1.27.2012

friday flashback: a tale of a Father's love


He sits in his recliner watching television, a pile of son and daughter on top of him. Giggles pour from that corner of the room, a daddy teasing his children, children insatiable for his attention. I marvel at how they fit so perfectly together, Zach curled under one arm, Tali the other. I love that at 9 and 11 years old, they still fit on their daddy’s lap. I love that their daddy still longs to have them there.

This… this is how it is with our Daddy-God too… a Father who loves us with a lavish love. A Father who has adopted us into His Divine family.
You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Romans 8:15-16
Children of the most High God! Mind-boggling that the Creator would look upon His creation, a creation that has rejected Him, ran after other Gods, broken itself on the rocks of this world, and say… yes… she is the one I want! She is the one I will call child! 

I wonder, friend, if you know what it means to be the child of God? To know Him as more than a distant Creator, but as an intimate Father? To understand what it means to be accepted into this Divine family so completely, unconditionally, perfectly?

I do. 

I know a little about that kind of adoption.

Although I was purposed in the heart of God, I came as quite a surprise to my mom who found out she was pregnant with me just out of high school. Although she feared what would happen when she told her father, a man who swelled with anger and abuse at any perceived or even imagined wrong, she hoped that her boyfriend would choose to marry her. Surely he would, after all, they were 18… it would be the right thing to do…  

But that wasn’t in his plan. I wasn’t in his plan. This, I, was a major problem. And his answer was simple.

Get rid of the problem. 

I can’t imagine how my mom must have agonized. Her heart telling her that she couldn’t destroy the life growing within her, but knowing that her father's reaction would be swift and full of hatred. She must have been terrified. The world told her that it’s okay. It’s her body and her choice. That would be the easy road. Yet her heart confirmed that this was the very breath of life…  

She chose life.

I’m pretty happy about that. ;)

And while my “father” completely withdrew from the picture, her father surprised her by reacting to her, for what she says was one of the only times in her life, with grace and love.

Her heavenly Father also had a plan. A purpose. His name was Joe Talley, and for those of you who don’t know…. that’s my dad.

An unlikely pair who met over a bowl of truck stop soup on the west coast. She was young, desperate, and broke. So he offered to give mom a ride back as far as Indiana, where he lived. Wouldn't you know it, by the time they hit the Hoosier State, they had fallen in love. It wasn’t long before he and mom married, and they came to get me from my Mamaw's house. We moved to Bicknell, Indiana where I gained a new last name. Talley. 

A new identity.

We didn’t go through a fancy court proceeding or hire a high dollar lawyer. He and mom just sat me down at the kitchen table and asked if I wanted to have a new last name. It was that simple.

When dad took me into his family, into his heart, he did so completely. Without question. Without stipulation. Without condition.  That’s how God’s love is too! When we receive our divine adoption… God doesn’t ask us to fill out a form, or jump through hoops… ours is not a God of beaurocracy… He is a God of mercy! He simply stretches out his arms of forgiveness and wraps us in His perfect love! We get a new identity in HIM! And that’s how my daddy loved me.

Mom and dad never tried to get any support out of that man back in Ohio. We didn’t need him. I had a daddy, and he assumed complete responsibility for me- physically, financially, emotionally.  Our family was complete without that man, and despite the fact that we struggled financially, maintaining my identity in him was more important than a check from a person I’d never met. He just took me. That’s an amazing thing as I reflect back on it. He could have done so many things differently… he could have chosen to be a step-father… instead he chose to be a DADDY… he just accepted me and loved me. I was never ever ever made to feel any less than his daughter.

He told my mom once that she was his shiny new Peterbilt… keep in mind he was a truck driver- a shiny new Peterbilt is a big deal!... and I was the chrome mirrors. I was the icing on his cake. And not because I was perfect or beautiful or sweet (although I’m fairly certain I was all three) but because I loved him. And he loved me. Just because. 

Just because.

Then when I was twelve years old, my dad had a conversation with me that is still etched into my memory. Sitting together on top of a picnic table at our favorite campground he began to speak, voice shaking. “You probably know this”, he said “but I’m not your real father. I’m really your dad… but…” and he explained it to me. Now let me remind you that I REMEMBERED getting a new last name. I REMEMBERED bits and pieces of life before him. I KNEW that I was older than  mom and dad had anniversaries… and now all of that made sense because…

his love for me was so complete and so perfect and so unconditional and so real that I never once questioned who I was in him. He had to tell me that he was not my “father”. This is more than me being na├»ve… You see, my spirit testified with his spirit that we were family. And this little girl never questioned it…  

I know it sounds insane, I know I should have KNOWN, and on some level I’m sure I did… but I never QUESTIONED. And I still don’t. Because despite the person that helped create me… the daddy God ordained for me was Joe Talley.  

I’m not sure why it had to happen this way… but just six months after that conversation took place our world was shattered. My aunt woke me in the middle of the night and told me that they had taken dad to the hospital. It was no big deal, she said. Just heartburn, she said.

But she was wrong. It was a massive heart attack. And my daddy was gone. In the blink of an eye. Gone.

There’s no good way to explain what that season was like except to say, everything went crazy… the glue that held us together, as family, as people… was gone. This is not a place I like to go, friends. It takes my breath away to remember the pain of that loss… and the impact it had on that 12 year old little girl. I bottled the hurt up inside and quickly went about the business of building walls. Of learning to wear a face that says “I’m fine! Right as rain! Don’t worry about me!” But inside things were so broken. As secure as I once was, I became confused. The little girl who had led her family to church, found it difficult to relate to a God who would let this happen.

I couldn't connect with a “Father God”… I was a two-time loser with fathers... one had literally thrown me away and the other had been ripped from my life. Little questions in a little girl’s mind grew into bigger doubts… and big doubts grew, by the time I was in my early twenties, into a postmodernist unbelief… you know, the “many roads lead to heaven” kind of unbelief.

You see I had created for myself a comfortable god. One who honored whether or not we were nice to each other above any specific theology. One who didn't require that we call on his specific name. One who COULD overlook our inequities so long as we were “trying”. 

This god of my own making  was not a Father. He set the world into motion, and then sat back to watch it unfold. This god didn’t care about a relationship with me. Which was fine, because frankly I didn’t want a relationship with him either.

But see, Fathers love even when that love isn’t being returned… He watched from the window, even when I was in the far country. Gently, He began speaking to my heart and a hunger grew within me for Truth.  Showing up on Sunday mornings with more frequency. Picking up my Bible, long since forgotten on the shelf.

But there was still a distance.

A sea of doubt and disappointment between myself and God. No longer doubt that He was there, but doubt that He would love me. No longer disappointment for the hurt I had known in my life, but overwhelming feelings that He must be disappointed in me.  

Ah. But that is not the way of a Father’s love, is it?

A daddy’s love is different. I didn’t have to earn my dad’s love. I didn’t have to be perfect. I didn’t have to be beautiful. He didn’t have to “get to know me”. He just loved me. He wasn’t waiting to see if I’d make good grades, or develop a sense of humor, or excel at sports… HE LOVED ME RIGHT WHERE I WAS. 

Our Daddy-God is the same way! By Him we receive a spirit of sonship, and by him we cry “Abba, Father”, for the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children!  Abba! Aramaic for Daddy! He isn’t just a Creator-God who set the world in motion! He isn’t an angry Father scowling in disappointment. He is a Daddy-God!

And we are his children! Just as purely as I was dad’s daughter- so too are you the sons and daughters of GOD… can you get your mind around that? That the most High would call you son, daughter?  Just as I trusted in the relationship I had with dad, so much that I had pushed from my thoughts any question as to whether I was his “natural” child… so too can you trust in your relationship with your Abba Father!

This was such a hard concept for me, and maybe it is for you too. I battled with feelings of unworthiness- how could God really love me? Doesn’t He know who I am? Doesn’t He see my failures? Didn’t He hear me when I denied Him? Didn’t He see that I had already been tossed away, that I had been shattered, and that I couldn’t bear much more? 

And then came a time when I found myself on my knees, in my living room… broken. And Abba called me into His lap.  It had been a long time since I had rested in my daddy’s lap. Tears streaming down my cheeks I realized… no more than realizing… I understood that He wanted not just a bit of me, but all of me. Good and bad… imperfect, weak, and broken… He desired me right where I was...He understood my hurt… my pain… my brokenness. 

Have you found that spot on your Daddy’s lap? That place under His arm that fits you perfectly? If you haven’t, He is ready. He is not a distant Creator-God… He is a God that went to the cross so that He could have a relationship with broken, flawed, imperfect you.  And when God adopts you into His divine family it’s just as pure and perfect as when my dad chose to love me.  No longer do you belong to a world that speaks death over you… you belong to the giver of life.

Are there things in your past you still cling to, because you are too embarrassed and ashamed to give them to God? Have you held him at arm’s length because you can’t imagine that He would really love you? Daddy’s love no matter what! Even when I scratched my name into the trunk of our “brand-new-to-us” Ford LTD… my daddy still loved me. Even when I told lies… my daddy still loved me. Even when I back talked… my daddy still loved me. Even though I was a “mistake”… my daddy still loved me. Daddy’s love no matter what! 

I know there are some of you who are still trying to work your way into His grace.  But grace, if by works… IS NOT GRACE.  Grace takes you where you are… and washes you clean as snow... Not because you deserve it or have earned it, but because He loves you that much!  I never had to earn my daddy’s love, he just held his arms open and I jumped in. Tali and Zach haven’t had to earn my love… it’s just there. No matter what they do, or who they become, I will love them. If I, a failed and broken human knows how to love my children… how much more must your Daddy-God loveyou?

Won’t you jump into your Daddy’s arms? He’s been waiting all of eterninty for this moment, for this chance to hold you, to know you. Don’t you see? His desire to love you ran so deep that He sent His only Son, so that we may be reconciled to Him.  Whatever shame burdens your heart, He wants to take it from you! Whatever storm is raging, He longs to shelter you! Whatever pain you carry, He longs to comfort you!  

It still hurts when I think about losing my daddy... But my Father in Heaven knows what it’s like to lose. My beautiful Jesus knows what it’s like to be separated from His Father. They understand. And in that, I find comfort.

I only had my daddy for nine short years… but in that time he crammed in enough love for a lifetime. Perfect, unconditional, no-strings-attached, genuine, deep, love.  I know what it’s like to be held secure in the arms of my daddy, both earthly and now heavenly. It took me a long time to believe that God would really love someone like me… but HE DOES!

And guess what… He loves people like you too!

1.24.2012

the path to peace


This afternoon I had the chance to interview a beautiful woman with a truly incredible story. As she told me about the many obstacles she has faced in her life, from losing an arm at the age of twenty-one to losing her husband at the age of thirty-seven, I marveled at her strength and determination to carry on. Knowing that she is a woman of great faith now, I asked if she has always had this faith to carry her… “oh, no” came her quick response… “and that’s why it was so hard. I didn’t know. But now, looking back, I can see that God was always there with me, I just didn’t know it then.”

We talked for a bit about the difference it would have made if she would have known God her whole life. Certainly, she was still able to press through the storm and come out on the other side… but she had no peace in the process. The difference now isn’t the absence of struggles, she has more than her fair share of those, it’s the presence of peace.

“I can’t complain” she said with a sweet smile as I asked about her current health concerns, “my life is very blessed…”

That’s what peace looks like.

In my profession, working with the aged and disabled in their homes, I see many, many, many people who are far less disabled than she is, with far worse attitudes. My friend HIPAA won’t let me tell you specifics, but take my word for it, there are some very unhappy people in this world.

And the only difference is Who they know. I see so many people with great faith smile from the middle of the storm, clinging to the one who is worthy, trusting His will. And, sadly, I see so many more who are lost, and confused, and blown about by the winds of this life. Angry. Frustrated. Anxious.

As I drove away from her single-wide trailor, I thought of my own journey of faith. Those dark, dark days when I couldn’t get pregnant. I was far from God, and the sadness and disappointment I felt was overwhelming. I felt lost and alone and punished as I roamed aimlessly through the valley. And I know that I exuded darkness to others. I was impossible to be around.  Oh, how that journey would have looked different if I knew then what I know now… that God can be trusted. No matter what, He can be trusted. Even when the answer is no, He can be trusted.  And this is where we find peace… in trusting Him.

I know that some of you reading this post are so, so hungry for peace.  Some of you are going through the storm right now, and all you want is a little peace. Some of you are living in households that are full of chaos and strife, and you have cried out for Jesus to bring peace a thousand times. Some of you are facing a diagnosis that terrifies, or finances that are failing, or a marriage in decline. And all you want peace.

You have been on my heart this week. The Lord has taken me into His Word, prayers have been uttered in the watches of the night. Peace for your children, Lord… and He is showing me there is a path to peace.

Last Saturday morning as I soaked in a sanctuary full of the sound of worship, I was drawn into Isaiah 26…

Isn’t it amazing how a scripture that you have heard dozens of times suddenly becomes real to you?

This was one of those times.
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3 
Do you want peace?

Father God says...Trust me.  Look to me.  Focus on me.  Trust me.  I got this.

He doesn't say that He will calm every storm. He doesn’t promise to keep this world in perfect peace, or even our own little corners of it... oh how I wish it were that easy...  no, instead He promises to keep us [me, you] in perfect peace.  Regardless of what is going on around us, He promises peace... and not just a little peace... but perfect peace. Peace that passes understanding.  Peace that is complete, peace that is bigger than the storm or trial we are walking through, bigger than the rocky marriage, or declining health, or failing finances...

But this peace that passes understanding only comes when we trust Him, when we really, really trust Him with a steadfast trust. Isaiah 26:3 promises us this, and Philippians 4:6-7 echos the same thing:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Jesus says... Trust me.  Look to me.  Focus on me.  Trust me.  I got this.

Whatever you are facing, you can take it to Jesus and trust that He will bring peace. Maybe not to the storms in your life, but definitely to the storms in you.  Have you seen people walk this out?  Some of the greatest stories of faith I know are of people who, in the midst of mind-boggling loss, or chaos, or hurt continue to look to Christ, and in doing so, exude such sweet peace.  They are not shaken, because their foundation is secure. They are steadfast. Friends, you will only ever find real peace in Jesus, through steadfast focus on Him and His kingdom. It is by knowing and trusting His heart, and that He only has good plans for you, regardless of the chaos this world may be throwing your way.  It's having our eyes ever, only on Jesus. Then He will guard our hearts and minds from the attacks of this world. Take it to Jesus, and then trust Him with it! That is the only way we can ever hope to have real peace!

Yet, too often we put our trust in this world. In our bank accounts or our doctors or our security. But this world will always fail us. Even good, good people, will fail us at times. Jesus will never fail usand knowing this... really knowing this, is what keeps us in perfect peace. 

It is really knowing this truth that emboldens us to live a sold-out lifestyle, a steadfast life. A life that trusts Him no matter what, so that we can walk wherever He has asked us to walk in perfect peace.  Even if that path goes through sickness, or loss, or hurt.  It is having a mind that is immovable, determined, intent, focused.  It is trusting His enough-ness enough.

That is when peace comes.

That we can look back on all the mountains and the valleys, when we can look into our current circumstances, when we can look into the uncertainty of tomorrow and say “God is with me all the time… my life is very blessed”.


Father, I confess that at times, I do not trust you enough. I confess that I worry about things that are already in Your more than capable hands. I confess that I put my trust in others, when I should always, always, always be focused on You. Father steady our minds on WHO YOU ARE. Plant in our hearts the confidence that You will never fail us! We know this with our heads, but God I am asking that you would invade our hearts with this truth, so that our eyes would ever and always be fixed on yours... in your beautiful Son's name I pray... amen...


1.17.2012

happy birthday, to the little girl who changed my life...


Twelve and a half years ago I made a routine visit to my doctor’s office.  After the visit, as I sat on the side of the table, he asked “is there anything else we need to talk about”. I remember the nervous tension filling my body as the words tumbled out… “well… maybe it’s not a big deal, but we’ve been trying to have a baby for about a year, with no luck”.

I also remember the look on the doctor’s face. Concern.

He quickly responded that it did not have to be a big deal, but that really, we should be doing prenatal visits by now. Let’s look a little closer.

An ultrasound later, my mind was spinning with new terminology, a diagnoses, prescriptions…

PCOS. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It explained so much… missed cycles, no baby, that frustrating couple of hairs on my chinny-chin-chin. There was still blood work to be done, but the doctor was certain this was the cause of our delay.  

What was already a preoccupation with getting pregnant became a full out obsession. The next months were a flurry of fertility drugs, basal thermometers, cycle charts, message boards, pregnancy tests, internet research… it was a roller coaster from the heights of hope, to the depths of disappointment. It was a season of feeling less-than. Friends got pregnant who weren’t even trying… what was wrong with me that I couldn’t have a baby? What had I done?  There were days laying in a darkened bedroom when the blood test revealed no chance of ovulation.

And I was going it alone. Of course Jim was there (he was necessary to the process, after all)…  but I was far from God at the time. The depth of hopelessness I felt during this season haunts me… it reminds me of what the lost in this world deal with every single day.  Going through this world without Romans 8:28, or Jeremiah 29:11 or Psalm 139. It was heartbreaking and lonely and dark.

Yes, I was far from God. But now I know, He was never far from me. He knew just what I needed, and I am so thankful that even before I knew 2 Timothy was a book in the Bible, His promises found there held true… and even when I was faithless, He remained faithful.  That the One who knows the end from the beginning, knew that the child He was weaving together in my womb would be the very thing that led me back to Him…

With the clearest recollection, I remember the moment I pushed “play” on my answering machine and heard the nurse excitedly report “I was mistaken, Becky… I looked at last month’s results. We just got your test back and it looks like you DID ovulate this month!”

Hope.

The first glimmer of hope on the darkest of horizons. I knew that there was only a small chance that I would actually get pregnant after one ovulation… yet there was hope.

It was mid-May, and I was job coaching a client at a local nursing home. I never worked on Sundays, but this was an exception. It was early in the morning, and suddenly I felt sick. I ran to the bathroom and then returned to work. A few minutes later it happened again…

Splashing water on my face, in the bathroom of a nursing home that is no longer even there, I looked in the mirror and realized… it’s Mother’s Day. Could this be the most incredible mother’s day gift ever? Could I dare to hope that big?? I returned to my client, an older, out-spoken woman, who declared with no question in her mind “girl, you are pregnant”.

Five pregnancy tests later I finally believed her.

[Yes, five. I told you I was obsessed]

I had the most amazing pregnancy with this little one. In fact, that Mother’s Day was the only time I was even sick.  I knew even at that time that getting sick that morning was a special gift from God. It was a gift I didn’t deserve. To find out I was going to be a Mother, on Mother’s Day. Isn’t He beautiful?

And while that was a gift, I could not in my wildest imaginings know what a precious gift this child would be to my life. This little one that I dreamed would be a little girl, with lots of hair and dark eyes like her daddy.

And on January 17, 2001 that dream came true.

A brand new Tali Sue
We named her Tali Susanne. Talley was my maiden name, and it was an honor to pay homage to my own daddy, Joe Talley. But more than that, the baby name books revealed that Tali is a derivative of Talia, which is a Hebrew name that means "Dew from Heaven". It seemed appropriate, this child who felt like a miracle after a year and a half of the infertility roller coaster... but little could I know how prophetic her name would be.

As I sit here looking to my wall of pictures, the memories come flooding back. Her bright-eyed newborn picture. A child with an “old soul”, many of my friends would say. Always aware, always watching… absorbing her world. The toddler who would ask Mamaw how her hip was feeling. So tender, so empathetic.  The 2.5 year old so excited to take her first dance class… watching her through the glass as she bent down and forced her feet into first position with her hands. The big sister holding her prize and joy in the form of a squirmy, red newborn brother. The little girl who led me back to Jesus.

You know how babies are, you want to show them off. So a week after she was born, I dolled her up and headed to church. Now I had been attending church on and off for a while, but it was nothing serious… it just seemed to be the right thing to do.  Sitting in that pew that Sunday, I knew that she should be raised in a church, just as I had been. And so those intermittent trips to FBC Bicknell became regular.

And God began speaking to me. Calling to me. He wanted more than an hour of my time. He wanted me.

Still, I resisted.

My daughter, however, was falling in love with Jesus. She would dance in worship, while I worried what everyone would think of me if I raised my hands. And this kid talked about God all of the time. Everything she learned in children’s church became discussion later that day. She reminded me of the love I once had for Him.

Still, I resisted.

It’s not that I didn’t want Jesus. It’s that I did want the world. And I wouldn’t sacrifice the latter to have the former. I was comfortable in my sin, and I wanted to stay there. Couldn’t I just have them both?

And then, when Tali was 3 years old… we skipped church to go to the campground and visit with Mamaw and Papaw.  Tali was walking their puppy on a leash, she was watching the dog… she didn’t see where she was going… but her daddy did. He yelled out “Tali! Tali! Tali!” and began to run her direction. I turned just in time to see my precious little miracle falling backward into the campfire ring.

Everyone else ran to her- Jim was almost to her already. My brother was right behind. But I couldn’t go. I couldn’t face what I might see. I turned my face to the sky and covering my eyes with my hands I cried out… Oh Jesus, please protect her. Please protect her. Please protect her.

Shouts interrupted my prayers- “Water! Water!” I turned to see a cooler sitting nearby. Throwing the last few items left from a long weekend camping out on the ground, Jim plunged her into the icy water. My mind reminded me that ice isn’t good for burns, but we had no other options and so we had to make do. I remember looking at her little face… the sheer terror in her eyes. She wasn’t even crying- just looking back up at us in fear.  We didn’t bother to check her over- we just got immediately in the car and went to the hospital.

It was there, with her on my lap in the front seat, wrapped in a wet towel, that I looked at her little hand, now twice its size. I remember thinking that it looked like a lion's paw. Yellowish with blisters that covered the entire underside of her fingers and palm.  Surely her back was just as bad. She was laying on a bed of hot coals, her legs dangling over the edge of a steel fire ring. Surely we were on our way to Wishard, a hospital with a burn unit a couple of hours away. I prayed in her ear for her to have the strength to show her hand to the doctors and nurses. To be courageous as they treated her wounds. For God to protect her body from shock.

And you know, although my heart had resisted His call time and time and time again… He heeded every one of those prayers. Because He knows the end from the beginning. He knew just what I needed.

Jesus indeed protected her as she lay in that fire ring. Unexplainably, her hand was the only significant injury. Her back had one minor burn, and although her legs were dirty from the fire ring- the ring that sizzled and crackled when my family poured water on the remainder of the coals- they were not hurt.  Her left hand had a few small burns. But her right hand. It was bad.

She had to go through 10 days of painful debridement and twice daily bandage changes. And she was so brave.  I couldn’t help but think of the irony that, having just started going to SonShine Kids she had memorized only one Bible verse in her little life. Isaiah 41:10:
Tali, the day before her accident.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Pulling up to the hospital every morning, she would say “do I have to go in, Mommy?” and when I told her we had to, to make her hand better… she would get out of the car, take my hand, and walk in bravely. I never had to carry this three year old child, kicking and screaming into the place that would cause her such pain. She walked in of her own accord. What courage!

When debridement was over, and I can’t even describe to you what that time in that little room was like, she would go to her therapist… and give them a hug. As if to comfort themWhat grace!

And when debridement got particularly bad, and I was questioning why He would allow this to happen to my little girl, why not me… her comment to the song on the radio broke in to my thoughts… “Hey mommy! This song is about my best friend, God!” Less than fifteen minutes after enduring the pain of scalpels and scissors, she reminded me that God was still her best friend. What faith!

When I felt that things were looking hopeless, and the PT on a Sunday morning warned that she was seeing little improvement, Tali went to church and raised her hand in worship… and what were the words being sung?? “I never said you woudn’t have to walk through the fire…” What love!

Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will strengthen you with my righteous right hand.

She recited this verse during this time. And I learned that it was true.  

It was then, that God began to wreck my heart. He showed me His son, through my daughter.  Through her courage, her grace, her faith, and her love… I met Jesus in an entirely different way.  It set me on the path to real relationship... a relationship that is everything to me now.  And then, just to put the icing on the cake (after all, He is a lavish Father), He began to heal her hand that day… so that no grafts or surgeries or even physical therapy was required.

Tali’s love for Jesus has only grown over the last eight years. And that courage, grace, faith, and love that were first evidenced in a three year old have carried her far with the Lord. She has a zeal for Him. Jesus is her first love, and she always keeps that in perspective.  Recently given a chance to take an additional dance class a week (which she wants to do so badly), she told me she just couldn’t, because Monday is Bible Study night and her week “just isn’t right without Bible Study”.  When she heard about kids enslaved in Africa, she didn’t just feel sorry for them, she did something, joining with a friend and launching Kids 4 Freedom.  When her teacher gave her the chance to teach a Bible Study during recess one day a week, she didn’t question the call and said yes.

And so I continue to learn from her. From her dedication to her priorities… from her conviction to the be a world-changer, never complacent with the knowledge that “someone else” will do it… from her trusting the call God has on her life, and following it whole heartedly (okay, okay, so I’m still learning this last lesson, but with His help I am working on it)… 

When I look back over the last eleven years… I can’t imagine my life without Tali. To say that she changed my life is an understatement… she has changed my eternity.  She is not perfect (for more on that you can read this post), but she is in love with Jesus, and He is working her toward perfection, just as He is all of us!  And I am so thankful that, in the book of my life, He wrote in this beautiful child to be a part of that process. Not just for me, but for her daddy as well.

He truly knew, just what we needed when he knit her together. He knew that our hearts were far from Him.  He also know that a little child shall lead them. He sent us a precious gift in Tali Sue.

Beautiful Tali, loving on her Daddy God
Our “Dew from Heaven”. Certainly, that is exactly what this child is… precious dew from His hand, sent to quench this dry and weary land. She started with the arid desert of my heart, and then turned her gentle gift of grace on her daddy, leading him to church when my invitations sounded like nagging.  She now prays for others in our family to know the relationship she knows.  She shares her love for her Savior with her friends at school in her Bible Study.  And my heart is preparing itself for the continued plans the Lord has for her… to quench the desert places of the world with His grace and love. He isn't done with her yet.

Birthdays are meant for celebrating, and so today I celebrate my beautiful daughter. The one who knew I was worried about the storm this morning, and so texted me "Love You" just before entering school and turning her phone off. The child whom I am given the responsibility of teaching, guiding, encouraging… This child who has done all of those things for me

I love you, Tali Sue... there are not enough words to express how big that love is... Thank you for who you are... 

And thank you Father, for giving this special, precious gift to someone like me. What grace...



1.15.2012

win-win? lose-win?


The news rang through the house… such sweet, sweet words… “Kids! There’s a two hour delay!”  Shutting off alarms, and rolling over in their warm beds they headed back to sleep. I settled in on the couch, dozing as I watched the morning news.

[I could get use to this.]

A couple of hours later, the kids having crawled from their cocoons are sitting drowsily with me. The morning news has rolled over into the “Today” show, which was celebrating its 60th anniversary. Together we watched snips and clips from times far gone. The people, places, and things that made the news…  as well as the people, places, and things that made the news fun. Amongst the fond memories and blooper reels were serious moments as each of the previous hosts talked about things that impacted them most during their tenure in the Today show chair.

The kids watched, and laughed, and grew serious- all at just the right moments. They were familiar with many of the news stories that were mentioned- the death of John Lennon (and how it made Jane Pauley cry), 9/11 unfolding on live television (and how it made the nation cry), the first “Royal Wedding” (and how our fascination with the Royals intensified)...

And then Katie Couric shared the story that changed her the most… interviewing the father of Isaiah Sheols and brother of Rachel Scott just  twelve hours after the tragedy at Columbine happened. It was strange to me, as I watched from my couch, after all of the emotional stories that had already been touched on… this is the one that caused unexpected tears to spring to my eyes. 

“What is this about?” came Tali’s question, it was a news story unfamiliar to her.  Tears in my eyes I recounted the story of the two boys who showed up to their school with guns… I also shared the story of the young Rachel Scott whose legacy impacted my own life in a profound way. This girl who, being challenged by the boys to renounce her faith refused to do so, and was killed.

Silence hung in the living room for a few moments. I wiped away tears. The kids stared at the television. What great sacrifice. What a beautiful example of a sold out life.  

And then, Tali’s little voice broke through the silence, resolve in her voice, perhaps even a bit of defiance, “If I was ever in that situation, I would do the same thing. Because that’s a win-win. No, really it’s a lose-win, because here you can’t see Jesus face to face…”   For the next few minutes, she attempted to work through this thought… which is it? Is it a win-win? Is it a lose-win? Which is better?

I was surprised by her words. The love she has for Jesus… that above all things, she wants to be with Him. If only more could get a hold of this kind of love. This kind of trust. Knowing that He is the only One that matters. I had no response for her. No answer to her quandary. She was lost in her own thoughts... I lost in mine...

Immediately Paul’s words came to mind… “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body…” [Philippians 1:21-24]

The Apostle Paul wrestled through this same question. Ah, to depart, that is better by far- for you will be with Christ. But to stay… that means more chance to do His work, to labor for Him!  It is because of this confidence, confidence that no matter what He trusts God’s will, if that is to keep him here, or bring him into eternity… it’s going to be okay. Better than okay…

That’s having your eyes on Jesus. That’s being focused on the One worthy of our trust. That’s a life that is willing to go wherever He calls. And that, when faced with danger, holds fast in our faith.  The Apostle Paul is a beautiful picture of this kind of trust… trust that enabled him to find contentment, despite the circumstance. To speak words that would bring a price upon his head.  To challenge unhealthy practices within growing churches.  To go where God told him to go, and stay where God told him to stay.

That’s what a life lived for an Audience of One looks like. 

It’s a heart that says “Whatever you will, God… that’s what I want… Whatever you dreamed me to be, Father… that’s what I want… Whatever you have purposed for my family, Lord… that’s what I want…

It’s a heart that lives to hear those sweet, sweet words… “Well done, good and faithful servant”…

It’s a heart that lives to love Jesus, no matter the cost.

It’s a heart that lives to know Him, and make Him known.

But instead, human nature is to look to one another for those things. To look to our husbands for affirmation. To look to our children for unconditional love. To look to our jobs for success. To look to our bank account for security.  And then, where are we… when those things fail. When our spouse’s prove that they are just failed humans too. When our children’s spit in our face and choose the world. When our job ends. When our finances fail.

He is the only one who will never break our heart. He is the only one who will NEVER turn His back. He is the one who is unending. He is the one who can not fail… He is the only Audience worth living for! He is the only Audience worthy of our adoration and praise! He is the only one who can complete us! In the end, He is the only Audience whose opinion matters!

Yet so often, we ignore the call of God to go, to say, to do… because we fear what man will say. What our spouse will say, or friends, or coworkers, or pastors, or family. Under so much less pressure than Rachel Scott, we deny Him, maybe not in our words, but in our action, in our lives, in our disobedience. She was under the threat of death and clung to Him, yet we will deny Him under the threat of a disapproving look, or fear of failure, or being “the only one”…

[I do it too]

And what is the cost of this kind of life? What is the cost of living life out of fear? Looking to man instead of God… playing to any audience other than the Audience of One? What is the cost? One day, we will find ourselves standing before God… and we will be like that servant who given one talent, hid it. The master was not pleased.

[I don’t want to be that guy]

One of the deepest longings of my heart is to some day hear “well done, good and faithful servant”.  The mere thought of it, causes tears to well in my eyes. What a beautiful moment that will be! This is the longing of any lover of Jesus, to know that we have served Him well, loved Him well. Friends, we can only hear these words if we learn to play to the Audience of One here on earth. If we learn to set aside the fear of man in exchange for the glory of God.

Rachel Scott lived for an Audience of One. Reading through her journals, it is obvious that she was just a little girl, faced with the same temptations as other teens, struggling with the same questions as other Christians, yet always looking to the One she could trust. The One she loved. The One she knew was worthy. It was this devotion to her Savior that caused two troubled boys to target her on that terrible day.  Yet what the world intended for evil, God meant for good. Because that day, Rachel Scott won. That day she looked to Jesus and not to this world!  That day she made Jesus known to millions of people! And surely, that very day, she heard those beautiful words, “well done, good and faithful servant”…

Father, make us like Paul, like Rachel… Give us the courage and boldness to live for you and you alone. Father plant in our hearts the Truth of your kingdom, and make that the greatest desire of our heart. Make us a people so sold out for you, Lord, that we would look to you and you alone to affirm us, guide us, love us, complete us… Make us a people that trust you. That trust your promises. That will take the difficult stand in your Name, Lord.  Father, help us to trust your will no matter what it looks like… that even in times of hardships, we would trust your heart. Father, make us a people who chase hard after you, a people who count the cost so that we can finish this race well… always, always pointing to your beautiful Son... 

1.10.2012

blessed are those who hunger...


I want to live a sold out kind of life. I want to look like the disciples, who were willing to give up all that they knew to follow the One who promised the Truth. I want to trust Jesus, even when He calls me to dark places. I want to live a life that is set apart. I want to be okay with standing out in a crowd.

But truth is… most of the time I am too distracted by life to really be sold out. I am too distracted by worry, or fear, or hobbies, or work, or family, or… you get the idea.

And when I wake up and look around and find myself wallowing in complacency, I get so disappointed. 

How could I be striving so strongly one week, and so blinded the next?  But really, it's easy to do, isn’t it? Bible reading becomes routine, going to church becomes habit, and spiritually you find yourself nodding off.  I guess that’s where I found myself a couple of weeks ago. It felt as though I was standing amongst the crowd of on-lookers rather than sitting at the Rabbi’s feet… and I was so disappointed in myself. Surely our Father was disappointed too. I trip up so often. I'm so far from where I desire to be in Him. I forget the power and authority that I have through Him. I look to the world rather than His heart...

And then, our beautiful, gracious, loving Father whispered the most beautiful thing to me…

“Becky, I love your hunger”…

He wasn’t disappointed that I failed. He wasn’t angered that I grew sleepy. He wasn’t frustrated with me.  He was ravished by one who sincerely wants more than that.  Who looks around and realizes that this is not enough. Who is not satisfied with the status quo.  

I'm not suggesting that it's okay to grow complacent (or that I have it all figured out!)... I'm saying that perhaps that awakening to our complacency does not necessarily mean we have lost all traction and are skidding down the side of the mountain we have been climbing... rather for those who awaken dissatisfied, it could mean that we have found ourselves on a plateau, or camping out for a bit on the side of the Holy Hill.  As a friend and I were discussing this very topic, it occurred to me that this place she is in, which feels very lukewarm to her now, is the very place she was striving for when she first became a Christian. But having arrived there, and being there for a while, her spirit is awakening to the truth that there is more. There is always more. And she is hungering after that more. 

If you are awakening to the more... hungering after that more...God says "I love your hunger"...

I share this to encourage your spirit, just as mine was nourished by those sweet words whispered directly to my heart. God is not mad at you. If you are not all that you think He desires you to be, don’t beat yourself up about it… He is enthralled that your heart desires more!  He is ravished by you. He is ravished by your hunger.  He isn’t disappointed that you aren’t there yet… He is thrilled that THERE is the place you desire to go.

You see, that point of dissatisfaction is a demonstration of your hunger.  And Jesus loves hungry people! Nestled amongst eight blessed-are’s in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount we find this one…

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” [Matthew 5:6]

It doesn’t say “Blessed are the righteous…”

It says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousnenss…”

Sold out people are hungry. They are hungry for righteousness. They are hungry for Jesus, the giver of righteousness.  They are hungry for MORE.

Even when they stand amongst crowds who are satisfied with church on Sunday. Even when they live with people who have just “enough” Jesus.  Even when everyone else is seems okay with living with one foot in the world and one foot in the church… they hunger and thirst for MORE.

There are many characteristics of the sold out life. But I think that sort of lifestyle has to start here… with the hunger. Sold out people are always hungry.

Although Jesus is enough… yes, He is MORE than enough… one can never have enough Jesus. He is big beyond our wildest imaginings, the Word through which all of creation came to be… and no matter how much of Him you know, or have experienced… there is always more.

And sold out people desire the more.

Even in those seasons of apparent complacency, there is a holy dissatisfaction growing inside… an uneasiness that eventually overflows into conviction. So, strapping boots back on, the sold out look to the Holy Hill and march on. Unsatisfied with anything less than the indwelling of the Living God. Unsatisfied with anything less than His presence. Unsatisfied with anything less than becoming that which He imagined you to be as He formed you in your mother’s womb.

You are hungry for more.  You wouldn't have read this far if you weren’t. This is the first step... this is the foundation for living a sold out life.  It has to start with a desire for more. A hunger and a thirst for righteousness... for they will be filled. He loves your hunger!

Father, stir within us even tonight a desire for more of you. Wake us up from our complacency, from our place in the crowd. Open our eyes to the person you created us to be, and put the striving in our hearts to seek after that with all that we have. Father make us a people willing to live dangerously for you... a people who trust you ENOUGH no matter what the cost. Cause us to hunger and thirst for your righteousness, for your Son, for your Spirit... Thank you Father for your grace, your mercy, your love. Thank you for being a Father who is ravished by us... and help us to walk in that identity...





1.09.2012

counting the cost


A week or so ago, a friend of mine posed this question on her facebook status…

“…to follow after Jesus… What does that mean? What does that require of me?”

Of course, for followers of Jesus the immediate response comes… “everything”.

But what is everything?

My friend wasn’t looking for someone else to define this for her, rather she was inviting us to seek our hearts … to seek a deeper definition… to count the cost.

Her questions have echoed in my mind all week. What does it mean to follow after Jesus. What does it require? What does everything look like? Am I really willing to lay down all that He has asked me to lay down? Even more, am I willing to pick up what He’s asked me to carry?

In Luke 15:25-35 Jesus says to the large crowd that had been traveling with him:
25-27"Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can't be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple.
 28-30"Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you're going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: 'He started something he couldn't finish.' 31-32"Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can't, won't he send an emissary and work out a truce?
 33"Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can't be my disciple. {the Message paraphrase}

I am trying to picture this…  Jesus’ ministry is really beginning to pick up steam. He is preachin’ and teachin’, healing people and casting out demons.  Crowds are forming. Following. People want to be near Him. People want to hear Him. He was a preacher on the fast track to a mega-church… and He turns to the crowd and says “If you aren’t willing to leave everything, even your own children… even your SELF… you can’t be my disciple! COUNT THE COST! Only come, if you are willing to GO THE DISTANCE!  If you aren’t willing to lay down what I ask you to lay down, and pick up what I ask you to pick up… even a cross that leads to pain, shame,…death… then don’t bother coming at all.

Imagine a mega-evangelist looking into the faces of thousands and saying “If you aren’t willing to give it all up, don’t come at all.

I haven’t looked into it, but I’m pretty sure that’s not in many of the “how to build your church” books out there.  But Jesus wasn’t building a church. He was building a Church. A Kingdom.  A Kingdom that is worth it all! 

He isn’t looking for fans. He isn’t looking for a crowd of on-lookers. He is looking for disciples. People willing to leave their fishing nets at the side of the lake and follow Him. People willing to walk into dangerous situations knowing that the Gospel is worth it. People willing to sacrifice. People willing to go the distance.

When Jesus came to this earth, He knew what it would take to complete His mission. And yet He came. He counted the cost, and then He walked through this life knowing it would end with a cross. He knew the Kingdom, and He knew the Kingdom was worth it. He knew you and knew that you are worth it.  

He invites us to count the cost. To search our lives and realize what “everything” looks like. Are you willing?

When I sit back and consider… our God is so big He holds the entire universe in the span of His hand [Isaiah 42:12]… the entire universe. Consider that! Really consider it! Our own Milky Way has over 200 billion stars, and that’s only one of 100s of billions of galaxies! He holds all of that in the span of His hand! Not only that, He created all of that… with a word! With His very breath.

That’s a BIG God.

And yet He has your name carved on the palm of that very same hand [Isaiah 49:16]. He knows every hair on your head [Luke 12:7], every hurt in your heart, captures every tear in a bottle [Psalm 56:8]. He loves you enough to call you son, daughter [1 John 3:1]. He loves you enough, to lay down His very own life… for you [Romans 5:8]. That’s an overwhelming love!

That’s a crazy kind of love!

And so… when faced with the knowledge of a God who loves us so much He was willing to die for us… a God so intimate that He ministers directly to our heart… What will our response be? How can we respond half-heartedly to One who gave His everything?

What does it look like to follow Jesus? What does it require? What will it cost? What does everything look like?

Perhaps the reason this question struck me... is I have sensed Jesus asking my heart this same question for some time now. Starting several years ago when I first read Crazy Love by Francis Chan [if you haven't read that yet, skip my blog and pick it up instead!]. Over the last year there has been a greater and greater longing in my soul to live a life that is sold out for Jesus... to really play to an Audience of One... but what does that look like? What is everything? A few weeks ago I had the chance to share with a group of people some of the things God has put on my heart about living in the light of His crazy love... what it means to live a sold out life. As I prayed and contemplated and put those thoughts rattling around my mind out into the atmosphere, I realized there is so much more

So… I want to dig deeper. I want to dig deeper than I did with that Bible Study on a sold out life. I want to dig deeper on this concept of everything. I want to look into scripture, and my heart, and God’s heart, and the heart of the Body and discover what a sold out life looks like. And then, I want to live it. 

This is a dangerous undertaking. I fear the responsibility of knowing. But how much worse to be complacent. To be one who failed to count the cost… and couldn’t finish the mission.

I want to have a heart postured before Him in such a way that everything really, really, really means everything

If you are up for some dangerous living, I invite you to join me on this quest. This journey. This adventure.  Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to look at different characteristics of the sold out life. The characteristics aren’t mine… some are concepts from Chan’s book, many are gleaned from looking at the lives of Jesus and His disciples, some are insights into the lives of other believers, a few are convictions of my own heart… and your everything and my everything are going to look different. But in the end… that’s what He requires. Everything.

…to follow Jesus… what does that mean? What does that require of me?