When you wonder if you can do it

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In those moments when you think you’re almost done and then you have to rewrite whole chapters and time is running out and you wonder if you really can do this after all

(Or the lines of patients seem never ending,

Or the kids are sick again,

Or back pain lays you low):

1. Take a deep breath. Remember that every breath is a love-gift, a reminder that you are held in existence by the One who delights in you. And He will not let go.

2. Lay out all your fears before Jesus. Name them. Then, with all those fears on the table, ask Jesus how he wants to be with you in them. (I saw him gently pick up each fear, one at a time, as though it was precious, and hold it in his two hands, look lovingly at me and ask, “Will you trust me with this?”)

3. Just fill the jars. It’s his job to make wine from the water you bring.

For all of you stepping out into newness

Ever faced a step out of your comfort zone? One of those moments (or months) when your stomach is in knots and your mind is racing and you can’t sleep because you’re thinking about what lies ahead?

It might be a major life event: a new baby, a new job, a new country. Or it might be stepping out your front door to meet the new neighbor. Picking up the phone to call that person you’d rather not love.  Signing up for the course.

Perhaps you dreamed of this, planned for it. Or perhaps it arrived unannounced and unwanted.

Either way, it’s challenging.

And confusing.

You dreamed of the clouds and find yourself in the red hot pressures of the real life situation.

You do trust God. You’ve seen him at work. You know he can raise the dead. So why is it so hard to trust as you step into the new situation?

I saw it this week, the crazy upside-down lie I’ve not known I’ve believed though it has shaped my thoughts and my actions. I have believed that my weakness is stronger than God’s strength.

Isn’t that really what I’m saying when I admire someone else’s courage and think “but I could never do that?” When I let the dreams peek through just for a moment but then write them off as impractical, forgetting that the God who is able to do the impossible just might be planting those dreams in me?

The words stop me in my tracks, the lie flipped right-side-up, framing beautiful truth: “. . . God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25) My weakness can’t be stronger than God’s strength because even God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Cor 1:25). God at his weakest, the God-man suspended on a rough stake, bloodied and breathing his last, succeeded where all our efforts failed. And this God-man whose death gave us life now lives his life in us who are his. The cross was just the beginning.

So take courage, you who have died with Christ, and step out in his strength. In this life on the other side of the cross,  weakness is not a barrier but a wide open welcome into a greater strength.

Painting by Patricia Jagt

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need.

My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”

(2 Corinthians 12:9 The Message)

(Need a little help remembering that? Click here to download the following reminder that you can print or set as your screensaver.)

Passion painting by Patricia Jagt

Why even men are virgin daughters

 

Being a single (blonde!) woman in Afghanistan had its challenges. One man trailed  me several hours into the neighboring country wanting me to be his wife. Another determined he would die if I did not marry him. During a month of being pursued, I tried to handle the situation myself. My firm and repeated “go away” did not stop his suicidal emails.

 

In the outcome of my story, I learned to understand Judah’s story in Isaiah 36 and 37.

 

The people of Judah are being threatened by the Assyrians.  “Wake up! Look what we’ve done to the rest of the world. You’re next. Just turn yourselves in now and we’ll make sure you have a good life after we conquer you.”

 

They’re bullies. But they’re not bluffing. They’re strong.

 

They’re strong. King Hezekiah has heard the reports. He knows he hasn’t a hope apart from God.

 

They’re strong. King Hezekiah has heard the reports. But he has a hope. He has heard other reports too. Ones about God. He has lived the truth of those reports. And that’s where he chooses to focus. Not on the strength of the enemy, but on the greater strength of his God.

 

He avoids the two pitfalls. He doesn’t give in to fear. Nor does he create a battle plan himself. He spreads out the letter before God. “God, look. They’re strong. But you’re stronger. Save us!”

 

The king prays, and God answers through the prophet:

 

“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says. . .  against [the king of Assyria]

‘The virgin daughter of Zion

despises you and laughs at you.

The daughter of Jerusalem

shakes her head in derision as you flee.

“Whom have you been defying and ridiculing?

Against whom did you raise your voice?

At whom did you look with such haughty eyes?

It was the Holy One of Israel!

By your messengers you have defied the Lord. (Isaiah 37:21-24 NLT)

 

The virgin daughter can laugh because, when they think they’re threatening her, really they’re taking on her Father. And though she’s weak, her Father is strong. Her word doesn’t hold much weight, but her Father’s does. He will defend her, both because He loves her, and because it’s His responsibility to protect her. When his daughter is threatened, His honor is at stake as much as hers.

 

One kind, firm email from my brother finally stopped the pursuit, “You are not treating my sister honorably. Leave her alone.” (Thanks, Jon!)

 

It was so easy when I finally learned to play by the real rules: I don’t have to do it alone. I’m not even supposed to be able to. We have a Father and a Brother who are delighted to act on our behalf. We just have to step back from our Western do-it-yourself mentality long enough to remember that God does not expect us to be God. Just to be his virgin daughters.

When the do-list is long


“Above all else. . . ” The phrase rings through my consciousness.

The list of things to be done today is impossibly long, the energy small. How can I do it all? What must come first?

“Above all else. . .” If something must go, it cannot not be this, for this is my very life, the one thing that makes all else possible. It too is life for those among whom I live. Without this, all efforts fall dead, useless.

What is it, this which must remain first?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

(Proverbs 4:23 New International Version)

In different lives and at different stages, it looks different. Yesterday, guarding my heart meant putting my do-list away and spending Sunday afternoon enjoying God. Today, it means facing the list with Jesus. Sometimes it may mean letting go of activity to rest, other times stepping out in obedience, choosing to live on the edge of the impossible where we find God sufficient. Often it means opening my heart to another. Always, it means seeking to live with heart wide open to God. Always, asking the One who made my heart, who loves it, to help me open that tender place a little more fully to His love today.

Jesus says it this way:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5, New Living Translation)

Do I really believe this, that I cannot clean the bathroom or buy groceries without Jesus?

On the days I lack the strength to do these things I remember. Yes, strength is a gift. Without the life and breath He gives, without His holy empowering, I really can do nothing.

On the days I feel stronger, it’s harder to remember. But a long view helps me understand. What I race through on my own may be done today, ticked off my do-list, but it will be gone tomorrow. Only what I do today in the love and life of God will last. Even a toilet cleaned, a phone answered, a tear offered in love to God is graciously received by Him as a gift, a gift which He blesses and multiplies.

And here too is grace. This command to “guard your hearts” is not one more thing to add to the do-list, one more thing over which to feel guilty if left undone. It is permission to take a deep breath and enjoy the arms of love no matter how many things demand attention.

And I remember: I am called first of all not to write, nor to study, nor even to serve others. I am called first and foremost to live with my heart wide open to God. To listen to His heartbeat. To love Him and receive His love for me. All else flows out of this.

 

How to embrace the impossible

I think back to moments of excitement along the way. Standing on the sidewalk looking up at the building, dreaming of the day I might be a student in that medical school. The letter of acceptance and the way I flew through the day, my heart singing as I played in a concert that evening. Five years later, hurrying across the Pakistani yard to receive the phone call welcoming me into the specialty training program. Another five years and the paper, “Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.” The first time I delivered a baby. Did surgery.  Helped keep a woman from bleeding to death.

I can treasure the memories now without wanting to be back there. I realized it last week, the day before I gave up my license to practice medicine. There was an ad on the counter for a clinic four blocks from home offering multidisciplinary care in multiple languages.  Exactly the job I had dreamed of two years ago. Last week I saw the ad and . . . nothing. No interest. No desire. In its place, a fresh anticipation and joy and deep sense of privilege as I embrace the new call. And I realize that what seemed impossible a year ago is now done, this changing of my heart to allow me to embrace God’s new call. It seems a small miracle. Maybe a large one.

The next day I read it in a friend’s newsletter:

“I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God: first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” (Hudson Taylor)

I’m slow to remember. I think of “great works of God” as happening on a larger scale. On the other side of the world. In groups of people. Other people. I keep forgetting that the daily changes needed in my own heart are equally impossible for me to accomplish. Almost daily now I catch myself. “Is this something else I’m trying to do that only God can do in me?”

Paul puts the question bluntly:

How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? . . . . Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? (Galatians 3:2-5 The Message)

The next day the last chapel service of advent opens with this call to worship:

“. . . We gather in expectation

for joy is about to explode in our midst.

We gather in celebration

For we are those people who have said

Yes to the manger,

Yes to love enfleshed

Yes to the one incarnate for others

Yes to the wholeness of God! . . .”

(the Worship Sourcebook)

It’s just a yes, this is all. This is how we embrace the impossible. We say our yes to the God who waited only for the virgin’s “yes” before entering her womb. Yes to the God who waits to enter our darkest places and fill them with His light.

Yes to his work in us, the work that only He can do. And yes to each small way He asks us to participate, often, mostly, through waiting. Listening. Making space for life to grow. And one day we discover that what was previously impossible is now done, the next step complete in the ongoing miracle of His life being formed in us.

Then only one yes remains: the yes that shamelessly and without reserve enters the celebration of the One who has done it all.

I’m bursting with God-news;

I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.

God took one good look at me, and look what happened—

I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! . . .

His mercy flows in wave after wave

on those who are in awe before him. . . .

He remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. . . .

It’s exactly what he promised,

beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

(Luke 1:46-55 The Message)