March 19, 2015

Lent - Static and Change


The journey of faith reminds me of an old radio. There are periods of silence, a quiet stillness, and a deafening lack of noise. Are you there, God? Can you hear me? Is this thing on?

Then there is the static. Turn the station, wrong channel, white noise static. Where are you God? Why am I here? Can you hear me?

Then at last,  just like the channel that finally clicks into place, there is the music. Soothing, calm, clear. Perfect harmony. Perfect faith. The mountaintops of our Christian walks and the melodies we try to remember when all we hear is static. This is beautiful, God. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.


I live in the static more than anything else. The noise, the clutter, the constant knowledge that I’m not there yet. A frustrating place of trying to find the perfect channel, trying to hear God clearly, and knowing that I’m botching up the whole process again and again…and again.

When my pastor approached me and asked if I would write a few posts for the season of Lent, I was thrilled. Followed shortly by the massive knowledge that I don’t know what to say. Living in the static is a hard place to hear God. Living in the static is a hard place to want to worship, want to sacrifice, want to say something worthwhile.

For those who know me well, I am a closet poetry junkie. I devour old English like it’s my lifeblood. With that being said, John Donne is one of my literary heroes. He wrote a poem called “Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward”, which, if you’ll indulge me, ends with these words: 

Oh Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;
I turne my back to Thee, but to receive
Corrections, till Thy mercies bid thee leave
O thinke me worth Thine anger; punish mee,
Burne off my rusts and my deformity,
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou may’st know me, and I’ll turn my face    

Over 400 years ago a man wrote words that resonate with my heart and with my faith to this very day. I pray and cry for change, “I’ll take the pain, God, if only to look more like you.” I long for the old me to be so burned away that only the image of Jesus reflects off my face. There are periods of my faith, in the static, when I feel the rust burning and instead of feeling a euphoric sense of relief… it is so painful. I cry out, “God, where are you? This hurts! This is terrible. Maybe I don’t want this after all.”



This is my static. This is my Lent. This is why the words come rough and my heart aches as I type away on this keyboard. Because how do I have something to say when I don’t want to hear what Jesus is saying to me? How can I teach when I don’t want to learn? How can I grow when I refuse to change the radio station?

Static.

Is change possible when we live in the static? Through the lens of marriage, I see where I need to change to better my relationship with my husband. Through the lens of faith, I see just how desperately I need to change to better glorify God.

But God, it’s hard.

My entire life has been a culmination of events, set patterns, habits, and moments that have created the person I am today. The triggers, the pet peeves, the less-than-Instagram worthy fits of frustration. How do I push those aside? How do I become the best version of me when I am so comfortable in this skin I wear. How do I change, when I can’t even commit to 40 days without sugar?

If Lent is a short-term change, one I struggle with; do I really believe that God can change me for the long-term?

Even more convicting: do I really believe that God can change other people for the long-term? The abuser. The addict. The gossip. The bully. The people I hold at a distance because it hurts too much to let them too close. I give God a lot of credit, He can do great things, but when it comes to people…I’ll take a moment to be real and say, “Ehhh, the track record isn’t the best.” Because people fail. They choose not to be changed. They reject the promises of God and choose harder roads. And we blame God when people fail. Doubt creeps into the picture when humanity stumbles and with all honesty, we question, “Can God really redeem a picture like this?”


_

Sometimes, in writing, I dig holes I don’t know how to get out of. For three days now I have come back to this question over and over again. Can God really redeem a picture like this? My heart says yes, but I have no words to sooth over the message. I have no idea how or why. I want to say no.

Static.

Can God really redeem a picture like this?

The sin, the depravity of mankind, the crime, the heartache, the violence. We live in a world of social unjustness, racism, sexism, impurity, and utter darkness. Why would anyone want to save a picture like this?

In the static, I cry out over and over again, “Change this channel, God. Let us hear You better.”

Through the static, it is clear to anyone who listens: God has created the music if only we have the ears to hear. He renews the tired hearts. He comforts those who mourn. He transforms humanity by the renewing of their minds. God redeems, over and over again, He redeems.

We all know that one person who has changed dramatically. The bully who now asks for forgiveness. The substance abuser who now leads groups in recovery. That one person who broke your heart time and time again...but now they’re trying to heal it. The before and after’s we often get to witness are enough for me to say, “God can redeem.” It is painful, it can take a long time, but it is not impossible. I have seen the goodness of the Lord, and it is incomprehensible.

I used to think that I could never understand why people don’t change. Why the abuser keeps abusing. Why the addict never stops. Why mankind doesn’t get their act together. Why God doesn’t fix it right here, right now. But then I think of myself, and the painfully slow process of transformation. We have been offered redemption, but we have to choose it. This journey is not a one-sided process on the behalf of God. He requires us to die to our old selves to live in Christ. Change is possible, but it is a daily commitment.

The static cuts in and out. This journey is stuttered, fragmented, and frustrating. This growth is painful. I don’t want to be more patient, forgiving, or more understanding.  But the music is playing, just one station over. A few notes cut through the chaos of the static, “Be kind. Forgive. Be understanding.”

So I try, and for a minute, I hear music.

The static may begin again, but for a brief moment in time, the music of Heaven cut through and my heart changed. Soon, the moments will stack on top of each other one by one. Until one day, I will wake up to a new station, a new test of faith, and new static. Even then, when I will have come so far from who I am now, I know that softly, gently, the process will continue, “Change.” 

We worship a God who does not change. We worship a God who transforms his people and equips us to become who we were created to be.


It is safe to be faithful to a faithful God. It is safe to change.

February 24, 2015

Lent – A Season of Revealing


The mirror shines, freshly cleaned, Windex sitting on the nearby counter. Polished to a perfect gleam, I see me.

Sleepy eyed, messy morning hair, not-yet brushed teeth. Glancing quickly back to the sink, I pull out the toothpaste, the comb, the makeup. Without a second glance at that messy reflection, I primp and prod until the reflection reveals a more suitable image. The dark under-eye bags, the blemishes, the frizzy hair…they all disappear.

Day after day, morning after morning, the mirror reveals an image only to me...and I change and tweak what I want the world to see before I take a single step out the door. 

Welcome to Lent.

Lent is a strange season. We approach Ash Wednesday with somber hearts, motivated to perform and anxious for God to reveal Himself in some new way. Often, when our resolve is true, we are amazed and rejuvenated 40 days later. Even more frequently, we struggle to maintain a sense of depth only days after the ashen cross is rubbed across our foreheads. How easily we forget to be somber when distractions flicker across our lives. How quickly we push aside this strange season of reflection, because in all honesty: Lent gets uncomfortable. So shortly after we’ve all made our New Year’s Resolutions, suddenly the Christian calendar throws us for another loop. “Give something up.” “Give something back.” “Find God.” Do this, do that, be better, grow spiritually.

In the hard moments of life, in the periods of spiritual drought, when prayer is hard and knowing God is harder, finding Him in Lent feels impossible. Does the church not know we’re tired? We’re busy? We want God but…how? How do we embrace this season of vulnerability when we’re still pretending we have it all together? How do we surrender control, let God work in our lives, and approach Easter refreshed and humbled, when we hide behind the façade we slather on every morning? How can we be changed if we won’t be revealed?

Gently, quietly, we are called to come before the cross and let go of all the masks we hold over our faces. Let go of the idea that we need to hold it all together. Let go of the show we put on every morning. Let go of the secrets we hold close to our hearts. The season of Lent is a season where God seems to reach out to us and whisper, “Let’s get real.”  

We’re on-stage and the show is running, we’re at work with deadlines and co-workers; we’re in church with burdens on our backs and smiles on our faces… and we need to stop pretending, be vulnerable, and be honest. Trying to fast in the season of Lent while still wearing a mask is nearly impossible. As we prepare for Easter, mourning the death of Christ and celebrating His resurrection, we need to open our hearts to His word and His redemption. Here, in this moment, He asks us to let everything else go and let Him be our Savior.

You see, God sees us: just as we are in this very moment. He has seen the darkness that resides in humanity and He has called us his beloved. He knows the hidden sins, the hearts that hurt, the choices that destroy, and He still chooses to reach out to us in love and faithfulness. When our hearts choose lesser gods, His heart breaks. When we say no, He says, “I love you.” When we turn our backs, He waits patiently. When we hide behind our masks, He gently pulls them away and says, “You are chosen.”  

As we embrace Lent, we remember that Jesus sees through the show. He sees beneath the masks we wear, the sins, the secrets…He sees us in all of our dirt and depravity and He invites us to join Him regardless. No matter how hard we try to cover up our mistakes, our shortcomings, and our regrets, He loves us beyond measure. No matter how hard we try, no matter what we choose to reveal to the outside world, He sees us. When we embrace this raw honesty, this terrifying vulnerability, we invite Him to work amid the brokenness and reveal a picture cleaner than we could ever have imagined. 

Lent is a season of revealing. The One who loves us most is gently asking us to get real and let Him work in our brokenness. As we journey through Lent, this remarkable and often difficult journey, let us approach each day with a renewed sense of honesty. Only when we approach the cross with humility and raw vulnerability do we truly begin to see just how magnificent God’s grace is in our lives.

The mirror shines, freshly cleaned, Windex sitting on the nearby counter. Polished to a perfect gleam, I see us. The church.

Christ-followers, lovers of Jesus, the people of God. We have been challenged; we are standing before the mirror of Lent and taking this season one day at a time. As the mirror glistens, daily, we must ask ourselves… will we allow God to be revealed in the midst of our brokenness?


Welcome to Lent.    

February 17, 2015

Ft. Myers Beach, Florida – Top 5 (See/Eat/Do)


 





There are magical moments in life when a split second decision brings you joy, pleasure, and sand in your shoes. Weekend getaways, especially semi-spontaneous ones, are filled to the brim with this sort of magic.

When I saw Spirit airlines offering $89 flights to Ft. Myers, Florida, I couldn’t resist. My beloved husband’s Christmas gift quickly became a weekend getaway in January. Except, I caved and told him before Christmas. Also, we took two days off work, so it wasn’t a strictly “weekend” getaway. Regardless, it was wonderful.

(For reference, Ft. Myers and Sanibel Island are ridiculously close to each other. Our weekend was spent hopping between the two of them.)

As a kid my family vacationed to Sanibel Island semi-frequently. I knew the sea-shell filled beaches and I have fond memories of the Rainforest Café…pre-hurricane Charley.  Post-hurricane Charley, Sanibel Island remained unknown in my life, although I planned this trip with the confidence that Florida had recovered in the 10+ years since Charley has hit. With blurry memories of Sanibel Island, and no memories whatsoever of Ft. Myers Beach, we packed one bag (Spirit does catch you on the baggage fees if you’re not careful!) and set sail for a bargain weekend and some exploration. Florida has indeed recovered, quite well.



Where we stayed: I love boutique hotels. I love good deals. I will dig till kingdom come to find the best deal possible. To save a few pennies, we stayed in Ft. Myers Beach instead of Sanibel. Ft. Myers Beach is perhaps a tad more “spring-breakish”, but nothing ridiculous in the month of January. There were some great hotel deals inland a bit, but one of our musts was a beach-front hotel. We were willing to splurge. I found a little gem called the Flamingo Inn in a King Standard room for around $120 a night. This was definitely the best deal I could find during MLK weekend. The hotel was quaint, I would recommend it if you’re looking for an out-of-the-way local spot. Clean and simple, it had a living room with a mini-kitchen and a separate bedroom. The bed was small, but clean, and overall I’d rate this a 3-star hotel. For the price, it was perfect. And the beach was just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

What we drove: Hello rental car upgrades! This baby was ours for a few days via Dollar, and Blake may have shed a few tears when he said goodbye. I originally booked our rental car for, get this, $12 per day via Travelocity. We paid a reasonable fee for this upgrade, and it was worth every penny.


What we ate: Only local foods! Our travel rule of thumb is to never eat chain restaurants unless they’re not available where we live (I’m looking at you In-N-Out), or if it’s a dire hangry situation.

Without further ado, here is my humble guide to some of our favorite things to do, see, and eat if you find yourself buying a cheap ticket to Ft. Myers Beach/Sanibel Island.

1.    Do: Play Mini Golf



It’s no surprise that this area is fairly touristy. I lived in Florida once upon a time and I know Florida well, so just this once, I was okay feeling just slightly like a tourist (excuse me as I go hide my face in shame.) Which leads me to this observation, tourists play mini-golf on vacation. Go be a tourist. Visit Jungle Golf and try to find all of the hidden items or get a hole in one and win a free round. For the golf-lovers (cough – Blake – cough) and the happy-go-lucky put-putters (me), this is the way to spend the evenings. We might have played mini-golf every night we were there. We also might have gone to nice beachfront restaurants and then hurried over to the mini-golf course to play away while wearing nice clothes.  We might have won a free round. The tourist in me will never tell.

2.    Eat: Z Crepes Café









How highly can I sing their praises? Drive through the business district of Ft. Myers to the Butterfly Estates (a big name for a small section of local shops) and feast upon this glorious food. We ordered cheese puffs as an appetizer, followed by the signature homemade puree of French onion crème soup, then our entrees of a ham & cheese crepe omelet (Blake) and savory shrimp served with rosemary cream sauce (yours truly). Goodness gracious my mouth is watering just thinking about this meal. We would have ordered dessert if our stomachs had allowed. Also, the service was phenomenal. During our visit there was an undisclosed accident in the kitchen, and we were told that our food would take longer then normal. Our waiter brought out the soups on the house and offered to buy us drinks as well. We declined the drinks and gobbled down the soup. The wait was honestly not that long, so we did not feel inconvenienced at all. But to top it off, when the check came our server only charged us for the appetizer and one entrée, claiming, “We want you to remember us fondly.” Oh my, Z Crepes Café, you will always be in our fondest memories.






Note: Plan this excursion on the same day as Z Crepes Café, they are minutes apart from each other. 

For the history lovers in the group, or the house lovers, or the invention lovers, or anyone else who likes to soak in the local story…this is a must. We loved touring the Ford and Edison grounds, which are beautifully kept and preserved. From Edison’s workshop to the humorous guesthouse rules, this was $20 per/person well spent.


4.    Do: Rent Bikes        

When visiting Sanibel Island, renting bikes is a must. Billy’s Bike Shop has good reviews, but after a brunch at the Over Easy Café, we were closer to Finnimore’s Cycle Shop. Finnimore’s did seem a little bit more sketchy (shall we say), but the bikes worked and the pricing was great, so no complaints. We rented two 6-speed bikes for 4 hours at $22 dollars total. The prices decrease the longer you have the bikes. Our path took us up to the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Reserve (normally $1 for cyclists, free on MLK Day). This was a lovely scenic ride, complete with one roadside alligator chilling in the swamp. We kept pedaling. It’s worth mentioning, but a short ride further up the road will take you to Captiva Island, where we stopped and spent the afternoon on the white beaches.


5.    Eat: The Royal Scoop, Cheeburger Cheeburger, and the Over Easy Café.

Like I previously mentioned, we like to dine local. While we ate some fancy dinners and gorged ourselves in seafood, nothing quite compared to these local joints. The Royal Scoop’s ice cream is heavenly and Cheeburger Cheeburger has outtathisworld burgers and shakes. Lastly, the Over Easy Café is busy, we waited 30 minutes, but the orange breakfast rolls are heavenly. So is the orange juice. And the pancakes. And the breakfast skillets. And…I think it’s time to book another flight…






_

Our trip was too fast, sunny, and wonderful. We are coastal hearts and saltwater lovers, so this reprieve from our land-locked home was much needed. After living in Belize last year, we have struggled to find contentment in a place far from the crystal Caribbean waters and warm trade winds. While it is good to be where we are, and we feel strongly like we are where we need to be for the moment, vacations help clear the mind and refresh the spirit.

Oh, and I am a little embarrassed to mention this, but we may have driven 3 hours to Orlando just to walk around the Disney boardwalk, get ice cream from Beaches and Cream, and watch the Epcot fireworks from the bridge. When I was a cast member, this was one of my favorite things to do…so Blake spoke my love language when he suggested this mini-adventure. Be still my (Disney-loving) heart. 

If you get a chance, like a cheap plane ticket and an extra day off work, I highly recommend running away for a weekend. Now tell me, what are you favorite getaway spots?





We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came. – John F. Kennedy