Removing Splinters

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“I’m not one to judge… but…”

I knew what was coming, the same thing that comes anytime anyone starts any conversation with those words – judgment. I struggle with that. I think Jesus struggled with that, too. The same Lord that warned us, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged” (Matt. 7:1) and the very God who cautioned, “The same measure that you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2), He wasn’t lax on this issue of judgment; in fact, of all the things He reprimanded the “religious” for, this was consistent.

What is in us that wants to judge?

Comparison.

That’s the nuts and bolts of it. We haven’t evolved past Cain and Able. We still feel the need to compare ourselves with one another, and lets face it when we can point the finger at a more public, more destructive sin, we will do it. Why? Because in the shadow of those failures, our gossip and little white lies don’t seem like anything that matters.

Jesus addressed judgment with the analogy of a log and a splinter:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)

I’ve been there. I’ve been the pointer and the accused. But it truly wasn’t until I had to fill the shoes of the accused that I could fully understand how the logs and the splinters must be dealt with.

Jesus wasn’t saying they don’t exist or that we should ignore them. He was bringing attention to the flaw, not excusing it, to help us to see that we must first inspect ourselves before we can even begin to correct another. But that is also the mystery of it, because as you see your flaws and imperfections, when you become aware that you have something in your life that humbles you before God and man, then you are much more gentle in the splinter removal.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

The other day Lily got a piece of glass in her foot. She limped around until finally I convinced her to let me look at it. Reluctantly and with great fear she grabbed her foot, letting me have only the shortest (and non helpful) look. I could sympathize. I have been there – clutching my foot, crying, begging my mom NOT to get out the needle! I got her fear. As I gently pulled her foot back to me, I told her a story, a story of a splinter in a kitchen when I was exactly her age with my mom and my grandma and grandpa. I shared with her the absolute fear I felt because I didn’t know what was coming. And something happened, in the telling, in the sharing, in the confession, she relaxed. She loosened her grip and her eyes lost that stark white stare as she relinquished her foot to my care.

And that’s exactly what removing logs to help with splinters looks like.

Compassion.

As we gently approach one another with the confession and story of a life where we stumbled and fell but found the strength in Christ to get back up again, when we tell them, and remind ourselves anew, of the love that met us when we were convinced we would be disowned, we become credible, and the difficult work of healing seems more tangible, more possible, and less frightening. I think that is the very point Jesus was making – before you point out your neighbors struggle, deal with your own, and then you will see better to help them… because empathy begets compassion, and compassion doesn’t stand at a distance and point, it reaches out.

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October Rain

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“The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

 This is true.

 Only, when the rain falls on the unjust, we don’t feel it as much. It perhaps doesn’t look or feel like rain as much as karma. But, when the rain falls on the just, the delightful, beautiful souls that flavor life with salt and illuminate it with light… the clouds are heavy and the rain beats hard.

 October has been a grieving month for me for 12 years. I have missed and mourned one precious soul that inspired and motivated me to live intentionally and deeply the love of Christ. Her death marked a change in me. Her funeral served as a pep rally for the rest of my life. The void Aimee left demanded my fulfillment, and I would never be the same. Really. I remember leaving that memorial service, packed out with lives touched by her gentle and sometimes awkwardly large hands, knowing that the world had lost a powerful presence.

 I went home, picked my baby up out of her crib, and cradled her to my chest and cried. I had no answers. I felt just as fragile and dependent before God as the child I held. In some way I wanted to physically attend to her the way I needed Daddy God to spiritually attend to me. And as I rocked her, as I poured out my tears before a God that promised to capture each one, I watched the rain.

 There is no rain today, but the clouds are grey.

 Yesterday marked the death of another distinguished light, Sister Gussie.

 Cancer was her nemesis. Actually, that’s just the name for the battle of her final foe. To say that it overtook her is to declare her non-victorious, and I refuse to say that about my friend. Even as I close my eyes, I can hear her dear raspy voice – praying for me, encouraging me, speaking to my heart the lessons her older heart had learned so well.

 She taught me that weakness isn’t failure. She taught me that wrestling with depression isn’t being unfaithful to God. She taught me that whatever the season – be it stay-at-home mom of nursers and ankle-biters to a full-fledged minister traveling and pouring out more of yourself than you feel you can give – there is worth in it all. She lived it out faithfully – the silent and stalwart soul mate of a man that she loved unashamedly and sacrificially.

 In death, we have two choices, we can grieve and mourn these losses and relegate them to a memory, or we can see the void and commit to be a part of the legacy of living. We can see the rain as the lack of sunshine, or we can see it as the conditions that precede any rainbow. And, some days we might feel both… and that’s okay. Sister Gussie taught me that, too.

 Today I mourn. I allow my soul the chance to long for more time, more conversations, and more lessons that I cannot have. Again, my tears resemble rain, and I trust my Father is collecting them. My world is missing these two bright lights. But when the clouds of grief clear, my celebration of them will be to continue…to shine brighter, to love deeper, and to give more generously to make up for the voids that they have left behind.

Barren

Barren.

That word stings whether you are unable to have one or unable to have more. There is something that feels unnatural about that. Barren. You picture cracked dirt and lifeless ground. And it resembles what it feels like – a curse.

I was the girl who dreamed big! Big aspirations, big plans, big families! I would draw diagrams of houses, fully decked out with four nurseries. I mean, I was gonna have at least 2 girls and 2 boys – Interspersed, of course, so each girl could have an older brother… Like I never had. And that was exactly the image that popped into my mind when my doctor asked me, “Were you planning to have any more babies?” I remember answering, “Well, if you asked me over the den of loud music at a social gathering I might have said no, but your asking me about ever, and I’m not ready to commit to that.” The fact was, as horrible as being pregnant had been on my body, We were actually considering trying for that boy we’d never had… Now would never have.

In the end, it was necessary. It boiled down to life and death. Assuredly, if I had gotten pregnant, I would have lost the baby and possibly my life. I made the right choice. Everyone agreed. But I hated it.

I have moments where I still deeply grieve. The enemy taunts me with accusations and fantasies, but the truth is I can’t have any more. It hurts. Please don’t get me wrong! I cherish my girls! I’m blessed to have them, and I thank Him daily. I love them more than life, but I can’t help but feel someone might be missing.

“You can always adopt.”
I get that a lot. And I could, if we saved up the money, but it’s not the same. Altruistic and beautiful, no doubt. Many babies need families and there are many hearts that need love. But, it’s not the same.

“Have you considered fostering.”
No. I know my limitations and most of all my too easily smitten heart. One kid taken back would devastate me. Multiple instances like that would have me committed. Not to mention the wear and tear on my girls affections. Madeline especially, she was marked with a heart like her mom.

Then, there are the full-faithed that offer, “God could grow you another uterus, if He wanted to.” He could. But that’s a little extreme, not to mention miraculous… The kind of miracle that gets an article in the Enquirer. Not the kind of headlines I wanna make. Not me.

I recently read that grief has no rules. It doesn’t. It can hit me at anytime… Sometimes sucker punches me in the gut in the diaper aisle. Or when I hold a sweet smelling newborn in my arms. Or when I see a woman caress her stomach and send her gift an unspoken secret from the heart.

So I grieve. With many millions of women… In different extremes… But like me – barren nonetheless. It can’t be fixed, but I have come to accept it. Acceptance doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. I accept my condition, and I believe that God is good. I know He collects these tears, even if others might see them as selfish, and He assures me He will restore what I have lost… And I even have moments where I can see the blessing in the curse.

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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.