What’s in a name?

I wonder if I’m wrong.

You ever had that thought?

About life, about God, about how I am.

I was reading something the other day, and I got to a point in the message where the person began speaking of G_d. G_d? What is that? I stopped. Why didn’t the person say “GOD”? What is so wrong with using His name? It wasn’t in vain. It wasn’t perverse. In fact, what they were sharing was profound, and yet, they couldn’t type out one more letter and say, “God.” Bizarre.

Instantly I understood and grieved this decision. I understood, because we often forget that He IS holy and majestic and far beyond the realm of mere letters. I grieved because I thought back (not that I actually remembered) to the time before Christ, the time when the name of God was considered so sacred that even the common man was ashamed to speak it for fear that he wasn’t worthy. I thought back to the segregation that meant for the “wise and the learned” versus the everyday Joe. I thought of the authority of the priest that looked down his nose at those that he saw inferior because they were not in right blood line, the chosen race, the beloved People.

Then I thought of the Priest that did away with all of that! Who erased the lines, embraced the masses, and had the audacity to stand before man and not only address the name made up of only consonants, but to call Him Father! Jesus, fully man, fully God gave His life not so that we would stumble over a key, unable to type or speak that Holy Name, but to make that name accessible to all!

I decided to do a search. I am willing to admit I am wrong. So, I began in the old testament…I skimmed over the laws (seriously, I didn’t have all day), looked at the stories and followed it all through Revelation, and what I found was beautiful! What I saw was that not only has God’s name always been accessible to His creation, but all along, book after book, we see that His name changes, grows, diversifies, and solidifies. He is the God that Provides, and the God that Sees, the God that saves and rescues, the God that wrestles and concedes. He is the God that knows and the God that hears, the God that is with us, and the God that was and is to come. He is the beginning and the end. He is the King, the Lover, the Mother, the Shepherd, the Father, the Keeper, the Protector, and the One that fights for us. He is a Strong Tower, and the Lily of the Valley. He is Light and He is Truth, our Redeemer and our Friend. The Holy One, the Name above all names, the Counselor, the Teacher, and He, more than once referred to Himself as I AM! People have been renaming Him and calling on Him in all sorts of ways for centuries, and yet my dear brother in Christ stumbles over a letter!

Now, maybe you are left with a question. “If all these names aren’t taking His name in vain, if all names are accessible to us, and yet we are still told time and time again to keep His name holy, how do we do this?” Well, it’s simple but it requires work. Yep. Grace is not devoid of work. Here is the answer, “Then His name will be honored because of the way you live.” (2 Thess. 1:12) The truth is, we can leave out letters, and type in hieroglyphics, and speak in jumbled consonants, but if we aren’t giving glory  to God through the way we live our lives, the holiest of pronunciations are nothing more than “appearances.” Because God only hears the language of the heart, and a convicted heart, a saved heart, a rescued heart calls on His Name in a million different ways at all times and lives His love out loud, and this to Him is the highest praise!

So, no. I’m not buying into the latest “Bring old school religion back” phase. I’m walking forward, in the freedom that Christ afforded me. I am not only speaking the name of God with vigor and with joy, I’m calling Him Provider, and Healer, and all the other names that He has proven Himself to be time and again, and I’m also making use of the name Jesus freed up for me to use, Daddy! And, I don’t feel the tsk of His tongue like an old Jewish priest; I feel the light of His smile, because that’s the way He wants it! He wants us to speak His name, to revel in it, to marvel at it, and to understand it…not as something untouchable or too holy to pronounce, but to fulfill His greatest desire “that we should be called Children of God.” Now that’s a name I’m proud of!

The “Unthinkable”

“Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another.”  2 John 1:6

Our obedience to God comes from our trust that He has only good plans for us. But, sometimes, He calls us out on a limb asking us to do the “unthinkable,” to step out of our comfort zones and even go beyond the restrains of common sense. What then?

I was driving to work one morning, the early morning shift at our local Christian radio station, so the sun wasn’t out yet, when I pulled up to an intersection and waited on the light. I was always a little leery at this point in my commute because the intersection was located right next to a graveyard, and even though I am well settled into my thirties, my childlike imagination does wonders with scenarios like that! Trying not to think about the ghosts hovering near my car, I focused all my attention on the light, until I heard a loud bump and knock on my window. My heart shot into my chest and I turned toward the sound, prepared for the worst. And, there she was.

Her eyes were as wide as any eyes I’d ever seen, or maybe they only seemed that way because it was the only white around her, she was shaking, and it didn’t take much to see that she was in some sort of pain. She was frantic and she was asking me to please roll down the window. I had two thoughts in that moment, “Hit the gas and go!” but the other thought gripped my heart, “She’s hurting, help her.”

Immediately I realized the Voice of the second thought. Shaking and unsure I reached to push the button for the window, as it started coming down, she started pushing it further, which only intensified my fear! She kept saying over and over, “You gotta let me in this car! You gotta help me!”  The fear in her eyes had me looking around. Was there someone chasing her? Were they close? Was I about to die? She kept clawing at the door so I asked her, “Are you in trouble? Where do you need to go?” She grabbed her stomach and bowled over in pain, “The hospital, ma’am. I needa go to the hospital.” I was just processing this, and still looking around for impending danger, and checking her for blood (all in the course of about 30 seconds) when I heard His Voice rattle my heart again, “Let her in.

I went cold. I was still shaking. “You want me to what?” I asked, in my head, of course. “Let her in.” Shaking even worse than before, I unlocked the passenger door. She jumped in quickly, speaking just as fast, and unconsciously I slammed myself against my door to give me some space. Everything in the world, dissolved in that moment as I realized, this was beyond me. Stupidly (fear makes us cowardly), I looked at her and begged, “Please don’t hurt me, I’m gonna take you where you need to go. Please don’t hurt me. Jesus loves you and I’m here to help.”

Let me tell you, none of this was an easy call to obedience, but in my mind I thought, “The hospital is just up the road, just a couple of miles. This is gonna be ok.” So I went through the intersection headed toward the hospital. “Where you going?” she interrupted my thoughts. “The hospital.” Isn’t that what she said. “Oh no, ma’am, not that hospital, the charity hospital!” That was another moment I had to call on God. The charity hospital wasn’t down the street, the charity hospital was across town, about fifteen or twenty minutes from where we were!

I called my cohost and told him I would be late. Needless to say, he thought I was crazy for picking up a hitch-hiker, that was unsafe, that was “STUPID” but he said he would pray for us, and that I understood to mean, “and if I don’t hear from you soon, I’m calling the cops!” All the while across town, I am talking to God, calling on His protection, and asking Him, “Okay, Lord, we are here, what do you want me to say? We have time.” I forced my body language to change. I took a deep breath, but still shaking uncontrollably it came out jagged and unsure. I felt God speak again, “Listen to her story.” So, I said the only thing that came to my mind, “Are you from around here?”

That’s when her story unfolded. She was a Hurricane Katrina transplant. She didn’t look to be more than fifteen or sixteen, but she had the eyes of a woman that knew more than a child should. Her boyfriend had moved her here. She had gotten pregnant, and she wanted that baby, I heard it in the passion in her voice when she talked about it; but she lost it. I looked down at her still extended tummy, she was shaking, but I knew from the way she was talking and from her demeanor that was more from addiction than anything else. She pulled up her shirt and showed me a horrible scar that went the length of her belly, no doctor’s work, I was quite sure. “Dat’s where dey took him.” My heart ached. I didn’t know what to say. Then I reached for her hand, and held it. It was so tiny, and I have tiny hands so if I recognized it as small in my hand it was teeny tiny. She was tiny, all but her extended belly. Then I cried, and the words bubbled out of my heart, “Oh honey, God loves you. He sent me to you today. To listen to your story, and to tell you that He loves you. Jesus saved you. He wants you to be safe and healthy and strong. He loves you so much.”  I don’t know what all I said besides that…it kind of floats in and out at times, remembering telling her that God was looking out for her, that He had a plan for her a better life for her. All the while still shaking, but saying what I knew God wanted to say to this girl.

Before I knew it, we were there. I reluctantly pulled up to the hospital doors, still unsure of what she needed there, probably a fix, but I wasn’t judging her. I didn’t want to let her out the car. But the Voice assured me that I had done what I could.  I gave her some money for a snack and told her to take care, it felt like I was sending one of my daughters in to school, not saying goodbye to a total stranger. She thanked me for the money and I prayed for her, then I watched as she opened the door and placed her feet on the ground. That’s a desperate moment for a heart like mine. I wanted to tell her to stay, that I could find her a job, a place to live, some help, but I didn’t feel like that was my place.  I was fighting back tears, when she turned to face me and smiled. She reached out her hand, “My name is Angelique.” I smiled and took that precious hand again, “It is a pleasure to meet you.” She smiled again and stepped out of the car and shut the door, I watched her walk to the nurse that was standing by the door and prayed for her as she found her way, her place, and her healing. My life forever altered.

That was two years ago, and the irony of her name has never left my heart. But, the lesson to me was this, sometimes God calls us to do the unthinkable, to defy the rules of common sense, and sometimes we see how that all turns out, the fruits or our obedience, the reason why we were asked at all. But, sometimes, like with Angelique we have to trust that our obedience is that single act of love, and God will handle the rest.

The GOOD, the BAD, and the indecisive…

I was talking with a friend the other day, and she was sharing about a friend of hers and her parenting techniques. Honestly, I have to keep from rolling my eyes in the midst of these conversations, but then she said, “Everything comes back to this, ‘Are you making GOOD choices?’” Huh. She had me. I don’t know that I have ever asked my children that, and when you think about the empowerment that acknowledging the significance of choice gives, it really is amazing! Because we discount it, push it aside, ignore it – UNTIL we make a BAD choice.

Because I’m a daydreamer, I faded off and I began to imagine the significance that would make as they grew up, as they started dating (or chose not to), as they developed friendships, as they went off to college, and then as they chose a mate. Then I stopped. What a lovely picture! Imagine good choices in marriage – of choosing to forgive instead of holding a grudge, of choosing not to be unfaithful when your needs aren’t being met, of choosing to act in love instead of anger!

I had the opportunity to review a new book by Gary and Norma Smalley called “Four Days to a Forever Marriage: Choosing Love or Anger.” This is the exact premise of that book. As spouses we are so content to just be, to deal, to settle with what we have, we don’t want to choose to make it better. We use excuses like “I’m too tired to work on my marriage, I’m just trying to get through the day.” Or, “I read a book once, it didn’t help so I haven’t bought another one.” Or, “I know the Bible says to submit to your husband and stuff, but look at our culture, it’s just not the same.” I know these excuses pretty well; I’ve used them. But this book takes you through the day in the life of a couple, their struggles and their fears and in four short days you gain the understanding that it’s all about the choices we make…and making GOOD choices.

If you think about it, it’s not doing anything more but paying attention to what we are doing! The Smalleys walk you through those daily choices and questions, and you are forced to take a good look at the bad choices we unconsciously make. Like a good friend says, “Not to choose is still a choice.”

I can choose not to talk to Brian when I am angry, but what am I communicating in my body language, in my actions? Most likely I am fighting him without saying a word, and he feels it. A GOOD choice is swallowing my resentment and saying, “I am ticked, but I’m willing to share with you why I feel this way in the hopes that we can make it right.”

I can choose to put others first. The Smalleys point out that we often do this without realizing. Anyone in ministry knows that this is a hard one. I would never tell Brian, ”I love strangers more than I love you.” But, when I consistently choose to reschedule dates or leave after the kids go to bed, to mentor and to minister others, subconsciously that is what I am saying. A GOOD choice would be to put firm lines or boundaries between ministering to others and time with my spouse that says, “You are important enough to me that I am making sure that we have time together.” That speaks love and respect.

Lord knows, I’m not perfect. My marriage isn’t perfect, and I’m not gonna even attempt to write a book about how imperfect a parent I am, and chances are GOOD that my home-life and relationships look like any of yours. But, this book begged me to ask the question, the same question that wise and learned parent asks of her kids every day, the question that I often hear from Daddy God, “Are you making GOOD choices?” If I’m one hundred percent truthful (which I try to be) I answer, “Not usually,” but it’s not too late to start. And my first GOOD choice was investing 4 days into reading that book. (Did you notice that it’s only for 4 days? I’ve done no carb diets for longer with less long-lasting effects!) I only wish it had been around BEFORE I got married, twelve years in it might have saved us some pain from making some really BAD choices.

A mirror image

“You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.”
Aslan, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Have you ever wanted to run from who you are? To look at all those pieces of you and think, “I don’t want to be this anymore.” You point out your character flaws and your insecurities and your stark, raw afflictions, and you want to run far and wide as fast as you can. I have. I do.

I have looked at myself in the mirror and mourned over what I saw. Tired of loving, of being vulnerable, of opening up my all too battered heart, I left my reflection and ran, aimless and without direction, anywhere but facing the truth. I stumbled down paths of depression and boarded myself up in towers of isolation. I insulated myself by pretending that the hurt I felt was slight compared to the pain of so many others, and I convinced myself that my mask was really my protection. I argued that I knew what was best…for me… for them. And all the while I doubted – my value, His workmanship, my calling.

“Something is wrong with you.”

That’s the voice that enters my head as I take in that self-same reflection, again. And this time, too, I consider running. I’m inches from darting when I hear His voice, louder and softer than my own, but with more authority:
You can run. I won’t stop you. You can aimlessly wander through paths of pain and sorrow, fighting to get away from what you know is true. You can dismiss that the compassion and passion you feel, that resonates deep and beats rhythmically, is exactly how I created you. You can run from the you I designed and look to be like someone else, a shallower someone more calloused and less affected. I will let you. But you know that at the end of that journey, you’ll find yourself, the you that was always meant to be, in My arms, cuddled in My grace, grateful again for My heart that beats in side of you. So, daughter, why don’t we skip the game of hide and seek, and what do you say we just dance?”

So that’s what I’ve decided. I’m standing tall, looking focused and deeply into that mirror, His face, not wishing I weren’t me but looking to understand why I am. I am gathering up all the pain and the sorrow, the hurt and accusation, and I’m propped up by His feet, and as we sway, He smiles at me, carrying me on, leading me boldly towards myself and catching each tear that falls. And low and behold, if I’m not resembling Him a little more.

A Mighty Wave

One of the things I loved most about working at the radio station wasn’t meeting the Christian artists that came through town… it was hearing their stories. I loved to hear what the Spirit of God did in their hearts to create and form the music that we all love to listen to, the music that speaks to us, the music that says what we need to say, that asks us to do what we cannot fully understand. Not too long ago we talked with Sarah Reeves…a precious young woman of God, who writes music that reaches into our souls and begs us take a listen. I want to share with you a piece of what I remember of her interview about the song, “Mighty Wave.”

The chorus of that song says this:
“Even when I’m walking thru the valley of death, even when I’m broken and nothing is left, You lead me on, You lead me on… So I’ll pour my tears in the ocean, and I’ll leave my pain by the shore, and with a might wave You’ll sweep them away til they are no more.”

This is the story Sarah tells:
This song came to me in a dream. I saw this picture of the beach and the waves were rolling in, strong but peaceful and sure. In the distance, I saw a woman and she was carrying a basket in her hands. I watched as she approached the shoreline, wondering what she would do; then, I observed in fascination as this woman emptied the basket, and as these huge waves licked the shore they took with them the contents of the basket – her tears. Mesmerized I kept my gaze on her. When the basket was emptied her bowed frame stood up, and freely she walked back up the beach away from the waves, carrying an empty basket. She faded out of my view but the water with all it’s magnificence still rolled, carrying those tears, that heartache further and further out to sea, until they were no more.

I listened intently as she told this story. She later said that she couldn’t get out of bed fast enough, that picture still clearly in her head, and the song that resulted is what you hear today. This song has played a lot in my heart the last few weeks. It has been a salve, a healing Truth that has helped me bear so much of what I’ve felt, not my own pain exactly, but the pain that I have watched my loved ones endure and persevere through. It hurts to see their eyes with tears and pain, their bent backs and shoulders, to watch them carry this basket that only gets heavier and heavier. And in some way, I suppose what I pray that I can do is to lead them to the shoreline, to help them carry their baskets, and rejoice as we watch the sorrows and pain dissolve into the Mighty Wave of God’s grace, and mercy and love until all that’s left is peace.

I love that story. I love that image. Listen to the song; may it bring you peace.

Remembering the day we will never forget

Remembering the events of 9/11 and the tragedy of that day is as simple as walking into my living room today, and seeing my ten year old, watching the same TV, legs criss-crossing back and forth with her chin propped in her hands, carelessly watching the Disney Channel. What a radically different picture than the fears and uncertainties that filled my heart that day…ten years ago.

I woke up early that morning. I was nursing and Maddie was a frequent eater. We’d gotten through our five o’clock, seen Daddy off to work, checked in with Grammy on our progress and played with fingers and toes and had just settled into our last feeding before morning nap. The clock on the VCR blinked 12:00 from the day before. I reached for the remote and turned on the morning news, my only connection to the world not consumed with diapers and pacifiers.

“A small commuter plane has accidentally flown into one of the buildings.” I listened as some lady gave her report of what she was seeing as the newscaster tried to determine how this could happen. Then as i was watching the smoke, we all saw it, those who did, the plane on the left hand of the screen plow into the parallel building. And I knew, though I’d never thought this word before, immediately my heart lurched, “terrorists.” Maddie became fussy, pushing and pulling, trying to get what my mind had accidentally, unconsciously shut off. I couldn’t move. I could barely breathe. We were under attack.

I watched in horror. As the story unfolded, but Maddie had to eat and I wasn’t letting down so I forced myself to turn the TV off. It dawns on me that I never called Brian, and he didn’t call me. My one concern in all the world was her – Maddie, the sweet baby girl trying to rest in my arms. I took her to my bathroom. I don’t know why. It was small and enclosed and I had spent most of my pregnancy there, it had become a safe place. I sat on the floor, rocking her and singing and all the while praying for her, for us, for our protection, for our country, for our president, for Jesus to come and get us.

I fell asleep there. I woke up about 30 minutes later to even more chaos. More planes and downed towers and debris and bodies and more fear and anger and questions gripped my heart. As I watched the smoke from the gaping hole in the ground and the same billowing out of the pentagon, and the ruins of the collapsed towers, I remembered the woman giving her report from the building close by just an hour before. I wondered, and I still do, is she gone? Her voice still haunts my mind at times, it was so free and light, no fear, just the thoughts and sounds of an observer. I cried. It wasn’t fair! I drove to mom and dads. I didn’t want to be alone.

I remember it was a picture perfect day. The sky was clear and blue and as I drove I watched the jets fly over head and helicopters in the distance. There was rumor that the president was an hour and half away. The military was positioning. This was war.

A million thoughts went through my head that day, a million voices, a million scriptures, and ten million prayers. Our lives were changed that day. Our feelings of unconditional security was stripped. America the beautiful was now America the compromised, America the vulnerable, and America the hated. Yes, our pride rallied and we held hands for about six months realizing our frailties and calling on God our only protector and keeper, but as our strength rebounded our faith dwindled.. We began to trust again in our horses and chariots and dismissed the need for a powerful God.

I do remember powerfully one other thing from that day. My faith in God grew and my hope in my destiny was grounded. I was ready. I would do whatever the end required of me and I would trust that there was a Hope that waited with open arms for when the fight was done. And with that knowledge came peace beyond human understanding, a peace that never waned, a peace that abides still. For the second time in my life when the question “what if this is it?” filled my heart, I was able to respond with powerful truth, “then we go Home.” And, my resolve became greater, my heart more moved, and my spirit more willing to help the unfortunate, the lost, the weak, and the hurting… So that they too might join me in that final homecoming. They too might experience His peace.

Maddie is up and about now, eating and playing and smiling and laughing. She is safe. And for that I am grateful… To God first who saves us all and to our troops and first responders who went into action that day and everyday before and since, who risked there lives, gave up their families, and allow us a look back 10 years to a day we will never forget.

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For the LOVE of us

I was listening to a discussion last week in which someone said, “God didn’t create us for any other purpose but to worship and glorify Him.” I knew where they were coming from when they said that, but, as I thought about it, I had to disagree. You see, what most theologians shy away from talking about and what pastors don’t really chance to say is this: Our God is vulnerable. Yes, He is mighty and He is infinite and He is Life and He is Truth. He withstands the passage of time. He has always been, will always be, and is yet to come, but He has deep, emotional longings, and those longings culminated in us.

When God created the earth, He had a plan. He already had angels, they were His worshippers, His Yes men, His go to guys…or spirits…we aren’t sure if they actually have a gender. If worship was what He was looking for, He had it in mass and in surround sound! No. There was something else God desired in man. He longed for companionship…He wanted a heart that loved Him, that sought Him, that wanted Him, not because it was created to or had to, but because it chose to. Therein lies the heart of God for man.

We cannot forget this, because God is still moved by the heart of man. He still desires companionship, He longs for connection, and He seeks those that will worship Him whole-heartedly. It is this vulnerability that makes me love Him more. It should make us all love Him more…to know that the God of the universes isn’t content to simply make us but that with each stitch of bone and marrow, He planned a life with Himself!

This is why it is important that we know our worth. This is why it is important that we feel His love. This is why He takes every day of our lives to remind us that we are not a mistake, we were not created in vain; we are chosen, we are loved, and we are His. He wants us to know…not just think, suspect, or assume…but KNOW that we are loved. Not so that we feel good about ourselves, not to stroke our egos, or give us a God-complex, but because He longs for us to accept His love! He reassures us so that we will feel good about Him! He desire’s for us to live in that truth so that we can boldly speak the power of His great LOVE to all that will listen…because then THAT person will choose to love Him, and His vulnerable heart is filled yet again, and His quiver is that much fuller, and His Son’s purpose is fulfilled.

Jesus died, for the love of us, and it is because of that same amazing love that God created. Don’t mistake Him for a tyrannical celestial King, He is our Ever-present loving Father…seeking all that, like Him, long to be loved.