The Real Living Hope Is Not a Song

I’ve done some difficult things lately. I need to remind myself of that when I feel like I still can’t do anything. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that the verse I chose to repeat to myself during my last treatment was Acts 2:25-26, “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope.” The next time I went to Celebrate Recovery after treatment, I decided to try and test out my new stamina and stand for worship. I made it through almost a whole song before I had to sit down and then we sang “Living Hope”, by Phil Wickham. It was my hug from God letting me know that, no matter what, I’m going to be okay with Him.

Then I gathered even more courage and started going to church. Church is very hard for me for a lot of reasons. Leaving the house in general is very hard for me. If you see me at church and I appear to ignore you, it’s only because I am hyper-focused on survival, just making it from point A to point B (car to seat). If I don’t do that, all the faces swirl around me and I’ll never make it. My brain will sometimes play me a review later in the day and I’ll realize I ignored someone and feel bad about it pretty much for the rest of my life (J.E., I know you said “hi” to me at the Good Friday service… though it didn’t register at the time. I’m sorry. Good to see you). Yes, these are the things that play through my brain constantly. I am getting better at not beating myself up as much… slowly. Anyway, I struggle with attending church probably more than anything else. But every Sunday since I’ve been back, we have sung “Living Hope.” God hugs. I may be absolutely trembling the whole time I’m there, but I’m going to be okay.

Now that Easter is over, I know we won’t be singing that song every Sunday and it sounds so silly but I started to wonder if I could make through without that song. Umm… hello? What am I even thinking? I have the REAL Living Hope with me all the time. Who needs a song? He’s so much better than a song. Jesus plays in my head more beautifully than a song, fills my heart up better than a song, speaks to me even when words fail, and gives me chills with His nearness more often than a song. If I really believe the words that I’m singing, I need to start acting like it. “In desperation, I turned to heaven and spoke Your name into the night. Then through the darkness, Your loving kindness tore through the shadows of my soul. The work is finished. The end is written. Jesus Christ, my Living Hope.” I cried out to Jesus so many nights and He absolutely tore through the dark shadows of my soul. I am so comforted by the fact that the end is already written so I can quit trying so hard. IT IS FINISHED. “Beautiful Savior, I’m Yours forever. Jesus Christ, my Living Hope. Hallelujah! Praise the One who set me free. Hallelujah! Death has lost its grip on me.” I am His forever. Death has finally lost its grip on me and I feel the chains of all that I’ve allowed to keep hold of me slowly slipping off. Praise the One who set me free!

I quite often try to cling to things to get me through whatever I need to do, whether it be a song, a hyper-focus on the end, or even physically clinging to my husband. Am I alone in this? Maybe you do the same thing. I wonder what would happen if we cling to Jesus, the real Living Hope, during the hard things. Focusing on His presence will surely cast out fear if we let it. He is our ever-present God hug. We’re going to be okay.

God, I pray for the comfort of Your presence. I pray for a deep awareness of Your nearness. I pray for our hearts to be constantly reminded of our connection to You. Just as a song can get stuck in our heads, may You be stuck on a continuous loop in our hearts, giving us peace and strength to keep walking from points A to Z. Oh yes, and give us the ability to look up into the eyes of Your people along the way, even if we trip over our own feet. Help us love each other enough to embrace our awkwardness and anxieties. Grow Your love in us. In the name of Jesus, our Living Hope, Amen.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade- kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." - 1 Peter 1:3-5
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Wrapped In Love

"When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 'Let's not tear it,' they said to one another. 'Let's decide by lot who will get it.'" - John 19:23-24a

Imagine believing Jesus’ only value was His undergarment. Imagine grasping for His clothes while completely rejecting His heart. I squirm just thinking about it. I ache with what the soldiers missed. Would I have missed it too?

I want to be healed. I wait, sometimes impatiently, for Jesus’ touch. When I think of the hem of His robe, my body physically aches with longing. And I’m forced to answer some difficult questions. Do I long for Him that much? Do I ache for what He offers me right now in this moment, knowing it is best? Or do I want His clothes more than I want Him?

I thank God for the gift of knowing what the soldiers did not. I know there was more to Jesus on that day, and there’s more to Him today, than His seamless garment. I perceive the seamless way He cares for me. I believe the unimaginable depth His love reaches for me. On this Good Friday, I look past the clothes and embrace Jesus’ heart as He wraps me up in Him. I accept the peace that He left and the grace offered on the cross. And as much as I’d love to touch His robe, I claim a deeper healing- the salvation of my soul. The soldiers only had eyes for the physical Jesus, clinging to their perception of what would be left after His death. May my eyes be ever open to the resurrected Jesus, clinging to all that He was, is, and will always be. He is with me each moment. I can touch His presence. I can wash His feet with my tears. I can pour out my heart and receive His in abundance. I can listen for His voice.

I let go of His clothes… so I can cling to His heart.

 

Song I’m feeling so deeply: The More I Seek You, by Kari Jobe
“The more I seek You, the more I find You
The more I find You, the more I love You
I want to sit at Your feet, drink from the cup in Your hand
Lay back against You and breathe, feel Your heartbeat
This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand
I melt in Your peace, it’s overwhelming.”

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On the Night He was Betrayed

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus looked around the room at those who would abandon Him… and He washed their feet.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus taught humility and love… and then ultimately demonstrated.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus took bread… who could eat on a night like this?
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus broke the bread… and felt the breaking in His body.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus gave thanks… thanks? Thanks for the bread, for the brokenness, for the salvation of those who would grieve Him.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus lifted the cup… and tasted His own blood on His lips.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus celebrated… celebrated God sparing His children by the blood of lambs, and of the Lamb.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus told the truth, “one of you will betray me”… but He did not seek revenge.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus looked at His betrayer… and ate with Him.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus gave bread and wine… and then gave everything.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus settled a petty dispute about who was greater… and then demonstrated the answer as the one who gives of Himself.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus forgave those who would leave Him… THAT VERY NIGHT.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus sang a hymn… who could choke out a song on a night like this?
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus knew He would be abandoned by His closest friends… but HE comforted THEM.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus listened to His friends pledge to stay with Him… and then watched them all run away.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus confided in His friends and fell to the ground in sorrow… while they fell asleep.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus cared about the temptation of his friends… but knew they would fall to it.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus looked forward to taking His disciples to be with Him one day… even though they slept through His deepest hour of need.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus gave peace to those who left Him… not punishment.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed for protection… for those who didn’t try to protect Him.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus spoke of joy… how could He even think about such a thing?
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus asked God for a change of plan… while surrendering to His will.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus was strengthened by God… even in His anguish.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed for the glory of God… even as He was about to be disgraced.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus allowed Himself to be kissed by death… in the body of one of his dearest friends.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus rebuked violence and defense… and gave Himself up.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus healed one arresting Him… though His own body would be broken in far bigger ways.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus looked His closest friend in the eyes… just after that friend denied three times that he even knew Him.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus spoke of His resurrection… but was accused of blaspheme.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus endured ridicule, spit, and hatred… but He was silent. *

I don’t understand this kind of love. On the 2,850th night after I’ve been betrayed, abandoned, neglected, hurt… I avoid washing feet. Breaking bread ties my stomach in knots. I rear against humility even as I long for it and pray for unconditional love. I often fight the brokenness and occasionally find the strength to choke out thanks. My celebration is tainted. I want justice. I join in the disciples’ petty dispute that I am right… that I am greater. I hold onto the hurt caused by those who left me instead of receiving the comfort that Jesus offers me in release. Sometimes I can hardly sing. My tongue refuses to speak of joy. I do still care deeply, while simultaneously reliving the pain of abandonment in my darkest hours. I want punishment AND peace, even though the two cannot coexist. I fall to my knees in sorrow and ask God to change His mind about forgiveness… because I’m frustrated by the lack of change I see in my heart. Unlike Jesus, I avoid eye contact because it might betray the hold deep sorrow still has on me. I don’t know how to surrender, and it’s not for lack of trying. There must be something I’m still missing…

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed for ME…
How could that knowledge not spur me on to keep praying, to keep pleading, to keep singing, to keep serving, to keep loving? As long as I continue falling to my knees as many times as it takes, I am strengthened by God to keep going.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed for unity among all of us… even as He watched discord and separation rule that particular night.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus declared God’s love for us… knowing the crushing weight of our sin that would be placed on Him.
Knowing that this kind of selfless power lives inside of us gives us the drive to keep putting one foot in front of the other… or one knee in front of the other as we kneel to wash each others’ feet. The love Jesus is growing inside of us gives us the ability to glorify God even in our continued brokenness.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Nothing paints a clearer picture of this verse than Jesus on the night He was betrayed. I fight against loving deeply because it hurts. Jesus loved deeply and was hurt. Why do I think it should be different for me? But Jesus also loved deeply and forgave, possessed joy, experienced peace, and gave glory to God… because His love covered the multitude of sins against Him. His love lives inside of me… with the ability to cover all of the wrongs stacked up against me so that all I see is love. Love blanketing the jagged edges, softening the blows with God’s comfort. What a beautiful picture.

On this night when Jesus was betrayed, may we feel His love well up in us… and forgive. May we accept the peace that He gives us… and trust. May we sing with the joy He gives us… and celebrate. And may we live on our knees more often than not. Let us do this in remembrance of Him.

Song I’m feeling: The Basin and the Towel, by Michael Card
“And the space between ourselves sometimes
Is more than the distance between the stars
By the fragile bridge of the Servant’s bow
We take up the basin and the towel
And the call is to community
The impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility, to take the vow
That day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.”

*1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13-17

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God, Grow My Gratitude

I fully admit I’m having a pity party today. It’s only April 10 and it’s already too hot for me and it’s just not fair. Sometimes I have to be honest and ask the tough questions. Why would God have created an intense longing in me to be outdoors, to be present in these mountains all around me, and not somehow make a way for me to be there without fainting? Heat is still my biggest trigger and I can barely even walk my dog. Sometimes I wonder if I can truly make it through five more months of even hotter weather. It sucks. I used to love the summer. I moved to TN so that I could hike those beautiful mountains. And now I just have to stare at them through my window. I have to watch everyone else enjoy their days in the sun without a care. It is not fair. I know I sound like a petulant child. Thank God He can take it.

I had an amazing day on Sunday. It was the first time I was able to attend church in ages. I was able to stand up for some of the singing and even go to the grocery store afterward. These are huge accomplishments and I celebrated them. I invited others to celebrate them with me. But the next day, my autonomic nervous system went completely haywire and it has not recovered. I feel utterly out of control. I never know what’s going to happen next. Will my blood sugar drop? Will my blood pressure drop? Will my heart rate drop? Will all three of them drop? I was alone on Monday when the first episode of near-unconsiousness hit. And I’ve been living in fear of it happening again ever since. God has not given me a spirit of fear. I know that. I repeat that. I’m still afraid. But not all the time, thanks be to God.

I should be grateful for Sunday. And, oh, how I am! But I have to be honest and say this one step forward, two steps back business is HARD. It’s exhausting. I’m tired of this dance. So tired. And I’m also tired of telling everyone how good I’m doing only to have to tell them again how bad I’m doing. It hurts, and for some reason I still carry a load of shame for not being able to get it together enough for a true celebration – the celebration I know everyone wants for me. I know God doesn’t want that shame for me and He wants to take away the pressure that I feel to “get it together.” Most days I can let that sink into my heart. But other days…

One of the questions posed recently in my recovery group was something along the lines of, “In your past, what have you been ungrateful for?” I was reminded that I have not been grateful for my life. At all. The ungratefulness is not just in my past either. I am not grateful for my life even today. I am grateful for things IN my life. But not my life itself. I don’t think I’m still angry at God for giving me life, but I look at it as something to endure. I can’t even imagine enjoying it. I’m still mulling over whether or not I think there’s anything wrong with that. Sure, there’s that passage about Jesus coming to give me life to the full. But, what exactly does that mean? You may have to stay tuned.

One of my song obsessions lately is “Scars”, by I Am They. Before I could make it to the piano to play it in an attempt to climb out of the pity party today, the words smacked me in the face. “I’m thankful for the scars ’cause, without them, I wouldn’t know Your heart.” I wonder. Without this life, would I truly be able to know God’s heart? I believe the answer to that is, no. How could I possibly know how much love He has for me even when I hurt, even when I pity, even when I rage, even when I sin… if I wasn’t here on earth? How could I know how He carries me through the pain if I never had any pain? How could I remember the comfort and the beautiful binding He offers my wounds if I never had any scars? Maybe this is the beginning of gratitude for my life. My knock-down, drag-out, beautiful life.

I hate having to say I’ve taken two steps back after one step forward. But should I just stop celebrating the step forward? I have to admit, I’m tempted. But that one step forward matters just as much as the two steps back. So, I’ll keep celebrating. And maybe what I need to remember even more is that those two steps back are just as important, and real, as the one step forward. They are happening and they are HARD. They are not to be ignored and they are not to cause me shame. They are to help me experience more God. I long to be on a different dance floor, one where every step is perfect and pain-free for all eternity. But I am thankful for the practice I’m getting right now. I have the best dance partner to teach me all of these forward and backward steps, and He’ll still be my partner then. Dancing with God now is a dear reflection, rippled but still breathtaking, of the gift of eternity with Him forever. I’m thankful for the dance. I’m thankful for the scars. I’m thankful for this life. May God grow this gratitude in me.

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song." - Psalm 28:7

Song I’m feeling: Scars, by I Am They
“I’m thankful for the scars
‘Cause, without them, I wouldn’t know Your heart
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are
So forever, I am thankful for the scars.”

 

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