Go and Do Likewise

image1On my recent trip to New York I made a new friend.  Her name is Dorothée.  She is the co-owner of the bed & breakfast I stayed at and was my hostess for the week.  I’ll admit I had an agenda going into the trip.  I really wanted to make a connection with some of the people in the town where I hope to retire.  So little did Dorothée know when she took my reservation that I was looking for more than just a room and some delicious breakfasts… I was hoping to make a friend.  And she didn’t disappoint.

I was only there a few short days but I felt like I left with a friend for life.  We had some wonderful opportunities to share and visit and although I know we barely scratched the surface in getting to know each other, I’m confident this is only the beginning.

We were open to each other.  She shared her Inn, which is delightfully decorated with the antiques that her and her business partner have collected.  She shared her phenomenal, gourmet breakfasts with me, her only guest for the week.  She shared her love for connecting with people and creating spaces for others to connect with each other.  And she shared her two dogs and cat with me.  I shared my desire to move to that area.  I shared my passion for writing and my faith.  I talked about what I believe God is showing me about what it means to live with His Spirit within me.  The conversations were deep and meaningful.  It was wonderful!

Although I don’t know very many details about Dorothée, I am sure there are many things we do not have in common.  I know that we were not born in the same country.  (She’s from France.)  I suspect we  don’t share the same political views.  We may not share the same faith.  And there are probably countless other things that we differ on.  But during that short week we had together, none of that mattered.  We openly shared what we were comfortable sharing with each other.  There was no judgment, no prejudice.  We were both just open to each other and looked for the things we had in common rather than our differences.

It was while I was at the airport on my way home that I began reflecting on how the week could have been different.  I was convicted by the fact that too often I put people into categories before even getting to know them.  I have my implicit biases that quickly sift people into one category or another.  Will they agree with me or disagree with me?  If I had done that with Dorothée there may never have been a connection, or certainly not one that would have lasted.

It’s a bad habit.  Personally, I chalk it up to social media.  I don’t scroll through my feed thinking about the people behind those posts.  I scroll through my feed looking for those I agree with, those whose posts I can “like.”  I swipe past those I disagree with, those that trigger that stress reaction in the pit of my stomach.  Or worse, I engage and start crafting my outrage to post in reply.  The power of opinion is like a drug, and it’s a dangerous one.  I believe our society is punch drunk with the importance of our almighty opinions and we are forgetting not only how to connect with one another but the importance of it. The truth is, we’ve always had differing opinions.  The difference was, our opinions were never more important than our connection to one another.

We’re not alone in this.  Jesus actually addressed this problem in His day too.  Although the cause wasn’t social media at the time, He did address the problem with people not recognizing who their neighbor was.  The story is commonly known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

As in all of His parables, Jesus chose His characters carefully.  First off, He gave His audience the setting.  It was the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Historically it was known as “the bloody way.”  Picture the most violent and crime-ridden street or alley in your community.  That was the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and everybody knew how dangerous it was.  Still, in the parable, a man takes his chances on that road and gets beat up by thugs.  All of his money and clothes are stolen and he’s left there to die.

There are three people who encounter the beaten man.  The first two are a priest and a Levite.  The priest was someone who served in the Temple.  He was a religious man, someone you would expect to have a lot of compassion and care for another human being.  The second was a Levite.  All priests came from the tribe of Levi but not all Levites became priests.  But again, for Jesus’ audience and even for us today, one would assume that these would be some of the most compassionate people around.  The expectation of them would be that they would stop for someone who needed help.

The third person was a Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans were bitter rivals.  The Jews would never consider a Samaritan to be their “neighbor.”  In fact, they only reserved that designation for other Jews.  So it is purposeful that Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the hero of this story especially when posed with the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

The Samaritan didn’t look upon the man and base his response on the man’s nationality, race, religion, or political preference.  He looked upon him with compassion and saw him as a fellow human being in need of help.  He thought of the man first and himself second.

Jesus turned the question asked by the expert of the law back to him as He ended this parable.  “Which of the three do you think was his neighbor?”  Notice that the expert of the law couldn’t even bring himself to say the word, “Samaritan,” but instead said, “the one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus’ words to him are the same that they are to us, “Go and do likewise.”

We could easily say, “Okay, Lord, next time I come across a guy whose beat up in a dark alley I’ll help him out,” knowing full well we have no intention of ever going down that dark alley in our community if we can help it.  But if that is our only response I think we are missing the point of this parable.  Jesus’ audience then was no different than His audience today.  We have to stop categorizing people and sifting them in terms of whether they agree or disagree with us.  We have to stop looking at people’s opinions as their defining traits, as though that is all that there is to them.  There is more.  There is a soul in need in every human being.

In researching this parable I came upon the following quote:

“It is a convenience, and perhaps a necessity, of human life, that the great mass of humanity should be broken up in to fragments, sections, with differing customs, languages, and names. It gives to the world the stimulus of competition and helpful rivalries. But these distinctions are superficial, temporary, and beneath this diversity of speech and thought there is the deeper unity of soul. We emphasize our differences; we pride ourselves upon them; but how little does Heaven make of them! Heaven does not even see them.”

Revrend H. Burton wrote that sometime in 1889-1890 and it is exactly what the Lord convicted me of in that airport.  God does not see us in terms of our political views, our race, or whether we lean left or right.  He’s sees us as humanity in need of a Savior.  “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him may never perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)  If He doesn’t see us through the superficial categories of the world, why do we insist on seeing others through them?

My life verse is 1 John 4:12 but let me give you that verse in context.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”  (1 John 4:11-13 – NIV)

God doesn’t love us because we vote for a particular candidate, go to a particular church, or follow a particular rule.  God loved us before we ever knew who He was and long before we ever chose to love Him back.  We know this brand of love.  We’ve experienced this brand of love and we’ve been saved by it.  John is reminding us of our responsibility now that we have God’s love and His Spirit within us.

We as believers have the opportunity to show God to others who don’t know Him and who have never encountered Him.  “No one has ever seen God; BUT if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”  (verse 12).  They will see Him through us!  God becomes visible because He lives in us.  His love becomes complete through us!  If that does not excite you, I don’t know what will.  People who don’t know God’s love can encounter that same great love that saved you and me through the Spirit that lives inside us.  That is not religion.  That is a calling.  That is our life’s purpose!

When we fall into the system of the world, categorizing and sifting others based on our almighty opinion we are not only misrepresenting what it means to be a follower of Jesus, we are missing the opportunity for God to be visible to someone who doesn’t know Him.  He is asking for our openness so that His Spirit and His love can do for others what it did for you and I.  We are not only to see others as souls in need. We are to see ourselves as carriers of the only One who can meet their need.

Our job as believers is not to manufacture our own love for others hoping that will point them in the direction of Jesus.  It is rather for us to be open to allowing the power of God’s love to flow through us, to allow the Spirit of God who lives in us to touch others through our skin, our smile, our kind words, our eyes.  When our love coinsides with the Lord’s the experience is even greater and frankly, I believe, God’s gift to us.  But our love is not a requirement.  It’s His love that will change a person’s life.  It is His Spirit that will draw them to their Savior.

Revrend H. Burton said it well:

“It was because the Samaritan forgot himself that all the world has remembered and applauded him. …Discipline your heart that you may see in man everywhere a brother, whose keeper you are. Let fraternity be, not a theory only, by a realized fact, and then a factor of your life. Train your eye to watch for others’ needs, to read another’s woe. Train your soul to sympathy, and your hand to helpfulness; for in our world there is room enough for both.”

 Now join me and let us, go and do likewise.

Thank you, Father, for loving us first!  Thank you for the power of your love and the gift of your Spirit living inside of us.  Forgive me, Lord, for the countless times I have sifted people and categorized them by my opinions and bias.  Make me open to others, so that they may encounter You and come to know Your Son as their Savior.  Thank you for the example of the Good Samaritan.  Use me as you see fit to love and care for those souls in need.  In Your Son’s precious name, amen.

Burton, H. (n.d.). St. Luke. In Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Third Series). Rev. W. Robertson Nicoll, (Series Ed). Retrieved from: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/expositors/luke/10.htm.

 

 

 

Finding Hope at the Donut Man

donut man strawberry donutIf you’ve never been there, you gotta go!  The Donut Man in Glendora, CA (thedonutmanca.com) has the most amazing donuts you could ever imagine.  This is just one of their delectable delights, The Original Fresh Strawberry Stuffed Donut.  It was National Donut Day last week and I couldn’t resist making the trek to get one of these beauties.  What I didn’t expect was in addition to the rush of sugar, fat and carbs, I also received a refreshing jolt of hope, joy and encouragement from my fellow sweet-seeking humans.

The Donut Man is a small donut stand on the famous Route 66.  The modest building has two walk up windows and a convenient ATM tucked alongside it.  It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and I have never been there when there wasn’t a line stretching around the corner.  Finding parking is always a challenge.  I usually end up in the dirt lot annex adjacent to the small paved lot behind the store.  The donuts are enormous.  In addition to their stuffed treats they have tiger tail donuts and chocolate bars that are about the size of my forearm.  It’s an amazing place.

As I got in line last Friday there were about 8 people ahead of me, all different ages, races and backgrounds represented.  The young ladies at the window were giddy with excitement, cackling and giggling as they waited for their order.  They were the only ones expressing what I suspect all of us were trying to contain as the sights and smells of the donuts filled our senses.  Just as I rounded the corner to the front of the stand I noticed one of the gentlemen a few people in front of me get out of line.  He explained to those around him he needed to use the ATM.  I heard one of them say, “No problem.  We got you.”  As he left the front of the stand just a few steps away to use the ATM several other hungry patrons got in line.  He completed his transaction and as he turned and noticed the line had grown he quietly stepped to the back of it.

The couple right behind me called out to him, “Hey!  You were ahead of us.  You don’t have to get back in line.”

The man shook his head, “It’s okay.”

The man who had been holding his place chimed in as well, “Dude.  You’re up here.  Come on.”

I jumped in too, “Yeah, come on,” as I waved him over.  Reluctantly he came forward and took his original place in line, thanking everyone along the way as he did.

I don’t know if it was blend of sugary goodness that was in the air, or the anticipation of gorging myself on that strawberry glaze, but my heart soared at the way these total strangers came together.  Frankly, it was kind of shocking.  He was so quiet about going to the end of the line, everyone could have easily ignored him and allowed him to stay there.  Someone who had gotten in line while he used the ATM could have objected to our urging as well, but they didn’t.   On the other hand, he could have been insistent about his place in line as well, elbowing others to get back to the place he had left.  But none of that happened.  Everyone just did what was right.  They did what was nice.  They thought of someone else before themselves.  It was refreshing to see.

If you look at what is in the news, or listen to talk radio, or infuse yourself in social media, you would think that the very fabric of our nation is about split apart.  We are in constant opposition no matter what the topic.  We are bombarded with opinion and disagreement.  We are compelled to take a side, make our opinion known, and attack those who don’t agree.  There is very little truth, only spin, and the topic changes moment by moment.  There are tornadoes of distraction trying to suck us into their vortex and all of them lead to the same conclusion:  Abandon all hope!  Pick a side! Everyone hates each other!

But then there are these Donut Man experiences:  real people interacting with each other face to face, exchanging glances and words, smiles, and “hellos,” saving places for each other in long lines; no arguments, no harsh language, no vigilantism, just people showing kindness to one another.  What a contrast.

I recently read in the book of Colossians, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.  So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.  Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires.  Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshipping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.  You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world.  But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.  Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.  Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”  Colossians 3:2-10 (New Living Translation)

Satan would like nothing more than to distract us with the things of this world.  Get us caught up in the latest controversy or opinion poll.  It really doesn’t matter what side we’re on.  That’s never his point.  His only goal is to divide us – to make us believe our differences are more important than what we have in common; to make us believe our opinion is more valuable than connecting as fellow human beings.  Don’t fall for it!

As believers, heaven is to be in the forefront of our minds.  We don’t belong to the world anymore.  That doesn’t mean we live in a bubble and don’t engage with the world.  In fact, it’s just the opposite!  We are to be the lights, the love of God in the flesh for others to see, feel, and experience.  But we can’t do that when we are caught up in the same things that are distracting and dividing those who don’t know Him.   The world is becoming darker.  God told us it would.  Many are abandoning all hope and believing the hype they are reading.  But we know Hope personally.  His name is Jesus and He lives inside of us.

The Donut Man experience was my reminder of the value of real connection.  It was the reminder that God’s love – His undeserving, gracious love – is available and it’s available through US!  We’re His delivery system.  And when we work together as one in delivering that love, powerful things can happen – far more powerful than the tornadoes of distraction that try to keep us from loving.

Father, I thank you for experiences like the one you gave me at Donut Man that show me that there is a reason you chose people, as flawed as we are, to be the vessels through whom You are made known to the world.  Help us, as your Body, to remember that responsibility and keep us from getting caught up in the mire, distraction, and dissension of this world.  We look forward to when we get to be with You.  In the mean time, use us to spread Your powerful love so that others may be restored to you and their hope, like ours, can be in Jesus.  It’s in His name that we ask these things, amen.  

You Want Me to Show You My What?

hemofgarmentWhat is the one thing you are most ashamed of, most embarrassed about? We’ve all got something. For many of us there are probably several things. They are things we may not like about ourselves or things from our past that we want to be free from. We may be the only one who knows about them. If only someone would just heal that part of us or set us free from whatever it is that continues to haunt us.

Now imagine that Jesus is coming to visit your church. You’ve heard He can heal the sick, free the demon-possessed and even raise the dead! Certainly, He could do the same for you. So, you, along with hundreds of others, go to see Him and you hope that maybe, just maybe, your path will cross His. You also hope deep down, that maybe that will be enough – just crossing His path might be enough to bring about the healing you seek. You stand elbow to elbow with hundreds of others at the foyer of your church to welcome Him. You’ve heard He’ll be arriving soon. You’re hoping that whatever you are seeking healing from is not visible to others.  At the same time, your heart longs to at last be free from it.  The energy in the crowd begins to shift as word travels that He has arrived. You check your appearance, straighten your clothes, and take a deep breath. Your nerves tingle as you wonder if He’ll notice you and what you will do if He does.

Then the moment arrives. You see His smiling face as He makes His way into the crowd. You soak up His presence but secretly wonder if the healing within you has already occurred. Is it gone? Am I free? Will I know when it happens?   You hope He sees you as He passes through.  Then suddenly He stops right in front of you.  Your nerves surge through you as they never have before.  The crowd urges Him on towards the sanctuary but He is not willing to move forward.  You can’t take your eyes off of Him.  He turns and faces your direction.  More nerves.  The smile on your face takes a dramatic fall as His eyes catch yours.  The crowd continues to urge Him on but He has focused in on you. Your heart is pounding out of your chest but you’re not sure you’re even breathing.  You try to look away from Him but can’t.  The people around you begin moving away until there is no one between you.  You and He are standing face to face. He smiles and calls you by name.  You try to smile back as your eyes fill with tears.  The crowd is now silent and all eyes are on you. Then He says, “Show me.” The pain, shame, and hurt come surging to the surface.  You know from His question that the one thing you have been hiding from the world for as long as you can remember is what He is asking to see.

I recently re-read a few of the healing stories we find in the Gospels. There is the man with the withered hand in Mark 3:1-6; the woman with bleeding issues from Mark 5:25-24; and the man who was an invalid for 38 years sitting at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:2-9.  What I saw in these stories that I had never seen before was the fact that the one thing that these three people probably spent their lives hiding from others or carrying as their greatest shame was exactly what Jesus asked to see. To the man with the withered hand He said, “Stretch out your hand.” To the woman with the bleeding issues who touched His robe in secret He said, “Who touched me?”  And to the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years He said, “Get up and walk.” In all three of those moments, Jesus was asking each of them to trust Him with their greatest vulnerability. And, when they did, He restored them. He healed them.

Jesus asks the same of you and me. We can say that we trust Him. We can even believe that we do. But have you truly given over to Him that one thing that you don’t want anyone to know about? If He said to you, “Show me,” would you?  Just knowing that Jesus knows about our issues is not the same thing as showing them to Him.  He wants that intimacy with us, where we feel safe and secure in Him enough to share our deepest hurts.  And He assures us through His Word that His desire to see our deepest need is not to condemn us or embarrass us. It is in order to heal us, to connect with us at our most vulnerable place.

St. Paul brought to the Lord three times his “thorn in the flesh” and specifically asked for God to remove it from him. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) In each case, God’s answer was not to remove it, not to heal Paul of it. But what did the Lord say? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (v. 9) Paul didn’t receive healing, but He received God’s grace and a greater dependence upon God’s power. Like the three other examples, Paul had that intimate, personal moment with the Lord over his greatest weakness.

Being vulnerable with our Lord isn’t about what we get out of it. It is about Who we get out of it. I am not suggesting there is a magic formula for healing. If you just show God your most vulnerable issue, He’ll set you free – guaranteed! That’s not it. God calls all of us to an intimate and personal relationship with Him. He does heal. There are countless examples not only in the Bible but in our world today. But beyond healing, God seeks to transform His children. I propose that what Paul received was far greater than a physical healing.  He was forever changed to be more deeply connected to and dependent upon God.  He wants that for us. He is always moving us closer and closer to Him.

Will you trust Him with your deepest vulnerability?   He may grant you a miraculous healing or freedom from it.  If not healing, He will bring you to a new level of intimacy you never thought possible with the God of the universe.

Thank you, Lord, for your depth and desire to grow more intimately with us. Thank you for the examples of faith you preserved for us in your Word. Each one of those men and women were willing to risk showing You what brought them pain, shame, and disgrace. Help each of us to have the faith to trust You with our greatest weaknesses that we may grow closer to You. Thank you for loving us more deeply than we can even imagine and for always wanting to transform us into being more like Your Son. In His precious name, amen.

Love Outside the Box

About fifteen years ago the Lord shared a vision with me.  I have to tell you I have received visions before but on very rare occasions and they are usually for other people.  This one however was for me and although I recorded it, wrote it down and even rewrote it a few times it’s only now that I truly see it’s significance in my life.  Isn’t it just like God to be patient with us for 15 years (or longer) in order for us to get where He’s coming from!

I am sharing the vision with you now because I believe it is applicable to many.  You may change the meaning of a few things to fit your story, but I believe the message to all of us is the same.  I pray it will be a blessing for you.  This is certainly my longest blog post but I hope that will not deter you from reading it and enjoying it.

I awoke suddenly to a strange reality. The truth of the matter was, I wasn’t sure I had been asleep at all. But there I was sitting inside what could only be described as a wooden box standing upright.  The box was dark and quiet.  And although I was startled to find myself confined I felt strangely comfortable. It was a familiar place. I fumbled in the dark to get my bearings. The box stood about 6’ tall with four walls about 3’ wide on all sides, square top and bottom. I sat on the floor and leaned against one of the walls. I was neither warm nor cold, neither scared nor peaceful. I merely existed within the box, resigned and for the moment, content.

From the bottom edge of one wall a small but persistent light streamed in through the spaces between the planks. It was dull at first, distant. But slowly it began to creep upwards. It was different from a sunrise. It swayed back and forth. It was clear that this light was being carried and the one who bore the light was coming closer. As the light grew brighter I stood and pressed my cheek against the wall that faced the light. I strained to see between the planks, first with one eye then the other. The stronger the light became the more desperate I was to see who carried it.

They drew closer and my heart warmed to the thought that someone was coming – a rescuer perhaps to free me from this place. I found a knothole in one of the planks. Finally a clearer view of who was coming my way. The sound of my gasp broke the frigid silence and my hand quickly muffled the sound. It was the Lord.

He was still a ways off when the depravity of my surroundings came into my awareness. His light had illuminated the box enough for me to see its dingy, filthy, worthless appearance. Tears gathered in my throat. I was about to have an encounter with my Lord and this is where I found myself. I peeked out again to see that he was much closer now. A twinge of nerves shot through my body and then that horrible resolution that failure brings.

I sensed that he had stopped. I looked out again hoping He wouldn’t see me and yet pleading silently in the deepest part of me that He would. I moved my hand to my mouth in anticipation of seeing my Lord. And there He was, just a few feet from me now. I was breathless as I took in His dark hair and dark eyes, His bearded chin, and His chiseled, weather-worn face. His robe was white, His hands at His side. He was looking in my direction with warm and gentle eyes. A subtle grin suddenly appeared across His lips as He crouched down. I quickly backed away from the wall to the corner furthest from Him.

“Where are you?” He asked.

I waited to hear a response. There was none.

“Where are you?” He asked again.

I hesitated. I slowly moved to the front of the box and peered out again. His forearms rested on His knees as He crouched down looking in my direction. He smiled. “Where are you,” He said looking right at me without a question in His tone.

“I’m here.” My voice cracked as I spoke. I wasn’t even sure He heard it.

“I want to be with you,” He said.

I didn’t answer. Not because I didn’t want to but because I was swept away by the thought that He just might be serious.

“My love,” He said, “why do you hide from me? I want to be with you. I want you to be with me.”

My heart beat faster. The tightness in my throat grew and tears began to well in my eyes. “I’m here Lord,” I managed.

As drawn as I was to His goodness and light I struggled within my surroundings. I wanted to burst through the walls that held me and run to Him but at the same time I feared leaving the security of the box. Confined both within and without I again took my eyes off of Him sunk into the corner and began to weep.

Then from just outside the box I heard Him just above a whisper, “Where is my love?”

“I’m in here,” I sobbed.

With a tenderness that I have never heard before He said, “What is it that keeps my love from me?”

I could sense He was standing over me. Light shined in from all sides. His love and warmth penetrated every side of the box until finally I could not resist any longer. In weakness I stood hardly able to keep my balance. With all I had I pushed against the wall where the light shone most brightly. In an instant I was free. His hands caught mine as I pushed through and His eyes met mine.

We stared at each other for a moment. I was afraid to hold his gaze for long. As much as I wanted to leap into His welcoming presence I stood paralyzed barely able to breathe.

He continued to hold my hands. “Oh, my love,” He said. “How I have longed to see you.” His smile melted my heart.

I slowly pulled my hands away from His. I folded my arms in front of me and leaned back slightly until I felt the box behind me. His eyes never let me go.

“I came to see what hides you from me,” He said. “Show me this place,” He said with a gentle smile. He sat on the ground with His legs crossed beneath Him. I sat close but not close enough to touch Him.

I looked at the wall that I had just pushed open. It suddenly occurred to me how simple it was to move. Funny I hadn’t tried opening it before. The Lord was looking carefully at it, examining it with His hands.

“This wall here,” He said. “Tell me about it.”

“This hides the real me.” I wasn’t sure where the words came from but the tears quickly followed. I tried to hold them back but to no avail. He waited. I took a deep breath and continued. “The real me isn’t accepted, Lord. I’m not like everyone else. When I’ve let that show…” The tears wouldn’t let me continue. “I’ve learned it’s safer to hide. If people see who I really am…” The tears took over again.

“Oh, my dear girl. I know you,” He said with a smile in His voice. “I know everything about you. I know that you’re creative and love to play basketball. I know that your short and you really don’t like being short – but you’ve learned to live with it. I know the color of your eyes and how many tears you have shed since the day you were born. I hear you. I see you. AND, I love you.

“I know what you’ve done every moment of every day of your life. I know what you believe in and what you stand for. I know what your favorite pair of tennis shoes are. I know that you get lonely and afraid and sometimes you just want to be held. I know you. I know what you have needed from others and haven’t received. I know what melts your heart. I know what brings you the greatest joy. I know your deepest desires – even those you’re afraid to ask me for. I have made you. You have never been out of my sight. I know you. I love you and you are the apple of my eye. And I want to be with you… the real you, the one I have created you to be. I won’t settle for any substitute. I want you.”  He smiled broadly and tears filled His eyes.

“I want you too,” I whispered as I inched closer to Him.

He turned His head until my eyes met His. “Then let me fill this side of the box. Is that okay? Let me take the place of this wall. You will no longer have to pretend to be someone you’re not. You are seen by me and you are more than acceptable. You have been created by me, and that you is the you I love most.”

I nodded yes as our attention turned back to the box. We both stood and reached for the side of the box that stood partially away from the other sides. Together we pulled until the rusty pegs came free from their holes. With a mighty gust of wind that side of the box was gone. The Lord filled that side with His presence and again took a seat on the ground. I sat down too, my arm resting on his knee.

“Now what’s this second side here?” He asked, pointing to the wall on His right.

My face felt flush. “I feel like I am constantly seeking to fill the emptiness of my life. I work hard. I love deeply. I throw myself into whatever task you put in front of me, Lord.  And when I’m not doing that I’m filling my time with nonsense – distractions of all kinds.  I keep searching and longing for something or someone to fill that ache. I just keep striving for it but it always alludes me. I’m weary, Lord. I feel like I’ve reached the end of myself and there’s nothing left to grab onto.”

“Me.”

I looked at Him.

“Me. Grab on to me.” He paused. “I’m the one, my sweet girl. I’m the one who has given you everything you’re seeking to cling to. You’re looking at the gifts I’ve given you as the answer to your fulfillment. Honey, I am the answer to your fulfillment. Look to the giver. I want nothing more than to fulfill your every desire, but you have to know the source. And when you know the source our desires will be the same – yours will match mine. But until then, my sweet one, as long as you seek out people, places, things, and activities to fill your heart it will remain empty. I’m the only one who can fill it.

“And my love, when you recognize that I am the source of what you are seeking, you will not only be filled but will be overflowing. When you overflow with my love, you will be connected to others in a way you have never connected before. You will be sharing my love with them. The fulfillment they too are seeking will flow right through you and into them. Then you can share the secret. I am the key, dear child. Let me fulfill you. Then you can help me fulfill others with the same love you have come to know.”

We both turned again towards the box. “What if I would fill this side of the box too?” He asked.

“Yes, Lord. Take that side too.”

And with that another side was gone. The Lord positioned Himself at the empty corner of what was once the box. As He moved, I moved a bit closer to Him this time. “What about this third wall?”

Looking at it in the light now I could see I leaned against this side the most. The wood was worn smooth. There were distinct outlines where I leaned against it. I looked at Him then back towards the wall. I took a deep breath.

“Well Lord, this is my self-reliance,” I said with hints of both pride and shame. “You see, I have a tendency to rely a lot on myself. I don’t rely too heavily on other people. I’ve learned to handle things on my own – had to. I admit that I have allowed this to get in the way of my relationship with you. Sometimes, especially when you really bless me, Lord – when things are going so well, I feel like I may not even need you. I know that isn’t true, but sometimes I think I can handle life on my own.”

“Hmmm,” He said with a serious look on His face. “This sounds pretty important to you. Is this something you want to part with?”

My heart sank and my throat tightened. What was I saying?! It made no sense! My eyes filled with tears and my hand covered my mouth. He looked in my direction. All I could do was shake my head.

“Oh, my girl,” He said tenderly His hands reaching for my shoulders. “I know,” He said as He pulled me closer but held my gaze. “May I fill this side of the box too?”

I shook my head yes and immediately the wall collapsed. It disintegrated without a trace.

“My love, the wall upon which you relied most, was nothing but dust. In fact, it was no wall at all. The credit you have given yourself belongs to me. When you leaned upon that wall it was I who held it up. It was not your strength at all, it was mine. And the comfort you felt when you leaned upon this side, was the comfort of my presence. And when I blessed you, my sweet one, I blessed you so that you would run towards me, not away from me. My heart’s desire has always been to bring you close.”

I leaned into His chest and sobbed. “I’m sorry, Lord. I’m sorry I missed you.”

Without moving, His presence seemed to grow. As I gathered myself again I found I was now sitting in His lap. The box that once stood over us was now one thin small wall with a square attached at the top and the bottom. It seemed so small in comparison to us.

“There’s one left,” He said.

A chill ran through me that made me pull away from Him suddenly. I stood up quickly nearly pushing Him over backwards. My breath quickened. I could hardly catch it. I backed away from Him until I could feel the remaining wall against my back. He stood up.

“What is it, child? Tell me about this side.”

I clutched the wall behind me. I looked at Him desperately but was too afraid to even cry.

“What is it? It’s okay to tell me,” He beckoned. His eyes were soft.

The splinters of the wall were in me now as they had been so many times. “Fear,” I managed. I tried to pull away from the wall but it had me in its grips. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t give voice to the screams inside.

I watched Him back away from me. His eyes remained fixed on me and I could see the same passion I had seen all along. “Where is He going?” I thought to myself. No! This is exactly what I fear the most. Where? Why?  LORD!

He took a few more steps back and pointed to His right. He never let His eyes leave me. Shaking, my eyes darted in the direction he was pointing. Charging towards me was a knight on a galloping horse. He held a lance that was aimed at me. As each second ticked by he grew closer. The rider rose in his saddle, raising the lance with precision aim. With everything in me I pushed away from the wall that held me just as the horse and rider ran past me. I ran as fast as I could into my Savior’s arms and buried my face in His neck.

He held me tight and rocked me back and forth. I don’t know how much time had passed but finally He said, “Look!”

I turned in the direction of the knight. He was cantering away on his horse the flimsy wall which looked like cheap cardboard was still stuck on the end of his lance along with the top and bottom of what was once the box.

I looked up at Him. “He wasn’t after me?”

He tipped His head back and laughed. “No, my love. He wasn’t after you,” He said His forehead leaning against mine. “I have conquered fear, my lamb. You need not be held by it any longer.”

I smiled. For the first time since I saw Him, I smiled. In the pit of my stomach I felt something I hadn’t felt before. The feeling travelled up my spine and down to my toes. I began to giggle, and then laugh. Tears filled my eyes but they were different tears than what I had shed before. I threw my arms around Him.

“You know what that is, my lovely?” He waited. “That’s joy!” He whispered loudly in my ear until it tickled.

I don’t know how long that moment lasted, it could have been seconds, it could have been years.  It was sheer joy and I felt complete in His presence.  As we both caught our breath my attention was drawn to where the box had once stood.  I can’t describe what I saw or heard but I knew something was there.  I looked at Him.  He let me down and said, “Go look and see.”

I moved carefully towards the site my eyes pealed for whatever was drawing my attention.  When I arrived I saw what appeared to be bits of broken pottery.  There seemed to be hundreds of them packed tightly into the square upon which the box stood.  Even though I hadn’t seen them before I knew the pieces well.  They were pieces of me… broken places of my life that had served as a foundation upon which that box was built.  I gathered up as many pieces as I could and ran to Jesus.  He had gathered the front of His robe into His hands in order to collect every piece I brought Him.  Without a word He took each piece and I ran back to get more.

I returned to the foundation more than a dozen times until each piece was picked up.  I went back on last time to make sure I had gotten them all.  I had.  And when I made my way back to Jesus, there He stood, not a piece of broken pottery in sight.  His arms were open to me and although I could no longer see what I had brought Him I knew He had them all and that they were safe. 

He gathered me in His arms and we walked the path together.

I pray that you know how much you are loved by the Savior of the world.  I pray that you know that His love is greater than any box you have created around you.  He can free you to be the person He has always intended you to be.  There is Love outside that box just waiting for you to experience!  Love for you to receive and love for you to give.

Thank you, Lord, for you love for us.  Thank you for sending your Son to rescue us from shame and fear, distractions and self-reliance.  Set us free to be loved and to love as you have loved us.  In Jesus’ name, amen.