A crowded Mess

In preparation for Easter, I’ve been reading through the Gospel of Luke. Slowly. Reading a chapter a day. Reading the chapter over and over and over. Out loud and to myself. Certain things pop out, certain stories hit deep. One in particular struck a chord with me. Luke 8:43-48. Just 5 verses but it’s a powerful story.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him… We’ll come back to this in a second, but just put yourself in each person’s shoes, Jesus…the disciples…a person in the crowd. What do you hear? Are your feet getting stepped on? Imagine the heat, with all the bodies and then the hot temperatures. People pushing and shoving, standing up on tip toes trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus.

Let’s continue… And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately the bleeding stopped. 

When someone had a chronic illness like the bleeding, they were outcasts. She spent 12 years alone. Completely alone. Her only human interaction was with doctors who again and again just shook their head and said “sorry, we can’t fix this.” Let’s rewind 12 years of your life, for example,  I was eleven years old.  Now think over the last 12 years and take out every person, every social event, every positive interaction with a human being. This was what the woman’s life was like.  This woman had had zero positive interactions with humans for 12 whole years. Then she catches wind of a guy, people aren’t quite sure who he is, but he’s performing miracles.  And that’s exactly what she needed.  So she decides to go find Jesus, and notices a huge crowd. She was already well adjusted to being ignored in crowds,  accustomed to being pushed and shoved aside, she would surely be able to squeeze through the people unnoticed. She just had to touch him, maybe even just his cloak, and she could be healed.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

Got to love Peter. “Um Jesus, YOU’RE LITERALLY SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE. So of course people are going to touch you.” But no, Jesus knew the difference. He had been in crowds before. There’s a difference between an accidental bump into someone, and someone intentionally reaching out and touching you. Did he hear her thoughts? Did her heart cries of desperation scream louder than the noise of the crowd?  When Jesus said those words, did the crowd get quiet and start looking around? We don’t know why every person in the crowd was there, maybe they were just looking to see what the buzz was about. I’d say a majority of them weren’t suffering from a bleeding that wouldn’t stop, that had left them outcast, alone and without hope. So they just shuffled around Jesus, were content to be near Him. “I bumped into Jesus, but it wasn’t on purpose.” said someone in the crowd. No one owned up to touching Jesus until…

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” 

I only tremble when I’m really frightened or really excited. I can imagine this woman was feeling both at the same time. Ecstatic that she had just been healed, but terrified even though she had been healed of her sickness, the emotional scars of being exiled still lingered What would they say? What would Jesus say? Her knees buckle and she falls near His feet. Did she look Him in the eyes or did she stare at the ground? The word “Daughter” soothed her lonely soul like aloe vera on a blistering sunburn. It had been years since she had been called any name, let alone, daughter.  As she stood there without family, Jesus  was sure to claim what was His, She was his daughter, a loved, cherished and precious human being. Her faith in Christ healed her. And she went in peace.

Questions:

  1. Is there a time in your life where you desperately reached out for Christ and He answered your cries?
  2. Is there a time in your life when you felt more like a person in the crowd in regards to your relationship with Christ, just shuffling around and accidentally bumping into HIm every now and then?
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Weddings&Funerals

wedding

About a month ago I attended a wedding.  Two of my good friends were getting married. While picking out what to wear, I had unknowingly put together an outfit that was all black. “Marlie, you’re not going to a funeral,” I laughed. No, this was a time to celebrate. I found a grey sweater instead of a black one and headed out the door. That became a common theme throughout the day, you see, I’ve been to 7 funerals. I’ve done it:  Wear black, drive to the church, grab  tissues, stay strong, but end up crying in the bathroom, stand for the family, sit down, stare at the casket as the pastor says words you’re not listening to because  you know they can’t take the pain away, heart aching, stomach churning, get in your car and drive back home. It was such a relief to be going to a new church, in nice clothes and it not be for a funeral. On the drive over there, I was full of excitement, I entered the church and heard laughter instead of sobs, and  there were  smiles instead of solemn faces.

Instead of a casket, there was a beautiful couple standing on stage to stare at. Did I cry at the wedding? Yup, I sure did. Because they played the song from Beauty and the Beast during the wedding and that was not even fair. You can’t play  a beautiful song at beautiful events and expect me to keep my composure. All this to say, I’m thankful for the truth in Ecclesiastes. That there is a time for everything. A time for wedding and a time for funerals. A time for laughter, a time for mourning. A reason for every season under the sun.

The Prodigal Cat

A few weeks ago, my sweet indoor kitty Stinkle ran away. I don’t know how, I don’t know when it happened, all I knew was that Stinkle was gone. I think she had gotten outside Monday night in the middle of a storm. It was really unlike her to bolt out the door and run down the street. The few times she’d been outside, she would immediately turn around and meow to get back in. The storm must have really spooked her.

With cats, it takes awhile to realize the cat is missing  because  cats love to hide indoors so I spent Tuesday looking inside the house for her. I looked in all of her favorite hiding spaces, I shook the dry cat food around the house (her favorite sound), I ran the automatic can opener (her other favorite sound). Nothing.   A strange mix of despair and panic crept over me as I was running out ideas and places to look in the house. Mom came home that night and acted as a second pair of eyes and confirmed that Stinkle was definitely not inside. It was Wednesday. Stinkle was outside and that’s all I knew.

I spent that morning and  afternoon walking up and down the streets calling her name, looking in bushes, talking to neighbors and  texting a lot of people to pray.  As I walked the streets over and over again, that same wave of panic and despair fell over me. I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry, but I also wanted to ring every doorbell on the street and ask if they had seen Stinkle. As I looked for Stinkle, I knew there were three possibilities.
1) Stinkle was dead.
2) Stinkle was outside hiding somewhere.
3) Stinkle was inside someone’s home.

If she was dead, I prayed that I wouldn’t be the one to find her. If she was outside, I prayed that she would hear my voice and come. I didn’t even want to consider option 3. To think that someone would see my cat, let her into their home and keep her forever made me sick. She was mine. I adopted her, I named her, I raised her since she was a kitten, I loved her.

Thursday through Saturday I was out of town and couldn’t look for my cat. Luckily, I was kept pretty busy. Still no word of anyone finding her. We had put out fliers, and posted on every social media site possible. Sunday came and I was overwhelmed. A whole week without kitty snuggles, her purring in my ear or sitting on my feet as I read. Was this my new reality? If it was, I didn’t like it. I spent a lot of time that day begging God to bring Stinkle home. The shock/denial of her being gone was fading, and the anger had definitely set in. Luckily, I had church so I could pray forgiveness for the things I said to God in my car. (mostly kidding…but not really). That night I met with my community group and I talked about my cat, saying everything I said here. I choked back tears and we all prayed that Stinkle would come home.

After group, I started talking to someone and after our conversation I checked my phone. It was a text from my mom.

“She’s home!!!” And there was a picture of my cat eating food in the kitchen.

A few members of my community group were standing close by and I managed to squeak out one of their names and I said “SHE’S HOMEEEE. STINKLE CAME HOME.” and then instant bawling. Just lots of sobs of joy, and just an overwhelming feeling of relief.  My community surrounded me as I cried.  My cat was found a few houses down in someone’s backyard. They got in contact with my mom and the rescue mission ensued all while I was at church. After the longest drive home ever, I burst through the door and held my cat in my arms. She had dried up mud on her tummy and so I got a washcloth and scrubbed the mud off.

I really wrestle  with apathy. Specifically, apathy towards God. I am apathetic because I falsely believe that  God is apathetic towards me. I think I love the Prodigal son story because the Father is anything BUT apathetic as He sprints towards his son who has come home. In a  weird kind of way, I got to live the Prodigal son story through the eyes of the father this week. And as I experienced what it was like to lose my cat and  not know if she was dead, alive or lost forever, I experienced a small bit of what God must go through all the time. Here’s some things I learned.

God aches for you:  Whenever I thought about Stinkle (which was a lot that week she was missing) my heart literally hurt. I wanted her home so badly . How much more does God ache for those who are lost? God aches for you. When you find rest, comfort, your identity in anything other than Christ, it’s like you’re Stinkle living in someone else’s home. I thought about my life and how I’ve made gods out of myself, people, being liked, control and comfort. God is aching for me to return home to my First Love, and He is aching fro you to do the same.

God pursuits you: I spent several hours a day looking for Stinkle. I walked until I was too tired and needed to rest. When it wasn’t a physical battle, it was mental one.  I let despair win sometimes and I would stop looking.  God is pursuing you. He does not need rest and He will not give up. God became man and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He left all of Heaven’s glory, praise and perfection, for this measly place where there’s headaches, sunburns, blisters, rejection, fatigue, hunger and heartbreak. Nothing stopped Jesus from making away for you to be reconciled to God. Not even death on a cross. Not even death itself. What an amazing God.

God celebrates when you are found: If anything changed my view of God, it was all the emotion I felt when i got that text from my mom. I remember thinking “Gosh, if I feel this much joy and relief about a cat, how much more joy does God feel when sinners become saved?” There’s a party in Heaven every time someone accepts Christ, and for the longest time I thought that was weird and corny. But now,  man, I believe it and can’t wait to join in on that party. But until then, I want to give my life to make sure everyone knows that they are invited to this party  and that the creator of the Universe loves them way more than I love my cat (which is a lot guys)

 

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:20-24

A love like Gravity

Sometimes at recess, the kiddos drag me into their pretend games. One girl and I decided we were going to fly into space. “3…2…1…BLASTOFF!!!” She yelled gripping the monkeybars (our rocketship). She began to swing back and forth. A few moments later, we had landed on a foreign planet. She hopped off the monkey bar and said “come on ms marlie! Let’s go!” She started walking around, and I said “Wait a sec. You’re in space! you have to float around, there’s no gravity in space!” (Sometimes I forget these are 4 &5 year olds.) “What’s gravity??” She asked. “It’s what keeps your feet on the ground when you’re on earth.” She blinked a few times and continued to explore the planet.

I spent the rest of that recess pondering that conversation. None of those kids knew anything about gravity, yet, there they were totally being held to the planet by  gravity.  We don’t do anything without gravity effecting us. It doesn’t change based on our mood, our circumstances or our ability to acknowledge or understand it. It just is. All of Earth is effected by gravity. every person and creature.

One time during school, a girl and I were talking about all the people who love her. she began to list the people:  “my Mommy loves me. My daddy loves me. My sister loves me.” I asked her: “You know who else  loves you?” “Who?” she asked. “God loves you!” “Why?” she asked. ‘Because He made you!” I responded. She blinked a few times and continued to list other people who loved her.

I spent the rest of the day pondering that conversation. None of those kids could grasp just how much God loved them, yet, there they were totally being loved and cherished by the Lord. We don’t do anything without God’s love effecting us. God’s love does not change based on our mood, our circumstances, or our ability to acknowledge or understand His love. He just loves because He is love. All of Earth is effected by His love, every person and creature.

His love, like gravity, is unwavering despite man’s depravity. I was going to write a poem instead of a blog post about this idea. But I couldn’t come up with anymore rhymes. So there’s a one-lined poem  for you. But seriously. The gravitational pull doesn’t change day to day, it’s not based on your actions or beliefs. You don’t experience more gravity one day, and less gravity the next. It’s constant. So is the Lord’s love. He has loved you and will always love you as much as He does right now which is more than we can fathom. The Lord’s love has nothing to do with us earning, or deserving love. But it has everything to do with God who IS love, who wants a relationship with us. Gravity doesn’t do much more than just keep you on the ground. The Lord’s love saves you, gives you hope, transforms you to be more like Christ. My prayer for you and for myself, echoes that of Paul’s.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17b-19

 

Lost&Found

After a day of babysitting, I drove an hour to meet a friend for coffee. As soon as I parked, I reached over to the passenger seat to pick up my wallet, and it was not there. I looked on the floor, nope. I looked under my feet. Nope. I looked in the back seats, I looked in the trunk. I looked in the passenger seat again, and again. Surely if I moved my jacket enough times, my wallet would appear underneath, right? Guys, there’s no panic like “Losing your wallet” panic. I immediately retraced my steps from the day.  The house I babysat at, the McDonald’s I took the boys to after their basketball game, home. Worst case scenario, I left it at McDonald’s and someone grabbed it. Or Someone might have turned it in right? Right? I whipped my phone out, googled that McDonald’s that I went to and called them to ask if they had found a black wallet. No one had found my wallet. I realized after I had called them that my wallet must have at least made it to my car or my home with because I deposited my check from babysitting into the bank.  With a calmer spirit, I called my mom, and lo and behold my wallet was at home.

“Cool story bro,” said the reader.

Thanks.

But wait, let’s take into account one thing: I HATE CALLING PEOPLE.  Especially strangers. I went to the aquarium a few days ago with a friend. Before, we were unsure if they were open, so I told my friend I’d call the place and ask. But I never did because I hate calling people.  Guys. My job search was a million times more difficult for me because I did not call people to follow up on my applications. Never in my life have I called a business to ask them a question. Until today.  I found the number, pressed dial, and didn’t hang up.  (usually, I stare at the number to dial, never press the call button, or when i do, I hang up before they answer. I got some serious phone anxiety) I called Mcdonalds because I lost my wallet. I was willing to go to great lengths to find this wallet. Why? cause it had everything in it: debit card, credit card, my license, $14 in cash, and my chapstick. It was worth a lot to me.

 

You know what has even more value than a wallet? You. We’re all sheep gone astray, prodigal sons, the blind, the lame, the weak, we’re sinners. We are lost. And the Gospel is a beautiful, life-changing, heart-transforming story of how the God of the Universe went to great lengths to find, save and redeem us. Why? He is a loving, loving Father. We were made in His image and in the beginning, man’s relationship with God was perfect. A few chapters later in Genesis: the Fall. Man sinned. God is holy. Sinners can’t be in the presence of God. We were separated from God. The cost to find us? His only Son. God in the flesh. Left Heaven, became man, lived a perfect life, died a horrendous death, rose from the dead and beat sin out once and for all. Talk about going a great length to find what was lost! Whether you’ve heard this story a million times, or for the first time now: I pray the reality of the Gospel sinks in. You are loved so much.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it,he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Luke 15:4-6

Real Talk: People aren’t Projects

When I think back to my time at Howard Payne, I remember the people most of all. Sure, I heard a lot of sermons, a lot of lectures, did a lot of reading/researching/studying. But when I look back, I remember the people: friends, roommates, best friends, professors. I’ve never felt so loved in my life. The friends I had loved me in my happiest and in my darkest moments.  They were “God with clothes on.” Not meaning they were perfect, but they loved me in my mess, despite my mess, and encouraged me consistently. Were there rough times? Yes. Tough conversations? Yes. Did I get along with everyone all the time? No. But that’s community for you. There’s nothing worse than faking it, pretending everything is cool when things aren’t.

As I reflect back, I think about how cheated I would feel if my friends only befriended me so I would become more like them. Like, what if I was this rebel child gone astray, and they treated me like their project and they had this agenda of “fixing me” when they befriended me. That would totally cheapen every nice thing they did for me. Of course, none of that is true.But its so convicting because I’m guilty of treating people like projects. Oh, you drink a lot? Let me fix you by “loving you.” Oh, you gossip? let me love you enough so you’ll stop. Gross right?
Not to mention, you can finish a project when you’re done with it. Right? People aren’t a science experiments you can display at a fair, or a C+ book report that you’re trying to turn into an A- report. Let’s ditch the agenda based relationships. And Let us never deem a person “ready” or “unready” to be loved.

Jesus had every morale high ground to stand on, but He didn’t get on a high horse. And who are we to get on ours? When we interact with the world, with non-christians and Christians, who are we to stand on pedestals? Who are we to ride Manny the Horse of Morality around and pick people to treat as projects? People are not projects. We can’t fix people. we can’t save people. We can’t even save ourselves, if we could, we wouldn’t have needed a Savior.

I’ve been in John lately, and I noticed something about Jesus and the miracles He performed. He never said “Okay, I’ll heal you, but first you have to clean up your act. I hear your thoughts, I know how jealous you get. So, try and be less angry and jealous. Then I’ll heal ya. Deal?” Nope. He sees the leper, the woman at the well, the thousands of hungry listeners, and loves them where they are at. He meets them where they are. Interestingly enough, afterwards, each person is so moved that they run and tell people about what Jesus did!  Jesus loved people in their present condition, but He didn’t leave them there. God loves you so much right now. He doesn’t hate “past” you. He doesn’t just tolerate you. He isn’t going to love the “future version” of you anymore than He loves you right now. He loves you. Period. The end.

And there’s nothing we’ve done to deserve His love. In John, there’s a story of a man who was paralyzed and waiting by a pool to get healed. He waited 38 years! Then, Jesus came and saw Him and healed him.  We love because He first loved us. We’ve all fallen short. Every last one of us. Man, if none of what I’ve said has made any sense, please read Ephesians 2:1-10. That’s basically what I’m trying to say. And these things too

1) People aren’t projects. They are works in progress just like you and me.

2) to love like Christ loves, is to love people where they are at. Not a “future version” of them. God loves us in our mess. So, we should love others in theirs.

3) relationships are powerful. the most important relationship we can have is one with God. Our vertical relationship with God effects our horizontal relationship people. (know God, Know love.)

okay that’s all.

thanks for reading. now go read ephesians 2:1-10, and John! because both are so good!