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 –

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

 

 

 

Why I Can’t Rescue You

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“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”

– Vance Havner –

They say an eagle will push her chick from the nest to teach it flight,

But I see you plummeting with no downy back in sight

To bear up underneath you, to catch you before gravity overwhelms.

Your face stills, dry of laughter as desert bones,

Your hands lay unmoved in your lap. I know

That there must be something to do, some way to break in.

Jagged incisor-tooth mountains of fear taunt you,

And I grab up a stick to keep them at bay, wondering who

Else would come to rescue if I don’t.

Your closet holds monsters I can’t see, monsters of memory

And deeper scars than routine life reveals, and heavy mysteries

That bow your soul, stoop your shoulders.

You walk a moon-basked road lined with hidden pain that leaps

Upon you every chance it can, creeps

Upon you, leaves you breathless again.

They say an eagle catches the chick she made to fall…

But I am not an eagle, I find, not at all.

Too few feathers, and can’t fly myself.

I tried to be your desert fount and found not joy enough

To irrigate the desolation of a true-thirsty soul. Not enough.

My joy ran dry in trying it.

I shook my stick at the mountains, and they bit

Back with all their craggy wrath, and I never before knew it–

How feeble a stick is against a face of stone.

I brought out a candle to shine into your closet of fears,

And found there dark that swallowed all my mustered light in tears,

So my light wasn’t light enough.

And your moon-bright path of anguish lurking is a path barred

To all but one. Yourself, the scarred,

Must walk it alone.

This is why I can’t rescue you.

My wings, joy-fount, my stick too,

Stub of candle, company…all not enough.

So maybe I’ve been sent for this instead,

To play John and shout out the Lamb’s coming tread

Upon the dry sands of your soul.

To tell you the Eagles are coming before very long,

That the plummet ends in feathered wing, not from

An untimely meeting with the ground.

To run ahead and call out to you the coming end of desert,

Proclaim a day free from burning sun, a coming rest

Where joy will spring unhindered from a truer Fount.

I searched and found a surer Mountain-Slayer than my stick,

A Mountain-Layer, Molder, Engraver, to whom they are toothpicks,

With hands strong-tender enough to hold the fears at bay, and hold you.

I’ll come to you and blush color in praise, like a dawning sky

Crowns the rising of day’s king as he lifts his gold eye on high,

For a Light comes, light enough for every darkest closet you have.

And your lonely road–pain-wracked, thorn-tangled way?

He that molded the soft moon molded, too, that dark way

And meets you there, He who, too, is the Scarred.

This is why I cannot rescue you, be your savior, make it all right and good,

But maybe every sad thing, after all, is coming untrue, and would

You let me walk into believing it with you?


“I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
    Where will my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,
    the maker of heaven and earth.”

– Psalm 12:1-2, CEB –