places on this journey and we need to give each other grace to become. The more space we make for people who are in the cave, the faster their processes will go. And the sooner you stop trying to avoid your own pain, acting as though you’ve already arrived, the sooner you’ll actually be transformed into the image of Christ from the inside out.

Reserve judgment. Don’t rush others or yourself. Keep your ears open to what He is saying and He will teach you the way to go. Sometimes His instructions seem counter-intuitive, or counterproductive, and maybe the keepers of the Law in your life will try to tell you what THE RIGHT thing to do is. But the right thing to do is what the Holy Spirit is telling you to do. Even if it’s different than what might be the right thing for someone else in a similar situation.

Inside the cocoon, or the cave, whichever analogy you prefer, we are surrounded by something so healing and transformative, that it can’t not do it’s job: the unconditional love of God. There’s no pain, rejection, sin, or failure, we can’t face when it’s done in the knowledge that we are absolutely loved and forgiven, and will be loved to the end.

You’ve got beautiful wings waiting to emerge, friend, but they’ll only be seen after the process runs its course. Fear not. He is good. Stay in. Don’t run. You will make it. You will become. You are new.

Butterfly

That time a butterfly came and drank Earl Gray from the palm of my hand

One Word: Flourish

In his book, “Run With the Horses,” Eugene Peterson quotes a Czech philosopher and martyr named Vitezslav Gardavsky, who said that the most terrible threat against life is,

“that we might die earlier than we really do die, before death has become a natural necessity. The real horror lies in just such a premature death, a death after which we go on living for many years.”

Recently I had a moment of clarity. It was born out of a short conversation I had with someone who had no idea how his words were landing on my heart. I won’t get into the story he told, but I’ll tell you it ends with a person who made big plans and talked about desires, but never followed through with most of it. And, in truth, was never going to from the get go.

His words hit me like a freight train.

In that moment I thought, I do not want to be that person but I am dangerously close to becoming her. I don’t want to die one day having never tapped into my potential or discovered what God could have done in me and through me. One of my greatest fears is that I’ll leave this world and people will stand around my grave talking in hushed tones about what could have been:

“She could’ve been a great ______________, but she never even tried.”
“She always wanted to ______________, but she was too afraid.”
“God had given her something to say, but she never shared it.”
“She was so loved, but she never knew it.”
“She had so much potential.”

I know that’s kind of dramatic, but after listening to what this man had to say, I realized that I have been waiting on someone to give me permission to be me: to do things I love, to enjoy what I enjoy, to express myself in my own way, to approve, to set me free. I allow myself to be intimidated or let fear keep me from trying new things. In a sense I’m waiting on permission to fully exist.

Even the smallest thing can feel like a giant leap, sometimes.

I’ve allowed the acceptance or rejection of others to determine my capacity for growth and for pursuing God’s call in my life.

At a low point in Jeremiah’s life God asked him this question:

“If you have raced with men on foot and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you do in the jungle of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5)

If you can’t muster the strength to carry on in a relatively safe place, how will you do when things really get hard? Or as Eugene Peterson put it,

“I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easier, I know, to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average. Easier, but not better…not more significant…not more fulfilling. I called you to a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living.”

Ouch, y’all. I felt that when I read it. I’ve often relaxed in the arms of The Average to avoid the pain of failure and rejection. When you frequently hear a little voice whispering, “Who do you think you are?” it’s tempting to hide.

During this moment of revelation, I made a deal with myself. A resolution, if you will. If I want to do something, or feel called to something, and I have the ability to do it, then I just need to do it. If I have a dream that can’t be fulfilled today, then I need to make a plan to get there. I need to be willing to take the first step. (Keep in mind this is about things that are within reason – it’s not about me just living my life and forget everybody else. Just to clarify.)

It means I’ve got furniture to build, canvases to paint, words to write, stories to tell, a faith to share, friends to make, places to go, and children to love, inspire and take on adventures. Today.

In short I’m called to FLOURISH.

That’s my word for 2018. Flourish.

Listen to the meanings and synonyms for flourish:

To develop rapidly and successfully; thrive; prosper; increase; multiply; bloom; blossom; make headway; improve; to go places; move forward in leaps and bounds.

I love the sound of that.

Honestly, I haven’t really flourished since…well…I can’t remember when. So, my goal for this year is to live life in a fuller way, to show up more, to create, and to be bold. I know it’s easier said than done, and it won’t happen without some help and a lot of perseverance, because, let’s be real – I’ve lived like this for a long time and change doesn’t come easy.

One thing I know is that the key to a flourishing life of any kind, whether plant, animal, or human, is the right environment. This isn’t a thing I’ll be doing on my own. It’s dependent upon my roots going deep in God and abiding with Christ (John 15) because apart from Him I can do nothing. His nearness is the right environment and in that place I can flourish, no matter what is going on around me.

The flourishing kind of life is also heavily dependent on connection with others. No form of life is capable of growing and thriving alone. We need people to spur us on to love and good works and to help carry our burdens (Hebrews 10:24, Galatians 6:2). Also, there is wisdom in the presence of many counselors (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6).

Having friends who know me and see the real me has become so precious over the years. They speak life to me, encourage me, see my potential, point me to Jesus, and ask good questions. I hope you have that and if you don’t, begin praying for God to send those people your way. They’re out there.

The truth is that I may never get permission from all the people in my life to fully be myself, but I’ve got all the permission I need from God to use the gifts I have and to be brave. In fact I have more than permission, I have a responsibility. He created all of us to do the good works He has already prepared for us, so that we could walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

That’s it.

He prepares the work and we just start walking. (He makes it sound so easy, does He not?).

Jesus said He came to give us abundant life – life to the full – and I think He really meant it. My hope and prayer is that I would live this life to the full, to the glory of God, and that y’all would do the same.

No matter what word you choose for yourself this year, or if you choose one at all, may we all flourish and grow in 2018, and may none of us die that death “after which we go on living for many years.”

Let it be said of us that we lived to the full, right to the end.

When I Think about Mercy…

When I was little I was a Daddy’s girl. If I heard his keys jingle from across the house I bolted to see where we were going, because he wasn’t getting out without me. Poor man. Never a moment’s peace.

Occasionally, throughout my growing up years, just for no reason, he would tell me he was proud of me. I couldn’t understand that. I always wanted to know what I had done to deserve it. It wasn’t necessarily tied to my performance, he just said he was proud of me. I guess it was just because I was his.

I never wanted to lose that. I always wanted him to be proud of me.

In February of 1997, I was a 21 year old college student studying biology. At the time I was living what we think of as the stereotypical college student life, which consisted of parties, late nights, work, and some studying (but mostly the other stuff). I was not living the chaste life I always thought I would, having been raised in a Christian home.

I’m pretty sure it was Monday, February 3, when I went to see my doctor for a pregnancy test. The nurse asked me to have a seat in the waiting room while the test processed – she said it would be maybe 10 minutes. She was back in under two. I knew what that meant.

Because I’m terrible at hiding things, I knew I couldn’t see my parents again without telling them that I was going to have a baby. So, within 24 hours I went to see my mom at work and told her I was pregnant. She said, “Well, let’s go tell your dad.”

I was like, wait, no. What? Right now? Can’t you tell him? I didn’t want to see his face when he found out his little girl had been doing “big girl things.” I was terrified of disappointing him.

But Mom said, “Yep, right now. Let’s go.”

So, we did.

I sat beside him on the couch and hemmed and hawed and cried and fidgeted for what seemed like eternity. I kept saying I knew he would be disappointed. He just looked at me, with wet eyes.

Finally, I blurted out,

“I’ve got a bun in the oven!”

Classic. (I couldn’t bring myself to say the p-word, yet)

His response was beautiful and kind: his eyes brimmed over with tears and he said, “There’s nothing you can do to make me any less proud of you.” I thought I even saw a little smile cross his lips. I wondered if, despite the shock, he was already excited about the baby growing inside of me.

It was pure love and mercy to my needy heart. No matter what I had done, I was still his little girl. I felt fully accepted, fully loved, and secure.

I know that not all of us would have the same experience with our fathers, but for me it’s a picture I go back to often, when I think about the mercy of God.

When we go to Him in times of failure, we expect anger, but we receive kindness.

God is sometimes portrayed as an angry monster, who delights in punishing people for their mistakes, sins, or wickedness. Sometimes people seem giddy with expectation about the destruction of “the sinners,” however they define the term.

I have to wonder if they’ve paid much attention to the man who hung on the cross. Does he seem angry at people? Was he looking forward to punishing them sometime in the future? Even the ones who drove the nails into His wrists?

No. He came and said, essentially, do your worst to me. I’ll take it in order to demonstrate my love for you. I won’t fight back, I won’t resist. Though I am innocent, I’ll absorb the punishment due to the guilty. I’ll paint you a picture of God, because you have no idea who He is, or what He’s like, or how deep His love is for you.

And, this is the God you are to run to when you fail. When you’re needy. When you’re hurting. When you’ve done your worst. When you’ve walked away and don’t know how to get back.

His kindness will lead you to repent, to change, to go a new direction. His mercy will change your life. His love does not run out. He knows you are just dust and isn’t caught off guard when you mess up.

He knows He can make something beautiful out of our messes. He knows He can work all things for our good, when we let Him. He knows He can bring beauty from ashes and He gives us good gifts even when we don’t think we deserve it. He gave me a beautiful baby girl who changed my life and has taught me so much about love and kindness. She’s one of my best friends.

And that’s why He can smile a little smile when we choose to come to Him in times of trouble, rather than run away. He’s not a monster God, He’s a good father, full of mercy and compassion. He doesn’t turn anyone away who wants to be near Him. The choice is ours.

There’s nothing you can do to change that.

The Art of Restoration

Below is a screenshot of a quick Google search I just did. I couldn’t remember the name of the technique but I knew the Japanese had made an art of repairing broken things with gold.

Kintsugi recognizes the history of the object without disguising the ways and places it’s been broken.

Just stop and think about that a second.

The connection to our lives probably needs no explanation, but because I’m a woman with a lot of words, I’m going to do it, anyway.

A few years ago I was in a very broken place. As I sat in prayer I was apologizing to God for being such a screw up. I felt like everything was sliding through my fingers and I was a big mess.

Instantly, a picture formed in my mind. There was a work bench in a dimly lit room, and a kind-faced man was bent over a pile of broken pottery shards. He held a small dustpan and broom and was gently sweeping up the pieces.

He wasn’t angry or frustrated. Gentleness emanated from him and I knew he was going to take all those pieces, spread them out on his workbench, and put them back together.

The broken shards were me and the kind workman was God. My Father.

When our lives are broken He isn’t angry. When we are distraught over the messes we’ve made, or feel like we’ve made, He isn’t. If we let Him, he will take whatever bits we bring and lovingly put it all back together.

And he doesn’t hide his handiwork, he puts it on display.

We don’t have to hide it, either. It is what it is, but that’s not the end of it.

I love the idea of God filling the cracks with gold, highlighting what we’ve experienced – even the pain of the brokenness.

There’s no shame there.

None.

When he puts us out there, he’s not looking for our perfection. His power is perfected in our weakness. He is most on display in us when our brokenness is evident, but so is our healing.

Never hide your story, your testimony, of the goodness of God. Don’t hide the brokenness that is yet to be touched. We all have it.

To me, it’s beautiful. I love to hear a good redemption story but I also love the gut cries of a contrite heart. And so does God.

A broken and contrite heart He will not despise.” Psalm 51

Don’t hide your history, or put on a disguise to cover yourself.

Let us see the beautiful way God has restored you and continues to do so.

When You’re FB Rejected

I want to confess something that I don’t like about myself. It really bugs me when I notice my number of Facebook friends has dropped. I didn’t used to even know where that number was, but recently I saw where it’s placed on my profile page so every time I scroll down, I see it. Therefore, I notice when it drops by one.

I don’t have a ton of friends, anyway, because I prefer to be friends with people I actually know and I don’t know 2,000 people. Also, my maiden name isn’t listed because I don’t want to be found by every random person from my past. Some people need to stay back there.

The other day I noticed one fewer person is my friend. There could be a lot of explanations for that, but the one my mind gravitates toward is that some person doesn’t like me or what I have to say or I’m too Jesus-y or too conservative or too liberal or preachy or weird.

And, I don’t like it. Ouch. I don’t like admitting that. I’m not trying to collect followers….its not that. It’s that I don’t prefer to be rejected.

However, the more free I am to be myself in real life and on social media, and the more I share about things that matter to me, the more sifting will happen.

And, I think that’s okay. Here’s what I’m discovering: the more honest I am, the more I am attracting my tribe. The people who are on the same page, or who can handle disagreement without severing relationship, will still show up.

In my actual in-person life, I’m way more open than I once was. It’s a vulnerable place to be, because when we open up to the possibility of connection, we also open ourselves to the possibility of rejection.

For me vulnerability is leading to deeper connection with the people who can relate to me. It’s creating a lot of, “Me, too!” moments.

Our fear is that we will put ourselves out there and find ourselves alone. That isn’t what’s happening, though.

It’s just the opposite.

We have to accept the fact that not everyone will especially like us, or agree with us, or think we are worth their time. If we are honest, we can admit there are people we have a hard time with, too. We don’t click with everybody.

That’s normal.

If we want to be loved for who we are, we have to put our actual selves out there – not the mask, not the false self. The real you, warts and all. And be open to whoever comes along – you might be surprised who you connect with.

It’s a scary thing to show your raw self to the world, and we do need to set some boundaries. Not every thing is for every set of eyes and ears.

But we have to start somewhere.

The truth is that you are already loved by the God who made you. He is ready and willing to accept you, as you are. He will refine you, as needed, but you don’t have to be fake with him. You can’t be. I mean, you can try, but just know it isn’t working.

That’s where true acceptance has begun for me. I don’t have to perform for it, be good enough, have my house clean enough, or have the right answers. I just have to show up with an open heart.

And it’s spilling over into the other parts of my life.

It’s scary, because my wounds went deep. I’m still learning to live into all the things I just said. I believe it’s all true but changing a lifetime of hiding is a process, and it isn’t always pretty.

But it’s worth it. It really is.

Put Your Walking Shoes On

I was struck by something in John 15 yesterday that I hadn’t really thought about before. It’s the passage of Scripture where Jesus tells his disciples that he is the vine and they are the branches. To bear fruit they must stay connected to him, because apart from the vine the branches can do nothing. They die and wither and produce no fruit.

In the midst of that He tells them that God is glorified when they bear much fruit. A few verses later he says,

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the father in my name, he may give it to you.”

Hey guys, don’t forget: this was our big idea, not yours.

I think this was an important reminder for them, given the fact that Jesus would be leaving them soon. He chose them – they didn’t choose him. The responsibility to produce is shifted off their shoulders and onto his.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the people Jesus chose to be his disciples. We don’t know much about some of them, but we do know there were a few fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot and a doubter (poor Thomas). It’s a mix and match bunch of people – none of which one would expect to start a religious movement that would change the world.

The fishermen were not seen as educated people, the tax collector was hated by the Jewish people because he was a sellout to Rome, who was stealing money from them. Far from the peaceful way of Christ, the zealot was looking to overthrow Rome in a violent uprising.

Until they were chosen by Jesus.

Sometimes I struggle with who I am. Really, my issue is with how I express and present myself. I feel like such a mix and match mess of a person – unpredictable, at best, and embarrassing, at worst.

One minute I’m making jokes and the next I’m trying to dive deep into who God is and what He is saying to us. So, which is it? Am I going to be a comedian or will I be a person to be taken seriously?

I can’t tell you how often I ask myself, “What is wrong with you?”

The thing I was struck by in John 15 yesterday, though, is that God chooses us, as we are, to go and bear fruit. He knows my pendulum swings, and yet, he can and will use me to bear fruit so long as I stay connected to him.

Whatever those things are that you don’t like about yourself, whatever mistakes you’ve made, whatever ideology you hold to, he takes you as is. He refines, he prunes, he changes us, but he isn’t put off by us.

He only needs you to trust Him. The vine feeds and energizes the branches, not the reverse.

Those things that make no sense in your own mind don’t baffle him. The answer to “What is wrong with me?” might be,

“Nothing.”

He chose you to go and bear fruit. The work is his for you to simply cooperate with. He planned good works for you to do, in advance, that you might walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

The road before you is paved.

Put on your walking shoes and get going.