Named by Redemption

sadness-man-in-the-shadow-1368461366ES7

“Words, so innocent and powerless…when standing in a dictionary, how potent for good or evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

– Nathaniel Hawthorne –


Over a Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip cone, I chatted with some friends about their prison ministry.

With wide eyes, one friend told me of the man they had just visited. He had been on the run from the law for months and finally brought into custody, to the relief of family members fearing for his life.

He had a tattoo across his forehead–the name that he had printed on his own skin, embedded into his existence:

HATED

And he lived believing it.

Hating himself, hating the law, hating everyone and everything around him.

And I wondered….what would it be like to scrawl on my forehead all my own shame? What would it be like to stare into my bleary, just-awake eyes every day and see my worst fear and my constant torment written indelibly on my face?

Hated. 

Not loved. Not accepted. Not tolerated. But hated.

What happens to a person to make them brand themselves with hate? By what twisted penance or cocky flagrancy does a man emblazon his greatest pain across his skull?

Names. Labels. Appellations.

We inscribe them on our hearts. We chant them to ourselves over and over, like a cursed mantra. We foist them on others and forge them for ourselves, invisible chains.

Dumb. Unloved. Retarded. Ugly. Unvalued.

What kind of names do we give ourselves? When we look in the mirror, what do we call our own faces? When we step out the door, how do we address our own friends?

We label everything, slap on and spit out names that may sting longer than we know.

Our words are killing us slowly–a poisonous death that we scarcely notice. And surely the tongue has the power of death (Proverbs 18:21).

The young man across the table from me in Sunday School had a rose blooming full and red on his left forearm, and words scripted in green across the other arm.

Sinner.

I wondered if it was a recent way of evangelizing his biker friends or something he had acknowledged about himself long before coming to faith.

What makes a man write the secret sins of his heart upon his body for all to see? Does it make the pain ebb? Does it make the guilt cease?

Words of condemnation are the echoes of our broken hearts and dark-twisted souls. We mutter them to ourselves to keep us somehow feeling through the numbness. We fling them at others to somehow make ourselves seem less fragile.

In our darkness, all we can do is pronounce the death settling upon us all.

But what if a word could bring life?

What if a man was also God, and what if he was God’s own speech wrapped up in sinew, with a mouth instead of letters, and a life instead of pages? What if God’s own Word came down and spoke life to us?

Into the labels of “Hated” and “Sinner,” He steps and looks around.

And He doesn’t contradict them, because we are. Hated, yes, by others. And, worse our sinning hearts disgust the God of holiness (Psalm 11:5). Hated.

Sinner. He confirms it. He goes out of His way to make sure we get the fact that we are dirty, incapable of working our own way to God.

Hated. Sinner.

God Himself does not deny our plight.

How can words bring life to this? How can our mess of hate and sin be solved by words, when all we know to do is remind ourselves of despair?

“I have come.”

He has come? To us? But…whatever for? We, the Hated? We, the Sinner?

“That you might have life.”

Life for the desolate, the dirty, the despised? Life, indeed….for me?

“And have it more abundantly.”

Abundance? When I have inscribed my sin on my skin until I can see nothing but my own decay, smell nothing but my own foul stench in God’s nose, feel nothing but the jagged rasp of my throat when I try to speak my cursed mantra again?

How can He–this Word-man–make it all whole again? How can he draw the indelible sin-stain from my forehead?

How can these names be erased?

Piecing together the things He has said, I can almost imagine the scene: He stoops before me–me, the Hated–writing my sins in the sand.

“I will take the hate. I will be despised and rejected instead of you (Isaiah 53). I will take the anger of God Almighty at your rebellion. I will bear the brunt of His wrath. I will take your shame….

“And do you know why?

“Because I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Because this is how much God loves this world–He sent me to die for your redemption (John 3:16).”

I, the Sinner, am so like the woman caught in sin and dragged to Jesus, a scarlet blush stamped like condemnation on each of her red cheeks. But when the living Word-man speaks, I start to feel the names I’ve been called slip loose from my shoulders.

And when the Word dies, the Word truly does give life.

When my heart knelt at His cross, and visited His empty tomb, the names that weighed me down rolled away.

Hated…no! No more. I am loved, with that Love everlasting, that Word that will not fail. I am loved.

The ink-stain of hate is washed in holy blood and I have a new name stamped on my head–Daughter of the Most High.

Sinner? Ah, no longer am I under the curse of that name. Its power is drained. My arms no longer ache with the weight of that name printed on them. That too has been washed.

And what instead is written on my arms?

Redeemed. Redeemed.

And oh…

Oh, oh, how I love to proclaim it.


 “My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart.

I know that while in heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.”

– Charitie Lees Smith, from “Before the Throne of God Above” –

Living Outside

a-small-door-13832451664hO

 “A Christian is someone who lives outside himself. He lives in Christ by faith and in his neighbor by love.”

– Martin Luther –


I hate the word “ingrown.” It nearly makes me squirm.

I wonder if I dislike it so much because it too often describes me? Ingrown, self-focused, spiraling inward on my own angst.

“A Christian is someone who lives outside himself.”

My world, my problems, my fears. I know them–literally by heart. My issues go everywhere with me. I live in them. I think about them. Sometimes, I even fear that I am my problems.

What does this mean–to be a girl who lives outside herself?

Because I can’t summon up the spiritual muscle to want to do it. I just want to nurse my own wounds, thanks.

Then I talked to Tiffany* on the phone, a girl many states away and many experiences removed from my world. The ridiculous simplicity of my “problems” nearly slapped me in the face as her story broke my heart. A baby out of wedlock, at seventeen. Now, a business on the verge of bankruptcy. A husband who’s spiritually shutting down. Three more babies all under six years old.

A world that’s caving in.

Tiffany kept her composure on the phone, but still, as I remember our conversation, I want to weep for her. She’s struggling, pushing through tight finances, raising four kids, wrestling with a marriage that must seem like a runaway train.

I offered to pray. And I ached because her pain was so intense, but yet so matter-of-factly stated.

Raw pain is heartbreaking.

But, maybe…maybe even worse is the pain that she’s resigned herself to carry. It doesn’t shock her anymore. It just hurts, and she can’t see to the end.

Shifting my ingrown focus hurts, because I’m opening up to pain that doesn’t belong to me.

I talked to Elizabeth across a table. Her backstory made my saddest childhood moments feel like Disneyland. My worst day as a kid?–maybe when our nearby church split and my best friend went away with the other group. Maybe trying to wrestle down my questions about salvation.

Elizabeth’s worst day? It’s hard to say. Maybe it was when a relative abused her when she was little. Or maybe it was after that, day after day facing counselors and doctors and psychologists. Maybe it was when she had no hope left at all. Maybe that was her worst day.

“Why is that her story and not mine?” I wonder. “Why is Tiffany waking up and surviving day after day in a spiritual cloud? Why not me? Why was Elizabeth’s childhood destroyed, and not mine?”

These stories don’t just sadden me, though. They also encourage me. I may not see how Tiffany’s struggle will turn out for her good, but I believe in a God who can make that happen. I may not understand how Elizabeth felt when her life was turned upside-down, but I rejoice in the strength of God in her spirit, a resilience coming out of her in songs and joyful laughter and a heart filled with a compassion I am coming to admire.

Great pain. Great possibilities. Great power.

God has something mysterious and lovely going on. And I would never know about it if I refuse to go outside.

Get outside my box, my inner world of safety and comfort and me-problems.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

– C.S. Lewis –

Loving is scary.

But….

Not loving–letting myself stay safe behind the locked doors of my own heart–that, my friends, is even scarier.

So here is my heart, dear Lord.

Wring it with sorrow for the hurts of others.

Here is my heart.

Break it with Your passion for the lost.

My heart.

Mend it with Your great love–all undeserved.

Take it. Use it.

Fill it with an overflowing grace to those I see.

Let my whole life be an offering.

And so, let me live outside–outside myself.

Let my home be in You, by faith.

And in those around me, with Your love that stretches beyond our limits and even our imaginations.


 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

– Colossians 3:12-17, NKJV –


*Tiffany’s name has been changed to protect her and her family from the all-seeing eyes of search engines

Where Are You?

planet-earth-1401465793Ufs


The first time two souls went running,

What if nothing had gotten in their way?

If the briars and blood were all the answer

In the garden ruined by rebels that day?

On ground first stained with brother’s blood,

What if no curse was ever spoken?

What if murder was the natural thing,

Sure sign of power, not of true things broken?

Globe fast hurtling through space,

What if nothing held its spin in check?

If not a drop of care or thought

Was given to this blue-green speck?

Hearts wrung, strung along on faith

Constructed on dreams of sinking sand.

What if these were all to hope for,

Our wishful thoughts the only plan?

But God said, “Where are you?”

And rebel hearts must quake,

For none can hide the dark inside,

Or restore to new, or life awake.

Again, the call, “Where are you?”

Still-broken souls rejoice,

For a Judge to call means justice lives,

At least there’s meaning in the void.

But He once cried, “Where are you?”

And that time t’was God who died.

“Oh Father, You’ve forsaken me”

True justice and pure grace collide.

By the tomb she wept, “Where are you?”

By Mary’s side He was alive,

And Thomas, doubting, inwardly echoed,

The question that Mary had cried.

To the clouds Christ soon ascended

And now clouds await His returning shout

To His Bride, “Where are you?”

At last the joy destroying doubt.

Still He repeats “Where are you?”

Till all His sheep are in.

God’s call delivering the sentence,

God’s own answer absolving sin.

Days to Come

oct-1-3


Laughter is a form of release, a kind of surrender to the moment. It is, when sincere, truly opening yourself to the joy of right now, almost a form of unconscious thanksgiving.

I want to laugh.

Tomorrow is a crazy, uncontrolled thing. Scary at times, uncertain, wild as wind.

I want to laugh.

But I can’t quite decide what kind of laugh I want. Some laughs are overdone, annoying. Some aren’t even worth the breath used, as dry and mirthless as a frown.

I want a laugh that is alive, brimming over with joy and faith in the God who holds not only my history and moments, but the history yet to be written, and the moments yet to be born.

I want to laugh, because I believe that in and beyond all the weary frustrations and holy moments there is a wild, sacred joy that lays just beyond my stretching fingers. I brush the fringes, the outskirts of the Uncontainable. The shivers run up my fingers–hot, cold, jolting–like an electric current, like a sea of blue ice.

A laugh can be a prayer, a fountain bubbling up.

A laugh can be forgiveness, soothing over a fault with love, the healing of a joyful spirit. Laughing at ourselves, knowing when to be serious and knowing when it is good to just see the humor in our constant relational contortions.

A laugh can be faith, a kind of looking toward the dawn that is sure to come…but is not quite yet seen.

Strong, brave, joyous is the woman who can lift up her face to the road ahead and truly laugh.

“She laughs at the days to come…”

– Proverbs 31:25 –

Is there a “Christian” laugh?

I think so.

The laugh of faith.

The Christian laughs at this life where condemnation is the only expected reward and yet we get…grace.

Grace! For us, the rebels who ran. Grace, because God came to us.

Laughter of boundless joy, of faith in a God of impossibilities, was a familiar thing to Abraham:

“The laughter of Abraham and Sarah at the angel’s extraordinary announcement does not eliminate the darkness, because through the long, childless years of the past, darkness has already taken its toll, and in the long years that lie ahead there will be darkness for them still as, for instance, when Abraham is asked to take the child of the promise and offer him to God as a burnt offering. They both still have to face the darkness both of death and of life in a world where God is seen at best only from afar, through a glass darkly; but with their laughter something new breaks into their darkness, something so unexpected and preposterous and glad they can only laugh at it in astonishment….It all happened not of necessity not inevitably, but gratuitously, freely, hilariously. And what was astonishing, gratuitous, hilarious was, of course, the grace of God.”

– Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth, pages 56, 57, emphasis mine –

This grace of God is what secures our tomorrow. This grace of God is why we can laugh the laugh of faith.

Abraham’s laugh was smack in the middle of a long journey to an unknown land. The apostle Paul sang in a cell. Jesus rejoiced between planning ministry trips, condemning the hardness of Israel’s heart, and debating with lawyers (Luke 10:21-22).

Laughter is not about reaching the end of the journey, getting out of the prison, escaping from the crowds.

Laughter is about faith in a God of grace, who has a glorious plan–not only for this day, but also for the days to come.

Lift up your faces to the dawn and laugh–He holds the Future!


 “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 4:4-7, NKJV –


Thanks again to Atalie Bale Photography for such a lovely photo for today’s topic!