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 –

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In These Hands, Part 2

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       2013 is almost over. New Years is approaching. 2014 is days away. And you’re back! I’m so glad we can share Part 2, after In These Hands, Part 1, was published two weeks ago!  Let’s dive in!

“God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell… In the bottom line realm of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word ‘deserve’ does not even apply.”

– Philip Yancey, emphasis mine –

– Perfect Gifts –

God is really good at filling open hands.

If faith is ” two empty hands held open to receive all of the Lord,” as Alan Redpath says, then what is it that we receive?

Most important, if we belong to Christ, the most glorious gift is Him. God with me, God with you, always.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

 – Romans 8:31-32, NKJV, emphasis mine –

So, “all of the Lord” encompasses not only His sparing us from wrath but also His freely giving us all things.

I’m coming to realize, like a bright dawn that slowly lifts out of the darkness, that open hands are not necessarily empty hands.

Augustine had something to say about this: “

God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”

This goes beyond a cotton-candy gospel and reveals that our sins are still clinging to us–or that we are clinging to them. Our self-will, our determination to hold on to our own ways, the control we crave–all of these show our fingernails-dug-in grasp on our idols.

That age-old quest, the prelude to the angelic fall–“I will be like God.”

Like God, able to hold on tight to things. Like God, controlling every detail. Like God–that power would feel so good, fill the empty places. We think so, anyway.

And so, even in our nice Christian wrapping, in our church-face facade, we bow before idols, wrapping our power-hungry hands around their feet.

Our hands are too full of trash to hold the good things.

In order to hold Him, to cradle the Best there is, we have to believe that He rewards the seeker. We have to trust that He is Who He says He is. We have to be awakened to the fact that our idols are coals burning us up even as we hold them tightly. We have to turn away in disgust at the filth we’ve been clasping fondly. Repent and believe. That He is. That He will reward you when you seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

When we open our hands and release what we’re holding so tightly, our Father doesn’t strip anything away without giving us much more. This isn’t a health-and-wealth prosperity gospel or a follow-this-formula princess theology, as worldview teacher John Stonestreet calls it. This is God’s promise.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

– Matthew 16:25, NIV. emphasis mine –

When He awakens us and we see that He is a far greater treasure than anything else…

When our eyes open and we stare up into the face of a God  who comes down to our level….

When we throw off all we call life for a Better Prize

He strips off the sin, washes the guilt, pries our fingers off our idols, and then pours abundance into our open palms. He’s a God that blesses the cursing, gives gifts to the thieves, and ransoms the mockers. He’s a God that washes clean our pig-sty hearts and makes us hate the sin-wallows. He’s a God that tells you to let go.

Not because He doesn’t want you to have good things.

The truth is…you will never have good things if you always hold on to your things. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words can penetrate our “God wants to make me miserable” fears:

“The right way to pray is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father.”

It’s faith again, girls. When we open hands, we have to keep stretching, keep unfolding, keep those fingers pried back. But the good new is that faith isn’t mustered up. You see, even faith is His gift to us.

And one step of faith gives birth to another. Stormie Omartian, a writer of women’s books on prayer, says,

“When we step out in that faith, God increases our faith. In other words, acting in faith begets more faith.…We have no idea what great things God wants to do through us if we would just stop out in faith when he asks us to” (The Power of a Praying Woman, page 232, emphasis mine).

Open hands are the only way, you see, to hold His gifts.

“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

Open Hands are Brave Hands

When I was a little girl, I loved a book series about a girl stolen away by Vikings. I adored her fortitude and how her faith flourished in exile, as she became so much more than she ever could have by staying safe in the Irish hills.

When I read those books, one of her prayers thrilled me. It still is almost like a heartbeat to me:

“Give me a heart of courage.”

But now I see it’s not just my heart that needs a bravery boost. It’s my hands.

Only brave hands are strong enough to open.

Only brave hands can open and then receive God and all His gifts that He delights to shower.

And only brave hands can use those open fingers to reach out and grab another hand.

We can’t reach if our hands are balled into fists. We can’t receive anything. And we certainly can’t give. Closed hands reveal a closed heart. Whatever the reason for withdrawing, closed hands close off relationships.

Join me, will you? Join me in opening my hands from now on.

And those of you who are already working up New Year’s resolutions? Forget 2014 for this one.  A year’s too small. Let’s make this the Life of Open Hands.

Open, Gift-filled, Brave, Blessed Hands.

The prying-back might hurt. But can’t you see how much it’s worth?

And it all starts with saying yes to Him, in this moment.

“Yes Lord.”

Always yes.

“Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise….

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love….
Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.”

–  Frances Havergal, emphasis mine –

 

Thank you, Atalie, with Atalie Bale Photography, for today’s photo!

In These Hands, Part 1

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“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”

― Corrie ten Boom ―

Even Christians do it.

Some call it “snapping shut to grace,” the way pain and sin curl our hands into unbreakable fists of control (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts).

Toddlers do it, tightening hands until faces redden and screams peal for their way.

Angry people do it, when a leering face just beckons for that balled fist to take its best shot.

And fear–fear just constricts all of a person, doubling them until their curled-up body looks nearly ready to hide in the safety of a womb again. A vulnerable fetal position can quickly become the default position.

And I do it. Fearful, perhaps. Controlling, yes. Angry even, sometimes.

Yet, this week, my mind keeps drifting back to two ideas.

1. Unfurling Fingers

“I know not what He is about to do with me, but I have given myself entirely into His hands.”

– Catherine Booth –

First, that I must open my hands to Jesus. It’s hard, even in stillness, to be brave enough to open my fist and bare them to the cold air and expose them in vulnerability.

It seems that He asks to see what is in my grasp. There’s so much. Future. Dreams. People I care about. Ideas I don’t want stolen. Hopes I fear will be broken.

His prompting has continued for years. It still persists, my Savior’s call to unburden and release and open my hands. He took my wicked soul and made it new. But now I clench old again. He speaks.

So I uncurl my fingers.

It hurts a little. They’ve clenched too long. They’re stiff and a little unaccustomed to bending at His command. My fingers are numb and cold. I wonder, with a heart bounding, whether I’ve made a mistake.

Yesterday, I opened my hands again.

It’s something I’ve had to do a lot.

My journal tells the story, from a few months ago:

“My heart seems to be slamming on the brakes.

I am so full, so full–and my tether seems to be flying, coil upon coil.

Because I can’t keep focus for two minutes straight.

I don’t seem to be able to breathe without my eyes and heart going back.

And my eyes fill and heart clenches. And I fall again. O God, how many times today can I be laid out?

How many times, how thin can I stretch from something I’m giving over to You every minute it seems and taking back with more longing every other minute?”

What do I need to do? Yes, lay open my hands again. Hannah Whitall Smith has something to say about this:

“What you need to do, is to put your will over completely into the hands of your Lord, surrendering to Him the entire control of it. Say, “Yes, Lord, YES!” to everything, and trust Him to work in you to will, as to bring your whole wishes and affections into conformity with His own sweet, and lovable, and most lovely will.”

I’ve found that saying yes is not a one-time prayer.

It’s a way to live. More than that, in the hardest moments of surrender I have ever faced, I’ve found that it is a way to breathe.

When your heart is about torn in half, sometimes all you can do is breathe yes. “Yes Lord, Your will and not mine. Yes Lord, whatever the cost. Help me give over more. Yes Lord, I believe. Help me believe more. Yes Lord, I still love You. Help me love You more.”

The storm eventually drips and drains away. Wreckage strews your life in the aftermath. Things are blown a bit askew. You can hardly hope that you’ll ever be able to walk straight up again, after so many hours of leaning into a beating wind.

But it all fades. The pain of one moment or the dull throb of grasping at something that vanishes into vapor. When the ache seeps less and less, one things still remains. God was there with you. And in that hour you learned how desperately you needed Him to be there. Even more, you caught a glimpse of how much you need Him to carry you all the way through this life.

Trials that make us want to clench our fists can be one of two things. They are the tormenters that incapacitate us, or they are the teachers that show us how much our God can do. The question: Will we lay ourselves open, or close up tight and shrink from His touch?

“I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”    — Martin Luther

For those of you who really paid attention, though, I did say there were two things I’ve been pondering. Opening hands, yes. But what more?

Will open hands cradle only air?

You see, God is really good at filling open hands.

How He does that will have to wait until “In These Hands, Part 2.”  But first, next week we’ll talk about the Christ who makes Christmas an all-year celebration. And I, for one, can hardly wait for that.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….”

– Romans 12: 1-2a, NASB, emphasis mine –

Thanks to George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures, we had another great image for today’s post!

Take Heart

Old alarm clock

Have you ever felt….

Like you’ve held your breath for months, years?

That you’re waiting for something that just won’t seem to hurry up? That the watched pot just sits around and simmers and those bead-bubbles don’t boil even when you crank up the heat?

High school or college graduation, that longed-for job, that latest book, that moment of saying “I do,” the day you drive home a car bought with your own savings, that day you cradle a child that’s yours, that day you finally figure out how to fit 28 hours into 24, someday when the eternal stack of books by your bed will be read, that one day when you don’t mess up?

Patience sounds like an awfully nice virtue—until you have to have some.

Waiting sounds like a nice, feminine, quiet thing to do—until you have to sit around and actually attempt it.

What is it about waiting that makes our skin crawl with angst?

I think I know.

That nasty little word.

Control.

I ache with frustration because—while I don’t usually admit it to myself—sometimes my emotions take over and want to shove God right out of the driver’s seat. Because I can’t see what’s coming up and I’d sure appreciate a chance to steer my life in the “right” direction.

But—do you ever find yourself here?—when I nudge my Savior out of the driver’s seat, I grasp the steering wheel between too-small, sweaty fists and look up to see what’s ahead….

And I’m too short to see the road. All I can see is the big, fat roundness of the steering wheel. My head doesn’t even clear the dashboard of this ride called life.

So what happens when you wrestle for the wheel only to find out that you can’t control the universe after all?

See, the reasoning is that if we control it all, it will be fine.

All the cards will stack up.

All the pieces of the puzzle will click into place.

The jobs will line up.

Happiness will be around every corner.

Everything will be just right, Pollyanna–style.

But that’s just not how life works.

And–you want the truth? If we could truly control it all, we’d mess this world up big time.

Tired of traffic–ah, clear it away with a flick of a finger. And while the economy fails because thousands of workers aren’t getting to their jobs, you can sip your Starbucks and get to your office on time.

Wish you could stop waiting for that new car–why not get it now? Of course, then that lesson in God’s goodness won’t be of any use. Then, of course, your pride might just swell out of proportion. Then, of course, you might miss something even better.

See what I mean? We’d mess this world up royally if we could make everything go our way.

So here’s the thing: My way is not the best way. Not for me. Not for you. Not for anyone.

I have a confession. I’m selfish. I don’t like waiting. I like to have everything laid out, listed neatly in my best cursive on a floral day planner, perfectly categorized. I don’t like interruptions. I don’t like changes in the plans. I’m not so thrilled with the curve balls that God likes to throw. I like to see nice, neat checkmarks that tell me my life is counting for something.

Know why I’m okay with telling you this? Because you’re just like me.

Because we all have this bent back to the self-seeking, this from-birth craving to fill ourselves up with something–anything, really–that will satisfy.

So–maybe–when we’re so tired of waiting, we’re really having trouble believing that God will really fill us up?

Perhaps, when we try to wrestle control from an all-loving Father, it’s because we don’t really believe He’s good? Down deep, where our actions spring up?

Ann Voskamp, in her book One Thousand Gifts, says this is Satan’s lie, the trap that our first parents fell into:

“I wake and put the feet to the plank floors, and I believe the Serpent’s hissing lie, the repeating refrain of his campaign through the ages: God isn’t good. It’s the cornerstone of his movement. that God withholds good from His children, that God does not genuinely, fully, love us.

Doubting God’s goodness, distrusting His intent, discontented with what He’s given, we desire…I have desired…more” (page 14).

When we get tired of waiting for God’s good things, we’re saying that we’re not so sure that He’s really good. We’re not so sure that He really gives us everything we need for today. We’re not so sure that He is enough.

Elisabeth Elliot writes:

“‘My people have committed two sins,’ says the Lord in Jeremiah 2:13. ‘They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’

Discontent dries up the soul.” (Secure in the Everlasting Arms, pages 134-135)

In the waiting, is this not what parches us? This soul-drying that happens when we reject God’s gifts and abundance and go to hacking at the dirt with our own dented shovels, forming wells so broken that there’s no way to fill them?

This is how Satan fell–wanting more than the best there was, wanting to rip control right out from under his God.

This is how Adam and Eve fell–lusting for more than God with them.

This is how we every-day fall–rejecting the most glorious Gift, God with us again. No, we may not right-out reject Him. But in every-day living, we put on the brakes and jerk at the wheel and whine to God to let us take a spin at controlling this life.

So, now, we must fall again–only this time to our knees. Crying out for forgiveness, for grace for these hard hearts.

Again, Elisabeth Elliot says,

“And so it may be…God’s order is the reverse of what we expect. He is in each moment, in us , with us….Should we expect to see how things are working together for our good? No, not yet. We see not yet. We only know.

….In the barren places of my life I can be assured that God is there as He is when life is fruitful, and that the time is coming (give me patience, Lord, to wait!) when He will fulfill His word: ‘I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this’ (Isaiah 41:19-20).

Like little children on Christmas Eve, we know that lovely surprises are in the making. We can’t see them. We have simply been told, and we believe. Tomorrow we shall see. (from Secure in the Everlasting Arms, pages 176-177)

So, waiting isn’t just hard. It’s necessary.

It’s not just necessary. It’s what is best for us right now.

Absolutely best.

Don’t chafe against His call to wait. Some of the best things are coming up. But if you don’t wait, you might miss even better things now.

Waiting doesn’t mean standing still.

Sisters, let’s embrace our times of waiting–whatever we may be waiting for–as times to pour ourselves into knowing our Savior.

Because He is always enough.

And that Psalm 84:11 promise–that He will withhold no good thing from His upright ones?

That Isaiah 40:28-31 promise–that He will make us run without weariness if only we wait?

These God-breathed vows are rocks to build a life upon.

So, wait.

So, rest.

Today is given to us to live, not to pass the time until the next thing comes.

Let’s rejoice in His gifts for today–they are the best ones we could have at this time.

Lift up your chin and smile at the day–God’s made it just this way, crafted it just so, just for our good and His glory.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord  in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;
  be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

– Psalm 27:13-14, NIV, emphasis mine –

In the movie Fireproof, John Waller’s lyrics come through strong:

“I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience
While I’m waiting
I will serve You
While I’m waiting
I will worship
While I’m waiting
I will not faint
I’ll be running the race
Even while I wait.”

We worship here, girls. While we wait. We serve, here. We give all, here.

Our Jesus, precious Savior–give us grace. Grace for this day.

Thanks to Elbambolo Bambolina and Public Domain Pictures for the lovely photo!

Wishing for more encouragement to be content in this God-given time? Check out Ann Voskamp’s post about the only true happiness we can have!