What You Don’t See

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“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

– C.S. Lewis –


A friend and I were talking this week, pondering about how we view others. We decided that, much of the time, we don’t really see them.

Not the biggest piece of them, anyway.

I see only what I want to see, I suppose. The outside words and actions. Motions and syllables. Annoying things. Pleasing things.

Over and over, I condemn someone in my heart. Sometimes I assign a motivation to their bad behaviors. Other times, I keep my distance, because I just don’t want to get involved in their baggage. Judging, I judge myself.

Because, often, I do the exact same things I condemn others for doing.

A while back, I got irritated at someone for trying to tell me how to do something. I can do it myself, I inwardly argued. Don’t you think I’m smart enough to figure this out?

Of course, not long later, I was on the other side of the picture, making sure someone in my family knew exactly the right way to accomplish a task. Because obviously I am the sole Guardian of the Right Way to Do Everything.

What I condemned, I did myself.

“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Romans 2:1-4 –

For some reason, I am so much easier on myself when it comes to sin — or even preferences — than I am on others. If I want to be bossy, fine. But far be it from you to try to be bossy. You shall rue the day.

But one day, a person you silently judged will open up to you in spite of your internal condemnation, and they will tell you a bigger story.

Oh, their sin won’t suddenly be okay, but you will see a much larger story than you imagined.

One day you will wake up and see that you didn’t see them before, not at all. You shouldn’t excuse sin, but your heart will be humbled by the knowledge that you probably wouldn’t do any better if you were in their shoes.

Instead of the cardboard cutout you thought they were, your eyes will open to a real, blood-pumping, soul-scarred human being, with all of the dozens of motivations, complexities, moods, circumstances and problems that you face in your own life.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

So, next time you get angry, next time you are wronged for the hundredth time, next time the flaws of another person shine through in all their terrible blatancy, remember.

You were an enemy. Yet still Jesus, very God of very God, died for you.

You were not lovely. But He took you anyway, to make you lovely.

You were not worthy. But He has made you an heir with Him.

The well-known literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird has this to say about our predisposition to judge:

“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”
― Harper Lee

Proverbs 8:13 pronounces it shameful to give an answer before the question has even been spoken. How much more foolish is it to pass sentence on the “wrongness” of those around us before we have even understood them?

Sin is not excusable. It never is.

But if God can step out of paradise to touch feeble dust-creatures with His glory, how much more can we extend His love to those around us.

Their worthiness is not the issue.

In truth, we can see ourselves in them, as if we were looking in a mirror. It is not that they are less bad. It is that we, when we truly see them, also see that we’re not as good as we’d like to think.

But our Savior is good.

So today, pray for grace to really see. When people inevitably rub you the wrong way, stop and look beyond your nearsighted perspective. What you find out may surprise you. It will most certainly bring you to your knees in humility and thankfulness for the mercy of our great God.

Oh Father, give us eyes to see those we meet. Our families — those most familiar to us, but so often still unseen. Our neighbors — those whom God has planted us beside. Our fellow church members — co-heirs of the grace in which we live abundantly. The great, unmet horde of unseen — those we never stop to see or hear or know.

Help me see those I meet as you see them. Needy. Flawed. And just as much a candidate for Your unearned love as I am.


“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”
― Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

 

 

 

Earthquakes

straw-in-the-field-1318272103QII“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain –


Just when life is nice and normal, something rumbles through and knocks you off your feet.

That happened to me this week.

I really shouldn’t be surprised by anything these days. Yet, again and again, events shock me and bring me to my knees.

Life’s earthquakes feel something like a light blow to the stomach. Not necessarily a gut-wrenching pain, but a sense of lostness, breathlessness. Disorientation.

Sometimes I actually start feeling grown up…until another earthquake rolls in and reminds me just how small and unprepared I am for the rigors of adulthood.

I’ll be 23 this year. That’s an adult, right?

But still part of me wants to go crawling into my mother’s lap for a while. Hide from the problem, hide from the people waiting on me for a life-changing answer, hide from the fear of bungling an uncertain future. Hide from the responsibility to sort out a complicated swirl of desires, relationships, convictions.

I guess I like to have it all together, and earthquakes remind me that I don’t.

Not at all. Not even a little.

Today, my dad got a funny tone in his voice and I just had a hunch. I asked “Is it ____.” And it was. Oh boy. Why did I have to be right? Just when I thought things were settling in, now things get complicated instead.

You know, crises come and go. Today, my mind was in a whirl all day, processing the latest “earthquake.” Tomorrow, or maybe the next day, things will calm again. Sure, maybe my dilemma won’t disappear. I still have choices to make. But the earthquake passes and the aftershocks ripple with decreasing intensity each time they visit me again.

And, you know, as unprepared as I was for an earthquake this week, I’m really glad it came.

It reminds me how much I need God.

See, I often try to float along on my own. I figure I can hold it all together pretty well. Maybe I don’t consciously think it, but my actions show that I tend to forget God’s present help, and lean on my own understanding instead. 

Earthquakes send me rushing for the only security I have — the holy love of Christ.

So somehow — beneath drama and options and strange events — I have an anchor.

Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, 

Hebrew 6:17-20a, NKJV

Not only do I have a safe place to hide when life’s earthquakes try to bowl me over, but I also have the hope that all these interruptions, confusing choices, and complicated friendships will birth into something beautiful.

You never know when an earthquake might come rumbling in. When it does, where will you go?

Maybe you could join me, on my knees.

“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”

– James 1:2-4, CEB –

 

 

Once They Were Friends

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When I was little, I laid on my bed many nights and cried into my pillow for a friend.

But things are different now. Somewhere along the line, God allowed so many dear ones to spring up along my path. Now, if I’m crying into my pillow, it is more likely to be about the friends that I used to have.

Nearly every one of you, I suspect, has lost a friend.

A move across the country. A new school. A marriage. An argument. A choice.

There are very few things that scar a heart as much as a discarded friendship.

I’ve felt it.

There is helplessness, when despite all your love, they still fade away. There is anger, because how dare she just leave, after all these years? And, sometimes, there is guilt, because she wasn’t the only one who walked away, or kept holding a grudge.

So, what do we do? Shrug it off and move on? Close ourselves up? Choose better friends? Try to never say anything that might ever offend anyone?

If you’re recovering from a friendship-gone-awry, here are a few things to remember.8de599e2752979482266eae519018a25

1. If you’ve tried your best to reconcile, that’s all you can do.

Whether it was her “fault” or yours, it doesn’t matter. If you need to go to her and apologize–or offer forgiveness–do it.

But after you’ve humbly sought to restore the relationship and she still won’t have anything to do with you, you can’t do anything else.

Strike that. You can pray.

I know. That helpless feeling creeps over you and it feels like a prayer might be the most powerless thing you can imagine.

After you’ve confessed your sin or humbly offered restoration, keep living. Move forward. If you have God’s forgiveness, you have what you need to go on. By His grace, your friend may one day see the truth. Or she may not.

But after you’ve done your best, it’s okay to go on with life.

2. Love her from afar.

I could tell you to forget about her.

But you spent nights laughing till 3 in the morning with her. You saw each other at your best and worst. She holds some of your deepest secrets and knows your wildest dreams. She shares some of your most-valued beliefs. You’ve giggled on long car rides with the stereo cranked up, singing along to your favorite CD.

You’ve shared so much love and life.

And now that she’s gone, you miss her. And you probably always will.

Several years ago, I lost one of my best friends. It was sudden, drastic, and final. She dropped off the face of my world, without even a word to me. Others in her life received her hate-filled, backstabbing, anger. I didn’t even get a “Goodbye, I don’t want to be your friend anymore.” I didn’t even rate high enough for that.

The past 6 years of silence have not dimmed my memory. I haven’t seen her at all. A few reports from other friends, a few added sorrows when I hear of the suffering her choices have caused. And you know what? I still love her desperately.

Maybe I don’t cry myself to sleep like I did when she first left. Maybe I’m not picking up the freshly-shattered pieces of trust. But deep in my chest is an ache that is still there. I think it will always be there.

I never got a chance to try for reconciliation. I may not even cross paths with her again. But I have spent the last 6 years loving her from afar, smiling at her memory, tearing up a little at the old pictures of us in our cowgirl hats and bandanas, with the little-girl innocence that we both somehow lost. I can get lost a long time in the photos of her clear eyes, wondering where it all went wrong, wondering why I didn’t notice she was slipping away.

You lost a friend. You may not be in her life anymore.

But don’t stop loving her. She still needs your prayers. And you also need something — you need the bittersweetness of the memories you made together. Don’t throw out the gift she made you, or toss out the photo album of you two together. God gave you those moments, and they were full and true and sweet. Remember them. Savor them, however short.

3. Don’t become like her.

If the end of the friendship was her doing — if you’ve done your best to make things right — then you have been wronged terribly.

Whether it began as a silly argument, a drastic misunderstanding, or a sudden change in her personality, don’t let the hurt she inflicted on you make you bitter.

Friends have shared with me about the lost relationships that still weigh them down. Whether you live 200 miles away or cross paths with your former friend every week, you will still hurt. You’ll have different challenges to sort through, but you are still an abandoned friend.

And it hurts dreadfully.

Often, she is hurting too. It’s not an excuse, but it is the truth. As much as you’ve been hurt, remember that she is a person too, with a complex life and maybe surprising reasons behind her betrayal.

Forgive her. Whatever the reason — big, or small, or completely unknown — forgive her. As you were forgiven all those terrible things that Christ bore for you with joy, forgive her.

4. Relationships are complicated and hard and heartbreaking — and worth it.

You may not want to try again.

Sometimes I get so weary of the hard work of communicating and navigating misunderstanding, that I just want to hide. “People are so complicated,” I mutter. “Life would be so simple without people.” While I’d never want to actually try life without others, sometimes it seems that there are endless troubles wherever there is more than one person involved. It’s enough to drive a girl crazy.

Don’t let the scars keep you from loving again.

Because there are true friends to be found. They will take effort, trust, maintenance, forgiveness, humility. But they exist.

Keep loving and reaching out. Friendship is worth it. So worth it.

Related Post: “Putting the ‘Forever’ in Friend”

5. When all else fails, Jesus knows.

I can say all sorts of true and sentimental things. But one thing remains.

He was having the worst night of his life. Off-the-charts stress. All His buddies were taking a nap when He needed their camaraderie the most. All except one.

That one was coming now, his pale face flickering in the approaching torch light. He was coming silently, standing between a pair of rough temple guards.

And that one friend walked straight up, mustered up his nerve, and kissed Him on the cheek.

Acclaimed writer Michael Card sings these words, words that resonate with everyone who has ever been betrayed:

“Why did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord?
Why did he use a kiss to show them?
That’s not what a kiss is for.

Only a friend can betray a friend.
A stranger has nothing to gain,
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain.”

– from “Why” by Michael Card.

So when my words run out, my encouragement fails to touch the depth of your hurt, my sharing in your loss echoes empty, this truth can hold you up.

Jesus knows.

 He is not an untouched Stranger, a heavenly man who felt none of our pain. He took it all, tried it all, died bearing it all.

And God took on flesh and bared his face to the mocking kiss of a man who played at morality for 3 years, who put on a role for his own gain, who lived moment after moment in traitorous, silent scoffing at the works of the Christ he claimed to believe.

“And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone
All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not”

– from “The Silence of God” by Andrew Peterson

So when you’re crying, alone in your bed, remembering that one-time friend…this is all I have to say.

He is not untouched. He knows. And His ears never weary of hearing our cries. His arms never tire of pulling off our burdens.

Once they were friends. Now we only remember.

But one Friend never fails. And thank God — thank God! — for that firm foundation, that soul-anchor.

Because, now, I can love without fear. Whether it is returned or not.


 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Romans 8:38-39, KJV –

 

My Inspiration

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“I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.”

– Ephesians 3:18-19, CEB –


Thinking of a blog post topic can sometimes be quite the challenge. Yes–believe it or not, I actually run out of words sometimes.

When I do, I think back over my week, or month, and ponder the struggles that my friends are experiencing. I think of what I’ve been reading. I mull over a verse or two from my family’s Bible reading time. Most of the time, I come up with something that I hope will be of use to someone.

So I came up with a topic a few days ago, and even started a draft today. I know at least two friends that would directly relate to the topic. I pondered making it into a list post. Lists are always good.

And then I stopped and realized…maybe this week we don’t need another how-to. Not this time.

Maybe — for just a moment — we need to stop and remember.

This morning, I read this quote:

The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”

– Julian of Norwich –

That’s it. It is very simple.

This is not a test, or an indictment, or an accusation.

I don’t want a show of hands.

I won’t ask you to rate your “living gladly” experience last week.

Because that isn’t the point.

I know you’ve messed up. I know I’ve shamefully disregarded an amazing love. I know that the sin we choose is sometimes piled a mile high. It is painfully apparent. We just don’t often live gladly.

We just don’t often ponder his love. At least for me, not often enough.

But take your eyes off your failure for a moment. And fix them on Him.

Live gladly.

This is not another task for the to-do list. Forget the to-do list.

Live gladly.

But…why? Why live gladly? And how…how in all this mess do we live gladly? In the middle of traffic and stress and neighbors that die, and friends that lie, and churches that split, perpetual bad news, and muffins that burn in the too-hot oven.

How can we live gladly? Why, even?

“Because of the knowledge of his love.”

Not cognitive assent. It’s more like fixation. Obsession. Total focus. Unashamed staring at the sublime mystery of grace. It’s less an academic exercise and more the awed gasp when the dawn clouds break away from the mountain tops.

Captivation with His love.

I can keep writing. I can spin you a few hundred more dancing words, but there is something else even better:

Why don’t you look at Him a little while and ponder His love for you?

You won’t ever live gladly on your own. You can’t. Not by following the commandments. Not by getting your life together. Only in turning away from your insufficiency and basking in His absolute sufficiency, you will unearth the only spring of joy. Or perhaps He will unearth it in you.

The One who alone can make your life glad with His immense goodness.

Now that is inspiration.


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
― G.K. Chesterton ―