Character

Character.

That foundational piece of you.

Yes, YOU.

Untouchable by disease. 

Unhindered by poverty.

Unmistakable when times get hard.

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It’s the man battling cancer and the man battling heart disease who invest hope into each other instead of speaking of their own pain.

It’s the mom with the uncooperative toddler in the grandchildren photoshoot–the mom who holds her child and cares for his heart instead of scolding him for ruining the picture.

It’s the girl setting healthy boundaries for herself by saying, “I am not ready to talk about that right now.”

It’s the teen who leaves a chicken-scratch thank you note for the hotel maid, and never forgets to tip.

It’s the father using words of grace.

It’s the child who chooses not to laugh at someone else’s expense.

It’s every person who chooses silence when they want to self-defend.

It’s every person who chooses to speak up when someone needs a defender.

Character. 

Invited into life by the beautiful gift of choice.

Honed and shaped by so many unpleasant things.

Struggle, pain, conflict and being wrong yet again.

But, character!

Such a treat to behold–such a honor to live out!

So beautiful in the eyes of the Father!

Character!

An unshakeable upgrade!

My son, if your heart is wise, my own heart also will be glad; and my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.

For as [a man] thinks within himself, so he is.

Proverbs 23

 

 

 

Victors

Tonight, the headlines irrevocably declare: “120 Dead in Paris Attacks, Worst Since WWII”.

Terror is spreading across our planet, and the people of this planet, like ancient wooden ships adrift in a storm, scatter. Some cry, some shout “Revenge!”, some huddle in the paralysis of fear. Some hold up signs that say ‘NOT AFRAID’–a distinctive message to their enemies, but the sign-holders are powerless to make the message true within their hearts.

We the people– the meant-for-another country people. We the foreign exchange students, so to speak. What are we doing?

If we’ve been trained to fight, why are we afraid?

If we are truly selfless, why not choose to feel pain with the hurting instead of jumping into our closets of self-protection?

If we really believe God’s power makes us unstoppable, why not walk towards the danger instead of running away from it?

We are never victims.

We are always promised joy.

We are always promised rest.

We are always promised protection–the definition of which only Jesus knows.

We are never victims.

We are victors.

We the people pray for Paris tonight.

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We also pray for peace within ourselves.

 

Never, never, let us accept the title of “victim”, Jesus. Never let us stop receiving peace from you, and fearlessly giving that peace away.

It’s Gonna Be OK

Ever have those days when you just want to sock yourself in the face?

You’ve tried so hard to do the right thing, to be that person you want yourself to be, but in the end you crashed miserably and burned a whole pile of people in the process. All the time and effort you’ve put into building trust… into maintaining a safe relationship… is a cloud of ash.

Gone.

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Forever gone, in just one moment of failure.

Or, is it?

It may feel that way, but is it really gone?

The other week, I confessed to my sister how, when we were little, I was the one who stirred her goldfish up in it’s little goldfish bowl with a plastic spoon until it had a heart attack, and floated. I just wanted to see how fast it could swim. I didn’t try to make it die. But it did.

She, kind-hearted lamb, suddenly remembered dozens of offenses she had committed to me.

Thing is, I didn’t remember a single one of them. All I remember about our childhood was a fun, spry little playmate who came up with many schemes, was always up for a bike ride or fishing trip, and always left surprises on my pillow on the holidays.

Our interaction got me thinking.

Could it be that trust isn’t about the visible, but the foundation?That the unseen foundation…. the entire picture all put together…. is more relevant than the tiny puzzle piece of what’s said and done in a moment of conflict?

I had a boss once, who everyone was afraid of. He brought the house down when he was upset. Seriously. Not the roof, thank goodness,  but pots, pans and anything else in his wake.

Thing is, everyone who spent long enough around him soon considered him one of their best friends. No matter how much he ranted and swore, he was, at the foundation, a friend worth having. At the foundation, he truly cared about his staff, and protected them at all costs.

Six years later, I hardly remember the rants. I just remember a safe environment, and being empowered every day. I’m not saying he never hurt me, I’m just saying I don’t remember it.

Mistakes happen to everyone.

Don’t fall into the condemnation trap. Stop looking behind you.

I know you’re quick to ask for forgiveness when you mess up, but I’m guessing the biggest question is…. can you forgive yourself?

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Just ask! Accept. It’s already been done, by the only One who can be fully perfect on this earth.

Just ACCEPT His forgiveness! It’s for real, I promise.

No looking back now! You are gonna be just fine, and so are they.

He Gave Me a New Name

I stood on top of Fort Fredrick two days ago, and while ants bit my legs and the sea breeze whipped my hair, Jesus and I had a conversation about love.

You gotta understand, I’m not so good at loving. Really though. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. I’m just learning now how to do it properly.

You see, I had a tower built in my heart. The cornerstones of this tower were Pain, Inferiority, Fear and Performance. Not a great family to build a tower on, to be sure, but I did. The small stones had many names… betrayal, mistrust, anger…. on and on to the sky.

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What did this tower surround? My ability to give and receive love.

Weird, isn’t it, that I would hide something that I wanted so badly to give away? I mean, how could I share something that was locked deep inside a fortress?

Well, I’ll tell you how it all started. I wasn’t always this way! One day, long ago, I started believing a lie. What lie? The lie that to love someone meant an instant assignment to protect them.

That is, after all what people do if they care about someone, right? It’s even, to the proper degree, scriptural. I was very good at it. Protecting those I loved came naturally for me.

But I took it too far.

I started crashing. I realized that I couldn’t be strong for everyone, so I started shutting people out. If it seemed like they were asking too much of me… too much strength when I was weak, too much emotional energy when I had none, I cut them off. Not from myself, mind you! From unlimited love. I just went only so far, and then stopped. They could visit my tower, but only stay as long as I allowed.

Why? Because if they stayed, I’d have to protect them…. fight their battles as well as… or even instead of… my own, and I already knew I couldn’t do that for everyone. I’d tried.

“There’s GOT to be a better way”, I thought one day. I was desperate for change. No, not change as in money. Change as in, a different way of living. A better way. I packed my bags and went on a long journey.

Up mountains, along crags, and through valleys I hiked, and along the way, I learned a new skill called “receiving love”. It meant valuing myself enough to accept words Jesus says about me that did not feel true. It meant valuing others enough to bless them by being a gracious receiver. It meant taking their love for what it is–a direct outpouring of love from Jesus Himself.

In return, Jesus pulled out the cornerstone named ‘Inferiority’ and my tower began to sag, just a bit.

With the love of Jesus now boiling inside of me, I powered onward, and found I had new courage to learn a second skill, called “saying no”. I learned, through Jesus the gentle Teacher, that sometimes it really was ok to say no… to a favor I was asked to perform, or to a task, or to a responsibility, or to a role. Sometimes it was better for everyone if I just said no.

No. That was a hard word for me, but I finally learned it.

In return, Jesus gave me a gift. Space! Space to let Him set my priorities. Space to love Him first. He grabbed the cornerstone named Performance and tossed it far from me in one mighty heave.

What did I do with all this new-found space? I used it to deal with the last cornerstone, Pain, and it’s ugly partner, Fear. Funny how the two go hand-in-hand.

Or claw-in-claw. It’s not funny at all, really.

Jesus said to me, “I brought you this far. Will you trust me? Will you trust me to know how much pain you, and the people you love can handle? Because if–no–when! When you trust me that much, you can love without limit knowing that when the people you love suffer, it will be for My glory, and that fact will make their pain worthwhile in your eyes!

You can live without fear because you’ll know that suffering will not last forever! That I always, always and always have something rich and spectacular in the making!

I, and I alone, hold the role of ‘Protector’. You can have so much more freedom to disappoint,–even hurt people, and still you’ll know, as long as you are pleasing Me, that they will be ok.

Will you let Me have My rightful place?”

Standing on the top of Fort Frederick, 25-knot winds threatening to blow me over the side, I said, “Yes! I will let you have that place!” I picked up a small rock, part of the fort’s wall, and threw it into the jungle with all my might. It crashed through the brush and disappeared.

In my mind’s eye, that rock was me, escaping the tower of self-produced love forever. The remaining parts of the tower–its last two cornerstones (Pain and Fear) smashed to smithereens–collapsed in a mighty crumbling, and blew away on the wind.

All that was left by the sea was me, Jesus, and our perfect love, alone in a real world where ants were still biting.

I’m so glad the last bit of that tower is gone.

The only walls that trap us are the ones we build ourselves.

 

That Bum On My Couch

I was in the second-to-front pew at church the other week, and I was feeling the morning blues.

Do you know what I mean? That sandy-eyed, groggy-voiced, brain-not-quite-awake feeling of sluggishness that isn’t really ready for 120 decibels of worship music being emanated directly in front of oneself.

Don’t get me wrong, the band was great. I liked them, really. I’m usually the type to get into the celebration spirit right away…. but that day, I just…. wasn’t.

I tried desperately to focus on the positive side of life, like the two adorable little girls dancing in front of me, carefree as could be. It helped a little.

Then the pastor took the stage, and he told a story.

“Imagine going home from church today,” he said, “And finding a bum fast asleep on your couch. He is stoned, snoring, and you have no idea who he is. What would you do?

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Hmm. Let me guess. You’d try to make him leave. Maybe pat him on the shoulder, say “Excuse me, sir. You’re in the wrong house.” But what if that didn’t work?

You’d get a little more violent, maybe go so far as to poke him, maybe even raise your voice. “HEY, SIR. THIS IS NOT YOUR HOME! YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”

But what if he just went right on snoring? What if he rolled over, looked you in the eyes, said, “Excuse YOU, but this IS my house!” and went back to sleep?

Would you shrug, assume he was right, and just live your life around him? What if he invited his friends over, and they all claimed that this house belonged to them as well? Would you accept that?

You see, friends… your level of persistence shows what you truly believe.

If you truly believe the bum does not belong in your house, you will fight back harder, call your buddies to help you drag him out of your house, maybe get the police involved. You would take as much time as necessary to evict him.

What about your spiritual life?

When temptation, fear, sickness, depression, shame, and the 1,000 other tools of the enemy sneak their way into your ‘house’…. do you accept them?

Do you politely try to evict them, and if they do not obey the first time… or the 12th time…. just assume they are meant to stay? Or do you hold FAST to your knowledge of what is yours, and fight for it until everything is set right?

Do you BELIEVE that God can if He wants to?

Do you believe that He might not be able?

Your level of persistence shows what you truly believe in. “

And that is what I learned on a half-awake Sunday morning, from the second-to-front pew.

Jesus was homeless, too.

I don’t live in the city anymore, but when I did, I never once gave money to sign-holders. I’ve never dropped even so much as a quarter in a Salvation Army bucket. That’s a shame.

No, it’s more than that. It’s a complete disgrace.

I met a homeless man named Richard LeMieux last week, and if I would have judged him by his looks and name alone, I would have laughed and said, “It’s all a game. People with high-class, French-sounding names aren’t homeless. Look at him! He has a dog! Homeless people don’t have dogs. And he has a van. What a lazy bum.”

But then I saw the dejection in his eyes, and the humiliation, and the hopelessness. I knew, even before I had heard five minutes of his story.

This man really is homeless. But that’s not the reason for the pain in his eyes. His heart is shattered because he is alone, scorned and rejected. 

Richard LeMieux was depressed.

Depression is a taskmaster who steers the wheels of many, many….. FAR too many lives. No one sees these lives, because they are too ugly—too unpredictable to look at. Yet denying their existence does not cause them or their problems to disappear, and so they exist, and careen farther and farther into the ever more arid desert of un-lovedness. Richard is one, and it didn’t happen by choice. He didn’t start out homeless.

It wasn’t the choice of the 30 men and woman eating ham around me at the Catholic nunnary, the people who had nowhere to go on Christmas morning.

It wasn’t their choice that EVERY single one of their friends disowned them.

It wasn’t their choice that their business went bankrupt and the bank took all they owned.

It wasn’t their choice to be a victim of abuse, and to live life on the move from city to city, hiding for their life.

And the ugliest part of their reality is that almost nobody takes the time to understand them–and that fact alone is the most undeniable proof that they are unwanted and unloved.

Richard and his friend C–two real people with beating hearts just like yours and mine–sat down together one day, having just seen their homeless friend Adrian being dragged behind a car in retaliation for a drug deal gone bad. This is what they said.


 

“You know who the most famous homeless man in history was, don’t you Richard?”

“No.”

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head, Jesus said.”

“I should have known that.”

“You, Richard, are in good company.”

“People were afraid of Jesus.”

“Yes, and people are afraid of the homeless today. And they are disgusted when they see a person digging through a garbage can or a dumpster. They’re frightened when someone unclean talks to them—afraid they might ask for money, afraid they will steal their car or rob their house or stab them.

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But it isn’t the homeless they should fear.

It’s the people who have jobs and money—like that truck painter, Gary Ridgeway, aka the Green River Killer. Did you know he admitted to killing forty-eight women in Washington State? He’s the deadliest killer in the United States to date.”

“Yes, I did read that.”

“Can you imagine that one Christmas Eve, Ridgeway got off work early, cashed his Christmas bonus check, went to the mall, bought some presents on his MasterCard, had dinner at home with the wife, and then went out and killed a young woman and dumped her body along the road?

She was one of those disgusting, homeless prostitutes people fear.

H—, maybe the %$@# did her a favor! She would probably have had to sell her body over and over again for ten, maybe fifteen years just to pay for a three-hundred-dollar-a-month apartment, electric and water, and a run-down car!

People should REALLY be afraid of guys like the Tacoma police chief who shot his wife to death in the parking lot at the mall. Or the son of the director of the Department of Corrections for Washington state who raped a two-year-old. He pleaded guilty and got a whole six months! If a homeless guy had done that, he’d get life in prison!

You know, the big thing that sets the homeless apart is that they usually only commit crimes out of desperation. Those with homes and jobs commit crimes out of boredom or hatred or greed.

‘You are not needed anywhere, not wanted anywhere. Nobody cares what you do.’ And you know, unless people have been there—lost, alone, rejected, feeling worthless and unwanted— they just can’t know the numb feeling that drags you down. All the dreams are gone, gone forever. You’re just hoping for some force to end the nightmare peacefully.

Whatever happened to Emma Lazarus’s sonnet on the Statue of Liberty? ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

Homelessness in this great country of the United States is an abomination!

But the great masses—who are only one paycheck or one stroke of luck better off themselves— even THEY repeat the same great lies about the homeless: ‘They are lazy. They don’t want to work. They are drunks, bums, drug-using, worthless scum.’

If you tell the same lie over and over again about the homeless, eventually it becomes the truth. You tell your wife the lie, then you tell your children the lie. Rush Limbaugh and Mike Savage then broadcast the lie, and politicians who want your vote politicize the lie. The lie just grows and grows.

The homeless are human beings. Okay, so they are people with problems—some greater than others. But there is no problem that can’t be overcome with love, patience and kindness. Given help and a sense of direction, most will help themselves and even help others.”

-Dialoge between C and Richard, Breakfast at Sally’s by Richard LeMieux


Homelessness in America is an abomination! But even worse? My response.

So, what am I going to do about it?

 Love. Not fear.

 

 

 

 

Pain is Holy

“I was on tour, and a friend who was on tour with me went through a really rough valley.

She experienced a miscarriage.

I was with her the day after, and I asked her how she was…. what was going on for her inside. She said, “You know, the only words that keep rising up in my mind are, “I’m sorry… I’m so, so sorry.”

Pain does that to us, ya know?

When we’re stripped low, down to that level, what’s deep within us comes out.

For my friend, it was taking blame. Shame. A deep-rooted part of herself… not created by her pain, but brought to the surface because of it.

We all know the story of Job, right? He thought his life was pretty rough… and then his friends came and made it even worse.

The last thing he wanted to hear was a list of condemnations…. a list of things he had done to deserve to be in this place…. a list of ways he could get out of his painful place and be “back to being a ‘good’, ‘normal’ person”.

The reality is, pain isn’t a wrong place to be. It is a holy place, because

it is a place God uses to bring the hidden places of our hearts into the light.

I remember another time when I was on tour, and wading through a really dark valley. A friend was with me in the back of the van one afternoon, and asked what was going on for me. I told him, but as I did so, I was constantly bracing myself, waiting for him to offer advice that would prove to me why, if I was a good person, I really shouldn’t still be in this place.

He didn’t say a word.

When I was done talking, he stood up, and made me stand up too. He told me to take off my watch. I did. He said, “I’m going to hug you. I’m gonna hug you now for two minutes, and I’m gonna time it, ‘cuz you’re not going anywhere.”

Now you have to know my friend. He’s a big, masculine, hairy-chested football dude. Not the kind you’d expect to go around hugging people.

I laughed at first, because it was awkward. But a half-minute into it…. I started to cry. Then I started to messy cry, blubbering all over my friends sleeve and just hanging limply, totally helpless.

The two minutes were up, and he hadn’t said a word.

But I knew exactly what he was saying, because his actions screamed, “You are not an outcast because you are in this place. This is a HOLY place, you are worth it, and I care.”

Pain is a holy place, and in the presence of holiness it’s best to just keep quiet.”

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As he told this story, the emotions on Jason’s face clearly showed that this was a lesson he had learned the hard way. And after a moment’s hush, he began to sing the song his own journey through pain had inspired,

“You could see the smoke from a mile away. Trouble always draws a crowd. They wanna tell me that it’ll be ok… but that’s not what I need right now….”

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Listen to the rest of the song HERE, and don’t forget to buy Jason Gray’s new album!

Love Ambush

I’ve been a crab for twenty-four hours.

It all started when someone asked me a question, and I responded defensively and then the father of lies jumped in with all of his hogwash and made a mess of everything.

“You’re not worth fighting for.” he said, “You are selfish at the core, and think of no one but yourself. Your dreams are not reality. You have tricked yourself into following them as an easy escape from life’s problems.”

Because I was tired, weak in heart and still feeling defensive, I believed all of it.

My joy was robbed.

It’s messy enough trying to make big decisions for your future, but when you start believing lies… things get ugly pretty fast. Each lie is joined by it’s own disease until your heart is trampled.

Shame.

Defeat.

Anger.

People (and most animals) caught on pretty soon, and gave me a wide berth.

I sat at my desk the next day, trying to write encouraging words to a friend and finally decided that I needed some music for inspiration. The first song that played went like this:

“Whatever you’re doing inside of me… it feels like chaos but somehow there’s peace. It’s hard to surrender to what I can’t see, but I’m giving in to something heavenly. Time for a milestone… time to begin again. Revaluate who I really am.

So show me what it is you want from me.

I give everything….

I surrender….

Time to face up. Clean this old house. Time to breathe in and let everything out that I’ve wanted to say for so many years. Time to release all my held back tears. Whatever you’re doing, inside of me…. it feels like chaos, but…. I believe. You’re up to something bigger than me.

LARGER THAN LIFE.

Something HEAVENLY.”

While the “You’re up to something heavenly… bigger than me.” promise was still reverberating in my mind, the next words came through my speakers.

“Lord I come. I confess. Bowing here, I find my rest. Without you I fall apart… you’re the One that guides my heart. Lord I need you, oh, I need You. Every hour I need you.

My ONE DEFENSE.

My RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Oh God, how I need you. Where sin runs deep, your grace is more. Where grace is found is where you are. And where you are, Lord, I AM FREE!!

HOLINESS IS CHRIST IN ME.

Teach my song to rise to you, when temptations come my way. When I cannot stand I’ll fall on you. Jesus, you’re my hope and stay!!!!”

“Jesus… MY righteousness??” “Holiness is Christ in me?” I was overwhelmed.

“For real, Jesus? But…. my sins. They are HUGE! ”

“I AM your righteousness. It’s not about you at all. Where sin runs deep, My grace is MORE. Come to me, and you will be free.”

“Ok. I will!!!”

He smiled, and I could have swore He wrapped His arms around me.

My heart jumped into the sky. And of course, the next song that played was,

“I’m trading my sorrow! I’m trading my shame! I’m laying them down…. for the JOY OF THE LORD.”

THIS. This was what my Loving Father was holding out to me.

I received it, and cried.

Forgiveness overwhelmed me.

Yes, Lord. Yes. I AM blessed beyond the curse. Get behind me, satan. JESUS HIMSELF is fighting for me, and He will never stop.

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My Jesus is up to something LARGER THAN LIFE. Something HEAVENLY.

He does not despise me, but instead holds out HOLINESS, FREEDOM & GRACE.

His promise will endure, and His joy’s gonna be my strength.

He told me so Himself, in one big love ambush in my old-fashioned straight-backed chair.

And I accept His words.

My Best Addiction

Now that you all know I’m addicted to gummy bears….. (and oh happy day, I got a whole 1-lb bag of them for my birthday) I gotta tell ya’ll about my FAVORITE addiction.

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The one I plug into when I get upset at my boss.

Or when I’m preparing to teach.

Or when I’m bored by a mindless task.

Or when I’m driving, sitting, chewing, moping, running, or staring for hours at a blank computer screen.

Pretty much, I plug in all the time. My father loves it. Tiny kiddos love it. Basically, a win no matter who you are.

Am I gonna tell you what it is? Ohhhh no. Watch it on YouTube HERE.

And join the stampede of audio/visual learners!

We’re happy to have you 🙂

(Oh yeah…. and it’s available on Audible for free, with a one-month free trial subscription. You’re welcome.)

The Father’s Heart

The Father’s heart roars like a lion.

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He paces like a caged lion when he sees his children being abused, and his anger boils like a furnace and his muscles bulge as he fights to control his rage.

The Father’s heart is jealous and he does not control his anger forever.

The Lord your God is a devouring fire; he is a jealous God. Deuteronomy 4:24

He will test His children’s strength and prepare them for war, but if any one else dares to touch them, He is fast in his fury and His revenge–although sometimes unseen–is sure.

Vengeance and recompence belong to ME; the feet of My enemy will slide: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them are almost here. Dueteronomy 32:35

The Father’s heart is real, and because it is real it is breakable. It is bruised, cracked and ripped apart just like yours and mine.

Because it is loving.

The Father’s heart is loving towards us, because we are His children.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1a

Because we are the Father’s children, the world hates us, and the father of lies tries his best to discourage.

The Father’s heart will not hold back forever. He sees all, and He has a plan.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all. But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings.And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Malachi 4:1-3

“Hold on, child. HOLD ON! I have never forgotten you.

I wish that you could see the bigger picture, but you are not meant to live in the spirit-world…. yet. I see your faith more clearly than you can, and rest assured that it is strong. It is growing, child!

I will WIN this battle… for YOU!

And you are aiding Me.

CHOOSE to be strong in My love. One day, I promise, I will make all things new.”