Monday, January 24, 2011

Heart surgery...

I'm living through some humbling revelations right now. Revelations that opened a door into more ugliness that exists inside my heart, but which lead to hope.

Let me back up.

This past weekend, my father, sister, and three brothers all came to crowd into my house and fill it with suitcases and stories and laptops and laughter and logic puzzles and other odd things that make the six of us uniquely who we are...the things about us that make us belong to each other in a way that no one else ever could. We live scattered around the country, with no fewer than four hours and no more than however long it takes to drive from the Pacific to the Atlantic between us. In fact, between all five of them, they traveled over 11,000 miles for this weekend. So this visit has been a rare and highly-anticipated treat for all of us.

I prayed over the visit, longing for it to be a good one and not marred by anything undesirable.

But I was the one who stepped out of line.

Put simply, I snapped at my sister in front of everybody over something that definitely didn't warrant the way I raised my voice or the attitude that flew off my tongue. I apologized fairly quickly (although not quickly enough), and things were "patched up," yet for two days now, I've struggled with grief over what I did. My sister's been through a lot lately, and she definitely didn't need me snapping at her. She needs my love instead.

It doesn't seem fair that my sin would hurt her (as it definitely did) and hurt my witness for my Savior (to my family) more than it hurt me. It should hurt me instead. If I could go back and be hurt myself in order to take back the hurt I inflicted, I would. But that's not possible.

The grief and the questions of why and how I fell into temptation so easily have been hovering along the edges of my thoughts ever since. Sunday morning, I was worried that it was going to inhibit my ability to really sing out my praises the way I long to. How can you praise when you're struggling with guilt? But the first song my Holy-Spirit-inspired-worship leader and friend chose for us held the answer. I don't think she knows that it was for my sake that He picked that song to be first, but it most definitely was.

"I know He rescued my soul.
His blood has covered my sin
I believe... I believe."

Instantly, right in the middle of the E and A chords and up in front of everyone behind the keyboard, I was face to face with this question. Do I believe that? Do I believe that His blood covers both my sin and the hurt my sin caused?

"My shame, He's taken away
My pain is healed in His name
I believe....I believe."

Do I believe that He has taken away my shame, or am I clutching it too tightly? Do I believe that He heals not only my pain, but my sister's pain? Can I rest in His ability, instead of my own?

"My Redeemer lives
My Redeemer lives
My Redeemer lives
My Redeemer lives..."

Right then and there, I had a choice to make. To trust and believe that He really is both my Redeemer, and He is the Redeemer of each and every hurt caused by my sin--this sin. The decision was extraordinarily hard, in the way that things are when the devil chooses to torture you with something that you know other people would say isn't that big a deal.

Or when God chooses to take something "minor" and do heart surgery with it, which is definitely what He is doing.

And so I gave it all to Him. I submitted myself to whatever He wanted to teach me through it, and however He wanted to use it for His glory, no matter what that meant for me.

And the rest of worship became more meaningful, for we do not praise Him because of anything we do or don't do. The only worship that really matters is when we raise our voices to Him and say, "I will praise You for who You are." (Which happens to be the next song we sang.)

This morning, the whole incident came to mind again, and again I was wondering why in the world I did it. That's when something occurred to me. (It was probably Him talking.)

Here I’ve been, horrified that I snapped at my sister the way I did and wondering why I gave way so easily…yet I do this all the time to my kids and sometimes my husband as well. And I don’t think anything of it. Or rather, I know in the back of my mind that it's wrong, but I certainly don't feel the grief over it that I've felt over hurting my sister this weekend.

The reason this weekend's incident happened is as simple as the fact that, like many siblings, my sister and I grew up "going at each other." You see, as the one who happened to be born second (after me), she's often been the recipient of me snapping at her for little or no reason, probably since I was two and she was old enough to crawl over and innocently try to eat my crayons.

With almost everyone outside of my family, there is this natural guard that keeps me from snapping at them. But it's no where near as strong for my family...those whom I love most in the world. And so I snap at them when I get too tired, or just cranky, or forget that His patience is never-ending when mine is long gone.

The heart surgery continued as I realized something...

The thoughts that went through my mind before I snapped were nothing remarkable or unusual at all. And that makes it even worse, for if what comes out of the mouth is what’s in my heart, and if it is only a will-power-guard that keeps me from snapping at the rest of the world like that…then that means that my heart is no good with anyone. And it means that there is nothing unusual about my heart being in that state. Ugh.

I feel like God has opened a window into a hidden portion of my heart and shown me a bunch of blackness that I never knew existed. You all of the times I've thought about the sins we commit with our tongue, I always thought about how not sinning was holding your tongue. I never thought how much deeper God wants to go in something like this.

If Jesus said that he who even looks at a woman with lust in his heart is guilty of it, then surely she who thinks of another human with thoughts that (if not for that guard) would lead to snapping at them...then surely that means that I am guilty of snapping at hundreds and hundreds of people, throughout my entire life.

Oh, how much God still needs to do in my heart to take this out! Completely!

I am also wondering if that natural "guard" can be just as bad as we think it is good. For I see now that if my heart was truly like God’s for every person around me, then the guard would not be needed. I don't believe Jesus had it. And what if that guard is also what holds me back from many good things that God would have me say?

What I am trying to say is this:

In the past, when I've thought and prayed about how I sometimes treat my kids, I've thought that I need that same guard that stops me from yelling at other people to be raised to protect my kids, too. But now I realize how wrong that is. God doesn't want me to raise more guards. He wants to change my heart so the guard is no longer needed. Anywhere.

Clearly, the surgery has only begun. I don't have the power to remove my thoughts...the most I can do is choose not to encourage them or dwell on I will and do. But that is not enough.

The only other thing I can do is to, once again, give my heart to my Savior. I can submit to whatever is needful to tear these nasty roots out of my heart. I have no doubt that that the result will be something glorious and a testament to His goodness and greatness, both to me and to those around me.

And that gives me hope. Only imagine the freedom of never having to bite my tongue, because nothing but love exists!

Throughout this, I find myself so grateful for who He is, and what He gently persists in doing inside of me. These sorts of discoveries, after all, aren't a bad thing. What was bad already existed...this discovery is merely one grace-covered step along the way to the restoration of me, which is the most glorious gift of all.

And so, for today's Gratitude Monday (which I am still doing, though on more haphazard basis), I am grateful for:

561-565. All four of my brothers and sister

581. Their willingness to travel those 11,000 miles

582. That God's heart surgery is gentle and loving

583. That He does not exclude me from His presence when I mess up

584. That He does take away my shame

585. That His blood has covered my sin

586. That every difficult lesson is but one step in the process of being changed from glory to glory

587. And that each revelation of glory surpasses my wildest dreams and leaves me only hungry for more, that I may then be even more filled with praise for who He is.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

After rebellion...

I "found" this Psalm a few weeks back, but what I saw in it keeps sticking with me. It's something we all know in our head, but we so often let guilt and accusation keep us from truly realizing.

What I'm talking about, specifically, is consequences. We all know that sin has consequences, and that the wages of sin is death. We all know that we will reap what we sow.

We also all know that God is a God of grace and mercy...yet so often we think and act as though that grace and mercy has limits...that the twentieth time we fail and commit the same sin, God might want to make us wait longer to receive His mercy than He did when we'd only sinned the first time...or that we know we didn't really try at all, so our repentance now doesn't count. I trust I'm not the only one who's been there?

Psalm 107 is titled in my Bible, "The Lord Delivers Men from Manifold Troubles."

It tells how God delivers the hungry and thirsty and weak. It tells how He saves those who are lost in darkness. It tells how He saves those lost in storms, how He causes springs to come forth in the dessert to give life to those who are thirsty, and how He sets the oppressed high above their oppressors.

But right in the middle of it all are these verses:
"Fools, because of their rebellious way,
And because of their iniquities, were afflicted."
Do you see what jumped out at me? Is it nudging you?

Here we have ourselves, being fools. Rebelling. Not trying and failing, but rebelling!

And what do these fools do?
"Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble;"
And when they did, what did God do? Did He do any of the things that the devil tries to make us think He will do? Nope.
"He saved them out of their distresses.
He sent His word and healed them,
And delivered them from their destructions."
I love that. Not only did He save them, He healed them.

He heals us!

Even when the pain and distress that our mind and heart and body are suffering from is a direct result of our own rebellion!

That is incredible! No wonder the Psalmist goes on to declare:
"Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness,
And for His wonders to the sons of men!
Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And tell of His words with joyful singing!"

I will give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Progress in Haiti...

This is just a little note:

The news, lately, has been full of reminders of Haiti and the devastation wrought my last January's earthquake. As usual, there's also a decent amount of finger-pointing and blaming and accusations regarding how money was spent and how not enough was done, etc. The devil is working to discourage anyone and everyone, definitely!

And so I found it quite wonderful to read Compassion's status report on what they've done over the past year in Haiti. You can download the report, if you'd like, or read more information in recent posts on their blog. You can even read the story of Elissaint, who was once a Compassion-sponsored child, but now, at 37 years of age, is Haiti's Disaster Response Coordinator.

But one of the highlights, for me, was this statistic:

Out of the roughly 23,000 children who were already being sponsored and ministered to through Compassion International, fewer than 100 are left unaccounted for. !!!! That, to me, is astounding. When you have that many who died...that kind of massive upheaval on every level of society...I can well believe that the tireless efforts to locate twenty three thousand children went well beyond the brief mention that Compassion describes.

I am encouraged to read how God's people have proven themselves not only compassionate, but accountable in the face of temptations and struggles and difficulties that follow disasters. And I'd like to encourage all of us to remember, next time there is a disaster, that the money we want to give can be channeled through our brothers and sisters in Christ as God empowers them to do the impossible.

It's good to know I am in partnership with a group of people like Compassion.

Friday, January 07, 2011

When resolutions fail...

I've had this post on my heart since New Year's...ever since I thought about how many people will be making them...digging deep for determination to meet goals and accomplish things...hoping against hope that maybe this year, they'll be able to manage whatever it is they want to do or think they should do. In fact, many people would have us believe that New Year's is the time to determine that this year we will be better people.

I know some people make different types of resolutions, and I certainly have nothing against the concept of setting goals.

But we can't improve ourselves. That is such an important thing for us to learn! For we are dead. And dead men can't make themselves better people. This is not something to get depressed and feel hopeless about, though. Acceptance and revelation of this fact is the doorway to another reality...a reality that is filled with hope and promise and fulfillment, for this is where every promise of strength and joy is fulfilled by the One who is our all in all, who mounts us up with wings like eagles (Is. 40:31), who is our refuge and fortress (Ps. 91:1-2), who prepares a table in the wilderness (Ps. 23), who shows us who we are in Christ (Col 1:27) and what we look like through the eyes of perfect love. For it is then that these revelations renew our mind, which leads to the transformation of ourselves (Rom. 12:2) that we so desperately want.

As I was thinking about this on New Year's day, I started to think, then, that the best New Year's resolution was to simply seek God. And yet...

It is certainly true that when we seek Him, we'll find Him (Jer. 29:13), and that it is in knowing Him and basking in the glory of His presence that He changes us (2 Cor. 3:18). But anyone who's ever set a resolution to seek God every day knows that we're too dead to succeed even at that.

So what is there left that we can do?

I think it's as simple as making a one-time decision. That right now, for today, I choose to throw myself upon the mercy of God, to thank Him for His forgiveness and love and saving grace, and to ask Him to change me.

And when tomorrow becomes today, I can make that choice again...but it is no good trying to make tomorrow's choice today (James 4:13-16). I've come to the conclusion that God works in the here and now, and only in the here and now, for that's where the Alpha and Omega lives. He's not interested in what we plan to do, and He's not all that interested in what we did yesterday--that's forgiven and forgotten. He's always only interested in the choice our heart makes right now.

But as tomorrow and the day after turn into a new today, we can rejoice that His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23), And if our heart has strayed, we can petition Him to create a clean heart in us again (Ps. 51:10) and once more make a choice for that moment. And then there is nothing more for us to do but wait on Him.

This is the song that was running through me all night long:
Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion