On The Fringe

My friend Kay has a way of bringing my crazy brain into perspective.  I love that she can hear my words and unearth my heart in a way I hadn’t realized.  All with a Jesus perspective.

We were talking today about her recent weekend with a friend.  After they had spent the day and evening together with their families, her friend said “I’m glad you invited me to join you today because I know I’m not part of that social group” referring to a group of folks with whom they both serve.

My girl Kay is a popular chica and doesn’t seem to know it. Everyone wants to be around her, spend time with her, and get loved up by her.  Oddly, Kay doesn’t see it that way.  She doesn’t see that Jesus exudes from her pores, laugh and smile. Of course she doesn’t feel like that, she is human.  She thinks that she isn’t in the popular crowd and is on the fringe, too.  I was shocked at that because I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t know her or has a bad word to speak about her. We should all be so lucky, right?

When we started our conversation, it morphed (as it always seems to do) into my feelings on friends, acquaintances and women who barely tolerate me.  I could relate to her friend intensely.

I have had a perceived friend famine for the past four years.  A group of girls I’ve known for decades stopped calling, stopped inviting me to things, and stopped having anything to do with me.  The reasons were all different but vague. Life got in the way, they were going through things, I had just remarried and had a baby, I couldn’t relate to where they were in life. It all hurt.  At the same time, my siblings stopped talking to me over a really small thing between my sister and me. I had been dealing with serious health issues after my youngest daughter’s birth. To top it all off, nineteen loved ones on both sides, friends and family, had passed away that first year of our marriage.

My hurts got in the way of seeing others positively. All I could do was walk around on my bottom lip and trip on my chin.  I cried the loss of so much.  I had never really been without friends since the year I had learned to make them as an adult. I felt so lost and alone.

Four long years of loss in almost every aspect of life is a hard thing to bear. I knew I wasn’t alone and wrestled with God over all of it. I knew He had a purpose for all of it, I just didn’t know what it was and couldn’t see it.

I repelled people with my sadness. I lamented over my friendlessness. I didn’t realize I was making it worse. Kay and I even talked about it so many times that I didn’t realize just how repetitive I had become. She constantly and lovingly reminded me that I was loved, my worth didn’t come from people and that God loved me unconditionally.

No one intends to inflict those negative emotions on anyone else. But it happens all of the time.  Those “popular” girls at school that you so badly wanted to hang with are now at your church in Bible Study, serving on a team with kids or ministry.  They seem so happy, close, and shiny.  You feel so small, unwanted, disliked, less than.

That is how I felt almost all the time, everywhere I went.  I was either 10-15 years older than the girls in one group or 15-20 years younger than the ladies in a class.  Our kids’ ages and stages weren’t in sync. We had little in common with the age gap.  Either way, I couldn’t seem to find any similarities. Until I looked at our hearts.

When I looked at those ladies deep within, I saw the same insecurities, hurts, fears and longing to be loved.  Did you know that below the dermis layers, we are all so much the exact same?

Our relationship with God is the only thing meant for us to fill that hole, longing to be loved, accepted, and unconditionally loved.  We cannot fill it looking to the ladies to the left or right.

Yes, we long for friendship and camaraderie with our sisters in Christ.  It is acceptable and necessary to make those connections for our mental well-being. But they won’t hold up unless we pursue our personal relationship with God first.

It’s hard to be on the friendship fringe, especially if you already feel emotionally less than those around you. But when you stop to see all of the people God has placed in your life that love you with His heart the perceived hurts of exclusion disappear.  Love wins every time.

As my friend Kay consistently points out, we have laughed, cried and prayed on her porch during every one of those friendship famine years.  She has been there when no one else knew to be and she obeyed God when He put me on her heart to call, pray or visit.

This chat was no different.  As she recounted the conversation with her friend, she had felt the enormity of her friend’s feelings.  I felt the “A-Ha” moment.  She felt exactly how I had felt.  Left out, marginalized, on the fringe. Kay reminded me again that I do have friends, people who really like me for who I am. I told her that I just couldn’t seem to see the forest for the trees.  She thought I said I couldn’t “see the force behind the truth.”

When she misheard what I had said, I realized that the Holy Spirit was at work in a might way between us. I couldn’t see the multitude of people she knew who liked me, I could only see the ones whom I knew openly disliked me.  Her incorrect reiteration of my initial statement was more the truth than what I had intended. I couldn’t “see the force behind the truth”.

It is about quality, not quantity. It is about accepting God’s love first and receiving the Godly love given to us from the ones who call us friend.  It only takes one or two people, not a whole gaggle.  God’s love is more than enough if we will only receive it.

Look at the lady next to you who isn’t your close friend. Do you see her? Really see her?  Her hurts look just like yours except they are wearing different clothes.  Take the time to listen to her, even if she isn’t your cup of tea.  Allow yourself to be unrushed in the conversation.  Ask her to join you for a cup of hot liquid and a chat.  Include her in the inside joke.

You may not become bosom buddies and that’s ok. But you will show her Jesus’ unconditional love in those moments of unfettered attention.  That may be all she needs to feel His love through you.

I’m so glad my girl Kay invited her new friend to a day of fun last weekend. And I’m so grateful that she included me through our conversation.  Her new pal and I were sitting at the cool table the whole time and didn’t even know it.  Jesus has room for all of us, we just need to keep passing the invitation on to the next gal.

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Holy Hands

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Our hands are worker bees, did you know that? Regardless of our life role, hands make life happen.  They wash you, dress you, pick up items, type words, open doors, pet the dog/cat, pick up babies of all ages, make dinner, clean things, hug people, wave, catch, open books. Hands are the action verbs in our daily lives.

They are cleverly attached to our wrists so we won’t lose them.  When we use them, they send important signals to our brains that help us sense touch, pain and textures.  And yet, we don’t give our hands too much thought or importance until they are hurt or harmed and we can no longer use them.

Why do you suppose we take our hands for granted? They are crucial to everything we do.

We only have two hands yet they can be considered our most critical appendages.  There are numerous Scripture verses that describe the significant jobs our hands have to accomplish.  The most influential tasks our hands have are to give and receive.

The earliest recorded account of what is expected of our hands is recorded in Lamentations 3:41,

“Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven”

Why do you think we are instructed to do that? What have we to give or receive through empty hands? We only have our purest form of praise and worship to give.  We receive His Holy Spirit in return.

Our word worship derives from the Old English weordhscipe meaning “worthiness or meritoriousness and thus giving God the recognition He deserves.”  Webster’s Dictionary,1828, defines it as “Worship is to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission”.

If lifting our hands is honoring God with extravagant love, extreme submission and giving Him the recognition He deserves, I would think we all would want to keep our hands lifted up as often as we could.  Especially in church worship.

My mom has spoken of her Holy Spirit experiences. While I wasn’t there to witness her encounters, I have heard her awe-inspiring stories. There were two significant things I took away those conversations.

If I want to receive the Holy Spirit in worship I should:

1)  Always pray with uncrossed feet/legs/arms, closed eyes and open hands and heart,

2)  Don’t hesitate to open my hands and lift them high to the Lord in praise and thanksgiving, especially in worship.

Our hands are special tools used to praise and give thanks to God. Their extended reach is our pure worship.

When we sing in church and I see congregation members or my mom raise their holy hands to the Lord, I become overwhelmed with emotion immediately. I find that I cannot sing out loud because I am suddenly overcome with the Holy Spirit and my soul has been rendered bare. My soul cries out in small, wet utterings through my tear ducts that leave me viscerally exposed.  And the big congregation is diminished to just me and God in a crowd of hundreds as I become emotionally laid prostrate before my Abba Father. Every. Time.

Ironically, it happened today in service. Only our worship leader didn’t raise his hands, he closed his eyes. The gentle passion on his face, the radiant love that shone from his countenance, the smile he wore like a soft, worn blanket as he sang an old hymn caused my eyes to flood with the Holy Spirit through salty droplets.

His eyes closed so his soul could open wide.  Hands lifted high in praise opened our souls wide, causing us to be vulnerable.  Authenticity is found in our vulnerability.

“Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” Psalm 141:2

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In the Old Testament times, lambs were offered as a morning and evening sacrifice in the Temples as a divine start and end to each day (Exodus 29:39-42). If I understand Psalm 141:2 correctly, my hands become a holy sacrifice.  Merriam-Webster defines that as “the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone”.  My workhorse hands that do so much became a quiet, living act of giving to our Holy Father.

What are we giving up when we lift our hands up to heaven? We are giving up our pride and vulnerability to open our hearts to God.

What are we receiving in return? We receive the gift of authentic worship and the Holy Spirit in our barren soul.

My hands are not just tools to work, they are instrumental to give my all and receive His Spirit in return.  As Chris Tomlin sings in Unchanging (Raise Up Holy Hands),

“So we raise up holy hands / To praise the Holy One / Who was and is and is to come”.

Don’t be afraid of what others might say or think.  Just do it.  They just might be like me, struck by your pure, unabashed worship and smitten by the Holy Spirit’s perfect presence. All because we closed our eyes, opened our hearts and lifted up our empty hands to the Lord in worship. Let’s raise our hands together in sacrificial praise!

The Jesus Room

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Every time we go to our church, my three-year old daughter becomes excited. It’s not an excitement based on going somewhere different. It is an excitement that you feel when you are about to meet someone famous.

Have you ever met someone famous? It is very similar to how you felt when you went on your very first date with that cute guy/gal that you pined over for months in school. Butterflies in your stomach, anxiety over the right thing to say, hoping you didn’t embarrass yourself by saying the wrong things, feeling that light-headed, giddiness that made you hold your breath in the anticipation of just getting near that person who captured your every waking thought.

That is the exact same electricity Miss B brings into the car with her as we drive to church. That isn’t even the amount of excitement that exits the vehicle with her, it’s bigger than she is. Just as the anticipation swells to get a glimpse of that one person who causes your pulse to quicken and your breath to catch in your throat, that is the palpable tension that she brings with her to that building every single time she visits.

As she exits our car, she becomes excited at the thought of tasting “Church Water” in her classroom and her steps turn into half dancing, half prancing toe-taps that lead her through the glass doors into the Narthex. Miss B audibly inhales deep breaths and exhales little, high-pitched delighted squeals as she gets closer to the middle of the room to the Welcome Desk.  My parents and Aunt serve behind that desk each week and she is happy to see them but invariably, she always asks for her favorite “celebrity”.

“Mommy, I want to see Jesus!”  Right behind that Welcome Desk is a huge painting of Jesus. (Before she was introduced to the man in the picture, she knew it was Jesus and told us so. Her little convicted heart just KNEW it.)  Every single time, I point to his picture and say, “There is Jesus”.  And each and every time, she replies “I want to see go to the Jesus Room and see Jesus!” Who can argue with such a vehement request?

We turn around and walk the few steps into the Sanctuary which has a small sound booth, rows of pews, a raised platform with band instruments, the pulpit and an extremely large wooden cross hanging from the ceiling over the choir loft. There are no pictures or notable signs of Jesus.

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As soon as we walk through the double doors into that sacred space, Miss B sharply inhales and bursts out with such delight that you can’t help but become infected with her exuberance. I find myself giggling at her excitement, it’s quite contagious. She can’t seem to contain her enthusiasm and quite frankly, neither can I.  She always wants to sit as close to the front pews as possible without actually choosing the front and she bounces up and down with all the self-propelled adrenaline that pumps so quickly through her body. The fervor, the electric fluidity, the unbridled passion that propels that baby to seek His Face.

I want to see Jesus in the Jesus Room!  I want to experience Jesus just like Miss B!  I want to be so excited to drink Church Water that I don’t want to drink anything else. I want to hunger and thirst for the Living Water every time I know I am going to any place of worship.

“But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:14, NIV).  How refreshing does that sound to you?  I am convinced that God’s precious Holy Spirit inhabits our church right down to the water served with snack in the Toddler rooms. I see it in her eyes as they glisten with His light. I know that she knows Jesus because Psalm 139:13 states

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”Miss B declares that she knows what He looks like because she has met Him before. She describes His light and His big love as part of what she knows about Jesus. Her limited earth time has been so short and yet she KNOWS our risen Savior as well as her heart knows mine.

She seeks him with unbridled exhilaration in the most unexpected places as well as the church building.

Jesus said, “‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:14-16)I have no ounce of doubt in my mind that Miss B was once held close to Jesus’ chest as He placed His nail-scarred hands on her precious little head and blessed her before she was born.  She oozes His Holy Spirit from her tiny pores.

May we seek Jesus as the little ones do, with fire, frenzy and unbridled fervor that emanates from our nerve endings through our skin and explodes into the air like a thirty-minute fireworks display on the 4th of July every day of the week and twice on Sunday.  I want to see Jesus in the Jesus Room and drink “Church Water”.

As the lady in the café scene of “When Harry Met Sally” states, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Thankful Thoughts

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I began one November, like most people, numbering my month with days of Thankful Thoughts. Then it occurred to me that we are called to be thankful for each moment of each day of each year.

I don’t think we deliberately choose to be thankful or grateful that often because it requires too much effort. However, we choose to practice our daily habits, consciously and/or subconsciously, without thinking them too much effort to undertake.

Therefore, I endeavor to buck the trend and put forth the tremendous effort daily so that I may choose happiness over the alternative that permeates our constant oxygen supply.

With that thought, I decided to find the things in my daily life for which I am grateful, thankful, appreciative and chronicle them. I want to find diverse things and not repeat them, for it is the little things that truly make up our lives of which we should find joy and thankfulness.

If we focus on just the upheavals, negative encounters, trying circumstances, pain and hurt, we will allow our joy and happiness to be repeatedly stolen by a silent thief.

Join me on this journey!