My life has been a journey full of twists & turns, highs & lows. Honestly, I'm not sure I could really define where I'm headed. But one thing I'm learning, the journey isn't all about the final destination but more about how we travel. And fulfillment is found in all that we learn & experience as we journey, not just getting to the end of it. I can't even imagine making mine without Christ before me, behind me, and beside me...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Sound of Your Voice

O Lord,You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely, O Lord. - Psalm 139:1-4
"Hey, Mom..." Regardless what else is happening in the universe, the world just sits better on its axis at the sound of those words. I got a call from Elias, my Marine son who is stationed in Hawaii, yesterday. I haven't heard from him since Christmas so it was really good to hear his voice. For a few minutes, the sound of his voice takes me to a higher place somehow, bringing peace in chaos. He's my son and because of it, his voice reaches a place in me that no one but my kids can reach. Even so, it took a few minutes for us to get in a "groove" with each other again. Elias rarely just "chats" with mom as in letting conversation go wherever it leads. His conversations are usually short and intentional. But when he does just "chat," time stops for a few minutes and He gets my full attention.
      When my kids were younger, I took the sound of their voices for granted too often, not recognizing how quickly they would grow up and move away as their lives go in their own directions. Sometimes I even wished I could get away from the persistent nag or whine of  them calling my name, "Mom, can i? But Mo-o-m! Mom, will you..please? Hey, Mom... Mom...Mom...Mom!"...Little did I know then how precious it was. When I left their dad and moved out on my own, the "quietness" of my new home was the hardest struggle...the most hurtful. No casual chats, no arguments, no guitars and singing, no "extra" kids (We always had extra kids in the house--It's like people thought, "They already have 5--it's not like one more will be noticed but that one was more often 2...3....6), no cheering video games, no "Mo-o-o-M!"  But especially no laughter--I missed that the most. And because I was unable to see them very often in the next couple of years, I missed so much of their lives. They're all grown up now several years since I left but there are still days when I miss the sound of their voices so deeply that it hurts. Turning on the tv or radio or making all kinds of noise can't cover up that kind of "quiet." It's so much deeper than decibels.       
      Elias didn't call for any particular reason yesterday (well, maybe in response to my facebook messages to see if he was still alive). Our conversation covered random topics: his upcoming deployment to Japan, training, Brittany and her boyfriend, his brothers, his dad...nothing life-changing or relevant to any particular purpose. But just the sound of his voice brought a brighter dimension to my day--He's my son and that matters. It's not the things we talked about so much but simply that he shared a piece of his life with me that made me feel at "home" again if even for only a few minutes--"home" at heart anyway. I didn't realize until he hung up how much I just needed to hear his voice--to hear him say, "I love ya, Mom." 
      I don't even know if he says "I love you" because HE needs to say it or because I need to hear it...or if he just thinks he's supposed to. But one thing I know for sure--I love him with all my heart. I love all my kids, I guess, in a way only a mom or parent can. And in hearing the sound of my sons' or daughters' voices, I get a mom-sense of whether they are really okay or not because I KNOW them that well...the kind of "knowing" that is beyond words or knowledge.  Then for a moment after he hung up, I wondered what prompted his call in the first place. Obedience or obligation to Mom's prompting or maybe it was more than that. I wonder if he needed to hear my voice as much as I needed to hear his.
       It kind of made me think about my conversations with my Abba Father--God. How often I forget to "check in" just to share a piece of my life with Him--to catch up. I pray daily but I usually wait to come to him when I have a need or a request--for a particular purpose or intent and usually has more to do with someone else than really knowing Him and letting Him know me. So often the center of my prayer has more to do with ministry and the burden of others rather than just catching up and sharing my heart with Him--the random chitchat that only a parent cares about. There are so many days when I'm lonely, out of place, or life just seems undone, and I "need" something I can't define. If I would stop and just share my heart, maybe He would enter the struggle with me..Maybe my burden wouldn't weigh so heavy. Sometimes weeks go by that I'm just too busy "doing" to stop and just chat with Him. I'm a little ashamed when I realize how long it's been. 
     How quickly I forget how well He KNOWS me...He knows the deepest part of my heart--that "parent" kind of knowing that doesn't require words or context. Maybe in sharing my everyday--the "chitchat" of life, my Abba Father can bring peace in my struggles. Jesus said, "My sheep listen to My voice, I KNOW THEM, and they follow Me." (John 10:27) Some days, I know without a doubt, He calls for my attention and I put Him off, "Well, God I gotta do this first...."  But when I DO stop and talk with Him, I wonder if the sound of my voice touches His heart the way Elias touched mine. Maybe that is all that is needed--my willingness to let Him share in even the smallest details of my life. Maybe as I share my every day, He will share His heart knowing that I need to hear the sound of His voice too. When I'm so undone or disconnected, I tend to push Him away and I feel that same "quietness" as I feel when I miss my kids' voices and laughter. And in those times, circumstance and life overwhelms. Maybe in these moments I have to remember that it's not just about bringing my best, but also my worst and everything mundane in between to my Abba Father. Maybe these are the times I should understand that grace and hope isn't just caught up in my surrender to Him but also His surrender to me...when He speaks life to me.   Maybe the sound of His voice will add that brighter dimension so that I hold on to life. I have to remember not just to surrender but to listen and let Him lift me up..."Listen to His voice and hold fast to Him for the Lord is my life." (Deuteronomy 30:20)  
     When I avoid Him or run from His presence, I wonder if that "quietness" breaks His heart like it broke mine when my kids and I were apart..I wonder if He misses me in the way I miss my kids. I wonder if the sound of my voice is as precious to Him as my children's voices are to me. Undoubtedly, He already knows when I'm not okay but maybe He knows there's healing and hope in heart to heart sharing. I want talk to HIm as a daughter to her Father. I long to hear the sound of His voice.
        Let my cry come right into Your presence, God; provide me with the insight that comes only from Your Word. Give my request Your personal attention, rescue me on the terms of Your promise. Let praise cascade off my lips; after all, You've taught me the truth about life! And let Your promises ring from my tongue; every order You've given is right. Put Your hand out and steady me since I've chosen to live by Your counsel. I'm homesick, God, for Your salvation; I love it when You show Yourself! Invigorate my soul so I can praise You well, use Your decrees to put iron in my soul. And should I wander off like a lost sheep—seek me! I'll recognize the sound of Your voice." - Psalm 119:169-176 The Message

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Big Girls Don't Cry...

"You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." - Psalm 56:8 NLT

     Today the band sang one of Tom's songs, "Break Me." He shared how he believes that we have to come to that point of broken surrender to truly worship and praise God. As I sang along, I realized how shatter-resistant I am when I most need to be broken--especially when I'm most deeply wounded or I've so greatly failed. We usually think "shatter-resistant" is a good thing but then there are those moments of intense pain when it's SOooo hard to be strong--when being tough isn't all it's cracked up to be. Have you experienced those times when you wish you could just let the dam loose, fall to the floor and cry till there's no tears left?  But nope! Big girls don't cry and if they do, they sure don't let other people see it. Besides, we're a little bit afraid that if we begin to cry, we won't stop. So we suck it up, take a deep breath, laugh it off, sing louder, make ourselves busy with something... anything! Whatever it takes! Whatever we do,we push through it at all costs--acknowledging and thereby "feeling" no pain. Denial. We refuse to let our hurts or our failures knock us down again, even for a moment so we overcompensate. But there's that small part of us that wonders if maybe there's something about this "fragility" of life. After all, the most precious works of art are the most fragile...But in my own inimitable way of arguing with a tree when I'm fighting most desperately to put up those proverbial "walls" and defenses, I reason, "How valuable are those priceless treasures when they're broken? They're just worthless broken shards of trash."
    It's almost like the "stubborn" part of me defines my own brokenness by the measure of my tears and I don't want to be a crybaby so I refuse to be broken. As long as I'm whole and "together" (however fragile), I have something valuable to offer. But if I break, I have no worth--useless. When I cried as a kid, someone would laugh and hold up a cup to my face and tease, "Aw come here, you want me to catch your tears in a cup?" I didn't know what it meant then, just that the taunts made me feel like my tears didn't matter so much--my hurt didn't matter whatever the reason. Or if some were less patient, "You better dry it up or I'll dry it up for you!" And, not quite wanting to know how that would happen, I did just that--no more tears. It wasn't such a big deal I guess but it became "habit" as I got older and I was more determined not to let anyone see my tears. So maybe I quit "responding" to hurtful events "normally"--whatever that is. Oh, it's so easy for my heart to break for others but not to break for me. And I have shed many tears over the hurts and sorrows of others but not so much just for me...I just "dry it up." No tears--no pain. Right? 
     Then  there are moments like this morning as we sang..."I will never really worship You until You break my heart...I will never really praise You until my will is gone..." And I wonder about brokenness. Sometimes I'm just tired of "being strong." I knew Tom was right and I longed for that brokenness--to let down my guard and trust that my tears matter to Him so much that He remembers and cherishes each one. Tears in a cup--in a bottle and it isn't a joke to Him. He isn't ridiculing my weakness. But in the very same moment, I braced myself almost without thinking against "feeling" what I've denied. I remind myself, "Big girls don't cry!" So I dried it up again and the coldness of it was a little too real. As if over time, I've become cold and numb at the threat of tears--big girls don't cry, big girls don't cry...And the bigger the hurt, the more determined not to cry. No tears for me, thank you! It's the effect of repeated hurts I guess. The best word picture I can thing of is a beating: When beaten, you feel blow after blow until some point you don't feel it anymore--you become numb. The abuse "speaks" and you hold on to every silent word, more firmly with each hit but but you don't dare respond. You "choose" not to feel it. If you don't feel it, it doesn't hurt...or does it? 
    The past couple of years, it seems like I found my life again--I live it, breathe it in, and FEEL life as it happens--like waking from a long sleep. God has accomplished amazing things in my life. So today, I guess I was a little shocked to realize that there's still a part of me that remains so dead--that instinctive nature to go cold and distant when overwhelming real and present circumstances take me back to those places in the past. It's easier to escape--to choose not to "feel" and pretend--to "decide" to be okay regardless of the cost. Even if it defeats all that God as accomplished in teaching me to be "real" with myself, with God, and with people--especially with those who taught me. I know it's an instinctive self-protection mechanism. The coldness as I realized it was so familiar and perversely comfortable in a way--like an old enemy you can count on when you can't count on anything else. I slipped back into that old pattern without a thought--just by habit. Here's where I find myself. Still can't cry...won't cry over certain things anyway. And I was disappointed that I wasn't as "free" as I thought--that some of the "old" still remained firm.
    And now, I realize that even that disappointment was another way just to avoid "feeling" the circumstance that brought about the coldness in the first place--the trigger. Still numb. So I'm not sure which is my greatest failure--that I fell prey to circumstances or that I went on "automatic" and responded the same way I've always done. If my prayer truly is that God would break me and melt me, how will it happen? How do I get from here to there? How do I keep from letting those old hurts speak so loudly that they shut me down, even without words? 
    I wish I had some amazing wisdom here but I don't. I think of the words to Tom's song..."until my will is gone."  Is that it?  That my will is still so stubborn that it won't bend and I keep reinforcing the walls every time I get backed into a corner? I know without a doubt that brokenness is truly beautiful--I've experienced it. With some of the women I've reached out to, I've witnessed how their tears are a source of healing, cleansing, and renewal. Their tears are a part of the process. And a few times, I've let myself cry.. rarer moments when I am fractured, fallen, and so completely out of control. Those rare beautiful moments because the sun stood still for just a little while, time stopped, and I didn't have to put on such a brave front--even for a short while. Survival wasn't up to me for a few moments. But then the "rare" moments are over all too quickly so I dust myself off and get back to the business of life and ministry and survival. Big girls don't cry. Big girls don't cry...
     But maybe the key is that WITH brokenness, there must be that surrender--that complete, constant, and conscious surrender of my will. I have this heart picture of the uninvited prostitute who entered the home of Simon the Pharisee to see Jesus. She was in tears as she fell at His feet, big drops falling on His dirty, travel-worn feet. She took off her headwrap and let down her long hair. She gathered her hair in her hands and used it to dry the tears on His feet. She carried a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume--such as only harlots and the very wealthy would have. As she anointed His weary feet, she bowed down and kissed them out of love and surrender to His grace and mercy...Kissing feet was the humiliation of the most shameful. 
    She was not a proud woman--she wasn't there to do "business" or to prove anything. She was broken by the weight of her sinful past. She came to a house where she knew she would not be welcome simply because Jesus was there. She needed to show her gratefulness for His amazing grace and forgiveness--no humiliation was too great a price. Yet she arrive, considering herself no greater than the lowest servant whose task would be to wash the guests feet--yet none of Simon's servants had washed Jesus' feet--no one until this shameful prostitute. She didn't anoint His head as the "righteous" would. She fell at His feet--the lesser part--and wiped away her tears off His feet with her hair. 
     Simon was disgusted that this woman dared to show her face in his house at all--she should be ashamed. The entire event caused quite a stir around the table as Jesus sat so patiently as she exhibited such a display of wrought emotions. She wept openly and unashamedly. Women didn't let their hair down publicly--it was an act of intimacy. Yet here this woman came in a Pharisee's house and took her hair down in the midst of them to wash Jesus' feet...That was just a servant's task--it was an intimate gesture of love and devotion. Jesus had touched her life in a way no other man ever had and it had nothing to do with sex, money, position, or possession. He LOVED her with all of His heart just as she was. He loved her the moment He laid eyes on her the first time, the moment forgave her past sins, and even now as she demonstrated her love for Him...Her life had been shattered by sin, shame, and circumstance as she fell in tears at His feet. She could have stopped right there and it would still be a sweet story. But she finished it. In the next moment, she surrendered all of her life to Him--her entire past, the sin, shame, pain--all that she had been before and all that she would ever become.  She anointed His feet with that costly perfume in honor of who He was, as if to say, "Not my will anymore--but Yours."
     Broken and surrendered at the feet of Jesus. giving Him everything. Others in the room shamed her but Jesus lifted her up. As they looked down their noses at her, He looked on her with love and compassion. He made her beautiful to behold in that very moment, "Though her sins have been many, she has been forgiven much because she has loved so much..." Her knew her heart. He gave her not only redemption but also her own chazown for her future, "Your sins are forgiven...Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
    In that moment, Jesus took every shattered piece of her life and put her together again--a new work of art, more beautiful than ever. I want to BE her. I want to be that brave. I want to be that willing to be broken even when I'm most ashamed--to be able to surrender everything I've ever been, everything I am, and everything He will make of me. 
    The band led us in "Surrender" a couple of songs later this morning and one small phrase in it is so significant in the midst the rest of the song: "I LAY IT DOWN FOR THE SAKE OF YOU, MY KING." That's it!..That's what she did! She braved the ridicule and shame. She risked rejection. She humbly fell at His feet not for her sake but for His...That's where her strength and courage came from. I can't do this on my own--I can't surrender for my own sake or survival but rather for the sake of my Savior...To be broken, surrendered, put back together again, and used for His glory....
     I'm giving up MY dreams...for Yours.
     I'm laying down MY surrender to Your will.
     I'm giving up MY pride...because without You, I am nothing.
     I surrender ALL to You...only You.

  " My enemies will retreat when I call to You for help. This I know: God is on my side! I praise God for what He has promised; Yes, I praise the Lord for what He has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?
     I will fulfill my vows to You, O God, and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for Your help. For You have rescued me from death; You have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in Your presence, O God, in Your life-giving light." - Psalm 56:9-13 NLT

Lord, I want to live my life so completely broken and surrendered to You--FOR You. Yet these remnants of coldness remain--You know what lies behind them. Break me, melt me, till I'm lost inside Your fire. You know where I need to break, what I have yet to surrender to You so I'm no longer a victim to people or circumstance...And if that brokenness includes those unshed tears, make me big enough to cry.  And let those tears be a source of healing and courage and diamonds of grace not for me but for others. Use them for Your sake and Your glory.