When You Can’t See God

Magic Springs wore me out last week.

Correction. The heat, combined with my children’s nonstop energy, wore me out.

The amusement park nestled in the outskirts of Hot Springs, Arkansas is a popular place to take families for summer fun where they can zoom down water slides, swim, splash in freeze zones, play games like bumper cars or catch a ride on numerous pulse-stopping roller coasters.

After hours swimming in the hot sun, the older kids wanted to ride a coaster. My friend offered to watch my son play in the kiddie pool while I took one teenager, one preteen, and three giggling seven-year olds to ride the Arkansas Twister. arkansas twisterThere was virtually no line that day so we rode the wooden roller coaster several times. Five, six, seven…they didn’t want to stop.

After the third trip through, I got off and told them I would stay by the entrance and snap their pictures as they zoomed by. No problem. I got some great shots of the laughing troop of estrogen. The longer I stood, the warmer I became. Ninety-five degrees with eighty-nine percent humidity feels like you’re standing in a furnace while a llama licks your face. Soon I was sweating through my clothes and decided to find a bit of shade until the girls had ridden themselves empty.

I found the perfect spot right beside the exit stairs where passengers left the Twister. It put me as close as possible to the girls without actually sitting on the coaster with them. A bit of shade. Blessed relief. steps in shade

Another ten minutes passed when I heard a heartbroken wail. My oldest daughter descended the stairs with her arms around my youngest daughter who was sobbing.

“You see? Mom’s right there. There’s no reason to be upset.”

My heart sank. Poor Callie. My youngest daughter has battled anxiety for years. She carries a heavy burden on her small shoulders and though we’ve made tremendous strides, the old enemy of fear still rises up from time to time.

I patted the bench next to me. “Come here, sweetheart. Why are you crying?”

“Because…I…couldn’t…see you! I…saw you…before…and then…you…were gone.”

I tugged her close and kissed her hair. “That’s true but do you know why I changed spots? The heat was making me feel bad. I needed shade so I moved. But I didn’t just move any old place. I moved somewhere I would be closer to you if you needed me.”

Callie sniffed and looked around. “You are closer to us here, aren’t you?”

I smiled, “Yep. Let me ask you something. When you didn’t see me, what was the first thing you did? Pray or panic?”

She blinked. “I freaked out.”

“Yeah. And why did you freak out?”

She shrugged and scuffed the concrete with the toe of her shoe. “I guess because I assumed if I didn’t see you that you had left me.”

I squeezed her close. “Have I ever left you before?”

She shook her head. “No. Never.”

“And I never will. Just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I’ve left. In this case, not being able to see me was a very good thing because I was actually closer to you than I was before.”

With a long pause, I realized God was capturing my attention at the same time I spoke truth and comfort to my child.

How many times have I wondered if God saw me, especially when I couldn’t feel His presence? How many times have I believed the lie that said it was up to me—my effort, my work and my eyes on Him—to keep our relationship close? And while a relationship, any relationship, is a two-way street, deep in my heart I know that anything left up to my own efforts is doomed to fail. That is where Grace moves in.

He draws me to Him. He comes after me when I stray. He sees my need and moves to fill the gaps in my crumbled, broken weakness. When fear rattles the doorknob, He is close…closer than eyes can see. deuteronomy 31 6

Sometimes we have to ignore what our fickle emotions scream at us, silence the lies of what we think we know and stand firm on the promises of God’s Word. He said He will never leave us. He says His love for us is incomprehensible. It is not dependent on anything we do or are unable to do. We need only let His grace move in and hold us.

I don’t have to see Him to know He’s there.

I startled back to the present when Callie offered a shaky smile and wiped the tears from her blotchy face. “I think I’m ready to ride it again. My friends are waiting for me.”

“Okay, sweetie. Only if you’re sure.”

She looked over her shoulder as she climbed the stairs.

“It’s okay, Mom. Now I know. Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean you’re not there.”

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The Thief: The Problem with Comparing

Jean size. That dreaded number on the scale. Checking account balances. Facebook friends. Instagram and Twitter followers. Awards and degrees. Points scored by your child at his last game. Job performance evaluations.

So many numbers and none of them are good or bad when rattled off in isolation. The only time we have a problem with any of the above is when we are tempted to compare these numbers to the stats of others.

thief of joy

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So true. Not only is comparison a thief, it’s also a terrible judge. Speaking for myself, I tend to compare myself either to those who are way more put together than I am, or I compare myself to those who can’t seem to get their act together at all. The Ree Drummonds, June Cleavers and James Dobsons of the world leave me wallowing in self-loathing, wondering why I can’t seem to get my hot mess of a life in shape. So instead I look to those who are further down on the proverbial ‘getting-their-garbage-handled’ totem pole and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that.”

But does looking down at someone else’s mess make me any better of a mother? A wife? A friend? A sister or daughter? No. It just makes me more prideful…and a much bigger pain.

compare highlight reel

That’s the problem with comparing ourselves to anyone else. It forces us to ride a pendulum that swings between pride and the lie that says, “You’re not good enough.”

The disciple Peter battled the same issue in John 21:19-22.

“He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Follow Me [walk the same path of life that I have walked]!’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His chest at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray You?’ So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man [what is in his future]?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to stay alive until I come[again], what is that to you? You follow Me!’ ” (AMP)

God designed each of us with a unique purpose in mind…a purpose we do our best to throw away when we compare and long for the bodies, the families, the plans, the dreams, the goals, the bank accounts or the lives of others. Comparison breeds discontentment and discontentment leads to every other sin we struggle against.

flower comparison

God made only one you. There is only one person with your exact fingerprint. Only one with your exact strand of DNA. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Keep your  joy full today. Be who you were created to be. No comparisons allowed.

The Rodeo Clown: Learning to Be Seen

“Tara, why can’t you look me in the eye?”

My friend’s question sliced to the quick. We had been chatting for over forty minutes and the topic had drifted from the mundane to more personal waters. Personal makes me uncomfortable. When I know someone is peeling back layers and taking a peek underneath the mask I work so hard to keep fixed in place, the intensity of their stare is too much. I don’t want them to see the trembling mess I am.

coffee

So I take a sudden interest in my shoes. Or the couch cushion. Or the coffee cup clutched in my fingers. Anything other than their probing stare. I can feel it. Like a monster breathing against my bedroom window.

Whoever said real is the new black doesn’t know how terrifying real can be. Or perhaps they do. Maybe they are just farther along in the journey than I am and have learned how to face their fear with a courage I long to possess.

I’ve made tremendous strides in the past few years. I’m learning to say no, to express my thoughts and opinions without worrying what others might think of me. I’m not exactly dancing in freedom but God has been teaching me to walk in it, though some days it feels more like I’m tiptoeing around in His grace. That’s okay. Imperfect progress and all that.

Yet why do I still have trouble looking people in the eye?

If eyes are windows to the soul, I try my best to keep my soul shuttered and locked away from view.

tara 18 2016 (2)

At my friend’s pointed observation, I made some silly comment. Something intended to make her laugh. A joke. It’s what I do. She smiled, but she wasn’t through.

“Do you know what you remind me of? One of those rodeo clowns.”

I blinked. “What do you mean?”

rodeo clown

She smiled kindly, but she didn’t shy away from the truth. “You know what the original rodeo clowns were intended to do, right? They were meant to distract the crowd from the blood and gore that had just occurred between the bull and rider. They diverted attention away from the serious issues by entertaining. Cover the grotesque with a smile and a funny routine.” She squeezed my hand. “And sometimes a bit of grease paint.”

How faithful are the wounds of a friend. Though difficult to hear, my friend was completely correct. Though God is restoring my broken places each and every day, there is still a part of me that longs to hide. A fragment of my spirit that lives in shame. Shame never wants to flaunt itself, does it? It covers. It distracts. It deflects. As Jennifer Dukes Lee worded it in her book Love Idol, “Because we can’t make peace with ourselves, we try to hide ourselves.”

Hiding can take all kind of forms. It doesn’t have to be the mousy little girl ducking behind her mane of hair and folded arms. Shame and insecurity can be wrapped in the Homecoming Queen or the public speaker or yes, even a rodeo clown. Some of us only want to be seen if we will be perceived as perfect…and we either avert our gaze or apply the grease paint because we know we’re not.

kintsugi 3Despite my struggle with people pleasing, one thing I have learned is this: perfect is boring, at least by the human definition. For me, flawless has become synonymous with plastic. Dull. Lifeless. What a miserable way to live. No, I think I’ll strive for the Biblical definition of perfect instead…complete. Complete in Jesus. Whole. Not lacking anything because His grace has filled the broken places where my own weakness is laid bare.

When we grasp hold of how much He loves us, deeply and scandalously loves us, it changes things. Shame flees in the light of His love. He becomes our safe place. The One we can tell our deepest fears, thoughts and dreams to and know they are held in the only hands strong enough to carry the weight of the world. No condemnation. Only grace.

One of my favorite names of God is El Roi, meaning “The God Who sees me”. A lowly slave girl discovered this firsthand.

el roi

” The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery…

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

                                                                        (Genesis 16:7-13)

If I am to be seen, I want it to be through His love-filled eyes. Eyes that see the blood of His Son marked upon my heart. Eyes that saw my faults yet loved me so much He would have rather died than leave me in the dark.

We all want to be seen in those terms. We all want to know that we matter. In the presence of Jesus, there is no need for grease paint. No need to hide. No need to drop our gazes in shame. He sees. He knows, yet He loves us all the same.

That includes rodeo clowns.