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

 

 

 

Safe

From the pebble beach of Blue Marsh Lake that yellow September day, I gazed at the sky above the vicious locust trees and asked Jesus what he had to say to me.

“A storm is coming.”

That’s what I thought he said.

Had I just imagined the words? A wisp of mare’s tail cloud hung low in the sky above me. Had the cloud placed thoughts of a storm into my mind?

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I held still, waiting for more words from Jesus. It was a hot day, with skies as blue as blue could be, so why were the birds all darting for cover in the low forest underbrush? “Prepare for a storm.”

I didn’t know what that meant, but I kept those words in my heart. And I prepared.

Two months later in a riverside campsite under the pines, I tucked the first clean pot into the dish hammock and clearly heard these words in my heart, “Leave here and find your teammates.” I glanced at my watch. My co-guide had asked me to find her if she wasn’t back in an hour, but only half that time had passed. “Don’t overthink,” I told myself, “Just finish the dishes and find the group after the hour has passed.”

I heard pounding steps on the trail just as the final plates were being rinsed. I stood up and jogged out of the campsite before the panting messenger could ask me to. I wished I’d have listened to the Holy Spirit when he told me to find the group. I could have saved this messenger a lot of effort.

We waged war for hours, and by the time the war was in recession, our stuffed-crust campfire pizza was stiff and cold. The sun had set, and the moon had rolled out of bed to take his turn in the sky. One by one, the headlamps blinked out in the campsite. This war was not over, but the soldiers all needed rest.

I sat under the pines facing the tents and watched, and prayed. Many animals roam the woods at night. As snores rose up from the solo tents around me, the noises in the forest rose to rival them.

Owls hooted back and forth across the river in their comically quizzical way, and a grouchy ibis squawked at his unwanted neighbor in terse, short sentences. Rustling leaves told me the toads were a’hopping.

A howl broke out on the riverbank, downstream, and then moved closer. Panthers pass through this area, once in awhile. This noise wasn’t made by a panther, but it made me think about a hiker’s story of meeting one nearby.

Black clouds winged across the sky, sometimes revealing a handful of very bright stars, sometimes dropping bits of rain.

Silent, unseen battles swept through the campsite, passing, then receding.

All alone in this black campsite, palmettos poking my neck and mosquitoes nibbling my ankles, I wrapped a tarp around my shoulders and stared up at the sky. I asked Jesus for things, and gave him other things, and thought about the unusual fact that I wasn’t  scared.

I felt so cozy, all alone there under the pines, in the middle of that active battleground.

Relieved, and comfortable, like showing up at a spring when your body has just traveled 25 miles under a hot sun.

The girl who could never sleep without her head being buried under a pillow– who could not walk outside at night without both a light and a big dog, was sitting cross-legged in a campsite at 2 a.m. with more peace than most people feel at church on a Sunday morning.

It was Jesus, obviously.

I’m not always so good at receiving love from Jesus, or from anyone else, but under those pines, in the short recess of that war he’d told me to prepare for two whole months in advance, I was recieving love from him like there was no tomorrow. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to spend a night sitting cross-legged in the woods with Jesus. But it fills you up inside.

When my watch beeped for the 5:30 making of coffee, I felt alive.

We human beans are pretty good at finding earth-things that make us feel safe. But a gun, or a dog, or a flashlight, or a man, or a can of pepper spray—these can’t know two months in advance that you’d need to prepare for war, and teach you how to prepare in exactly the right way.

A gun can’t answer the questions on your heart. A dog can’t tell you to drop what lies you are believing and what truth will set you free. A flashlight can’t fight the battles going on in unseen places. A man can’t protect the minds of the kiddos from bad dreams while they sleep. A can of pepper spray can’t make you feel so joyful in the middle of a battlefield–so secure that you could fall asleep.

It is a good place to live, with your spirit seated in the presence of Jesus and your body joining the armies of heaven in their battles on earth. I have much to learn about it.

But I’ve learned this so far: When you live in Jesus, life is 100% unpredictable. But it is 100% empowered. And 100% safe.

In Which I Say a Bad Word

“!?&#! Hold my hand, baby!” My niece stretched her hand towards me agreeably and I boosted her up the rock slab, farther away from the precipice. She was tilting her face, totally oblivious to my racing heart or my visions of her receiving (not her first) broken bone. “Holy craft? What holy craft?”

I tried to keep my mouth very, very straight.

Pride: decapitated.

Using low-class language around children is something I cannot stand, so I was feeling about as important as an inchworm at that moment. A brown inchworm, at that, not even a cool lime-green one.

Time to apologise.

But then I lost my cool again, when the three exhausted little mountain climbers didn’t know how to manage their melting Italian ice. I waged a war with shame and sorrow for days, because of the impatient moments I had with those precious babies.

 

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I’m a messed-up person.

Are you messed up too? Do you ever think, “Self, how could you do that? How? You are a monster, and that’s a fact.”

Impatient moments are like indicators on a dashboard. A gift from God actually, like a dashboard warning light is a gift to those of us who don’t take time for routine car maintenance.

Low oil level! Time to visit the mechanic shop!

Low river-of-life levels! Time to stop flying solo! Time to go to Jesus and repent, learn, rest and receive.

“Ugh, bad timing. I have no time for a shop visit, Jesus.” I whined.

“If you want to have time for one, you do.”

So I didn’t do laundry, didn’t deposit my checks, didn’t go shopping, didn’t make dinner for my neighbor (I found out later her refrigerator was already packed. Thanks, Jesus!), didn’t clean, didn’t weed, didn’t trim the yard, didn’t shave my legs… Basically, didn’t do all the good things nice, responsible women Must Always Do.

Scandalous!

But…

I had time to feast. And I was starving.

Listen to these words the Lord gave his kiddos after miraculously making them a free nation:

I have removed your backbreaking burdens
   and have freed your hands from the hard labor and toil.
You called out to me in your time of trouble and I rescued you.
   I came down from the realm of the secret place of thunder,
   where mysteries hide.
   I came down to save you.
   I tested your hearts at the place where there was no water to drink,
   the place of your bitter argument with me.


Listen to me, my dear people.
   For I’m warning you, and you’d better listen well!
   For I hold something against you.

Don’t ever be guilty of worshiping any other god but me.
I am your only God, the living God.
   Wasn’t I the one who broke the strongholds over you
   and raised you up out of bondage?
   Open your mouth with a mighty decree;
   I will fulfill it now, you’ll see!
   The words that you speak, so shall it be!

 

But my people still wouldn’t listen;
   my princely people would not yield to me.
So I lifted my grace from off of their lives and I surrendered them
   to the stubbornness of their hearts.
   For they were living according to their own selfish fantasies.
O that my people would once and for all listen to me
   and walk faithfully in my footsteps, following my ways.
Then and only then will I conquer your every foe
   and tell every one of them, ‘You must go!’
Those who hate my ways will cringe before me
   and their punishment will be eternal.
But I will feed you with my spiritual bread.
   You will feast and be satisfied with me,
   feeding on my revelation-truth like honey
   dripping from the cliffs of the high place.”

You are not meant to single-handedly save the day, friend! You are designed to be a partner. A helper. You might not like the sound of this one, but you are meant to be a follower.

You know Esther, that 10/10 who married an unrighteous king and risked her head for her people? She followed her uncle’s advice. She was backed up by an entire nation’s prayers. She walked after God, in faith.

Deborah, that warrior-prophetess? She spoke God’s words. “The Eternal God of Israel commands you…” “The Eternal has decreed…”

Don’t be guilty of worshipping the gods of I Was Made For Hard Work So Grrr, Let’s Do This

or of I Have Got To Hustle My Act Together Before All Is Lost, heaven-warrior. Approval traps have 100 names, but they’re all bent on robbing your joy and sanity. You’ll find your heart saying far worse things than ‘holy craft’.

Truth is, Jesus has got what it takes to save the day without your help. Right now, he just wants to be with you. “Come to me!”- that’s what he is always saying.

You’ve got to be with Jesus if you want him to feed you. After you eat your fill, you’ll have the courage to follow his unpredictable ways. He’s not from this kingdom, so his reasoning takes some getting used to. But if you are his follower… then follow!

If he leads you away from your Good & Proper Things and towards his heart, just go with it.

The world will remember your words of life far longer than your 24-hour stubble.