the city beautiful

all this week my heart has burned for Orlando like nothing I’ve ever known before. all this week I’ve wanted to fly to the city I grew up in to sit with people, talk with people, listen to people, hug people, pray with people.

this morning as I prayed for Orlando, I saw Jesus walking down the streets of the city.

down 50, up Orange, on 17-92, around lake eola, through church street, up i4 and 408 and the 417.

and everywhere Jesus walked, his fingers traced the edges of buildings, grazed signs; his feet felt bricks beneath them in thornton park.

and everywhere he went, and everything he touched… the black and white picture filled with vibrant color. and people driving, as they entered the city limits, they were hit with a wall, a wave of peace.

and when Jesus met people on the street, he held their faces in his hands. he ran his fingers through their hair.

and tonight I was praying through that beautiful image and I heard Jesus say, “I am the best one to hug, to hold, to listen, to intercede for my people.”

and, y’all, I believe he is good. I believe he is good. I believe he is good. And I believe the tragedies in the 407 were not his doing, and they aren’t his desire, and they aren’t his heart.

and I believe he is walking Orlando, even now, touching everything, and everyone,and truly making the city beautiful.

He says this to you, Orlando:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion — to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

Cultivating Peace

Jesus, Man of Peace

When I’m anxious, I turn to the red letters. The red letters aren’t better or more important than the black letters, but there’s something about reading the words that the man himself spoke that breathes a special peace into my soul.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, I bet that he had a lot of opportunity to be anxious, whether it would be about how he was going to feed his ragtag gang of twelve, or where they would all stay when they headed to the next city. Yet, with all the what-ifs revolving around food, and money, and shelter, and possibilities of being stoned, or beaten, or thrown in jail, Jesus was able to remain focused on his job as the savior of the world, and he was able to remain in a state of constant peace.

The man had a lot going on at any one time; you and I have a lot going on at any one time. The opportunities for us to be anxious and stressed abound in this day of constant connection, with multiple ways in which we can be the recipient of a barrage of communication (hello – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, email, Instagram, text message, phone calls, voicemails, Planning Center, Slack, etc., etc., etc.). We have full time jobs as accountants and real estate agents, caseworkers and teachers, moms and dads, not to mention that we are all ministers of the Gospel.

How do we, as followers of Christ, remain in that same constant state of peace? If Jesus did it, being fully human, wouldn’t that lead us to believe that we can also be at rest in that peace?

To read the rest of this blog, head over to the Life Church Blog.

Hiding

Why are you hiding, little one? Why are you masking yourself?

The Lord sees you still, and he is not surprised. He is not surprised and he is not caught off guard and he is not taken aback.

He sees you fully, bare before him without the masks. You hiding from him is like a little child covering her eyes and thinking she cannot be seen.

He sees you fully, all of you. He sees your heart right this moment as it beats the blood through your veins, and he sees your heart right this moment as it twists at the thought of being seen.

You think it is caked with dirt after years of toiling in the pit, and to anyone else’s eyes, it’s true. You are dirty. You are filthy. You have stains under your fingernails and dust in your hair and clumps of earth stuck to the soles of your feet. You are a mess.

But the river, oh, the river. And the blood, oh, the blood.

It comes and it sweeps through your pit, fills it up and fills it in, and floods the barren field that you have called “home” for so long.

That which you have sown in tears, you will reap in joy.

That’s not platitude. That’s bible. That’s scripture, God-breathed and inspired and held true and passed down for generations.

That’s promise.

That which you have sown in tears, you will reap in joy.

All the years of toiling in the pit and being marked the laborer in the field will be redeemed at the banquet when the feast is had and the bridegroom celebrates the greatest marriage to the most beautiful bride.

The bride. She was dirty and desolate and broken for years.

But the bridegroom. He washed her feet and held her face and kissed her tears with the sweetest lips. He washed her with the water and with the blood.

He saw her, bare with all the dirt and all the grime and all the hardness. He saw her with the years of brokenness and the lines of fear, anger, hurt drawn across her face.

He saw her and he washed her with the water, with the blood.

So, too, he washes you with the water and the blood.

Uncover your eyes, little one. Look to the one who sees you and knows you fully. Let him wash you with the water and wash you with the blood.

Your striving can cease — there’s no need for that when the water rushes in and floods your dirty heart.

The water just… sweeps it away.

The blood just… sweeps it away.

No more filth. No more dirt. No more pit. No more barrenness.

You cannot hide from this great love, love. You cannot hide from this great river. You cannot hide from those eyes of fire.

Look into them and feel his hands as they cup your face and shake the dust from your heart. Feel the river of love wash over you as your tears and fears are kissed away.

That which you have sown in tears, you will reap in joy.

Wedding feasts are full of song, full of dance, and full of joy.

Come — the bridegroom takes great delight in you; he sweeps your barren land with a river and calls it married.

There comes a time when the veil is lifted and the radiant face of the bride is revealed. You are the one he loves, your face radiant and your voice sweet.

Come out of hiding, little one.

New Seasons

When I moved here back in January, the ground was frozen through and trees were skeletons and snow seemed like it was never going to melt away. It was cold, and wet, and my Floridian blood was not prepared for the shock that was a “feels like” temperature of -22 degrees.

The winter passed. The ground thawed along with my bones and the bare branches of trees gave way to beautiful flower blossoms and bright green leaves. I remember one day walking up the front steps and being caught by a pretty little purple crocus pushing up between the grasses. It was the first little sign of spring and I just wanted to pluck it up and keep it fresh forever.

Spring came and went along with a thick layer of yellow pollen that sat in my nose and gave me grief for weeks, and eventually the warmth of summer began to take over. The heat of the sun felt so sweet to my skin; I hadn’t realized how much I missed the sun rays and, yeah, even the humidity. I about cried with glee when I broke out the flip flops, and never have I loved a week of summer camp more than I did this year (even though it was one of the most difficult weeks of camp I’ve ever been a part of).

Somewhere in the past month or so, summer died off and autumn came to in a blaze of glory. The trees, friends! The trees. They are so beautiful. I didn’t know that the process of dying could be so beautiful. I didn’t realize that the pictures I’ve seen on my newsfeed and on the twittersphere and all over Buzzfeed were real. I didn’t know trees and leaves could be so brilliantly colored. I’ve never seen some of these colors in nature, let alone on a tree. The other day when I was driving around for work, I saw a tree with coral leaves. Bright, orangey-pink coral leaves. Just hanging out, distracting drivers as they passed by.

I’ve been so enthralled by the beauty of the leaves. I don’t even think the trees are mad about their leaves dying, because they know that sometimes you need to be pruned in order to bloom back in the spring.

With the changing of the seasons in the natural, I’ve noticed a changing of the seasons in the spiritual.

I moved here in the winter. I moved here in the dead of winter, with the cold and the darkness surrounding, and there was death. There was actual death all over my family, and all in the family that I moved here for.

In the spring I fell in love with a little church about an hour south of Pittsburgh. Being sucked into the community there was like my own little spring: the Lord used that place and that space to breathe life back into my wintered spirit.

In the summer I basked in the warmth of the Light. I soaked up the goodness of the Father, and He satisfied what my soul was thirsting for.

Now it is autumn.

Now it is autumn, and the shakable things of me have been falling away. The Father is pruning and pulling back layers I didn’t know I had, didn’t want to know I had, didn’t care to know I had. Now it is autumn and the seasons have shifted. The trees are so beautiful when they allow the unnecessary parts of themselves to die and fall away, and so too am I.

It’s not that leaves are unnecessary themselves, but they have served their purpose and now the tree is preparing for winter, when the wind can move freely throughout all its parts. And when the wind is done blowing and the perfectly white snow has covered all the limbs of the tree, then spring will come. Spring will come and the leaves will come back full force, blazing in their own sweet beauty.

So too will I.

My new season looks like a new home in a new city, and a new job where I write my credentials at the end of my signature.

My new season looks like letting go of what has served its purpose, and letting die what is ready to fall away.

I Know What You’re Seeing.

Last week I went in to get my eyes checked. It’s been a few years since my last check up and new pair of glasses. The pair I’m currently sporting have been with me to a lot of places; they’ve gone to Cambodia and Thailand, spent countless hours on planes and in airport terminals, and they’ve been on many long moto drives out to Phnom Sompov to watch the bats fly out of their cave at dusk. They’ve taken falls and hits, have been banged up and bent, and are showing how well loved they’ve been. They even flew off my face one day as I was driving when I hit a massive pothole. I had to turn around to find them, all the while hoping that they hadn’t been run over by another motorist. They are scratched and worn and make it difficult to see clearly. 

All this to say, I went to the eye doctor last week because I need a new pair of glasses. It wasn’t long before I was brought back to the exam room, shook hands with the doctor, and we dove into a question and answer forum about my current prescription, the possibility of contacts, what kind, how much wear, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. He seemed like he lived his life with a sense of urgency, like everything has to be rushed. Even his speaking was rushed and he had this habit of moving on to the next question or statement before I had even finished whatever it was that I was saying. He was very good at predicting what it was I was going to say. Now that I think of it, he would probably make an excellent chess player with his ability to anticipate. 

And so when he said what he said, he said it so abruptly and moved on from it so quickly that I tripped over his words when he said them:

“I know what you’re seeing.” 

What he meant was he knew what I was seeing because he had had the same eyesight I have prior to his Lasik surgery. For a brief moment, I just kind of stared at him. You know what I see? You know what my eyesight is? You’ve seen it too? He kept talking, on to the next question, and I stammered out answers. It wasn’t until later in the evening that I remembered what he had said and really thought about it. 

You’re a really good shepherd

You lead me so well

I trust in Your leadership

I sing along with the worship band at church and write these words down both in my journal and in my heart. I hear his words again, “I know what you’re seeing.” As I sing, I remembered the man who held lenses up to my eyeballs and blinded me with a flashlight to look inside.

People have said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, so I think it’s only appropriate that someone would hold up a bright light into mine. What did he see when he peered deep inside? Did my eyes betray me and give away all of my secrets? Did they tell him of the tears they had let fall not even an hour before? Did they show him all the beauty and pain they had seen? Did that light illuminate the darkest corners of my soul? 

There is no lost cause in God

No hopelessness in Him who gives hope

I sing these words, too, and think about the tears from earlier, how they fell out of a place of self-pity, discontent, and forgetfulness.

That’s the moment I recognized how silently I had stood before God, how the last few weeks have been pregnant with words that I couldn’t bring myself to speak out. My well had run dry because I had adamantly refused to fill it up. I found it so difficult to speak to the Father, so I stood there with my head down and hadn’t said anything at all.

Part of me is angry, I finally realize, but I can’t figure out who the anger is intended for. Am I angry at myself for falling so deep in love, or am I angry at the Father for allowing me to grow so attached? 

I can’t tell, so I cry the ugly tears and shake clenched fists up at the clouds that roll against the deep blue of the sky and curl like the underside of a wave. It feels like I’ve been caught up in the undertow, dragged along while I struggle to hold my breath and hold out hope that this ocean will soon spit me back out on the surface.

The words chime again in my mind: I know what you’re seeing. Only this time, it’s not the speed-talking eye doctor. It is the Father and he’s saying “I see you, I see what you’re seeing.”

Sweet, sweet wind of the Spirit

Come blow on my heart

“But you’re not seeing what I see.” The words hit like a ton of bricks on my lungs and I am sucking in air and this time my eyes really do betray me as the Light shines in, and tears as salty as the Dead Sea float me to the surface again.

I lean back in my chair and wrap my arms around myself and hug tight. My whisper cuts through the music straight into the ear of the Father, “You’re a really good shepherd, and You lead me so well. I trust in Your leadership.” 

And now I’m standing on the shoreline as gentle waves kiss my feet, apologizing time and again for dragging me under. 

“I always finish what I start,” He reminds me. 

Sweet, sweet wind of the Spirit

“I know what you’re seeing,” he had said, unaware of the Truth he was speaking. 

Sweet, sweet wind of the Spirit

I went to one seeking new glasses, but another seeks to restore my vision.