Trench Love

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“Then I read that Jesus was a friend of sinners. This still bothers me. Not because Jesus was a friend of sinners (because that came in really handy in my case). It bothered me because if I’m trying to live like Jesus, that means I’m supposed to be a friend of sinners too.”
― Dillon Burroughs, Undefending Christianity ―


Maybe the whole world is brimming with rough-cut trenches.

Have I spent too long on the ridges in between? Or am I a friend of sinners?

My God stepped into the trenches and touched lepers with open, running sores. He blessed the faith and tears of dark-eyed prostitutes. His hand dipped into meals with the dusty, money-rubbing hands of hardened thieves. He frequented the places that the Religious Right of the day called inappropriate and sinful. He had a band of ragamuffins: fisherman, half-breed Samaritans, government workers, wives, radical freedom fighters, women of the night, peasants.

But I do not have to find a leper colony, a brothel, or a gang of bank robbers to get in the trenches. Yes, those are needy trenches indeed. But that is not the idea.

Trenches are everywhere, crisscrossing the whole earth. And people are in those trenches–needy, hurting, growing, sinning people.

People just like you and me.

Some of them have Jesus. Some of them don’t.

Some of them have hope. Some of them can’t stand to think that the sun might come up again.

Some of them wear Prada and shop on New York’s 5th Avenue. Some of them wear Levis and push a cart at Wal-Mart. Some of them wear second-hand rags and dig in the dumpster for scraps.

Find them. There is a trench beside you. Get in it and see what you find.

See who you find.

Verda is in one of my trenches–an 83-year-old nursing home resident, hard of hearing and frail body swollen with excess fluid. She wiggled her finger at me, and soon I was kneeling beside her wheelchair, praying and clutching her bony fingers.

Jake is in a nearby trench–just a boy, a teenage boy I don’t even know, but his half-sister goes to my church. See, Jake is in ICU today. He shot or sniffed or smoked so much at once that his body began to shut down from a drug overdose. Is he living or dying right now? I only pray he will have one last chance to hear that there is hope. And maybe, just maybe, he will live to tell of a Redeemer.

Brent is in one of my trenches, strong and growing stronger in every way. I was put into his trench by Divine arrangement. See, he is my brother. Even brothers have trenches, and even brothers have needs and prayers and growing pains. But the good thing about being a brother is that there is someone else born right in your trench, right in your family, ready-made to do trench warfare on your behalf. That is why I am here–to fight for him, beside him, in the trench.

Destiny is in a trench nearby. Maybe 9 or 10 years old, on ADD medication, Mormon by family choice, living with her grandmother because her mother, for whatever reason, just couldn’t handle raising her. And she’s picking up a violin for the second semester. So every two weeks, I get to kneel by her and show her how to coax a song out of piece of wood and a bundle of horse hair. And maybe I get to show her a little love that she doesn’t get too often.

My friend Lizzie told me this:

“No one can prepare you for the ways this [getting in the trenches] changes you. If any of these encounters are NOT something, they are not heroic. They are not inspiring. They are not dramatic.

But. If God calls you to those trenches, in whatever field He chooses, you will bury your hands in the same dirt as He.”

Yes. I will be sinking my fingers into the same dirt, maybe writing mercy in it for the scarred and wandering, just as He did (John 8:6).

The point is not to find a glamorous trench, or an especially dark and dirty trench, or even a new trench. The point is that if you are walking on the ridges instead of getting down in the middle of life–where people and problems and pain are, you can’t be living like Jesus.

Because Jesus didn’t stay up safe on a plain above us.

He got down and got dirty, stripped away His heavenly beauty and invulnerability, and became one of us. Subject to our temptations. Exposed to cold, hunger, homelessness, misunderstanding.

For us.

I can’t NOT go into the trenches. Whether my trench tomorrow is new or old, a nursing home or my own kitchen, a violin class or an unexpected counseling session, a women’s prison or a road trip with my brother, I’m surrounded by trenches calling me to come to the battle.

So I will go. Not armed with hate for the sinner. Not looking for sensation and easy fixes. Truly, and blessedly, overflowing with love that can’t wait to get out and see what God will do with a life that belongs to Him.

When I’m rubbing Verda’s swollen ankles or showing Destiny just where to put her fingers on the violin string, something happens.

The cares and worries and tiny, unnecessary, meaningless chaff of my life drift away and I realize what I was made to do:

Be a friend of sinners, pointing them to their Ultimate Friend.

In whatever trench I happen to find myself.


“ ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ These men without possessions or power, these strangers on Earth, these sinners, these followers of Jesus, have in their life with him renounced their own dignity, for they are merciful. As if their own needs and their own distress were not enough, they take upon themselves the distress and humiliation of others. They have an irresistible love for the down-trodden, the sick, the wretched, the wronged, the outcast and all who are tortured with anxiety. They go out and seek all who are enmeshed in the toils of sin and guilt. No distress is too great, no sin too appalling for their pity. If any man falls into disgrace, the merciful will sacrifice their own honour to shield him, and take his shame upon themselves.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship ―

When Jesus Says Hi

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 “And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.”

– Matthew 28:9, ESV –


I imagine that they were having a rotten day.

Surely the disciples had never been more discouraged. After the crucifixion, grief numbed them. Guilty for running, angry with the injustice of it all, they hid.  And how empty they must have felt. What, after three years of following the Teacher, did they have to show for it? What’s more…where did they have to go?

Sometimes, when I read their story, I forget that this was real, that these disciple names belong to eternal souls that I will meet in person one day.

And, among pages and narrations, I forget the humanity behind the words. They were surely at their darkest moment spiritually. Lost without a leader. Petrified that they would be next to be condemned and left to suffocate on a cross. Absolutely alone, even as they huddled together. Absolutely miserable.

Matthew says that two women–both named Mary–went to see the tomb (Matthew 28:1). Other gospels mention that a group of women went with spices to put on his corpse (Mark 16:1-4; Luke 24:1-3; John 20:1). Maybe they just wanted to see one more time, to assure their doubting minds that, yes, He was really gone. He was really dead.

These women, who just went to see the tomb, saw a whole lot more than they bargained for.

Angels in blinding white. Sprawled guards, tumbled every which way. Ground that trembled with unutterable joy.

And the words.

“He is going  before you.”

So they ran.


This is where it gets good.

Because I have been in tough places. Haven’t you?

I’ve been through some of those times when you just don’t know what comes next. It all seems dark. You thought a rescue was on the way, but it doesn’t seem to be coming.

And then it happens.

You’re trudging on your way and Jesus shows up.

And what does He say?

Not “Ta da!” Not “I am here to rescue you.” Not “You sure were impatient.”

He showed up in those women’s path and said hello.

“Greetings,” some versions say.

My family read this passage yesterday, and this greeting struck me as odd. These women have been grieving Him as dead for days. Plus, they’ve just had the shock of their lives, being told by a real angel that Jesus had risen. Talk about whiplash!

And then He shows up and says hi.

So, curious, I looked up this strange word.

“Greetings,” the ESV records.

But it is a strange, wonderful word, this greeting.

Chairo. It is Greek, and it means “greetings, salutations, hello.” 

But it also means, “Rejoice!” The common New Testament words for joy (chara), and grace (charis) comes from this root word for “greetings” or “rejoice.”

And it thrills through me.

How when all was lost and dark and hopeless for these sorrowing women, Jesus showed up. And there is no rebuke, no victorious declaration. Just a greeting.

A greeting that says to them, “Be glad! I am risen! So be full of joy.”

Two things stand out to me about this passage.

First, when we think Jesus has abandoned us, He still shows up. Whether we are in a deep pit of hopelessness or in a tizzy of doubt and disbelief, or overcome by wondering “Is He really back? Do we dare believe the light and the voice, saying that He is living and powerful?”– He still shows up. And, in coming, He calls us to rejoice.

Second, I am overcome by this greeting. Wow. To have such powerful ideas wrapped up in one word, Chairo.

Chairo. Hi there. Rejoice. There is hope. Don’t give up. Jesus is back.

And I wonder how we can speak Chairo. Ann Voskamp, in her One Thousand Gifts, talks about eucharisteo, a related word for giving thanks. She orients her whole thesis around this Greek beauty of a word, aligning her sorrowing soul with its teachings, reminding herself of the blessing of obeying in the command to “give thanks always” (1 Thess. 5:18).

Something like that can be done with Chairo, I think. There is a lifestyle wrapped in this word. Like being a light, or being salt. Like this picture Jesus paints:

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” – John 7:38, ESV

Can you hear the fountain pouring in that Chairo greeting? It is the sound of all the hope and joy and possibility flowing back into the lives of all who loved Jesus.

So, I want to speak Chairo. When I say hello, I want to be overflowing with this message: “Hi there. Rejoice! Jesus is alive!”

Sometimes it will be words. Sometimes, maybe Chairo can be held in a smile, or a loving touch, or a hand reaching out to give help.

But there will always be a message behind Chairo. For all those in darkness, Chairo signals the beginning of the light.

Even today, He says “Chairo” — “Rejoice!” — to our doubting hearts. Philippians 3:1 says “Chairo in the Lord, always”! And the joy bubbles up, because Jesus was not in the tomb. He was right alongside the women, and now He is right alongside us.

The tomb days are over. The resurrection life has begun. So let’s live out this chairo, this rejoicing.

Because that’s what happens when Jesus says hi.


“When the heart is full of joy, it always allows its joy to escape. It is like the fountain in the marketplace; whenever it is full it runs away in streams, and so soon as it ceases to overflow, you may be quite sure that it has ceased to be full. The only full heart is the overflowing heart.”

– Charles Spurgeon –

My Grip

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“Many plans are in a person’s mind,
    but the Lord’s purpose will succeed.”

 – Proverbs 19:21, CEB –


Not long ago, I realized that I take a lot of pride in my grip.

And I don’t mean how strong my hands are.

I like to have it all together. Yeah…classic firstborn. Self-made standards, organization, to-do lists, and all. And then, a couple months ago, a crisis bared my inadequacy.

My mom, a friend, and I were talking with some neighbors near our home when a pack of dogs rushed past us and attacked my dog Tex, who is a border collie/German shepherd mix. The dogs’ owner ran into the fray, yelling as if his lungs would burst any second. My mom rushed across the grass to the fight. Bystanders tried to shoo the attacking dogs away.

Me?

All I could do was cry.

I had never felt more helpless in all my 22 years. My friend later commented that all the hope seemed to go out of me.

See, I knew those dogs. I was scared of them, and I knew my dog was a wimp. He was not going to put up much of a fight, especially against such massive, snarling opponents. He would have turned tail and whimpered away…but he couldn’t.

In that awful moment when the dogs attacked, I remember grabbing the nearby fence, doubling over, praying, and just crying. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. I just knew my dog was dead. I gave up, right then. It was over.

That’s when I learned how much I trust my grip.

When my control was stripped away, I stopped functioning.

Now, that was a tiny moment in life. And, thank God, I was proven wrong. The dogs’ owner was able to save my dog’s life. He walked away without even a scratch.

But that tiny moment showed me a big flaw in myself. Because I like to be in control. I really, really like it.

Sometimes, I still feel my grip tightening. It is not as instant and dramatic as the dog fight incident, but I get paralyzed by fear all the same. Somehow, I think that if I could just get a handle on everything, it would be okay.

“Never fear, Shelbie is here!” Right?

Today, a friend wrote me and told me about some of the hard things going on in her life.

My grip tightened–I wanted so badly to give her all the answers. I wanted so much to be the savior, the one who could make the hurt go away. I wanted to play God a little while and wipe the tears and make things come out happy in the end.

And I couldn’t.

I offered a few words of truth, but I felt the powerlessness of my replies.

It was out of my control. And there was nothing I could do about it.

And you know what? I am not the savior of this world. So why do I so often try to be just that?

Why do I lay upon myself the responsibility to make sure my life, and the lives of those I love, go smoothly? How full of pride am I, to think that I can handle this job of Manager of the Universe? Where did I get the idea that the position was even up for grabs?

My grip of late has been loosening.

Throughout my Christian walk, I’ve been learning to let go of things. My future, my health, my dreams–I’ve placed them in my Lord’s loving hands again and again.

But somehow I keep sneaking off with a piece of my life and try to smooth it all out on my own.

It is silly. It is a deadly toxin of pride and fear. It can steal all the joy out of living, and strip everything of color.

Because I really don’t have a very good grip at all.

Often, lying in bed, I think about things: future things, past things, things I wish I could do. The person I wish I were. So many plans.

And I’m learning to let them go. It is scary, and painful, and so very freeing.

It boils down to what I trust: my sweaty, white-knuckled grip, or the unwavering, all-powerful, love-scarred hand of my Lord?

So I offer up my life again.

My dreams. My friends. My trust in my own sufficiency. My independence. My quest to always have the answer. All of these, I offer up.

This is what it must mean to be a living sacrifice. Old things are dying, sloughing off, and new life is starting to shine through.

He must increase, and I must decrease.

Trust me, everyone is much better off. His grip is way better than mine.


“Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.”

 – Lina Sandell –

The Mist

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“A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine.”

 – Anne Bronte –

Orange and gold, the fireball

Arrested my attention with light millions of miles from home.

The gold trail sneaked over the heads of the trees and fell across the lake,

Still, silent, all-brightening.

The mists started climbing the warming air,

Air convected by a distant, near, all-present flame.

Over the skin of the water, sometimes blue, gray, green,

The mists rose in columns and drifted in untraceable, rolling threads of vapor.

Sun lit across the rising, blowing cirrus wisps, and the air itself shone with glory,

Wisps that will disappear in the later heat of day.

I sat on the dock in the mist and watched the sun golden itself on the visible currents,

And I thought how life is a vapor, and my God like the sun.

Soon, my mist will blow away and shimmer free in the heat of life,

But now, while it is morning,

I will rise up and catch the Sun’s rays.

A mist with a message, I will glow in the gold of a distant, near, all-present Flame.


Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

 – John 8:12, NKJV –