Needed

Tuesday. Blue sky, sunshine, pink and purple flowers dripping from pots and baskets over the newly remodeled city sidewalks and streets. New faces to give and receive greetings and smiles. Cobblestone accents. And the music spilling out from the church on the lake.

It was a good day. New, different, and uncertain. But still good.

The journal side of my blue planner reflected the feelings I had about Tuesday. But the only things I wrote about were some thoughts about the previous Sunday and the song the church was playing that noon. I walked the city sidewalks and streets to the notes of “I Need Thee Every Hour.”

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;

No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;

Every hour I need Thee;

Oh, bless me now, my Savior,

I come to Thee.

Goodness, I needed to just take a deep breath and realize how much I do need Jesus. There are far too many times when I think, “I’ve got this” when in actuality, that is about as far from the truth as it gets. It’s nothing but an illusion or a figment of my imagination that is no more real than the sidewalk paintings of scenes that look very real. A painted puddle is a puddle until you walk on top of it.

Living apart from Jesus can generate brilliant colors, vibrant sounds, and safe feelings that end right there. All things that give a false sense of having it all together. There is nothing wrong with feeling confident, living in certainty, embracing resilience; but there is something sadly wrong when we can find life and security in any of these away from Jesus.

I need him but he does not need me. A couple of years ago I read a quote that has stayed with me—“The greatest freedom in life is to not be needed anywhere.” There is a green light of truth in this statement—God does not need me and this is freedom. He invites me to be a character in his story but his story will go on whether or not I make an appearance in it or not. The loss is mine, not his. There is no obligation or burden to do a duty, perform, or please him. His purposes and plans will happen whether I am kicking and screaming like Jonah or calming holding my hands out like Mary, saying, “Your will be done in me.”

For most of my life I have needed to be needed. And I suspect I will fight this for the rest of my life. But the freedom that comes from not being needed by anyone or anywhere is liberating and life-giving. When I left in July, I was deeply confident my prayers would be answered and I had no worries or concerns about life in America when I was gone. I had many conversations with God about wanting life to go on as well without me in it as when I am fully present in my life. Jesus, you increase and I decrease. More of you and far less of me.

There was nothing that fell apart because I was gone, work continued on without me, all aspects of church functioned like I’d never left—or more poignantly, never even been a key on that piano. Even my cats thrived with my being gone. And it was exactly how I  both wanted and needed it to be.

I came back ready to “own” what I left behind, but none of it owns me. More than ever, I am accepting of my “water” personality and just want to be poured out into any bottle or jar God chooses for me. The color, shape, and size of the vessel is insignificant. As Helen Roseveare so aptly said, “He can use me or hide me—it matters not. The choice is his.” I am here to live a life surrendered to him, with the realization that I am not needed.

Life changed for me in the Dominican Republic. More than ever, I desperately needed Jesus to go with me and I can’t fathom how much more difficult those few days would have been if I had done life without him. But I was also a team member on a trip that did not need me. And there was freedom in the fact that whatever I was doing could be done by someone else.

God doesn’t need me to do anything. He just wants me to be with him.

And that is the beauty of living with Jesus. We get to be poured out as offerings to our King who gave us everything. It is an honor to go with him. But because he doesn’t need me, it makes it that much more of a privilege to get to live a life of service for him. From peering into nearly blind eyes, to playing with kids, to praying, to trying to encourage Michael—all of it could have happened without me. But our gracious God allowed me to step into these moments of time and be that person.

So, more than ever, I was awakened to the fact that life for Jesus should be experienced as the honor it really is. And, someday, when my heart stops beating, all of life will still go on. His heart for the world will continue to keep on beating in a million different ways in just as many people who are committed to living surrendered lives to him.

Needed? No.

Loved, chosen, and wanted? Absolutely. A thousand times, yes.

Launch Sunday

It was a beautiful Launch Sunday. My heart is full. I am amazed at how great of a blessing God gave us in this first Sunday, first service, first of many other things. Five people responded to the Gospel message. Our heart’s desire for Hope Church is to see people find freedom, life, and hope in Jesus. And here we are, on our very first Sunday, and God is giving us a glimpse of these prayers being answered.

Today was a day to be happy about, a day to be joyful in God for, and a day to remember and cling to when a rainy day or stormy season happens.

It was all God. His fingerprints are evident in every good thing. But he has also been present in the tough situations, dark days, and sad nights leading up to this very day.

I am blessed to be able to “play the background” in a venture I never would have chosen for myself. The irony of God is astounding. Truly, his thoughts and ways are far above our human ideas and his purposes will prevail over any of our plans (Proverbs 19:21).

And I am infinitely blessed to walk this journey with followers of Jesus who are passionate about being a part of his great story. This story is far larger than any one of us and it wouldn’t be possible without him. I am thankful that for a sliver of time I have the privilege of being in this present moment, with these precious people. Jesus, I am grateful.

I am grateful that you have led us all this way. I am grateful that you have taken our hands and held our hearts for all this time. I am grateful that this is only the beginning, the genesis of something greater to come. I am grateful for your smile—felt and seen on days like today. I am also grateful for your hidden smile on the days and nights it is not evident and all around us screams that you’ve left us. Jesus, you are a greater reality than any perception we experience. And when you said that you’d be with us forever, it is just as true on perfect days like today and on awful, horrible days this past year or in the year to come. No one can take you away.

Tonight, my thoughts are captured with two things:

  1. Respond

One of most beautiful response moments in history occurred in John 7. Jesus stands up on the last and greatest day of the feast and cries out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink!” While some people questioned, others responded by plainly saying, “This is the Christ.” The officers came back from a feeble arrest attempt saying, “How could we arrest him? ‘No one ever spoke like this man!’”

Jesus, still today, no one speaks like you! Your words are alive and full of grace and truth. You are the Savior of the world and because you were lifted up on the cross, you can and do draw all people to yourself (John 12:32).

  1. Remember

Today was reminiscent of our first church service of the week in Le Vega, Dominican Republic. Ashley and Wesley sang “Lord, I Need You” in Spanish (which we also sang today) and Jordan preached. People came forward and made decisions to follow Christ. Tears and hugs all around in the sticky, hot evening—very unlike today with the cool, crisp fall temperatures. That was a favorite moment from the week in the DR—God calling his children from the depths of darkness into the blazing light of truth found in the Light of the World. And less than two months later, I was able to see it all over again.

Jesus, I am grateful. So grateful.

 

 

A Place at the Table

What if I believed that Jesus really, truly loved me? What if I actually lived in the realization that He is for me and not against me? What might life be like if I quit trying to work for my position and just lived in the truth that, because of Jesus, I have a place at the table?

Our place at the King’s table has nothing to do with our working for it. Nor do we get moved closer to the head of the table when we somehow promote or perform enough to get the subtle nod that we have been seen—noticed. On the flip side, we won’t lose our place setting because we fail, fall, or finish last in something or everything.

The irony of it all is that while all along I’ve had a place at the table, I’ve rarely experienced it. I’ve walked by “my spot” numerous times, but have always had one excuse or another for why I can’t sit there. I’ve voiced my thoughts that even though the name card has my name on it, it is surely for someone else. My heart always wished it was my place, as it looked so inviting but my head reminded me of the thousand reasons why I could never pull that chair out.

Running my hand along the smooth wood for the umpteenth time, I looked at my name on the card. It was in His writing but I always had one more reason for why He never meant for me to be at His table. I glanced at all the faces of people I knew and loved at the table and wondered how they could be so certain of their place at His table. They were happy, peaceful, and content. There wasn’t the restless frustration and fear reflected in any of their faces that I wore on my own.

Several people looked my way and told me to take my seat—once again. It was the same old routine. Always. But just when I would finally start to pull the chair back, he would yank my hands away from the wood.

“You don’t get to sit there” he hissed. “What have you ever done to even come near this table? You’ll never be or do enough to sit at His table. You…are…not…good…enough. You’ll disappoint Him if you come this close. He just has your name on that card, but He knows you’ll never actually earn a spot here.”

Tears oozed from my eyes as I turned away. All I ever wanted was to sit here. In this place that had my name on it. But no matter how many times He told me I belonged here, I never really believed Him. His people tried to tell me the same thing—but I always thought they had something I didn’t.

And they did. They had deep peace and confidence in their position as His children. They knew and believed that He never wanted them to perform or compete for the rows of chairs. They knew He loved them and that was all that mattered.

I looked back at the sound of wood scratching the floor to see Him standing behind the pulled out chair. He quietly said my name and told me He’d been saving this place for me for a long time now. Again, He told me there was nothing I had to do to prove to Him that I belonged at His table.

This time was different. Because this time my heart believed Him.

I walked back to His open arms, to the waiting chair, to the card with the letters of my name on it. To my place at the table.

Run to Jesus

In the middle of my conversation with Michael (yes, that is his name) at the Atlanta Airport, he confessed to me that after being treated like less than a human being by the Baptist mission worker that very evening, he went to the bar.

“Not only did I go to a bar, but I had three beers. What is wrong with me? I still thought drinking would fix everything.”

He ran a hand through his hair in frustration and looking at the ground told me, “What does God think of me after doing that?”

I didn’t answer him until he looked back up at me. Then looking him in the eyes, I told him, “Michael, we all try to dull the pain of life in different ways. You having three beers or me pulling my hair or running away from life are no different. Both of us are trying to find comfort in something other than Jesus. My running from situations or not talking are just as much of a sin as your having a beer—if we are using these things to mask pain. Both of us are looking to something other than Jesus to heal our broken hearts.”

And one month later, I still pray that Michael is running to Jesus with the pain and sorrow of life. I pray he is pouring out his heart to God, and finding in Him the deepest peace and greatest hope ever. I pray he learns to turn to Jesus far quicker than I do. And I hope he continues to find in Jesus the answer to every question, the balm to every wound, and the comfort for every sorrow.

I pray Jesus fills the empty caverns of his heart with his beautiful, precious, never-failing love and faithfulness.

And for myself, I pray that the running from life will be over. I pray that I will find the courage to pull the mask down and quit pretending that everything is fine. May I quit trying to bandage my own hurts, and instead, run to Jesus with my brokenness.

Broken hearts are only safe in the hands of Jesus. Our hearts are made for Him.