Confessions of a Cave Dweller

20170414_193647I just watched a short video about an elderly gentleman who volunteers two days a week in the pediatric ICU of a hospital, holding babies whose parents can’t be there because of distance, other children, or competing responsibilities. It was a touching video–he does it to meet the needs of these babies when they’re hurting, sick, and just need to be loved and cuddled.

In the video, he is asked this question: “What do you get out of it?” And something about that question broke my heart. It’s a completely legitimate question, because every person has a motive behind their actions. And, if we’re honest, the motive is usually selfish–we all ask ourselves this question every day. Will this be good for me? What benefits or perks will I get from this? It’s not a bad question in light of human nature.

But the fact that selfish motives drive most of our behavior is a tragedy. It’s so, so sad because it’s so, so different from the way things are supposed to be.

Yesterday, my 4-year-old was sitting at the kitchen counter. Mornings start early around here. This conversation happened between him and my husband, Matt:

My 4-year-old (reflecting as he was waiting for breakfast): God made the world good. He made it so people could love each other. But Satan tricked Adam and Eve and told them they could be like God if they ate the fruit. But they were already like God. And now everything is broken.

Matt (blinks, still half-asleep): That’s right. Who’s going to fix everything?

4-year-old: God! And Jesus!

And I decided that I like our early mornings after all.

My 4-year-old’s reflections on the true condition of the world and the beauty of  Jesus came to mind when I was watching that video about the volunteer. He is loving those babies–wanting good for them and doing that good, despite the sacrifice in time, the likelihood that he’ll be puked or peed on, and the fact that he’ll probably never see those babies again or receive a thank you from them.

He’s not cuddling babies for himself–he’s doing it for them. And his act of love is a picture of the way we were all created to live. It reflects, in a way, what real life is. Real, true life is enjoying friendships of love with God, with others, and with all of creation. We’ve never experienced a perfect world of perfect love. We’re like the man in Plato’s cave who has only seen shadows–we’ve never seen the Light. But, because of Jesus, we’ve seen glimpses of true Light and Life. And, because of Jesus, we have hope that He will rescue us out of our “cave” and bring us into the Light and life and love we were created to enjoy.

I’m typing this post as I’m rocking my 9-month-old. His tummy has been upset lately, and it’s preventing him from getting his much-needed morning nap today. I was hoping to spend that much-needed hour finishing up the manuscript for my book that’s due soon. And I was feeling extremely frustrated that my time is, once again, being “wasted.” I have so many things I’m trying to accomplish, and so often my time is interrupted or used up by meeting the needs of my 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 9-month-old. And I was feeling annoyed at his tummy problems and annoyed in general, and then I watched that video. And remembered my 4-year-old’s deep reflections yesterday.

And then I realized (again) how broken and selfish I am.  How sad it is that I’m begrudgingly rocking my precious son, wishing I could be more productive. What higher calling do I have than loving those God has placed in my life to love?  What better way to spend my time than meeting the needs of my children, gifted to me by God?  I filter every action through the question: What will I get out of this?  And when I do that, I completely miss out on real, true life.  I’m stuck in a smoky cave of shadows, when Jesus intends the beautiful world of Light and love for me and everyone else.

I am in such desperate need of my Rescuer. And I’m so thankful that He comes to bring me home, again and again, every time I crawl away from true Life back to my cave.

When Jesus began His ministry, He spoke these words:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because  he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,  

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:17‭-‬21 ESV

I am the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed. I am in need of His rescue.

We all are.

I’m so thankful He came for us.

And now I’m going to rock my baby and enjoy it, remembering that loving him is the best way to spend my time right now.

Should I Make A New Year Resolution?

2017-10-02 08.32.59Back in my college days, I went to the campus library a lot. It was spacious and quiet with tall windows overlooking a peaceful stretch of grass dotted with trees and inviting benches. I was usually too busy studying for my nursing classes to read for pleasure, but I remember one title that caught my eye almost every time I walked down a particular aisle: Ideas Have Consequences.  I never had time to read it, but the concept rings true to this day and still pulls me toward that as-yet-unread book.

Most people acknowledge the fact that actions have consequences. If I put my hand in the fire, it will get burned. If I wake up each morning and go to work, I’ll earn money.  If I spend time practicing, I’ll learn to play the piano.  If I only sit on the couch eating potato chips and playing video games, I’ll forfeit my health, most relationships, and most adventures.

What we do directly affects both our life experiences and our character–our choices largely shape who we become.  Actions have consequences, whether positive or negative, intended or unintended.  And it isn’t only our actions that affect us–the choices of others directly impact our lives, as well.  The man who chooses to drink then drive, and then crashes into a minivan, harms both those lives as well as his own.

We know that actions have consequences. So, what causes us to act the way that we do?

Ideas. Ideas and beliefs, colored by emotions, influence and guide our choices in life.

If I believe that eating a variety of fruits and veggies every day, coupled with exercising at least 5 days a week, will improve my health–and then I do eat good food and exercise regularly–I’ll get healthier. I’ll almost certainly avoid some of the biggest risk factors for heart attack and heart disease: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and inactivity.

Ideas really do have consequences.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because January 1 is fast approaching. For many, a new year signifies a fresh start. Many will set goals and decide on New Year Resolutions–they’ve identified areas of growth or change and make a plan to reach them.

I love setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them. On the Enneagram personality diagram, I’m a solid One, called The Reformer. I’m principled, idealistic, goal-oriented, and self-disciplined.  I’m very committed to my view of what is good, right, and true.  Once I identify the good, I strive toward it, and it’s really hard to change my course (just ask my very patient husband!).  

I, too, have goals for this new year, and I’ll be writing a post soon about how to create reachable goals (especially health-related ones) at my other blog, tipsfromanurse.com.

But this post is about the immense importance of both actions (which stem from ideas) and grace.  We are all shaped by both.

We’re familiar with the strong correlation between action and consequence–though to be honest, we often hope to be the exception to the rule. When I see someone flying down the road, driving like a maniac, I very much want them to be caught by a police officer and receive an expensive, behavior-altering ticket.  When I look down and realize that I’m speeding, on the other hand, I very much hope that no one (especially a police officer) noticed my error as I gingerly step on the brake.  We like it when our actions bring pleasant rewards–but the same is not true when we justly deserve unpleasant punishment.

The connection between action and consequence is aptly summed up in one Biblical phrase: You reap what you sow.

And it’s true.  

You really do.

Unless you add a beautiful thing called grace into the equation. When you do that, it miraculously changes everything.

One of my favorite summaries of grace occurs in Isaiah 55:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.


Usually, someone who doesn’t have money would have two options: 1) Go without water, wine, and milk, or 2) Steal water, wine, and milk.

But when you throw grace into the mix, a third option appears: 3) Receive water, wine, and milk at no cost to you. Get them for free (because someone else paid for them in your place).

You do reap what you sow…unless God steps in and gives you what He has sown.

I’m writing this post because of the long journey toward grace and freedom that I have walked thus far. For many years, I tried to earn the money I needed to buy my water, wine, and milk. I worked really, really hard. But, despite my best efforts, it wasn’t ever enough. I was still thirsty!

It wasn’t until I realized that I could never work hard enough or long enough…I could never be perfect enough…I could never follow God’s laws and reach the ideal…I could never really love on my own (and love, of course, sums up all of God’s laws and embodies the ideal toward which I strove)…it wasn’t until I realized that I was totally unable to pay on my own that I witnessed a miracle.  

I finally realized that I would always be thirsty–that I would, in fact, die–if it all depended on my efforts. And when I realized that horrible, nauseating, terrifying truth–Someone came to me. And He held out His hands. And He said, “Come. Drink your fill. I purchased fresh water, wine, and milk. I know you can’t pay for them. But I want you to have them. Your efforts won’t ever achieve this result–you can’t pay. But I can, and I did. Drink deeply–what I give won’t run dry.”

This Giver of never-ending water (and wine and milk, too!) is the reason I no longer have to “spend [my] money for that which is not bread, and [my] labor for that which does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2). I’m free. Instead of endless striving, now I can dance in this Love that graciously meets all my needs. Jesus is beautiful.

Jesus does the impossible: He changes hearts that are bent toward self-destruction and others-destruction, slowly re-making them until they become hearts of love…hearts like His.

Jesus changes our hearts, which changes our ideas, which changes our actions. But since change is a life-long process, He steps in and pays for that which we desperately need but can never earn on our own. 

So make those goals!  We all need to change. We all have areas in need of growth. New Year Resolutions are really important! If nothing else, they highlight the fact that we are not basically good. We can’t achieve perfection on our own.

But as you make them, just remember that while you can achieve amazing things by setting goals and working, step by step, to reach them…you can’t achieve the most important thing on your own.  That takes grace.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

 

Encountering Beauty

20161130_100742-EFFECTSSometimes, I encounter beauty that takes my breath away.  It’s happened before as I was gazing out across a lush, tree-covered valley atop a fog-cloaked mountain in the Costa Rican rain forest.  I’ve experienced awe in the midst of beautiful Colorado mountains, standing tall and immoveable against a clear blue sky.  It’s occurred when I hear stories of people who pour out costly love on others, such as the policeman who adopted the drug-addicted baby of a homeless, drug-addicted woman he happened to encounter.  And most poignantly, my heart soars with joyful hope (and simultaneously cries with longing) when I encounter a glimpse of the glorious, all-encompassing love of my Rescuer.

That happened today.

It’s been a long day, and I’m pretty tired–my kids have been sick most of the week, and last night my baby was up until midnight and then my toddler and pre-schooler were up (as usual) by 5:30am.  I was at work all day (I’m a nurse and work weekends), which is often a much-needed break from the chaos of 3 children who are 4 years old and under–but at work, I can’t sneak in a short 15 minute nap like I (very rarely) can at home.

So…my primary goal was survival.  But while I was at work, I was standing on the third story looking out through the wall of windows.  Now, where I live, we don’t have many breath-taking vistas.  We have flat, scrubby grasslands–and lots of concrete and buildings in the cities.  I was actually just looking out across a mostly-empty parking lot, but the sun was shining just so, and I was thinking about Jesus coming as Light into our darkness, and my heart started to quicken.  And though I was tired and cranky, peace and hope began pouring over me and filling me up, and I just couldn’t help but rejoice at the beauty of Jesus coming to show us the way out of our brokenness and evil.

And then I came home, and I was rocking my baby at bedtime, and a beautiful person I’ve known a long time texted to ask me how much money we still need to create The Advent Storybook, my illustrated children’s book on Kickstarter.  I told her we had about 10 days left and still need over $12,000 in order to reach our goal.  But I reassured her that I won’t give up if this first campaign fails, and I shared that a traditional publishing company is potentially interested in partnering with us and sharing some of the costs! We’d still need to pay for all of the illustrations, but they would help cover the cost of printing the books, so a second Kickstarter attempt could actually start out with a lower, more-reachable goal!

And then…

She told me that she felt like the Lord was telling her to give me $12,000 to make the book happen.

This generous, beautiful person is not wealthy.  At all.  Her overwhelming generosity took my breath away, but I immediately told her that I just can’t accept a gift like that.  I can’t.  It’s far, far more than she can afford–and if this first attempt fails, we’ll just keep trying!

And then she told me that she believed in me.  And that she feels like God has a plan for this book.  And I thought back over all the times she has encouraged me, believed in me, and loved me over the years.  And my eyes filled with tears.

I tearfully thanked her and expressed my gratitude at her costly love and generosity but reiterated that I just can’t accept that gift.  If God wants it to happen, it will happen–without her bank account being emptied!

Even though I can’t accept her gift, I felt compelled to share the beauty of her love.  Real, true love is always beautiful.  Real, true love is meeting the needs of another even at great cost to oneself.  True love is wanting good for someone and then doing that good for them.  This precious person was willing to give far more than she is able in order to meet a need, because she wants to share the story of Jesus’ rescue with children all over the world (through my book).  That’s love.

And God is real, true love.

Jesus came to rescue us out of our broken, destructive, dark evil and into His glorious, freeing, beautiful love.  He came to rescue us and make everything good and new again, like it was in the beginning.  He came to restore our ability to love and know we are loved.

I don’t often encounter the beautiful love this person was so willing to bestow on me.  And I know that He is at work in her life, growing that willingness to sacrifice and pour such costly love on me and others.  Her love looks a lot like His love–I recognize the beauty of her love because I’ve encountered it before in the Source of true Light, Life, and Love.  Can you imagine what life would be like if everyone loved like this beautiful person (and like God)?  That’s the way things were before everything shattered in the Garden so long ago.  It would be paradise–perfect friendships between God, people, and Creation.

I still don’t know how this book will be funded.  I’m still really tired.  But I’ve encountered beauty and love today that took my breath away.

We celebrate Christmas because God poured out costly love on us, gifting us with a beautiful Rescuer who will make right all that is wrong.  That gift overwhelms me, and it’s one I know I don’t deserve…but I’m holding on to that beauty and goodness and hope with everything in me.  His gift cost Him far more than I can comprehend, but I accept it wholeheartedly.  May we remember and celebrate and reach out toward Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Only Hope

20171206_082142~2I’m sitting here with tears running down my face.  My heart and mouth are crying, softly but repeatedly, “Jesus, we need You!”  Because we do.  We do.

Last night, my 4-year-old son had lots of questions after our Advent Story about Ruth.  Why did Ruth’s people worship pretend gods?  What are pretend gods?  Why does Satan lie to people?  Why will Satan be in hell?  What is hell?  I don’t want to go to hell—what do I need to do so I don’t go to hell?

We try to avoid weighty conversations like this before bedtime, because Josiah (like me) thinks deeply about things and then has a hard time sleeping.  But it happened, and we tried to answer his questions in words he could understand:

Hell isn’t a place you can drive to.  Hell is the place where you can’t be with God.  Hell is being far away from God and His goodness and love.  Jesus doesn’t want you to go there or be away from Him—Jesus came to rescue you so that you can always be with Him, even now.  Without Jesus’ help, people don’t want to be with God.  But Jesus changes what we want and changes our hearts.  He helps us want to be with Him, and He helps us love Him and others.  Jesus will always come find us if we get lost—He’s the Good Shepherd who goes and finds His lost sheep to bring them home.  It’s up to Him, not you—and He always comes and finds you.  You just need to know you’re lost and reach for Him when He comes.

We dove into the idea of Jesus still being with us now, even though He went to Heaven to be with God after He died in our place and came back to life, because His Spirit is still here, and His Spirit is Him—His love, His goodness, His help.  And He’s here with us.  That seemed to give Him some peace.

But I’m reading the book of John right now, and Lesslie Newbigin’s commentary on John, and thinking about light vs. darkness.  Truth and glory.  Life.  Hope.  And I’m just overwhelmed with our desperate need for these things.  This world is so dark.

Last night, Josiah asked why Jesus had nails in him when he died.  And then he told me that isn’t how he wanted to die.  And I just can’t stop crying thinking about the horrors of this world and the crushing darkness that blinds and kills.  I don’t want my son to suffer.  I don’t want the evil within him or the evil outside of him to harm him.  But our only hope is Jesus.  Josiah’s only hope; Grace’s only hope; Isaiah’s only hope; every child and person everywhere—our only hope for rescue, life, and light is Jesus.

May we remember Him this Christmas.  May we see reality and see His light, and may we reach for Jesus when He comes to find us.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1‭-‬5 ESV

Fighting Dragons

2017-12-07 09.06.58Have you ever felt like you’re fighting an uphill battle?  Your goal is clear and you know it must be reached, but a host of seemingly insurmountable odds stand in the way.  It’s like something precious to you–perhaps your child–is trapped in a prison, but fierce, fiery dragons stand menacingly between you and the imprisoned child.  You know defeat isn’t an option, but you have no idea how victory will be achieved.

I know people determined to fight against all odds.  They firmly take a stand against dragons. Some are passionate about foster care and adoption–they want to provide a safe home for children who need it.  Others are passionate about racial reconciliation–they want to heal the gaping divides of prejudice, hatred, and hurt that still separate people from people.  Others strive for women’s rights–they want women to be treated and viewed as having just as much value as men, worthy of respect and equal opportunity rather than sexual abuse.  Others want to end genocide, or starvation, or the abuses of atrociously oppressive regimes, or partial-birth abortion, or cancer, or people dying from obesity and heart disease (two largely preventable and very deadly chronic diseases).  These are all huge, important battles.

Everyone has a different set of dragons to overcome, and there are too many in this broken world for anyone to succeed in eradicating them.  But what if you just need to fight enough of them to reach your goal (or save your child?)  Or what if you’re just called to fight your particular dragons and leave the results to God, knowing the fight will either last a lifetime or claim your life?

Most people who find purpose and meaning in life are fighting for good somewhere. They’ve seen an area of injustice or oppression or pain and want to help.  They’ve identified some good they want to accomplish.  They have a goal and want to devote some part of their time and life to making right what is so apparently evil and wrong.

What is your passion?  What dragons are you fighting?

This world is horrifyingly broken.  Atrocities and abuses are committed constantly. There are so many dragons to fight.  

Here’s the tricky part, though: The battle isn’t as simple as fighting innumerable dragons with a clear goal in mind.  That would certainly be bad enough, but reality is even worse.

Because both people and the world are broken, we don’t always identify the enemy correctly.  We don’t always correctly pinpoint the good for which we are striving, either. Sometimes we get sidetracked, or our game plan is seriously flawed and entails substantial collateral damage.  We know there’s something we should be fighting, but we turn away from the dragons and start fighting with each other, instead.  

Our situation is very, very dire.  It is, in fact, deadly.

Not only are there dragons without waiting to devour us, but there are also dragons within–there’s evil inside of us all that is continually betraying, lying, and confusing us. To be very honest, we often listen to the whispering dragon within and ignore the trapped child beyond the real dragons.  When this happens, we cease fighting for good…and sometimes, we become so confused and blind that we can no longer differentiate good from evil.  We’re truly in a horrific mess.

I think it’s this frightening, wretched state that fuels our love for superhero movies and stories.  We love it when ultimate good confronts ultimate bad, and then good triumphs! We all long to be rescued, and many of us long to be the hero who can fly in and save the day.  We know, deep down, that there are dragons to be fought.

But if we can’t effectively fight the dragons, what hope is there for the trapped child or even for ourselves?

The answer is one infinitely beautiful word: Jesus.

Every December, we celebrate a holiday called Christmas.  This holiday was originally set aside to remember and celebrate the only Superhero with the power to eradicate all dragons everywhere–both those within and those without.  He is the Promised Son from long ago, the Rescuer who would crush the head of the serpent and end evil forever.  He came to make all things good and new again.  He came to restore our ability to love and know we are loved.  He came to fix the shattered relationships between people and people; people and God; and people and Creation.

Evil is real. Evil shatters beauty and goodness, incinerating it with hot, hungry flames. But we have a True Hero who can bring beauty back from the ashes.  He’s that strong, and He’s that good.

The dragons keep us from truly living–they prevent us from living the way we were made to live.  We were made to love.  Love is wanting good for someone and then doing that good.  In our current state, we do the opposite–we try to make ourselves happy at the expense of others, oblivious to the reality that we can only be happy when we love. But once again, both love and happiness are only possible with the help and grace of our Rescuer.

Who has God placed in your life to love?

I’ve identified a couple of dragons I feel called to fight.  I’m going to fight for kids–I’m determined to reach those children trapped beyond the dragons.  I want kids to see reality clearly. I want them to know that though people and the world are horribly broken, Jesus came to rescue us.  He came to fight the dragons within and the dragons without, eradicating them and restoring the beauty He originally intended.  I want kids to know Jesus.

That’s why I wrote The Advent Storybook.  I initially wrote it for my own kids, hoping to paint a sweeping picture of the grace and beauty of our Rescuer.  Then God expanded my goal to include other kids–and that’s why I’m trying to publish this book. My dream is for the story of His rescue to spread all over the world–I eventually want The Advent Storybook translated into other languages, as well.

Right now, I’m facing the fierce dragons of inadequate resources.  I simply cannot publish it on my own.  The book is on Kickstarter right now.  Would you consider joining me in this fight?  Or if you know anyone with a similar passion, could you pass the link on to them?

I’ve noticed that once people identify their passion and their particular dragons, they become convinced that everyone else needs to fight for the same good as them. Frequently, they self-righteously look down their noses at people who lack their passion or aren’t interested in fighting the same dragons.

We all need to remember that when you boil it down, we are all trying to fight against evil and for good. And we all need to remember that no one can do good or love in their own power.  Everyone needs Jesus to rescue them and empower them to join in His rescue.  

Perhaps your passion isn’t helping children know the Rescuer.  If not, that’s ok–I pray grace and strength over you, from Jesus, in your particular battle and passion.  But if your passion intersects with mine in some way, I would love some help in my fight!

My hope for victory ultimately rests in Jesus, my Rescuer.  I know He wanted me to step toward those kids, knowing that I can’t fund the project by myself.  The dragons are there, but I’m going to fight, knowing the results are in God’s big, good, strong hands.

Let’s do this.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

The Advent Storybook is on Kickstarter!

 

PrintMy illustrated children’s book, The Advent Storybook, is live on Kickstarter until January 3, 2018!  If you’d like a copy, please visit the site!

We need an army to join together and help us bring this book to life!

I wrote this book last year for my own kids.  This past summer, I felt like God wanted me to publish it.  I found an illustrator I loved, talked to a publishing house, found an experienced editor, and eventually settled on publishing through Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website that allows a group of people to come together and create something new.  It uses all-or-nothing funding, meaning that no money changes hands unless the goal is reached and the book is printed and shipped to all the backers who pledged money to support it.

Please help us spread the word!

I (honestly) have no idea how the goal will be reached, but I know God wanted me to at least try.  So here goes!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”

-Ephesians 3:20-21

 

An Open Letter to Men Who Exploit Women

Family smilingTo all who abuse others and think that’s OK:

I’m a woman.

I’m not an object.

I’m not a means to a selfish end.  

I’m not a thing you can use to satisfy your lust.  

I’m not something you can use then throw away.  

I’m not a possession you can abuse or push around.

I don’t exist to fulfill your selfish whims.

I’m not a trophy you can arrogantly flaunt.

I’m not any of these things, and neither are the women (or girls) you’ve harmed.

I’m a woman.

I’m created in the image of the living God.  

I was made to love and be loved.

Though I’m broken, my Rescuer died to make me new.

I have value and dignity because Jesus says I do.

I am worthy of respect because Jesus says I am, and He exemplified that respect for women during his 30+ years on earth.

I’m a woman.

I’m not a man.

I don’t want to be a man–I want to be me.

But I am just as valuable as a man, and I need you to acknowledge that truth.

I’m a woman.

I’m blessed with a husband who affirms my worth, guards my dignity, and treats me with respect.

He was my first date.

He waited over a month to hold my hand.

He waited over 2 years to kiss me for the first time on our wedding day.

I trust him.

I know that I’m safe with him and free to be myself.

We’re a team.  

He supports my dreams and finds a way to make them happen.

I wrote a book for our kids and felt like I should publish it–so he’s helping me publish it.

He’s working full-time, getting his Master’s in Business Administration part-time, and watching our 3 young children every weekend while I’m at work.

He helps me with the kids’ bedtime routine every night.

Every night, he finishes cleaning up the kitchen.

I trust, respect, and love him more than anyone on earth.

He loves me.  And by love, I mean he wants good for me and then does that good, even when it’s hard.

He’s not perfect, but I feel cherished, loved, and safe the vast majority of the time.

My story, however, is NOT the story of the women you’ve used and abused.  And that makes me so angry I could cry.

I’m a woman.

I’ve been protected, cherished, and loved my entire life by good men–by men very different from yourself.  And that blessing stems directly from one indescribably beautiful source: Jesus.

Jesus was the best man who ever lived, the greatest man who will ever live, and the only man who loved perfectly, then died to make that love possible in the lives of others, as well.

Let me tell you a story.

Setting: Israel in the 1st century A.D.

Characters: Pharisees (strict followers of Jewish law); Jesus; a crowd listening to Jesus teach; and a guilty woman.

According to Dr. Kenneth Bailey, in more traditional parts of the Middle East, a woman’s sexual conduct is tied very closely to her family’s honor.  If she commits adultery or violates and tarnishes the honor of her family, her family may kill her.  I’m relying heavily on Dr. Bailey (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes) for this re-telling.

There were a group of men called Pharisees who spent their lives trying to follow God’s laws.  They hated Jesus, because He showed them that the law is actually about loving God and loving people–not about keeping a ridiculous number of rules for daily living.  That meant all their hard work was for nothing!  And they hated him because He claimed to be the Rescuer God had promised long ago, the Messiah who came to make all things good and new again. 

On this day, Jesus sat down to teach in the Temple, and the Pharisees had planned a clever trap.

As Jesus sat down to teach, the Pharisees dragged a guilty woman into the Temple court and presented her triumphantly to Jesus and his listeners.

They boldly announced that she had been “caught in the act of adultery” and should, by law, be stoned.  Armed Roman soldiers were watching, tense and ready to arrest anyone who caused a disturbance.

What would Jesus do?

His followers regarded Him as both a prophet and teacher–to contradict the law would certainly discredit His authority and trustworthiness.  But to follow the law would cause His own arrest.  The Pharisees were undoubtedly smug and jubilant.  They had caught him at last!  

In response, Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dust, which was “legal” even on this Sabbath day of rest according to the Pharisees.  Jesus was subtly showing that He, too, was an expert in the law.

And then.

And then, Jesus gave the most brilliant, incredible response to their challenge with these words: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

With that one sentence, their jubilance evaporated.  This woman was guilty…but they knew they were guilty, too.  To claim otherwise would contradict the book of Isaiah, which says that we all, like sheep, have gone astray.

They had planned to discredit Jesus, but instead, each of them walked away, humiliated.  Jesus again wrote in the dust, refusing to watch and gloat over their public humiliation–He just wanted to save the woman.

And he did.

It takes two to commit adultery, and by law both participants should be stoned. The guilty man had been conveniently left out of the equation–the Pharisees just wanted to trap Jesus and the woman was a convenient means to that end.  After all, she was guilty!

Jesus brilliantly escaped their trap and saved a guilty woman.  He loved her and rescued her, and in the process, he made the Pharisees even more furious. Jesus transferred their hostility and hatred for her onto himself, at great cost to himself.  Jesus was brilliant and beautiful in His costly love and rescue mission.

And then he told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”  Though guilty, Jesus loved her and gave her a second chance at life!

I don’t know of any girl, myself included, who grows up aspiring to be an adulteress or prostitute.  No one dreams of being used and abused by men.  This woman’s life had spiraled down into one of self-destruction and pain…but Jesus gave her a way out.  He gave her a second chance, at great cost to Himself.

Jesus loved her and rescued her.

I’m a woman.

Though worthy of respect, dignity, and love, I also deserve wrath, judgment, and condemnation.

Why?

Because I’m part of broken humanity.

I share blame in the horrors people inflict on other people.

I, too, am prone to self-destruction and others-destruction.

I, too, am far from perfect.

I’m self-centered.  Self-righteous.  Arrogant.

I get frustrated with my children, impatient with my husband, and annoyed with most people.

I want things to be my way on my timetable.

I’d like to be queen of my own private island where everything goes exactly as I dictate.

I’m broken and in desperate need of a Rescuer.

I’m a woman.

And Jesus came to rescue me, just as He came to rescue you.

He came to end the evil we inflict on each other, to end the cycle of self-and-others-destruction that repeats itself over and over.

He came to rescue women from men like you.

I’m a woman.

I’m also a mom.

My sons will grow up knowing that women matter just as much as men.

My sons will grow up knowing that it is their duty to protect the vulnerable, not exploit them.

My sons will grow up knowing that they have value, dignity, and worth that stem from being made in the image of God.

My sons will grow up knowing that Jesus came to rescue them and restore their ability to love and be loved.

My daughter will grow up knowing that she has value, dignity, and worth that stem from being made in the image of God.

My daughter will grow up knowing that God created her to love and be loved; and that Jesus came to restore her ability to love and be loved.

My daughter will grow up knowing that a real man–a good man–will cherish and love her, not abuse or exploit her.

Jesus came to rescue us and make all things new.

I don’t want my daughter growing up in a world full of men like you.

But I know that her only hope, my only hope, humanity’s only hope is Jesus, our Rescuer.

If you realize that you’re broken, he’ll rescue and change you, too.

I pray it will be so.

Laura Richie

 

Advent Storybook Illustration Progress!

TheAdventStorybook_WidescreenThe first 3 illustrations for The Advent Storybook are finished!  And they’re incredible!  Ian Dale did a fantastic job.

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This first one goes with the story entitled “A Perfect Life” from Genesis 2-3.  In the beginning, God made every thing good!  The first man and woman enjoyed a perfect life completely free of evil, suffering, or death.

TheAdventStorybook_Day3_Preview2 (2)

But an evil serpent crept into their Garden, whispering lies.  They believed his lies and defied their good Creator–and then everything shattered.  Evil entered both people and the world.  But God spoke a promise: One day, a Son would come to crush the head of the lying serpent and end evil forever.

TheAdventStorybook_Day25_Preview (2)

Through the centuries, people longed for this Rescuer to come and make everything good and new again, like it was in the beginning.  Finally, the time was right!  And God sent Him!  His arrival is the reason we celebrate Christmas.

Jesus came to rescue us!

Share the painfully beautiful story of God’s love for humanity with your family each December, tracing God’s faithfulness through the centuries.

This book is coming to Kickstarter on December 4, 2017!  Join us and help bring The Advent Storybook to life so that children all over the world can delight in the beauty of Jesus, our Rescuer!

Breaking the Law

2017-11-05 17.12.59

I’ve always been a “rules” person.  Growing up, I was the stereotypical “good girl” who went to church, got straight A’s in school, and obeyed my parents.  I hated being in trouble.  I had a running list of rules in my head, and it was the backdrop behind most of my decisions.

  • Don’t drink alcohol. Check.
  • Don’t smoke. Check.
  • Don’t do drugs. Check.
  • Get good grades. Check.
  • Don’t lie. Check (at least, I tried really hard).
  • Don’t cheat (on tests, taxes, etc.) Check.
  • No premarital sex. Check (I went even further: I saved my very first kiss for my husband on our wedding day. That brilliant decision, made at age 11 or 12, caused a lot of anxiety over having an audience for my first kiss at age 24!)
  • Don’t use dirty words. Check.
  • Don’t go to crazy parties or nightclubs. Check (This one was easy…I’m an introvert so they still sound about as appealing as chewing on an earthworm).
  • Don’t watch dirty movies/shows. Check.

After I started nursing school, my checklist expanded to include health-promoting habits.

  • Eat more fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Check.
  • Exercise regularly. Check.
  • Keep avoiding smoking, drugs, and alcohol. Check.
  • Avoid soda pop, fried food, and other sources of empty, low-nutrient calories. Check.

After I had kids, the list got longer!

  • Feed kids healthy food, too, so they grow up enjoying it and being healthy. Check.
  • Allow them to get the sleep they need (So they can be well-rested and happy, and so they don’t develop insomnia like me). Check.
  • Spend quality time with them, including playing games, reading stories, and going to parks and other interesting places. Check.
  • Ensure they receive the education and nurturing they need. Check (We’ve arranged our work schedules so we don’t need day care; I’m also homeschooling).
  • Shown them who God is, who man is, and what life is all about (through intentional conversations, homeschooling, and church). Check.

I’m pretty darn good at following rules and “doing the right thing.”

But…it was never enough.

I tried really, really hard.  But people just wouldn’t cooperate!  If I could’ve lived on my own private island, I probably could’ve followed the rules perfectly!  

Here’s the truth I missed for a solid 20+ years: The rules aren’t meant to be a checklist that, if followed, give you an A at life and guarantee that you’re good enough.  Instead,the rules are meant to show you how to avoid destroying yourself and others. The rules show you what a good life looks like.  Jesus said that all the biblical rules–all the writings in the Law and the Prophets–could be summed up in one phrase: Love God and love your neighbor.

I totally and completely missed the whole point of the rules in the Bible! [Side note: My American-Baptist-influenced rules growing up are not the same as the rules in the Bible.] The real rules are actually all about love.

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the word love.  Love isn’t sex or sexual attraction; it’s not friendship or companionship; and it’s not “wanting the best for someone.”  Love is so much wider and deeper than these comparatively hollow definitions.  Real love is achingly and infinitely beautiful.  Real love is who our good God is and how he always interacts with us.  Real love is wanting good for someone and then doing that good for them.  

When real love entered my equation, I realized a horrific, nauseating truth:  I can’t love. No matter hard I try, I can’t make myself love God OR anyone else.  My checklist of the law and attempts to be good enough broke into a thousand tiny pieces.

I finally saw a painful but liberating truth: I am, at my very core, a selfish and broken person, incapable of truly loving anyone.  My interactions with people have always been very self-centered and manipulative.  If others behave how I want them to behave, I’m happy with them.  If they cross a line, I let them know (often indirectly, but it’s pretty clear).  I applied my very high standards for living not only to myself but to those around me, as well.  I had a roommate in college who said she couldn’t live with me anymore because she always felt judged.  I was astounded at the time, because she’d never said anything to me about it and I couldn’t recall a single argumentative or judgmental conversation…but now that I can see my ugly heart more clearly, I know exactly where she was coming from.  And she was right.  I was extremely judgmental (and, therefore, horrible to be around!)  The thing that astounds me now is how my other roommates stuck with me for 2 more years!  And how my husband ever wanted to marry me!

All of my rule-following only made me into a prideful, stressed-out, self-righteous person who often felt miserable and caused those around me to be miserable, too.  I’m still prone to this approach to life.  But now I (usually) comprehend that trying to follow the rules can’t change my heart into one that loves God or people.  Following the rules doesn’t actually make me a good person, because a good person is one who loves God, loves people, and loves all of creation.  There’s only one way for my heart to be changed and fixed so that I can truly and consistently love.

That one way is Jesus.

I’m currently working on the sequel to The Advent Storybook, and one of the stories that will be included illustrates this truth very well.  In my book, I’ll use words and phrases understandable to 4-8 year olds; in this post, I’ll assume I’m talking to adults.

This short but powerful parable is found in Luke 18:9-14, and it is about a Pharisee and a tax collector.  I am extremely grateful to Dr. Kenneth Bailey (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes) for his lifelong work of putting the stories of Jesus into their proper, Middle Eastern culture and time period, then sharing what the stories were intended to communicate with people like me (a 21st-century, American female)!

Luke actually tells us what Jesus intended with this story right at the beginning: Jesus told this parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”  

In Jesus’ story, two men go to the Temple to pray and worship–they were probably going to observe the atonement offering, which occurred every day at dawn and then again at 3pm.  During this daily service, precise rituals were followed, and the centerpiece was the killing of a lamb to atone for the sins of Israel.

During the service, the Pharisee stood by himself, separated from other people in order to avoid being with the “unclean” masses so he wouldn’t be defiled by them.  Standing apart, he prayed aloud, recognizing this as a golden opportunity to offer some unsolicited, free advice and wisdom to those within earshot.

Check out this “prayer”: The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
Luke 18:11‭-‬12 ESV


First, he thanks God that he is much better than “other men” who sin (a problem he clearly does not have!)  And then he lists the undeniable evidence of his righteousness: He goes above and beyond what is expected even of a strict, law-abiding Pharisee!  Most Pharisees fasted a total of 12 days a year: 2 days before and 2 days after each of the 3 major Hebrew feasts.  Not this guy!  He fasted 2 days every week!  Clearly, he was superior to everyone, especially that sinful tax collector over there.  And not only was he self-disciplined and sinless enough to fast 2 days per week, he also gave God tithes from everything he owned!  Most people were expected to tithe their grain, oil, and wine–this guy, just to be sure, gave tithes of everything.  This Pharisee clearly found himself impressively righteous and wanted everyone else to be impressed with his self-righteousness, as well.  His “prayer” was directed at those around him, not to God.  And his attitude toward the people around him was one of derision–he despised them; he certainly didn’t love them.

In contrast, the tax collector knows he is ceremonially defiled, and that’s the reason he stands apart from the others.  He is so distraught over the evils he has committed against others that he won’t even look up at heaven, and he beats his chest.  Hitting one’s chest is a sign of overwhelming, deep grief and is usually done by Middle Eastern women, not men.  But this man is overcome by his evil and his need for that lamb to die in his place for his sins.  As he beats his chest in anguish, he cries, “God, be merciful [hilaskomai: make atonement] for me, a sinner!”

Guess who Jesus declares justified/made righteous/saved?

The man who knew he needed rescue and accepted it is declared righteous.  The text says: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”  The tax collector was rescued and made right with both God and man. The Pharisee, on the other hand, is dismissively referred to as “the other” and leaves the atonement service completely oblivious of his need for that lamb to die in his place.

The parable ends with these words: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:14 ESV


Sin isn’t primarily about breaking a law–sin is about broken relationships.  A sinner is one who does not love God or others and, therefore, tears apart his or her relationship with God and others.

I know that apart from God’s grace, I’m that Pharisee, oblivious to my need for atonement due to my lack of love.  My self-righteousness only earns me dismissal and a pass to refuse Jesus’ costly death in my place, if that’s what I choose.  

Jesus rescues ALL who realize their need to be rescued.  And we all need it, whether we’re law-keepers or law-breakers.  No one can truly and consistently love.  The law functions as a mirror: It shows us what we’re like and how we can’t ever measure up.  It doesn’t have the power to change us.

But Jesus does!  Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Looking back at my list of rules, I still follow most of them, to be honest.  But I don’t follow them in order to earn my goodness or to be righteous on my own.  Instead, I follow them because I like the probable consequences of those choices (such as a healthy body, happy kids, etc).  My motive isn’t to earn my righteousness.  I know now that rules can’t ever make me good enough…they can’t help me love God or others.  Only God can do that.

Jesus, make atonement for me, a sinner!

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but

to do justice,

and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8 ESV

The Great Divide

cracked concreteI’m usually pretty sure that I’m right.  Unless I know absolutely nothing about a subject–such as astrophysics or how to be an extrovert–I have my opinions, and they’re the correct ones, obviously.  I enjoy being around people who share my opinions, and I look at those who don’t share them with annoyance or even suspicion.  This happens frequently…I’ve even caught myself feeling slightly aghast at people who enjoy the 6-month-long, fiery-furnace-misery otherwise known as summer in Oklahoma! My thoughts went like this: How can anyone enjoy 6 months of broiling in an oven and smelling sweat?  If I hate something, everyone else should hate it with equal passion (and be as miserable as I am)!  There’s something inside of me determined to create isolation–it’s like I want my own little island where I’m queen and everything goes exactly as I please.  On my island, no one can disagree with me or see things differently than I do.

This mindset, of course, is both ridiculous and self-defeating.

We weren’t made for little islands; we were made for community and relationships.  We were made to love God, other people, and all of creation–and we were made to enjoy being loved by them.

But…we don’t.

Why don’t we?  And what is love?

Love is wanting good for someone and then doing that good for them.  Love is meeting the needs of another even at great cost to oneself.  Real love creates a paradise.  In the beginning, the world was good–it was completely free of evil, suffering, and death (see Genesis 1-2).

That’s not how the world is now.

The first man and woman believed the lies of a serpent rather than the truth of their good Creator.  Defying their Creator, they ate from the tree of knowing good and evil.  Then everything in the world–including themselves–shattered (see Gen 2-3).

Instead of peace and joy, they experienced fierce battles and deep sorrows.  And their story is our story. Rather than enjoying laughter and light, we weep and grope our way through heavy darkness.

A vast chasm separates us from what we were created to be and do and what we actually become and act out.  There’s a reason work life is hard; there’s a reason home life is tough; there’s a reason we experience racial tension, starvation, war, rape, genocide, lack of clean water, child abuse, murder, earthquakes, theft, hurricanes, and divided families.

Everything is broken.  People are broken.  Relationships are fractured.  All of creation is groaning in pain, hoping and longing to be made good and new again, like things were in the beginning.

We want things to be good again.  But since we, ourselves, are broken, we don’t see reality very clearly.  We get confused and mistake truth for lies, darkness for light.  We often see the evil of others very clearly but are blind to the evil inside of ourselves.  The one skill we all possess in abundance is destruction: both self-destruction and the destruction of others.

Today, in America, we are a nation deeply divided.  This isn’t a new development or the result of us abandoning our “pristine,” Christian heritage.  We have always been a nation of broken people trying our best to patch things together and live in peace; and we have always made tragic errors.  Slavery of human beings–based primarily on outward appearance–was once an accepted part of our culture and way of life. As a nation, we imported people with black skin to live in hovels and die working on plantations–every day, they were treated like farm animals.  We killed or corralled Native Americans, taking away their land and livelihood, driving them onto reservations that were conveniently located away from “our” homes and land.  Women couldn’t vote.  Sex trafficking exists to this day.  Exploitation of the vulnerable–whether it’s a child or an elderly person in a nursing home–happens every day.  The abuses we have committed–and do commit–against each other bring hot tears to my eyes even as I write this.

Things are a mess.  They’ve been a mess ever since we defied God and chose to know evil in the Garden.  What we need, more than anything, is a way out…we need a bridge to cross our little islands.  We need a true King who truly loves us.  We are in desperate need of rescue.  We need everything to be made right–everything to be made good and new again.

We need Jesus.

We need the real Jesus who came in humility as a baby, vulnerable and dependent on those He came to save.  He grew up and began His work of making all things good and new, healing the diseased; giving sight to the blind; raising the dead back to life; feeding the hungry; treating women as equals to men; and setting the captives free!  He rescued anyone who realized their own brokenness and need to be rescued.  He told those who knew they were evil that He forgave them–and then He died in their place, removing the crushing weight of self-and-others-destruction from their shoulders and placing it on His own.  He died to defeat both evil and death, then came back to life in victory, blazing with the glory of His work of making us (and all of Creation) good and new again, able once more to love and be loved!

We need Jesus.

Today in our country, people I respect are insisting we must return to our founding principles and ideals, while people I don’t respect are exploiting every social tension we possess, essentially screaming, “Fight, fight, fight!”  The problem is that left to ourselves, we will always fight.  On our own, we can’t consistently live up to ideals or principles. We all create little islands, because we’re all broken.

We all need Jesus: Black and white; Republican and Democrat; Christian and atheist; gay and straight; men and women; young and old; English-speaking and Spanish-speaking.  Every nation, tribe, and tongue needs Jesus, our Rescuer.

By ourselves, we form ridiculous, self-defeating groups and clubs, shaking our fist at the “other” side, placing all of the blame for the mess we’re in on “them”–after all, it can’t possibly be our fault!  We are right and they, obviously, are wrong.  “They” are the reason we see evil and injustice running rampant through our homes, neighborhoods, and streets.  “We” the righteous will scream and rant and rave, throwing stones at the guilty…completely and utterly oblivious to the fact that we, too, are guilty.  Jesus is the only One who never sinned…and He not only didn’t throw a stone, He died to rescue the guilty ones (read: all of us).  Jesus is the only One who truly loved and loves…and He is the only One who can restore our ability to do the same.

A great divide exists between people and people; between people and God.  Jesus came to cross that Great Divide and to reconcile us.  He came to reconcile man to God but also man to man.  We were all made to love and be loved.  Praise God, He is making that possible once again.  He became our bridge; He is our hope.  All we must do is see our brokenness and evil and accept His beautiful, costly rescue.

May it be so.