Friday’s Rain (Week 5)

While I didn’t intentionally time this last week of Friday’s Rain to coincide with Memorial Day Weekend, I sure think it’s fitting.

Memorial Day is a time of remembrance – of both the losses and the victories. So too is this last week of the Study.

Writing Friday’s Rain has been a tremendous gift – and not a wee bit of a sacrifice – my husband gets big points in the sharing department! Week 5 is now live for download here. The downloads will remain active for a limited time. Thanks to all who have participated in this initial e-launch – stay tuned for more news of Friday’s Rain this fall!

An Open Bible at Starbucks

Sitting at Starbucks with an open Bible is a fascinating experiment.

 photo 2

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not the experiment-with-an-open-Bible kind of girl. I wouldn’t call myself an evangelist, though I am an evangelical. So it wasn’t sitting open as an experiment, but because this girl needed to get out of her own office and off her own couch and the early morning led me to the land where I smell coffee but never drink it. Yep, I’m the girl who drinks tea at Starbucks.

And really, Iphoto 4 forget that life with an open Bible is becoming more and more of an anomaly. As Ihere in my grubbies and with my laptop before me, I wasn’t exactly screaming for attention. And my Bible is on the wee-side. A beloved relic from the days of yore when we sold everything we owned and traipsed around the world with a backpack. It’s small and handy. No neon sign attached.

Yet it drew people. And conversations. Some that even included the f-bomb. From me. Yeah, that happened. In Starbucks. While I described Week 4 of Friday’s Rain. Read it and you’ll see why.

Most people were just curious. “Is that a Bible?” But the question that really got me thinking was the guy who said “Why is your Bible open?”

 You know, honestly, a lot of times it’s not.

But that day it was. And it wasn’t just open. So was my mind and my heart. Writing a Bible Study is no joke, folks, and while I had certain ideas from here and from there, the coolest thing has been to remember just how ALIVE God’s Word is. To explore it and search it and listen for what comes next before I write it down. Powerful stuff.

And that’s basically what I told the young guy who asked me about why it sat there open before me. He’d never read it. He asked thoughtful, intentional questions. This is a season in my life, you guys, where God is teaching me that He’s the God who goes before us. Even in something as simple (and miraculous) as spending the morning learning the specific answer to a precise question that was still hours away from being asked.

I want to live my life with more open-Bible days. It’s not enough to carry it in my purse. The real power of God’s Word is when it’s open.

Amazing things can happen with an open Bible at Starbucks. You should try it. But don’t be the person who uses it as an experiment. Actually open it’s pages for you. Because maybe you need to hear something specific, or maybe the guy who’s going to sit down four hours from now does. Or more probably, both.

FRIDAY’S RAIN: revealing what grief washes away [new E-Bible-Study]

Friday's Rain Card - Choose Joy 2015 copy FRIDAY’S RAIN: revealing what grief washes away

Week 1 of 5 is now available as a free download HERE. Each Sunday for the next four weeks I’ll be releasing the next week’s study – email subscribers will receive it DIRECTLY in their Inbox. SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL HERE

I’d love to know about your journey through this E-Study. Post thoughts, comments or questions here on this site or via Facebook or Instagram.

Standing in the storm with you,

just name

Empty Tomb > Empty Womb

It’s not just the word-play, though I’ve always been a fan of those. Not puns, mind you, but word-play.

Empty Tomb. Empty Womb. I know the second one very well. I’ve written about it plenty. Much like Peter, I found myself lost on ‘Friday’, struggling with a storm of unexpected emotions.

Maybe you’ve got an empty space that’s stirred up a storm, too.

I spent a couple years trying to hold those emotions at bay. I’m not saying I did keep them at bay, but I gave it a valiant effort. But when the dam broke, I had to dig in to my empty place because you can’t heal from what you don’t first acknowledge.

I had to spend some time listening to my Empty Womb.

Because then I was able to listen to the Empty Tomb.

Which tells me that after death, life can be found.

That loss doesn’t have the last word.

That my story has a different ending than I’d expected. And a different beginning.

When Jesus rose, the grave was still the most logical place to find him. It’s where the disciples knew to go. And where they were asked one of the most philosophically-driven questions that Scripture presents: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Why indeed. I think it’s because it’s where we know to look. If we’re in mourning for something lost, for whatever is our EMPTY PLACE, then that’s where we know to go. Where we know to search. In fact, I’d say it’s where we need to start. But it’s not where we need to finish.

Yes my womb is still empty, but so is Christ’s tomb.

What about you? What is your EMPTY today? Have you gone there? Do. Even if you’re scared. Go there and search. Run like Peter did. It’s where you’ll find out where to find Jesus. And maybe He’ll be right there when you turn around, with a clear-cut answer, like He was for Mary. Or maybe you’ll just get a clue, a hint, a reminder, and later He will find you while you’re at work. Like Peter.

The Empty Tomb tells our empty places that hope may look quite different than we’d thought, but Hope is nonetheless alive. And his name is Jesus.

Happy Empty-Tomb day, friends.

Oh the Questions I’ve Asked [NIAW]

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week) (link). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested.

Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once.

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

Clouds

I could dedicate a whole series JUST to the spiritual dynamic of infertility. I’ve asked more questions than I’ve had answers, though I’ve found answers to the most critical ones.

I’ve wrestled with this post because there is just no way – NO WAY – to capture the fullness or scope of this sacred conversation in one little post. The majesty and the mystery of sacred sadness fills many pages of Scripture. While my God’s character doesn’t need defending, I care very much about how He’s represented to a hurting world. I feel the weight of portraying just how good He truly is, while admitting just how many times I’ve questioned that in the midst of loss.

So I won’t try to accomplish in one wee post what acres of Scripture work to portray over generations of time. But for today, for one glimpse, I invite you to pull up a chair and listen in on one of the many conversations I’ve had with this good, mysterious God.

Dear God,

When I started this journey, questions flooded my mind. Why me? Why do you allow painful things for your children? Why are you withholding something good from me if you are my good Father?

I’m not sure those were wrong questions, but I am not sure they were entirely right, either. I think the real questions are simply this: who are You – really – and who am I – really?

I wonder if I’m any closer to knowing. Maybe in part.

Here’s what I know so far:

God, you are hard to understand. Intensely intimate and frighteningly distant. Jealous but kind. Firm but gentle. Generous yet controlled. Good but not safe. You give. And you take away. You are a mystery, yet worthy of trust.

I, too, am a deep mystery – even to myself. Hopeful yet despairing. Giving but oh-so-selfish. Jealous and bitter. Thankful and humbled. Trusting and yet suspicious.

I guess we make a fine pair. I know now a little bit of what Job felt when he realized He’d been searching for an answer for his pain and instead You responded with more questions. Not in a mean way but just, you know, reminding us both that we weren’t there when you laid the foundations of the earth and what not.

You don’t owe me answers – though I wouldn’t turn them down if you offered them. I kind of envision a long coffee date in heaven where You walk me through my story. But right here, right now, I don’t have answers to all my questions.

I have answers to the important ones, though, like what faith in You really requires, that You aren’t afraid of Friday or honest questions, that you allow pain, and yet are the God who brings life from death.

 

Welcome, Friend

Easter Sunday is, to me, like welcoming a good friend. A time to throw your arms wide and say “WELCOME, LIFE!”

Tulips

Sometimes it’s a fling-wide-the-door and run outside with an exuberant “welcome!” as you dash into His arms. Perhaps when we are least self-conscious.

Sometimes it’s a sigh-filled “welcome back” after a long absence. Perhaps after a particularly long Friday-season.

Sometimes it’s a shy “you’re welcome to be here”, because sometimes it’s still so surprising that He WANTS to be.

Sometimes it’s a “welcome, make yourself comfortable in the mess”, because the mess is all we have to offer.

Sometimes it’s a simple, whispering “welcome home”. Perhaps when we are most sure that He belongs.

Sometimes it’s with balloons and flowers and a long-line of friends holding “welcome” signs, because you’ve been eagerly watching.

Welcoming Sunday is about welcoming the God who took death, and made life. And who is still doing so today. Jesus, the Bible says, was the first prototype of life coming FROM death, not just AFTER death.

Whether from an empty tomb, an empty womb, or any other empty place that Friday revealed, God is – STILL – in the business of bringing forth life. What a God of mystery. What a Hero to worship. What a Friend to have in Jesus.

Welcome, Sunday. Welcome, Friend.

Scary-good

Ten summers ago, I said a scary-good prayer.  At the time it was just scary.  Now I know it was good.

It was through grit teeth.  Have you had those?  Fingers initially clenched but released with this first sentence  “Fine, God.”  So eloquent, right?  Fine, God.  Those two words essentially shape all theological history.   Fine, God.  Your way over my way.

The next sentence of that specific prayer went:  “I will go home and marry Jason Miller.”  Jason Miller was a boy I’d not spoken to in nine months, had never dated, and to be honest, didn’t want to.

A little back-story, if you will.

It was the summer of 2003, and I was in Nashville, Tennessee.  No, not to find myself in a country music career, but certainly to find myself.   As a good start, I decided to go by my middle name.  And I accepted a job way outside my comfort zone.  I pulled up to Belmont University and introduced myself as Mardell, on the Creative Arts Team.  A world removed from Brooke, Attorney at Law.  That summer, I would discover that both were the real me.

I joined a staff that would transform me.  Each of them uniquely spoke into my life that summer in ways that they’ll never fully know.  And Jesus was in hot pursuit.  With a specific mission in mind.  Mission-Marry-Jason-Miller.  While we’d been friends for nine years and flirted on and off for three, I had closed that door long ago.  I had my reasons, and none of them were scandalous, but they were valid.  So I closed that door.  Closed the way that you close a shipping box, not expecting to ever see the stuff inside again.

But unbeknownst to me, there was a “return to sender” label snuck on there.  And that summer, it came back.  It came in unexpected ways.  In dreams, in random thoughts, and even through friendships that pointed me back to thinking of this man I’d left behind.  My heart was stirred, but it bothered me.  It bothered me because this boy was outside my plan, my idea.

Slowly, deliberately, the Spirit was relentless.  Slowly, painfully, I surrendered.  One thing at a time.  Yes, yes Lord, you can have the pen to write my love story.  Yes, yes I trust you to make better decisions than I do.  Yes, yes fine, I would be willing to date Jason, and you know, see if there’s anything there.  It wasn’t enough.  I got no rest.  None.

Until the day that I prayed the most transformative prayer of my life to that date: “Fine, I will go home and marry Jason Miller.”  I actually had no idea that I really would, in fact, go home and marry Jason Miller the following summer.  I really truly thought the issue was surrendering even to that extent.  I had no idea God would take me up on it.  But finally, finally I had rest.  I finally wasn’t trying to write my own story anymore.  I was totally and completely surrendered.  I’d never felt free-er.  I’d never prayed such a scary prayer.  I didn’t yet know how good it would be.

Last weekend, ten summers later, I again walked the Belmont campus in Nashville.  The specificity of memories overwhelmed me.  Flooded my senses.  All at once I remembered the battle and the surrender.  All at once I could see the faces and remember the conversations that had shaped me that summer.

Belmont

With the benefit of ten years hindsight, my tears flowed freely as I thanked God that I did, in fact, go home and marry Jason Miller.  That in so doing, I received the best gift I could have ever imagined.  Better than I imagined, actually.  Our ten years together have been rich, and deep, and powerful, and playful, and painful, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything at all in the entire world.

And as I walked, I was soon brought to my knees as I realized God was asking me to speak another scary prayer.  More terrifying to me than the last, really.

You see, ever since I opened my hands up to what God wanted to give me, I’ve been afraid that he would take it away.  I don’t know where that fear was planted, but what I do know is that for ten years I’ve lived in this tension.  I know first-hand that He is a God who GIVES.  I also know first-hand that He is a God who TAKES AWAY.  A God who gives an around-the-world experience, but also takes away health.  Who gives family and light and love, and takes life through cancer. Who gives a beautiful marriage, and takes away fertility.  Who gives a house, and takes away jobs.

I want to worship this God who gives AND takes away.  But too often I’m left paralyzed and confused.  At a stalemate.

There, back in that place where I’d prayed ten years before, I knew the words Jesus was asking me to say.  The words to end the stalemate. Jesus, please take only what you must take, and please give all that you are willing to give. 

This prayer is a game-changer for me.  I have focused much on His taking in the last few years.  His taking has hurt me, wounded me, and left holes in my heart.  I have thought He might arbitrarily take something away if I gave Him this kind of permission.  Or worse, that He might take something away to teach me that He can.  Well, He has.  He has taken.  Dare I trust that He only takes away what He absolutely must?  I’m choosing to trust just that.

But the bigger shift is here:  I have never asked Him to give all He is willing to give.  I don’t think I can even comprehend all He’s willing to give.  I’ve been too afraid to ask for it because the more He gives the more He can take, right?

Take what you must, but please give all you are willing to give.

This is my new prayer.  I am so excited.  I am so terrified.   Just as I was on the day that I uttered that scary-good prayer agreeing to go home and marry this man I’d never dated.

In 2023, what will be the tale that came from this prayer?  What will He be willing to give?  What must He take?  Oh goodness, just typing those words fills me with exhilaration and fear.  So. Scary. Good.

Have you dared to pray such a scary-good prayer?  Tell me …

From Friday to Sunday

In the beginning – yes, the very beginning – a path began toward a Sunday in Jerusalem.  The Sunday to end all Sundays.  The Sunday to begin all Sundays.  The Sunday that we celebrate this weekend.  The Sunday that we celebrate because our Savior rose from the grave.

But before Sunday came Friday: the day he was placed in the grave.  I have to confess that I’m rather fascinated with Friday because we coin it “Good”, and yet it is one of the darkest days for Jesus’ closest friends.  And in my many years of church attendance I’ve always felt the tension from the services that aren’t quite comfortable ending on a dark note.  Something makes it hard for us to talk about what happened that day.  We’d so much rather talk about Sunday.

My fascination with Good Friday started several years ago as I sat in a church service listening to some beautiful (and appropriately dissonant) choral music.  It struck me that Friday, when it’s boiled down to its essence, is this:  utter and complete disappointment.  Shock and devastation.  With seemingly no room for a happy ending.  The biggest possible let-down of all time happened as the disciples watched their Messiah be arrested, crucified, and buried.  As I realized this simple truth, I had no idea that I was on the verge of a season with God that would absolutely rock me.  That would strip down my theology just like Friday rocked Peter’s.  I had no idea that I was entering a season of death, disappointment, frustration and loss.  I had no idea that my very own “Friday” was on the horizon.

Sitting from our vantage point in history, I think we’re quick to want to jump to the answers that Sunday brought;  but Friday brought the questions, and the questions are what make the answers matter.  Even though some of the answers are devastating (like Peter realizing that he WAS in fact capable of denying Christ), I think we have a lot to learn from Friday.  My Friday opened up the real questions for me, the ones that were too deep and too dark to look at until I was forced to.  Questions like Is God really sovereign – as in, over ALL?  Is God really and truly good?  Is it possible for something ugly to still be “good”?  Is it possible for life to come out of death?  On Friday, Peter had to decide whether he’d actually take God’s answers over his own expectations.

If we’re honest, I think we all know what Friday looks like in our own worlds:  when we thought our theology and our faith was enough to get us through (Peter: “I will go to the death for you!”) turns into fear and confusion and maybe even denial (Peter: “I don’t even know him!”).  When we had to face some hard things about our God, who does in fact let pain and ugly coincide with beauty.  And then we have to face some hard things about ourselves – like how we respond when we don’t get our way.  Like discovering that we had a way of our own after all.

Some of you are there now, on a Friday.  A time when your theology is clashing head-first with your heartache.  Let me just say this:  There’s no way to make Friday un-painful.  We can call it Good Friday now, but I have a suspicion that if we had walked up to Peter on that fateful Friday and called it good, he would’ve punched us in the face.  Friday hurts.

As I sit here today, I’ve come further in reconciling the truth of both Friday and Sunday.  Of both pain and beauty.  Of both loss and Redemption.  I’ve learned that the Gospel is both.  I wonder what would it look like if we could embrace both with more freedom:  the lows of Friday-disappointments and heartaches, and the highs of Sunday’s restorative work.

Redemption is what happens on Sunday.  Redemption is Jesus conquering every disappointment.  Redemption is what we will sing about for all time.  But for something to need redemption, it means there is something broken.  Friday is what we need to be Redeemed from.  In fact, redemption means very little if we don’t take stock of what needs to be redeemed.  So today, take stock.  Be honest and real with your Savior if there are disappointments crowding out your heart’s space for joy.  And take stock if there are broken pieces that have already been redeemed.

And then share.  Maybe share here.  Maybe share at Church.  Maybe share with a close friend.  But share.  Share if you’re on Friday, because you’re probably not alone.  And share if you’re on Sunday, with a story of redemption and beauty coming out of ugly.

He > I

Last week at Church I had a great reminder (thank you Megan Fate Marshman) that when you dare to do something great – no matter what your scale of greatness – it can be easy to forget Who it is that’s actually Great.  I doubt I’m alone in needing this reminder, especially among those  daring to tap into The Creative and The Creator.

 

I heard a song in the wind,

And so I sang it out.

This song is great,

They said.

 

I lived a story,

And so I wrote it down.

This story is great,

They said.

 

I saw a picture,

And so I painted it.

This picture is great,

They said.

 

And as they said

This song is great

This story is great

This picture is great

I thought

I must learn to be great, too

 

But I am not great

 

I got lost

And lonely

And quite sad

Trying to be great

 

You see,

The song I sung was composed by another

The story I wrote was crafted by another

The picture I painted was designed by another

 

When they said

This song is great

This story is great

This picture is great

They were speaking of His work, not mine

 

I just forgot

 

I am not great

But I get to sing His songs

I get to write His stories

I get to paint His pictures

 

And those are great

Because He is great