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Archive for April, 2012

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Bounding up the stairs in a hurry, I was reviewing my ever-expanding mental “to do” list when a sudden sharp pain in my right foot made me stop and suck in my breath. Mission forgotten, I hunched over, gently massaging the top of my foot.

I thought I could ignore the discomfort, heading outside to bury vegetable peels in the garden and bring in the laundry from the clothesline. But as I dug the hole and covered it up again with black earth, my foot was protesting. And by the time I had taken down the last t-shirt from the line, I was hobbling and wincing from the shooting pain.
Plopping down in a recliner, I tentatively rotated my foot in small circles, trying to stretch out the band of tendons that were throbbing in that all-too-familiar way.
“It’s been almost two years!” I groaned. “Why is this still bothering me?”
A fall down some cement steps over a year and a half ago has had long-lasting effects. Though the sprained foot healed eventually, every once in a while a minor mis-step or too-quick movement will make the injury flare up again.
My heart often acts like my injured right foot. Someone I run into in a restaurant, the aroma of a certain food, or a song I hear on the radio will sometimes “trigger” long-buried and seemingly forgotten hurts or painful memories. The hurt seems as real and fresh as when it first happened.
In that instant, I have a choice in how I respond. I can ignore it, pushing through the discomfort, until I end up limping and can’t go on anymore. I can wallow in the memories, nursing those grudges and embracing the bitterness, burying myself deeper in the hole of unforgiveness, and becoming immobilized. Or I can recognize the issue and address it – purposefully going through the steps of Processing The Issues Of Your Heart to deal with any lingering unforgiveness.
Today when my right foot reminds me of the sensitivity from that previous injury, I will take the time to stop and stretch it out, building up the muscle strength again. And today if I’m “triggered” by someone or something that reminds me of past heart injuries, I will choose to address those emotions. I will choose to forgive again. I will choose to release the pain to Jesus. And, though it’s sometimes slow going and there are setbacks and obstacles in the process, I will choose to walk in freedom and healing!
Going Vertical!
MJ
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 58:8 (NIV)

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“I can’t do this!” I protest, trying in vain to copy the graceful movements of the worship dance. Discouraged at my stumbles and awkward steps, afraid of making a fool of myself in front of everyone, I want to quit. Sighing in resignation, I feel defeated. I’ll never be a dancer. 

When I was five or six years old, I had visions of being a world-famous ballerina. Twirling around in my living room in a long, flowing skirt, I would practice pointing my toes and arching my arms overhead like I had seen professional dancers do. I wanted desperately to take ballet classes with my friends in their cute pink leotards and delicate ballet slippers.

Now, as an adult, I’m thrilled to be a part of our church dance team. Yet insecurity over my lack of skill and training makes me extremely self-conscious and fearful of failure.

“You don’t have to be a professional dancer,” Angela, the leader of the dance team, patiently encourages me again and again during practices and performances. “You’re a worshiper. Just dance for Jesus.”

On Easter Sunday morning this year, my palms start sweating as I stand on the stage with the three other dancers, waiting for the music to begin. I can feel myself getting nervous and fearful. Though previously I’ve always been in the back corner, half-hiding behind the grand piano, this time I’m on the front row. “You can do this,” Angela had insisted. “You know this dance. And remember, you’re a worshiper.”

“No sweeter name than the name of Jesus, No sweeter name have I ever known,” the song begins and I silently count the beats, trying to relax and focus on the words of the song.

“…You are the life to my heart and my soul, You are the light to the darkness around me…”

Suddenly I realize that I’m no longer wondering what the congregation is thinking about me. I’m not worrying about whether I will stumble or forget a step. It’s true – I’m a worshiper. I’m dancing for Jesus.

I close my eyes and imagine myself as that little girl twirling in the living room. I picture Jesus taking my hand and spinning me around, laughing with me. Overcome with joy, I almost jump off the stage as the truth washes over me.

I’m His little girl. I’m His ballerina.

Going Vertical!

MJ

“Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. For the LORD takes delight in his people.” Psalm 149:2-4a (NIV)

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BECAUSE HE’S ALIVE

Huddled in blankets to keep out the early-morning chill, the small crowd sat expectantly on metal folding chairs in front of the church. Pale light was just starting to creep through the sky at this Easter Sunday sunrise service.
 
“I have always been a people-pleaser,” I began, my voice sounding thin and strange in the pre-dawn stillness.  “I try to fit others’ molds, meet their expectations, and gain their approval.”

Holding up a large mirror to the group, I continued. “It’s like I’m going through life with a mirror facing out, asking everyone, ‘What do YOU think of me? Am I OK? Do you approve?Are you happy with me? Am I doing it right?’

“Years of striving to be the perfect daughter, the perfect student, and the perfect employee drained every last ounce of my strength and energy, until finally there was nothing left. Exhausted and frustrated, I began to explode with anger and emotional outbursts at the slightest provocation.
 
“I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I thought I just needed to try harder, pray more, be stronger. But it wasn’t working. In trying to make everyone else happy, I ended up making myself miserable.
 
“For months I would dread getting up in the morning, thinking that I couldn’t possibly face another day and pretend that everything was fine, when I knew I was an emotional wreck.”
 
Streaks of pink and orange were starting to light up the sky as I continued. “At that lowest point of my life, God spoke the truth my heart needed to hear. He showed me that though I had been trying so hard to gain everyone else’s approval, I had HIS approval all along! He assured me that I don’t need to earn His favor. He loves me unconditionally, just because I’m His daughter.”

With the rising sun warming my face, I read aloud Romans 8:11. “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”

“Because Jesus has risen and is alive, and because I have given my life to Him, that SAME power that raised Him from the dead is living in me! It’s only HIS power living in me that gives me life and joy and strength for each day!”
 
Radiant full sunlight shone on each face as we stood and sang together,  celebrating the life and power we have through the resurrection of Jesus.
 
“Christ the Lord is risen today!  A-LE-LU-JAH!”
 
Going Vertical!
MJ
 
“I pray that you may know… the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe… God put this power to work in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” Ephesians 1:19-20 (NRSV)

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Standing awkwardly in the doorway of the women’s bathroom at church, door propped open on my elbow, I wasn’t sure if I should go in or quietly retreat. Behind me, through the half-open door, I could hear the worship music continuing in our Sunday morning service. But in front of me, standing at the sink, was a very-pregnant Stella, sobbing. 

I looked up to Stella and her husband Rick, active members of our church and model parents of well-behaved preschoolers. Though I was a shy high school kid, Stella always greeted me with a smile and took the time to ask how I was doing. Now I stood paralyzed, feeling I had stumbled upon some private scene of grief.

Wiping frantically at the flow of tears with wadded-up paper towels, Stella tried to smile. “I’m so sorry. I’m having a hard day.”

The recent ultrasound didn’t look good, she explained. The doctors said there appeared to be brain damage. Their baby, the Stella and Rick were told, would probably have physical and/or mental handicaps, possibly severe.

“And today in the service when everyone was singing ‘You’re all I want, You’re all I’ve ever needed,’ I just couldn’t sing it!” Stella’s wide eyes looked at me, desperate and pleading. “I can’t honestly say right now that Jesus is all I want. I want my baby to be healthy!”

As I hugged this distraught young mother and handed her tissues, my brain was exploding with questions that rocked my teenage theology. Is it OK to admit when I’m having a hard time trusting God? 

I can’t fake it before the Creator of the universe. He sees my heart. In Isaiah 29:13, He says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”  God doesn’t want lip service. He desires honesty. It’s OK to be real with God about our pain. But He doesn’t want us to stay there.

“Yet a time is coming and has now come,” the Bible says in John 4:23, “when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” Worshiping in TRUTH doesn’t just mean singing songs in church. It means clinging to the lifeline of God’s promises when everything is crumbling around you.

In the following weeks and months after that encounter in the women’s bathroom, Stella and Rick held desperately to the truth of God’s Word – that He had a plan and purpose for this little one in the womb. Though the doctors said they should consider “terminating the pregnancy,” this young couple was determined to love and care for their unborn child, even if he or she was born severely handicapped.

When their baby boy was finally born, even before the doctors declared him to be perfectly healthy, Stella’s heart was already at peace. This issue had been settled months earlier, at that moment of crisis, when she had chosen to submit her desires to God’s plan, trusting that He would use it for good. That is the kind of worship God desires. That is true worship. 

Going Vertical!

MJ

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