Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I am Able But it is Not Possible for Me: The Place of No in Giving

He came to our door with a crumpled instant photograph in his hand. Over hot milky tea he explained to us that his wife had just had surgery to remove a tumor from her stomach. We had the unpleasant privilege of seeing pictures of the tumor as he illustrated the truth of his predicament.  

Two trays of mandazis, a full pot of chai, and an hour later came the request. Could we give him money to pay the hospital bill, please?

Living in a very remote African village required that we plan carefully. We traveled into town only once every month for supplies. 

Unfortunately for this day’s visitor, it was week three and our allotted money for giving was gone. The last of it had walked out the door in the form of a kilo of maize meal for a local widow the day before. We simply had no cash at all for anything. The chickens weren’t even laying eggs.

As we explained to him that we could not help him today, we could see disbelief reflected in his eyes. After all, we had a tin roof over our mud house, a luxury indeed. We had a huge barrel in the back to collect precious rain water. Surely we were wealthy.

I asked him to come back another week, and we would help him. That answer was not sufficient for him, and he left disappointed and angry with us.

As I watched him walk down the dusty road, the golden evening sunset shimmering on the palm leaves as he passed, I was in anguish. 

I was stuck between the obvious truth that I was able to give, simply because I had More, and the reality that in this moment I was unable to give, because I did not have what he asked for. I did not like being misunderstood.

We spent long hours reflecting on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:42, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

A friend observed that Jesus does not say in this passage what to give, He just commands that we give and not turn away.

We had given our time, our compassion, our food, and friendship. But we had not given him money, the thing for which he asked. Was it enough?

It was not until many mistakes and long years later that I learned a phrase in Arabic, Knq’dr, walakin ma’yimkinlish, which translated means, “I am able to, but it is not possible for me at this time.” 

After watching me exhaust myself with too many yes’s that should have been no’s, a local friend quietly pulled me into the kitchen one day and explained to me this gem of a reply. You can’t save everyone, she said to me. My Muslim sister-friend saw something I did not.

I did not see that giving hearts sometimes say no.

But is that okay, I wondered? Shouldn’t I give everything? Sacrifice? Lay my life down? When the requests would come, I would think to myself, I am able. So I must.

I am afraid in my attempt to be like Christ I was rather being a fool.

As I dug deeper into the gospels, I began to understand that Jesus often did not give people the thing for which they asked. Yet He always gave. In fact His very ministry years seemed contrary to all they expected and demanded of the coming King.  

Knq’dr, walakin ma’yimkinlish. But He was Jesus, God of the Universe. He was certainly able, but yet did not always give what they asked for. 

In Matthew 14 when the disciples asked him to send the crowds away for something to eat, they were really asking Jesus to give them a break from giving. Ministry with Jesus was exhausting! They just added a practical, logical observation to the request in hopes it would justify the heart of the petition: we are tired, give us a break.  

Jesus did not give them the break they asked for. Instead, He gave them an opportunity to serve beyond their exhaustion and lean on His strength in their inability. Five thousand people were fed that day because He said no to their original request, and they learned that He takes our lack and multiplies His provision.

In Matthew 15, the Canaanite woman asked Jesus to deliver her daughter. She addressed Jesus in the most formal and respectful way she could come up with: “Lord Son of David”. This identified Him as Jewish, emphasizing her own cultural difference from him as a Canaanite. She was an outsider. It was a formality, much like we would address a person of authority whose help we needed.

Jesus gave her silence in return, at least at first. He challenged her and the listening crowds’ prejudiced and racist assumptions about deservedness, and waited. 

She responded in faith, making the great leap from approaching him as a formal authority to recognizing Him as her Lord, in verse 27. She received the gift of faith and a relationship with the Savior that day. And in the end her faith gained her the original request… her daughter was delivered.

I was intrigued with Jesus’ deep composure and listening posture. He was never afraid to be silent, answer slowly, wait. I often respond the opposite; I feel anxious and pressured to help and provide a needed request as soon as possible. Patient, thoughtful giving requires faith and listening to the Holy Spirit.

As I began to try to walk in Jesus’ footsteps of giving and not turning away, of listening to the Holy Spirit to lead me in how or what to give, I found myself saying no more than yes. 

I found that my reputation was riddled with pride, and I did not like the feeling of being thought of as anything but completely generous. 

Was my giving about giving, or was it about my image? Was the heart of my generosity a desire to see others helped in Christ’s name, or in my own?

I slowly let go of pride (am still letting it go daily) and began asking God to examine my motives. I found that I had to rely on the Father more than myself with this kind of giving habit, trusting Him with the ones He sent instead of thinking their help depended on me.

I started praying more, relying on Him more for them. Less on me. And my giving became increasingly more joyful, invigorating, not exhausting. My faith grew as I watched my no open the door to God's bigger yes. I realized I had sometimes actually gotten in His way with my obsessive yes's.

What is most important to me now is that I give what God leads me to give to the one asking. It is sometimes painful not to give what is asked for, because on the surface it can look like rejection. As the man walked away from our mud house that African afternoon so long ago, he felt rejected. 

But we knew that we treated him honorably and honestly, and that Christ did not reject him that day.  Our love was sincere, and the words we gave him were Truth. We can rest in that.

Giving hearts sometimes say no. I am able, but it is not possible for me at this time. Knq’dr, walakin ma’yimkinlish.

Let’s be listening givers. Patient, able to wait on the leading of the Lord. May we do those in need the honor of seeking God for them, for He sees the deepest needs of the heart and probes every circumstance. He surely loves them more than we can fathom, and will show us what to give.

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:42

What are your thoughts about the place of no in giving? Share your insights in the comment section below.

TWEETABLES:

Jesus often did not give people the thing for which they asked. Yet He always gave.  (Click to Tweet)

Giving hearts sometimes say no. (Click to Tweet)



Thursday, April 23, 2015

When Forgiveness Takes Time

Whether we like it or not, whether it sounds spiritual or not, whether it is how we have understood sermons on forgiveness or not, the simple truth is that forgiveness is not always possible instantly.  

We are commanded to forgive as we have been forgiven. But that obedience is not necessarily a moment’s decision, a rapid release, a forgetting.

I have diligently spent many moments teaching my three children to cultivate the habit of forgiving one another. There is a sad lack of forgiveness in our world today, leading to many broken lives and relationships. 

However, as one who has suffered deep trauma and endeavored on the long mountain passage of penetrating forgiveness work,I have learned that there is a type of forgiveness, the kind that clangs with the noise of chains breaking loose and feet running free, that takes time.

We hurt each other and we cause pain. Some wounds are life-threatening to the pulse of our very being. Cruel words brand our souls and leave a holocaust number upon their tender skin, reminding us of irreparable loss. 

What is precious is stolen, and despair threatens to destroy hope. We lay upon our faces weak and unable to contemplate the mighty freedom act of forgiving the perpetrators.

But it is then that Christ comes. (At least that is what we think; He has been there all along but it is then that we perceive His presence). He comes quietly, gently, and tenderly. He sits with us in our ashes, and places our head upon His lap, waiting, nourishing, mending, binding wounds. Until we are stronger. Until we are ready.

When we are healed enough to stand, we rage. We lift our fists and ask the heavens, “Why?” We demand to know, “Where were You, God, when…?” He does not shrink from our angry questions. Instead, He answers them.

It is then that we see Him hanging on the cross, pointing to the one who hurt us, saying, “Father, forgive him.”

And we are stilled. For the moment.

The long journey to forgiveness is like a footpath through valleys and over mountains, wide at times and narrow at others. Level and smooth pathways followed by treacherously rugged passages. We all must stand up, and take the next step, and the next on this pathway. 

Forgiveness is work. It is not some mindless little assent to let it go. 

The instant forgiveness I train my six-year-old to extend to her big brother after he marks on her picture is only the smallest beginning to training the habit of forgiveness, the attitude of forgiveness, the perseverance of forgiveness that must be exercised on this life-long journey. Sin has marred our world, and some wounds cannot be instantly forgiven. And they certainly cannot be forgotten.

We are not God that we can forget. Oh, that we could!

However, we can take the hand of Jesus, the One who accomplished life-restoring Forgiveness, and follow Him as He works restoration in our own hurting hearts. 

I have often imagined my forgiveness journey as me on His back, Him carrying me, Forgiveness carrying me. His forgiveness carrying mine until I can walk on my own. 

It takes faith to climb on His back, to accept His work of forgiveness as a faith-promise of the forgiveness that is indeed possible in our own hearts as we trust Him. Maybe we can’t feel our forgiveness yet, but we can believe in His, and so we trust it and go with Him. 

And one day, we find we are standing, walking, running. Forgiveness has set us free. It is ours now.

God cares about our woundedness, and in His economy of forgiveness there is time enough for our healing. As we work out forgiveness step by step, He makes us stronger and restores our souls. We begin to feel lighter, and when we reach the mountain passes on this journey, we may be surprised to find our feet leaping upon the high places like a deer.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.
-Habakkuk 3:17-19

Somehow, as we trek onward and upward with Christ as our guide (for surely He knows the way to true forgiveness; He himself forged it from the granite of human sin), our burdens grow lighter and our hearts expand with greater capacity for love and joy in the place where pain once lived.

Have you given yourself permission to take the time you need to forgive someone who has hurt you deeply? Share your insights into the forgiveness journey in the comment section below.

TWEETABLES

There is a type of forgivenessthe kind that clangs with the noise of chains breaking loose and feet running free, that takes time. (Click to Tweet)

Forgiveness is work. It is not some mindless little assent to let it go. (Click to Tweet)


Thursday, April 16, 2015

The One Clear Thing in Parenting



I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children. (Genesis 18:19)

It has been said by a wise mother of five that there is a little alarm on the toilet that goes off every time a mother sits down, alerting her children to burst into chaos and pressing need of her attention.  

I have tested that theory and must agree that it appears to be true.



I have also developed my own theory as of late, and that is that vacations are not really restful with little ones in tow. And for parents of young children, little ones are always in tow on vacation, for where else would they be on the family getaway?

It was day three of our vacation and I was restless. I wanted to take a bubble bath, curl up with a good book, just do whatever I wanted to do. But the incessant needs of my children were clamoring around me, and I began to feel more like a hired hand than someone away to rest a few days.

The grass from the Easter baskets was everywhere, and wrapping from its contents was scattered across the room. Wet boots and socks made soggy from building dams in the creek cluttered the entryway, hung on the chair. Fights over which Boy Scout could stack the firewood the best, which child got to sit in the recliner, or whose turn it was to take the dog out rattled the cabin rafters, making our quiet retreat anything but.

I was beginning to wish for school to start again.

As I settled down finally in a lukewarm bath, the curtain pulled around me to protect me from the constant barging in that is inevitable in a one-bathroom cabin in the woods, I sought to find purpose in all this. My desires, their desires, everyone’s needs were making everything clouded and irritating.

God’s voice has a quiet strength that rings through such noise. 

One thing is clear: I have been chosen to be these children’s mother, and I am to do it with wonder and love, gentleness and patience. 

I have not been chosen to take bubble baths and do what I want to do every day. Not even on vacation. 

I can surely entrust my own real needs for rest and quiet to the One who has provided all I need always, in every season. 

But this one thing is very clear. I am to love my children and serve them, shepherding them toward the One who loves them more than even I or their father does.

So away with selfish restlessness, resenting the needs for training, discipline, loving instruction and attention. Away, self.

Look to the little ones and give to them. And like the creek outside where their homemade boats race happily, I will be constantly refilled.

What is the one clear thing in the midst of your noise and clouds today? Still your heart and listen for it, look for it, share it with me.

TWEETABLES

Tired parents can count on God to give them the rest they need. (Click to Tweet)





Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Lord Will Fight For You

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. -Exodus 14:14

There was a dark night long ago in North Africa when my husband and I faced danger on a walk home. As we made our way down the deserted, cobbled streets to our neighborhood, some young men approached us, drunk and aggressive. Showering us with insults, they followed us to the small alley that led to our home. 

My husband opened the massive wood doors to our house, pushed me in, and secured the locks as he turned to the men outside.  I stood in the foyer paralyzed with fear as I listened to the men surrounding him and threatening him. 

His voice remained calm and steadfast as he spoke to them, trying to persuade them to leave. As I paced in prayer and frantic worry, I heard the voice of my small son upstairs, calling out for his Daddy.

The sound of a bottle shattering outside filled me with fear as I raced up the stairs to my son’s room.

In the quietness of his bedroom, my little boy sat up in bed and reached his arms out to me. “I want Daddy. Where is he?”

“He’ll be up soon,” I replied as I took him in my arms and rocked him back to sleep, hoping he could not feel my racing heartbeat. His eyes closed gently in sleep as he murmured again, "I want my Daddy."

A short while later the ancient wooden doors groaned as my husband came inside from the street.  I ran to him to see if he was okay.  He had managed to persuade them to leave and no one was hurt. He was safe, the men were gone, and we were all secure again.

I have often wondered where God is when I cry out to him and he does not seem to act or move or come to me with comfort right away. That night, an understanding dawned upon my weary mind.

Perhaps He is fighting for me.

My son wanted the comfort of his father that night, but his father did not come right away. His father was completely consumed with him, though. All that was on his father’s mind was him and his family. And protecting, defending, making them safe.

God’s mind is on you and me today.

He is consumed with protecting, defending, and making us safe from the enemy who schemes against us. God fights for us, and we can trust and be still. He is our great Rescuer, and he gave His life to secure our peace.

Are you fighting today? Have you the courage to stand still and allow the Lord to fight for you?


Share with me how you have seen God fight for you in your life.

TWEETABLES

The Lord will fight for you; be still. (Click to Tweet)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Place of the Why


“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” -Matthew 27:46

She left me quietly while I was hoping and dreaming of her future. The olive trees were heavy with snowy white blooms, and the thorny lemon tree flowered in our walled garden, filling it with heady, sweet fragrance. Life emerged all around me, and I celebrated, not knowing life had slipped away.

When we learned our baby had died, I withdrew to my room alone with God and wept. The only passage I could seem to see was one simple word from Matthew 27:46, WHY? It leapt off the page at me as if added only then for this present pain. 

In those ten days of solitude and mourning I felt Christ compelling me to shout, to scream, to demand with all my anguish, why?????

I had supposed before the searing loss of my daughter that really good Christians aren't allowed to ask why. It was somehow forbidden, faithless.

I was completely mistaken.

Since that time, I have come to understand that the Place of the Why in each of our lives is a necessary passageway to Resurrection Morning. It is a narrow footpath that leads those who will take it to a place of New Life, of impossible life, rising out of the death of hopes and dreams.

We seldom hear an Easter sermon probing the darkness of the question Why. It is the question our Savior asked in His moment of agony on the Cross. It is the question we all ask in our agony, though some would stifle it, reason it away, stuff it deep into the recesses of fear and denial. It is the Great Why, and it is a requisite doorway to enter the Life of Resurrection morning.

Our human need for comfort and our avoidance of conflict drives us to focus on Easter Bunnies, Daffodils and Happiness. For those who are hurting this Easter, however, there remains an unanswered question, suffocating them in the midnight of their pain and deafening them in the silence of their suffering. We are not talking about it enough. 

But Christ gave us permission to ask the question in his final moments on Calvary, before He accomplished the victory we all are longing for.

Matthew 27 reads like a high-speed chase, one which we watch anxiously with dread in our guts, knowing it will inevitably end in a fatal collision. We feel the anguish as Judas realizes he has committed a grave and devastating sin, and hangs himself in despair. 

We bite our nails as the life-giving Jesus stands before governors and is traded for a murderer. We cringe as the soldiers mock him, spit on him, and fight over his clothes.  

Then to our horror, it is done, He is hung upon rough wood, exposed, vulnerable, dying. And the collision of suffering God in human flesh and breathless Silence in His heaven resounds with a crashing, baffling cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The legalistic order of things has forever changed. God has given permission to Man to ask why.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We are not privy to the moments that follow to any audible or visible answer to His agonizing question. It would appear that God remained silent.

And for many of us, in our Place of the Why, it would appear that God remains silent.

Are you in the silent Place of the Why this Easter season?

If you are, brave one, heaven waits expectantly, to know if you will trust Him even here.

Your Savior stands near you, and He understands your pain and your questioning.

Just beyond this place a short distance is a broad and beautiful land, a place where faith has grown beyond the borders of answers and knowledge.  It blooms beautifully in the light of a child who would trust not only the Father she understands, but the one she does not. And there is much rest of soul in that.


Look up, broken heart. In this place new life is rising, Resurrection morning.

Break the silence and share your story with me.

TWEETABLES

As He suffered, Christ gave us permission to ask the question why. (Click to Tweet)