Thursday, August 25, 2016

Embrace Love--a year later

Last year on the day before my birthday I was led to the birthday year theme of “embrace love”. At the time it felt ambiguous, flighty even—like, what does that even mean? Oh, maybe I’ll have a relationship, maybe I’ll grow in ministry, maybe…my mental “what-if’s” were endless. I was optimistic that embracing love would bring joy.

A year later, it has—but not at all in the rosy way I expected. Sure, I’ve bloomed in many ways this year—but roses have thorns. Thorns are protection of the bud, for the plant’s health—keeping the unsafe and the unhelpful away. Learning to “embrace love” this year meant blossoms and thorns.

In my professional work when we define a behavior we also define what it isn’t—we give concrete descriptions of the target behavior (e.g. aggression is defined as hitting an object or person with an open or closed fist), while also giving non-examples (e.g. aggression does not include yelling, running away, or lightly tapping a surface with fingertips).

None of my “maybe’s” imagined the “non-examples” of embracing love. But as I look back over the last year, I am so grateful that God in his infinite wisdom began to teach me how to embrace love by also teaching me what love isn’t—and the love to reject. He used hard circumstances where power and position “in the name of love” was mishandled to teach me to recognize His perfect love. He revealed areas of my heart that were prideful, self-sufficient, and clouded by my sin to free me to embrace his love. He healed in the midst of hurt—his is a love that embraces us in our pain and pride and calls us to be healed and humble. His love doesn’t demand devotion or submission. His love doesn’t use fear to manipulate—His love casts out fear. The love I’ve learned to embrace this year is a spoken love—the word became flesh. Speak the truth in love—it must be spoken—truth hurts to heal, faithful are the wounds of a friend. The love I’m learning to embrace is not self-seeking—emboldened by its seeking of the beloved’s best, this love speaks into darkness, tender words from ferocious care. This Love knows that silence is comfortable for the moment but cancer in the long run. Love doesn’t treat people like a number, a dollar symbol, a part of the whole. Love knows that to care for the whole you must care for the one. The Good Shepherd seeks after the one lost sheep—to love well we must love like Him. This is the love that is worth embracing.

The “love passage” in 1st Corinthians is often read at weddings—yet contextually Paul was yelling at the Corinthians—like a stern Father Paul was embodying the love he was calling them to—patient, kind, NOT self-seeking, rejoicing in the truth. He said the hard things because he had a Holy Spirit inspired love. That’s the greatness of love.

My heart wounds are turning to scars—reminders that healing is possible. I won’t be the same—and that’s a good thing. The Gospel has reminded me this year that the love I want to embrace is a scarred love. A love that entered into the mess of this world, the pain, the brokenness, the abuse—and took it on. Christ is quite literally love embodied. I want to embrace that kind of love—the one that flipped tables instead of sweeping things under the rug. The love that cares too much to stay silent in false unity and comfort—knowing wounds caused by words of truth heal. I want to be love like that— speak to heal, cry out for justice, defend the cause of the poor and needy, encourage the faint-hearted, and be patient with them all. Because as much as love endures it also evokes freedom for the beloved. A love that demands is not love at all—it is control, and power, and abusive—self-love is never selfless.  So as I look back and look forward—I’m grateful for this year of learning to embrace love. I’m thankful that God has allowed hurt to heal and to teach humility—to encourage and remind me that I can embrace love because he perfectly embraces me in his infinite love

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Crossing Your Jordan

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim,whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you…“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord”
Deuteronomy 9:1-3,6-7
We all have personal “Jordan Rivers”—pivotal moments where God calls us to move forward, to walk courageously. These  moments often come after wilderness—times of pain, confusion, desolation in our circumstances or hearts. Often we’re fearful to take the next step—to end the relationship, to change our habits. Just like Israel we forget that God goes before us—that it is His power that equips us to walk, to fight our battles, to take the land He’s calling us to. If you’re like me, you do start to think that it’s all on you to make the right decisions, to say the right things, to remain silent—forgetting that it is not by our works that we are even where we’re at today.
I think our wilderness seasons are so pivotal because they forever remind us just how much we need our Savior. When everything around you has crumbled you’re left with the essentials—what you really needed in the first place.
“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down” (A Grief Observed C. S. Lewis).
It is often in our wilderness seasons that we are humbled and refined. It can feel like punishment but it’s actually the most loving thing to be reminded of what matters. The wilderness prepares us for crossing the Jordan.
 I don’t know what wilderness you’re in—where your heart is parched by pain—but I know that He will not waste it and that it won’t last forever. Our God is the one who made water pour forth from rocks—and he does that with our heart’s too.

Know that your Jordan will come—and that He goes before you, prepares you, is with you, wherever you go.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Lesson in Grace from My Grandfather

Speeding down a sun-speckled Midwestern highway, a weathered hand pats my own “You keep writing, Elise. Write about your life, what happens to you. It’s your gift”. My eyes water at his affirmation, his love; his encouragement irrigating dry ground.

Earlier that day I peered through a cracked door to see him pouring over a book, pen poised to take notes. Upon entering the book-crammed study, I sigh and my heart echoes—so this this where I got it—the love for reading, studying, writing—it’s in my blood. As I settle into a well-worn chair, I can’t help but look around at the shelves spotted with photographs of family and friends. I know he prays for these people faithfully, daily; blood related by the cross.

Our roots lead to wings—sometimes to fly away from danger, sometimes to tether us to our calling. “You can’t pick your family”—some grin, many grimace.

“The place you start your journey is your anchor, the filter through which you process every single stop along the way…If, along the way, you realize you’ve been heading the wrong direction, you might change your trajectory, but you can’t change where you started” (Allison Fallon,Packing Light).
My eyes move from pages to photographs, glimpses of what matters to my grandfather. He is a man who has lived quite the journey. He’s the first to admit he’s not the man he once was, and his family echoes this. Grace is exemplified when a person knows they need it—when they, like David, from the heart say “against you only have I sinned” (Psalm 51).

Back on the cloud-shadow spotted road, my grandfather remarks “twenty years ago I never would have thought I would be ministering to sex offenders in prison, but the Lord has changed me”. We never know what events will change the course of our lives—when our hearts will be moved to speak or to be silent, when tragedy or triumph will mark our path. Yet, as I listened to my grandfather reminisce on life and change, I couldn’t help but be encouraged by grace—that sees our pride, our prejudice, our fear—the grace that knows our starting points, the families we’ve been placed into—and calls us to walk with Him. This grace doesn’t demand perfection—casting us away at the first inconvenience, mistake, or conflict—rather, it redeems in the most humble and humiliating way—by taking the punishment for our errors, our anger. The infinite entered time. His grace must be our starting point—it must be our anchor—He has adopted us as family—grace received leads to grace exemplified. Indeed, “His grace has brought us safe thus far, His grace will lead us home”

Friday, May 27, 2016

Though None Go with Me

    "But what about you?" he asked.
 "Who do you say I am?" Mark 8:29
                The last few months have reminded me of this conversation between Jesus and Peter as my own heart has heard echoes of,  “Who do you say I am?”  As I’ve processed and healed and begun to move on, Jesus has gently asked me to revisit who He is—a process that will never end this side of heaven.  The initial confusion and sadness has been an opportunity to restore the joy of my salvation—it has drawn me to Him.  He uses hard things to remind us of His character and call us to rely on it. I can say I believe that He is my strength, my peace—but those are hollow until they’re all you have to hold on to. This year has been one marked by change in my circumstances, my habits, my community. Many nights I’ve fallen asleep praying for Jesus to be my fortress, my clarity, my defender—the way only He can. He has never failed.
                He’s reminded me that he is my hope, He alone is the Author and Perfector of my faith, the Keeper of my Soul. He alone knows my heart. He alone. Though none go with me. He has faithfully uprooted lies, ended harmful thought patterns, and restored dreams. His grace reminds me I’m a work in progress, yet ultimately it is finished. His grace frees me to admit my faults, to look back and repent. His grace beckons me to forgive, to move on, to trust that he leads me beside green pastures and still waters.

                I don’t know what hard things you’re going through today. I don’t know where you feel pressed, almost crushed, persecuted and almost abandoned, struck down seemingly destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8)—but I know that he meets you there. He was pressed, crushed, persecuted, abandoned, his body was destroyed—for you. When in trials it feels like “none go with you”—remember, He has. He knows. His grace has brought you safe thus far, His grace will lead you home. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

A prayer for the church

Your Kingdom is in-breaking,
Your loving-kindness has no end,
You only hurt to heal,
You are the one who mends.

You are not distant in our pain,
 You are not aloof or cold,
You are the one who turns loss to gain,
You are the one who destroys strongholds.

You know the depth of each human heart,
You know your children by name,
You alone can dissect a hardened soul,
You are the movement for the lame.

You are not finished with your people,
You are not throwing your hands up in despair,
You are the one who allows pain-
The Cross revealing your infinite care.

You will refine your church,
You will redeem your bride.
You are the one who removes our shame,
You are lovingly rebuking pride.

You know this moment many hearts are faint.
You hear each desperate cry.
You touch each soul with your tender care,
You will one day make every eye dry.

Tonight remind us of your love,
Satisfy souls in your peace,
Guide our prayers for you to abide,
Heal this body, from sin release.

--march 13,2016--

Saturday, February 13, 2016


What if I expected You to move mountains?
What would happen if I trusted You to part the sea?
What would become of my heart wastelands?
What miracles would come to be?

How do I pray in faith without grasping?
How do I seek You in asking for desires?
How should these finite lips call on everlasting?
How does this fickle heart pray with holy fire?

Help my unbelief
Jesus guide my heart,
Remind me You are my perfect intercessor,
In You, my requests are sorted apart.

It was You who led by fire and cloud,
It was You who provided manna,
It was You who asked if the dry bones could live,
It was You who broke walls, they marched around them.

It is You who still makes ways in darkness,
It is You who still calls by name,
It is You who asks me to pray boldly,
It is You who removes my shame.

I can hope in your provision,
I can boldly come before your throne,
I can humbly ask You to hasten your vision,
I can trust You to lead me home.

Now is the time to ask in hope,
Tonight is the night to cry out,
You rend my heart with your unfailing love,
You speak in whispers, in my circumstances You shout.

I ask because you know my heart,
I call because you are my father,
I know you’re the one who leads and sends,
When I on my own can go no farther.

You see me when I’m falling,
 You know my words before I speak,
You are the one who’s ever calling,
You are the answer I seek.

You are making my heart-mountains move,
You are parting my fear-filled seas,
You are turning wastelands into streams,
You are performing miracles in me. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

How I want to love you-- a poem

How I want to love you

I want to love you with my smiles,
I’d like to love you with my laugh,
Someday I want to love you with my words—even when we’re mad.

I want to love you with a home of joy,
Filled with memories on well-worn walls,
I want to love you in a second glance as tiny feet run down the halls.

I want to love you with my passions, gifts, and mind-
To equip, encourage, and call you to use your own.
I want to love you by respecting your dreams
walking boldly alongside you- even when it all seems to unwind.

I want to love you with my patience,
I want to love you with my kindness,
I want to love you when it’s not easy, choosing covenant over defiance.

I want to love you in the evening hours
As we pray for Him to lead,
I want to love you each morning,
Reminding you He is all we need.

I want to love you as we serve together,
As we follow where He guides,
I want to love Him with you by my side.

I want to love you for thousands of tomorrows,
Till we meet upon that shore,
I want to love you like our Savior;
Loving you in a way that reminds you to always love Him more.

I want to love you today-
It seems crazy, But it’s true.
I can love you as I love Him who loved me perfectly first-
In what I say and all I do.

I can love you today as I look to Him alone,
I can love you well before we exchange those vows,
I can love you in this solitary day, as I work in my own home,
Knowing who I’ll be someday is shaped by who I am now.

I can love you as I pray,
I can love you as I wait.
I can love you by trusting His timing,
I can love you well by loving those I’m called to today,
This is how I can love you—long before that first date. 

It could be seen as a follow up to This one