Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Joy

Imagine yourself in a beautiful meadow.

This place is perfect. There are no insects. There is no humidity. There is only fresh, clear air, 72-degree temperatures and a wispy pleasant breeze for measure. Cotton-ball clouds dot an azure sky, and the golden sun bathes your back and shoulders in delicious warmth.

You're surrounded by flowers. These aren't just any flowers. They're all fragrant, but not the heady type of fragrance that gives you a headache. They're every imaginable hue on the spectrum ... periwinkle, scarlet, emerald, magenta and saffron.

Birds chirp a cadence of trills. And even the deer languidly graze near you, not even raising their heads to your presence.

You gaze at the beauty. You feel peaceful, secure.

Then one of the clouds blocks the sun. The breeze suddenly gives you a chill. More clouds gather, quickly. A drizzle falls. And then the rain begins. You look around for shelter, but there's nothing nearby to shield you, not even a thatch of trees. The air changes from warm ... to cold. The rain turns into giant fluffy snowflakes. The wind picks up. And now it's no longer even a pleasant snowfall. Now it's spitting sleet. You rub your arms and gaze at the sky, and the sleet turns to ice.

Now look around.

The deer are still grazing. The flowers are still colorful and fragrant. The birds are still singing. Nothing has changed, save what is falling on your head. You are in the midst of the meadow as the storm passes through, but the meadow is unchanged.

You close your eyes. You know you're cold. You know you're physically miserable. But you can still smell the flowers. You can still hear the birds. You can walk up to a deer and pat its head, and it doesn't run away. The only thing that has changed is what is being poured on your head and body. But the comfort of the place around you gives you strength to weather the storm.


This is joy.

We can't control what happens to us circumstantially. Yesterday started out great for me. I was standing in that meadow, and without warning, things overtook me. By the end of the day, I felt as if I'd been through a war.

But here's the thing.

My Christmas tree was twinkling.

My child was singing.

My dog was laying languidly at my feet.

My home was warm.

We were fed, not hungry.

We were comfortable.

We put on Elf.

We listened to Christmas carols.

We lit candles, and we put on soft flannel pajamas and laid down in a luxuriously comfortable bed with warm blankets and soft sheets.

We weren't in danger.

We laid our heads on our pillows, knowing that we were in the most secure country of the world.

My child is healthy. I'm not sick.

I have plenty of work coming in.

Do you see how many blessings I have?

There are more.

They're too many to count.

Despite the circumstances, I was still in the meadow. Despite what was falling on my head, I could rest secure.



God gives me joy. Humanly, I can't cope alone. But God opens my eyes to see the beauty around me -- the colors of the flowers, the song of the birds. I know, no matter what happens, He has me at His breast, hemming me in before and behind me, protecting and securing me.

And giving me joy.

You can rest in that today. You can rest in Him today.

And you can be grateful that joy is steadfast, even when the meadow weathers an ice storm.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Hug from Jesus

There are moments that can't be explained, miraculous things that occur that remind a person of God's continued presence and love.

I spent this afternoon wondering if I should actually blog this, because more than one person will say I'm certifiable. But in retrospect, I decided to take the plunge for two reasons: 1) Writing this down serves as a reminder to myself in the future when I need to know that God is by my side and 2) Writing this down serves as a reminder to the rest of you (who are also strong believers) that God is by your side, always.

Church is a time of strong communing for me each week, and I don't just mean the encouragement I get from other believers. I sink into deep reflection and thanksgiving each Sunday. I'm a Lutheran. I enjoy the liturgy, while many people may find it boring. I repeat the words, sing the cadence, listen to those around me and most importantly, concentrate fully on the meaning that each Scripture and reading has to my life.

There was nothing particular about this week's sermon that related to my circumstances. There was nothing expressly moving about the organ music or the attempts of the choir at staying on key. Most people might even say the hour-and-a-half service was boring and uneventful.

But something profound happened to me.

I got a hug from Jesus.

And I don't mean something I conjured or mulled over. I had a real experience in which I felt His presence today.

We'd just finished with Communion. Communion is my favorite time of the service, because I enjoy coming to the Table and considering all of the suffering Jesus experienced so that I might live. It's a time when I can tell Him how grateful I am, how much I love Him and also confess any sins or speak with Him about someone with whom I have a grudge.

I returned to my seat, grasping Neil's chubby hand in mine, and continued to sing hymns while others partook in the Meal. And then my mind wandered. I started to worry about the upcoming week. I started thinking about bills. I started churning about whether I would get paid on time by my clients. I started fretting that my child would be leaving for a 14-hour car ride with his father for Thanksgiving and would be apart from me.

All of the goodness from the worship service suddenly started evaporating. All of the peace was filtering away, like water in a tub after a hot soak, leaving me feeling cold and needing comfort. I looked at my watch. I shushed my child, who was rustling pages of a coloring book. I clucked my tongue and rolled my eyes and thought, "When will this be over? I need to get home and take care of things before Monday starts."

Then the last of the people in the congregation sat. Communion was complete. The service was almost finished. The pastor stood to give his blessing over the Communion table and say a prayer. I stood with everyone else and bowed my head.

And that's when it happened.

Suddenly in my mind's eye, unbidden, I saw clearly a snapshot of me, standing there with head bowed, and behind me, His arms around my chest, his head bent forward to rest on top of mine, his robe enveloping my arms ... was Jesus.

Jesus gave me a hug.

In that very moment, all thoughts, all worries, suddenly vanished.

I was flooded with peace. It was as if nothing, none of that, had an ounce of matter. I felt loved and cherished. I felt protected and upheld. I felt no condemnation for allowing worry to take over, but a gentle assurance that He was taking care of me. There was nothing, nothing, standing in the way of His love for me.


I left that service feeling blessed, calmed, thankful ... and most importantly, loved.

Jesus gave me a hug today.

And you know what? Those hugs are available for you, too.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

'For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
-- Romans 8:31-39

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The French Connection

When I was 16 and living in upstate New York, my family traveled to Montreal for a weekend getaway. I was studying French in high school, and my father thought it would be great for me to hear the language spoken around me.

In our hotel room, I discovered a New Testament in the traditional place: the drawer of the bedside table, placed by the Gideons. This NT was special, though. It was written in both English and in French. The pages were divided in half, so that while you were reading a verse in English, your eye could travel to the right and see the same message in French.

I wanted to take the Bible home with me, but my father said no. We'd write a letter to the Gideons, asking them how we might purchase a Bible like that.

About a month later, a package arrived in the mail for me ... and it was from the Gideons. Inside was one of the hotel Bibles with a beautiful note, saying they wanted me to have it for free. I took that Bible with me everywhere. In church on Sundays, as Scripture was read, I'd read it silently in French. I used that Bible in my personal devotions as I continued to study French in college.

I've lost a lot of the language knowledge in the past 25 years since graduating. But recently on Twitter, something interesting happened.

A person in another country suddenly started sending me Bible verses ... in French. His name is Mario, and he lives in La Ceiba, a port city on the northern coast of Honduras. When he sends me the Bible verses, he also includes the names of two or three other people who seem to be French.

I don't know why Mario decided to tweet to me in French, especially because he's in Honduras and I'm in the United States. His native language would obviously be Spanish. But I realized one thing: I suddenly was reawakened to connecting with other believers in their language.

Mario tweets Bible verses in various languages to people all over the world. I just happen to get his French tweet messages. What he's doing is taking on the role of missionary in cyber space -- ministering to those of us in other countries, despite our language, despite our culture.

I started to decipher the French and figuring out my old French grammar lessons. When something is too hard, I check it out on Google Translate. Then I go a step further. I look up another verse ... and I send it back to Mario ... in French.

We exchange one or two verses per day. And every day, when I get that tweet from Mario and go to the trouble of sending one back to him, something amazing happens: I feel the vital connection, the encouragement, the joy of sharing with another believer. When he sends my verses out to his 3,000 followers on Twitter, I realize that in French, I in turn am encouraging French-speaking believers, because Mario is willing to take that step for me.

We are commanded: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Col. 3:16)

Mario took that command and acted on it. I thank God for Mario. Through Mario, I've rediscovered the meaning of brotherly/sisterly encouragement -- and the ever-vital mission of sharing with the world the message of Jesus's sacrifice and love.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Abundant Living

Arctic air.
Azure sky.
Sun floods, bright and bold, enveloping, blinding.
Rhythmic drums.
Soulful song.

Heart swells.

Worship alone?
Worship in Presence?
Most definitely.

Heaven enfolds.
Peace invades.
Joy ensues.
Love clings.
God's promise to me.

Not alone.

Is this what He meant when He said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly?"

Abundant Living.
Abundant Living, in the face of darkness.
Abundant Living, in the face of despair.
Abundant Living, no matter what the Thief steals and destroys.
Abundant Living, giving my all to One who experienced it all, too.

"I'll stand
with arms high and heart abandoned
in awe of the One who gave it all
I'll stand
my soul Lord to You surrendered
all I have is Yours."

I am living life abundantly
because of what He does for me
because He is my courage
He is my shield
He is my rock
He is my deliverer
He is mine.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cheesy Broccoli Casserole and the Chinese Visitors

Thanksgiving. Say the word, and if you're a foodie like I am, the images that immediately come to mind are foods we usually (only) eat for that particular feast. As I grew up with a Southern mamma, my Thanksgiving table always consisted of Georgian-inspired dishes: cornbread "dressing" (never stuffed in the bird), fried okra (if we could get it at that time of year), green bean casserole, corn pudding ... and my favorite ... cheesy broccoli casserole. A couple of years ago, the church I was attending invited university students from China to celebrate Thanksgiving at a B&B here in central Kentucky. Our jobs as the parishioners were to sign up for one all-American favorite dish, so that the students could get a real "flavor," so to speak, for the American holiday. I prepared the cheesy broccoli casserole ... topped with Ritz crackers, of course ... and thought it would be scarfed down on sight. As I laid it on the table, I puffed up as fellow church attendees oohed and ahhed. The Cheesy Broccoli Casserole. Somebody had brought it! And it was large! It was one of the hugest casseroles I'd ever assembled. And it was steaming! And it was cheesy gooey! I knew those Chinese students were going to love it, love it, love it. Then I watched as they filed down the buffet table. They whispered to each other as they studied each dish. Suddenly, I realized ... they had no idea what they were putting on their plates. Sweet potato casserole ... a tiny spoonful. Green bean casserole ... the same. Stuffing? They barely touched it. And then they came to the cheesy broccoli casserole. They hesitated. Did they want to really try it? Out of politeness, each one did, but just on the edge of each plate, always in miniscule amounts. I realized that this was foreign food to them, just as if I'd been plopped down behind the Great Wall like Harrison Ford in an Indiana Jones movie and asked to eat a plate of Chou Dofu. I looked at the food not through my American eyes, but through theirs, as if I was seeing it for the first time. And I thought, "Wow. That cheesy broccoli casserole really looks disgusting, if I'm from China and I've never seen it before. It's GROSS!" Then something happened. One by one, each of them tried it. And I watched their eyes widen, their eyebrows go into their foreheads. I watched them poke each other and say something in Chinese and point to the broccoli casserole on their plate. I'd watch the other person look at it with some disdain and disbelief that it could be anything but awful. And then they would try it. And then they'd smile after one bite. Suddenly, they were getting up from their seats and HEADING BACK to the broccoli casserole on the buffet table. Within about 15 minutes, the casserole was empty, and the Chinese guests were chatting happily at the table, all with piles of cheesy broccoli casserole on their plates, all shoveling it happily into their mouths as if they'd eaten it all their lives. I got to thinking about this incident this weekend, because an atheist friend of mine is now embracing God. All things are new to him. And all things are a little scary and unknown, just like that cheesy broccoli casserole. He's hearing things for the first time, deciphering, questioning ... poking at it on his plate and wondering whether to partake. It's all foreign to him, you see. He's looking at it with curiosity, but also with a little trepidation. And yet, now he's giving that cheesy broccoli casserole a try, for the very first time. His eyes are opening. His eyebrows are going into his forehead. He's asking for more, more, more! More. He's reading the Bible for the first time. He wants to know what to hit first, and after that, what should he read? And what's next? And why doesn't he read one book before another? His questions are miraculous, probing, sincere ... hungry. He's hungry. This is what I want you to remember, as you share your faith with others: To an unbeliever, it might as well be cheesy broccoli casserole in the eyes of someone from China. It's daunting and scary. You're not doing them any favors by piling it in front of them and ordering them to eat it. Just give them the option to taste for themselves and find that it is good. Don't be offended if they're too scared to try it at first. Provide the food, but don't force feed it. Allow them to poke at it and taste. And be there for them when they ask you, "What's in this? How was it made? Why is it so delicious? ... Can I have more?" Until then, just look at that cheesy broccoli casserole with a secret smile on your face, knowing that when they finally taste the goodness that God has to offer ... they'll want it. They'll eat it. And they will be satisfied.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You are Good, You are Kind, You are Smart

It's a quote from the book (now movie), "The Help." The African American maid says it to a little white girl in her keep in Jackson, Mississippi. The words are precious. The reaction is, too. The child repeats the words in a sing-song, placing her chubby hands on her caretaker's face. "You are good. You are kind. You are smart." I've seen the movie twice now and am almost finished with the book. This morning, it occurred to me to ingrain the words into Neil, to help his self-esteem. He's 8 and was recently diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. He struggles with social acceptance by his peers and occasionally is bullied. I thought that when I told him to repeat the words to me, he would react like the little girl in the movie. We sat in the shade of an ancient oak tree on the corner where we meet his school bus. "Neil," I said in the quiet of the morning, "I want you to repeat these words to me. Now look me in the eye." He put down the small toy with which he was playing in his lap and fixed his eyes on my face. "You are good." Neil immediately grabbed the top of his head with his arms and covered his ears. "Neil. Neil. You are kind." Neil ducked his head into his chest. "Neil, listen. Neil. You are smart." Neil shook his head violently and started to cry. "Neil, look at me. Look at me. Take your arms off of your head and look at me." It took me about 3 minutes to convince him to put his arms down and stare at me again. Tears covered his face. "Neil, don't you believe those three things?" He shook his head. "Has anyone told you differently?" He nodded. "Who?" He named children from school, one by one. "Neil, listen to me. They're lying. They are telling lies about you. You are not dumb. You are not stupid. You are not bad. You are not mean. You are good. You are kind. You are smart. You are good. You are kind. You are smart." He stared at me. He shook his head no again. "Do you know who also thinks you're good, kind and smart? God does. God loves you. You're his special boy. You are good. You are kind. You are smart. Don't believe people when they tell lies to you about you. Those are lies. Those are lies." As Neil got onto the school bus, my heart broke for my child. I had no idea that all of this time, he was hearing bad things about himself from others and was believing them -- actually believing them. It got me thinking ... how many of us believe lies about ourselves? How many of us don't fully pursue the love that God has to offer because we think we're not deserving of it? The truth is that we don't do anything to deserve God's love, but we are God's creation, God's children. And He created us to be good, to be kind, to have value -- to be loved. Why write this for the Christian Safehouse? Well, sometimes I think that we don't hear this enough, not nearly enough, actually. We believe lies from the Enemy of our souls. We internalize them. We don't seek out God as a result. We hide like Neil did, putting our hands over our heads and shaking our heads no, no, no, saying, "I'm not a person who has the capability of this calling, to become Christlike." The truth is that He makes us worthy. He makes us beautiful. He transforms us from the inside out, and He adores us. Can you hear Him? Do you hear Him telling you this? You are good. You are kind. You are smart. You are His. I intend on following the example in that book and telling Neil this every day until he believes it about himself. And now, I'm telling you, too.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Eternal Moment #5: Walking Around Wilmore

Conclusion of this story series ...

Present Day.
Wilmore, Kentucky.

They walk around Wilmore at all hours, some in the early morning, most at twilight: the widows on my street.

Neil and I have lived here for a year now, since my marriage ended, since the time that I first started reassembling the shattered eggshell of my life. And on that very first day that I moved in, they were at my door, sharing eternal moments with me.

Two are across the street. One is to the left. The other is two doors down on the right. All widows. All at the end of their days. And all, walking around Wilmore.

During their walks, they wind up at my front door or on my car port that I recently transformed into a summer porch. One wants to walk my dog. Another chooses to "sit a spell" in a second-hand rocker that she'd given me. A third brings me homemade potato salad. Another knocks at the door to find out when Neil will be home, because her grandson is coming to visit.

They ask about Neil's school. They ooh and ah at the cats and the dog. They compliment the floral patterns on the porch pillows and take a whiff of a candle sitting on the antique table by the front door. They ask me how my mother is doing.

And then, they ask about me.

You'd think the poking and prodding of personal questions would put me off, but it doesn't. Maybe it's in their eyes. All of them search my face with compassion. All of them pat my hand, just like my grandmothers did. All of them nod sympathetically. All of them offer a hug when they leave.

That they walk around this tiny town, spreading their own version of joy to anyone who needs it, continually amazes me. I constantly wonder to myself, "Do their joints ache? Are they tired, unsettled? Do they wonder when their eyes will close for the last time and whether today is the last for breath in their lungs? Are they worried ... about anything?"

Because, you see, none of them seem to be worried. None of them seem to have a care. All of them bring with them a settled peace, a transcendent joy, a quiet presence that drench my soul just like burned skin absorbs aloe.

"We're glad you moved here," one says to me.

"I watch Neil through my window when he's on his skateboard," another offers.

Then the questions change.

"Do you ever think you'll find love again? Do you want to?"

"Are you happy? Can I pray for you?"

And then statements follow.

"You're strong. You'll make it."

"You're a good mom."

"You have so much to offer."

As they walk away from my home to theirs, I wonder ... do they know how much they encourage? Are they aware that they offer others the gift of eternal moments?

See, an eternal moment is so much more than an exchange of a thought, an idea, a debate, a song, a question.

It's about the connection.

It's about one person saying to another, "You matter. You matter to me, and you matter to God. I have your back. How can I lift you up?"

How many eternal moments do you have in your life? I've outlined five in this blog series, but truthfully, they are too many to count. I know one thing: those who have given me the gift of eternal moments are never forgotten. I bring their faces to mind and recall the way they made me feel in the darkest of days.

They become Jesus to me. They bring to me His solace, presence & hope.

So until we hit the other side of eternity, this is the question:

Am I willing to share eternal moments with others?

Are you?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Eternal Moment #4: When Animal Crackers Became Manna

November 2002.
Fort Bragg, NC.

I am 37.

I was never supposed to be able to have a child of my own, but I'm about 2 1/2 months into my first and only pregnancy. The day I find out, I'm scheduled for a cancer biopsy. Ironically, that morning I'd had a terrible dream that the doctor told me I had to choose between cancer treatment and pregnancy. Then in real life, before my biopsy appointment, I have a blood test to make sure I'm not pregnant. Of course, I laugh at the whole thing, but then am stunned when I am told, "Not only are you pregnant, but you have a choice to make. These pre-cancerous cells may become more aggressive during the pregnancy. You can abort now and address the chance of cancer, or you can take your chances with the pregnancy."

Aborting, even if it means my life, isn't an option.

So I plunge into the world of first-trimester woes, whole-heartedly. I just don't know how difficult that is going to be.

I immediately become incredibly sick.

Sick, sick, sick, all of the time.

I can't hold anything down.

I ask my doctor, "Are you sure I don't have a tapeworm or stomach cancer?" He laughs at me."Nope. That's just the baby."

And so I lose weight, 15 pounds within 2 months.

I'm so weak that I can't stand for more than a few minutes, and even the sight of television commercials of food sends me over the edge.

I am existing on animal crackers and Gatorade, and I don't move from my home. As a freelance journalist, I do all of my magazine interviews by putting my laptop on my stomach and talking to people from bed. The rest of the time, I languish.

Then one day, she comes to my door.

She's a Bible study leader for military spouses at Fort Bragg, where I am attending a program called, Protestant Women of the Chapel.

She's soft-spoken and kind. Like my other eternal moments in life, the words she speaks to me are not that memorable.

But her actions are.

She rings the doorbell, standing in the North Carolina sun, her arms filled with boxes of animal crackers.

"I brought you something to eat!" she laughs. I'm amazed that she knew to bring me the only thing I could keep down.

She takes the recliner while I stretch out on the sofa and put one cracker in my mouth at a time, waiting for it to dissolve before I tackle the next one. She's patient. She doesn't quiz me about much except for how she can help me. She talks about the Bible study we've attended and brings me her notes from the lecture. She nods with sympathy as I regale her with tales of sleepless nights and endless days filled with nausea.

This will pass, she says. This will pass.

She visits me like this a minimum of once a week, sometimes more frequently.

When I finally clear the hurdle of my sickness, I meet other issues ... an infection of the heart in the 3rd month, kidney stones in the 5th month, receiving false news four times that my child is "dead," a false reading of Down syndrome during the 7th month .... and of course, the ongoing monitoring of the pre-cancerous cells, which are becoming more and more aggressive as each month passes.

She prays. She encourages other women to pray.

And all the while, she visits.

Each visit is akin to an eternal moment. Each visit, time stands still. Each visit, she steps into the sandals of Jesus and brings me peace. Each time she leaves, I feel more and more grounded, stronger, surer.

When the child is born healthy, when the pre-cancerous cells vanish, we hug and laugh at the miracle.

Have you ever met a kind soul who lavished so much love on you without any expectation for favor in return?

That's who this woman was to me.

Those animal crackers might as well have been Heaven's Manna in my wilderness.

And those moments .... they were eternal moments of extreme comfort and joy.

Tune in for Eternal Moment #5: Walking Around Wilmore ...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eternal Moment #3: Cold Water in the Sahara

November 1993.
York, Pennsylvania.

I am 28.

A year following my dad's death, I find myself in the rolling hills of south-central Pennsylvania, working at a mid-sized newspaper. Mostly, I've kept to myself. I've had many opportunities to socialize with my colleagues, who, like me are all the same age and all trying to make names for themselves so that they can achieve the gold ring of Woodward & Bernstein fame.

The difference between them and me is that 99 percent of them aren't believers. They mean well when they invite me to go dancing to nearby Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Staying out in bars until the wee hours is common, too, even during the work week. But I refuse each invitation.

I search for friends among local church congregations. I run into an unusual phenomenon: Every time I disclose I'm a newspaper reporter, I'm immediately held at an arm's length. I see the flash of distrust wash over faces, and formerly friendly "Christian believers" morph into stand-offishly polite church attendees. You know the difference, I'm sure.

I don't belong in either arena. I'm thought of as a prudish good girl in the newsroom and as a wayward child of the distrusted media in church settings. I realize that if I want to truly be "in the world and not of the world," I will have to consign myself to a temporary state of solitude.

For the most part, I'm okay with it. I'm still mourning my father's passing and usually spend my off hours sleeping. The one thing that brings me a spot of joy is the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg. On weekends, when the weather is good, I wander the fields, gaze at the monuments, talk to the tour guides, mill among the tourist families, frequent the restaurants that serve courses of that era and shop among the quaint merchants selling country-like decor and home-made jams.

I'm living life, but on the fringes, on the edges. I'm not fully recovered emotionally from the loss of my father, and I'm also not fully engaged in the lives of those around me.

In summary, I feel as if I'm in the midst of my own Sahara.

This goes on for months.

Then one day, I get an unexpected call. An old friend from college is in town, raising money for missions. Do I want to get together?

I jump at it. It's the first "Christian" who truly knows me that I've seen in months.

You may find this hard to believe, a girl and guy hanging out in a very brotherly-sisterly manner ... but that's exactly the way it was. The way my friend connected with me was more than just someone looking to fill up time from boredom. He ministered to me. He immediately assessed my situation, fully. He saw it for what it was, and he was deeply concerned.

I showed him around Gettysburg and all of my little haunts. I cooked dinner for us at my tiny apartment. I plugged in my favorite DVDs, and, respectfully-brotherly to the end, he watched them (even the chick flicks) and left quietly after I'd fallen asleep.

When it was time to bid farewell, we stood in a church parking lot where my friend had just given a talk. The black of the November night settled around us, and the crisp air hung around my shoulders like a cape. As I talked, white puffs of steam traveled towards a street light. My ankle-length black wool coat and black leather gloves made me feel as if I was a child playing grown-up dress-up. For to me, my interaction with my friend was that real -- no pretenses. What the rest of the world saw, he saw right through.

He compassionately listened to me as I nervously prattled, not wanting to really let go of this drink of cold water in my Sahara. And then he said one thing to me that will stay with me forever:

"Of all of the people I know, all of the people we graduated with, you're the only person who is really in the world and not of the world."

The words stopped me cold. I'd always felt like that was my situation, but no one had ever spoken it out loud to me.


"Yeah, look at what you're doing -- you're in a newsroom with people who don't believe in God, and you're trying to go to church, and no one will accept you because you're in a newsroom. You're living the life that Jesus said we should expect."

I hugged him in gratitude, not wanting to let go of the presence of a true friend. Time stopped until I got into my car and drove away, wiping away tears -- not from sadness but from the recognition that I'd had the privilege of another eternal moment.

Have you ever been that for someone -- a drink of cold water in the middle of their Sahara?

Have you stopped time with your encouragement for them, so that they regain the strength they need to go on?

Do you allow yourself to be life-giving?

Tune in for Eternal Moment #4: When Animal Crackers Became Manna

Monday, July 11, 2011

Eternal Moment #2: "The Angel at Death's Bedside"

The morning after Thanksgiving, 1991.
My father's hospital room.
Montclair, New Jersey.

I am 26.

My brother, my mother and I have been summoned with an early morning phone call to my father's bedside in a hospital in northern New Jersey.

He is dying.

He drags each breath with the same labored effort that Marley's ghost hauls his chains across Scrooge's floor, with a loud rattle and shuddering full-body shake. The moments fleetingly pass, but each second in and of itself is torturous.

It's only a matter of a few hours, perhaps a few minutes, before he will be gone forever.

During this nightmare, the angel offers a reprieve of peace.

No, she's not the type of angel you'd imagine, with fluttering wings or ethereal light.

She comes to the hospital dressed as if she herself had received the phone call at 6 a.m. and had hurried from her bed, throwing on whatever pair of slacks that were slung over the most convenient closet hanger and pulling a grey sweatshirt over tussled and curly white hair.

It's the first day I've ever met her (or remembered meeting her) in my entire life, although my mother knows her well. She is an old family friend, my mother tells me. She introduces us, and the woman takes my hand into her soft and warm grasp.

"I love your father, and I love you," she says.

Like the Londoner in the Illinois corn field a few years earlier, the memory of her exact words is a fog to me. Instead, what I can tell you is that her presence exudes peace and comfort. I lock eyes with her as if the sanity of my soul depends on her gaze. She speaks softly, gently. She smiles often, and she sympathetically listens to our report from the doctor and nurses.

Other visitors come, too, but there is something about this woman that sets her apart in an amazing way.

She, like the man of a few years earlier, becomes a miraculous vessel.

Her spirit is pure, genuine, kind, compassionate, lovely, gentle, loving.

Should I go on? Do you get the idea?

To be honest with you, I don't remember when she left the hospital. I remember later seeing her at my father's funeral. But those two encounters, at his deathbed and at his burial, are the only two I ever had with her.

Ironically, she died a few years later.

But I'll never forget her.

Our willingness to be used of God's presence at the most dire of times in people's lives ... it's a profound imperative.

Can you remember a time when you became Jesus for someone else, when you allowed Him to step into your shoes and be His tool?

I don't know if I ever have had the impact on someone that the "angel" had on me. If I ever do, though, I will consider it to be one of the highest of callings, one of the most honorable tasks given.

An angel of mercy at my father's bedside ... not for him ... but for me.

The gift ... the eternal moment ... still lingers in my mind as if it were the strongest and most beautiful perfume.

Someday, I hope to see her again. And when I do, when I am finally in her presence again in Heaven, I will tell her that God used her to be near me when I needed Him the most.

Tune in for Eternal Moment #3: Cold Water in the Sahara.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Eternal Moment #1: The Man from London in the Middle of a Cornfield

Part one of our new story series, "Eternal Moments ..."

June 1985.
Peoria, Illinois.

I am 20.

My parents, who are Salvation Army officers (ministers), are on a one-year special assignment. They're in charge of something called an "International Youth Congress." During my entire sophomore year of college, they've been assigned to Peoria, Illinois, where they are preparing for the onslaught of 5,000 kids ages 13 to 24 from every part of the globe.

The "Congress" is to be held in July at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois.

Until now, I've never been to this part of the country. The first thing that strikes me are the cornfields.

Corn. Corn. Corn.

Every road is lined with corn stalks.

There are no trees.

There is no grass.

There are no lakes.

There are no rivers.

There is only corn, row upon row of corn, as far as the eye can see.

I feel hemmed in and depressed.

It doesn't help that my summer job is to work in a warehouse for The Salvation Army, sorting cast-off clothing that people "donate" to the poor. I work in what I call a "dungeon," -- a basement rank with gasoline fumes and stinking hot from lack of ventilation. I spend eight hours a day doing nothing but sorting rags from garments that might be worn on a human body. When I come home, I rush to the shower to wash off the day's grime.

I know that I will get one week of reprieve from this drudgery, during the International Youth Congress. For that one week, I will be with other students my age. That thought keeps me going.

While my parents prepare and while I slave for my college tuition, we occasionally have visitors. These are Salvation Army officers from other countries, who travel to Illinois because they have an organizational hand in the Congress. Usually they pass in and out of my parents' office without me seeing them.

But today is different.

Today, I come home from my horrible job to hear laughter in the kitchen. I'm used to hearing the sound of my father's laughter ... but another man is laughing, too.

I poke my head into a room of sublime warmth -- not warmth from the summer heat, mind you, but congenial warmth emanating from our visitor.

His eyebrows rise when he sees me, and my father introduces me. I desire nothing more than to race to the shower, but something in this man's expression stops me. He isn't just someone filling up space or making polite remarks to pass time. He's genuinely interested in all of us.

I slowly approach the table and sit, listening to the friendly cadence of his British accent, mesmerized by his gentle tone, calmed by his presence.

You know ... the most interesting thing about this encounter ... is that I don't even remember this person's name. I don't remember his face. I don't remember exactly what he said. I can't tell you anything about him except that he was from London and was there for the business of the International Congress.

But I can tell you one thing:

The encounter with him had an eternal impact on me.


Something in me needed -- desperately needed -- a reminder of what it means to be joyful.

This humble man wasn't anyone who would stand out on the street. He wasn't a movie star with a hoard of paparazzi or a skilled athlete signing autographs. He didn't wear anything flashy, and he wasn't necessarily charming in the way you'd think a man would charm a 20-year-old co-ed.

He was just a vessel.

He was so filled with God's Spirit that he emanated joy and peace.

He didn't fill the time with grandiose philosophy or expository analyses of complex Scripture. He wasn't impressive or gregarious.

He just spoke quietly, earnestly, asking questions about each person and sharing small stories about his life at home and his own family. He just brought to the table the offering of himself -- a genuine interest in knowing others and in being known himself.

And there was one last thing he did before he left for his hotel room.

He shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said:

"If we never meet again in this life, we shall share again like this in Heaven."

Then he left.

I looked at the clock. It seemed as if he'd only been in our kitchen for a few minutes, but about four hours had passed. Time had gone by in a blink. And I yearned for another eternal moment -- another moment in which I could share so sincerely with another believer.

That man taught me a valuable lesson that night. The time we spend with others, even if we never see them again in this life, should be viewed as an eternal moment.

Do we bring Jesus to the table with our own actions, words, thoughts?

And when we leave the presence of others, do they feel that sense of eternal peace?

The man from London came to a cornfield ... and left me feeling as if I'd been standing in Heaven itself.

Tune in for Eternal Moment #2: "The Angel at Death's Bedside."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Eternal Moments

Once in a great while, we receive snatches, glimpses, of eternity.

I'm not talking about earth-shattering, Spirit-filled church services, although yes, that's definitely one aspect of our eternal future.

No ... to what I am referring are the moments we have with other Christians who give us strength and encouragement in such a unique and profound way that we feel as if we have been sitting at the very feet of Jesus.

Ever had that happen to you -- a communing of souls, so rich in discussion, so pure in direction, so genuinely filled with concern, hope, joy and love, that you wish you could sit and talk with that person endlessly?

I'm going through a very traumatic time circumstantially right now. One day I started thinking about the friends of Job and how they brought him down. And then I thought to myself, "I don't have friends like that. I have eternal friends."

I began to call to mind numerous instances when people surrounded me -- both when times were good and when times were not so good -- and time, in essence, stopped eternally.

We'll start the story series on these encounters tomorrow.

Tune in.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Hands of Jesus

My Physical Therapy Appointment.
Nicholasville, KY.

What does the phrase "searing pain" mean?

Let me tell you.

I am undergoing physical therapy for my feet so that they won't break. They have high arches. Normal people's feet have arches that raise from the ground at about a 10 percent angle, according to my podiatrist. My foot arches measure an angle of 45 percent.

I call it the Barbie Doll Foot Syndrome.

What happens when you have a high foot arch? In my case, at my stage in life?

Searing. Pain.

Definition of searing? "To char, scorch, or burn the surface of with or as if with a hot instrument."

That would be the sum of it. I have physical therapy three times per week, for about two hours per session. It involves a lot of weight lifting with the legs ... stretching ... and even a climbing machine that I have nicknamed, "The Spanish Inquisition Instrument." (No kidding -- if they'd had that thing during the Spanish Inquisition, they would have convinced anyone to say anything.)

After I finish with my exercises, my physical therapist goes to work on my feet and calves.

Enter, Searing Pain.

Think of it this way: Someone takes a hot iron and moves it up and down the backs of your legs and on the bottoms of your feet.


Usually I grab the sides of the table and hang on. Sometimes, I dig my fingernails into the palms of my hands. Lately, I've held onto a towel and twisted it. And twisted it. And twisted it. Once I almost cried. But see ... I decide I'm going to own this pain, so it's just better to breathe through it.

OK, so it's not as bad as childbirth ... but if you're a woman, imagine a mammogram that lasts for 20 minutes.

There ya go.

Now you'll find this probably a little amusing, or maybe strange ... but there is one thing I do in my mind's eye to get through this.

I close my eyes and tell myself that the hands pummeling my legs and feet are the hands of Jesus.

Did you ever read Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis? There's a great description about how Aslan heals Eustace and transforms him from a dragon back to a boy. Here's how Eustace describes the encounter to his cousins, Edmund and Lucy:

"Then the lion said ... 'You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I'd ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. ... He peeled the beastley stuff right off .... And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. ... After that, it became perfectly delicious, and as soon as I started swimming and splashing, I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why, I'd turned into a boy again."

Now that's sort of a gruesome way of describing the healing process -- both figuratively and literally -- but really, that's the way it is. You have to go through a great deal of pain before things feel "delicious" again, to use Eustace's words.

What does this have to do with a Christian Safehouse?

I got to thinking how much this person who helps me really is healing me and how much of a gift from God he is. Circumstances have forced me into financial difficulty. This kind man has a hardship program, whereby people can receive therapy at a certain rate that they can afford. It's such a gift.

And as much pain as I'm in during the therapy, I am so very grateful for it. Without it, I might degenerate even more. I don't know my prognosis yet, but I do know that in the month since I started, I am much stronger and am already seeing improvements.

What would happen if there was not a person to be the hands of Jesus to me?

People say all the time, "I'll believe in a miracle if Jesus comes and heals me Himself." But they miss the obvious. In my case, the obvious is financial provision for a place that I otherwise could never afford. The obvious is a team of physical therapist assistants, who observe my own efforts on each machine and help me regain strength. The obvious is the physical therapist, who tears into my muscles with strong hands and, like Aslan, tears up the offending part of the body that is making me weak.

Sometimes we hear the words, "the hands and feet of Jesus," and we think of that abstractly. In my case, this man HAS BECOME the HANDS of Jesus. He is there for many hours, working on many people, using his hands as a gift to them -- as a gift from God.

How am I the hands of Jesus? How are you the hands of Jesus? We may not be physical therapists, but within the body of Christ (or, the Christian Safehouse, as it were), we can be that encouragement, that healing force, that peaceful presence to someone else. Check out Romans 12 for more detail on how members of the body of Christ uphold each other.

Today I am grateful for the hands of Jesus, shown to me through a humble soul who demonstrates God's love on a daily basis.

Today I resolve to be the hands of Jesus to another.

Will you?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Prodigal Son, as told by 8-year-old Neil

Neil will be 8 on Saturday. Recently he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, which I'm still getting my brain around ... but basically, it's a form of autism.

This has helped to explain a lot of mysteries about my beautiful miracle boy ... but what has continually amazed me is that despite many of his struggles, he retains the details of Bible stories after hearing them only once.

Today he heard the story of the Prodigal Son. His version, though, is uniquely Neil's -- and uniquely gorgeous.

Here's how he told it to me a couple of hours ago:

"Well, Mommy, see, there was this little boy. And he told his daddy, 'Give me money!' So his daddy gave him lots of money, and he went away on a loooooooooong trip. He made lots of friends. They helped him spend the money.

But then, the money was gone! He was poor.

So he decided to get a job. And you know what his job was, Mommy? He decided to FEED PIGS! (laughs)

But he was soooooooooo hungry. He decided he'd eat the pig's food. It was yucky. So he said, 'I think I'll go home now.'

His daddy gave him a big hug and threw a party. He thought he'd be a servant, but his daddy said he was still his boy."

At this point, I interrupted Neil and started to interject the meaning behind the story, but he cut me off.

"Wait, Mommy. There's more!" he told me. "The little boy had a big brudder (Neil's pronounciation). And this brudder was good. (Neil holds up his chubby hands and makes the sign for quotes when he says, "good.")

But he really WASN'T good. He had a bad heart.

When he heard the party music, he got mad! He went to his room and played on his computer. He was MAD. So his daddy came to his room. He said, 'Why don't you come down to the party?' And the big brudder said, 'I've been a good boy, but you don't even give me a goat. My little brudder spent all the money, and you gave him a big party.'

His daddy wanted him to come down to the party, but you know what, Mommy? That big brudder wouldn't come. He just sat in his room and kept being mad."

I was amazed at how Neil relayed the story of the elder brother. But what amazed me even more was that he didn't understand the point of the story. We had to talk about it afterwards.

It got me thinking ... how many of us miss that part of the Prodigal Son's tale, or conveniently overlook it?

This past week I fielded some comments at another blog of mine, Family Giving. They were directed at my church's acceptance of homosexuals. I didn't post any of the comments .... but Neil's version of the older brother in the Prodigal Son jarred me today.

How many people will be surprised to see those they hate ... being celebrated in Heaven?

How many people who go in and out of church doors week after week after week ... who esteem their lifestyles as holier than others ... will be angry that those others will be at the Lamb's feast?

See ... did you notice that when the Prodigal Son showed up, he returned not as a shining example of the perfect kid? He was filthy, covered in pig slime. He'd spent all the money. He'd trashed his dad's name. He came home thinking that he'd just be a servant. Boy, was he ever surprised when his dad hugged him and threw a party, yes?

And boy, was that older brother angry about it.

We never find out what happened to the older brother. I suspect that was Jesus's point, because all of us at one point or another don't want the younger brother to show up.

The thing is, though -- when the younger brother does return, do we say, "Unforgiveable! You had your chance! Take your filthy self and leave!"

Or do we celebrate with the Father that the lost sibling has returned?

Maybe Jesus left this as an open ending on purpose. Who will welcome the younger brother home? Who will decide the younger brother isn't worthy?

And what does this mean for the church? Are you part of a church that rejoices at the sight of the lost child? Or are you part of a church that condemns him?

I have to tell you ... I'm happy to say that my church wants the younger sibling back.

As for those who condemn my church and others for accepting the LGBT community ... have you considered that you might be the "older brudder?"

Monday, May 30, 2011

I know who you are. 2 Cor 5:17, Chuck style.

My friend Brenda got me hooked onto the television series, "Chuck," and then she got me hooked on one particular quote:

"I know who you are."

Chuck says it to his love interest, Sarah Walker. If you follow the show, you know that Sarah has a past, that she's a spy ... and that Chuck sees her true sweet character throughout all of the facades she may play.

Brenda ties the quote to this verse in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"

I got to thinking about this today. I was flipping through a scrap book that my mother put together for me, and I found this photo from when I was 2.

Have you ever hit a time in life when you felt the Accuser was on your back, constantly?

It's amazing the types of messages you can get from other people -- even well-meaning people. In the past 2 weeks alone, I have been accused of being a bad parent, having religious "pride" (I was told that was my chief "sin") and being a hypocrite, a liar, a bully. I was accused of having a mountain of personal problems, because I had sinned and that God was punishing me for it.

Now ... when I hear things like that, I also have to think about people like my encouraging friend Brenda.

And I think about that verse.

We are new creations in Christ. The old is gone. The new has arrived! (And I love that Paul puts an exclamation point there, too!)

Who will condemn us? Who will accuse us?

Let me tell you something. When you're in a community of Christians and you hear words of condemnation like that, don't listen.

As a body of believers, we are to encourage each other, uphold each other, think the best of each other. We are to be Christ to each other.

Today, when I saw that photo of myself when I was 2, I realized something: This is how Jesus sees me. Innocent. Pure. Precious.


I'm His.

Yes, we do have sins in our lives, but Jesus forgives them. Yes, we're not perfect, but He who was Perfect was made sin for us, so that our perfection can be made complete.

We are new creations.

So the next time the Accuser comes knocking on your door, tell him this:

"Jesus tells me, 'I know who you are.' That's Chuck-style for 2 Corinthians 5:17. I'm a new creation, and I'm loved. Now get behind me."

Put on your Chuck game face. Remember who you ARE.

Because God isn't finished with you yet.

Friday, May 13, 2011

My Safe Place

Do you have a place where you run for solace? A place to commune and just be at peace with God?

This summer I decided to create my own special spot. Of course, we can talk to God anywhere. But sometimes it helps to have a place of refuge, where we know we'll curl up in the morning with a steaming cup of tea or coffee, open our Bibles and just ... sink in.

I made over my frumpy little car port into such a place, and I'm looking forward to the hot days and nights in my safe place. Click on the photo below to check it out.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Second-Guessing God's Goodness: The Conclusion

Conclusion of this story series ...

Let's face it. Bad things happen. Terrible things happen. And through all of it, all of us, even the strongest of believers, second-guess God's goodness.

I love the story of Lazarus's rise from death because of the complexity of reactions of the people affected by it. We can all see ourselves in at least one of these people.

Which one are you?

1) Thomas, the logical disciple: If you're a Thomas, you cling to the obvious. You may be loyal to Jesus on pain of death, but seeing past the small picture into the larger eternal one is a leap for you. You may feel like God allows bad things to happen, and you don't fault Him for it, but you also don't expect big things of Him, either. You're not going to get your hopes up that He'll rise to the occasion on your behalf. You're going to see the situation through, keep believing in God, but not believe enough that He will turn tragedy into victory.

2) Martha and Mary, the wounded sisters: If you're a Martha or a Mary, you ask the question, "If You loved me, why weren't You here to prevent this from happening?" You're mad at God, thinking that He ignored your plight, even though you've been faithful to Him. You don't understand why He'd sit silently by while a horrible thing occurred. And yet, when you do finally fall at His feet and weep, you sense His calm and love. Your heart turns towards Him. You believe in His goodness, and you trust that even in the blackest of days, God is working to bring good to your life again.

3) The Religious Leaders: If you're a Pharisee, you do a great job of faking faith. You put on a terrific show of loving God and being concerned for those in need. But when push comes to shove, you sincerely doubt God's goodness. When God does a miracle for you or in front of you, you easily dismiss it for a logical or scientific reason. In short, you're not going to believe in God for any reason. And you'll do anything you can to sow the seeds of doubt into the hearts of others.

And what is God's reaction to all of this?

Well, to know that, we have to look at what Jesus did.

1) He cried with those who were in pain. He didn't want them to have to go through any of it. But the fallen world brings along with it imperfections and evil -- and death. Man's sin brings bad things into men's lives. God won't prevent bad things from happening to you. But He will cry with you.

2) He felt anger at the situation. God is just as angry as you are at what has happened. In fact, He's angrier than you'll ever be. He knows more than any of us the cost. He gave His own Son to die on the cross so that we can live in a spirit of freedom. We can look at these tragedies in the face and say, "You will not defeat me, because God has defeated you." And God has. God defeated death. God defeated evil. God defeated sin. God doesn't prevent it from happening, no. But by Jesus's death on the cross, we can receive forgiveness for our sins, live in harmony and in trust and in love with God. And when this life is over, when we ourselves face death's grim face, death will not have power over us, just as it didn't over Lazarus. Our spirits will be raised to be with God in a place that is no longer touched by sorrow or pain.

3) He acted in spite of their unbelief. Even though some people were muttering against Him, saying He could have healed Lazarus, Jesus acted. Even though His closest friends doubted Him and asked where He'd been, Jesus acted. Even though His disciple Thomas gave a rousing show of support but fell short of expecting Jesus to do the impossible, Jesus acted.

In this case, Jesus brought the grave to its knees.

He brought a dead man back to life.

He turned mourning into dancing.

He proved He was God's Son.

And most of all, He demonstrated to all of us that even when we second-guess God's goodness, God loves us.

He loves us.

He loves us.

He loves us.

Do you get it, though?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Plot to Kill The Formerly Dead Guy

Part 9 in this story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

Now you can imagine that when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that had a serious effect on a lot of people who saw it happen. John, who writes the story, tells us that many people believed in Jesus that day.

Many people?

You mean, not all of them believed?

Logically, I would think that if I'd seen a dead guy walk out of a grave four days after being put in there, it would be enough for me to believe anything.

But guess what.

Some of those who were present high tailed it right back to Jesus's sworn enemies in Jerusalem. And when the chief priests heard about what happened, it set in motion their plans to kill Jesus. So Jesus withdrew until the Passover.

Now you know what happened at that Passover feast, right?

That happens to be Palm Sunday, when Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey, and many hailed Him as the Messiah.

Guess who else was there.

Yep -- Lazarus.

So .......... what do you think Jesus's enemies wanted to do with Lazarus? I mean, this guy was the proof in the pudding that Jesus was who He said He was -- the Son of God.

Yep: They made plans to assassinate Lazarus, too. They couldn't have that guy around! It would wreck everything for them!

Now let's look at this in more detail and how it pertains to us:

Has God ever done hand stands and back flips for you so that you'll believe? And when He does, do you recognize those things and sink your faith into Him more ... or do you look for excuses to kill the flicker of a flame of belief?

Here's the thing: There are people who, no matter what you say or do to share Jesus, will NEVER believe. NEVER. They will never believe. And you can't do anything about it. You know why? Because ultimately, it's between them and God. You can't force this.

When I was on Twitter trying to share my faith with atheists, I found that consistently they would say the same thing:

"If God is God, then why doesn't He grow an amputee's arm back? If I saw that, I'd believe in God."

My response always was, "What, raising Himself back from the dead isn't good enough for you?"

Because, listen.

God has already done the unthinkable -- the unimaginable. He resurrected Himself and conquered death. And we see from the story of Lazarus that even in that day -- EVEN PEOPLE WHO SAW IT HAPPEN -- did NOT believe.

So where does this leave us?

Tune in for the conclusion of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Asking the Unthinkable, Expecting the Impossible

Part 8 in the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

Jesus stood at the face of Lazarus's tomb and then said the most unthinkable thing anyone could have imagined.

"Take away the stone."


How could He? Did He want to go inside the grave and look at the friend who He should have snatched from the jaws of death? If He'd just shown up earlier, none of them would even BE here at this grave! And now He wanted them to take the stone away? Was He out of His mind? How inappropriate! How selfish! How self-abasing, to want to grieve next to the dead body that He should have made whole when the man was alive! Take away the stone? Who did He think He was, anyway, God?

Martha spoke up on behalf of the group. Surely they were all thinking those things, and yet she managed to try to speak ease into the uncomfortable situation by offering a practical observation:

"But Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."

"Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"

The words stung Martha and the entire crowd. And with that question, Jesus threw down the gauntlet between hearts of doubt and hearts of faith. But were the sisters willing to go that far? If they opened the grave and nothing happened, they'd be seen as foolish women following a false prophet whose only interest was in self-glorification. And yet ... were they willing to make their loyalty and friendship to Jesus even stronger, by placing faith that He'd do something good for them?

In short, did they really trust in God's goodness, or did they second-guess it?

They went for it. They moved the stone. In spite of Jesus asking the unthinkable, they did it. With that one action, they effectively were saying to him, "OK. You told us to do this, and we trust you, no matter what. You can do the impossible, and we expect the impossible."

Jesus prayed aloud.

"Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."

Then He paused and stared at the tomb, one which was extremely similar to that which He knew He'd be laid shortly.

No one moved. All eyes focused on Jesus as they waited for ... what, exactly? They were almost afraid to guess.

Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"

They heard a rustling from within the cave. Shuffling footsteps. Then they caught a glimpse of white linen as the head of a wrapped man bent underneath a low-hanging archway.

And Lazarus, wrapped in his grave clothes, some covering his face, walked out of the grave, four days after his death.

"Take off the grave clothes and let him go," Jesus said simply.

And yet.

After this miracle ... this unthinkable, impossible act of God Himself ... do you think it would be logical for all present to believe?

Yes, it would be.

But that isn't what happened.

Tune in for part 9 of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness."

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Naysayer Masqueraders

Part 7 of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

Jesus's tears provoked an interesting reaction.

Some of the religious leaders were touched. "See how He loved him!" they commented.

But then there were the others. I call them the "naysayer masqueraders." You know the type. These are the people who show up to offer you comfort in a difficult time but ever so conveniently whisper doubt in your ear about God's goodness.

They masquerade as well-intentioned, good-hearted souls. And I'm sure they think they fit that definition. But in reality, they're the ones who actually can spur your heart to mistrust and poison you with subtle, smooth words.

Their logic is powerful. They state the obvious. They don't sugarcoat what they're thinking. They offer their "wisdom" with concerned expressions, a hand on the small of the back and kind eyes.

But let's call this what it is.



These are the people who, when you are at your most vulnerable state, can with one sentence throw your whole relationship with God into a storm-fest of disbelief.

When the naysayer masqueraders saw Jesus crying at Lazarus's tomb, this is how they called it:

"Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Do you get it?

Look how logical that is.

Look how a statement like that could sneak into the side door of your heart and give you pause, causing you to slam the brakes on trust in the face of trauma.

What I love, though, is Jesus's reaction to this whole scene. What happened next cinches every situation in which you have reason to second-guess God's goodness.

Tune in for the next part of the story.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Understanding "Dakryo"

Part 6 in the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

Jesus wept.

It's the shortest verse in the entire Bible, yet it stands alone like a punctuated shout to the heavens.

Jesus wept.

After Mary, the second sister, falls to Jesus's feet in sorrow over her brother's death, something interesting happens.

Let's look at the scene.

Mary and the others with her -- the religious leaders who are there to "comfort" her -- cry. (I put "comfort" in quotes, because actually they are Jesus's sworn enemies.)

The original language says they were "Klaio" -- the Greek word for "wailing." Have you ever been to a funeral where wailing was taking place? Have you ever wailed in grief? Do you know the bitterness of soul, the anguish of spirit, that provokes the sound of a wail? I do. I've had black days. A loved one of mine once told me that during a season of my grief, my wails sounded like that of a wounded animal.



This is what was happening around Jesus and at Jesus's feet.

Were they wailing for lack of faith? Of course, the religious leaders who were there as spectators were wailing for the great drama it added to the scene. But we'll get to that tomorrow. Mary, on the other hand, wailed with the pain of a tortured child in spirit.

This provoked an interesting response in Jesus.

"He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled," says our modern English translation in the NIV in John 11:33.

But even that phrase doesn't do justice to Jesus's response. The word used in the original text for "deeply moved" was, "embrimaomai."

This was no simple emotion Jesus was feeling.

The translation of embrimaomai was used to describe "the snorting of animals" -- and as it pertained to humans -- anger. Not just any anger, though. Commentaries note that the real way to put this was that Jesus was "angry in spirit and very agitated."

In other words, He was pretty darn furious.

At what, though?

His good friend Mary, although she had imperfect faith, was in deep emotional distress. The wailing provoked embrimaomai -- not against Mary -- but against death itself. The evil of death -- the way that death robs us of those dearest to our hearts and minds and separates us from their presence -- provoked embrimaomai in Jesus. Sure, He could have been agitated at the fake Pharisees and their fake wailing. But the word, "embrimaomai," connotes a much deeper agitation than that. It speaks to Jesus's mission -- to conquer that (death) which ultimately separated man from God.

"Where have you laid him?" Jesus asked. "Come and see," they replied.

And here we see the famous verse:

"Jesus wept."

Here's the most fascinating part about the story, though. The translation for "wept" is NOT the same word used for the word, "wail." It's another word: DAKRYO.

And what was Dakryo?

It's sadness -- sadness triggered by empathy.

See ... Jesus knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead in a few moments and that all of this wailing would stop in a heartbeat. But He still felt their pain and sorrow.


He cried with them.

He longed to take all of this away from them, all of the pain they felt in the depths of their souls. He longed for death to no longer have power over mankind. And He knew that with His own death in a short time, that He would be the conquerer of death. After His own death, He knew that people would have an open invitation to come to God, to be reconciled, and to live eternally -- AND to be with one another again after each of them died!

This was pretty daggone glorious, if you ask me.

And yet ... Jesus wept.


Jesus cried because they were crying.

The most beautiful description I've found that relates to this scene is in C.S. Lewis's "The Silver Chair," part of his Chronicles of Narnia series. In the book, King Caspian has died. Lewis beautifully re-creates the scene of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus next.

Read it with me:

"Then they saw that they were once more on the Mountain of Aslan, high up above and beyond the end of that world in which Narnia lies. But the strange thing was that the funeral music for King Caspian still went on, though no one could tell where it came from. They were walking beside the stream and the Lion went before them: and he became so beautiful, and the music so despairing, that Jill did not know which of them it was that filled her eyes with tears.

"Then Aslan stopped, and the children looked into the stream. And there, on the golden gravel of the bed of the stream, lay King Caspian, dead, with the water flowing over him like liquid glass. His long white beard swayed in it like water-weed. And all three stood and wept. Even the Lion wept: great lion-tears, each tear more precious than the Eath would be if it was a single solid diamond."


But wait ... this story isn't over -- not by a long-shot. Tune in for part 7 of the series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

That Thing Women Do

Part five in the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

Women, you know the drill.

Something bad happens, and what's the first thing we do about it?

If you're like me, you pick up the phone, or you hit an Instant Message app, and you TALK. And you talk. And you talk. And you talk.

You analyze. You project. You decipher. You look for motives. You look for reasons. You look at behaviors. You examine yourself. You look for validity. You seek approval.

Now if the situation is really bad -- catastrophic, even -- what do you do?

You cry. You pass tissues. You hug. You console. You bemoan.

In short ... you don't let this thing go, and you'll talk to anyone -- ANYONE -- to understand what just happened in order to make yourself feel better about it.

Usually, if you're in a group of women, you'll hear everyone parrot the same phrases to you after a while. Before you know it, the entire group of gabbers has come to their save-the-friend conclusions, and everyone feels the same way about it, and everyone is giving the same assessment, and everyone is self-congratulating about how they each figured it out.

Now let's check out Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, Jesus's good friend who got sick and died.

They send word for Jesus to come. Jesus doesn't come. Lazarus dies.

Then Jesus shows up.

What each of them says to Jesus -- individually, and NOT in each other's hearing -- is really quite fascinating and telling.


John 11:21:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

OK. That was Martha. Now here comes Mary:

John 11:32

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (italics, mine.)

Do you see a PATTERN here?

I wasn't there, but this is my take on it:

Isn't it interesting how both of those women were together at their house with "concerned" friends, waiting for Jesus, and each of them, independently, says the EXACT SAME THING to Him when they first see Him?

The words are exactly the same!

Have you ever been in a situation where you're questioning God's goodness or reasons for something, and it becomes a group discussion? If you're a woman, what do you think happens? I'll tell you what has happened in my personal experiences:

The doubters have very loud voices. And they are extremely convincing. Think about it. Mary and Martha are Jesus's good friends! But the first thing out of their mouths -- is the exact statement of doubt!

What was going on in their house?

We know they were surrounded by the religious leaders of the day, who had supposedly shown up to comfort them. Isn't it interesting how those same people were Jesus's enemies? And isn't it also interesting that by the time the sisters had a chance to talk to Jesus, their words to Him were words of accusation?

How often do you do this?

How often, in situations of crisis, do you consult others and come away feeling like God let you down?

I'm going to tell you something very plainly: The Person you need to be going to ... is God. Yes, it's fine for us to get support and prayer from other believers. But be careful. When your heart is in a vulnerable state, that window of opportunity arises for doubt to grab it in a vise. Before you know it, you're forgetting all of the good things God has done for you in the past.

And your words to Him are ... "If you had been here, this wouldn't have happened."

God is there.

God is with you.

God cares that you're crying.

And in part 6 of the tale, you'll see just how much Jesus cared about His friends. Tune in.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Back at the Ranch ...

Part 4 of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

Back in Bethany, another drama was unfolding that would give Jesus a human reasonable doubt to rush to Lazarus.

See ... by this time, news of the sickness of Jesus's good friend had spread to Jerusalem. And who, of course, had shown up to "comfort" the sisters?

You got it -- Jesus's enemies.

In John's Gospel, they're commonly referred to as, "The Jews." This was the coin phrase for the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees.

We know at least one thing about Lazarus and his sisters. They were rich. How do we derive that? Because Lazarus was buried in a tomb, carved out of the side of a rock. Only wealthy people were buried in places like that, historians and archeologists tell us.

Now recently, historians have taken a bold step to voice yet another theory about Lazarus, Mary and Martha: They were from good stock. Super good stock.

In other words, their family was intricately linked to the religious leaders of Jerusalem. In the book, "The Mystery of the Beloved Disciple: New Evidence, Complete Answer" author Frederick Baltz asserts that Lazarus was "Eleazar son of Boethus, a former High Priest." Josephus names this same Eleazar. And, Rabbinic literature says that this Eleazar had two sisters: Martha and Miriam (another name used for Mary). The theory, then, is that Lazarus was not only seen as a pawn (being a good friend of Jesus) -- but he also was from the families of Israel's elite. Are you getting the full picture here?


Lazarus dies.

Jesus shows up.

And then ... all hell breaks loose.


Tune in for Part 5 of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness."

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Direct Disciple

Part 3 of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

You've known people like this. Maybe you're one of them. They're direct. They don't mince words. They call a situation the second they see it and give you a head-on, factual analysis of it, devoid of emotion. You ask them for advice, and they'll break down the picture in a very logical way, so that you can see your pros and cons and hang your feelings on the shelf to make a calculated decision.

Tom was that way.

Tom. No-nonsense Tom, who thought through everything and went with the straight-up facts.

Tom had another quality. He was intensely loyal. He took Jesus at His word, that if you loved someone, you'd be willing to lay your life down for them. That seemed to make sense to No-nonsense Tom. Back up your words with your actions. Be there for the dude. Set your face like flint and go with your loyalty, even if the facts show you that the situation is potentially dangerous.

Most people, when they think of Tom, remember him in an unflattering light. His unfortunate nickname has stuck to him like rubber cement for 2,000 years:

"Doubting Thomas."

That's another story.

But in this account of Lazarus's sickness and death, Tom is the one disciple who lays it on the line.

Jesus had just informed the group that Lazarus was dead, and that He was glad they weren't at Lazarus's bedside when the death occurred. But the death was necessary so that a greater purpose could be achieved.

All of this went over everyone's heads (of course). What the heck did Jesus mean, that a death could be a good thing? Where was God's goodness in all of that?

But even in the face of it, even as Jesus decided to go to Bethany into the lion's den of people who wanted to rip Him to pieces, Tom stepped up to the challenge.

I always see him in my mind's eye as a serious guy with a strong jaw and quiet but forceful voice when he uttered these words:

"Let us also go, that we may die with Him."

Poor Tom.

His heart was so right, in that he was willing to stay next to Jesus's side, even if it meant he could be stoned with Him.

But he missed the whole point.

Jesus wasn't in danger.

Not yet.

Jesus's time still hadn't come. And Tom would have a long way to go before he realized that after Jesus suffered the ultimate humiliation known to man, His death had a purpose that Tom could barely fathom.

We can learn a lot from Tom's words about this situation that Jesus was walking into and how people viewed it. The disciples had to figure He was nuts to head to Bethany, especially because Lazarus was beyond healing now.

For No-Nonsense Tom, the practicality and logic of Jesus's decision had to be driving him crazy with frustration.

And even so ... he was willing to stick to Jesus. If anyone was questioning God's goodness, it had to have been Tom. Why would God allow Jesus to make such a rash decision? Why would Jesus go along with it? He was needed to rescue Israel! He was the promised One! What in the world was going on in His mind?

Tom went along with it, despite how illogical it must have seemed to him.

No-nonsense Tom.

He and all of his no-nonsense were about to get knocked for a loop.

So was the entire nation of Israel.

What happens next? Tune in for part 4 of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Dicey Drama Before Lazarus Got Sick

Part 2 of the story series, "Questioning God's Goodness ...."

When Mary and Martha sent Jesus the message that their brother was sick, they and everyone else knew the practical human reasons why Jesus might not show up.

It all had to do with a dicey little incident in Jerusalem ... at Hanukkah, or, as people called it, "The Feast of Dedication."

"It was winter," recalls John, the disciple Jesus loved. "Jesus was in the Temple Courts walking in Solomon's Colonnade."

What happened next must have shaken John and the rest of the disciples to the core. Things got absolutely violent. Yes, violent.

Violence, right there in the Temple, during the holiday of the Festival of Lights. Imagine it. John tells a chilling story of brutality that all started with one question: "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly."

Now read John's account of what happened ... see him in your mind's eye as if he's telling you the story over coffee at your kitchen table. He wrote it for you to get the full picture of what Jesus was facing. Two-thousand years later, his words still ring with a harbinger of dread that he and the other disciples must have felt acutely.

Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one."

Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods?”’If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed, and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus.

What in the world?

Stoning Jesus?

In the Temple Courts?

So of course, we see another reason behind the simplicity of Mary's and Martha's message, "Lord, the one you love is sick."

The girls knew full well that if Jesus put one toe into their neighborhood, people were waiting to pounce. They knew He' be risking His life to show up. Perhaps they felt it was enough to let Him know the circumstance. Perhaps they had enough faith that He could stay where He was, speak one word from where He was, and their brother would get better.

Or ... perhaps they had enough faith as well to know that if God protected Jesus from being stoned, it was a no-brainer that God would also envelope Him if He traveled to Lazarus's bedside.

The bottom line is, everyone in Israel by this time knew that Jesus was staying away from Jerusalem and the burbs around it, including Bethany, for good reason.

When He didn't show up, even though it was heartbreaking for the sisters, they had to have known the human logic of the why.

That said, if "the one you love is sick" then died, they must have faced the question that all of us do when bad things happen to us and to those we love:

"Why did God let this happen? Is God really good? Does God really love me?"

Tune in for part 3 of the story series.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Mystery of Lazarus

Part one of this story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness ..."

We don't know much about him.

We know he had two sisters.

We know he lived in a little town about two miles away from Jerusalem.

We know he was well-connected to Israel's leaders. (More on that later.)

We know he played host to Jesus and His disciples at his home.

But other than that ... there isn't much to go on about the man named Lazarus.

Except for one thing, and it actually holds the key to the entire mystery of who Lazarus was. It's just one line in John 11:3.

"Lord, the one you love is sick."

The one He loves.

Do you notice what's lacking in that statement? How about this?

"Lord, the one you love is sick, and we need you to heal him."

Or this?

"Lord, the one you love is sick, and we don't want him to die. It wouldn't be fair."

Or this?

"Lord, the one you love is sick. You've healed so many other people. He's your good friend. If anyone deserves to be healed more than anyone else, you know he does."

There's no expectation in that statement. It just is. It just hangs there, saying everything in seven words.

"Lord, the one you love is sick."

When you know someone well -- really well -- not much has to be said, does it? Ever visit someone in the hospital who you know well versus someone you don't know well at all? I have. There's a huge difference in the dynamic. When I don't know someone well, I find that a lot of words pass between people. A lot of explanation is given. A lot of pleasantries between family members occur. A lot of, "Thanks for coming," is offered, and a lot of polite nods and smiles are exchanged.

When I visit someone I know well -- a very good friend -- there isn't much of a need for any of that. The one I love is sick. Nothing else has to be said. The one I love is sick. I just am there. I just am present. I just am available, whether the family wants to talk, or the family wants to be silent. I am sensitive to whether the friend can take conversation or just needs a whispered prayer and then to be left quickly to rest. There is no pretense, no blustering, no overtures.

The one I love is sick. It's just enough for me to know it and be there with them.

"Lord, the one you love is sick."

When the sisters of Lazarus sent that message, they didn't need to say anything else. They and their brother were so close to Jesus -- so close -- that they knew He'd know what to do. They didn't demand anything. They didn't request anything. They just trusted Him with the information.

And in those seven words, we know more about Lazarus than any archaeological dig could tell us.

We know Jesus loved him, that they were very good friends. That alone should have set the stage for Jesus to rush to Lazarus's bedside, to comfort the women, to speak words of healing and make all right as rain again.

But it didn't happen.

Jesus stayed put, right where He was.

Lazarus died.

And to Mary and Martha, the silence must have been worse than their brother's death.

Jesus didn't respond.

Jesus didn't come to them.

The one Jesus loved had died.

And Jesus wasn't even there.

What would you have felt?

Tune in for part 2 of the story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Second-Guessing God's Goodness

When I debated atheists on Twitter, I was always amazed at one thing they consistently did, usually without even realizing it:

Rather than address the question of the existence of God, instead they questioned His character.

In fact, it was so rare that someone would actually bring up God's existence, that I had to question the person to whom I was speaking about whether they actually were an atheist.

"God hates you," one would say.

"God isn't good. He's evil," another would chime.

"God doesn't care about me," would say a third.

On and on. And on.

I found that if I started using the phrases, "God is love," or, "God loves you," I'd receive a vitriol of anger-filled comments. People didn't get angry if I said I believed in God. But mention to them that God loved them? Wow. Get ready for the fight of your life.

I bring this up because I was reminded today about a story in which God's love was questioned -- even by those who were closest to Jesus.

So tune in tomorrow for the beginning of the new story series, "Second-Guessing God's Goodness." See you then.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

That Girl from Abu Ghraib

If I say to you, "You know! That girl from Abu Ghraib," would you see her face in your mind's eye?

Maybe you'd picture the sullen official Army photo, lifeless eyes, thin lips, full cheeks. Serious. Chilling.

Maybe you'd envision that horrific shot of a naked man curled up in a fetal position, his neck collared, his head turned away from the young woman holding a leash to which he is tethered.

Or, maybe you'd see in your mind's eye the photograph of a pyramid of stripped men, a girl standing behind them, giving a thumbs up to the camera with one arm, the other draped around another smiling prison guard.

But when someone says to me, "That girl from Abu Ghraib," I see the woman I ran into at the Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in spring twilight of 2004.

She was pregnant.

When I was a military spouse at Fort Bragg, I used to joke that Womack was my second home. That's because I was there all of the time. I had a pretty bad pregnancy that required physician visits every one to two weeks. And for at least a year after Neil was born, I had to keep up with regular checkups for different reasons. During one of these visits, I'd been at the hospital for three hours for lab work and other tests. I had one more stop to make before I could go home -- my primary physician on the first floor.

It was 6 p.m.

The hospital was devoid of activity by now, as most people had completed their health visits. Those of us who were left were either inbound patients or people like me -- the problem cases requiring more attention.

I was sitting in an empty waiting room when she walked in. I was flipping through a magazine I'd brought along and instinctively looked up when I heard the door push open. The soldier was wearing a maternity uniform, and I just saw her back as she checked in at the counter. An older woman with her, obviously her mother, sat down opposite to me. We made eye contact and exchanged brief acknowledgement smiles.

Then the soldier turned to sit down, and I was immediately transfixed with recognition.

She didn't make eye contact. She sat down next to her mother, who whispered something, and then they both continued their conversation in hushed tones.

Have you ever thought to yourself, "What would I do if I ever met someone like Hitler on the street?" I think about things like that at times. I always thought I'd walk up to a person like that and give them a tongue lashing, then strike them as hard as I could. And yes, in my mind's eye, at the time I compared that young woman to the likes of Hitler or to his Nazi concentration camp guards.

But as I sat there, actually in that situation I'd imagined with history's criminals, I was amazed at the wash of emotions.

I felt sick.

I felt angry.

I felt afraid.

I felt revulsion.

I felt anxiety.

I felt condemnation.

Then I felt other things.

I felt pity.

I felt sadness.

I felt concern.

And, most surprisingly, I felt love.

No, I didn't feel love as you'd imagine, but a sense of God's love, tapping me on the shoulder with gentle persistence.

"I died for her, too, you know," I heard Him say to my heart. "I died for her, too."

The inward struggle to say something to her -- to tell her how her actions had shamed those of American patriots and our country -- to instruct her on human rights -- to be her moral superior -- was overwhelming.

And at the same time, I yearned to walk across the waiting room to her, sit next to her, introduce myself and ask her if I could pray with her.

I'd like to tell you that I did the latter.

But in the end ... the door to the examination rooms opened, and a nurse called my name.

The moment had passed. I walked through to see my doctor, and Spc. Lynndie England passed out of my life in that eye flick, without even a word or a smile between us.

I often think back to those few seconds, which felt like a lifetime. What was the proper response?

I can tell you what it would not have been -- it would not have involved my dream to slap her silly. But I also wonder, what would she have said or done if I'd told her I'd pray for her or that God loved her? Would she have listened? Would she have been appreciative or accepting of my words? Or would I have aggravated and come off as the Saturday Night Live Church Lady?

I took something out of that encounter, though, something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Jesus died for her, too.

He loves her, too.

And because we're all sinners, none of us have the right to condemn another person. We're all culpable for our own sins, public and hidden.

If I had to do it over again, I would have offered Lynndie my hand. She was obviously there for an appointment when no one else would be in the hospital. She was a pariah. And it looked to me that the only person who was her friend ... was her mother.

Who needs God's love more than someone like that?

So next time you give thought to the atrocities of the war, your political enemies, your nemesis at the office or your family member who drives you to drink ... remember Lynndie England.

She -- and they -- have God's grace if they want to ask for it.

And you do as well.