Ticket day.

I look back on that day, and I think there’s only one thing she could’ve thought.

Lunatic.

There I was, fingers buried up to the knuckles in my little bedroom’s fairly industrial carpet, tears forming a river formidable enough to make Justin Timberlake proud.

Meredith was standing in the hall, and her eyes were huge.

She was unpacking her suitcases. She was new to England.

I wondered if she was taking in the scene and thinking in horror that she might be looking into the mirror at the ghost of Christmas future.

#whathaveigottenmyselfinto

#toolatetoturnback?

#thedamageisdonesoiguessillbeleaving

Expats sometimes call them “ticket days” – the days that if you had a one-way ticket, you’d probably get on the plane and fly back.

This was my first ticket day.

It seemed everything had imploded in a split second. I’d prayed over several things, then botched them all in ways I couldn’t have even dreamed up. I’d hurt people I love when I meant to do the opposite. All in one day. It felt like I’d been dead-legged so suddenly I didn’t feel it until my face hit the industrial carpet.

It was awful.

Later that week, I was on the schedule to give an encouraging talk at my office, and I don’t remember saying much that fit the bill of encouraging. I think it centered around clinging to God in the midst of pitch blackness, when everything goes up in flames.

#dropsthemike

#yallhaveagreatweek

Admittedly I have a deep well of emotions, but this plumbed it and kept digging. But in the middle of it, something unexpected happened.

I started learning how to learn.

A few days later, after I’d moved from the carpet to the couch, I found myself in 2 Corinthians 4.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal bodies.”

My weak, frail body – exploding with tears and messing things up even with my best efforts – is nothing but a jar of clay.

The stuff that matters is the treasure that’s on the inside: “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

I may feel hard-pressed on every side, but I’m not crushed, all because of His strength, strength that is super visible in my clay-like weakness.

That passage dead-legged me, and I remember yelling down the spiral staircase at Meredith how much I LOVED THIS CHAPTER.

I read it. And read it. And read it. Until finally one day I felt God prodding me to do something I hadn’t done since my sixth grade Christmas program.

Memorize it.

Oh, no.

It was hard. It took time. It took turning off the radio to say it to myself while I drove. It took getting up early to have some quiet hours before work.

But eventually it got in there.

And just in time.

When my friend Clare died last February, my face hit the carpet again, and this time I wasn’t sure how to get up with the weight of pain that sat in my gut and radiated through my pores. But something else came spilling out, too.

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen.”

I couldn’t read. I couldn’t pray. Everything hurt so badly I couldn’t see.

I wanted a ticket out of this one, too.

“For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Scripture came pouring out. Praise God. He knew my need. He supplied His Word. It got me through some hard, hard days. Sleepless nights. Tear-filled showers. Days doubled over my desk.

I started wishing I had already put so much more in my heart, because it didn’t take long to realize that when this jar-of-clay heart gets shattered, His Word spills out everywhere.

If I’ve put it there.

sheep

“My sheep know My voice … ” through His Word.

It’s too big.

DSC_0135

Some days I actually feel like my heart might explode.

He LOVES us.

LOVES. us.

It’s like I can’t sing loud enough, stick my hands in the air high enough, say it well enough. It makes me slam my palms into the ceiling of the car. It makes me nearly crush that teeny tiny communion cup in my hand. It makes my voice crack like a 12-year-old boy.

I want to dance in the street like King David. I want to grab the people in the mountains trapped in idolatry by both shoulders and tell them how loved they are.

Please, stop. Just stop. Stop what you’re doing – it’s worthless, worthless rags – and love Him back.

DSC_0101

I want to shake myself – upset over a frozen computer or a traffic jam, or wasting hours in bed when Jesus is asking me to watch and pray – and say stop what you’re doing – it’s worthless, worthless rags – and love Him back.

He loves us. It’s too big. We can never risk too much, go too far, give away too much of ourselves.

My heart will sing no other name.

Jesus.

Held.

“I think God’s people are at their strongest when they are broken, because God can use them to do incredible things when they say, ‘All I can do is rely on God.’” – Mark Stuart

potter 1

When I woke up that day, I didn’t think, “Today will be the day a stranger squeezes my bicep in the parking lot.”

But it happened.

It was awkward, and I don’t think he was impressed.

“Know anything about clay?”

Only that it’s heavy. “No.”

“Well, it can be a beast of an upper body workout. Hope your arms are ready for this.” Squeeze, squeeze.

OK … great. Thanks …

I managed to make it the last 10 yards to the car with the 25-pound block of clay without any more stranger arm squeezing. Amazing how dense that clay was at about the size of a cantaloupe … somehow 25 pounds feels a lot different when it’s in the form of a knot rather than a toddler or a carry-on suitcase.

This was solid. Intense. Heavy. I was hunched over it all the way from the art store to the car, super-flexing my non-biceps, carrying it right next to the gut with everything I had.

It was a familiar feeling.

Sometimes I think our spiritual loads actually feel physical. Some days the ache and the longing for the real stuff that’s coming later make me want to reach out and punch a hole in the flimsy canvas tent I’m sitting in, wind-battered and broken.

And stick my hands into the Light. For good.

“For we know that when this tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling … “

We all have a load. And we all have an innate longing for the real stuff, if we don’t allow ourselves to numb it.

This life is good, don’t get me wrong. I love the neighborhood where I run in the mornings under a bunch of hot-pink crepe myrtles. I love a good chai latte. I love hanging with my people. I have big plans to become a unicyclist by the end of the year.

But the good stuff (when it comes) is meant to remind us of the even better, and the pain (when it comes) is meant to drive us further up and further into His arms.

When my good friend Clare died earlier this year, it felt like a 25-pound block of pain lodged in my abdomen, like I’d caught a cannonball with my gut. The only thing I knew to do was run as fast as I could to Jesus, and I face-planted into His solidness kind of like that guy in “Man of Steel” who tried to get in a bar fight with Clark Kent.

God didn’t move an inch. He just stayed. And cared. And was solid.

He always was. But I think death and pain have a way of making the eternal look even more permanent and the stuff here look even more translucent, our human form even weaker.

“But we have this treasure (the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus Christ) in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed … “

mangled pot

My fragility was on display. And the more broken I became, the more solid He felt, and the more I wanted Him to fix what was broken in the way that He chose.

“’Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do …”

ruined pots

For months in the quiet as I’ve sat with Him, the words that come to mind about Him are Rock. Shield. A Shepherd who carries me, solid and gentle. A Creator who, like the Potter, keeps His hands still and steady and lets the clay conform to them without movement or force.

And another word: love.

And for months as I’ve thought about my own condition, the words I thought of were weak. Broken. Out of strength.

So I took my clay and I went down to the potter’s house.

I’m still doing that every day.

potter 2

I don’t know how to put into words how sweet His care is. One night at the beach recently, I stood in the shower and let the tears run. I didn’t even know how to tell Him what was wrong. I just said, “I have no strength. I know You’re in control, and I trust You. I’ll follow You wherever You want me to go … just please be my strength.”

I went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up when my niece, who was sleeping near my feet, screamed at 5:30 a.m. with a missing blankie crisis. It abated quickly, but the thoughts in my head didn’t.

So I grabbed my phone and my Bible and headed for the beach.

And on the way down, I read an email from a friend I hadn’t had a really good conversation with in months.

“Hey! Ok – this is going to sound a bit strange but here goes.  I just wanted to check in on you to see how you are because I just dreamt about you. I just woke up instantly thinking of you and prayed for you. I am not any prophetess or anything and it maybe me just missing talking to you but I thought I would check in since it isn’t everyday that this happens – and prayer is always good!”

Huh.

I laid my head back on the beach chair and watched the waves roll in. A couple of older people were picking up shells about 100 yards away. The beach is pretty deserted at 6 a.m. Guess that’s not surprising.

“Father, You’re so big. You made the waves, yet You made someone wake up in the middle of the night to pray for me.”

Insane.

“Hey … umm … hi.”

Where did these girls come from? There was no one on the beach but the old people.

“This is kind of weird, but we were just walking by, and I felt God telling me to stop and pray for you for strength.”

For strength.

The next thing I knew, the two girls were praying over me things they couldn’t have known on their own.

“Is this something y’all do all the time?”

“What? Stopping and praying with people?”

“Yeah.”

“No … this is kind of weird for us.” They made a face at each other. “We never do this.”

We talked for a minute, and I headed back to the beach house amazed.

My God cares.

For me. And for you.

He cares

Legitimacy in addiction.

(Photo courtesy of @travelwithchris)

(Photo courtesy of @travelwithchris)

“You’re in good company if you’ve struggled with that.”

I lay in the Papasan chair on the screened back porch. The breeze blew and stirred up the leaves on the ground outside.

Seventy degrees in December. I’m not in England anymore.

I looked up at the stark blue sky. I used to watch planes crisscross the cloudy sky outside my window every minute or two when I lived on the Gatwick Airport flight path in England. Here, not a cloud. Not even one jet trail.

My passport’s tucked in a drawer for the first time in two and a half years.

“Realize there is legitimacy in your addiction. What Christian who has a front-row seat to seeing God move the way you have wouldn’t want that to continue? When we pray, ‘Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,’ you experienced a drop of what that will be like, and you want more – a LOT more.”

The words that a wise and understanding friend penned me when I got back to America resonate with me as I sit and watch the leaves rustle.

I do, Father.

I want a lot more.

And the more I put gas in the car, do the daily commute and sit at a desk, the more I realize … it’s not the travel I want.

It’s the concentrated time to see You at work, to learn Your heart. To really see You. To ask for more. Then to go where You go … or stay where You stay.

Before I moved to England, sure, I’d heard it. Sermons, Bible studies, etc. Do you get as excited about Jesus as you about a football game? Do you spend as much time reading the Bible as you do watching TV? Do you pray without ceasing? Do you love Jesus more than you love your stuff?

They’re all good questions … if we dare to deal with them at more than a surface level. Do I get as excited about Jesus as I do a football game? Um, that’d be weird and awkward to yell about Jesus. Do I love Jesus more than my stuff? Sure, I’ll put it all on Abraham’s altar … and expect it to not really be asked of me. Do I read my Bible as much as I watch TV? Is this like setting the egg timer for my preteen piano practice?

The real answers are a finger-smudged iPhone and a dusty Bible.

Or a finger-smudged egg timer and a dusty heart.

At this time of year, this kind of thought would normally lead into a New Year’s resolution for me. I’m gonna read my Bible more. I’m gonna get rid of some stuff. While I’m at it, I’ll lose a little weight and plan a trip to Europe.

Not this year. I don’t want resolutions.

I want Advent.

At this time of year 2,000 years ago, God’s people were waiting expectantly for the birth of the one Person worth everything. The only Man who would ever call out, “Follow Me,” and men would drop everything and run, only to find unspeakable joy. The God of the universe who would come and die a brutal death so that we could know Him and long for the day we’d be with Him face to face.

Jesus.

He’s not a tired Christmas song. He’s not a doll in a manger scene. He is the Savior our souls cry out for, whom we can know and want and chase after to the point that everything else truly fades away, not in an egg timer kind of way … in the kind of way that we forget the egg timer exists.

He’s a Savior who longs for us to push through the pat answers and know Him.

We talk about dreams (of travel, of marriage, etc.). We talk about plans (of being more disciplined, exercising more, reading the Bible more, moving away, etc.). But what of expectancy?

They longed for Him. He came.

And He’s coming back.

I want my candle trimmed and full of oil. (Matthew 25:1-13) I want my eyes trained on the sky, and not just for jet trails. Longing for the day He rips open the sky and sets everything right. The day we see His glory in its fullness.

I want more.

When we pray, ‘Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,’ you experienced a drop of what that will be like … and you’ll get it by the hydrant full when His Kingdom does come on this earth for good. So know that experiencing the goodness of God IS addictive and that part is okay.”

Only the Father knows when He’ll come again. Only He knows where He will want me in this life – travel or no travel, being used or not being used, family or no family. Only He knows how many times I’m going to get this wrong along the way (over and over), and how desperately I need Him.

But one thing I know … this Advent, this Christmas, I long for His coming.

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Rev. 22:17)

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’” (Rev. 22:20)

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

****

(If you’re interested in a free downloadable book of short daily readings that John Piper wrote for Advent, click here. It’s really good.)

The church you hardly see.

If you look at Cuba from the outside, you can hardly see the church.

David Platt went looking for it.

“I met a guy who had a house church, and that church had planted 60 other churches,” he said. And some of those churches had planted dozens of other churches themselves.

They don’t have buildings. They meet in houses. And the multiplication is insane.

David asked them how they do it, and they said simply, “We make disciples.”

“Oh,” he said with a smile. “That’s all.”

The more we complicate the system with programs and buildings, “the more we stifle church multiplication,” David said. “The Word of God and the Spirit of God – that’s all you need.”

This is the story in Cuba. It’s the story in China. It’s the story in India.

“Don’t we want it to be the story where we live?” David said.

It isn’t for pastors or church planters, he says. It’s for every follower of Christ. It’s biblical Christianity.

Let’s be real – it’s not easy. How do we take our jobs as writers, teachers, sandwich makers, accountants, moms and lawyers and make disciples where we are?

Look for the people beside you, David says. Share Christ with them. Let them into your life and see how you live. Pray and show them how you pray. Read the Bible and invite them to do it with you.

And don’t extract them from their old circles of people.

“Teach them to live the way you live among the people they know, and it will multiply,” David says. “We can shake the nations for his glory. Let’s do it knowing that it is costly but He is worth it.”

***

Want some practical help to make disciples among the people in your life?

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