a present-over-perfect practice

words and reflections from 12.31.16:

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It’s a quiet New Year’s Eve in our home. We are tired from long travels back from SC, and the inevitable letdown that comes post-Christmas. In the quiet of reflection tonight, I am choosing to believe that as 2016 closes and 2017 dawns, God will be faithful, kind, and loving, even to me – who can be ungrateful, unkind, ungenerous, way too stubborn for my own good, and fearful. I’ve chased a lot of perfection and dreams in 2016, and from the outside looking in (or what you’d see and what I posted on social media), it looked pretty good. But part of what I’ve missed in that pursuit is real connection with friends and family. So for 2017 … I’m praying for God’s grace to show up through less trying-to-act-perfect and more real-life-community. Through less idealizing and more getting into the nitty-gritty work of forgiveness, love, kindness, courage, and faith. Amen?

***

 

stories of shame, part 4: Jesus meets the ashamed

As my first book, Unashamed, prepares to launch June 30, I’m writing a 10-part series on shame. All of them can be found by clicking here.

What does Jesus do with shame? I can tell you my story of struggling with shame (and I’ll continue to do so throughout this series), and this may provide you with some sense of connection as you feel less alone. That’s invaluable. But you need more than empathy and connection. You want healing, right?

And for that you’ll need to encounter someone powerful enough to take away your shame. To exchange it for honor – to call you “worthy.” Jesus may be the last person who comes to mind when you think about healing shame. But these stories give you a picture of why he is the only one – and the first one – to turn to when ashamed. It’s a creative retelling of three accounts in Scripture of Jesus’ encounter with those filled with shame, in this case all three women.

Story 1 (from Matthew 26:6-10):

I saw Jesus – glimpsed him entering the home of one of the religious leaders, Simon. Simon and his cronies never look my way. They must be afraid that simply acknowledging me will make them dirty and unclean. I am a prostitute, and cloaked in shame. But Jesus – he is different. He is not afraid to look me in the eyes. He forgives women like me. It’s the talk of the town. And so tonight – I am going. I am braving the scorn and the disgrace that may await me, and I am going to Jesus.

I entered the home and began weeping at his feet. I broke my alabaster jar of perfume – rather costly – a year’s wages – and anointed his head and feet. I wiped his feet with my hair. They’re all staring at me – Simon and his friends, Jesus’ disciples. But Jesus won’t turn me away. And so I stay.

Then they begin talking. It starts with the quiet whispering as they look in my direction. Then one of them says, “Do you know who she is?” And another adds, “What a waste! She could have sold the perfume and helped the poor with it!” Their arrogance looks “good.” I tremble inside and out. The shame – it’s taking over. I shouldn’t have come. Who did I think I was? Was Jesus worth this disgrace?

And then it happens. He stands up for me. He speaks up on my behalf. He defends me. And – I can hardly believe it – he shames Simon for his lack of hospitality! He says I’ve washed his feet (which Simon failed to do), that I’ve anointed his head (also forgotten by Simon) – and he says that what I’ve done is beautiful.

They are quiet. And my heart is full. I am free and unashamed, for Jesus set me free.

Story 2 (from John 8:3-11):

They caught me with him. And while he got away, I am now here, encircled by those who are backed with the law of God – with the right to stone me to death. It’s the end. I should have known it would come to this. I feel such disgrace – such shame – to be here, to end my life like this, surrounded by their disdainful looks and critical words.

But then he comes. Jesus is his name. And he stands by me – by me – and he says, “what has she done?” And then he says, “He who is without sin can cast the first stone.”

And I wait. And I watch with wonder as they leave, one by one, the older ones first.

I’ve never been treated like this. My shame? It’s beginning to fade away. He turns to me and forgives me, saying, “Go and sin no more.”

I walk away with my head held high and my shoulders back for perhaps the first time in my life. I am free and unashamed.

Story 3 (from John 4:6-30):

I’ve been married a lot. Five times, to be exact. The other women despise me. I can’t bear to pass them when gathering water at the well, so I go when I’m assured to be alone. In the heat of the middle of the day. Then I can get the water I need and go my way without contending with their shaming words and looks.

But today was different. There was a Jewish man there. And he talked to me. That’s not done. Ever. I’m a woman. And I’m a Samaritan. But he talked to me. And I didn’t like the direction he was going in – seemed to be trying to circle in to what I was trying to hide – and so I deflected. Began talking to him about his living water, about where to worship, anything to change the subject from me and the shame I’m living with daily.

Jesus persisted. He called me on my source of deepest shame (all my marriages) – and he pointed out my multiple marriages not for the purpose of condemning me, as everyone else does, but in order to let me know I’m loved for who I am. And to offer forgiveness.

So I am telling everyone about him, the one who told me everything I ever did, and then loved the shame right out of me.

I am free and unashamed.

Easter morning

{a repost from 2014}

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“Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing that you can be born again!” That melody floats through my head this morning. The melody that drew me into salvation as a child of 4-years-old who inquired what it meant to be born again, and then was … Keith Green’s invitation set to music.

Another phrase that seems to capture what Easter means for me this year, today:

Be free and have fun!

I overheard these words spoken by a grandmother sending her grandson off to play at a park a few weeks ago. And they have reverberated through my mind and heart ever since. Not only as such a good (different) parenting focus, but the words I need to hear from a resurrected Jesus this morning, every morning.

Easter means I am free and so are you who are united to Jesus by faith. Free from sin, free from slavery to the effects of my sin and others’, free from anxiety and worry, free from performance on the treadmill of perfection, free from my past and my failings, free from others’ judgments or opinions, free to say “no” to doing too much, free to love – to serve wholeheartedly – to create.

Free to have fun in the truest sense of fun. To be creative, to delight in a world that can be as delightful as it is broken.  To have fun with my daughters and not only be a disciplinarian. To have fun with my husband and in so doing make both of our loads lighter. To take myself more lightly and laugh a little easier. To have fun doing what I don’t give myself permission to do in my quest for achievement and success: to have fun painting, reading novels, blogging, sharing a cup of coffee with a close friend, making life and our home beautiful.

What about you? What could it mean to live in the light of Easter morning? Of the empty tomb calling out to you – “be free! and have fun!”? Where are you still living under the weight of “Silent Saturday”? Of the agony of Good Friday?

Three posts I recommend for your perusal. “We are the Sunday morning people” by Lisa-Jo Baker, “Woman, Why?” at (in)courage, and “We Need All the Days of Holy Week” at Grace Covers Me.

Enjoy … be free … have fun! The tomb is empty; Jesus our Lord is risen; death has lost its darkness and sin has lost its power. 

Lent as a rehearsal of the gospel

cross desert

For a contemplative – which is what I am in many, many more ways than I’ve been willing to admit – Lent is a season rich with treasures. There are worship services full of meaning: Ash Wednesday to launch Lent; Good Friday to meditate on the suffering of the cross; and then the glorious climax of Easter Sunday at its end. There are thoughtful devotional resources. This year I’m reading “Journey to the Cross” which I found here at TGC, written by Kendal Haug and Will Walker out of Providence Church Austin. The church worldwide is led into a season of denial leading up to Good Friday, and then the church universal celebrates joyously on Easter Sunday. 

It’s a rehearsal of the gospel story. Not only in the obvious way – the season of repentance, remembering, self-denial, that ends with a day of remembering Jesus’ suffering for our sake; and then three days later, celebrating resurrection life with the empty tomb on Easter – but also in our own hearts.

Each year I face the reality that the law cannot save me. Regardless of how low I set the bar for Lenten denial (“just” abstaining from sweets, or “just” not using non-essential phone apps) and repentant engagement (“just” loving my family better, or “just” noticing the homeless in our city and praying for them) – I can’t do it. On a “good” year I might last two weeks before I break Lent. Then I inevitably do what I try to do when I forget that Jesus did it all. I try to be better; I try harder; I invite more accountability; I set the bar lower or higher.

And my striving never works. It doesn’t produce the result of a more disciplined life. Instead, it produces a heart desperate for the rescue of grace. A heart that comes to Good Friday painfully aware of my inability to stay awake to repentance even for 40 days. A heart that cannot make itself righteous. A heart that needs resurrection hope. A heart that is rescued only by turning away from self-denial and embracing the life of the dying-now-resurrected Savior.

So this year, as I’ve been aware of my inability to sustain any sort of meaningful Lenten fast – I say, “help me, God!” And I thank God that he has. That he sent Jesus whose ministry started with the test (and the passing!) of the wilderness temptation. Jesus who followed the Spirit into this very wilderness testing, passing the test I will always fail.

True Lenten fasting uncovers the layers of our hearts where we struggle to trust this Jesus who did it all for us out of love. True Lenten fasting leaves us longing for more of Jesus and hopeful because in the Spirit through faith we have Christ within us – the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

when you break Lent (and it breaks you)

This is a post from three years ago, and it’s worth reposting. Because it’s just as true for me now as it was then. The only difference is that my Lenten fast is much smaller now – but it’s still more than what I can do on my own strength!

I offer this as an encouragement to look up and out to Jesus. He is our hope, and He is the whole point of Lent. It’s the journey to the cross.

***

Lent.

The period of 40 weekdays that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence.

I chose what I thought would be four hard but do-able items for my Lenten fast this year. Call me an overachiever, or more accurately, an over-estimator of my own strength. A month ago I posted about my hopes for Lent. How hard could it really be? And how refreshing and empowering could it be! In taking away many of my heart’s distractions – phone apps, Target, sweets, t.v. – I assumed that God would replace my heart’s misplaced affections with a renewed love for Christ and the people around me.

About three weeks in, I broke Lent. Fully and completely. Not just one day, but I think it was about every day of the week and I broke every single “fast” multiple times. I rationalized why for each of them.

  • Going to Target will help me stick to our family budget on some key grocery items like Kashi cereal and goldfish.
  • “Non-essential” phone app category expanded dramatically. I started Lent with 6 icons on my home screen that I deemed “non-essential.” I’m ending Lent with twice as many.
  • Television is the only way that my husband and I can really share down time together after busy days in the midst of a busy week
  • I really just “need” a quick pick-me-up. Nothing like a bite of chocolate to do that.

My response to breaking Lent? First, my typical pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps approach: “Just try harder, Heather. Get it together. You can do it!” As this failed, I descended to self-blame, punishment, guilt and shame. “This is really not that hard. There are millions of people in the world who LIVE without these things daily, and you can’t just go without for 40 days?? What is wrong with YOU?” That also got me nowhere fast.

And then I realized that maybe this is the real purpose of Lent. To reveal (again) that I cannot fulfill the Law. Any law – of God’s eternally perfect law, other people’s expectations, or my own standards. Maybe Lent is meant to show me how little I can do in my own strength, and therefore how MUCH I need Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection that we celebrate at Easter. Truth echoed in these verses from Romans 3:19-20 –

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Breaking Lent is one way that the law breaks me. It’s a beautiful breaking, for it leads me to the One who restores and makes new. If I didn’t practice a Lenten fast this year, I would be that much less aware of my helplessness to gain eternal life and a relationship with God on my own strength or efforts. And so, in an upside-down backwards way, breaking Lent has broken me of trying and pointed me in desperate hope to Jesus whose death we remember this week and whose life we celebrate next Sunday. Listen to this hope found in Romans 5:6 and 21 –

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. … so that … grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we round the final corner of Lent, walking into Holy Week’s somber reflections, let us remember that we cannot earn Easter on our own merit. Our best trying leaves us hopeless. Let us fall in our weariness and allow Jesus to pick us up and bring us with Him to the cross and then the hope of the empty tomb this week and always.

the Christmas of unexpected Joy

For a long time, 2015 will be remembered as the Christmas when we were barely hanging on, and the Advent of finding joy in unexpected places. I told my physician-brother a few months ago that if there were a clinical diagnosis for “too busy,” Seth and I would have met the criteria for it several months ago. It is just too easy for two over-achievers to keep doing and forget to rest, relax, and take a break. To focus on who really matters: God, each other, our daughters, and the family and friends we love dearly. And I guess I should speak for myself – Seth does a way better job of this taking a break than I do. My counseling heart and artistic impulse are gifts … but they have the dark side of my tendency to say “yes” to more people and projects than I can adequately follow through.

This fall has been the process of me taking a giant step back – a step out of leading our small group, teaching women’s Bible study, over-scheduling with extra-familial commitments and appointments, and a step back that culminated in a decision to take a sabbatical from my counseling practice starting January 1, 2016. There are many reasons for this particular timing – two of them being:

(1) My pastor-husband will be graciously receiving the gift of a sabbatical from our church from February through April (an every 7-years-rhythm they’ve established for the pastors) – and I want to join him for that.

(2) My first book is being released in June, and I needed/wanted space to devote to this venture.

In the stepping back, there is much that I already miss – chiefly among them, the courageous women and men I’ve had the privilege of sitting with and walking together through stories of love, loss, and hope despite the darkest of backgrounds. (I do find myself already counting down the months until I will reengage with this calling again!)

Yet this is the beauty of God’s gifts of realizing our limitations: the limitations form the boundaries of our truest calling.

Until I said no to over-scheduling, I couldn’t have known the joy of just being … of writing … of enjoying the gift of a quiet home the mornings our daughters are at preschool … of being present for their many unscheduled moments (highs & lows) that happen when I’m here to notice them. I couldn’t have known the frustrations that push me deeper into faith in a God who sees – the frustrations that come when I see how poorly I love my family for whom I profess undying love (and when I experience their imperfect love towards me, too).

And herein lies the beauty of this Christmas-Advent season: in slowing down (being forced to, might I add, due to a litany of never-ending illnesses), Joy still came. Despite what felt like barely hanging on in terms of health and the fullness of our days and the way we typically celebrate Christmas (lots of parties both hosted and attended, etc.) – Joy came in being still and quiet enough to notice The Greatest Gift, Jesus. Jesus ushered in the best gifts of this season:

  • grace given and received in the midst of fraying emotions and harried tasks
  • a beautiful painting by a dear friend
  • a necklace for this season, reminding me to “be still and know”
  • a bracelet from my beloved, and all the love that is patient that it represents
  • words to speak to you and to God – expressing my heart and inviting us deeper still into the mystery that is Jesus
  • many hot cups of tea sipped while editing the manuscript of a book I need more than anyone else possibly could
  • gifts from neighbors for us and our girls – and the gift of having great neighbors!
  • family and friends who continue to love us through our imperfect moments and to lavish us with their time, attention, and generosity

For all of these gifts … for the Greatest Gift to match my deepest need … all I can say is what’s been sung for generations (reminding you and me that “faithful” is not what we are in our own efforts, but what Jesus calls us who cling to him by faith):

o come all ye faithful

order your print from Etsy here

the glittering mess of Advent

Every December, it surprises me. Meaning, the juxtaposition of “the most wonderful time of the year” with the reality of how far I am from being able to fully embrace the joy proclaimed to me in every Christmas song and story and glittering decoration. I know I’m not alone in this. For I  hear your stories – maybe not yours specifically, but in sitting with multiple stories of suffering and disappointment and hope deferred throughout almost a decade of counseling and a few decades more of friendship and family relationships, I have a fairly good sense of the ways life breaks us.

And for some reason, I find myself each Advent/Christmas season battling to find the hope that surrounds me like no other time of year. I struggle because at the deepest part of who I am, I know that Jesus’ coming as a baby changed everything for the better (while I also see so much that doesn’t fit with a redeemed world). I find deep comfort that his incarnation – God with us – was a literal game-changer for the human race. That Jesus was “born to set Thy people free/from our sins and fears release us/let us find our rest in Thee.” That I am to “fall on [my] knees/O hear, the angels voices/O night divine/O night when Christ was born.” And I crumble inside with the best of you at the emotion of it all – of God being made like us, like a tiny baby, utterly vulnerable to the ones he created.

But then I begin to get angry and sad. For if Jesus was born to set His people free, why on earth are we so chained up to others’ expectations and our own inward voices of shame? And why do we Christians hurt  each other in the church when we are all simply trying to love one another the best we know how? Why do “Christian” politicians infuriate the culture-at-large with offers to pray in the wake of tragedy and apparently no (or minimal) actions behind these prayers?  Why do news headlines daily proclaim a new form of terror?

And to bring it home and make it more personal: why do I have friends still struggling with infertility?

Friends grieving parents taken too soon?

Friends who have suffered unspeakable tragedies of abuse when they were children who could not protect themselves?

Why are friends stuck in marriages that feel lifeless? (Or why are there friends who are newly divorced despite months/years of trying to reconcile?)

Why does cancer still strike in the most unexpected of ways and times to friends in the prime of their life/ministry?

And if I dare to be courageously honest, I have a few questions of my own. Like how did I get to be so battle-weary and exhausted when I thought I was fighting for the gospel of justice, truth, beauty, and light in the name of Jesus, in the strength of his grace, and for the sake of his glory?

Why does every recent December feel depressing, as a time when I am more likely to feel the weight of the world’s sorrows instead of the hope of the Savior’s joy?

Why does Christmas seem to come up short from how I remember it as a child?

I am beginning to realize anew that the only answer to these weighty, angst-filled questions is in trying to hold in my feeble hands the glittering mess of Advent.

It’s not unlike the abundant blue glitter that one of my 5-year-old daughters sprinkled with abandon around her room earlier this week. There was literally a path of blue sparkle that looked like a rug placed on our white (!) carpet. A glittering path that led to their mini-Christmas tree. As I vacuumed it up, I surprised myself by beginning to laugh instead of growing more angry and frustrated. I laughed because it was beautiful. Any of you who have ever had the *privilege* of vacuuming up large quantities of glitter know exactly what I’m talking about. It glitters and sparkles and changes in the light, and as I vacuumed clean white paths through the blue, the vacuum cleaner began to sparkle, too. (Because it has a see-through compartment.)

And that’s when it came to me.

This is a metaphor for Advent’s tension between the beauty that will be (which began to break through in the incarnational mystery of Jesus) and the mess that we continue to make with this beauty.

These broken places of grief, betrayal, loss, and deferred hope – they are real and they are tragic in an exponentially greater way than a 5-year-old glitter tantrum (oh – did I leave that part out? The reason that she created such a display was out of anger that she was in time out – it was a mess intended to annoy me.).

But this I cling to – in hope against hope – that the mess twinkles, sparkles, glitters in the light of the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree that became our salvation as it became a cross. This tragedy of the tiny babe grown up and offered up willingly as the most tragic of sacrifices for the most unworthy of offenders. You and me.

Ann Voskamp says it well in her Advent devotional:

The Cross stands as the epitome of evil. And God takes the greatest evil ever known to humanity and turns it into the greatest Gift you have ever known. … If God can transfigure the greatest evil into the greatest Gift, then He intends to turn whatever you’re experiencing now into a gift. You cannot be undone. Somewhere, Advent can storm and howl. And the world robed for Christmas can spin on. You, there on the edge, whispering it, defiant through the torn places: “All is grace.”

 

 

because Christmas is about giving (an opportunity)

I am still working on how to convince my 5-year-old twin daughters that Christmas is about giving not getting. Perhaps because I, too, have a hard time really sinking into the reality that it is more blessed to give than receive. I, like them, love (and prefer) what’s shiny and new. My “toys” are more “sophisticated” – and expensive – than theirs, but I, too, have a bent towards thinking first about what I want to get instead of what I want to receive.

And so I would like to turn our eyes toward the meaning behind the songs and the shiny decorations and the twinkling magical lights – and I want to do so by also giving you an opportunity to put it into action.

Allow me to introduce my friend “Sara” to you (pseudonym used to protect the sensitive nature of her work). Sara is preparing to embark on one of the bravest adventures I’ve ever known, an adventure and a battle against one of the worst present-day places of evil, darkness, and injustice in our world: human trafficking. I’ll let her tell you in her own words:

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HT pic2

Called to Battle

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

The Battlefield

Everything you might imagine about a South Asian city is true of K. Noisy all hours day and night, chaotic traffic, decaying colonial architecture, smells ranging from urine, curry, body odor, jasmine and cinnamon- this city has it all. What you might not know about K. is it is also the exact opposite of all of those things. K. is a place of laugher and bright white smiles, vibrantly colored saris, pastel painted walls and doors.

Surprisingly, amid all the audible and visual noise there are small elements of calm. One of my favorite things is to see the city wake up for the day. Older men sit near the corner chai stand and read the paper, gossip and watch the city come to life. Other men and youth bathe in the communal taps that seem to be on every street and always running. Store keepers sweep the filthy sidewalk in front of their stands, a seemingly unending and unfruitful task.

The Fight

South Asia is also an area of darkness- oppressive heavy darkness. Darkness that can be felt and where evil lurks under its cover. In K. there is an area known as S-chi. It is no wider than a few city blocks wide and not many more long.

This small area is one of the world’s largest red light districts. A staggering 10,000 women work here daily.

HT pic 1

 

Some have been trafficked across this country, or from other countries. Others have been tricked by husbands or family members. Still others saw no possible means for providing for their family so they chose to join the forces. Each has a unique story. Their stories might differ in details, but common threads are woven throughout. These women have been led to believe they have no voice, no worth, no value, and no hope. Their only worth comes from what they can sell to others; their body. All have been fed lies about who they are and what they have been created for. Dignity and freedom has been stripped away, things we take for granted.

These are lies the Evil One has led the ladies, their culture, and largely the world, to believe. Their reality is a heartbreaking confrontation with Evil. Our battle is not against the rulers and authorities, but against the dark powers of this world. We are all called to fight against the darkness and bring light to the world.

We have a God of hope and freedom in the midst of this darkness. We are called to bring this hope and freedom to others that haven’t yet seen or experienced with their own eyes.

 

The Battle Plan

In K the team has started a Western Style Bakery.Through the bakery they are able to offer alternate means of employment and tangible glimpses of hope out of unimaginable circumstances.

The goal is to provide life skills, job training, empowerment, confidence, dignity, worth and freedom to women who have never dared to imagine these things for themselves.

We are there to help them dream and claim the promises God has for them!

How can we expect to see justice in this situation? The scale of need is so great, where to begin? One woman at a time. One fumbling Bengali conversation after another until something clicks and there is a personal connection. One western smile meets an Asian smile. One exchange haggling over a market purchase. One life, one story, at a time. This work hinges on relationships. It begins and ends there. One life that is changed is a life changed! From there change is contagious, the lives of the immediate family change, then the extended family, then a village. God is mighty to move nations, and he uses individuals to do so.

My role on the team will be social justice coordinator. I will have a foot in the bakery, walking alongside ladies transitioning out of the demands of the district and into life as a baker. My other foot will be firmly planted in the district looking for opportunities to talk to ladies, getting to know them -learning their stories and stories of their culture, and sharing life.

The Army

Encouragers: I need to be reminded of the gospel and of God’s promises. It is as much for me as it is for the women that don’t yet know Him.

Physical: My target departure date is March 2016. I have to have pledged $4600/ month of financial support to get to the field, and one-time gifts of $40,000. I have only $26,000 left in one-time gifts.

[Heather’s note: Whatever you are able/can give will make a big difference in this balance of $26,000. For example, if each of you, my faithful readers, gave $25 we could help Sara with over half of her one-time balance – bringing it down to just under $10,000 remaining.]

Intercessors: This work cannot be done without the power of committed prayer, and willingness to enter into oppressive darkness.

I am very excited about this journey. I have committed to long term service of five years with the sending organization. I am not taking this journey alone. I need an army of supporters and givers willing to join me in the battle against the dark forces of Evil in this place. I am committed to being the eyes and ears on the ground and connecting you to work God is doing on the other side of the world. Will you step into the battle with me?

You can give online to Sara by going to www.serge.org/give/ and entering her designation number #54410. [This is a secure field, and she is not listed directly on the agency website.]

To be connected with Sara’s team of intercessors and encouragers, leave a comment below and Heather will pass it along to her.

 

 

 

Five Minute Friday: try

I love Five Minute Friday – have I said that lately? I’ve accepted the fact that between revising the manuscript for my first book (releasing spring 2016 by Crossway on the topic of finding healing and freedom from shame), and being at home 24/7 with my 4-year-olds during the summer, “Five Minute Friday” posts are the extent of my summer blogging schedule.

Here’s this week’s prompt: “try.”

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photo from kokoamag.com

photo from kokoamag.com

Try feels like a law. Try harder … to be better, to run faster, to exercise more, to eat healthy, to parent calmly, to love fully, to be compassionate, to fight against injustice.

“Try” is a taskmaster, telling me that better is always up ahead, and that I haven’t ever quite made it. It’s like a finish line of a marathon continually being moved ahead a few miles, just when you round the corner and get a glimpse of it.

“Try” tends to be the staple of the church, the way we seek holiness and love.

But “try” doesn’t get you anywhere but discouraged.

Maybe that’s the silver lining of “try.” When I try harder to be better, to love, to embrace, to live according to who I know I am called to be – I forget that it’s not about my effort. It never has been. I can’t save myself. And I cannot make myself holy.

Jesus rescued me from “try” at the cross. Galatians 2:20-21 says that “if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” It hit home for me the summer of grace between my sophomore and junior year of college. And I have to return to this beautiful, soul-liberating truth of grace that saves and grace that sustains and GRACE that will bring me home.

Try doesn’t cut it. Grace frees me from “try” and transforms “try” into “trust.” Trust that God did it ALL at the cross, and rest from “try” – trust that it has been finished, and that “the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

***

Five Minute “Friday”: free

Wow – another week has flown by, with less blogging than I hoped for but more summer moments like I’ve wished for. Catching fireflies, homemade ice cream, pool-splashing, etc. So I return to Five Minute Friday (or Saturday) which has become a writing anchor for me – a non-negotiable in a week where writing too easily slips me by. Join me? Hosted by Kate Motaung, it’s an encouraging writing community where we write for five minutes unedited each Friday.

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freeFree is like flying, soaring like an eagle high in the sky. Or a child running through a field of wildflowers laughing. No care or thought of how she’s viewed. Simply free to enjoy what gives her delight in that moment. Free takes practice, ironically enough.

We the redeemed must practice our freedom from sin and shame. Too, too easily they take hold of us, try to weigh us down and keep us limited. But we are freed. Free to live according to a new power – not of the law, sin, and death, but of life and hope through the Spirit. Free to love as we have been loved. Free to try new things way outside of our comfort zone, and free to fail – because our identity is not dependent on perfect performance. We are freed from all that wants to bind us: expectations, laws and demands to perform, pressure to produce, conditional love that says “do this to be loved,” other people’s opinions, our own past, what happened yesterday, our fears for tomorrow.

Free. Practice freedom, not to become free but because you already are free. What would that mean? What would you do? What wouldn’t you do? I would write and write and write without editing or worrying whether it sounded ok. I would take hold of the promise that I’m forgiven for how I interacted with my family yesterday, and I could engage them today with love instead of withdrawing in shame. I wouldn’t obsess over whether my clothes hid the extra pounds I dislike. I would take a few risks and say yes to more adventures. What about you?

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