Moving out of the darkness

I've been a part of a handful of conversations lately with friends who are either fighting an ongoing sin issue themselves or have spouses or other loved ones who are. These are not rare or unusual conversations because we all struggle with sin. But the unique thing about several of these recent conversations is that these friends have kept quiet about the sin. They haven't told anyone. They've kept it in the dark, at least until now.

That got me thinking about the power of the darkness and how much the enemy of our souls wants us to keep things there. If we allow our sin to linger in the darkness, to hide there, then we give him control. And that's exactly what he wants.

I got to share some thoughts yesterday with my bi-weekly MOPS group (which I love!) and I read a snippet from Jen Hatmaker's book 'For the Love' that says SO much about the power of bringing something from darkness into the light.

"Simply speaking truth out loud is healing in and of itself. When people courageously voice a true, hard thing, they've already stolen back some of its dark power before we offer one word to fix it.

"Pulling something difficult from its dark hiding place and into the light is innately healing.

(For the Love, Chapter 7, Page 47) 

I love those words. 

You don't even need to have a firm grasp on a solution to the problem before you're able see a glimmer of hope. The first step to healing is simply bringing the truth into the light. 

The hard things in this life were never to be fought by ourselves, in the dark. There's a very slim chance of victory when that's our approach. When the true things of our hearts, how ever ugly they may be, are brought into the light the destructive power that "thing" has over us is weakened and it gives the people who love us a chance to walk the journey towards healing with us hand in hand. That way it was intended to be. 

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. 

John 1:4-5 ESV

sitting in the middle of someone else's pain

Recently I had some time to myself so I spent it at one of my favorite places... Chick-Fil-A. Their sweet tea is one of my favorite things on the planet so it's not a hard sell to get me in the door. I usually take a book or my laptop with me in hopes of spending some time reading or writing while I sip my on my bottomless cup of sugar and caffeine (mixed with a touch of tea). When I walked through the doors on this particular day I immediately noticed something was different. The line was long. Normally, it's not. The restaurant was loud, and crowded, and bustling with energy. And then I noticed the difference. It was a group of about twenty-five young adults with special needs and just as many aids to help them. I had a hard time taking my eyes off of them because they were precious. Some with greater disabilities than others. Some being spoon fed pureed food by their aids, others carrying their own drinks to their tables. Some talking, some not. Some smiling, some not.

Once I got through the line and had my food it was time to find a seat. There weren't a lot of choices because the restaurant was pretty full but I noticed a few high-top tables near the back and right next to the group of young adults. For some reason my heart just wanted to sit next to them. Among them. With them. I knew there probably wasn't going to be any conversation between us but it was as if in my own head sitting among them was a decision of solidarity. I see you, I hear you, I'm with you. So I sat. And it wasn't what I expected.

It was uncomfortable. And at moments even a little disturbing. At one point a young man started to yell very loudly about every 60 seconds which was a little disturbing in itself, but it also seemed to upset one of the other students because he also stood up and started yelling and smacking himself in the head. This went on for 15 or 20 minutes. I thought about moving to a different seat but I just couldn't. What would that say to them? "Your challenges are inconveniencing me on this lovely day as I'm trying to enjoy my lunch." Where some of them in physical pain? Probably. Emotional pain? Maybe. Psychological pain? Possibly. I'll never know exactly but I knew that if I got up and left it would speak volumes about how society ALREADY treats them and views them and I wasn't interested in jumping in that boat. So I sat. And I stayed.

This experience might not mean anything to you but for me it sparked so many thoughts about sitting in the middle of someone else's pain. And how necessary it is.

But here's the honest truth when it comes to sitting in the middle of someone else's pain....

It's uncomfortable.
It's awkward.
It's disturbing.
You might not know what to say.

But more than any of those things, what I learned at CFA that day is it speaks volumes when we do. It speaks volumes to the person you're sitting with and it speaks volumes to the people around you watching. I'm pretty sure no one noticed where I sat at CFA that day but I know there are plenty of times in life when people DO notice. There are so many people in this world who are aching for someone to sit with them in their pain. To join hands in solidarity. To know that they are seen, heard, and valued.

Who can we stand in solidarity with today? Refugees? The homeless? Foster children? Single moms? Orphans? The poor? The oppressed? The widowed? The list could go on and on and on.

With words or without, solidarity says "You're seen. You're heard. You're valued." Someone needs to know that today. 

Staying connected to the vine

My five year old walks into the room sometimes and calls my name, when I happen to be standing right in front of him. It goes something like this... "Mom. Mom. MOM. Mooooommmmm!" My reply starts gently, "Yes, buddy?" but when he doesn't hear me (most likely because he's not listening) after the fourth or fifth call, my gentle response usually turns into "WHAT!? I'm standing RIGHT HERE!" Can you relate? The immaturity of our kids sometimes keeps them from seeing that what they need is actually right in front of them. They petition, they whine, they beg for something when all they really need to do is reach out and grab it for themselves.

I think we do this with God sometimes. We tell our friends, "I could really use some peace today." We  vent on our spouse about how much we're lacking patience. Or maybe we tell a co-worker at the water cooler how we wish we had more wisdom when it comes to a certain situation. There's nothing inherently wrong about these statements but the irony is that God is also standing right in front of us saying, "I'm right here! I have what you need! I AM what you need!"

I've been reading and studying the book of John over the last few months and I love it because it is FULL of "I am" statements. These I am statements are being made by Jesus.

i AM the bread of life.
i AM the light of the world.
i AM the door.
i AM the good shepherd.
i AM the resurrection and the life.
i AM the way, the truth, and the life.
i AM the true vine.

Notice that Jesus doesn't say, "I could probably muster up some peace for you if you clean yourself up, do all the right things, and get your act together." He simply says I AM PEACE. Everything we need resides in Him. In the person and presence of Jesus.

Do you need some life in your bones? He is life. Do you need salvation? Just walk through His door. Do you need answers? He is the answer. Do you feel lost? He is the way. Do you want to be known? He already knows you.

The best fruit we can desire is the fruit of HIS spirit. Love, joy, peace. patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We could scream at the top of our lungs all day long for more patience, more love, or more self-control but if we don't abide in the one who IS the fruit, who IS the vine then we will remain dry and empty vessels.

"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5

I learned from a commentary by Dr. Thomas Constable that the "I am" statement Jesus makes about being the vine is the very last "I am" statement He makes in the gospels. Perhaps He saved the best for last? I love this statement about the vine... 

"The father "dresses" the vine as a farmer cultivates his vineyard. No vine will produce fruit unless someone competent cares for it."

One of the things I struggle with in marriage is allowing my husband to lead and protect me. I was raised my a single mom who worked hard and my older brother and I spent a lot of time before school, after school, and in the summertime taking care of ourselves until our mom got home from work. This in some cases forced us to grow up faster than some of our peers but it also instilled in us a strong sense of independence. Still to this day, my strong sense of independence can be an asset but it can also be a liability. I often feel like (and act like) I don't need my husband to protect me. Because I can take care of myself. When I say this out loud he reminds me about the nights when he's away and I watch Law & Order SVU before bed and then can't sleep because I'm terrified a murderer is going to break into my house. I struggle with allowing him to lead me because, well, I've lead myself practically my whole life and I don't really need any help. Do you see the flaw in this kind of thinking?

"The father "dresses" the vine as a farmer culitvates his vineyard. No vine will produce fruit unless someone competent cares for it." 

How healthy can my relationship with my husband be if I do not allow him to care for me? This is his God-given responsibility. Even more so... How can we produce spiritual fruit in our lives if we do not allow GOD to care for us. And how can he care for us, if we do not stay connected to him? Crops cannot grow if they are not first cared for and tended, the same goes for humans.

Can you picture the alternative to connectedness to the vine? No love, no joy, no peace, no patience, no kindness, no gentleness, no goodness, no faithfulness, no self-control. Either you've been there yourself or you know someone who's life looks like this. And it's not a pretty sight.

When we live disconnected from the vine (unintentionally or not), we end up forfeiting the care of the Father. 

So how do we stay connected to the vine? Here are some ideas...

We dig into His word. We study it, we learn it, we put it deep into out hearts. My friend Jessi says "The bible is not about us, it's about God. The more we know the bible, the more we know God. And the more we know God the more we know ourselves." I love that.

We spend time with Him. In His presence. In prayer. And listening.

We stay connected to His people. There is great power in community, isn't there? We are not meant to live disconnected from God and we are not meant to live disconnected from each other. I believe when we share stories with other people of how God is working in our life and they do the same, it strengthens our faith as well as theirs.

Friends, He is I AM and He is EVERYTHING we need.