Loved by the Maker

Been awhile since I’ve heard a song that really grabs me, but while listening to my children’s VBS CD, I was arrested by the poetic words by Chris August, in a song called “The Maker”.

Your love is like a mighty fire deep inside my bones
I feel like I could climb a thousand mountains all at once
And I never have to wonder if somebody cares for me
I love the Maker
And the Maker loves me.

Very rarely do I hear words that are able to capture a feeling that is essentially ineffable, but I think this one really does.  The “fire deep inside my bones” and the feeling like “I could climb a thousand miles all at once” — it’s that overflowing sense of thrill, excitement, invincibility, and power we feel when we recognize that we are loved by the Creator.  When I pause and reflect and remember how amazing it is that the one who created it all loves me, I feel like I am soaring and can soar to the highest heights.

The bridge is striking too, expanding on how God has shown his love for us.

More than just some words upon a page
You’ve shown me in a million ways
But there is one that stands above them all
Hands of creation on a cross
The Maker, yeah

Just think.  The hands that created everything.  The all-powerful, all-mighty God, submitted his hands to be nailed to the cross.  For me and for you.  That is a powerful image.  What an incredible way to tell us his love for us.

Graduation Soon

I woke up this morning with the startling realization that I will be graduating from seminary with a Master of Divinity in just a few days.  Even though I have been counting down the days for the last couple of months and seen the number diminish day by day, it still comes to me as a surprise.  Maybe not a surprise as in I didn’t know it was coming, but a surprise in that it is actually happening.  As in, I can’t believe that it is happening!  As in, all the time that has passed and all the doubts and obstacles along the way has made it seem as if this day would never come.

And yet, it has.

It is hard for me to believe–hard for me to grasp!  Things that are hard-won always feel like that.  Things that are hard-won make you really treasure it when it has been won.  When you fight for something, you really value it when you win it.  You don’t take it for granted.  You don’t hold it as trivial.  You see it for its full value.

And so I marvel.  And so I stand in awe, and I worship.

There are just no words, dear friends.  There are just no words to describe this moment in my life.  The end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one.  It has been. One. Long. Chapter.  But here we are.  And new adventures are about to begin!

Psalm 40:5 is fitting here:

Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your plans and purposes for my life.  Thank you that when you plan and purpose something, it always — always — comes to fruition.  And always — always — at just the right time.  My heart is so full of gratitude and worship.

Jesus’ lifeless body (Matthew 27:57-60)

It just occurred to me today that Joseph of Arimathea held Jesus’ lifeless body in his arms as he carried him from the cross to the tomb and when he wrapped it with a clean cloth.  What would that have been like?  The feeling of hope dead and lost, right there in his arms — cold, limp, unmoving.  Were there feelings of despair, confusion, and lostness?  Helplessness and hopelessness?  Wasn’t his heart broken as he placed Jesus’ body in the tomb and rolled the stone over the cave, leaving him there in darkness?  Was his mind reeling with questions such as, “What about the promises?  The miracles?  The proclamations that Jesus made?”  Even though he was a believer in Jesus, there must have been some level of doubt and despair, sorrow and confusion — a momentary flash of wondering if what Jesus said about rising again would really come true.

So, for Joseph, how was it for him to find out that Jesus came back to life on the third day?  Did he get to be one of the ones who saw him alive?  Because everyone might’ve seen that Jesus died on the cross, but he was the only one who touched and handled his dead body.  How amazing it was for him to see Jesus with life and breath in him once again!  I can hardly imagine the joy and amazement for him on that first Easter morning when true, lasting hope was restored in him, a hope that everything Jesus said and promised was true.  Life everlasting.  No more fear of pain and death.  Love unconditional.  Mercy and grace.  Forgiveness.  Freedom.  Joy that would never fade.  How truly amazing it must’ve been.  I’m sure Joseph was never the same again.

When we are that close to death and then experience life restored, our lives are changed forever.

Good Friday reflections

I read all the accounts of Gethsemane this morning and was struck that Jesus told Peter, James & John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” I always thought Jesus said that phrase to God, but it was actually to his disciples! He also says, “Stay here and keep watch with me.” I am struck by this because this means that Jesus shared with them his sorrow. He didn’t feel like he needed to hide it from or protect them because he’s their leader. He was vulnerable and honest, and the truth was, he needed his friends. He asked them pray and keep watch with him.

Jesus, here, gives us an example of what to do when we are facing hard things in our lives. First, we share it with friends and we ask for their support. Second, pray. Jesus tells the Father honestly how he feels. He doesn’t want to die for humanity in the excruciating manner of the cross–is there another way to come to the same result? If not, then he will do what the Father wants…

I’m struck by Matthew’s account which shows the difference between the first time and second time that Jesus prays. The first time, he says, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” The second time, “My Father, if it is not possible…may your will be done.” The first time, Jesus is still asking for it to be taken away. The second time, he has come to the understanding that it’s not possible, and he has moved toward acceptance. He’s still talking it over with with God, but he has accepted it. Prayer changes us. This is why it is important to tell God how we feel–to express our lament–because God will address our sorrow and confusion, and following him will become just a little bit easier, even into something that is excruciatingly difficult.

One other thing that strikes me is how anguished Jesus feels. Words such as “overwhelmed” “sorrow to the point of death” “troubled” “sorrowful” show me how Jesus felt as he saw what was to come. It was bad. It was hard. It was not easy. And yet he willingly chose to suffer for our behalf. [selah]

The heart of the call

In seeking to be in step with the Spirit and in sync with the heart of God, God has shown me over and over that his heart is for the lost to be found, the hurting to be healed, the grieving to be comforted, the oppressed to be freed, and that those who are in darkness would see light.  This vision to help bring about wholeness to this world is at the heart of my call to be a pastor.

Softball Mom

I love being a softball mom. Tkayla-at-bat.jpghis is my daughter’s third year playing softball.  We kind of stumbled upon this sport accidentally.  A flyer came home from her school for softball, and I asked her if she’d like to try it and she said sure.  The funny thing is that I’m not really a sporty, athletic person at all.  My husband didn’t play any team sports in his childhood either.  But we decided to give it a shot.  We quickly discovered that having a child that is in sports means that the whole family is in that sport.  We all go to the practices and games, and we all cheer her on when she’s up at bat.  And we love it.

Other lessons learned:

  1.  It is hard work to get better at sports.  You don’t get better at it by accident.  You have to be intentional about setting aside the time for practice.
  2. Related to #1, you have to like the sport or else you wouldn’t be willing to put in the effort.  Thus, passion and enjoyment is a must.
  3. Being on a team teaches you to look outside of yourself.  Their losses are your losses, their gains are your gains.  The girls have cheers, which they sing whenever their teammates are up at bat.  It is unifying for them and encouraging for the one up at bat.
  4. The result of the above 3 is that you begin to gain confidence in yourself and then get more comfortable to try new things.

Most of all, I am so proud of my daughter for sticking to this sport and trying her best always.  So proud.


Valentine’s Day is for everyone

I have this crush
on a boy I hardly know
where one thing is certain —
I must let go!

This little stanza I wrote in 2001 pretty much sums up my entire college and high school days.

I have always been a romantic.  The story of the guy and the girl meeting and falling in love has always flooded my heart with warmth and wonder.  Daydreams of flowers and chocolates and poetry occupied my thoughts.  Deep conversations, holding hands, children climbing all over us filled my dreams.  And Valentine’s Day?  Don’t even get me started.

The problem was not what I desired but how much it had become a preoccupation for me.  My whole life was directed toward it.  My decisions seemed to hang upon that aspiration of one day when I’m married.  How I longed for romance at the deepest core of my being!

It was God who made me realize that those desires were like chocolate Easter bunnies — cute on the outside but hollow on the inside.

A pivotal moment for me came in 2002, when I had this realization, “What I need in my life is not a man to fulfill all my wishes and dreams, because that place, that role, is already fulfilled by Jesus.  I do not need a man.  I do not need to be married.  I only need Jesus.  If he so chooses to give me a partner in ministry, then it will be an unexpected blessing.  I will not be any less useful to the Lord as a single person.  I am not ‘half’ of a better whole.  I am whole and wholly useful.  In fact, I am unhindered and unencumbered.”

And so I prayed, “Lord, I want to love you only.  Offer myself to you only.  Plan my life around you only.  I do not know what you will ask of me or lead me to in the future, but for now I know I want to offer you all of me.  No marriage — just ministry.  And may it be so.  As you wish.  Thy will be done.”

In that moment, I was surrendering marriage completely.  But still, I had questions for the Lord.

Me:  Children.  What about children, Lord?  I’ve always wanted to have children.
God:  You will have spiritual children.  Different than you ever dreamed of — but ever more wonderful and beautiful and lovely to love, because they will be precious gems from me.
Me:  But, Lord, I can’t imagine a whole lifetime being alone.  Thinking about a whole lifetime seems overwhelming.
God:  Don’t think about that.  I will lead you step by step in the way you should go.  Just trust me.  I’ve led you thusfar, haven’t I?
Me:  Yes, Lord.  [Long pause]
So this is it?  This determines my future career as a single person?  I don’t exclaim that mournfully, just feeling overwhelmed.
God:  Oh, MaryAnn!  You’re gonna love what I have planned for you.  You’re gonna love it!  It’s simply delightful.
Me:  And you will always be my companion?  I will never feel alone or lonely?  You will satisfy my every need?
God:  I will give you everything you need.
Me:  I will get to a deeper intimacy and dependency on you, won’t I?
God:  Exactly.  [Pause]
Is it worth it to you, MaryAnn?
Me:  Yes, I think so, Lord.  But will you show me even more?
God:  Of course.

This conversation changed everything.  In giving him my dream of marriage, my heart was finally completely surrendered to the Lord.  In doing so, he gave me entry into a world where he could meet my every need.  As it turned out, the Lord didn’t give me a whole lifetime of singlehood, but he gave me the ability to understand that he is everything.  Romance was enjoyable when he unveiled it for me, but only because I knew that he had already given me everything with himself.

These days, Valentine’s Day doesn’t carry with it the aura of rose-colored romance with a significant other.  And I believe it shouldn’t be a day that draws startling attention to the disturbing realization that we are alone and therefore something is amiss.  Because, the truth is, nothing is amiss when we have Jesus.  Valentine’s Day is a day that reminds me of the great everlasting, unending, unconditional love I have in God and the love shared with all the dear ones he’s surrounded me with.  Valentine’s Day is a day of love, and every single person can revel and celebrate in it.  No one is left out of this kind of love, because the invitation to this love from God is sent out to everyone in the person of Jesus.