Imago Dei – Image of God

Imago Dei.

Latin, meaning the image of God.  A tiny grouping of letters scattered inky over pristine white, 5 terse syllables, but what does it mean?

It means that engraved through your very core, you bear the signature of a God who cannot forget you.  Like any good Father, He can’t help but love you.  He can’t stop thinking about you.  He will go to any lengths to save you.

His were the first eyes to see you, microscopic in your mother’s womb.  Glinting back at Him, was you.  A fragment of His nature runs stitched through your soul.  A piece of Himself, sparkling and irresistible.  He made you.  And He loves, loves who He made.

Hear me in this: you are not a mistake.

You are beautiful and immutably priceless.  You are idiosyncratic, and that’s a good thing.  You are uniquely you, because you are like Him as no one else is or ever will be.  Eternity pulses through your veins because you are linked, irrevocably, to Him.

You are forever and hopelessly His favorite.

You are Imago Dei.

He likes your early morning inclination, your determination, your shy.  He likes your gentle.  He likes your eraser collection, your obsession with old books, your weird quirks, your silly habits.  He likes your night owl tendencies, your flair, your loud.  He likes unique.

Don’t, I beg you, scrub your personality in favor of some notion that your quirkiness isn’t Christian.  Jesus likes quirks.  He likes funny.  He likes YOU.

Align your will and actions with Christ.  Live out Scripture.  But do it in the unique way that’s all yours.  You, love deeply through your individual gift.  You, share Jesus in the way that He’s equipped you best.  You, dare to be Jesus to a world thirsty for Living Water.

We need you to be you.  Desperately.  In a world of chain stores and too many imitations, we need original.  We need genuine.  We need people who are living out the Gospel, authentic and unafraid.  Strong and gentle and able to live outside the lines.

We are not called to be boring people.  Why do we automatically assume that we all have to fit the cookie cutter mold, when never once in Scripture are we told to all be the same?  Never once.  I think we might just assume that because the Pastor or Pastor’s wife or that amazing Christian speaker is (insert description here), that “Oh, that’s what good Christians look like.”  They do.  That’s who they are.  And it works for them.  But you are not them, and trying to be someone that you are not is a sure recipe for disaster.  Be unique.  Be yourself.

I have spent way too much of my life confusing self-transformation with progressive sanctification.  The first is something I do.  The second is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of an obedient Jesus-lover.  He will change you, but only in the best way.  Only in the way that makes you more like yourself, more like Himself.  Like tarnished silver transforms as it is polished, He rubs the sin nature and ingrained selfishness off through the tumble and friction of life.  Until one day, His face shines back, clear and beautiful.

Imago Dei.

Doesn’t it awe you when you really think about this: He imprints a part of His very nature on your soul.   When you let it out and live who He made you to be…we see a flash of Him.  It’s beautiful.  When we all live it out …when the church unites…a picture emerges through the jagged and imperfect jigsaw pieces.  Jesus.  “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but some day we will see face to face.” (Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:12).

The Jesus I see in you, and in my family, and my church family, and believers I meet everywhere…it’s all a heavenly glimpse of the One we long for.  When I see Him in another person…it points me to Jesus.  The best parts of you make me hunger for heaven.

Because the best in you…is Him.

And oh, it’s beautiful.

 

This post first appeared on Faith+Testimony May 2016

 

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When Suffering Hits Your Loved Ones

The phone felt hot against my cheek as tears streaked down my face.

My nose was raw and dripping, and a headache pounded to the staccato beat of my racing heart.  My friends – from both ends of the country – were rallying around me as my world crumbled.  I was adjusting to life with a newborn and a toddler, my husband was in the middle of testing for a new job that would require major changes, and I received news about precious family members that literally broke my heart.

I was stressed to the max, and found myself flailing often.  Sleep deprivation, grief, and major changes were seriously challenging my equilibrium.  Yet in the midst of it, my friends not only chose to walk through the difficult days with me, they pursued me.  Called me.  Texted.  Checked on me.  Made meals.  Held the baby.  Played with the toddler.  One friend flew out across the country to visit and help and make me laugh for a week.  I’ll never forget that week.  Another friend, who hates to cook, not only drove 30 minutes to make me dinner, she cleaned the kitchen and swept the floor.  We visited and prayed together, and there were a few crumpled Kleenexes by the time we were done.  Priceless.  I could tell you story after story, but you get the picture.

I am crazy blessed with incredible women in my life.  CRAZY blessed.  There are my prayer warrior friends, my encourage-with-just-the-right-verse friends, my listening friends, my speaking-the-truth-even-when-I-don’t-want-to-hear-it friends, my laugh-and-cry-together friends.  They have encouraged and blessed me in countless ways, but one of the biggest gifts I’ve received from them is this: learning how to be a friend to someone who is suffering.

Life is filled with heartache.

If it’s not our hearts that are hurting, it’s someone we love stumbling through pain and suffering.  It’s tempting to look away, to walk away, to distance ourselves from the raw, the vulnerable, the tangled and bewildering.  The truth is, if I can’t apply a pressure dressing, I don’t want to see gaping wounds.  You know?  I want to fix it, to say just the right things, to magically make it all better.  And if I can’t do that, then I want to run like crazy in the other direction, because I am utterly terrified of messing up.  Of adding to the burden.  Maybe you relate.

And when it comes to looking into their pain-filled eyes?  I’d rather play chicken with a freeway full of semi trucks.  I hate tears, and I hate to feel helpless.  But that is exactly what you sign up for when you choose to love someone authentically through a season of heartache.  You either walk away completely, or you say yes to all of it – the tears, the mess, the deep confusion, the simply sitting with them through it.  There are no words to fix a spattered heart.  Sometimes, you just have to hold their hand and not let go, and hope that it might be enough to remind them that Jesus won’t let go, either.

We get the privilege to choose to walk through the valley.

Yes, it is a privilege.  It’s a choice.  Not because we have to, or because we want to, but because we don’t want them to walk alone.  It’s love to sit with them in their misery and quietly acknowledge their pain.  It’s love to pray with and for them.  To get off the phone and fall to your knees on the spattered kitchen floor and weep as your heart breaks for them.  It’s the love Jesus said will mark us as His disciples.  There is nothing that turns good friends into family like walking the scorching sands of suffering together.

We get the privilege to be Jesus to the brokenhearted.

It’s easy to sing about being the hands and feet of Jesus, but it’s not always easy to live it.  It’s not convenient to change plans last minute, to write an encouraging note, or to pray without ceasing when the newness has worn off.  It’s hard to listen and not try to fix the thing.  (Oh, how I want to fix the thing!)  It’s good work, this being-Jesus-to-others.  You get to use the unique gifts of your personality and season to love like Jesus through the dark times.  I am no good at speaking comfort, but I can sit quiet (even if it kills me!), I can pray, and I can make some mean comfort food.   Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes and peach pie are my way of showing love, and I bet you have your way.  There’s no one right way to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Your gift might be encouraging texts, intercessory prayer, giving a hug at just the right time, connecting them with resources, taking them to coffee, sharing a verse, or a million other ways to remind them that Jesus is near to the brokenhearted.  It’s so beautiful to see the unique ways that we can minister love and pour compassion to others when they need it most.  Something as simple as a text saying, I’m praying for you can be a huge boost of encouragement!

We get the privilege to point the grief-stricken to Jesus.

We can give the hugs and encouragement, the gift of presence and meals and telephone calls, but we are not their Savior.  Your encouragement, my help, should always point them back to the original source: Jesus.  He is the only one who completely understands their unique pain.  He suffered for each of us on Calvary, and He suffers with them through the darkness.  They need to be reminded when they forget that the love of Jesus will never fail, even when they do.  And yes, even if you do – even if you feel like you’ve messed up this whole helping them through the dark thing, God’s got this.  People fail all the time, which is why we so desperately need a perfect and unfailing Savior.  Don’t ever forget that you are not the light source – you only carry the light.  There is freedom for them and you in this truth: ultimately, they need Jesus.  Point them, always, to Him.

And when the suffering of those you love overwhelms you, rest in this: Jesus holds you, too.

Grace and peace and hope-hugs,

This post first appeared on iBelieve.com on September 12, 2016.

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When Mother’s Day Is Thorns And Roses

Everywhere I turn this Mother’s Day, I feel surrounded by the reality that there is so much pain tangled up with all the pretty.

 

So many people grieving the loss of their own mothers, through death or estrangement or the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations.

So many people mourning over lost children – whether it be the children they always dreamed of having, or the children they yielded to adoption, or the children that are with Jesus, or the wayward ones who can’t wander a way out of their mother’s heart.

Wounded daughters, broken mothers…grieving women.

What if the sadness of what you’ve lost overshadows the celebration this weekend?

Is it okay to hide a broken heart under a pretty dress, to trace lipstick on a trembling smile, to write the cards when there are no words, and still live authentic?

I hope so. It’s what I’ll be doing this year.

This Mother’s Day is a potpourri of joy and loss for me.  We will be attending a big family dinner after church, and it will be good to spend the time with loved ones.  It’s a massive group of diverse personalities, and we are connected by blood, by marriage, and most of all, by Jesus.

But there are people missing from the table.

People I deeply love, family members who aren’t gathered in this noisy celebration crowd. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by all the blessings in my life, and sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the loss.  It’s a mixed bag, and I find myself nose to nose with the disparate realities this weekend.  If you’re feeling this tension between joy and pain, this tug-of-war in your heart…you are not alone.

Take it to Jesus.  It’s where I’m taking all my stuff, because I am just too tired to put it into words.  I’m sick of feeling it, sick of ignoring it, just plain sick and tired of it. Only He can handle it all – the tears, the laughter, the pain too deep for words, the awe of blessings not deserved, the stark disappointment of withered hope.

We have a refuge, a strong shelter who will hold hope for us when we’ve lost all of ours.  A place to go when the grief washes over, tsunami strong.  Tender words, whispered to your soul, when the silence of broken relationships is deafening. When grief crushes your heart, and you can’t find a way to breathe in the pain, turn to Jesus.  He has been carrying this pain for two thousand yearsYour pain.  Mine.

So when Sunday dawns, wake up with this truth settled deep in your heart: you are known and you are not alone with your grief.  Some day…because of a Sunday morning two millennia past…all our tears will be wiped away.

Life is roses and thorns.  Tears and laughter.  It’s okay to appreciate the beauty and feel the pain.

Grace and peace and roses (with Kleenex),

 

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A Letter To My Non-Mom Friends On Mother’s Day

It’s almost here, this day that carries so much weight.

For all that is celebrated and beautiful about motherhood, today I wish I could spend the day celebrating the beautiful women in my life who are not, technically, mothers, but who would love to be.

For you, precious women without children, but who desire them…lovely, Godly ladies who want to add the title of mom to their many others…my heart breaks a little for you as I think about what you might be facing this day, again.  I don’t know the why in your story.  I only know that the plans of God far outweigh my comprehension and yours, and some glorious day we’ll know it was all and only and always for good and out of love.

I want you to know that your life is filled with purpose, even if your home is not filled with children.  That you are not less His daughter, or less His delight, or less His masterpiece because you don’t have babies.

I really just want you to know…carrying a child in your womb is only one of the ways to cradle life.

I see you pregnant with grace, filled with life and radiant. I see you, pouring yourself out in countless acts of mercy to children you may never see again.  Loving the little ones who look into your eyes and see Jesus.

I see you birthing joy out of suffering. I see your trembling smile as you rejoice over another pregnancy announcement and your heart breaks again for what you don’t have.  I see you brave, and I see you smiling even through the tears, and I see Jesus, again.

I see you open your home to cradle lost souls and rock the hurts of ungrateful people. I see you giving without end from whatever you have, and even, sometimes, what you don’t have.  I see you cheerful through the poverty of disappointment and broken dreams.  I see Jesus in you.

I see you living unselfish, living out the truth, living obedient in the hard, and it shames me.

I’m ashamed of my own complaining, my own whining, my own selfishness, when you would give your right arm for my life.  When you deserve, so much more than I ever could, this life of motherhood.  Who am I?  I can’t go down that road, because there’s no answers.  You’re not unworthy, and I’m not worthy, and we’re just going to have to trust God’s Father-hands that made and love us both. The Father-heart that pens our stories with equal tenderness.

I am humbled by you.  I am awed by you.  By the beauty of grace in you.  By your gentleness.  I am a better woman, a better wife, a better mother, for knowing you.  Oh, I learn so much about mothering from you, so much about loving well.  So much about resilience and joy and patience through suffering.

I want to be like you.  I want to step over the barrier (who put it there anyway?) that separates the married from the unmarried, the mother from the childless, and just be your sister in Christ.  I want my children to look up to you and learn from you, because there are so many things that you can teach them that I cannot.

If you only knew how much I want to learn from you.

A bountiful harvest of grace is what I see in your life.  It comes in so many ways, and slips in, humble and unnoticed.  Yes, this day is about motherhood, but it’s God’s grace…to each of us…that defines a life.

It’s easy sometimes, to make life about the haves and the don’t haves – what you have, or they don’t have, or I have and you don’t – but as believers in Jesus, we are marked by something completely different. His grace. I remind you as I remind myself that we none of us deserve any of it, but He gives anyway. He gives grace to the humble, and it’s gorgeous on you.

I see it all over you, pouring from your heart, the unmerited favor of grace, spilling life all around you.  Nurturing.  Tirelessly, unselfishly, endlessly, quietly, serving.

I see you, and I see Jesus in you, and it’s stunningly, awesomely beautiful.

A mother gives life in the delivery room, but you…you give it over and over and over and over.  Laying down your life for His way.  Laying down your dreams, your plans, your wants, for His best.  None of it is wasted.  John 12:24 reminds us that the death of what’s precious gives life to more than we can imagine, and I hope you know that your impact is not crippled by this “not yet” or “not ever.”

Jesus uses you to give life to others.

You’ve given it to me.  You’ve given it to countless others.  One day in glory, your eyes will fill with tears of joy when you see that Isaiah 54:1-2 was about you, and you’re going to be shocked by the number of people who look at you as a spiritual mother.  Only heaven knows the reach of your impact.

If that’s not the essence of motherhood, I don’t know what is.

Let’s celebrate…together…the life-giving grace of Jesus.

Welcome to the mama club…mama of many.

Grace, peace, and you-are-deeply-appreciated,

 

This post first appeared on iBelieve on May 2, 2016

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When You Don’t Know How To Be Enough

There’s a special kind of loneliness that comes with being a woman in this culture that can deceive us into thinking that no one else struggles as hard or as ugly as we do.

In a world of instant updates and photo filtering and everyone being prettier and more put together than we are…it’s hard to ever feel enough.  Isn’t it?  You would think that reality TV and constant connectivity would promote authenticity, but no.  It’s easy to crop around the messy edges, to edit the struggle, the sin, the handicaps and varnish over the not-so-pretty sides we all have.

Maybe it’s steeped in the culture of the church-people, or maybe it’s just something that Type A’s and people-pleasers feel, but it seems like anything less than shiny sweetness is a scarlet letter of shame.  That it’s immaturity to struggle with grief, depression, unbelief, generational sin patterns, fear, backbiting and backstabbing, you name it.  Supposedly, (who came up with this, anyway?) there’s this unwritten script that says Christians are only ever tempted, but never succumb to sin.

That we never fall.

That we don’t struggle, mightily, all the time.

We preach the Gospel, but are we even listening?

Christ came to set free the chained, captive, hopelessly snarled up, ugly people – and He saves them every day.  When you make Him your Savior, it is only the first of many times that He’ll save you.  It’s been years in the making, this coming to realize that Christians – the real, authentic disciples, all of them – have jagged, scarred places.  We are not the second coming of perfect, and that is really okay.

Oh, I am up to here with pretending that I don’t have flaws inside and out, and cellulite, and a mile wide judgmental streak.  It’s unbelief that batters me, and the constant struggle to find any self worth, and shame and I have a go around about every 3 hours.  Is that TMI for you?  Life is a struggle, always.  Maybe you’ve felt a bit of the same?

Being “not enough” is enough to hush the sparkle in even the bravest among us.

It can feel hopelessly complicated, holding the pieces together and patchworking  out a ragged semblance of “good enough.”  It’s honestly exhausting, and in light of Calvary – completely unnecessary.

John 1:14 says this about Jesus: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (NIV)  Following Jesus means that we will grow to be more and more like Him.  If we could just stop tiptoeing around grace and simply take it as ours, what a difference it would make.  If we could speak the truth about our struggles and blemishes, and receive some grace and truth in return from others…wouldn’t that change everything?  If we could extend some grace to the not-perfect ones that surround us, maybe we’d all breathe a little deeper and relax just a bit.

There are precious few people who have had the rare and questionable privilege to see me ugly cry, and even fewer who make me feel okay about it.  Maybe, could we be a bit less perfect and a whole lot more authentic?  Gentleness and flaws – they can go together.  Rough edges and mistakes need a soft place to land, and who better than us to offer it?  What if being the hands and feet of Jesus was less of a competition to dispense John Piper-isms and more of a coming alongside broken people as one of them? (Don’t get me wrong – I love a good dose of John Piper wisdom, too.)  But no theologian saves us – only Jesus.  Simply, only, always Jesus.

How well do we take the medicine we offer to the world?

This gospel we preach of a perfect Man crucified doesn’t mean we swelter under the unbearable weight of past mistakes or spend ourselves breathless chasing perfectionism.  It means we crucify the need to prove ourselves, every day.

It means we preach the grace of God to our own souls daily, as well as to everyone we encounter.

It means we speak the truth  – the truth of our own struggles, and also the truth that God is bigger than any sin pattern, any wrong done to us, any issue that we can face.  Preach the gospel to yourself first, every day, and then live it.

Maybe there’s a way out, and it’s as simple as finding those few people who will hold your real self with gentleness, and then becoming one of those people to anyone and everyone around us.  But first – go to Jesus.

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NIV)

The struggle for balance, for peace, for freedom in Christ – it’s real.

We have to fight, every day, to live out this glorious salvation with authenticity, and grace, and obedience.  It comes with real life issues, in the broken places we all want to hide and the hushing voices of everyone who has ever not believed that we’re enough.

I have news, friends.  We don’t have to be enough anymore, because Jesus is.  He’s enough, and He willingly steps in to fill the gaping holes within us.  Really, it’s okay to be vulnerable with Him and each other, because we have the righteousness of Christ to define us.  He is enough – enough for you, and me, and all the broken places and mistakes in this world of ours.  Dear tired ones, it’s okay to be real, because Jesus is.  If He wasn’t, it would be too terrifying to admit that we struggle with sin in every form, every day.

But because He lives to intercede for us, the pressure to be “enough” (whatever that is), can slide off our To Do list as done.

Grace, peace, and lots of love,

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