My pup Della ate a towel years ago and required surgery. Since then, she only gets a brief supervised towel time after each bath. backEach time, she acts as if she’s won the doggie lottery.
She’s a lab, and she loves water. Throughout the summer, she has a tub of water I change every week. She sits in it, lies in it, and splashes in it. She makes a mess.
I filled her tub with fresh water before her recent bath. She patiently let me scrub her, then stood still in anticipation as I dried her. She knew what that towel meant. It would soon be hers. As usual, I finished drying her and laid the towel across her back before releasing her. She darted away until the towel fell off. Then she grabbed it and swung it around like an excited soccer fan in the stands of an international game. She stopped and looked at me then dropped the muddy towel and jumped into her water tub . So much for drying her. Then she began to roll on the ground. So much for washing her.
But it was still worth it. She might have some surface dirt and water drips but she was cleaner than before. Her excitement simply didn’t keep her as clean as she could have been.
We get excited, too, including ways that get us messy. It doesn’t mean we undo all the good or all the growth. But we need to keep our celebrations in check. Maybe we need a bit more supervision. Or maybe our supervision knows how much frreedom we need and for how long.
I stood in worship, and the words and chords invaded and consumed me. That happens at the oddest times. I sometimes arrive at church feeling spiritually sensitive and prepared, yet I somehow proceed to go through the motions. Other times, I am more reluctant or disheartened, or something else prompts my hesitancy in worship, yet I am overwhelmed by God’s abundant presence.
There I stood, feeling myself open up completely, as if my entire exterior folded back to expose every bit of my being. It was a monumentally vulnerable moment…and equally beautiful and soothing.
I thought about the difference between having my heart ripped out and letting God open me up. There are similarities between the two. God can be involved in both and can certainly infuse both with his purpose. We can also mishandle or misinterpret both. Each experience might feel very different to us but we can be willing to be change, healed, humbled despite our feelings. We can refuse to think about it through only our own lens. We can see God in it even when we don’t like or don’t understand it.
Despite our feelings, it can be well through it all. Not a refusal to see the reality of a situation, not a temporary patch to soothe us or others or pretend it’s all okay, but a deeply abiding choice of peace and hope and faith, no matter how small it is at the time. As we choose vulnerability within truth, we realize God’s exponential provision. And through it all, it is well with us, because of him.
It rained a lot overnight. A lot. In fact, it stormed: lightning, thunder, wind, and rain.
Did I mention the rain?
It was still pouring when I woke up but lightened by the time I left for work, which is when I noticed my street was flooded. I could still get to work, but there was ample water everywhere.
Many social media friends posted photos of flooded areas. Most the water would recede by noon, but the rain definitely inconvenienced people who had to take alternate routes to work or stay home to pump and clean basements.
A couple days earlier, I heard several people complain about the heat and our need for rain. It wasn’t too long before that when people were complaining about bitter cold weather.
In general, we don’t like extremes. We don’t like discomfort or inconvenience. We want rain but in well-paced and convenient amounts. We forget to take a step back and consider what we’re experiencing in the context of the average.
It’s not just weather. We respond similarly to the trials of life. We feel they’re ill-timed and overwhelming. Yet if we’re willing to consider the average – how experiences fit into our lives – we can appreciate the overall provision. We don’t like the flood, heat, cold, wind, but we keep it in context. We don’t like the pain, grief, betrayal, but we keep it in context.
And we find glimpses and moments to appreciate.
What if you gave more?
I know, I know. Some of you reading this are overwhelmed with demands on your time, emotions, energy, bank account, relationships.
But what if you gave more?
In just one area of your life?
What if you greatly give money, clothes, or food to someone with a greater need than you?
What if you greatly give forgiveness to someone, not to let them off the hook of what they did to you, not to naively invite them to hurt you more, but to invite healing for both of you?
What if you greatly give patience out of a humble respect for someone?
What if you greatly give a chunk of time to do something and help someone for which you will never get recognition or other benefit?
What if you greatly give with wisdom and discernment, relying not on yourself, your preferences, your assessment of your time, emotions, energy, bank account, and relationship, but relying on God?
Will you feel depleted at times? Absolutely. But if you empty yourself for God’s purposes, he will always fill you. Refuse stinginess. Overflow onto others with intentional generosity.
“Doesn’t it make you mad? I mean, where was the church in all this?”
The accusation caught me by surprise, and I got a little defensive. I took a breath before responding:
“The church isn’t perfect. It’s made up a people – imperfect people. Imperfect people who called him, texted him, offered to visit him. Imperfect people who tried to do the same things he would have done before he chose to try life without God or the church. Imperfect people who tried but got ignored or harshly pushed aside. Imperfect people who continue to try to invest in his life even if he has no idea. Imperfect people who have helped me, had tough conversations with me, been patient with me, and have loved me well – and imperfectly.”
I’m not saying the church has never mishandled responsibility. History reveals the church’s apathy and harsh response at times. But other times, it is trying. Even when God-prompted, everything doesn’t get tied up in a tidy bow. Life is messy, and that includes church life. People under the umbrella of church have hurt people. I hate that. I’m sorry. People under the umbrella of church have also loved people. Abundantly. Sometimes that love is well received, and other times, it is rejected. When someone isn’t sensitive to God, it’s convenient to misconstrue what people do in God’s name. It’s easier to blame than take responsibility.
So today, notice someone’s need. Reach out to someone. Extend grace and forgiveness. Be patient. Listen well. Love abundantly.
My friend was only asking me to connect on a Saturday.
I could tell by the text that is was more of a “need” request than an “if you can” mention. Throughout the day, I received texts from five friends, each going through significant issues, each reaching out for help, including prayer.
I’m deeply invested in each of these people; I would not identify a single one of them as clingy or dependent. But needy? Yes. Of course. Aren’t we all?
We think “neediness” is a bad thing, as if relying on others reveals a character flaw. But stubbornly and proudly declaring we can do it all on our own is a character flaw. Of course, we don’t want to expect everyone else to fix all our issues; we need personal responsibility. But acknowledging a need and reaching out for support as we share a burden isn’t the same as unhealthy dependency. We don’t only choose one end of the spectrum or the other.
When my friends reach out to me, we do life together. I respond in a variety of ways – sometimes with a single text, sometimes with a card or visit, sometimes with a walk, meal, cleaning, or transportation. Regardless of my response, I connect in some way.
My friends and I connect. We share. We sacrifice. We invite each other into the tough places. We value truth. We let God guide through the short term and long term. We give, and we receive.
I don’t know about you, but I have to keep my motives in check.
Even when I think I’m in a good place and have pure motives, if I’m not attentive to and honest about my motives, I will slip into a place I don’t want to be.
I don’t want to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. I certainly don’t want to do the wrong thing, believing I have the right reasons.
When my motives are in check, I might do some tough, uncomfortable things, but at least I know I can trust God for the strength and wisdom as I step into them.
What are you doing (or not doing)? Check your motives.
What are you assuming or justifying? Check your motives.
What are you thinking? Check your motives.
I have found God checks my motives better than anyone because he knows how to correct them. But it takes constant humility.