Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The thing about unpacking

My oldest son came home from winter camp a week ago Monday. After getting snowed in for an extra day, I picked him up at the church tired and hungry. When we got home, he didn't even bring his suitcase in the house. At my directive, he dropped it in the garage near the washing machine. Nine days later, it's still sitting there. It looks like perhaps he has been to it, maybe rooted for a single necessary item, but he has not unpacked by any stretch of the imagination, and he certainly hasn't done in anything significant to deal with the items inside the suitcase.

Oddly enough, instead of wanting to wring Jake's neck, I am able to appreciate the irony on the unpacked suitcase I keep passing every time I head to the laundry. As I shared in my last post, as I was leaving church on Sunday, the Lord spoke to me about some unpacking of my own that I need to do.

My bag is a backpack though, and it's one the the Lord gave me revelation about as I was walking out of church. Unlike the traditional parable of the backpack of sin, the Lord was speaking to me about different baggage I have been carrying, a bag full of offense. This particular backpack is between me and one person in my life, who for a very long time I have felt wounded and offended by. And I have come to the point that I have realized, I just can't carry this weight around with me anymore.

I have tried many times over the years to lay the backpack down. I have heaved it off my shoulder and said to the Lord, "here you go, it's all yours" and tried to walk away. But what I have come to realize, is that the backpack is mine to keep, but the weights that are inside are what need to be removed, and the only way to do it is by pulling them out and laying them down, one stone at a time.

I don't know what it is about these "rocks," maybe they're more aptly referred to as coals, because even when I take them out and look at them, they still burn. It's like it brings the wound right back to the surface. But the Lord has asked me to unpack them, and trusting in his patience, I have asked Him if we could do it slowly. That way, when I lay down the stone, I can really leave it behind. Once I leave it at His feet, the deal is, I can never even mention it again.

So the Lord and I sat down together and I pulled open my sack. There on the top was a large offense, once I have been carrying for a long time. I looked at it and said, "It's not fair, if I give you that one, they're getting away with something that is really wrong." And I pushed it down deeper in the bag. I rooted around and found a different stone, it was littler, and if I looked deep enough, I knew there was another one very similar to it. This wound had been a "repeat offense." So I handed it to Him. "There," I said, "I won't ever bring that one up again. And then I closed my pack.

I sat there holding on to my pack, and I could feel the Lord watching me. And He asked me, "Do you know what I require of you?" The verse played immediately in my mind, it was fresh.

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

"Yes Lord," I said, "I know, You told me this before."

I am loving justice, and in that decision, I am not walking humbly before Him. Maybe I'm not even really walking at all, at best I am lumbering behind Him, at worst, I am completely stuck right where I'm at.

But I wasn't ready to move further. One rock at a time was what I had agreed to, and I had given Him the only rock I was willing to let go of.

Later that day, there was a new rock. "See!" I said, "How am I EVER supposed to unpack this when every time I give you something, they give me another rock to replace it?"

This rock wasn't really mine though, it had been handed to my husband. If I am honest, a lot of the rocks I am carrying may have been put in there from his hand to mine. As I looked at this one though, the Lord asked, "Are you sure that's an offense?"

It's offensive, but it's not really an offense against me. Truth be told, it's probably not even an offense against Neal. The Lord said, "You've become quite the collector of those rocks. You have come to the point that you wouldn't miss one that even resembles the real thing. And the problem is, you have been pointing them out to others too. Neal might have just walked past this one, but he's been listening to you for a long time." And it isn't just Neal.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, "Offended people are easily offended." And some of us even like to spread the wealth.

I flipped open my bag, "But look Lord, some of these rocks, they're are legitimately wrong, personal and offensive." He just looked, and nodded.

And I moved them around inside the bag, "And look at all these, these little ones, all the times I have confronted the issue, or tried only to be belittled based on their power and position. I've been put in my place. And do You see the justifications???" And I flipped the top back closed.

Monday morning at our house ensued with a slight panic. My daughter couldn't find her glasses. Using them only for distance, she doesn't wear them all the time, for the most part they are in her backpack or in her desk at school. When she couldn't find them, she panicked with accusation about the carelessness of her brother. I grabbed her backpack and started to rustle through it.

Every day I write notes on the bottoms of my kids' sack lunches, and Victoria, my future hoarder and sentimental child doesn't throw them away. Sweet sentiment, but as I rooted through, I found one of the bags had exploded with a cup of yogurt that should have been thrown away. It's been a good couple of weeks since I even had yogurt in the house, so clearly, this was not a good sign. I had to get a trash bag and towels and had to throw away all the notes and bags, including the one with the week old banana.

The word picture wasn't lost on me. That's the thing about these old offenses in my bag too, they're messy and rotten, and if you get close enough, the stench of them will stick on you. I know down deep inside of this backpack of mine, some of these offenses have exploded into an even bigger mess than they started, and the only one dealing with the mess and the stink of it, is me.

I am still holding the bag. "It isn't fair," I keep repeating. "I want justice!" Because the truth is, I love justice, or my interpretation of it anyway.

"But I want you to love mercy," the Lord says, "and to do justly."

Oh how hard it is to know that what is hindering you is the very thing you are holding on to. I know I have to unpack. The backpack has a purpose, and I believe if I empty it out of the things I put in there that I shouldn't have, the Lord has better things for me to carry.

But it's hard. But I am determined. I do not care for the kink in my walk that this undo weight has created. As much as I would like to throw the stones back to where they came from, the only thing that will create is pain in new places, like a sore pitching arm.

There is only one place to lay down the weights, and it's at the foot of His cross. A place I am familiar with, a place where mercy flows. I know, because buried there are my own offenses, offenses not only against others, but most especially, against God, Himself. I love that mercy, but that mercy doesn't exist by itself, I can not hog it to myself. If it is good for me, it has to be good for those who have hurt me, even the one who has hurt me repeatedly. Because if it's no good for them, then it's no good for me either.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15

Sigh. I'm going to be honest with you. I don't know if I have the strength to do it. But I am more concerned with not being able to walk out the consequences if I don't. For now I am sitting here, at the foot of the cross, me and my backpack. It may take a while, but I'm not moving from this place until I finally get it unpacked, once and for all.

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Luke 6:37-38

As much as my bent is to love justice, I love the Lord more, and I am determined to do things His way, doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before Him, in Jesus name.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

If I had said

There is a verse in the Bible that has been echoing through my mind continually. It's from Psalm 73:15 and the part that has been playing over and over says, "If I had said, 'I will speak thus,'” It stuck so clearly in my mind. I was familiar with the gist of what came next, but I finally had to go look it up to remind myself exactly.

If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.


I have been struggling so these past few days. Old hurts have been nagged at again, hurts that I continually battle to put behind me, and repeatedly rise to the surface. The words that came to my mind today were, "I close my eyes to worship You, and all I can see is the injustices before me." It sums up so well the struggle of my heart.

The battle has been exacerbated by both the difficulty of circumstance and the silence of God. In my heart of hearts, I long to serve, to be faithful, to be used, and to use my gifts to honor Him. But there are a long list of unanswered prayers. My pastor spoke recently about "no's" and "wait's" as answers to our requests before God, and in our growth group at church, we talked about how hard it is to discern whether we have been told clearly no, or if we are just in a season of wait. It is a difficult place to be. At times, it is a painful place to be, and when you feel as though you have been there a very long time, weariness sets in.

Just a couple of nights ago, I spoke "thus" to a dear and trusted friend of mine. I told her I was ready to give up. I was ready to walk away from all the things I believe the Lord has called me to do. I am no longer certain about what God has asked of me. I no longer know what it is He wants me to do. He told me to write, and I have been obedient in that for nearly three years, and most days I feel more concerned with people tiring of my sharing than I hope for it to actually be used of God. Even those closest to me don't read most of what I write, and in my heart I suspect most people have gotten to the place of disregard when I write and share.

Words. They are both a gift from the Lord and a curse to me. I know the Lord has given me a talent with words. My mother used to say I could paint pictures with my words. I came from a family of actual artists, and that word "picture" aptly described what the Lord has enabled me to do. When I speak about spiritual truths, the Lord shows them to me in my mind as a parable, and then I get to do the same with others. It's a blessing.

Recently though, a friend came and sat along beside me and asked me if I new the latest gossip on a matter. She came she said because she was certain I would have heard something, and she was right, I had. It has both haunted me and convicted me since. My intention is never to be the talebearer in that way, but my talent for words sometimes works against me. "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise." Proverbs 10:19. A scripture I know well in my mind, but not always well in my actions.

These fast few days, however, I was doing my best to restrain my lips. Because what I wanted to say was "I give up. There is no hope or promise for the dreams in my heart to come true." I wanted to quit writing, no blogs, no Examiner, no book. I wanted to walk away from the gift of the words God has given me. What I wanted to say was "Hope has become too painful, and I don't want to hold onto it anymore." What my heart was screaming was to abandon ship, let go of the dreams I have hidden in my heart for so very long, because I do not believe my God for them anymore." However, if I had, Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children. So for the sake of those around me, I kept my mouth shut.

I once had someone tell me that when I express fear or doubt, it scares her. She made a statement along the lines of, "If you are afraid, how can I have faith?" I thought to myself, "how did I ever get up on this pedestal?" Why would she think I never have doubts and fears? The fact is, I'm full of them. And in the last few days, the depth of them got so deep, I thought I might drown in them.

Then I started thinking about another verse from the same Psalm that warned me about speaking out the pain and confusion in my heart. In verse 25 it says, Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.

As much as hope hurts for me, and as much as my dreams and gifts feel more like a burden than a blessing these days, how can I abandon them when they were given to me for the purpose of serving the Lord, and hopefully bringing Him glory? And the truth is that in my denial of their purpose, I was denying both His sovereignty and His power.

This morning as I was leaving church, the Lord showed me a word picture. It's a popular picture actually, I saw a backpack I had been carrying, but instead of the traditional rocks of sin, mine were rocks of offense against me. I have had some hard hurts, and the truth is, the source of them probably won't ever change. I seem to have a lot of people in my life who by power and position don't have to acknowledge or can even justify harms they have inflicted. But the truth is, the only one carrying the offenses is me. And I felt like the Lord said, they have weighed me down so severely that it is time for He and I to sit together and unpack every offense, one at a time and lay them at the foot of the cross. It's the only way when I close my eyes to worship Him, I will only see Him. It is not going to be easy, the Lord may have to pry some of the hurts right out of my hands, but I must determine not to let them hinder me anymore.

This morning before church, I was praying and asking the Lord what he requires of me. This verse came to my mind:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

What I realized was that I have been loving justice. I have been waiting on Him to show me the justice I desire. And what occurred to me was that I need to love mercy. Not only the mercy I receive, but also the mercy He bestows on those who have hurt me. As for justice, well, it is my job to do it, not expect it. I hope that revelation is part of walking in humility.

This morning at the end of his sermon my pastor was talking about exactly this, he said, "God's mercy has frustrated believers for generations," and it's true. I would dare to say His sovereignty is also exasperating at times. Waiting on Him and believing even when hope hurts is hard, but what else can we do? The Lord is.

And I am not.

My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26