Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Selflessness, Interviews, and Naked Taxi Cab Drivers

Matthew 5:40
If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too.

A couple of years ago I had joined my husband on residency interviews as he was looking for a place to land a job after graduating from school.  Usually the interview process is really intense, full of questions, conversations, and a whole lot of professionalism.  The dress code is top notch, suits and ties are a must- and even ties of a certain color.  You never want to stick out too much, or blend in too much.  

But through that entire process, I heard a story that changed my life.  A story that I will never forget as long as I live.  

At one of the interview dinners, we met a young man who had just completed his 2nd year of residency.  He was grateful for the opportunity to be at the hospital that he was currently working at.  And he told the story of the person who made it happen.

A couple years ago as he made his way down the interview trail, there was a snow storm that delayed his flight into Baltimore.  Due to that delay, he had to switch flights at the last minute in order to make it to his interview the following morning.  Fortunately, he did land.  Unfortunately, he landed at 2 in the morning...only to find that his entire luggage had been lost- tie, suit, shoes, and all.  

On his way to the hotel he was making some frantic phone calls in the taxi, trying to make contact with friends and family to think of a way he could avoid showing up at this interview in a sweat suite (a sweaty one, at that!). 

He reached his hotel to no avail, discouraged, tired, and feeling quite helpless.  As he got out of the cab, the taxi driver got out with him, and began to undress!  You can imagine the reaction of this student- unsure to what was going on.  

"I want you to have my suit", he said, having overheard his conversation from the driver's seat.  

And he proceeded to strip down to his boxers, giving the young man his shirt, suit, tie...and even his shoes.  

The young man was humbled, embarrassed, and amazed at the generosity of this complete stranger.  He gratefully took the suit, with tears in his eyes, and hugged the taxi driver goodbye.  

Just hearing that story changed my life.  

I was so challenged to really consider what message I am sending with the way I live my life.  We as Christians talk about being thankful and grateful during this Thanksgiving and Holiday season.  Thank you Lord for what you have given me, thank you Lord for all of your blessings...while clinging on tight to our belongings and being selfish and self-absorbed.  Turning an eye to the poor and needy, and living in our little bubbles of blessing.  What is the point of thanks-giving if we hoard our blessings to ourselves?

I was so challenged by the heart of this taxi cab driver- who was so willing to go above and beyond to meet an immediate need...though it was the need of a complete stranger.  This was the heart of the taxi-cab driver, what then should be the heart of a Christian, of a follower of Christ?

Does my life reflect that kind of heart?   This is my challenge this holiday season...to step out of my bubble of blessing and actually do something with what I have been given.  To hold it with an open hand, and to live with an open heart.  May you be challenged to do the same. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Take THAT Black Friday:

Matthew 6:19-20
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Let me be honest: my heart was SO divided today.  Like Matthew 6 reminds us: where your treasure, there your heart will be also.  Black Friday is always one of those days that really tests the state of my heart.  There is just something about the idea of hordes of people shopping for incredible bargains that really gets me going! 

I don't think there is anything innately wrong about Black Friday, shopping, or finding great deals.  But this morning I noticed a really strange struggle inside of my heart as I was looking at the ads and watching the commercials.  On one hand, I am trying my best to simplify my life and focus my priorities on things that really matter I really want my life to reflect what's really important to me.  I want the treasures of doing God's work, giving to those in need, and being united with Christ to be the things that drive my adrenaline and give me joy.  

But on the other hand...that iphone would totally beat using this old cell....And that is a really cute sweater. 

You know what I mean?  It's a constant battle to consider what I really want, and what I actually need.  And man, there are soooooo many things that I really want.  It's a battle to continually remember to keep my eyes on heavenly things rather than on this world, to invest in the the kingdom of God and people who are hungry, poor, and alone...rather than my wardrobe.  It's a battle that I fail time and time again, but one that I'm not willing to give up on.  Because the few times I do win...it feels overwhelmingly right.  It's what I was created to do.  It's the treasure I was made to possess. 

It feels so good to invest in the right things.  I want to be a person who does more of that.  I want to be a person who's checkbook clearly reflects the state of my heart and the truth to where my treasure lay. 

Take that, Black Friday.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm thankful for Joy because it's not always the norm:

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 

The day before Thanksgiving is always a unique day because it marks the start of the holiday season.  Magical Magical decorations, joyous Christmas music, sparkling lights and the aroma of delicious food fill the air and bring an indescribable happiness to people all around. 

The delight of the holidays is contagious.  Looking around you see a sparkle in the eyes of the people around you and feel an unexplainable connection to humanity.  It's as though we were made to be joyful, and this holiday season is a reminder to stop and feel the joy.

I'm thankful for that.  I'm thankful for the fact that I have a reason to feel joy that supersedes the lights and the decorations and the food.  I am so aware as I look at my life that it is filled with blessings, and the clear hand of God as the giver of those blessings.

But this holiday season, I am also aware that for many...this is not norm.

For some, this holiday season brings with it a different feeling.  Depression, loneliness and isolation.  A painful reminder of things that have been long awaited for but have never arrived, or of precious things that have been lost.  The truth is we never really know what someone else is going through until we take the time to notice.  But sadly, so many of us are so distracted by our own blessings that we miss the opportunity to bless others.   

Enjoy your holiday season, enjoy your friends, loved ones, and the joy of this season.  But please, have an awareness that you are blessed, and reach out a hand to someone who might not be feeling so blessed this holiday season.  A hand of comfort, of friendship, and of love.  A hand that says I see you, I feel your pain, and you don't have to be alone.

Because one of these holidays, that someone could be you.  Thank you Lord for joy this holiday season.  Help me to not only be the recipient of that joy, but the giver of comfort as well.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I'm Thankful that Mercy is not for Pansies...

Luke 1:50
He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.

Matthew 5:7
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

A few weeks ago I attended my brother's church in Philly: Circle of Hope.  He spoke about the topic of mercy that day, and God has been bringing it to my mind ever since.   

What's the difference between grace and mercy someone might ask?  In my mind, grace is being given what we do not deserve, while mercy is being spared what we did deserve.  So many times in the Christian life we focus on what we have been given, but sacrifice the awareness of what we have been spared.

I've been camping out on these thoughts the past few weeks.  One of my favorite illustrations that my brother referred to was looking at the game of Mercy.  I'm sure we've all played it at one point or another as children.  Wikipedia defines it as this:

Two players face each other, holding their opponent's hands...On the word "go", each player attempts to bend back their opponent's hand and inflict pain by straining their wrist. When a player can no longer stand the pain they declare defeat by shouting "Mercy!"
The very fact that a game such as this was named "Mercy", reflects that we have an incredibly skewed idea of what it really means to be shown mercy.  The truth of the matter is the idea of Mercy is seen as something undesirable.  It's for the fragile and the weak, the those who can't handle the pain anymore.  Asking for mercy is taking a step down into the dark abode of shame and confessing that we don't have what it takes because at the end of the day, Mercy is for pansies.  

And sadly, for so many of us, we have taken that view of mercy into our own spirituality and allowed it to effect our relationship with God.  If mercy is for the weak, then who really wants it? 

It's time that we redefine what it really means to receive mercy.  

I think one of the reasons so many of us have a hard time really appreciating mercy is the fact that we really forget where we have come from.  Just like the parable of the man who was pardoned a huge debt and immediately went and tortured someone who owed him just a little bit.  He forgot where he had come from, and the mercy that had been granted him.  It makes me wonder if he ever REALLY accepted the mercy that was granted to him...because he walked away, and failed to live it out.  True mercy breeds mercy. 

For you see, it may take strength to show mercy....but it takes wisdom to accept it.  It takes a wise man to understand his need to be pardoned and make the choice to walk into that undeserved reward.  And for those who will take that risk, it will inevitably transform every part of who they are.

Mercy is not for pansies....it's for wise men.  It's for those who understand the miserable place that they were, and recognize the love of a God who chose to bring them into something greater.  Those who see the utter despair that God has pardoned them, and seek to live a life that pardons those around them. 

Today, I am thankful for Mercy.  I am reminded every so clearly of where I have come from and where I should have been...but here I am today.  Thank you Lord for your unrelenting mercy, give me the wisdom and the strength to live in such a way. Have mercy on me again, and again, and again. 

*What has God pardoned in your life?  Where might you have been otherwise?  Thank Him for his mercies today. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Glimpses of Heaven:

Matthew 6:10
May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

My friend Z (Steve) recently came back from a mission trip to Honduras.  This is one of many trips that he and his wife have taken in a desire to heed the calling on their life to do greater things for the Kingdom.

In his most recent blog post he described so deeply of the hell that exists in the lives of many of the poor and broken, who live in some of the most forgotten places.  He went on to explain the devastation that effects so many of the Honduran people- dire living conditions, extreme poverty, broken relationships.  It is true that many times we look around us and sure enough see glimpses of pure hell.  Sometimes in our lives.  Sometimes in the lives of others.

But then, he went on to describe something even more amazing that he saw in Honduras.  Glimpses of heaven.  Laughter in the midst of sorrow.  Love in the midst of brokenness.

To be sure, this beautiful post was a reminder to me of the glimpses of heaven that I see all around me...and frankly, many times fail to see.  It's so easy to fixate on the hell in our lives, the brokenness in this world, the tragedy and pain that effects our world.  But if we look a little harder...we will surely glimpse heaven, because no matter the circumstance, God is there.

I am challenged to be mindful of the glimpses of "heaven" that exist in my world.  I am challenged to be grateful for these moments of light that may times go unnoticed in the darkness.    The joy of being in a committed loving relationship.  The beauty of my daughter's smile.  The fellowship of dear friends.  Shelter.  Food.  Comfort.  Peace.  Joy.  Glimpses of heaven all around me.  Glimpses of Love.  Glimpses of my God.

May we be challenged to see the glimpses of heaven here on our earth.  And may we heed the call to allow those glimpses of heaven to invade hell.    Thanks, Z, for the challenging reminder. 

Lord, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why I'm Thanking God- And Why You Should Too...

Ephesians 5:20
And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A few days ago a friend of mine shared a quote by Max Lucado that said something to the extent of:

"What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?"

I had never heard that quote before, and to be honest -  it stirred a really deep place inside my heart.  A place that hasn't been stirred in a very long time.  

It hit a cord of gratitude within me that had been silenced by the noise of a world of entitlement, materialism and false productivity.  A word that glorifies so much the paradigm of a do-it-yourself mentality that at the end of the day, you start believing the lie that the things that you have are because of the work that you have done.  Your hard work, your sweat, your tears, your labor. 

What a scary place to be. 

Slipping into that mentality scares me, because if I got myself here...then I have to keep myself here.  And if I got myself here, then I have to get myself to the next place.  To be completely honest- I don't have the energy to live that kind of life. 

I want to slip back into the place of dependency and trust.  An awareness of my great need for a loving God to have His way in my life, in my family, and in my future.  I want to rest in the truth that He is in control, and this world is what it is for me because of His grace.  

For me, that place comes only with gratitude.  The acknowledgment that all I am and all I have is because of Him.  Everyday.  In everything. 

The next few posts will be focused on this concept, because I want to take the time to really think through and be grateful for the things God has given me- and even more so, for the things He's chosen not to give me.   I want to revive my dead soul from the grips of self-sufficiency and practice a heart of thanksgiving, humility and reverence- because God knows I have wandered far from that place. 

Join me this Thanksgiving Season in reclaiming our rightful place of gratitude and restoring our dependency on a loving God. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Eeyore Day:

Psalm 107:1
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

There's a lot to be thankful for.  It's easy to focus on everything else though, isn't it? After a particularly difficult day, I'm having to remind myself of this truth.  To be completely honest, I was having a bit of an Eeyore day yesterday. 

In my counseling sessions, sometimes I will ask my client to write out two different versions of their life story- one including all the good, and one maximizing on all the negatives.  Then I ask them to consider the two stories and ask themselves which one they choose to live in the most. 

The reality is, we all have two stories that we can live in.  One: thankful, the other: miserable.  We have the choice of which story we decide to star in, to savor, and to express. 

Both stories are equally true.  The reality is, even when we choose to be grateful, we aren't protected from the negative things in life.  But our response and perspective about those things is what leads us to the ending. God knows this to be true, and He challenges us to be thankful at all times.  He knows the influence that this kind of attitude can have in our lives. 

Choose to see something positive in your story today, choose to give thanks- no matter where you have come from, where you are, or where you might be going.  Because at the end of the day, your perspective has the power to change your heart, and in turn, your life.